Kapor Center Hires Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao

By Marissa Lang
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Ellen Pao who was at the center of a high profile gender discrimination case in Silicon Valley will now oversee the Kapor Center’s efforts to help tech companies create more diverse workforces.

San Francisco Chronicle

Ellen Pao, who gained notoriety after she sued her former employer for gender discrimination and turned national attention on the disparities in Silicon Valley, will continue her fight for diversity and inclusion in tech by returning to her roots as a startup investor and overseeing diversity efforts at the Kapor Center for Social Impact in Oakland.

Pao may be best known for her 2012 lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — which she ultimately lost after a three-year battle — but she has since served as interim CEO of Reddit and was one of the founders of Project Include, which pushes tech startups to make meaningful commitments to diversity.

That effort, announced late last year, also tried to enlist venture capitalists to nudge the startups they fund toward being more inclusive and equitable.

Joining the Kapor Center for Social Impact and its investment arm, Kapor Capital, Pao said, feels like a natural progression.

“It’s been this interesting journey,” Pao said in an interview Tuesday. “When I started in tech, I faced some obstacles and then I started sharing my story about the obstacles I faced, and learned so many others had faced the same issues. I started calling out specific solutions, and now I can work on implementing those solutions at scale. … It’s exciting to feel like I can try to have as big an impact as possible.”

The Kapor Center was founded by Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor, both renowned entrepreneurs, philanthropists and activists who have led the push for greater diversity and a more socially conscious way of doing business by tech companies. They touted Pao’s appointment Tuesday.

“We are thrilled to have Ellen on our team,” Freada Kapor Klein said in a statement. “Her values, her courage and her leadership skills … will prove enormously valuable.”

As the center’s chief diversity officer, Pao will oversee the organization’s efforts to help tech companies create more diverse workforces.
The tech industry, which has been criticized by everyone from its own employees to the federal government for being overwhelmingly white and male, remains significantly less diverse than the private sector at large. Few companies have been able to increase the number of technical workers they employ from underrepresented groups, including women, blacks, Latinos and American Indians.
Pao will also join the center’s venture-capital arm, Kapor Capital, as a senior partner charged with investing in early-stage startups with a social mission. Though her main role will be overseeing diversity and inclusion at the Kapor Center, Pao will work as a venture capitalist part time.
On Tuesday, Pao became the second female partner at the small investment firm.
Women comprise just 11 percent of investment partners in the industry, while venture capital firms say that about 3 percent of partners are black and 4 percent are Latino, according to a report by the National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte University’s Leadership Center for Inclusion.
Of the 217 firms that employ more than 2,500 people, not a single one has a black investment partner.
“So many of the solutions out there right now address just gender. Or just race. They’re very limited,” Pao said. “Our goal is to make it inclusive for everyone and end this in-group, out-group structure that has permeated tech for so long.”
This is not the first time Pao has worked with the Kapors. Freada Kapor Klein worked with Pao on Project Include and was one of six women who founded the project.
Pao said she will continue her work with Project Include, which has achieved nonprofit status and will be hiring a full-time director this year.
Pao was a partner at Kleiner Perkins for seven years. In 2012, she filed suit against the company, alleging discrimination and bias.
Pao lost the case after three years of litigation, but succeeded in shining a spotlight on the lack of diversity among venture capitalists, and issues of gender bias and sexual harassment in tech. In 2015, Pao briefly ran controversial social media company Reddit as its interim CEO.
She reemerged during the 2016 presidential campaign as a vocal opponent of then-candidate Donald Trump and criticized his supporters for making people of color, immigrants and other minority groups feel ostracized.
Despite Trump’s victory, Pao said, the election has re-energized her.
“I think we’d lost our willingness to actively fight for our values a little bit, and then this election called that into sharp focus,” she said. “I think the people who are aware of the problem are doubling down in solving it.”
Marissa Lang is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @Marissa_Jae
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