Silicon Valley’s own Ellen Pao appeared on The Daily Show on Wednesday night to discuss sexism, exclusion and how the tech industry developed a “cool frat boy culture.”
The appearance came the day after the release of her memoir, “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change” — which Daily Show host Trevor Noah called “eye-opening and fascinating.”
“It’s a story that’s powerful mostly because it’s happening right now in a really big way in Silicon Valley,” Noah said when he introduced Pao, who received a round of applause as she took the stage a black suit jacket and black pants.
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Pao became somewhat of a household name in Silicon Valley in 2015 when she took her former employers at storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to trial for discrimination. She lost the case, but the much-watched trial sparked a global awareness about sexism and bias in the tech industry.
Noah first asked Pao about the trial process itself, and whether it was a daunting experience.
“It was hard,” Pao agreed. “It was something that a lot of people told me not to do. They had gone through it and they said you get attacked personally, you spend a lot of money on it, professionally it’s hard to get hired again.”
But she said she felt she had to take action: “If they don’t change, it’s just going to happen to more and more people.”
Pao described some of the discrimination she says she faced at work — she and other women were denied promotions, they had their board seats taken away while on maternity leave, and they were excluded from business meetings and gatherings. And, of course, she mentioned the infamous porn star conversation her male colleagues had while flying on a private plane for a work trip.
That scene prompted Noah to ask about the evolution of the “tech bro:” How did Silicon Valley’s tech scene go from “nerd culture” to “frat culture?”
The scene shifted around 2008, Pao said, when no one wanted to work on Wall Street anymore. At the same time, people started making a ton of money in tech.
“At some point people stopped going to Wall Street and they started coming to Silicon Valley,” she said. “And that culture of greed, that kind of cool frat boy culture, came into Silicon Valley.”
In the end, Pao said, her fight boils down to “right and wrong.”
“It’s about people being treated fairly,” she said. “It’s about this massive creation of wealth and power where a lot of people have not been able to participate. And if you look at what’s happening, there’s a set of people who don’t think that we’re equal — you because you’re black, me because I’m a woman.”
This proved to be somewhat of a shock to Noah.
“Wait, I’m black?” he asked, provoking a roar of laughter from the audience.
For her part, Pao may have been doing the interview under the influence of a sugar rush — at least judging from this picture of a huge pile of candy she tweeted while waiting backstage.
— Ellen K. Pao (@ekp) September 20, 2017
Photo: Ellen Pao is photographed on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in San Francisco, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
Tags: Daily Show, discrimination, ellen pao, The Daily Show, trevor noah