Published: Mar 30, 2015
Although former Kleiner Perkins junior partner Ellen Pao lost her gender-biased suit against her former employer, her case has shed new light on the dark side of Silicon Valley—that is, the misogynistic side.
The jury in Pao’s trial, which was closely followed in the Valley, ruled against Pao on all accounts. Which meant that the jury found that Kleiner Perkins didn’t discriminate against Pao because she was a woman, nor did they fire her because she filed a suit against them. Still, many details about the inner workings of the famed venture capital firm—well known for its tech investing; it was an early investor in Google, Amazon, and AOL, among others—surfaced during the trial and are expected to serve as a springboard to further the conversation about how poorly women are treated in the Valley.
Exhibit A, pointed out in a recent New York Times piece:
Documents in the case showed that one Kleiner partner, Chi-Hua Chien, arranged a ski trip for entrepreneurs from which women were excluded. When he was asked if a female entrepreneur from one of the companies Kleiner had invested in could come along, Mr. Chien responded in an email that because the trip involved shared accommodations, women probably wouldn’t feel comfortable. “Why don’t we punt on her and find 2 guys who are awesome,” he wrote. “We can add 4-8 women next year.” There was no ski trip the next year.
Exhibits B and C, also from the Times:
Or there was the time Ms. Pao and another female partner were made to sit at the back of the room and not at the conference table during a meeting. Or the plane ride in which, Ms. Pao asserted, her male colleagues discussed pornography stars and assessed the attractiveness of Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo.
Exhibit D, from an article by Re/code:
To several women in the industry, the most salient note in Ms. Pao’s complaint was her claim that there was a narrow band of behavior she was expected to adhere to at Kleiner. She was criticized both for being too timid and for being too aggressive, for speaking up too much and for not speaking up enough … Worse, criticisms of her performance were vague and unspecific. In written evaluations by her peers and executives at Kleiner’s portfolio companies, Ms. Pao was often given high marks, but Kleiner partners testified that her failings were a more subtle failure of “chemistry.”
And Exhibit E, from CNBC.com, which pointed out the following after it was revealed during the trial that about 6 percent of Silicon Valley VC partners are women, down from 10 percent in 1999 (though, Kleiner Perkins’ partner ranks are made up of 20 percent women):
Women represent 5.6 percent of investment decision makers at all U.S. VC firms that have raised at least $100 million since 2009, according to Fortune Magazine and PitchBook. To put that in context, the executive ranks at Google are 21 percent female, and at Facebook they are 23 percent female. And on average, women comprise 11 percent of executives at Silicon Valley's top 150 companies, which is less than the average at the S&P 500, where they are 16 percent of executives.
As for numbers, if you were watching the Pao case closely and keeping score, you know that the verdict was a tight one. The 12-person jury initially voted 8-4 in favor of Kleiner Perkins. Which was not enough for a verdict—9 votes are necessary. But after an additional hour of deliberation, the jury did reach a 9-3 vote in favor of Kleiner.
As for Pao, who is now the interim CEO at Reddit, though she lost her suit, one of her post-verdict comments was hopeful: “If I’ve helped to level the playing field ... then the battle was worth it.”
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Ellen Pao Disrupts How Silicon Valley Does Business (NYT)
The Real Precedent in the Ellen Pao Case Happened Out of Court (Re/code)
In light of Pao: Where are women at top VC funds? (CNBC)
Google Poaches Wall Street's Most Powerful Woman: 3 Takeaways
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