The jury is in: Interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao has lost her historic gender discrimination lawsuit against former employer and venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, meaning she gets nothing.
But sexism and gender discrimination is a very real problem within the technology industry.
The reason you don’t see many successful gender discrimination lawsuits is that it’s so hard to prove — the attitudes that keep women from rising to senior management are difficult to trace back to email threads, notebooks, and even testimonies, which are the only weapons that a litigant has in their arsenal. And deep-seated feelings and institutional biases don’t usually come across in those.
It’s all about credibility, and Kleiner Perkins did a very good job of undermining Pao’s.
This doesn’t mean we can ignore the problem, though.
Just ask Sam Altman, the President of prominent startup farm Y Combinator and one of Ellen Pao’s current bosses, who said “sexism in tech is very real” back in 2014, and reiterated it on Twitter in reference to Pao’s lawsuit.
Just look at the testimony from this trial: While the jury found against Pao, there was definitely some upsetting behaviour on display, like the revelation that ex-Kleiner Perkins partner Ajit Nazre tricking Pao into a relationship by not disclosing that he was married, or senior partner Ted Schlein referring to Pao as not having the “genetic makeup” to be a successful venture capitalist.
Just read the lawsuit filed last week by an ex-Twitter employee, claiming that the company’s weird promotion structure ensures only men get to the top.
Pao may or may not have been discriminated against in her time at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The jury in this case obviously didn’t seem to think so. But there just aren’t a lot of women in the technology industry, and the ones that are have to put up with a lot of garbage just to be taken seriously.
If nothing else, this trial started conversations on discrimination in the workplace that may never have happened otherwise, forcing the industry to reexamine its own practices. What the industry does with what it’s learned, only time will tell.