While the jury deliberates, much has already been made of the watershed potential for the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins case in juris prudence and in the entrepreneurial community.
March 26, 2015
Hazeltine: Zero-Sum Trial, Writing a New Playbook
How the Triangle's women's movement differs from Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins
Pao was required to prove actual malice in the processes that led to her eventual firing from the flagship West Coast firm. “Actual malice” is legalese for the intention to harm, in this case, denying Pao professional headway based on her gender.
Even without a verdict, there are damages already exacted.
The whole mess of now-disclosed stuff and the realtime coverage seems like a dogpile—the vicious, bite-anything-that-moves kind that seems to inspire more bloodletting. Since the trial started in late February, Pao’s motives and suitedness to investing have been openly questioned as much as have the operations at Kleiner Perkins. The firm’s reputation is taking a thumping. Fortune has enough details on the trial to date to make anyone’s blood boil, and TechCrunch summarized the defense’s final week, too.
Un-seeing, un-reading or un-watching the unfolding of this slow motion train-wreck has proven difficult, though the tropes aren’t new news. Systematic reprisals, sexual harassment, laissez-faire HR, and rampant sh*t talking read like reinforcements of all the bad things I heard about the industry. It makes me want to puke that this stuff was allegedly happening at a firm beatified as a leader in promoting women.
The zero-sum narrative of venture capital seems to be alive and well in the courtroom and in the public consciousness. Shows like Silicon Valley have aped that environment to cringe-worthy effect- cue lapses in listening, one-note anti-social developers, women branded alternately bossy or incompetent, and easy examples of the “cult” in culture. If we can laugh at the flaws in operating that way, it follows that the next logical step is to do things differently IRL. Yes, in a full-stop “LOLsies, but really, guys” way.
Even as I’m limiting my intake of opinionated trial coverage, I see handy examples of people who are already in motion toward that goal. Tatiana Birgisson and Adam Klein popped up in the news boasting the number of female entrepreneurs at the American Underground in CNN Money. Their play book is wildly different, and it’s a selling point of being here, now. The number of women at the SOAR event Wednesday only reinforces that hunch.
But I don’t like to lean on hunches. The numbers, again, reinforce the sense that rather than working within the existing norms, our counter narrative is being written with the hard work of our startup community. On top of earlier data, recently released stats show that NC has the highest participation rates of women in the tech workforce, and the workforce in general with Durham leading the way at 77.6 percent workforce participation.
Whether the Ellen Pao trial is the watershed moment for a shift in perceptions and reality in VC remains to be seen. While that drama works itself out, the operating philosophy here is enough of a collective attagirl to help me keep my head in the game.