Right now in a San Francisco courtroom, opening arguments are beginning in the case of Ellen Pao vs. venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
This is the highly-anticipated trial that pits Pao, the current interim CEO of Reddit, against her former employer KBCB, where she was a junior partner and allegedly experienced gender discrimination and retaliation.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that this case is a microcosm of gender relations within Silicon Valley venture capital, particularly if some blatantly discriminatory skeletons are unearthed. But this case doesn’t really fit the bill. Not because “every case is about unique individuals and circumstances,” but because Pao’s very presence within a successful venture capital firm was unusual in the first place.
There are 191 venture capital firms that have raised at least one fund of $100 million or more since 2009. Those firms currently employ 1,687 investment professionals, but only 168 of them are women. Or, put another way, plenty of firms don’t have a single female investor on staff in their U.S. offices. Among them is Sand Hill Rd. stalwart Sequoia Capital, which happens to be an investor in Reddit.
To be clear, KPCB’s history of hiring women — including two as current general partners — has no real bearing on the validity of Pao’s allegations. But it also is different from that of many of KPCB’s peers, where gender discrimination is codified by gender exclusion. So it’s kind of too bad that this case isn’t a microcosm, because that would at least reflect the existence of more female venture capitalists.
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