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Ellen Pao Empowers Women in Silicon Valley to Speak Up

In 2015, Ellen Pao dominated the news when her 2012 gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employers, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, finally went to trial. At the merciless hands of the firm – who had far more resources to use against her in the case – as well as critics of her attitude, skills, and even husband online and in the media, Pao lost the trial on all four counts.

Now, Pao is back in the media for her essay for New York Magazine’s The Cut. The essay recounts in detail both her experience within the misogynistic environment of Kleiner Perkins and the difficult trial that followed. Within venture capital firms, Pao describes in the essay, white Ivy League-educated men tended to help and recruit younger white Ivy League-educated men, while women were often ignored or given menial work.

At Kleiner Perkins, there was no sexual harassment training, no HR department, and no anti-discrimination policy. Female workers were often objectified or even asked personal questions during the hiring process, such as questions about their age, kids, husbands, and ex-husbands. Pao received direct backlash and mistreatment after ending a brief affair with a coworker, a man who had also sexually harassed other women. When the women voiced their complaints, very little serious action was taken, and Pao continued to be blocked from promotions and she was negatively reviewed at work.

Pao continued to push for justice. When later interviewed by an unsympathetic independent investigator for her complaints, Pao was asked why these companies would hire women in the first place if they weren’t going to promote them or assign them meaningful work.

Pao responded: “If you had the opportunity to have workers who were overeducated, underpaid, and highly experienced, whom you could dump all the menial tasks you didn’t want to do on, whom you could get to clean up all the problems, and whom you could create a second class out of, wouldn’t you want them to stay?”

Kleiner would later tell her that the investigation found no discrimination, leading Pao to file her lawsuit. Now, two years after losing the trial, Pao reflects on it all in her essay, which is an excerpt from her upcoming book Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change. She notes at the very end of the essay that though she may not have won, she had set things in motion for a fight against gender discrimination in the technology field.

Engaging in what would be known as the Pao Effect, women in tech began to sue for gender discrimination in the workplace before Pao’s trial even ended. Women working for Facebook,Tinder, Microsoft, and Twitter all filed suits. With recent vocalizations against sexism at Uber and Google, the fight for gender equality in tech is clearly still growing and ongoing. As Pao knows, the future is still ripe for progress.

You can pre-order Pao’s book, which will be released on September 19th, on Amazon.

Featured Image by Irene Bonacchi on Flickr

Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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