In an industry in which women consistently comprise about 30% of the workforce, and fewer than 6% of venture capitalists are women, the case of Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was, for some, a referendum on diversity and inclusion practices (or lack thereof) within Silicon Valley.
Since a San Francisco jury entered a verdict against Pao in her gender discrimination and retaliation law suit, conversation has shifted to what, if any, precedent this case has set, and what implications it will have on the tech industry at large. For her part, Pao expressed optimism that her case has raised awareness about an important issue –
While today’s outcome is a disappointment, I take consolation in knowing that people really listened. If we do not share our stories and shine a light on inequities, things will not change. Hopefully my case will inspire the venture capital industry to level the playing field for everyone, including women and minorities. To support the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, we need to show leadership today.
For others, however, Ellen Pao is the wrong poster child to champion women’s rights. Jenny Q. Ta, CEO of California tech startup, Sqeeqee, Inc., and a former Wall Street investment banker, says she’s “sick and disgusted with how [people] are using the Pao v. Kleiner Perkins case to blow out how Silicon Valley should or should not be.
“Ellen Pao did not portray women as a women should be portrayed in the workforce,” Ta told Politic365. “You don’t date a person that you work with. This case is totally wrong to be used…because what Ellen Pao did with this company is totally wrong — I would advise women to do everything opposite of what Ellen Pao did, and if that woman doesn’t get the opportunity to climb the ladder and get the same opportunities as her male counterparts then that’s the case to display what’s wrong with Silicon Valley.”
Ta’s views highlight one of the very real tensions that exist regarding how women are perceived in the Valley: In order to be respected, must women act like men, and is there a different standard they’re required to uphold?
According to Ta, the issue is really one of action and accountability. “I believe that the reason women aren’t where we’re supposed to be – it doesn’t matter the color of our skin, it’s all about our gender as women in a predominantly male-dominated industry – is because we sometimes put ourselves in that situation.”
The way she sees it, many women are willing to talk the talk but not walk the walk when it comes to engagement in the workforce. A fan of Sheryl Sandberg and Melinda Gates, Ta champions the kind of participation where women leave their “baggage” at home and focus on doing the best job possible when they come into the office, refusing to be distracted by personal affairs or intraoffice dalliances. “Women want equality and the same pay, but we always bring our problems into the workplace,” she says. “Women have to position themselves and alleviate the loopholes to being held back.”
For Ta, it boils down to respect.
Noting the gains made in the civil rights and gay rights movements, she believes that the reasons greater equity has been achieved in those realms is because men and women worked together to advocate the cause of equality. By the same token, Ta thinks its imperative that men be allied as supporters of women’s rights in the workforce, but that won’t happen as long as women are perceived as subordinate because of their familial or interpersonal dealings with the men in their offices.
“We’ve got to play on the same playing field as the men, and if we can’t, we need to take ourselves out the puzzle and support the women who are. If we use this formula, men will be forced to respect the movement and change can be made.”