Last month, Ellen Pao lost her gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Now that the trial’s over, Pao spoke to Katie Couric for Yahoo in an interview.
“I’ve told my story to highlight what the problem is, and if people don’t like it, that’s fine — go find somebody else,” Pao told Couric.
“But this is my story and this is something that happens to everybody and they should think about the message and what’s happening and not try to focus on me. It’s not about me.”
At the end of March, Pao lost a lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, where she was a junior partner. She claimed Kleiner Perkins failed to promote her based on her gender, and for firing her to retaliate after she sued.
Now, about a week after the ruling, Pao is talking about fighting bias in Silicon Valley. The bias isn’t always obvious, Pao says. It can feel like “death by 1,000 cuts.”
“I think there should be an equal number of girls and boys studying computers and learning about engineering and maths and doing well in it, but there’s also got to be the opportunities at the back end,” she told Couric. “So we can pull in all these girls and minorities, but if there’s not that opportunity once you get into the workforce, you’re not really solving the problem.”
“You’ve got people who are used to not following rules. And they don’t know where the boundaries for behaviour are,” Pao says, adding that this is one aspect of Silicon Valley culture that is both good for innovation and more detrimental for behaviour in the workplace. “And it works for them in one aspect of their careers: they take risks, and they build products, and people like it, and they get rewarded for it. So, it’s natural for them to bring it into other areas as well.”
Here are some other points Pao touched on during her conversation with Couric.
- How all-male events are harmful to women. “This is what happens when you have an all male event: women in your company feel unwelcome, and you’re forming business relationships, and you’re solving problems that you’re not allowing women to be a part of,” Pao says. “Think about the repercussions of your behaviour that might not be immediately obvious to you. It’s not rules about what you can and can’t do, because I don’t think people are as open to that as really learning about things.”
- The responses Pao got after the trial. “I heard from people all over the world. I heard from men. I heard from women. And it was very inspiring to me to know that something I was doing was having a much bigger impact,” es-he says. “I don’t think I received any direct emails or direct contact from people who are negative. It showed up more anonymously, as these things often do. It didn’t really bother me that much. I stopped reading them after a while because the support was so much more overwhelming.”
- How off-hours business events affect people. “One [way] is you’re forming closer relationships. You’re having discussions about business in these different events,” Pao says. “And you may be actually resolving problems or getting someone to say, ok, I want to do this transaction. I want to have this project move forward. The other one is that people then feel more comfortable in that group. So then if it’s an all male golf outing, they’re all used to being with all men, and then it becomes harder for them to integrate in a male and female organisation.”
- How women are struggling in the workplace today, particularly in the tech industry. “One is the difficulty in being taken seriously sometimes. There’s often — and it happens in every industry — the woman is assumed to be the assistant or the junior person. Women are assumed that they aren’t technical,” she says. “So they come in and you could have an electrical engineering degree but people assume that you’re not technical and will talk to the guy who might not have that degree but they assume he’s going to be more technical. They come in and they don’t get opportunities because people bring them to the person who was at the drinking outing the night before with them. Or the person who’s their best golf buddy. Or the person who goes shooting with them. It’s these little things that add up. They call it the death by a thousand cuts. You’re just constantly trying to get this equal playing field, but being taken out of it step by step.”
- On implicit bias in the workplace. “I think there is implicit bias. I think in this day and age it’s becoming so written about and talked about that it’s hard to imagine that people don’t realise that they have some of it or the people around them have some of it,” she says. “There seems to be two problems. One is that maybe the qualifications are designed in a certain way that it doesn’t allow for some of the broader pool to participate. And the second one is that they have done research where if you see a certain name on a resume, you’re going to be more likely to give someone with the same qualifications an interview than someone with a different name. So there’s a bias that’s going into the process of creating these jobs and opportunities and then there’s a bias going into who’s actually being interviewed for them.”
- On how women can succeed in their industries: “You need both types of people: The people who are willing to be that first woman in that leadership team, and you need women who are willing to keep pushing up in those organisations that are working. It depends on what you want to do, and how much you love that company, and how much you love that product. It’s a really personal decision.”
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