Ellen Pao sees progress, but not enough, among women in tech

Ellen Pao applauded the rising number of women CEOs at tech companies and women investing in tech, but lamented that they were too often hidden and didn’t receive the same recognition as their male counterparts.

Pao, who spoke Friday at a 500 Startups conference, also said she was encouraged by the number of women starting their own venture capital firms. She pointed to Aileen Lee, a former Kleiner Perkins partner who left that shop to start Cowboy Ventures, and Aspect Ventures, led by Jennifer Fonstadt and Theresia Gouw, which just raised a $150 million inaugural fund.

“Having these women-led firms is going to be really helpful because they are going to be really successful,” Pao said. But, she added: “It’s weird that women have to start their own firms to be successful.”

And, she said, there’s a long way to go before the venture capital industry achieves the gender balance it ought to have — 50 percent women.

“Ideally at some point it should get to 50 percent,” Pao said. “You should reflect the world that you’re in.”

Pao was interviewed by 500 Startups founder Dave McClure at the Friday event in San Francisco.

Pao in March lost a high-profile sex-discrimination lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She sued the firm in 2012 for discrimination and retaliation after a seven-year career there. She rallied the support of many in Silicon Valley who believe the venture industry has for too long been a boys’ club that excluded women investors and entrepreneurs. Earlier this month she filed a notice to appeal, and asked Kleiner Perkins for $2.7 million in exchange for dropping her appeal. Kleiner in return has demanded nearly $1 million in reimbursement for its court costs and expert witness feeds during the five-week trial that played out in San Francisco Superior Court.

Pao said it often takes a while — perhaps years — for women to recognize discrimination at a VC firm.

“It’s hard to tell going in because everyone is so nice,” she said. “It takes a while to get an investment in and takes a while to be successful … so you are there trying to build your career.”

She added that more women are turning to angel investing but that style of investing lacks the mentorship opportunities many women are seeking. Pao — who is now interim CEO of Reddit, after being fired from Kleiner in 2012 — said she has 10 angel investments, and half of those companies have a woman founder.

Pao also discussed Reddit’s policy of offering job candidates non-negotiable salaries. It’s a policy, Pao said, that previous Reddit CEO Yishan Wong helped craft but Pao implemented after she took over as interim CEO in November. Reddit offers market-rate salaries to applicants and is willing to negotiate on stock options, but not on salary. Research shows men are more likely than women to negotiate for a salary increase, and are rewarded when they do. Women, however, are more likely to be penalized for negotiating. The result is a pay inequity, Pao said.

“I haven’t heard any complaints yet,” she said of the new policy. “We’re tracking it … It’s all an experiment to see how we can create a more fair environment.”

She added that the inequity existed not just with women but with blacks and Latinos. Reddit has about five African-American employees, including one engineer and one woman, Pao said.

Photo: Ellen Pao arrives at Superior Court in San Francisco, Calif., Tuesday morning March 10, 2015, for her second day on the stand in a gender discrimination trial against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. By Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group.


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  • Mies Rohe

    Does anyone care at all what Ellen Pao thinks?

    Seriously, no credibility at all. She represents complete failure.

  • John

    bang the boss, sue the boss, become the boss…………..u go grrrl……..
    oh wait…………..oooops….!

  • mogden

    Essentially a shakedown artist / criminal, but certainly a heroine to some.

  • h0tr0d

    What makes her an expert ?….failed lawsuit ?

  • sociopathic

    What kind of fantasy world does she live in?

    “Ideally at some point it should get to 50 percent,” Pao said. “You should reflect the world that you’re in.”

    Look at the number of students that enter business schools, and the companies that VC’s are investing in.

    You don’t see a 50/50 split, you see a majority being male dominated fields.

    Is the next step to mandate 50/50 admissions for University programs, much like Title IX has done for college athletics?

    And for those who don’t know – if you don’t get that 1:1 ratio, you cut the male programs until you achieve it.

  • Mav 258

    does it have to be women only? what about race men (asian, black, hispanic)? And what about age (40s, 50s, 60s, 70s)? If Ellen Pao only focus on hiring women and not overall all race and age, for sure we can all sue Ellen Pao for age and racial discriminations.

  • chasmader

    I wish she would go back to wherever it is she came from.

  • Mario

    Yet another feminist advocacy piece, by a white feminist woman. Your activism has jumped the shark. I avoid working/hiring women these days, especially white women.

  • InconvenientTruthsYouHate

    Sorry, Ellen, but that’s going to take about 20 years to fix. No “instant gratification” here. Parents have to educate and interest their young girls in STEM before you can have as many qualified female applicants as you seem to want.

  • conniesz

    The comments here just reinforce the attitude of way too many people in high tech.

    • h0tr0d

      Isnt that the point ? Women have been graduating at 50% higher rates than men for decades and yet…..nothing. Why should society force women to do something they obviously are not interested in ?