Ellen Pao on Reaction to Kleiner Case, Workplace Sexism and Running Reddit
Speaking from the San Francisco office of social-media site Reddit, where she is interim chief executive, Pao reflected on Silicon Valley’s reaction to her sex-discrimination case that for four weeks revealed embarrassing personal details and drew international media attention. Pao, 45 years old, says that having her personal and work life scrutinized was worth it because it appeared to have started an industrywide conversation about gender bias in tech, and more broadly in business.
At the advice of her lawyers, Pao declined to talk about the trial proceedings because she says she is considering what her next legal steps may be, if any. She also declined to discuss her husband, Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher, a controversial hedge-fund manager.
Below is an excerpt from the interview, edited for clarity. (Read the companion story in the Journal here.)
WSJ: What did it feel like to have your life opened up so publicly?
Pao: It was unexpected for me in many ways, and it’s not my personality to be out there, and I’m also by nature a very private person. So for me it was a little bit scary. At the end of the day I look at it, and I look at the conversations, and I’m glad I did it. But it was hard.
WSJ: Were there moments when it felt surreal, when you just felt turned inside out?
Pao: There were a lot of positive moments when it felt surreal. Women were kind of taking me aside and telling me their story. I found it very emotional, and I felt a very strong connection to them. And they were strangers off the street or in an elevator, or on a message on LinkedIn. Our shared experiences created a very tight bond. There were people who shared stories that they hadn’t told other people, that they bottled up for many years. It was very inspiring to hear people share their stories and to feel this bond.
WSJ: Did that keep you from feeling too isolated?
Pao: Yeah, I think it was a very mutual experience, because for them and for me there was a connection that we were in this together, that we had the shared experience.
WSJ: How many people did you hear from over the course of the trial?
Pao: It grew over time over the three years. Starting out it would be one person a week and then a few people a day, and towards the end people would stop me on the street. It was something that resonated with a lot of people in a lot of industries across genders and across all sorts of boundaries.
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.
WSJ: In some people’s eyes, you became a point-person for gender bias in tech and American business. Was that a heavy burden?
Pao: For me it was inspiring. To hear these women share their stories and hear men share stories of their wives, their mothers, their sisters, and also their own experiences. It was inspiring to hear that my story resonated and it was actually not just my story but a lot of people’s stories.