WORDS: JESSICA VANDER LEAHY
Ellen Pao calls out inequality in the male-dominated Silicone Valley in an essay for Lenny Letter on Tuesday.
Like many women my age who are fans of Lena Dunham I awoke this morning to the #7 Lenny letter in my inbox.
Before I scooted off to the loo to do my morning wee I lay in bed with my iPad and read a brutality honest essay written by former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao that both scared the shit out of me and then lit a fire under my ass to become a girl boss in tech, just to spite the Google gods who seem to want to make it really difficult for a woman to be in charge.
Ellen Pao used her essay to make a brilliant comment on the sexism she's experienced while striving to make it in Silicone Valley.
Pao basically said the tech industry is out of excuses to explain away why women are not advancing in their ranks and accused the people at the top (mostly white men - thus the premise of the essay) of saying all the right things, yet doing none of them.
Pao, who brought an unsuccessful high-profile discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins earlier this year, told of her experiences working in the field and dismissed any notion of "unconscious bias" or claims that white men dominate because women and people of colour aren't seeking opportunities in Silicon Valley. To those claims Pao was all like, 'Ahhhh that's BS y'all!' - but much much more graceful.
“Actually, it’s about how the system treats people before and after they enter tech,” Pao wrote. “At this point, we’ve heard enough excuses. Know that when people use dog whistles like ‘the pipeline problem,’ they are saying: We haven’t done anything wrong, and we don’t care to fix it.”
As a Harvard graduate Pao wrote she started her career believing in the system - she figured if she worked hard she would be rewarded fairly, right? Well years of experience have caused her to rethink her former starry-eyed optimism.
Pao writes: "... eventually, there comes a point where you can’t just rally and explain away all the behaviour as creepy exceptions or pin the blame on yourself ... You see patterns, systemic problems, and it doesn’t matter where you are or what industry you pursue.”
Pao would know, she switched from the legal sector to tech but she concedes she was tricked by the clever lip service Silicone Valley pays to meritocracy but doesn't act on.
During her lawsuit Pao claimed in court that she missed out on promotions while working as a junior partner at Kleiner Perkins because of her gender. In the Lenny letter she writes:
I saw inconsistencies in what people said and what they actually did. I saw many firms talking meritocracy but ignoring great opportunities that women brought in or giving men credit for them. I saw the bar for promotion move as soon as a woman crossed it. I saw inconsistencies in how aggressiveness and strong opinions were rewarded across genders. I heard stories about harassment and off-colour jokes and sexist/ageist/racist conversations. Women founders were pushed out or into lesser roles as a condition for investment, while similarly inexperienced male founders were given the benefit of the doubt and supported. And a crowning indignity was listening to a group of men from work talk about porn stars, sex shows, the Playboy mansion, and sexual-partner preferences — and then hearing them discount a talented woman CEO by saying she was only valuable as a board member because she was “hot.”
As the CEO of Reddit Pao banned unauthorised nude photographs, including revenge porn - a move she says earned her the title of the "most hated person on the internet." But despite the rape threats and death threats from trolls she got on with the job, like a good leader should - all the while having a vagina.
For an industry that operates on data, hard numbers and facts the figures alluded to by Pao on women and minorities working in tech should cause a system shutdown.
When Facebook revealed a report about the diversity within its ranks earlier this year the news wasn't good.
Of its employees nearly 70 per cent were men; 57 per cent were white; Hispanics represented just 4 per cent and black employees made up just 2 per cent of their workforce.
“We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google,” wrote Google after it publicly released its data 18-months ago. “We now realise we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues.”
But will transparent diversity data from tech companies make much of a difference - especially when women as capable as Ellen Pao tried for 20 years to break though the boys club?
True to her tech roots Ellen confirmed on Twitter this morning that the sexism she wrote of "is improving". Within the letter she had some advice for women working in male-dominated work cultures.
"Do not give up. You are not alone,” Pao wrote. “When you are thinking about a school, job, or role somewhere, and it doesn’t look right to you, trust your gut. You’ll hear all kinds of defences, but if they really want women and minorities as employees and leaders, why aren’t their numbers higher? Either they don’t really want them or they are incompetent. You shouldn’t work for them either way. If you have the option, run.”
The Lenny letter is always an interesting read - you can subscribe to read the full letter here.