invented the Internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket
protectors. Men who idolized Mr. Spock and cried whenSteve Jobsdied.
Nerds. Geeks. Give them their due. Without men, we would never know
what our friends were doing five minutes ago.
are these men trapped in the past even as they create the future?
complaint,laced with accusations of
professional retaliation after spurned sexual advances, has riveted
Silicon Valley, whose venture capitalists generally prefer media
attention for their businesses and deals, not themselves. Instead of
talking about the New New Thing, people are discussing an old, old
problem. And they are taking sides.
the accusations have yet to be heard in court, even some of Ms. Pao’s
critics concede that she is exposing an uncomfortable truth about
Silicon Valley: starting tech companies in 2012 is still a male game,
and so is funding them.
complaint goes further. It depicts venture capitalists here as a group
of 21st-century men who may be hard at work building the 22nd century
but, when it comes to dealing with women in the workplace, are stuck
firmly in the caveman era — or at least in the 1950s. It’s a portrait
that many women in tech find all too familiar.
talk to any woman in technology and she will have a personal story or
know a story where she felt conscious of her gender in subtle or
significant ways,” said Kathy Savitt, 48, the chief executive ofthe
social commerce start-up Lockerz. Sometimes, she said, it’s as
mild as realizing, “I’m the only chick in the room.” Other times,
“it’s a lack of relevance, a feeling you can see an end to your
the number of women in Silicon Valley so meager, a prominent
discrimination lawsuit does not surprise Ms. Savitt. This place runs
into trouble with women on a regular basis, most memorably in recent
years when the C.E.O. ofHewlett-Packardresigned
after inappropriate conduct with a former reality TV actress who was
working for him.
Ms. Pao’s lawsuit has injected talk of sexual politics into a
conversation that generally sticks to money and eyeballs and business
plans, monetization and enlightenment of the masses. Men in Silicon
Valley may not behave any worse than men anywhere else, but people
here like to think it’s all a meritocracy.
shock really stems from where the scandal is taking place. Ms. Savitt
knows Kleiner well; the firm is financing Lockerz. She cannot comment
on the suit but expresses her deep admiration for the Kleiner crew.
The firm is one of the few exceptions to the venture world’s
disinterest in hiring women. A quarter of its 50 partners are female.
fact fits awkwardly with the lawsuit’s claim that one male executive,
Randy Komisar, told Ms. Pao that women would never succeed at Kleiner
“because women are quiet.” Another male executive, Chi-Hua Chien, is
quoted in the suit saying women were not being invited to a big-deal
dinner because they would “kill the buzz.”
Ms. Pao nor any of the parties mentioned in the lawsuit would comment
is an unlikely defendant for another reason. It is particularly
conscious of its image. “As Kleiner Perkins sees it, the Florence of
the Renaissance had the Medicis, the American steel industry had the
House of Morgan, and Silicon Valley in the late 20th century has
Kleiner Perkins,” David A. Kaplan wrote in “The Silicon Boys” in 1999.
was when the firm was at its peak, the money behind Netscape,Genentech,Amazonand
a little start-up calledGoogle.
you believe every allegation in the complaint, it’s appalling and an
important window into how the valley works,” Mr. Kaplan said. “But I’m
somewhat skeptical. The clichés you hear in the valley are about the
pranks, the obsessiveness, the Foosball tables. You don’t really hear
about randiness and mistreatment of women. That doesn’t prove it’s not
there, but that’s not the lore.”
course, it depends on your perspective. Sandy Kurtzig was one of two
female engineering students in her class at Stanford in the late 1960s
and is still in the game, with a start-up funded by Kleiner. She
always tried to take the valley’s sexism in stride — “When men made
passes, I just downplayed it so the guy doesn’t feel he’s being put
down when rejected” — but is disappointed by its persistence.
am shocked there aren’t more women in high positions in Silicon
Valley,” Ms. Kurtzig said. “I always thought the world was going to be
headquarters in an office park near here does everything possible to
minimize the moment. A low-slung building that is obscured if not
overwhelmed by vegetation, it looks like the home of a laid-back
research center for the promotion of world peace. The parking lot has
one Porsche, but otherwiseLexusis
about as fancy as it gets.Venture
capitalwants to change the world
without drawing attention to itself.
Kleiner has seen its magic touch somewhat dimmed of late — it came
very late to the money fountain that wasFacebook—
a lawsuit like this could permanently kill the buzz. Already, it has
eclipsed the mid-May announcement of the firm’s 15th fund, a $525
million investment pot. Which, despite all those women at Kleiner, is
being run by one woman and nine men.
Pao, who came to Kleiner with the dream of helping direct such a fund,
a degree in electrical engineering. She got a law degree fromHarvardand
worked for Cravath Swaine & Moore for two years doing
international deals. She returned to Harvard for a business degree and
worked for a variety of tech companies, including BEA Systems and
Tellme Networks. Her geek cred is pretty unassailable.
2005, she came to Kleiner as a junior partner, working as chief of
staff toJohn Doerr.
He was one of the main evangelists who shaped the modern Internet, a
geek’s geek who became a billionaire. But, unlike many here, money
never seemed his primary goal.
Pao’s role was to help Mr. Doerr identify investments, interview
executives and write speeches.
to the suit, her troubles began almost immediately when another junior
partner, Ajit Nazre, made inappropriate sexual advances. Eventually,
the complaint says, Ms. Pao “succumbed to Mr. Nazre’s insistence on
sexual relations on two or three occasions.” When she put an end to
the relationship, it says, he “started a consistent pattern of
retaliation against her.” This went on for five years, it contends.
harassment part of the suit pales in comparison to the retaliation
part, which blends into an allegation of a general effort to keep
women in their place. Kleiner, Ms. Pao’s lawsuit says, discriminated
against her and other women “by failing to promote them comparably to
men, by compensating them less than men through lower salary, bonus
and carried interest, by restricting the number of investments that
women are allowed to make as compared to men.”
firm, which has about 80 employees here with a handful more inChina,
is accused of failing to act when complaints of sexual harassment or
discrimination were made. Ms. Pao says women are excluded from
meetings and discussions. The firm fails to provide opportunities for
visibility and success inside and outside the firm for women as
compared with men, the complaint says.
supporters have some questions, even if they do not necessarily wish
to go on the record: Why did a talented woman stay for so long at a
place that was treating her so poorly? Also, how is it that you can’t
remember how many times you slept with someone who harassed you?
how is it possible that Mr. Doerr never listened to her assertions of
retaliation and discrimination? Mr. Doerr declined to comment, but his
supporters have an answer. The first that anyone at the firm knew of
her concerns, they say, was just five months ago — at which point
Kleiner promptly brought in a lawyer to investigate. He found no basis
to her complaints, the firm says.
you take the Kleiner line, Mr. Nazre was less the instigator than the
victim; he had a consensual affair with Ms. Pao and now is being
portrayed as a harasser. The suit says he left the firm after the
investigator’s report at the beginning of the year, implying a cause
and effect. People inside Kleiner say he left of his own volition
before the inquiry began.
Nazre has not surfaced since the lawsuit was filed. A voice-mail
message box belonging to him was full late last week. He did not
answer messages through hisLinkedInpage,
which says he still works at Kleiner.
supporters said that the firm made repeated efforts to achieve a
resolution, but that the parties could not come to terms. The lawsuit
was filed inSan
FranciscoSuperior Court on May 10, but was not reported
in the news media until two weeks later.
sides in the case are bringing out high-profile legal firepower. Ms.
Pao is represented by the employment law specialist Alan B. Exelrod,
who won a significant victory against the law firm of Baker &
McKenzie in a harassment case. Kleiner is represented by Lynne C.
Hermle, an equally celebrated employer defense lawyer. Ms. Hermle
a case in which an employee said she was fired after complaining about
Hermle has until June 13 to file a response to the accusations. “The
complaint has no merit whatsoever,” she said. Mr. Exelrod declined to
Pao is known to the small world of venture capitalists here. Her
husband, Alphonse Fletcher Jr., whom she married after the physical
relationship with Mr. Nazre ended, is not. But he is well known in New
York and has become the object of considerable fascination in the tech
Fletcher,known as Buddy, has recently been in
suing the Dakota, the apartment building on Central Park West,
for not letting him buy a fifth unit. Mr. Fletcher, a former president
of the Dakota board, said he needed the new rooms, which adjoin his
main apartment, to accommodate his growing family that includes not
only Ms. Pao but also their young daughter.
Fletcher, who is black, is accusing the Dakota of racial
discrimination and defamation. The Dakota responded to the suit by
saying its concerns were not racial but financial: it did not think
that Mr. Fletcher could afford another apartment.
account of the suit inThe New York
Timesnoted that in 2003 and 2006, workmen
on Mr. Fletcher’sConnecticutestate
had accused him of sexual harassment. Mr. Fletcher denied the
allegations, which were settled out of court. He declined to respond
to a request for comment.
the marriage, Mr. Fletcher had lived at the Dakota with his longtime
boyfriend, Hobart V. Fowlkes Jr.
must admit that I do not know Ellen as intimately as I obviously know
Buddy,” Mr. Fowlkes wrote in an e-mail. “However, my interactions with
Ellen have never been anything but positive.”
added that he was “extremely touched” that they asked him to be the
godfather of their daughter, “given the circumstances.”
about the Facebook I.P.O. For some entrepreneurial women, Ms. Pao’s
lawsuit was the more significant event of the last month.
Mazur said she never had a problem getting meetings with venture
capitalists. “But it’s definitely harder to talk to male investors who
don’t have as much experience with retail and fashion,” she said.
“That kind of personal connection can be key to getting funding.”
as another e-commerce entrepreneur put it, “You’re trying to explain
to a man why shopping is fun.”
only on the condition of anonymity — you never can tell whom you’re
going to be asking for money — some entrepreneurs are more despairing.
woman said she interviewed at a top venture firm in 2000 after coming
out of business school. “I was told point-blank that they once had a
woman and it didn’t work out,” she said. “That was 12 years ago and
they haven’t had a single woman partner since.”
whatever its problems, actually hired women. So this executive worries
that the message of the case to others will be: We were right to stick
with the guys. She said she just got off the phone with a
venture-backed chief executive who found out she was pregnant. The
board was already moving to dump her.
cold stats: Women make up just 9.1 percent of the board members of
Silicon Valley companies, compared with 16 percent ofStandard&
Poor’s 500 companies,according
to Spencer Stuart,the headhunting firm. The
National Venture Capital Association estimates, based on a recent
survey, that only about 11 percent of investing partners at venture
firms are women.
ratio is not much higher for the entrepreneurs these firms back. In
2009, only 11 percent of companies that received venture backing had a
female C.E.O. or founder, according toDow JonesVentureSource.
a retro state of affairs, although that isn’t stopping Silicon Valley
from protecting its own, which means Kleiner. One Kleiner-backed woman
said in an interview that she didn’t think much of Ms. Pao’s suit.
“Anybody can sue anybody for anything, right?” Then she called back
and said that she had now read the blogs and news articles about it,
that the whole thing was a mess, that she was speaking out of
ignorance and could she just stay out of it?
lawsuits like this make it to a jury, but Ms. Pao’s case might be an
exception. And some on both sides want the case to go to trial. Any
settlement by Kleiner could look like an acknowledgment of guilt. The
firm, meanwhile, is playing as aggressive a defense as it dares, given
the legal constraints.
Thomas, a former Valleywag gossip columnist and a longtime Silicon
Valley observer, saw the situation this way: “If a tenth of this is
true, Kleiner Perkins has a problem.”
women of the firm are certainly not united behind Ms. Pao. One of
them, Beth Seidenberg, a general partner, took the unusual step of
issuing a statement.
was drawn to the firm because of its diversity and have excelled here
as have other women,” she said. “Everyone has an equal opportunity to
succeed” at Kleiner. In an interview, she repeated those points.
Doerr posteda lengthy message on the firm’s
Web site, saying Kleiner Perkins would “vigorously defend our
reputation.” He did not mention his former aide by name. The next day,
Kleiner announced that it was hiring a new female partner.