Ellen Pao shares experiences of workplace discrimination and how to fight it

Ellen Pao speaks at Haas on diversity and inclusion in tech.
Ellen Pao spoke on diversity & inclusion in tech and beyond. Photo credit: Genevieve Shiffrar

While serving as interim CEO at Reddit, Ellen Pao tried a new system for salary negotiations: Everyone was assigned to a band based on their experience and skills, and they were then offered compensation at the top of their bands—a strategy aimed at leveling the playing field for women and minorities.

“It was very time-consuming…but you felt better when you gave an offer. And we would cut out one or two weeks of awkwardness [in negotiations],” said Pao, who also banned revenge porn posts and unauthorized nude photos while at Reddit.

On a mission

Pao has been on a mission to fight discrimination since she rocked the tech world with her 2012 gender bias suit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. She spoke about diversity and inclusion at Haas last week in an event co-hosted by The Berkeley Forum and Asian-Americans@Haas—a new MBA-student affinity group.

Pao now serves as chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and last month released “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change,” a chronicle of her journey through her unsuccessful lawsuit and ongoing attempt to change how the tech and business worlds view women, ethnicity, race, and culture.

Co-hosted by MBA & undergrad student groups

MBA students Carolyn Chuong and Nolan Chao, both MBA 18, said they felt lucky to host Pao for their group’s inaugural event. They had a classmate who recently interned at Kapor Capital, and they made a successful call to her publicist. Pao had also gotten an invitation from The Berkeley Forum, an undergraduate group that brings speakers to campus, so they decided to work together.

Carolyn Chuong and Nolan Chao, MBA 18, introduce Ellen Pao
MBA students Carolyn Chuong and Nolan Chao of Asian-Americans@Haas introduced Pao. Photo credit: Genevieve Shiffrar

During her talk, moderated by Berkeley sophomore Shaina Zuber for The Berkeley Forum, Pao talked about the crucial importance of workplace relationships in career-building. Though she was serving as a junior partner while at Kleiner Perkins, she said she found herself being excluded from emails, decision-making and executive dinners.

“I didn’t realize until much, much later that … those dinners with partners were different than dinners with peers,” she said. “Throughout my career, there would be little things I noticed but brushed off.”

Ellen Pao spoke on diversity and inclusion in tech.
After a moderated conversation, Pao took questions from students. Photo credit: Genevieve Shiffrar

Working to get women included 

During seven years at Kleiner Perkins, Pao said she observed signs of gender inequality in the form of all-male dinners or periods when all the men got promoted. None of the women, who seemed to have more education and work experience, received promotions, she said.

Despite evidence showing that the women’s investments were doing better than the men’s, for example, women were not being rewarded the same way, she said.

“That was a signal to me that something was wrong,” Pao added.

Pao remembered her time during the Kleiner Perkins lawsuit as a very lonely one. Her colleagues at the firm were afraid to talk to her and avoided her at the workplace. But people reached out through emails outside of work, sharing their own experiences of gender discrimination.

Last year, Pao co-founded consulting nonprofit Project Include to help technology companies implement diversity and inclusion strategies.

“Everyone has a voice. There is a systemic problem where people are not being included. And we need to change the whole system so everybody gets included fairly,” Pao said.

Ellen Pao spoke at Berkeley-Haas on diversity and inclusion in tech.
Photo credit: Genevieve Shiffrar


Chuong and Chao formed Asian-Americans@Haas with several other classmates last spring to bring attention to the Asian-American perspective in a business world still mostly led by white males in top positions. They plan to host workshops, social events, and speakers, and are also connecting with undergraduates, Chuong said.

“There are a lot of stereotypes that plague Asians in the workplace,” Chuong said. “Nolan and I felt like there wasn’t a dedicated group to the Asian-American community at Haas, which was quite surprising. Part of it is just to do some relationship-building.”

Check out the video of Pao’s talk.