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Ellen Pao among female leaders joining forces to help diversify tech

The former Reddit chief is one of eight women uniting for Project Include to encourage tech companies to have more inclusive workforces.

Getty Images for Massachusetts Conference for Women

It began as brainstorming sessions among several prominent women in tech, including former embattled Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, on how to make the male-dominated industry more inclusive.

Now, she and seven other well-known and outspoken female tech leaders are joining forces with a new nonprofit initiative called Project Include to help diversify the workforce. The group's goal is to help companies diversify by tracking their hiring practices, offering suggestions to create a diverse workforce and providing an online forum for tech professionals to share their ideas.

"We plan to build an open community where people can completely share their experiences about what's working and what's not working," said Pao during a phone interview Tuesday. "We want to show what's possible when you really start taking diversity seriously."

Pao and fellow Project Include co-founders Tracy Chou, a Pinterest software engineer, and Y-Vonne Hutchinson of diversity consulting firm ReadySet, said Tuesday they intend to work with startups big and small to encourage diversity now. The group also wants to get those venture capital firms funding the startups to participate as well.

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A group of highly regarded female tech leaders are banding together to create Project Include, an initiative to make the industry more inclusive.

Project Include

Project Include is part of an ongoing, larger effort to improve gender and racial disparities in Silicon Valley. For example, Intel is showing some progress with its $300 million initiative to make the world's largest chipmaker and the industry more diverse overall. Pinterest said last year it's setting specific goals to hire more women and minorities and will publicly share those numbers.

Still, most tech companies are dominated by white men, with women filling about 15 percent of tech jobs on average. Heavyweights, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, remain under increased scrutiny to reexamine their practices with some companies facing high-profile lawsuits and claims of discrimination.

"We now need to focus on a solution-focused discussion," Chou said. "Right now, this is a critical time to move the needle forward."

Pao knows firsthand. Last year, she lost a high-profile discrimination case against venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and she was ousted as chief executive at Reddit, the online message board, a few months later.

Erica Baker, an engineer at messaging startup Slack, is also a co-founder of Project Include. When working at Google last year, she raised eyebrows after she helped create a spreadsheet for fellow employees to share their salaries, revealing a pattern of unequal pay.

Other co-founders are: Laura I. Gomez, who runs Atipica, a startup that works on improving diversity; bethanye McKinney-Blount, a former Reddit executive; Susan Wu, who heads up mobile payments startup Stripe in Australia; and Freada Kapor Klein, a longtime tech advocate and partner of the education nonprofit Level Playing Field Institute.