Tags: Pao | verdict | silicon | culture

Pao Verdict No Vindication for Silicon Valley Bro Culture

Friday, 27 Mar 2015 08:39 PM

Don’t be fooled by the verdict in Ellen Pao’s discrimination lawsuit.

A San Francisco jury of six men and six women on Friday rejected her claims of discrimination and retaliation by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Yet the monthlong trial laid bare the scarcity of female leadership in Silicon Valley and its failure to enact systems to ensure that minorities and other outsiders can get a fair shake.

“Despite the verdict, the case has done what it was meant to do: raise the issue, which now has resonated throughout the technology community,” said Kay Koplovitz, who founded USA Network and now is chairman of Springboard Enterprises, which is dedicated to expanding technology companies led by women.

“The gender-inequity problem is systemic in Silicon Valley and it unfortunately has to be brought to light through cases like these,” Koplovitz, a director at Liz Claiborne Inc., Ruckus Media Group and other companies, said Friday.

The trial, which transfixed Silicon Valley, aired questions about women’s roles in the larger technology industry and amped up a dialog that had been under way for years.

‘Lean In’

Pao filed her case in 2012 and the next year, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg published “Lean In,” kicking off an international debate about women in the workforce. It expanded the industry’s lexicon for understanding gender issues, particularly regarding “unconscious bias,” in which women may be interrupted and ignored in meetings or subtly excluded. Pao said such behavior was discriminatory.

The gender imbalance in venture capital has become a topic of conversation. The percentage of women investors has decreased since the Internet boom, to 6 percent last year from 10 percent in 1999, according to Babson College.

“This will put the VC community on notice that you can’t escape scrutiny,” Rayona Sharpnack, chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Leadership in San Rafael, California, said after Friday’s verdict. “Any time these issues get aired it moves us closer to cleaning things up.”

Human Resources

It was Kleiner Perkins that was on trial, though, so it was natural that the harshest revelations were about that firm. The trial revealed that the partnership didn’t have an internal human-resource department or clear policies around hiring and firing.

Kleiner Perkins argued that, with about 40 partners, it was small enough to operate informally.

For any shortcomings exposed by the case, the four-decade- old Kleiner Perkins and Managing Partner John Doerr will continue to have influence in Silicon Valley and keep luring startups seeking funding and expertise.

“People are still going to want a firm like Kleiner Perkins to back them, not just for capital but for their expertise, their contacts,” said Monica Dodi, managing director and co-founder of the Women’s Venture Capital Fund. “Really looking at things objectively, I can’t think of a single entrepreneur that would say no.”

Pao’s case and how her legal team presented it will be scrutinized by other people considering whether to file bias claims -- and bring them to trial.

For almost every offensive episode Pao’s side described -- male co-workers engaged in banter about porn stars, a man’s explanation that women weren’t invited to a dinner with partner Al Gore because they would “kill the buzz,” her receipt from a senior partner of a book of erotic poetry -- Kleiner called witnesses to testify that the alleged events didn’t occur or were taken out of context.

Going Alone

With no co-defendants, Pao’s character and motives came under fire from the defense. She had said that there were other women at the firm who also expressed concerns about gender bias. Kleiner disputed that, and the unnamed colleagues didn’t take the stand.

Despite Pao’s loss, Silicon Valley is “a boy’s club that treats women like second-class citizens,” said Lucie Salhany, a former director at Hewlett-Packard Co. “Look at the companies there and the composition of boards, and look at the paltry numbers of women. It’s exclusionary.”


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Don't be fooled by the verdict in Ellen Pao's discrimination lawsuit. A San Francisco jury of six men and six women on Friday rejected her claims of discrimination and retaliation by Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers.Yet the monthlong trial laid bare the scarcity of female...
Pao, verdict, silicon, culture
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2015-39-27
Friday, 27 Mar 2015 08:39 PM
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