December 21, 2017

Ellen Pao on Silicon Valley in 2017: ‘It does take a village for change to happen’

By 
Berenice Magistretti

Silicon Valley is more in check now than it has ever been, and that’s a good thing. With sexual harassment allegations swarming across the tech industry, women VCs coming together to support female founders, and engineers getting fired over controversial manifestos, the Valley is certainly less tolerant of discrimination and harassment. Although heated, 2017 was a good year.

Diversity and inclusion advocate Ellen Pao helped pave the way to where we are today when in 2012 she decided to sue her then employer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in a discrimination lawsuit. Although she lost, the “Pao Effect” is still in full force.

A year ago, Pao joined Kapor Capital as a partner and the Kapor Center for Social Impact as its chief diversity and inclusion officer. She is also the CEO of Project Include.

VentureBeat checked in with her about how tech companies are addressing discrimination issues and what they are doing to hire a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

VentureBeat: You joined Kapor about a year ago — what are some of the things you feel have been successfully implemented this year?

Ellen Pao: At Kapor Capital, we’ve doubled down on our Founders’ Commitment, where founders sign up to build diverse and inclusive companies before receiving funding. We’ve worked with engaged founders and team members on their company values and on their codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies. At the Kapor Center, we have worked with our growing Diversity Advocates group to plan and strategize on ways to educate and build a community among the diversity and inclusion leaders at companies today.

VB: How do you make sure companies not only become more diverse and inclusive, but remain that way?

Pao: The best way is through metrics and accountability. Measure and track diversity and satisfaction at different levels, different functions, different titles, different compensation, and across different demographics to see where you might be able to do better at including everyone. Hold people accountable across the board for their behavior and actions.

VB: Which startups/companies do you feel currently take these issues seriously?

Pao: The Kapor Capital portfolio companies that have signed up for our Founders’ Commitment and have been active participants in our programs. At our last workshop, those companies included Healthify, SchoolMint, NoRedInk, Earn Up, Front Row, CodeSpark, Classkick, HealthSherpa, and HealthLoop. But also Project Include startups like Periscope Data, Asana, Patreon, Upserve, Truss, Genius Plaza, Managed by Q, and Twilio.

VB: 2017 was a great year for women as they came together to speak out against sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. Do you think your case against Kleiner would have been ruled differently had it been tried this year?

Pao: I think we wouldn’t be where we are today right now if I hadn’t sued in 2012. I want to acknowledge the contributions of all the women and men who spoke up over the past years to lay the groundwork for today’s awareness. It does take a village for change to happen.

VB: Will we see more female VCs become partners in 2018?

Pao: Yes. The question is whether we’ll see true inclusion — hiring partners at the highest levels and from all underrepresented groups. I don’t think so.

VB: If you could give one piece of advice to female founders who want to build a successful startup in 2018, what would it be?

Pao: Build diversity and inclusion of all groups into your startup from the start. As a female founder, you’ll be able to attract a more diverse team. That could be a huge long-term advantage, because it will help you build better product, stronger customer connections, greater financial rewards, and healthier cultures and workspaces.

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