SAN FRANCISCO — Ellen Pao has a message for Silicon Valley: It’s time for the white male-dominated tech industry to “reset” itself.
“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.
Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change is Pao’s defiant post-mortem on the gender discrimination lawsuit she brought against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
The 47-year-old tech investor turned diversity advocate lost the case but brought international attention to the many ways, both overt and subtle, that Silicon Valley excludes women and people of color.
Very 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, high-achieving daughter of Chinese immigrants with a prodigious work ethic and multiple Ivy League degrees, Pao clung to this notion of meritocracy even as she confronted bias and harassment. At the law firm where she worked as an associate, a male partner routinely brushed up against women in the hall and a female lawyer was sent home for wearing pants. At Kleiner Perkins, where she was chief of staff and then a junior partner, 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 says she figured hard work and her “super power” (sleeping remarkably few hours a night) could overcome the inequities thrown in her path.
“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 wasn’t the only one being denied opportunities that came easily to men.
“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.”