Sexism and Silicon Valley

Ellen Pao is accusing venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of discrimination.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 01 Mar 2016

Silicon Valley may be an ocean and a continent away, but accusations of gender discrimination are all too familiar. Ellen Pao is accusing West Coast venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of paying her less than male colleagues, not promoting her or taking her complaints of bias seriously and eventually firing her unfairly.

Pao, who is currently interim chief executive of anarchic online forum Reddit, filed the $16m (£10.3m) lawsuit back in 2012 when she was a junior partner at the firm. She claimed a married fellow junior partner pressured her into an affair and then retaliated against her when they broke up. When she took the issue to her boss, she says she was told not to complain, given poor reviews and then fired.

KPCB, for its part, says Pao, who has an engineering degree from Princeton and studied business at Harvard, argued with colleagues and didn’t have enough experience to be promoted.

It’s up to the jury, of course, to decide who wins out in this case, but the accusations do fit uncomfortably well alongside reams of evidence of sexism in the tech industry and business more broadly, both in the US and back across the pond here. For a start, a Fortune study of American performance reviews last year found women received far more critical feedback than men, which was in turn more likely to personal rather than constructive. Much like what KPCB is alleging about Pao.

It gets worse. Only 6% of partners in American vc firms were women, compared to 10% in 1999, according to a September 2014 report by Babson College. Less 25% of tech roles and 30% of leadership positions in tech giants including Facebook, Google, and Yahoo were held by women last year.

And, despite many companies’ best efforts to increase diversity, 52% of women will quit science, engineering and tech in the US because of the ‘hostile’ environment, according to a 2008 Harvard Business Review study, which was updated in 2014.

In the UK, meanwhile, only 13% of people in those industries are women, according to WISE, a group dedicated to increasing that disturbingly low figure. That’s even worse than the City.

Before anyone gets too depressed, though, I recommend reading this recent list of inspiring women in European tech. We should obviously call out sexism where it happens, but we also need to shout about the great role models already out there. That, as much as anything, will encourage more women to get into the industry and break down discrimination.

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