Pao hits ‘Re­set’ but­ton on Sil­i­con Val­ley sex­ism

Says it’s time to ‘shake out’ those who don’t be­lieve in in­clu­sion

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Jes­sica Guynn @jguynn

SAN FRANCISCO Ellen Pao has a mes­sage for Sil­i­con Val­ley: It’s time for the tech in­dus­try to re­boot.

Her new tell-all, Re­set: My Fight for In­clu­sion and Last­ing Change, de­tails her gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit against pow­er­ful ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Kleiner Perkins Cau­field & By­ers and her on­go­ing strug­gle to pry open the doors of the white-male-dom­i­nated tech in­dus­try to un­der­rep­re­sented groups.

“When I use the term re­set, it’s re­ally that we need to shake out the peo­ple who don’t be­lieve in in­clu­sion and bring in the peo­ple who have been ex­cluded,” Pao told USA TO­DAY in an in­ter­view.

In other words, it’s time for the tech in­dus­try — not just women — to lean in. A big shift has taken place since Sheryl Sand­berg’s best­seller urged women to de­mand a seat at the ta­ble, the 47-year-old di­ver­sity ad­vo­cate and tech in­vestor says.

“Five years ago I think Lean In was just start­ing to sur­face that there are th­ese is­sues, but it was ori­ented to­ward women chang­ing their be­hav­ior,” Pao said. “I don’t think we were ready for peo­ple to say: You need to re­set ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing, and you need to break down th­ese sys­temic bar­ri­ers.”

If the in­dus­try is ready to do that now, it’s in no small part due to Pao’s head­line-grab­bing law­suit against Kleiner Perkins.

Lit­tle ink had been spilled on the gen­der im­bal­ance in ven­ture cap­i­tal be­fore Pao filed her case in 2012. The tech in­dus­try had suc­cess­fully pro­moted it­self as a young mer­i­toc­racy where the best peo­ple and ideas win. One of the be­liev­ers was Pao her­self.

As the in­tro­verted, high­achiev­ing daugh­ter of Chi­nese im­mi­grants with a prodi­gious work ethic and mul­ti­ple Ivy League de­grees, Pao says she clung to this no­tion of mer­i­toc­racy even as she con­fronted bias and ha­rass­ment. At the law firm where she worked, a male part­ner rou­tinely brushed up against women in the hall and a fe­male lawyer was sent home for wear­ing pants. At Kleiner Perkins, she says women were paid and pro­moted less than men, pornog­ra­phy was dis­cussed on a pri­vate plane and sex­ist and racist jokes and re­marks were rou­tine.

Yet Pao fig­ured hard work and her “su­per power” (sleep­ing very few hours a night) could over­come any in­equities thrown her way. “It’s not some­thing you want to be­lieve. It takes a lot to shake that be­lief out of you,” Pao said.

But, when she had trou­ble get­ting in­vest­ments ap­proved and to hold­ing onto com­pa­nies that were do­ing well, she no­ticed she was not alone.

“There’s a point where I re­al­ized that other women were do­ing much bet­ter work and had much more suc­cess­ful in­vest­ments than the men,” she said. “It made me re­al­ize the sys­tem re­ally wasn’t fair, and it re­ally wasn’t based on merit.”

The jury in her suit against Kleiner Perkins didn’t agree. In Re­set, Pao writes that the law­suit “al­most ended my ca­reer in tech, cost me half-a-mil­lion dol­lars and launched a thou­sand hit pieces on me and on my fam­ily.”

It also woke many to the treat­ment of women in Sil­i­con Val­ley and em­bold­ened other women to come for­ward: AJ Van­der­mey­den, a for­mer Tesla en­gi­neer who is su­ing for gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion; Su­san Fowler, whose blog post about sex­ism and sex­ual ha­rass­ment at Uber helped oust its CEO; and women whose ac­counts

of sex­ual ha­rass­ment led to the res­ig­na­tion of two prom­i­nent tech in­vestors.

With Re­set, Pao says she’s not out to set­tle scores but to shed light.

“Peo­ple should re­ally un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing be­hind closed doors inside th­ese cor­ri­dors of power and what they are up against,” said Pao, now chief di­ver­sity of­fi­cer for Ka­por Cen­ter for So­cial Im­pact and a ven­ture part­ner at Ka­por Cap­i­tal.

She’s also co-founder of the non-profit Project In­clude, which helps com­pa­nies fos­ter di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion.

This in­ter­view has been edited for length and clar­ity.

On why she chose Re­set as the ti­tle: For me, it means fun­da­men­tal change, and that is what tech needs to­day. We need to re­ally fix the cul­ture.

On the per­sonal res­o­nance of Re­set: It was a shock to me to re­al­ize tech was not a mer­i­toc­racy and that there was no way for me to get pro­moted. It didn’t mat­ter how much money I brought in. It didn’t mat­ter what my re­la­tion­ships were with en­trepreneurs. I didn’t have the right gen­der.

On why she wrote Re­set: There’s just so much mis­in­for­ma­tion out there, and I wanted to make sure that if peo­ple were go­ing to judge me, it was based on the facts.

On whether she thinks the tech in­dus­try can re­set: I know the in­dus­try can change. We’ve seen huge trans­for­ma­tions. The ques­tion is: Do peo­ple have the will to make th­ese hard de­ci­sions and to have the hard con­ver­sa­tions? Are they will­ing to do the work?

“Peo­ple should re­ally un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing be­hind closed doors inside th­ese cor­ri­dors of power and what they are up against.” Ellen Pao


Ellen Pao, cen­ter, walks to the Civic Cen­ter Court­house in San Francisco on March 27. A jury ruled against Pao in her sex dis­crim­i­na­tion case against Kleiner Perkins Cau­field & By­ers.

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