Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ellen Pao's best piece of advice for professional women who feel like they're hitting a glass ceiling

Ellen Pao's best piece of advice for professional women who feel like they're hitting a glass ceiling:

ellen pao

About a week after a jury ruled against Ellen Pao in a gender discrimination case she brought against VC firm Kleiner Perkins, she's promising to continue fighting bias in Silicon Valley.

"You need to work through these [gender] issues because they are here and they’re not going to go away," Pao told the Wall Street Journal's Jeff Elder.

Pao, currently the interim CEO of Reddit, says that even though the three years she spent embroiled in a legal battle were tough, her efforts were worth it. And she has a message for other women who feel they're hitting a glass ceiling in their industries: Have confidence and do not get discouraged.

"I would tell [another woman] to have confidence in herself, to know that what she’s doing is important, and to always remember not to let other people change her view of herself," Pao told Elder.

Pao first sued Kleiner Perkins for failing to promote her because she was a woman, and then for firing her in retaliation after she sued. Over the course of the legal proceedings, the defense put Pao's personality on trial just as much as her actions, digging into her private texts and emails, airing details of an affair with a KPCB partner, and ultimately characterizing her as "passive-aggressive, disloyal, and generally ineffective."

"It’s not my personality to be out there, and I’m also by nature a very private person, so for me it was a little bit scary," Pao said. "I’m glad I did it. But it was hard."

After the trial a group of female tech worked pooled together to place a full-page ad in The Palo Alto Daily Post that read simply, "Thanks Ellen."

Pao says she's also received in-person support from other women who thanked her and described their own experiences with gender-based discrimination. The current status quo in Silicon Valley sees much fewer women than men in tech overall, but there's an even greater dearth of women in venture capital. That can cause a "boys club" mentality and a culture where women get criticized for either being too timid or too aggressive.

"You have this needle that you have to thread, and sometimes it feels like there’s no hole in the needle," Pao told Elder. "From what I’ve heard from women, they do feel like there’s no way to win. They can’t be aggressive and get this opportunity without being treated like they’ve done something wrong."

Moving forward, Pao plans to focus on her role at Reddit. Here are some of the changes she's made at the company so far:

  • Removed the salary negotiations from the hiring process, citing studies that women don't fare as well as men
  • Brought in diversity consultant Freada Kapor Klein to advise the company
  • Now asks every job candidate what they think about diversity. Any who doesn't support creating a racially diverse, gender-balanced team won't get hired. 
  • Hired more community managers to monitor Reddit's consent and helping it craft new policies on user behavior, in the wake of the giant leak of nude celebrity photos that ran rampant on Reddit. Pao took over several months after the leak and has since also guided the site through banning "revenge porn." 
SEE ALSO: Silicon Valley is 'incredibly white and male' and there's a 'sort of pride' about that fact, says Silicon Valley culture reporter

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