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Ellen Pao Calls Out Tech Industry For Not Practicing Its Own Principles

Ellen Pao, center, walks with attorneys on her way to court for her gender discrimination lawsuit against former employer, a high-profile venture capital firm. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JEFF CHIU
Ellen Pao, center, walks with attorneys on her way to court for her gender discrimination lawsuit against former employer, a high-profile venture capital firm. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JEFF CHIU

Months after losing a seminal gender discrimination lawsuit, Reddit’s former interim CEO Ellen Pao hasn’t given up the fight and has more advice for women and the tech industry regarding it’s diversity problem.

In an essay for feminist newsletter Lenny co-founded by actress Lena Dunham, Pao challenged tech companies for not practicing their own principles and policies:

I saw inconsistencies in what people said and what they actually did. I saw many firms talking meritocracy but ignoring great opportunities that women brought in or giving men credit for them. I saw the bar for promotion move as soon as a woman crossed it. I saw inconsistencies in how aggressiveness and strong opinions were rewarded across genders. I heard stories about harassment and off-color jokes and sexist/ageist/racist conversations. Women founders were pushed out or into lesser roles as a condition for investment, while similarly inexperienced male founders were given the benefit of the doubt and supported.

Pao also recounted witnessing discrimination against startups looking for funding while at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm to which she lost her discrimination lawsuit.

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“Several start-ups had no women or minorities in management and engineering … I soon realized these institutions were using the same methods to build management teams and boards of directors and to invest in co-founders who are the next generation of wealth, power, and leadership.”

Despite moving on after her case and leaving her Reddit post amid controversy, Pao has become an icon for anti-discrimination in tech, encouraging more women to come forward and file discrimination lawsuits.

Tech companies have heard the public — and their employees’ — cry for diversity and have worked toward change, starting with the Google-led annual diversity reports in 2014. But as pressure mounts, companies are looking at more drastic ways to change the faces of their businesses. Soon after rehiring Jack Dorsey as CEO, Twitter announced plans to gut its board of executives, after its diversity report and former employee revealed the company only had 49 black employees.

In an ill-received move, Apple made a point of putting more of its female employees on stage during product launches this year as a show of diversity. Even Pao’s former employer hired Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Arielle Zuckerberg, to improve its diversity numbers.

But while things are starting to improve, Pao said there is still a ways to go. “[W]e’ve heard enough excuses. Know that when people use dog whistles like ‘the pipeline problem,’ they are saying: We haven’t done anything wrong, and we don’t care to fix it,” Pao wrote.

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“For now, what I’d tell any woman struggling in a male-dominated work culture is: Do not give up. You are not alone…trust your gut. You’ll hear all kinds of defenses, but if they really want women and minorities as employees and leaders, why aren’t their numbers higher? Either they don’t really want them or they are incompetent. You shouldn’t work for them either way. If you have the option, run.”