In 1997, I launched a nonprofit for women in tech called Gracenet, named after COBOL creator and U.S. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. In the early aughts, we announced a DisGraceful Award in Advertising, a dubious award given to the most egregious example of sexist advertising in tech media. We got coverage for this monthly award on a global basis, with the result that five large tech companies, including IBM, withdrew their ads. One company even fired its entire marketing staff after receiving the award for a billboard ad on Highway 80 that displayed a headless dominatrix "whipping data into shape."
So you'd think that as a feminist, and particularly a feminist in tech, I'd support Ellen Pao's gender discrimination suit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. But I can't relate to her at all. I feel she's a privileged Ivy Leaguer -- Harvard and Princeton -- who felt entitled to full partnership in the firm because of her background and one of the deals she suggested that eventually panned out into profit for the firm.
Let's get real: VC firms are aimed at making lots of money. They are not known as bastions of employee democracy and meritocracy. They can play favorites if they want to as long as they don't blatantly violate federal discrimination standards regarding gender, age, and disability. But if they don't feel comfortable with someone on their staff because of her or his behavior, they are free to reject them as a partner. It happens to men as well as to women.
Pam's case doesn't have any legs, but the real issue is that she doesn't represent women in tech. She represents greed and anger. She could have settled this case, but she wants her $16 million minus the millions she's spending on lawyers. She's also furious that despite her educational and professional pedigree, she didn't earn partnership at KP, so she's willing to risk all by leveraging the weakest legal argument she's got: gender discrimination.
There are some good women VCs in the valley, including Heidi Roizen (DFJ Venture), Christine Herron (Intel Ventures), and Susan Mason (Onset Ventures). They don't carp about gender inequity in tech: they do something about it by funding women-owned start-ups as well as other start-ups, of course.
When did Pao do anything for women in tech except for herself?