Kleiner, Ellen Pao, and 5 Best Practices

linkedinPublished on LinkedIn Influencers on March 28, 2015

For weeks we have been reading about how women may, or may not, be treated in Silicon Valley. This issue was brought front and center as a result of the case brought by Ellen Pao against Kleiner Perkins. We now have a verdict: Kleiner was found not guilty. I trust that the jury weighed the evidence and came to the right decision. I do not know Ms. Pao, and I have only casually met a few of the partners at Kleiner, and therefore I have no ability to speak to the merits of the case. I do, however, have a lot of experience being a woman professional in the financial services sector. I have personally experienced sexual harassment and negative bias, but I also have experienced the opposite; being promoted at a very early age to become a partner at Goldman Sachs (the first female trader and youngest female to do so in 1996). I also have a lot of experience developing best practice policies in human capital management. I have read, with much concern, not only many of the articles written about this case, but many of the comments that follow any one article. Frankly, it’s very concerning on a number of fronts.

Clearly, any rational person can look at the facts around the representation of women in senior leadership roles in venture capital and say, “Houston, We Have A Problem”. I don’t need to rehash all of the facts and statistics that have been brought up to illustrate the fact that there has to be gender bias, with the big headline being that only 6% of partners at Venture Capital Funds are women. That is down from 10% in 1999. So why few women?

In 2010, I helped fund and produce a research report on this topic titled Women in Fund Management: A Road-Map to Critical Mass and Why it Matters with the goal of answering that very question. In it, we outlined why there are so few women making decisions around capital allocation, and more importantly, a list of solutions to address the imbalance. This report may now be 5 years old, but both the reasons, and the solutions, very much apply today. My hope in producing that report was for financial services firms to embrace the findings and do something. Sadly, little has been done. There has been so much talk, but frankly, so little action. It’s time. Please download the report for all the details.

So why is this latest firestorm concerning? The reasons are two-fold. The first is that Kleiner does seem to have a pretty good record, as far as VCs go, in supporting women. However, being the best in an industry that is known to be particularly non-inclusive should not be the benchmark. The benchmark should be to be inclusive and merit based, period. What is scary is that the comment boards on so many of the articles about this case are filled with statements like, “See that is what you get when you hire women. Don’t bother. Those guys were trying, and they got slapped for it. That is what women do. Instead of just performing well and earning promotions, they sue to get what they want.” I could go on and on. That is simply not right and not fair. Are some women in some companies going to sue feeling they were discriminated against? Yes, and so are some men, but whomever does had better know the law, because at the end of the day, that is what matters. Let us not forget that the courts are filled with frivolous law suits of all kinds. This is what Americans do. Sue.

So can women play that so called ‘woman card’? I guess, but you better damn well have a case, or it will cost you a lot of money, time, and your reputation. In my experience, it is a card rarely played. As shown in this case, it is very hard to prove sexual discrimination if it is not truly there. It is especially hard to prove when it is a story of a series of micro-inequities, all of which add up to a career stalled out. Those stories are especially hard to make visible, but in my opinion, it is the main reason why we have so few women in senior leadership positions who truly want and deserve to be there. Yes, some women do sue, and if the law has been broken they should, but often they are cases that we never read about because they have been settled out of court. The reason they are most often settled out of court is because the firm is clearly in the wrong, and in exchange for money, there is a confidentiality agreement in place. It is unfortunate that these cases are not made public, because I truly believe the public would be shocked at the behavior that does occur, and if they knew, I would like to think that people would choose to take their business elsewhere. My guess is that Kleiner went to court because they felt strongly they would win, and they did. However, simply because they won this particular case does not mean that there is no sexual harassment and discrimination in Silicon Valley; it merely means the courts did not find it in the case of Pao versus Kleiner.

The other reason this case is of concern to me is because the jury found Ms. Pao’s case without merit, and therefore people will assume that Kleiner was taken through the ringer unjustly, it might make them, and other firms, less likely to hire women. Out of fear of it happening again, firms might think, “Why bother?” That certainly seems to be the theme on the message boards of late. My hope is that this case does not make Kleiner, and others in the industry, less likely to hire and promote women, but rather invite them to recommit to ensuring their companies have the best possible practices in human capital management. Every company would likely say that their goal is to hire, promote, and retain the best people possible, so all anyone is asking for, and what they should be asking of themselves, is to ensure that their policies follow this mission. If this is the outcome of the trial, what a win that would be!

When you think about it, shouldn’t VC firms be leaders in having diversity in leadership? If their goal is to identify the best investment opportunities on the planet and put their money and resources into them, shouldn’t having the best people doing that be critically important? If yes, it follows that in order to do that, you should have the best human capital management processes in place to attract and retain that talent. If 50% of the world and 60% of the current college graduates are women, to not have women in critical mass should be clear evidence that they do not have the best human capital management practices in place. There are lots of excuses, some say reasons, that women will not reach critical mass, but in 2015 these are really just excuses.

Below are FIVE best practices that seem to be related to the case, and feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section. (Again PLEASE download the report for a comprehensive list of challenges and solutions with respect to advancing women in fund management)

1) Men and women, do not sleep with people who report to you, or who you report to. Period. Especially if either party is married. Also, perhaps the person you are seeing now is not your boss, but might be one day. Be thoughtful and realize that if you do choose to date someone you work with, it may at some point create problems.

2) No matter what the size of your company, make sure you have yearly employee evaluations. Better yet, have a process for continuous job related performance feedback. Every employee deserves to know how they are doing and what they need to do to be promoted. If your firm does not do this, champion for it. One best practice we did at Goldman in the 90s was to have departmental committees that were responsible for reviewing all employees. What that did was take the potential for extreme manager bias out of the equation. In addition, high potential candidates were discussed and a career action plan was created. Oppositely, non-performing employees were discussed, and an action plan was created for them too. As an employee, you should never have to guess how you are doing. You should know. There were a few comments in the message boards saying, “Don’t bother hiring women because you can’t fire them.” Well, you actually can, and you especially can when you have transparent processes in place.

3) Know your corporate culture. If your goal is to be a meritocracy, be willing to question whether your company actually is one and don’t just assume it is. Consider doing an anonymous employee survey, or have an outside consultant do an evaluation. If it comes back you are doing great, awesome. If not, be truly willing to embrace the findings and do something about it. Also, be sure to conduct exit interviews when professionals leave. Though they may not want to tell you the real reasons why they are leaving out of fear of repercussions, at least you can try. It also may be that your culture is extreme, but if so, own it. Don’t pretend to be inclusive when really, you don’t give a rat’s ass. Warning. People, clients, may choose not to do business with you if they are not aligned with your values.

4) Do not give or share pornographic material to or with your co-workers. Also, be really thoughtful about sharing what YOU think is funny, or even worthy of conversation, in a work environment. This is not meant to take the fun out of the workplace, but rather to be respectful that others may have a personal history, or personal beliefs, that make certain types of humor deeply offensive or conversations uncomfortable. Sorry to be a buzz kill, but your place of work is not a college dorm room. Be a professional. If you are on the receiving end of inappropriate comments or behavior, call it out in the moment, respectfully. If it continues, take it up the formal channels to lodge a complaint. It nothing changes, go get a job somewhere else. Life is too short to work in an environment where you are not treated with respect or where valid concerns are not taken seriously. That said, from personal experience as a woman working in a male dominated environment, a trading floor, there is a lot to be said for being able to take a joke. And better yet, you have to be able to tell one. To be clear, taking a joke does not mean putting up with extremely offensive behavior, but you do, at times, have to let things slide. I have always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I hope people do the same with me. There is a heck of a lot of common sense out there that should be put to work.

5) Ensure your company has an anti-discriminatory policy, and make sure you know it and abide by it. Don’t you want to be treated fairly and with respect? Don’t you think everyone deserves to be? This is about basic rights and responsibilities that should be in place in our places of work and in the world more generally. You should also be aware of the laws around sexual harassment, sex-based discrimination and other forms of discrimination.

In closing, UHG. Truly, I do not get why this is all so hard. This is about basic human rights and human responsibilities. When we go to work we all need to treat each other professionally and with respect. Not only are we accountable for our own behavior, but also for what we bear witness to. My hope is that this case sheds light on the fact that there is much work to be done to create truly inclusive and meritocratic workplaces. Let that be our goal.


Articles and message boards to be read on this case include The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg here, here (Is it a loss of women in tech?), and here, I just found Bloomberg’s five lessons from the case which I am just reading now, and the New York Times here, and here.) This could go on forever.

Also of possible interest, additional articles by yours truly – Can Mothers be Traders, written after Paul Tudor Jones’ comments on the subject, a rant on the lack of women in finance in 2010, and What If I Never Left Goldman Sachs in 2014 on my dream financial services firm for women.

I am going to keep adding articles since there has been many written following the verdict.

This one from The Upshot on what Silicon Valley learned from the case.

Women, Arts and Social Change

IMG_2349[1]What percentage of art currently on display in US museums was made by women? According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, it is 5%.   Even worse, less than 3% of the artists in the Modern Art section of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are women, but 83% of the nudes are female. So hmm… it is 27 times more likely that a woman is featured nude in a painting, then to have been the featured artist.  Not good.

The statistics on women in art are staggeringly poor, yet not widely publicized. Even though I am known as ‘fact girl’, these were ones I had not heard until  I had the pleasure of hearing Susan Fisher Sterling, Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), speak at an art talk in Park City this week. I also learned that this museum is the only major museum in the WORLD solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative achievements in the arts.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts has been working to bring awareness to the lack of women represented on museum walls and in collectors portfolios since 1981, when the museum was founded by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace F. Holladay. In addition to advocating for women in the arts, the museum has worked to collect, preserve and display over 4,500 art works created by women. The Museum, which is located in downtown Washington DC, has 5 floors and over 80,000 square feet 100% dedicated to work by women. NMWA spotlights remarkable women artists of the past, while also promoting the best women artists working today.

My dear friend, and fellow Park City local, Susan Swartz, had her first major solo exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2011. It was called  Seasons of the Soul  and since that time her work has become international recognized.  She is but one example of amazing women artists whose careers have been enhanced and supported but this awesome institution. Another amazing woman to have a show at the museum is Carrie Mae Weemes. She is preeminent  photographer that I just happen to have in my collection. If you have not heard of her, please check out her web-site. One thing Susan Fisher asked in her remarks were “how many famous women artists can you name?” Think about it. The answers are likely a lot fewer in number than  for male artists, and that needs to change.  Thanks to this museum, it likely well.


In 2014  NMWA launched a bold new programmatic initiative called Women, Arts and Social Change. Through a series of public programs, the initiative will highlight the power of women and the arts as a catalyst for solutions to society’s most pressing issues, particularly those affecting women and girls. I am really excited to see where this new initiative will take the museum and how it will continue to engage new and younger audiences about the importance of women in the arts. This aligns beautifully to the work I am doing with Women Moving Millions to promote documentary film as a tool for social next. Next week I will be in New York for a full day workshop, and I will travel to Dallas for a similar event on May 7th.

I invite you to suport NMWA  and please visit their website at http://nmwa.org/


Photo above – Robin Marrouche, Director of the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Susan Fisher Sterling, and yours truly.


International Women’s Day – 15 Ways To Get Involved

IWD Banner-Google+ Each year on March 8 the people around the world gather to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). The United Nations celebrated the first IWD in 1975 during International Women’s Year. Two years later the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed each year on March 8. All over the world thousands of events occur in support of IWD to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Want to get involved? Here’s what you need to know!


Every year the UN picks a theme for IWD, although many organizations identify their own themes for the day as well. This year the UN’s theme is ‘Empowering Women- Empowering Humanity: Picture It!
In so doing the UN invites us to  “envision a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.”  March is also Women’s History Month and there are so many ways to stay engaged all month long. See below for my list of 15 ways to get involved!

  1. Follow IWD and UNWomen on Twitter
  2. Join the conversation on twitter using the hashtags #MakeItHappen #WomensDay #IWD2015 #Beijing20 #InternationalWomensDay #PaintItPurple
  3. Post a #EmpoweredBy selfie on Instagram
  4. Interact on other social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, and Pinterest
  5. Participate in local activities and campaigns – find one here.
  6. Join UN Women for their Live Facebook event with UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, 8 March (1 p.m. EST).
  7. Display the IWD logo on your blog, Twitter or Facebook page.
  8. Download and share content from UN Women Social Media packages with images, videos and sample messages.
  9. Listen to BBC Radio 3 on March 8 as they spotlight female composers and musicians
  10. Run an event celebrating women to raise awareness for gender equality.
  11. Paint it purple or wear purple! Why Purple? Purple symbolized justice and dignity two values strongly associated with women’s equality.
  12. Get inspired by watching UN Women’s video “One Woman”, released in 2013 in celebration of IWD.
  13. Donate to your favorite charity that supports and champions women.
  14. Check out this list of CNN’s 10 International Women’s Day Events You’d Be Crazy to Miss
  15.  If you are in New York City join the UN Women March for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights on March 8 (Click here for more info)


Search for events by Country:
Click here for a list of events in the United States
Click here for a list of events in Canada
Click here for a list of events in your country