Pao in 2015
|Born||1970 (age 44–45)
|Residence||San Francisco, California, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Princeton University (Electrical Engineering, 1991)
Harvard Law School (Juris Doctor, 1994)
Harvard Business School (MBA, 1998)
|Spouse(s)||Roger Kuo (divorced)
Buddy Fletcher (m. 2007)
|Children||1 (with Fletcher)|
|Hanyu Pinyin||Bào Kāngrú|
Ellen Pao (born 1970) is an American lawyer and former interim chief executive officer of Internet company Reddit. Pao was also previously a junior investing partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a corporate director at Flipboard.
Having become widely known for filing a gender discrimination suit against former employer Kleiner Perkins in 2012, Pao has taken a vocal position on the need for more diversity in Silicon Valley. In 2015, unpopular decisions made during Pao's tenure at Reddit generated a wave of controversy that culminated in her stepping down. The backlash she received sparked debates both on the treatment of women in technology and the need for transparency in a company that relies on volunteers.
Early life and education
Ellen Pao, was born in 1970 in New Jersey. She is the middle child of three daughters born to Tsyh-Wen Pao and Young-Ping Pao, immigrants from China both holding a PhD. Her father, Young-Ping Pao, was a professor at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Tsyh-Wen née Lee Pao worked as an engineer in computer sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Ellen Pao is fluent in English and Mandarin, and first learned to code from her mother at age ten. The young family settled and the Pao children were raised in Maplewood, New Jersey. Young-Ping Pao died in 1987 when Ellen was in the 12th grade of high school.
Pao’s maternal grandparents are Yu-Wen Lee and Ching-Hsin née Liu Lee, who were from Bǎodìng Shì (Chinese: 保定市) in the Hebei province near Beijing. Pao’s maternal grandfather was a graduate of the Republic of China Military Academy, He would later go on to serve as a commander in the Chinese Civil War under Chiang Kai-Shek. In 1948, he would move the family to Taiwan, where he would later retire with the rank of Colonel in 1960. In October 1972, his wife and daughter Elizabeth would move to the New York City area to join Pao’s mother and aunt and uncle who were already studying in the US. Yu-Wen Lee was the fourth child of his father, merchant Lien-Ren Lee, Pao's great grandfather.
Pao graduated from Princeton University, the alma mater of her two sisters, with a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering in 1991. She immediately after attended Harvard Law School with which she earned a juris doctor in 1994. After two years of work, Pao returned to attend Harvard Business School where she received an MBA in 1998.
From 1994 to 1996, Pao worked as a corporate attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. In 1998, Pao worked at WebTV. Pao worked at several companies in Silicon Valley including BEA Systems as Senior Director of Corporate Business Development from 2001 until 2005.
In 2005, Pao joined Kleiner Perkins, an established venture capital firm in San Francisco, as technical chief of staff for John Doerr, a senior partner, a job that required degrees in engineering, law, and business, and experience in enterprise software. In 2007 she was appointed a Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute on the recommendation of Doerr, a trustee. Also in 2007, she became a junior investing partner with Ted Schlein as her boss but was eventually passed over for a senior partner position. According to Pao, she had the job title of junior partner from her date of hiring and was promised an opportunity to move into an investing role. Doerr, who has expressed awareness of what he considers a gender gap at venture capital firms, mentored Pao, liberally providing feedback, but, in the end, agreed with the other senior partners who had made negative evaluations of her work at the firm. It is Pao's contention, in her suit for gender discrimination, that men with similar profiles were, nevertheless, promoted.
On May 10, 2012, Pao filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against her employer. Later, on March 27, 2015, the jury decided the case in favor of the defendant on all counts. The lawsuit alleged workplace retaliation by a male junior partner resulting from his and Pao's romantic affair. She continued to work at the firm until October 1 when, according to her, she was terminated and, according to the defendant, was offered a five-month transition, with pay, to an operating role, but, when she rejected their offer, terminated effective October 31, 2012. Her lawyer said she was fired in retaliation for her lawsuit. The complaint was amended to add that cause of action. The firm said Pao was terminated for performance reasons unrelated to the lawsuit.
Pao joined Reddit in 2013 and became interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in November 2014 after Yishan Wong resigned. In her role as CEO, Pao eliminated salary negotiation for Reddit employees, citing a gender-discrimination motivation for the change. In June and July 2015, Pao was the subject of criticism and harassment by Reddit users after five Reddit communities (subreddits) were banned for harassment and Reddit's director of talent was fired. A Change.org petition requesting her removal reached 200,000 signatures and on July 10, it was announced that Pao had resigned from Reddit "by mutual agreement".
Gender discrimination lawsuit
On May 10, 2012, Pao filed a gender discrimination suit against Kleiner Perkins which went to trial in late February 2015. It was covered by the national media and elicited broad comment regarding the issues raised. The case was live blogged and tweeted constantly, to the point of providing both humorous and serious feedback to lawyers and witnesses. The trial, lasting 24 days, resulted in a favorable verdict for Kleiner Perkins.
While the trial was taking place, a gender discrimination suit was filed against Twitter by Tina Huang and a suit alleging sexual and racial discrimination was filed against Facebook by Chia Hong. Law professor Joan Williams commented that it would have been "quite a coincidence" if these actions were not influenced by Ellen Pao. More broadly, employment lawyers described an increase in the number of women coming forward with claims of gender inequality and the term Pao effect was coined to describe the resulting increase in lawsuits. Though many reporters commented positively on the changing culture, some expressed a prediction that companies would be less likely to hire women during a period of abundant legal action. Discussion of the trial's influence continued after the conclusion of Pao v. Kleiner Perkins when a discrimination claim was made by Microsoft researcher Katie Moussouris.
Following the trial, Kleiner Perkins sought $972,814 in legal costs and offered to withdraw the fee if Pao declined to appeal the verdict. On June 1, 2015, Pao filed to appeal, one week before the deadline. On June 5, Kleiner Perkins claimed that Pao wanted $2.7 million to not appeal, an amount which they called "improper and excessive". The judge ruled on June 18 that Pao would only be responsible for $275,966 citing the economic resources of both parties under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Pao filed an objection to this with the argument that an award against the plaintiff could result in a chilling effect on future discrimination cases. On September 10, 2015, Pao wrote a guest post for Re/code in which she urged companies to be more open about bias accusations made by their employees. The post stated that she was deciding not to appeal but still paying $276,000 due to an additional stipulation by Kleiner Perkins that the fee could only be waived after signing a non-disparagement agreement. However, one week later when Pao formally dropped her appeal, Kleiner Perkins filed to close the case without payment per its original announcement.
Exit from Reddit
On June 10, 2015, a post on Reddit, signed by Pao and two other executives, announced that five subreddits were being banned for fostering off-site harassment. One such community had over 150,000 subscribers. Multiple change.org petitions calling for Pao's resignation were created by displeased Reddit users and the most popular one reached 10,000 signatures in the days following the change. Some users also began posting hateful comments and images about Pao on Reddit and other websites. Other complaints about the site concerned inadequate moderation tools and the fact that some posts critical of Ellen Pao's lawsuit had been deleted by unpaid moderators.
Opposition increased on July 2 when large sections of Reddit were set to private to protest the dismissal of Victoria Taylor, Reddit's director of talent, known for co-ordinating the Ask Me Anything interviews. Expressing frustration over the decline in communication from Reddit management, AMA moderators stated that they had only learned about the firing indirectly after it happened. Despite one post to the contrary, Taylor's dismissal was widely attributed to Pao, with some commentators suggesting that the move diminished her credibility as an advocate for female employees. She received increased harassment as a result and the petition for her removal saw more activity eventually passing 200,000 signatures. Ellen Pao made at least two apologies on July 3; one delivered via Reddit, the other in Time. However, the Reddit post was thought to have been deleted after it received enough downvotes to lose visibility. In a longer post on July 6, she apologized for bad communication and not delivering on promises. On July 10, Pao resigned and was replaced by Reddit cofounder Steve Huffman.
On July 12, former CEO Yishan Wong who had previously defended the five bans on Quora began a series of posts which he referred to as "declassifying a lot of things". The first drew attention to the fact that Victoria Taylor was fired by Alexis Ohanian. When shown that the media was covering this post, Pao tweeted "thanks for not blaming me for it". In a later post, which recalled two instances of Pao arguing against purging hateful subreddits, Wong sharply criticized the movement against her and warned about stricter policies under the site's cofounders. Huffman followed this by enacting a policy to reduce the prominence of some xenophobic communities and ban some others. On July 13, Reddit's chief engineer Bethanye Blount left the company for unrelated reasons and opined that Pao did not receive enough support from the board. Specifically, she referenced the glass cliff phenomenon in which women are allegedly given disproportionately unstable leadership positions. On July 16, Ellen Pao wrote about the difficulty of combating harassment while preserving "edgy content". The editorial described what she called "one of the largest trolling attacks in history" and the subsequent outpour of support.
Pao was married to Roger Kuo but later divorced. In 2007, Pao married Buddy Fletcher, a former hedge fund manager. The two met through Aspen Institute functions, after they were both appointed Crown Fellows, during the summer of 2007. Pao and Fletcher have a daughter together. Pao is a vegetarian.
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Mr. Schlein and all the other digital partners felt that way, except me. I saw it differently.
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Because of longstanding issues having no relationship or bearing on the litigation, Kleiner approached Ms. Pao to facilitate her transition, over an extended period of time, out of the firm. The proposed terms, that did not require Ms. Pao to waive any legal rights or claims, are generous, fair and intended to support Ms. Pao in a successful career transition.
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the real drama is in the more mundane charges, about slights familiar to any woman in any workplace that are rarely aired in public, much less in a courtroom.
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In this historic and high profile case, the media coverage has had a strangely powerful influence on the court proceedings. Though the jury may have to live in a self-imposed media-free vacuum, the judge, lawyers and witnesses do not. They’re glued to the press. Trials do not often get this much attention. The lawyers follow each story carefully.
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One of Silicon Valley’s most famous venture capital firms prevailed on Friday over a former partner in a closely watched suit claiming gender discrimination, but hardly got away unscathed.
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