Ellen Pao says she has no regrets

As interim CEO of social news site Reddit, Pao is pushing to make diversity and gender equality a priority.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read

Ellen Pao says she has no regrets suing storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Asa Mathat/Re/code

Ellen Pao said she had no intention of becoming "a symbol" for women in the tech industry when she filed her sex discrimination lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Pao also said she has no regrets about suing the firm in a month-long trial she lost in San Francisco Superior Court. Pao, a former junior partner with Kleiner Perkins, claimed male partners made sexual advances to female co-workers, excluded women from potentially lucrative dinners and trips and created an atmosphere that belittles women.

"It's something I thought about deeply beforehand," Pao said Wednesday at the Code Conference in Rancho Palo Verdes, Calif. "I didn't plan on becoming a symbol. It was more [about] telling my story."

Now interim CEO of social news site Reddit, Pao sued her ex-employer for $16 million, alleging she was fired after she complained about pervasive sexism. A jury of six men and six women on March 27 rejected Pao's claim of discrimination and retaliation over her 2012 firing from Kleiner Perkins -- arguably among of the most powerful venture firms in the industry. The firm later filed a motion to recover about $973,000 in legal fees, but said it would waive the fees if Pao agreed not to appeal her loss.

"It was just so hard to really tell my story, and the courtroom isn't the best place to do it," Pao told Recode Co-Executive Editor Kara Swisher about the trial that sparked conversations about women in tech. "People come to it with a lot of baggage. They don't really know me, but we share an experience. Other people don't like me because of what I represent."

Pao, who has until June 8 to make her appeal, said Wednesday she still hasn't decided if she will. She is also asking a judge to dismiss the legal fees. A hearing is scheduled on June 18 in San Francisco Superior Court.

Pao admitted she had a hard time getting a job because of the lawsuit, and said she was grateful former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong took a chance on her.

"There were people who wouldn't talk to me. There were people too nervous to be seen with me," she said. "You have to to have a lot of conviction you were right, and a lot of toughness to weather through the personal attacks."

As interim CEO, Pao said Reddit is trying to make diversity and gender equality a priority. She mentioned as an example that women are one-quarter as likely as men to negotiate their salary.

"We're testing out a no-negotiation policy," she said. "We've done a ton of research to come up with what is 'market comp,' and when someone comes in, we give them what we think is fair."

She also defended Reddit's new anti-harassment policy and said it wants to balance free expression with privacy and safety on the site, which had nearly 170 million visitors last month. The new policy generated scores of critical comments within the Reddit community.

"We have always talked about being this platform for freedom of speech, and now we have to own up to some of the behavior of our site and be a place where everyone feels comfortable expressing their ideas," she said.

She also had advice for women and minorities entering the tech industry.

"Be aware of where you're going. Set yourself up to succeed in an environment that's hopefully more open than others," she said. "But it's hard, because somebody has to be the first."