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article imageOp-Ed: Lessons already apparent from Ellen Pao/Kleiner Perkins trial

By Calvin Wolf     Mar 13, 2015 in Business
The Kleiner Perkins lawsuit has set the news cycle abuzz, with its results likely to have a big impact on policies relating to women in the workplace. However, lessons are already apparent even as the trial has yet to conclude.
Gender equality has always been a contentious issue. Both sexes benefit and suffer from various double standards. Women are often unfairly viewed as sex objects, while men are often unfairly viewed as emotionless performance objects. We value women for their looks, sexuality, and maternal attributes. We value men for their earning prowess, aggression, and leadership attributes. Women and men who do not measure up to their respective gender role expectations are penalized, both socially and in the workplace. Women who are seen as physically unattractive, either too sexual or too prudish, or either too maternal or too aggressive are penalized. Men who are seen as earning too little money, displaying too little physical aggression, or lack a "command presence" are penalized.
While double standards for men and women are common in the social realm, especially in dating and romance, we often expect workplaces to be relatively free from such shallowness. Unfortunately, we know that this is not the case: We judge our coworkers the same way we judge our friends and romantic partners. This becomes exceedingly complex in jobs were the line between "coworker" and "friend" becomes thinner. Jobs with more "social" aspects, such as public relations, customer service, client care, and intensive networking can often see the line between "coworker/client" and "friend/romantic partner" blurred.
Enter the Ellen Pao/Kleiner Perkins civil trial. Ellen Pao, a former venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins, is suing for gender discrimination. Pao contends that she was unfairly fired from her job after being discriminated against as a woman. Kleiner Perkins contends that Pao was difficult to work with and was fired for poor job performance. Complicating the issue is the fact that Pao had a consensual relationship with a superior at Kleiner Perkins that went sour.
Lesson number one for any employee: Never, never, never, never date a supervisor or subordinate at work. While coworkers should probably not date either, coworkers hooking up is largely unavoidable. The power differential between supervisor and subordinate, however, turns a romantic relationship into a minefield. If and when the relationship sours, problems abound at work. The subordinate will assume that any criticism of his or her job performance is merely retaliation from the supervisor ex for a romance gone bad. The supervisor can either become too overbearing with his or her ex, or too permissive.
The romantic relationship between Pao and her superior is alleged by Pao to have been tainted by inappropriate pressure and intimidation, strengthening her allegation of sexism at Kleiner Perkins. However, the relationship in question occurred back in 2006, well before Pao sought to leave the firm. Also, supporting witness Trae Vassallo alleges that she was sexually harassed by the same partner, though the alleged harassment occurred in 2009 and was not reported until 2011, when Pao wanted to leave the firm. Why the delay in reporting?
Lesson number two for any employee: Bring problems to light immediately. Do not wait for years and then bring them up when pursuing other avenues. Trying to dredge up events from years past can smack of conniving and desperation. The jury is likely to question why Pao, if she truly thought she was being discriminated against, remained at the firm for almost five years after an allegedly bad relationship with a managing partner.
Pao is facing an uphill battle in her claim against Kleiner Perkins. One thing that may hurt Pao with the jury is the fact that she was wanting money from Kleiner Perkins to make up for discrimination well before her termination. Alleging that Kleiner Perkins was discriminating against women, Pao allegedly wanted $10 million to leave quietly at the end of 2011.
Lesson number three for any employee: If your employer is mistreating you and you want out, get out. By remaining on the job after asking for a hefty severance, Pao looks bad. While the judge in the trial has yet to allow the exploration of Pao's financial motives, it is inevitable that the jury will be questioning why Pao asked for money, did not receive it, yet remained on the job and later filed a high-dollar lawsuit. Pao looks greedy and opportunistic.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about ellen pao, Kleiner Perkins, Sexism, gender discrimination, Equal rights
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