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Ellen Pao talks discrimination in the workplace, new book "Reset"

Ellen Pao on Silicon Valley's bias
Ellen Pao addresses sexism and discrimination in Silicon Valley 07:34

In our ongoing series, Issues That Matter, "CBS This Morning" is taking a closer look at gender discrimination in the workplace.    

Tech investor Ellen Pao made headlines during her 2015 gender discrimination trial against the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Pao claimed in the $16 million lawsuit that she experienced bias as an employee of the firm. She said she was overlooked for promotions and suffered retaliation after she complained.

The case became one of the most prominent lawsuits of its kind, and Silicon Valley was riveted by testimony about Pao's experience in the powerhouse firm. Pao lost the suit, but she helped revolutionize the national conversation about gender equality in the tech industry and other fields.

In an interview with "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday, Pao said she has no regrets about the lawsuit.

Ellen Pao CBS News

"From all of the support that I've received and from the change that I'm starting to see, and perceptions of how people are treated, it's been worth it," she said.

But Pao, who is revealing her story for the first time in a new memoir called "Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change," said in order to see real change, "you have to change everything about the system."

"You're bringing people in in a system that interviews in a way that protects the people who are already there," Pao said of Silicon Valley's startup culture. "You bring in your friends to your company. It's a very traditional way of hiring, and you need to open that up and figure out how you can get other people in and then how to make them successful in a way that's fair."

On one hand, the Harvard Law School graduate said women weren't getting promoted and people of color weren't getting hired. But there was another issue that became evident in "smaller" ways: "So it's being asked to get the coffee. Being asked to babysit partners' kids. Being asked to take notes, only woman being asked to take notes," Pao said. "So it was the broader not being able to get promoted, but it was also being treated as a second-class citizen and being asked to do things that other people were not asked to do."

"It was very much an expectation that women were willing to do that work and were the right people to do that work," she added.


During the interview, "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose noted: "If you are a business person – businessman or woman – you want to find the smartest people you can to help you achieve your results. So discrimination is stupid. Beyond wrong, it's stupid. You want to use the talents of everybody."

"Yeah," Pao responded, "I think there's a set of people who don't believe that women and people of color can execute and can perform and work the same way that other people can."

Pao also had some recommendations for women or minorities encountering sexism or discrimination in the workplace.

"I think one is find a place that is actually going to help you succeed," she said. "So if you're stuck in a place where they don't give you those opportunities, where they ignore your experience and they put you in a lower role, try to get out if you can. And another one is speak up for other people. Speak up for yourself, speak up for other people when you can, and just really, like, make sure that you're always learning. Make sure that you can see that there's bias and discrimination but also learn when you can from the feedback that is actually helpful."

Pao said it took her a while to find a job after leaving Kleiner Perkins, but she was "very lucky" to be hired at Reddit as an executive. She went on to become CEO when Yishan Wong resigned. During her term as CEO, she said she banned revenge porn and unauthorized nude pictures on Reddit. But some of her changes at the site weren't welcomed by Reddit's most active and outspoken users.

Pao resigned from Reddit after a revolt by her company's community base. Pao said she was asked to leave. She is now working with the Kapor Center for Social Impact as chief diversity and inclusion officer. She also co-founded Project Include, a non-profit "designed to help everyone get a fair chance in tech."

In a statement, Kleiner Perkins told CBS News: "Kleiner Perkins wholeheartedly believes in the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce. We support Ellen Pao's mission and efforts through Project Include to improve workplace culture for women and other under-represented groups. However, Pao's claims against Kleiner Perkins were examined thoroughly during a five-week trial in 2015 and were rejected by the jury which decided against her on every claim."

In the interest of full disclosure, "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose has had a long-time business and personal relationship with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He has also known Pao for about 10 years.

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