Editor’s note: Ellen Pao’s new book, “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change,” chronicles her career in Silicon Valley and gender discrimination lawsuit against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Pao recently spoke with PBS NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman. Here is an excerpt of their conversation, edited for length and clarity. Watch the full segment on Thursday’s broadcast.
Paul Solman: From your biography, you do not seem like the person who would sue Kleiner Perkins, or for that matter, pretty much anyone.
Ellen Pao: It’s not my nature. I think the lawsuit was part of a mission to call attention to this problem. I had tried so many other ways beforehand. But this is a culture that has pervasive problems, and seeing the extent of it, [I knew] we need to do a whole reset.
PS: What was the percentage of women in venture capital when you were there?
EP: I believe it was about 6 percent.
PS: And what’s it now?
EP: I think it’s gone down. I think it’s gone down to maybe 5 percent. And you know, less than 1 percent are black, or Latinx.
PS: Do you think that you were sort of suppressing feelings you were having at the time, or the sense you were getting that there was systemic discrimination against you as a woman? Perhaps you as a minority?
EP: There were a lot of small things that would make it very hard for women to be successful. So women were asked to take notes at meetings, and men were not. Women were asked to babysit. Women were asked to do some of the menial tasks of organizing events and planning conferences that the men were not. So, when it came time to invest, which was the work that you would get recognized and promoted for and compensated for, it was much harder for women to be taken seriously and it was harder to get investments through, and it was harder to be successful.
I was getting blocked. I wasn’t being invited to meetings. One of the women at the firm also actually mapped out investments for the women and investments for the men, and showed that the women’s investments were doing significantly better … we have more experience, we have more education, on average, and, we’re not getting promoted. And, as a group, most of the men got promoted.
PS: And you weren’t getting promoted because?
EP: Because we were women. And there was some kind of belief that the men were better, despite all of the results and the records.
PS: When you confronted that reality, did you think, ‘I’m in the wrong place? This is the wrong world for me?’
EP: I actually tried to quit in 2007. I said, this culture … it’s not my culture. And they told me they wanted to change their culture, that the things that I was bringing up were things that they did not want to be. It wasn’t until I really saw [that] I [couldn’t] succeed, or any other woman in the firm — that was really the catalyst for me litigating.
PS: So you felt it was your duty to sue?
EP: Yeah, I would say that. I felt if I didn’t do it, then who would do it? So I sued for sexual discrimination and retaliation.
PS: Was it worth it?
EP: Yeah. I would do it again. And I think that this year, with all these people coming out and with the press and the public being so much more receptive to their stories and being able to take them at face value, [the kind of criticism] I went through has kind of dissipated as people see, wow, this is a huge problem.