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Pao says Silicon Valley is changing in wake of her lawsuit (Q&A)

In a Q&A with CNET, Ellen Pao says her battle with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins has ignited a discussion that's already changing practices at tech companies.

For more than three years, Ellen Pao was entangled in a closely watched legal battle with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Robert Galbraith/Reuters/Corbis

Ellen Pao says her fight with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has touched off a discussion on Silicon Valley discrimination that will shape the culture of the tech industry for years to come.

In a Q&A with CNET on Monday, Pao said that since launching her 2012 lawsuit claiming discrimination at Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley companies have grown more aware of gender and race disparities in the industry. Though she lost her $16 million lawsuit, Pao says the effort highlighted the problems and, more importantly, prompted tech companies to take steps to address them.

Pao, 45, said last week she had opted against appealing a March decision handed down by a San Francisco jury that found the venture capital firm wasn't liable for discrimination and retaliation. The decision also required her to pay the venture capital firm's legal fees. She had initially signaled her intent to appeal.

Kleiner Perkins, which previously said it was glad the trial was behind it, declined to comment further.

Pao, who subsequently served as interim CEO of the social-networking site Reddit, discusses the aftermath of the trial and offers some insight into what's next for her. An edited transcript of the email Q&A follows.

Q: You wanted to put a spotlight on gender discrimination and harassment. Was it all worth it?
Pao: It was definitely worth it. We have a big problem in tech and venture capital where women and minorities are not getting equal opportunities to work, manage and succeed. The lawsuit contributed to driving conversations and shining a spotlight on discrimination and harassment. Companies and firms are now measuring and reporting on their diversity, which is a start. The way they talk about discrimination is changing as well.

Would you do it again? How much of a toll has all this had on you?
Pao: I would definitely do it again, although I would not wish my experiences on anyone. We need to share and hear these stories and experiences. It has taken a huge toll on me professionally and personally and on my family.

Do you think the environment has changed for women and minorities in tech since the trial?
Pao: The issues are out in the open, and people are talking about their experiences and their company cultures. The baseline has shifted from everything is fine to we have a diversity problem. We're seeing more companies talking about and working on the problem, and that comes from the work of many people. For example, (top Pinterest software engineer) Tracy Chou's efforts have driven companies to measure and share their diversity statistics, which is also incredibly helpful for showing the scope and scale of the problems. (Noted tech entrepreneurs and activists) Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor are getting more opportunities to teach companies ways to address and conquer bias in the workplace. And every day more people are sharing their experiences.

How did the trial affect your experience at Reddit? You banned harassment on the site's forums, a move that was viewed by some users as censorship.
Pao: I'd rather not talk about Reddit, except to say that I'm really proud of the work we did to ban revenge porn and unauthorized nude photos from Reddit. We were the first big company to ban them, and many other companies followed shortly afterwards.

What's next for you career-wise?
Pao: I'm taking some time to reconnect with family, friends and colleagues that I haven't had a chance to spend as much time with as I would have liked over the last year. I'm also taking some time to figure out my next role.

What advice would you have for women and minorities who may be in a similar position as you were?
Pao: Ask for help. I found a tremendous network of support over the last couple of years from people I knew and even from people I just met. You are not alone.