Reddit CEO Ellen Pao might have lost her gender discrimination lawsuit against venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers but the trial and ensuing media coverage has spawned a necessary discussion on gender bias not just in tech but in workplaces all across the world. Pao spoke with The Wall Street Journal on just that as well as her role at Reddit and the company's overall hiring practices. What Pao said about her trial and its impact is especially important in terms of how such a dialogue on bias began:
It’s moved into a broader discussion about people who are struggling to be treated fairly in their jobs, and not just in the U.S. I’ve also heard from people in Bangladesh, from Singapore, from China, from Taiwan, from Korea, from Tanzania. It’s something that’s global. I think it’s resonated with a lot of people, and it’s become a much bigger thing.Sadly, gender bias is not just a tech-related issue nor is it always easily recognizable given its prevalence on a systemic level. Now that Pao has spoken out about such inequality, many people have reached out to her to say thank you for opening their eyes, so to speak.
Pao hopes the next step is in finding solutions to overt bias as well as in less explicit scenarios. It is within that more gray area that she believes the next steps in combating gender bias are formed:
I think it’s an issue of education and making people aware of it. Women who felt like they were uncomfortable before, that there was something that just wasn’t right, are hopefully now more comfortable pointing it out. They’re now able to point to discussions and research about it. ... I think the fact that a lot of this is subtle, that people have different views on where the line is, makes it a very worthwhile discussion. Until you draw that line at your company, people are going to give it a wide boundary. Then you end up with a lot of problems, because your expectations aren’t the same, or you’re not sure if it’s really a problem. I think we have moved through a lot of the really blatant issues that are clear-cut and now we’re getting to harder issues.
Pao says that speaking out is one of the most important things you can do rather than quietly acknowledging or questioning potentially biased actions. Only by bringing such issues to the forefront can companies and individuals truly grow. Both men and women play an important role in fighting gender bias, of course:
I do think men need to be part of the conversation. And I think it has to be a conversation where men can learn from it, and part of that is by being part of it and engaging in it. You see men who will ask their wives, or they’ll ask their sisters or they’ll ask their co-workers who they know well. I think it starts out with those relationships where you feel comfortable, and it moves out from there as you become more aware about these issues.
Unfortunately, gender bias is so deeply entrenched that it might be difficult for women to not only speak out but also to advocate for themselves. Pao likens this to threading a needle without a hole with which to place the string, a seemingly impossible task:
Women get criticized on both ends, and you have this needle that you have to thread, and sometimes it feels like there’s no hole in the needle. From what I’ve heard from women, they do feel like there’s no way to win. They can’t be aggressive and get those opportunities without being treated like they’ve done something wrong.
Before circling back to Reddit's HR culture as well as doing a potential AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the site, Pao highlights the explicit overtones of gender bias in the online world versus the offline:
I think it’s less so when you look at medicine, or when you look at law, when you look at some of these more off-line industries. But there is a pervasiveness in the attitude and culture where it’s okay to say these things, and maybe it’s okay to do certain things. It’s hard to know. I don’t know, but I would imagine that there is a connection when saying some of these really mysogynistic [sic] things becomes pervasive in the culture, it’s going to affect how you think about women or how you think about minorities.
Pao finished her talk with WSJ by jumping on the idea to do an AMA, so we might soon see even more fantastic quotes from a woman at the top of the tech world and at the forefront of workplace equality in Silicon Valley.