Ellen Pao - Tackling Sexism in Silicon Valley with "Reset" - Extended Interview

Extended - September 20, 2017 - Ellen Pao 09/20/2017 Views: 19,037

"Reset" author Ellen Pao talks about the gender discrimination that compelled her to file a lawsuit against her former employer in the tech industry. (7:36)

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My guest tonight made headlineswhen she sued her employer,

a Silicon Valleyventure capital firm,

for gender discrimination.

She tells her side of the storyin her new memoir,

Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change.

Please welcome Ellen Pao.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you for having me.

And congratulations on the book.

It's a story that's powerfulmostly because...

it's happening right nowin a really big way

in Silicon Valley.

A lot of peoplefirst heard your name

when your case roseto prominence,

suing a venture capital firmfor sexism.

Was it a daunting experiencefor you going in

and suing for sexism,something that so many people

struggle to even prove exists?

It was hard.It was something

that a lot of peoplehad told me not to do.

They had gone through it,and they said, you know,

you get attacked personally,you spend a lot of money on it,

professionally,it's hard to get hired again.

But, for me, I had triedevery other avenue.

I had, you know,talked to people, complained,

I had written a memo,I had, you know,

tried with another womanto try to get people to change,

and it wasn't changing,and I said, like,

if they don't change,like, what...

it's just gonna happento more and more people.

So, for me, it felt like,you know, I was in a position

where financially,I could afford it,

and I knew I was right,

and I wanted to make sure

that other peoplecould hear the story.

Just to give someone an insight,and you speak about this

in the book,and it's really clear, but...

for someone who wantsto delve into your story,

explain to themwhat that sexism was.

Because people go:Is it the grabbing of a behind,

or is it a crude statement?

But it was somethingthat was far more sinister,

because it almost seemedlike it wasn't happening.

What was happening when youwere working for this firm,

and really,in Silicon Valley as a whole?

Yeah, there are two kinds.It was one, like,

you would see...none of the women got promoted.

There was one round where noneof the women got promoted.

We all had, you know,longer work experience,

mostly better educations,

and one woman had actuallygone through the analysis

to show that her investments

were doing betteron average than the men,

and then all the mengot promoted.

So you weren't giventhe same opportunities,

people would take away projectsthat you were working on.

On maternity leave,three of us lost board seats

-that we had been tryingto get. -Wow.

But, then,it was also the subtle things,

like not being includedin meetings,

not being includedin conversations,

not being includedin e-mail threads.

And a lot of the work was around

understandingthe information flow,

what's happening, where theinteresting opportunities are,

and, uh, you know,building these relationships.

So you were excludedfrom all that,

and then also you hadthe crude conversations.

So, you know, I'm on theairplane, the private jet,

flying to New Yorkfrom California,

and all of a sudden, you know,

-these three guys start talkingabout porn stars. -Right.

And, you know, being in thePlayboy mansion,

getting a picture taken.

And she's alsoin this contest show,

where you have sex acts to tryto get a movie right.

And just on and on and on,

so it was a mix of everything.

Now, you-you have this growing,where, for a long time,

many industries have beenmale dominated.

Um, the tech industryis an interesting one

because, for a long time,coding, in America,

was female-driven.

And then men realizedhow much money there was,

and they were like,"Step aside, ladies." Right?

And-and that changed everything,

and now, you know,they dominate it.

But what happenedin Silicon Valley

was particularly interestingbecause the culture changed

from, let's say "nerd culture,"to "frat culture."

How did that happenand why?

I think it started out, it was,like, when I joined,

it was very much,we're excited about products,

we're excited about technology.

And then in 2008,Wall Street became a place

nobody wanted to work at,and also,

you started to see peoplemaking a lot of money in tech.

So at some point, people stoppedgoing to Wall Street,

and they started comingto Silicon Valley.

And that culture of greed,that kind of cool,

frat-boy culture came intoSilicon Valley,

-wh-where it hadn't beenas much before. -Right.

If you, if you speak to people

who really don't see your pointof view-- I mean, you know,

there was the infamousGoogle memo that came out.

The employee who said, um,women aren't as smart,

their IQs... they-they aren'tas good at coding,

and this is the only reasonthey're not getting promoted.

How do you work to dispelthose myths?

How do you work to inform people

on the realitiesof women in tech?

I think a lot of it is justtelling your story.

So, for me, it was tellingmy story, and then having

a lot of other peopletell their stories.

And I've heard from a lotof men that, you know,

their mom said that somethingthat happened in my trial

-was something that hadhappened to them. -Wow.

And, you know, my coworker,actually sat next to me,

and she told me she hadbeen harassed,

and it was similar to somethingthat you had experienced,

and that's why sheshared it with me.

But if people start tellingtheir stories,

and individuals startconnecting to them,

it's very powerful.

And you-you sued the company.

A lot of people would go,

"Oh, obviously,you sued for the money."

They offered you a settlement,and it was, you know,

around three to fiveor $7 million.

And they said, "Here'sthe money. Take the money.

And sign this non-disclosure,and walk away."

-You refused that.-Right.

You lost the case.

And then theyoffered you more money

to pay for your legal costs,which was, again,

a few million dollars.And they said,

"Hey, if you just sign thisand go away,

we'll give you the money."You said no twice,

so it clearlywasn't about the money.

What is this about, for you?

For me it's aboutright and wrong.

It's about peoplebeing treated fairly.

It's about people gettinga fair shot to succeed.

It's about this massive creationof wealth and power

where a lot of people have notbeen able to participate.

And if you lookat what's happening,

there's a set of people whodon't think that we're equal.

That you, because you're black,me, because I'm a woman...

Wait, I'm black?

But-but... but, you know, thatwe can't contribute as much.

-Right. -That we don't deservethese opportunities, that we

don't belong. And that, to me,is just fundamentally unfair.

How do you-how do yougo about fixing it?

Because we understandthat these problems exist.

Some people may even say,"Ellen, I'm just a guy

working in the tech world.I didn't know that speaking

about the Playboy Mansioncould have been seen as sexist"

or "I wasn't trying to do that"or "I didn't even realize

"that not including youin the thread was something

"that excluded youfrom a conversation

that could havegotten you promoted."

What is the solution?What can tech companies--

and companies as a whole--be doing to try and become

more inclusivein a progressive manner?

Yeah. Well, I think now...now you know. Right?

Like, all these womenare telling their stories

and they're telling youwhat's acceptable,

what's not acceptable,and you can choose to change.

And I think, at the endof the day, it really

-goes up to the CEO level.-Right.

So, the CEOs determinethe culture in the companies,

then they needto think about creating

those comprehensive plansto make sure their companies

are inclusive. And that meansmaking sure that, uh,

they include everyone,so it's not just women,

which a lot of companiesare, "Oh, it's so hard,

I'm just gonna bring women in."

-Right. -No, you need to make itinclusive for everyone,

or it's not inclusive.The second part

-is making it comprehensive.-(cheering, applause)

Making it comprehensive,so it's not just,

"Oh, I'm gonna hire some peopleand throw 'em in there

and I've done my job." It's"I got to promote people fairly,

I need to give them fairsalaries, I need to make sure

that they get opportunitiesto succeed and to be seen

and to be heard. And thenI also need to make sure that

I measure it. I make sure thatI'm actually doing it and that

I hold people accountablewhen it's not happening.

Well, I can tell you this--as someone who loves the world

of tech and is intrigued byeverything that's going on,

this book was eye-openingand fascinating, so thank you

-very much for writing it.-Thank you for having me.

Thank you for being on the show. Reset is available now.

Ellen Pao, everybody.

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