Issue of the week: Harassment suit rocks the Valley

A junior partner at a storied venture capital firm in Silicon Valley filed a sexual-harassment suit against her colleagues.

It’s the case that has “riveted Silicon Valley,” said David Streitfeld in The New York Times. Last month, Ellen Pao, a junior partner at the storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, filed a sexual-harassment suit against her colleagues, accusing them of discriminating against female employees and of retaliating against her after she spurned a colleague’s sexual advances. In the male-dominated tech world, where the conversation tends to revolve around “the New New Thing,” people are suddenly discussing “an old, old problem,” and lines are being drawn. To many, Kleiner Perkins, which seeded giants like Google, Amazon, and Netscape, makes an “unlikely defendant” in a sexual-harassment suit, since a quarter of its partners are women—a high proportion for the venture capital sector. But others say Pao’s lawsuit reveals an “uncomfortable truth” about the Valley’s “retro state of affairs.” Just because tech-minded “men invented the Internet” doesn’t mean some of them aren’t still “stuck firmly in the caveman era.”

Pao has done women in tech a disservice, said Amity Shlaes in The atmosphere in tech and venture capital companies is by its nature a bit wild, and “creative rebels have often behaved poorly.” That’s the price we pay for innovation. “This isn’t to say that sexism or sexual harassment is acceptable.” But showcase litigation makes tech firms more cautious and “works against women who want to be entrepreneurs.” Say what? said Dan Primack in So it’s “okay to discriminate, so long as you innovate?” That’s utterly absurd. “Sitting down and shutting up” is not something women have to do, in tech or anywhere else.

I’m sick and tired of reading paeans to Silicon Valley’s supposed all-male geniuses, said Xeni Jardin in The New York Times’ cringeworthy claim that “men invented the Internet” is typical. Correction: They are credited with inventing the Internet. Radia “Mother of the Internet” Perlman, who created the backbone of today’s Web networks, and countless other women helped make our modern devices possible, even if they’ve been rendered invisible. I don’t know about the merits of the Pao suit, but after 20 years in tech I can tell you that sexual harassment and gender bias are “as normal and constant a part of the landscape as the fabled foosball tables.” So, “Earth to dudes: Yes, this stuff is real.” And so are women in tech. Get used to it.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.