By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
If there is controversy in the tech industry, the name Ellen Pao seems to follow.
Pao, the interim CEO of social media news site Reddit, is under fire yet again. An online petition is requesting that she be removed from the company.
Over 162,000 people have signed a petition on change.org demanding that Pao be fired. According to the online petition, Pao is “a manipulative individual who will sue her way to the top.”
The swell of opposition to Pao stems from the removal of the company’s communications director Victoria Taylor. Taylor had coordinated the popular Ask Me Anything (AMA) series, where famous individuals reach out to their fans online by asking questions submitted by the Reddit community. President Obama is the most notable AMA participant. As a result of Taylor’s dismissal, many unpaid, Reddit moderators closed down their spaces on the site in protest. Pao admitted that there should have been more detailed information provided about the transition concerning Taylor’s removal.
Pao also received criticism for enhancing anti-harassment guidelines at Reddit which resulted in the removal of content from the site. This caused upheaval among its users which only contributed to the venom directed at her.
Pao is not new to controversy, as prior to her role with Reddit she was dismissed from her job as junior investing partner with Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. In 2012, Pao filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the firm asking for $16 million in damages in addition to punitive damages which could have tripled the $16 million figure. Pao accused the venture capital firm of employment discrimination, workplace retaliation, and that the firm failed to take reasonable steps to prevent gender discrimination. She claimed that she was unfairly passed over promotions while males with similar profiles were promoted. In general, Pao believed that men at the firm were paid more than women, promoted ahead of their female counterparts, and there was little support for women that experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. According to her depiction of the firm, it was a culture where those who were promoted engaged in over-the-top tactics such as hyping their own accomplishments and talking over others. She claimed these characteristics were largely displayed by men.
The firm depicted Pao as combative and full of resentment during her time working there. She was characterized as cold and untrustworthy. Perhaps most damaging, her male superiors claimed that they were not impressed with her work, resulting in her not being promoted.
After a 24-day trial which started in February 2015, the jury comprised of six women and six men from a variety of employment and ethnic backgrounds found in favor of Kleiner Perkins. Even with a loss, Pao remained resilient. After the verdict was read in the courtroom, she waved to the jury that ruled against her with a smile. “If I’ve helped to level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it,” remarked Pao in a news conference after the trial adjourned.
Despite her loss, Pao’s lawsuit shed a beacon of light onto an often overlooked blemish in the Silicon Valley corridor regarding the glaring disparity of women in profile positions in the technology and venture capital sector. It also revealed a double-edged sword for women in the industry since some of the characteristics depicted by her employer as negatives are seen as positives for male employees.
After Pao, more women have come forward to point out similar problems with the lack of diversity and suppression of female roles in a male-dominated industry. While there is a part of the industry that may see the post-Pao complaints as opportunists looking for a quick payout, one still cannot deny that Pao’s courtroom battle showed the tech elite that they should review their commitments to diversity.
In her latest public controversy, Pao is driven to make the company profitable but neglected the ramifications of the decision to remove a popular asset from the company as well as introduce changes without sufficient notice. Not only did she underestimate the transition, she did not recognize the grassroots efforts of retribution.
We shall see if Pao can rebound from this setback or if she will be out of work yet again. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.