Sat, Mar 07, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Gender bias suit shines light on Silicon Valley

BOORISH BEHAVIOR:The case has highlighted Silicon Valley’s macho work culture, with reknowned US venture capitalists facing questions concerning sexual harassment


A gender discrimination trial against one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious venture capital firms is providing a rare peek into the elite investment companies vying to fund the next Google Inc and

Their partnership rosters are stacked with some of the US’ most accomplished graduates — multiple-degree holders from universities such as Harvard and Stanford. However, they are also places where women are grossly underrepresented.

Ellen Pao’s lawsuit goes further, describing Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as an old-boys club where women were allegedly excluded from parties at former US vice president Al Gore’s house, asked to take notes at a meeting like secretaries and subjected to harassment and boorish behavior by their male colleagues.

The case has put a spotlight on gender inequities in the technology sector at a time when it is booming and creating new millionaires, but generating resentment from people who feel left out and victimized by its success, which they blame for higher rents and gentrification.

The trial has also brought some of the US’ most accomplished venture capitalists into the courtroom, where they have faced tough questions about sexual harassment and the behavior of men in the workplace.

Pao has mostly sat quietly and declined media questions during breaks in the proceedings. She was due to begin testifying yesterday.

However, the jury has heard hours of testimony from her former colleagues, including one of her mentors at the firm, billionaire investor John Doerr, who was placed in the awkward position of defending his company while acknowledging that the dearth of females in the venture capital industry is “pathetic.”

A Babson College study released last year found that women filled just 6 percent of the partner-level positions at 139 venture capital firms in 2013, down from 10 percent in 1999.

Doerr said 20 percent of partners at Kleiner Perkins are female, and he has worked hard to recruit more women. He has disputed Pao’s contention that she was passed over for promotions because she was a woman and then fired in 2012 after she complained.

Like the Kleiner Perkins legal team, he says Pao, 45, did not get along with her colleagues — a requirement for the junior partner position she moved into in 2010 after serving as his chief of staff.

Doerr testified he was a loyal supporter of Pao’s and tried to help her succeed at Kleiner Perkins. As a member of the Kleiner Perkins management team, he said he fought for Pao to stay with the company and objected when other partners wanted to let her go in 2011.

Pao is seeking US$16 million in damages. The firm is seeking to limit any possible damages by arguing that Pao is well-compensated in her current position as Reddit interim chief executive officer.

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