Sunday, March 29, 2015

She lost the fight, but maybe she won the war

Credit: AP via ThinkProgress, 

While my father-in-law is on vacation, I am honored to be taking his place in providing chronologically relevant social commentary on items of interest in the news. As of late, what piqued my attention was the ruling in the Silicon Valley gender discrimination law suit.

Ellen Pao may have lost her gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm employer, but perhaps she is closer to helping us ("us" being relative, but lets' just say, us being women) win the war.

The fight itself was ugly, and the details that emerged throughout testimony in the Pao/Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers case were salacious. The jury concluded very decisively that the firm had not done any wrongdoing in its handling of Pao's particular case.

Nonetheless, once Ms. Pao filed her lawsuit, other women in her sector followed suit, from famous places as storied as Facebook and Twitter and Zillow and Tinder, and spoke of discrimination, misogyny, and hatred toward women. They spoke of both covert and overt discrimination. They spoke of workplaces where, on some basic level, the men acted without impunity.

I consider myself blessed for I have not worked in places with such overt discrimination. I've been affected by covert actions, as someone who works in a field that is primarily dominated by men, particularly in c-level roles. I've been passed up for jobs, steered into roles that were dominated by women (instead of mentored for the technical roles I sought out), and made to feel uncomfortable in hallways full of sport talk. And don't even get me started on how working mothers get treated.

Judging solely from news reports of the trial, Ms. Pao does not sound like someone I want to be friends with. She had a jocularity and confidence I would have found polarizing. I don't think she would have wanted me as a friend either since I had nothing to give her. Nonetheless, I still admire her courage and her pluck. She was willing to be scrutinized in such a way that I might not have wanted. She was willing to be judged, literally, by a jury of her peers but also by, like, you know, the Internet. This has me rethinking my threshold for risk and visibility in advocating for change myself.

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