In 2015, Ellen K. Pao sued a powerhouse Silicon Valley venture capital firm, calling out workplace discrimination and retaliation against women and other underrepresented groups. Her suit rocked the tech world—and exposed its toxic culture and its homogeneity. Her message overcame negative PR attacks that took aim at her professional conduct and her personal life, and she won widespread public support—Time hailed her as “the face of change.” Though Pao lost her suit, she revolutionized the conversation at tech offices, in the media, and around the world. In Reset, she tells her full story for the first time.
Ellen K. Pao’s Reset is a rallying cry—the story of a whistleblower who aims to empower everyone struggling to be heard, in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Author: Ellen Pao
“In diversity discussions, we hear a lot about ‘death by a thousand cuts’—the toxic effect of all the casual remarks like ‘Will you get us some coffee, honey?’ or ‘Can I touch your dreadlocks?’ Sometimes the cuts are a little deeper: ‘I can’t see you as a manager. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I just don’t. And sometimes the cuts—like my friend’s “Take one for the team”—make you flip the table and leave.
What I think about these days is our ability, in the course of our lives, to counteract those thousand cuts by giving out a thousand Band-Aids. We can’t immediately fix the systemic problems in tech and other industries, but we should do what we can in the meantime. Small cruelties or ignorant comments hurt, and they contribute to a sense that we don’t belong. And so for those of us who want to promote inclusion, our job is to give to each other the encouragement that will counteract those moments of disillusionment.”
Wow. This is the book I didn’t know I was waiting for. In this book, Ellen tells the story of how she was repeatedly promised the world and given the gutter at the behemoth venture capital firm where she worked. Then, she spent hundreds of thousands—if not a million—dollars of her own money to challenge the firm in court. She was eventually out-gunned by the firm’s greater financial and legal resources, and she lost, but it was close. She had many, many opportunities to settle the case for a significant sum, but chose to surrender her money in order to be able to write this book and tell her story.
One woman reached out after the trial with the comforting assertion that perhaps Ellen’s trial will be like that in To Kill a Mockingbird; it’s not the trial’s outcome, but the shift in thinking and in the public’s hearts, that truly matters. From where I’m sitting, that woman hit the nail on the head.
The boys’ club culture she describes in the venture capital industry is the kind of thing you imagine only happened in decades past, and yet it is somehow also not surprising at all. It simultaneously hurts, knowing that we have so far to go, and comforts, knowing that none of us are alone in the double standards we face each day. Because all women have been there. Here are two of my own experiences that stick out in my mind, and I’m only 25 years old:
- A business school professor gave me feedback—in front of the whole (mostly male) class—that I should “try not to be so bossy next time” after I’d begun a presentation asking my audience to raise their hands if they’d ever experienced the problem our fictitious product aimed to solve.
- I spent an internship reporting to several different people, which meant no one person knew what my workload looked like, and I was responsible for helping several actual employees meet their KPIs. At the same time, the department head would ask me to do things like stuff and stamp envelopes and go to Starbucks to pick up coffees for the whole team (that’s 8 coffees) all by myself. I did all the work, but balancing my priorities proved tough. At the end of the internship, he told me that I was “aggressive” and “abrasive” for questioning whether the envelope-stuffing and Starbucks runs took priority over my other tasks.
Ellen’s writing is steady and intelligent. She is reasonable and calm and steadfast and relatable. She tells an engaging story that feels important and universal. And she offers hope and actionable next steps for anyone hoping to move the gender-discrimination needle. Even if you are not part of the tech industry, even if you are not a woman—perhaps especially if you are not a woman—I encourage you to pick this one up.