Sneak peek of Ellen Pao’s tell-all memoir: ‘I didn’t have regrets’

Losing her high-profile gender discrimination trial against one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture capital firms hurt, but she doesn’t regret the fight, Ellen Pao writes in her new memoir.

The tell-all book, which promises juicy new details about the bias Pao says she faced in the tech world, and about the trial that made her a household name in the valley, doesn’t go on sale until Sept. 19. But Pao published an excerpt Sunday in New York Magazine’s The Cut.

Pao took Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to trial in San Francisco in 2015, in a case where she says she “was often cast as the villain — incompetent, greedy, aggressive, and cold.”

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“My husband and I were both dragged through the mud, our privacy destroyed,” she writes. “For a long time I didn’t challenge those stories, because I wasn’t ready to talk about my experience in detail. Now I am.”

The excerpt chronicles some of the exclusion she faced as one of few women investors at Kleiner, offering her fresh perspective on the stories that came out at trial. She describes an instance where, while on a private plane for a business trip with Kleiner partners, a tech CEO and another investor, she tried to “lean in” by taking a “power seat” at the front of the plane with the men. But the conversation quickly turned to porn star Jenna Jameson, and then to the men’s dating preferences.

“Taking your seat at the table doesn’t work so well, I thought, when no one wants you there,” Pao writes.

Pao also claims that former Kleiner managing partner John Doerr specifically requested an Asian “Tiger Mom-raised” woman for Pao’s chief of staff position. She says he once told her “There are certain things I am just more comfortable asking a woman to do.”

Kleiner Perkins responded to Pao’s book in an emailed statement:

“Kleiner Perkins wholeheartedly believes in the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce,” spokeswoman Amanda Duckworth wrote. “We support Ellen Pao’s mission and efforts through Project Include to improve workplace culture for women and other under-represented groups. However, Pao’s claims against Kleiner Perkins were examined thoroughly during a five-week trial in 2015 and were rejected by the jury which ruled against her on every claim.”

Pao’s excerpt of her book also provides an inside look into the cutthroat world of venture capital, where she says backstabbing and under-the-table deals are commonplace. Partners trade votes for investments on a quid-pro-quo basis, she writes. Or, she says, they trash or block investments they don’t wan to see go through.

“Venture capital’s underbelly of competitiveness exists in part because the more I invest, the less money for you, my partner, to make your investments,” Pao writes. “And we’re all trying to make as many investments as possible because chances are low that any one investment is going to be successful. Partners can increase their own odds by excluding all of your investments.”

Pao describes some regrets she has about the trial — in an effort to avoid antagonizing the jurors by getting fired up over the questions posed by Kleiner’s lawyers, she says she came across as “distant, even a bit robotic.” And she kept quiet when Kleiner’s lawyer asserted that she’d “never done anything for women,” which she says was difficult.

Pao also reveals some personal details, including about her relationship with married partner Ajit Nazre, for which she was attacked at trial. She says she had a “short-lived, sporadic fling” after Nazre told her he’d split up with his wife, and she broke it off immediately upon learning the couple was still together.

And she describes the backlash she faced after filing the lawsuit.

“The negativity wore me down,” Pao writes. And, she was pregnant at the time. In June 2012, she suffered a miscarriage, which she suggests might have been at least partially caused by the stress of the case.

“I felt, in that moment, that Kleiner had taken everything from me,” Pao writes.

Then she was fired from the VC firm.

“On the drive home, I wept,” Pao writes. “Some of it was sorrow. Most of it was relief.”

Check Sept. 19 for a write-up on the entire book.

Photo: Ellen Pao is photographed on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in San Francisco. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)


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