As we discussed in last week’s blog post, the Pao v. Kleiner Perkins gender discrimination lawsuit has opened up a broader conversation about the issues women face in the tech industry. Inspired by this conversation, a group of women with experience working in the industry decided to put some real data to the anecdotal evidence of widespread sexism and discrimination. The group recently published the results of the survey online under the title “Elephant in the Valley,” and the results largely substantiate what was becoming clear in the aftermath of the Pao lawsuit: Ellen Pao’s case was illustrative of a much larger issue of gender discrimination in tech.
In this posting we’ll talk about the aftermath of the Pao case, the Elephant in the Valley survey, and what it means for women working in the tech industry and in the broader workforce. If you’ve been discriminated against at work based on your gender and would like to understand more about your legal rights and options, please contact Eisenberg & Baum. We have a group of experienced employment discrimination attorneys who can explain your rights as a victim of discrimination and help you decide the best way to address your particular claim.
The Pao Effect
Even before the jury reached a verdict in the Pao case, Ellen Pao’s story and lawsuit were having an effect outside of just the case itself. The case was very high profile, covered by major media outlets and the subject of broad discussion on social media. Soon after Pao filed her lawsuit, two other women filed suits alleging gender discrimination by major tech companies. Chia Hong filed a lawsuit against her former employer, Facebook, and Tina Huang filed a class action lawsuit against her former employer, Twitter. The fact that these cases came so soon after Pao only magnified the issue of harassment and unfair treatment of women in the male-dominated tech sector.
Though Pao ultimately lost her case, Fortune reported that, based on interviews with several Silicon Valley area plaintiffs attorneys, there was an appreciable “Pao effect” that continued even after the loss. Some lawyers saw a dramatic increase in the number of women coming forward with discrimination complaints, while others observed that gender discrimination clients seemed more emboldened and determined to shine a light on illegal practices at their job. Pao’s single case seems to have encouraged more women to come forward with their own discrimination complaints and has sparked a much broader conversation about gender discrimination in the tech industry .
Elephant in the Valley Survey and Findings
Inspired by this new discussion, a group of women with ties to the tech industry, including Trae Vassallo, a witness for Ellen Pao in her case against Kleiner Perkins, began a project called the Elephant in the Valley to gather hard data on what was becoming an apparent trend of gender discrimination across an entire business sector. Together, the team created a survey that they distributed to over 200 women working in a wide range of tech businesses. The women surveyed generally had at least 10 years of work experience, with many holding high positions of power at tech and venture capital companies. The vast majority of the women polled were from the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley area.
What the survey revealed was an astonishing amount of respondents who had experienced sexual harassment and other forms of gender bias and discrimination at work. Here are a few of the key results from the survey:
- 60% of respondents reported having been subjected to unwanted sexual advances at work
- 60% of women who reported sexual harassment to their employer were dissatisfied with the action taken
- 39% of respondents who said they’d been sexually harassed did nothing because they were afraid it would have a negative impact on their career
- 90% of respondents reported having witnessed some sort of sexist behavior at offsite events and conferences
- 84% reported having been told they were too aggressive at work
On top of the survey data, the Elephant in the Valley also collected women’s stories and posted some of them on its website. Here are just a few of the stories provided:
- “The first time I travelled with a new CEO he made an advance. I turned him down. After that, I was never asked to travel with him again. This impacted my ability to do my job.”
- “When I am with a male colleague who reports to me the default is for people tend to defer to him assuming I work for him. As soon as they know that is not true they look to me. I have also had male colleagues say to me that once a woman is pregnant she is irrelevant.
- “There is a VC networking group called “alpha” as in male, of which I am the only female member and was “invited” only after specifically asking. VCs have fly-ins, fly-fishing trips etc to which only guys are invited.”
The point of the Elephant in the Valley was to continue to raise awareness and further the discussion of the issues of gender bias and discrimination in the tech industry.
This exercise isn’t merely to empower those women who may be the direct victims of the types of discrimination and inequity revealed by the survey, but to make an entire industry, especially men, aware of issues that are significantly impacting a significant portion of its workforce and leadership. What comes of this new focus on the treatment of women in the tech industry and beyond will depend on everyone involved. Tech employers can no longer turn a blind eye to the issues of gender bias, harassment and discrimination at work. The issue is too well known and its victims now too empowered for their concerns to be ignored. The victims themselves have had the door opened for them by plaintiffs like Ellen Pao and can take encouragement from the Elephant in the Valley project. If you have been subjected to sexual advances at work or left out of meetings or events because you’re a woman, you now know that you are not alone and you do not have to endure this kind of behavior. We encourage you to report incidents of harassment and discrimination to your employer and contact an attorney.
Eisenberg & Baum’s attorneys have decades of experience handling gender discrimination and sexual harassment cases. We offer free initial consultations for employment discrimination claims and bill on a contingent fee basis, so you won’t have to pay us unless we win your case.