Ellen Pao lost – but women are the real winners

by HCA01 Apr 2015
On Friday, venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was cleared of gender discrimination allegations – plaintiff Ellen Pau may have lost her case but experts say the real victory belongs to women.

“This case has been a real wake-up call for the technology industry in general and the venture capital community in particular,'' said Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University who teaches gender equity law.

Pau took legal action against Kleiner Perkins after she felt she had been skipped over for a promotion due to her gender and was allegedly subjected to a series of sexist indignities, including; being given a book of erotic poetry from a partner, being asked to take notes like a secretary at a meeting, being cut out of emails and meetings by a male colleague with whom she broke off an affair, and being pressured to talk about pornography aboard a private plane.

While Kleiner Perkins didn’t have to cough up the $16 million Pau was seeking, Rhode says the prominent firm didn’t come out unscathed and the venture capital industry in general will have to do some serious damage limitation.

The case attracted international attention and revealed to the public just how male-dominated the industry is.

Just last year, Babson College in Massachusetts found that women filled just six per cent of partner level positions at 139 venture capital firms and studies such as this finally made it into the public sphere.

Freada Kapor Klein, founder of the Level Playing Field Institute – a non-profit that aims to boost minority representation in science, tech, engineering and maths – said that during the trial, she was contacted by more than a dozen venture capital firm seeking her advice on how to improve their environment and encourage women into their company.

But it’s not just companies that felt compelled to act as a result of the trial – according to David Lewis, CEO of Operations Inc., a human resources consulting and contracting firm, the attention surrounding the case will inspire other women who have been discriminated against to step forward.

Two women who formerly worked at Facebook and Twitter filed gender discrimination cases against the companies during the Pao trial.


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