Ellen Pao, a junior partner at well-respected Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the firm and her colleagues including noted venture capitalist John Doerr. According to the suit, which was filed May 10 in California Superior Court in San Francisco, Pao — “considered as thoughtful and smart by investors and entrepreneurs,” according to Forbes – says that she was sexually harassed and discriminated against by her colleagues at Kleiner, an early investor in Google and Amazon.
Pao’s Lawsuit Highlights Gender Discrimination in Silicon Valley
Pao’s lawsuit has already damaged Kleiner Perkins, as Connie Loizos wrote on PEHub, and has sent shock waves throughout Silicon Valley, bringing an “old, old problem” — the lopsided ratio of men to women in the technology world and certainly as venture capitalists and CEOs — to the fore. As the New York Times’ Bits blog notes, woman account for only 6 percent of CEOS at the top technology companies; 22 percent of software engineers at tech companies are women. Women only make up 9.1 percent of board members of Silicon Valley companies; they make up 16 percent of board members for Standard & Poor’s 500 companies.
The “shock” of the lawsuit has been all the greater because Kleiner Perkins, among other Silicon Valley venture capitalists, has been interested in hiring women. One-quarter of its partners are female, the New York Times says.
While women who work at Kleiner Perkins are described as “certainly not united behind” Pao, a number of women quoted in the New York Times say that Pao’s lawsuit has far eclipsed all other talk in Silicon Valley:
“When the news broke, we stopped what we were doing and were, like, ‘Whoa,’ ” said Claire Mazur, a founder of Of a Kind, an e-commerce start-up based in New York….
One woman said she interviewed at a top venture firm in 2000 after coming out of business school. “I was told point-blank that they once had a woman and it didn’t work out,” she said. “That was 12 years ago and they haven’t had a single woman partner since.”
Pao’s Lawsuit Against Kleiner Perkins
Specifically, Pao contends that, starting in 2006, investment partner Ajit Nazre sexually harassed her. While she “succumbed to Mr. Nazre’s insistence on sexual relations on two or three occasions,” she told him in October 2006 that she did not want to have a personal relationship with him. When she complained to senior partners and human resources executives at the firm, they retaliated by limiting her prospects for career advancement and her income, removing her from the board of a start-up and requesting that she transfer to the firm’s office in China. In the meantime, Nazre was promoted to lead Kleiner Perkins’s green technology unit and given an office across the hall from Pao’s.
Photo by Sam Pullara
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