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There’s plenty of evidence that Silicon Valley needs a “reset.”
From Uber’s months-long internal investigation following sexual harassment allegations to a class-action lawsuit filed against Google for its alleged gender pay gap, this year has been full of reminders that the tech industry is far from the meritocracy it claims to be.
The cost of speaking out is incredibly high because of the staunch desire by those in power to preserve the status quo.
“I could have received millions from my adversaries if I would just have signed a non-disparagement contract; I turned it down so I could write this book and share my side,” writes Ellen Pao in her new book, “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change.”
Pao is best known for her 2015 gender discrimination court case against her former employer — prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.
Her book, which is out on Tuesday, details her account of the time she spent at Kleiner Perkins, the trial and its aftermath. She candidly shares little known details about her life, like a miscarriage and her daughter going into anaphylactic shock during the trial. Although Pao lost the case, the high-profile trial brought national attention to sexism in tech. The issue has increasingly found its way into the news in recent months as more women go public with their stories.
“[Kleiner Perkins] did not want this to go to trial at all … and I did,” she writes.
“They were, I could see, highly motivated to silence me. I couldn’t see them hiring someone to hurt me … [but] in an overabundance of caution, I went to an estate lawyer and made sure my will was in order.”
It’s not the only eerie detail in the book, which also includes anecdotes that strangely resemble recent headlines. Pao writes that some in positions of power at Kleiner Perkins “acted as if a dearth of women was a huge mystery” at the firm.
“Some people passed it off as biological,” she writes.
It’s a familiar argument also made by former Google engineer James Damore, whose 3,300-word manifesto about diversity went viral in August. Damore, who was fired from Google, claimed to value diversity and inclusion but proposed women aren’t biologically fit for tech roles.
Pao’s book sheds a light not only on what she says is the culture at Kleiner Perkins, as well as her time at Reddit, where she served as interim CEO at the time of the trial.
Now the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Kapor Center for Social Impact and an investment partner at Kapor Capital, Pao doesn’t regret her very public fight against her employer, despite the outcome. She says she was “moved again and again” hearing that the case opened people’s eyes to tech’s culture issues. It led her to co-found Project Include, a nonprofit that aims to help companies achieve more diverse workforces.
In response to “Reset,” Kleiner Perkins said Pao’s claims against the firm “were examined thoroughly during a five-week trial in 2015 and were rejected by the jury which decided against her on every claim.”
In its statement, the firm added that it “wholeheartedly believes in the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce. We support Ellen Pao’s mission and efforts through Project Include to improve workplace culture for women and other under-represented groups.”
Since the trial, Pao has emerged as something of a leader for the club of women who’ve spoken out against harassment in the industry. She mentions how women in tech have reached out to her, including those who have gone public with their own stories like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Gesche Haas and Niniane Wang. Wang, an entrepreneur, is one of three women who came forward by name this year with harassment allegations against venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck. Caldbeck resigned from his firm as a result.
“Good omens for diversity are everywhere,” writes Pao, noting that there’s no roadmap. “[There are only] occasional sign posts that show us we’re headed in the right direction.”
CNNMoney (New York) First published September 19, 2017: 12:15 PM ET
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