If you have time for one long-read this week, then consider this excerpt from former venture capitalist Ellen Pao’s upcoming book Reset, published by New York Magazine. It covers the story behind her unsuccessful discrimination suit against venture firm Kleiner Perkins, which had been covered extensively by Fortune and others.
But hearing her story in her own words – the ways large and small she was ignored, harassed or reduced to a stereotype by men who are powerful in familiar ways, is instructive and transcends tech.
In retrospect, there were some early warning signs, like when John [Doerr] declared that he’d specifically requested an Asian woman for my position. He liked the idea of a “Tiger Mom–raised” woman. He usually had two chiefs of staff at a time, one of each gender, but the male one seemed to focus mostly on investing and the female one did more of the grunt work and traveled with him. “There are certain things I am just more comfortable asking a woman to do,” John once told me matter-of-factly.
And then there’s this.
When I gave birth to my first child, some partners at work treated my taking maternity leave as the equivalent of abandoning a ship in the middle of a typhoon to get a manicure. Juliet de Baubigny, one of the partners who had helped recruit me, had warned me that taking time off would put my companies at risk of being commandeered by another partner. I knew two other women who had board seats taken away during their maternity leaves. Juliet coached me on how to keep at least one company by leading their search for a CEO even though technically I was on leave. I’d arranged to take four months off, but after three I felt pressure to return.
And her peers had preferences which they expressed early and often. In call girls. In who should speak up at meetings. Even in investment-worthy entrepreneurs. “We think it’s young white men, ideally Ivy League dropouts, who are the safest bets,” she was told. It was career death by a thousand sexist, racist paper cuts until it got septic. On the man she says harassed her: “Not only was he blocking my work, he had been promoted to a position of even greater responsibility and was giving me negative reviews. I started to lodge formal complaints about him. In response, the firm suggested I transfer to the China office.”
Her lawsuit, which she lost, cited gender discrimination in promotion and pay, and retaliation against her for reporting the sexual harassment.
But the outcome of the hard work she put into making her case and enduring public derision, is now known as the Pao Effect. Her example gave space for other women and underrepresented groups in tech to take their own claims public. (The two best recent examples are Niniane Wang of Evertoon and Susan Fowler, formerly of Uber. More on the culture of harassment here.)
And admirably, Pao has turned her experience into a calling to improve the industry she trained her whole life to join. Project Include is a non-profit which shares recommendations, data and best practices designed to help leaders drive inclusion at every level.
The organization has compiled an enormous amount of useful information, all easily accessible. Here’s hoping the tech industry will take heed as the Pao Effect scales. But it’s hard not to factor in the opportunity costs for Pao and her fellow travelers who at various times have spent as much time fighting for their rights as they have to advance to yet unrealized innovations that they were initially drawn to. Only time will tell whether their dreams, even temporarily deferred, will run or rise.
|Machines who learn by scanning photos are now sexist|
|Who could have predicted machines who “learn from the world” would develop a bias? Crazy, I know. But that’s what computer scientist Vicente Ordóñez and his team from UVA learned when they tested two large collections of labeled photos to see if bias had been “unconsciously injected” into them. “Two prominent research-image collections—including one supported by Microsoft and Facebook—display a predictable gender bias in their depiction of activities such as cooking and sports. Images of shopping and washing are linked to women, for example, while coaching and shooting are tied to men.” What’s worse, these associations are amplified by machine learning. Click through for the implications about race and more.|
|White nationalist Christopher Cantwell may or may not be going back to jail|
|Christopher Cantwell, the self-described white nationalist who starred in this Vice News report has become internet famous. According to The New York Times, the documentary, which featured a heavily armed Cantwell making grandiose threats and pepper spraying people, has been viewed more than 44 million times since it aired on Aug. 14. Now, Charlottesville officials say that four warrants have been issued for his arrest for his behavior in their city. Cantwell has never been able to keep himself from talking. He contributed to this profile from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which chronicled his criminal record and substance and alcohol abuse problems. “[M]y goal here is to normalize racism,” he said. “I’m going to make a whole fucking bunch of money doing it.”|
|New York Times|
|Sierra Leone’s tragedy is being ignored by the world|
|Last week a mudslide, triggered by torrential rains, hit the outskirts of their capital city of Freetown. Some 400 people were killed, and many more remain missing, dispossessed and in urgent need of help. With the exception of relief agencies on the ground, nearby African governments and members of diaspora communities who have been contributing online, there has been little organized support for the victims, nor plan for clean-up and rebuilding. And, as the bodies continue to fill the overloaded morgue, there is a massive public health crisis in the offing.|
|International Business Times|
The Woke Leader
|Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Seth Mnuchin, is in trouble again|
|On Monday, Linton, an actress, posted an Instagram photo of her and her husband deplaning Air Force One, tagging her designer accessories as if it were a photo shoot. After a woman complained, she returned with a tone deaf rant. “Aw!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable! Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol.” It got worse from there, as per usual. But what I’d forgotten was that Linton was originally famous for another terrible rant, called “How My Dream Gap Year in Africa Turned Into a Nightmare,” a story published then deleted by the Telegraph. Last year, Karen Attiah turned the piece into a teachable moment. “If ‘How Not to Write About Africa’ were an Olympic floor gymnastics event, Linton’s piece would be a strong contender for a gold medal, because she deploys, with maximum flourish, just about every lazy trope there is when it comes to writing about Africa.”|
|A new school play revives Australia’s terrible history and made some grown-ups really mad|
|The play was part of a multi-grade history presentation, with various grades performing the entirety of Australian history. The part performed by 9-12-year-olds was dedicated to the Stolen Generations of indigenous children who were forced from their families and taken into foster care, group homes or Christian missions, often to terrible abuse. The practice lasted from 1883-1969. Australia didn’t apologize officially until 2008. Some of the white people who watched the play were “horrified” in predictable ways. One right-wing talk show host called out the “socialist engineers masquerading as teachers who organised the left-leaning display”, saying children “go to school for an education, not to be indoctrinated by rabid left-wingers.” Other parents, however, were grateful for the presentation. “[D]iscomfort should not be a reason not to teach our children about the facts of important events in Australia’s history,” said one.|
|Because it’s there|
|In Mount Everest terms, Lhaka Sherpa is the most successful female climber of all time. Last year, she achieved her seventh summit. Yet her life has been an odd mix of broken bones and broken dreams. And her day job? A housekeeper in Connecticut and a part time shift at a 7-11. Grayson Schaffer with a surprising profile of a woman who should be a household name.|