It was the lawsuit that rocked Silicon Valley.
In 2012, tech investor Ellen Pao sued her employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, for gender bias. She accused her bosses of not promoting her because she was a woman — and then retaliating against her when she complained.
Pao lost the suit and eventually dropped her appeal in 2015, but the legal battle garnered national attention, prompting a closer look at gender diversity and inclusivity in the tech industry.
In her new memoir Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, Pao dives into the lawsuit that thrust her into the national spotlight and the workplace discrimination that prompted it.
On how she decided it was time to sue
I got to a point where I had tried every internal avenue. Like, I had written a formal complaint that I had given to all the managing partners and the chief operating officer. I had brought up these issues one on one with each of the people that I thought could have an impact. I had, you know, tried to rally some other women to raise issues, and it was a dead end at every point; and not only that, but people didn’t seem to really feel like there was a problem. They didn’t seem to be listening at all, and when I saw what was happening to other women within the firm, I thought, “This behavior is really not fair, and it’s not appropriate, and it’s gotta end.”
On whether the tech industry has become more inclusive of women over the past five years
… I think the same people are still running things, the same people are still making the same decisions. I think they’re starting to understand that that is not working for the majority of people. But when I look at what companies are doing today, most of them have these tepid diversity solutions. It’s PR-oriented, and it’s not really changing how they’re actually operating, whether their culture is inclusive or not.
On why the corporate world should embrace diversity
Yeah, I think the most important reason is that you have this moral obligation to take these huge opportunities you have of making millionaires and billionaires and allocating them fairly across the population to the people who are qualified and equally willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears, to help your company succeed. I think the other reasons are we’ve seen that companies that don’t have diverse teams end up building products that aren’t great for the whole population, and there’s bias built into the product. And finally we’ve seen there’s research upon research upon research that shows that when you have a diverse team, you actually have better financial performance, you make better decisions, you’re able to attract a more diverse team going forward. People aren’t going to come to companies now that have a completely homogeneous team.
Morning Edition editor Jessica Smith, producer Justin Richmond and digital news intern Isabel Dobrin contributed to this story.