7 Times Ellen Pao Nailed What Everyday Sexism Feels Like In Her 'Lenny' Essay
Ellen Pao, former interim CEO of Reddit and all-around tech and investments guru, wrote a very honest and raw essay for this Tuesday's edition of Lenny. Pao certainly knows what she's talking about: Pao pursued a gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins, which she eventually lost, this past spring. In her essay for Lenny Letter, "Silicon Valley Sexism Is Getting Better. Slowly," Pao details some of the times that she encountered sexism and racism throughout law school and, she says, well into her career in law and later in investments and tech. Throughout the essay, Pao nails the experience of everyday sexism at work in a way that many women will be able to relate to.
While serving as Reddit's interim CEO, Pao made the move to ban unauthorized photos of nude women (including revenge porn), and additionally banned other sections of Reddit that were specifically dedicated to disparaging others (one example was a subreddit called "Fat People Hate"). Getting rid of these clearly offensive boards on Reddit made Pao the target of intense sexist and racist vitriol from some Reddit users.
Unfortunately, all of her life experiences have made Pao somewhat of an expert on everyday sexism. Here are seven times she hit the sexist nail right on the head in her Lenny essay.
Sexist Dress Codes
Pao wrote in her essay that while she was working at a male-dominated law firm (which she did not name in the essay) after graduating from Harvard Law School, a woman was allegedly sent home from the office because she wore pants to work. Pao claimed that, after that event, other women at the firm made it a point to wear pants more often in a not-so-subtle act of rebellion against the firm's sexist dress code.
Being Deliberately Excluded
At this same time in her career, Pao wrote that it was not uncommon for:
Law firms seemed to be organizing all-male events: steak dinners, professional sports games, strip-club outings, and probably more. We didn’t complain about it, because it seemed an unchangeable part of law. Instead, we organized our own co-ed steak dinners, I persuaded my office neighbor to get me an invite to the Rangers games — and we just worked even harder.
This experience of being intentionally left out of major networking events is one many women can relate to. Nearly all women can probably think of a time that they had to work twice as hard to get some of the same benefits and opportunities as men.
Harassment From Male Colleagues
Just before she left a law firm, Pao wrote in her essay that another woman lawyer warned her about certain male partners, including a:
Creepy senior partner who stood outside her office every day at 1 p.m., staring at her while eating ice cream until she started closing her office door (which, ironically, gave her the reputation of being distant).
Not only do women have to deal with bizarre harassment, but are then viewed in a negative light for avoiding the harassment. It's a classic no-win situation that women deal with on a daily basis.
Men Are Rewarded And Women Are Punished
A common sexist complaint against women is that if they are assertive and confident, they're considered aggressive, whereas these same traits are praised when a men displays them. Pao had this same experience in her career, and wrote that she "saw inconsistencies in how aggressiveness and strong opinions were rewarded across genders" while she was working in the venture capital industry.
Objectification Of Women
Pao also described the disparaging ways that men in her workplace (a firm that Pao did not specify the name of in her essay) would objectify women and think nothing of it:
And a crowning indignity was listening to a group of men from work talk about porn stars, sex shows, the Playboy mansion, and sexual-partner preferences — and then hearing them discount a talented woman CEO by saying she was only valuable as a board member because she was “hot.”
Denying The Problem
Pao also pointed out that many male-dominated institutions deny that they are actively participating in sexism and the discrimination of women:
Tech and VC leaders argue that they aren’t doing it on purpose — it’s “unconscious” bias. Well, now that you are talking about it, it’s not unconscious. At this point, we’ve heard enough excuses.
But: There's Hope
Pao acknowledged that while things are far from perfect in the work world for women, conditions are slowly getting better. She ended her essay with some words of advice and support for women who are experiencing sexism at work,
For now, 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. 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.