For most of her life, Ellen Pao did what you’re supposed to do to succeed. In her new book, “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change,” Pao describes herself as a “dutiful daughter” of immigrants who excelled at Princeton and Harvard, where she picked up law and business degrees, and then headed west for the tech gold rush. Sure, she encountered some creeps along the way, and at times she felt underappreciated. But as she tells it, it wasn’t until landing at blue-chip venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — which she famously, and unsuccessfully, sued for gender discrimination and retaliation — that she began to question whether she had been set up to fail.
“The culture, I began to realize, is designed to keep out people who aren’t white men,” she writes early on in “Reset.” That sort of systemic critique is heretical in Silicon Valley, where wealthy men talk a big game about a meritocracy and transforming the world through technology. Never mind that a 2015 survey of 200 women at tech companies found that 60 percent had experienced sexual harassment, twice the rate of a separate study across industries. As Pao’s book persuasively shows, men in the tech industry love to exalt the notion of “disruption,” but those at her venture capital firm chafed at a woman disturbing their comfort. She paid the price.
Pao’s book is most astute when it portrays a subtler form of discrimination. Pao writes, “When venture capitalists say — and they do say — ‘We think it’s young white men, ideally Ivy League dropouts, who are the safest bets,’ and then only invest in young white men with Ivy League backgrounds, of course young white men with Ivy League backgrounds are the only ones who make money for them (they are also the only ones who lose money for them, but who’s keeping track of that?)”