Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, who has become the most recognizable face of the technology industry's struggle with diversity and sexism, is speaking out.

After a few quiet months following her announcement that she would not appeal the verdict of her discrimination suit against Kleiner Perkins, Pao penned an essay about sexism in the legal and tech startup worlds. The essay was published this week in the new online newsletter Lenny, which was created by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner--the executive producers behind the acclaimed HBO series Girls.

In the essay Pao details the encounters with sexism from her education and early in her career--and reveals what she wishes she knew then, based on what she's learned in her time within the overwhelmingly-male tech world.

"What I'd tell any woman struggling in a male-dominated work culture is: do not give up. You are not alone. There are millions of women and men who are supporting you and want you to succeed," she writes. "Many people will try to blame you--for some, it's just too hard to acknowledge their own failings and the failings of our system. That's on them, not on you."

Hone your resilience.

As Pao tells it, you'll need it. "Have a thick skin; it naturally gets thicker over time," she writes. She continues:

Earlier this year, my suit against a long-established VC firm for gender discrimination and retaliation went to trial, and I was repeatedly cursed out, threatened, and belittled on multiple social platforms. As Reddit's CEO, when I made changes to remove unauthorized nude photos, including revenge porn, and overt harassment, I was called the "most hated person on the Internet"; a recent article even called me a "pariah of Silicon Valley."

With so much feedback coming at her during that time at Reddit, Pao says she protected herself by filtering what she calls the "helpful" comments from the "unhelpful." Helpful include specific support or opinions, with context. Unhelpful?

"Rape threats, death threats, and insults are unhelpful." She seems to broaden this comment out to apply to women more generally--you know, those not regularly being dealt death threats, but those rather being victims of subtle sexism day in and day out. "Being told to smile more, gain or lose weight, or give up on an important value and activity--unhelpful."

Speak up. Don't be silent.

Silence is many peoples' natural response to being shamed or harassed. And, how many times are we told not to "feed the trolls?" Pao says toss out that logic. Speaking up, she writes, is essential to changing the course for not just our lives, but also the lives of future women as they strive to do their best in the workplace. She explains:

Sharing my story privately, and eventually publicly, meant a lot to me and to others. Women and men are talking about gender and discrimination issues across the globe. When I shared my experiences with another woman investor, she described her own story of harassment. She hadn't shared it with anyone--including her husband--because she felt ashamed that she might have invited it. Another friend pointed out that his mom had been moved to a broom-closet-sized office upon being promoted; a third said she had been written out of the history of a successful company's founding. Strangers shared their woes and thanked me for publicly announcing what they found too painful or risky to share themselves.

The hint of sun peeking out behind these clouds is, Pao writes, that things are, in fact, getting better for women in the workplace. Still, a fog obscures those rays:  regardless of advances for all sorts of non-white-men people in the workplace, Pao concedes that the office is still "not a meritocracy."  She goes on to say that "some places and people will treat you worse than others. When you are thinking about a school, job, or role somewhere, and it doesn't look right to you, trust your gut." If it's not feeling good, do yourself a favor right away, she says: Get out. 

"You'll hear all kinds of defenses, but if they really want women and minorities as employees and leaders, why aren't their numbers higher? Either they don't really want them or they are incompetent," she writes. "You shouldn't work for them either way. If you have the option, run."

 

 

Published on: Nov 11, 2015