The Education of Ellen Pao


There’s a particular type of resentment that may fester when a self-described rule follower feels she did the whole lot proper best to be thwarted by unwritten guidelines that seem arbitrary and incorrect. In “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change,” Ellen K. Pao strains an adventure of disillusionment that culminated in the lawsuit she introduced in opposition to her enterprise, the white-shoe venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, for gender discrimination.

Pao misplaced her case in 2015 after a grueling cross-examination through the opposite side’s lawyer, who supplied into evidence a “resentment” chart Pao saved of her colleagues and accused Pao of “never” having “carried out anything for women.” “My legal professionals had told me not to reply to remarks like that because it might open me as much as extra criticism — jurors should locate me difficult or competitive,” Pao writes. “I ended up coming across as remote, even a piece robot, as I bit my tongue to preserve my answers short and noncombative.”

This pressing wants to keep away from seeming “hard or competitive” wasn’t strange to her. Pao is an accomplished female after all — a triple hazard with stages in engineering (Princeton), regulation (Harvard), and commercial enterprise (Harvard, once more) — and “Reset” consists of some of the passages delineating the very nice line that a professional lady in a male-dominated area will, sooner or later, maximum in all likelihood locate herself treading: “Is it feasible that I am too bold at the same time as being too quiet even as being too aggressive even as being unlikable? Are my elbows too sharp?” Or again, about 20 pages later: “If you talk, you communicate too much. If you don’t communicate, you’re too quiet. You don’t have a personal room. If you need to protect your paintings, you’re now not a crew player. Your elbows are too sharp.”


“Reset” contains a fair quantity of repetition like this — which doesn’t make it an awful book, although it can now and then be encountered as disjointed. It is an intricate element to write down a memoir speculated to function as a self-assist and inform-all and activist manifesto, in addition to the indictment. Hammer your points too difficult, and you don’t monitor yourself as an ambivalent, fallible individual; reveal an excessive amount of yourself as an uncertain, fallible individual, and your threat commencing seams inside the armor of your case.


Pao begins, along with her defense, portray a largely idyllic portrait of her formative years in Maplewood, N.J., because of the middle daughter of high-attaining Chinese immigrants, who taught their youngsters with a tenacious painting ethic and a genuine notion of the American dream. To her dad and mom, Pao writes, “America became a land of boundless capability; any enjoyment of exclusion might be solved like an engineering hassle.” She concedes that because of the most effective Asian youngsters inside the community, the Pao girls were a problem to lousy jokes and the occasional epithet; however, “the maximum of the time there has been concord in Maplewood, and my sisters and I flourished there together.” The sections on her childhood are filled with bland sentiments like this. Her parents had “saved their heads down and labored difficult,” and they told their daughters to do the same.

The chapters on the early years of her career trace auspicious beginnings at Princeton and then at Harvard Law School and a task at a white-shoe law firm. Sure, there has been the creep who might peer down girls’ blouses, and the one who might brush up against ladies within the halls — not to say the senior accomplice who might stand out of doors the doorway of a colleague’s office, “licking an ice cream cone while looking at her.” But Pao didn’t assume much about the one’s incidents on time and held fast to the doctrine in which she changed raised: “I had religion inside the device, as it seemed to paintings.” At least it regarded paintings for her — she who became undertaking a lot, mountaineering the ranks, finally leaving a profitable profession in law so that she could get an M.B.A. And pursue a beneficial career in Silicon Valley. The first marriage to a funding banker comes and is going with slightly a ripple.

It’s only when the memoir arrives at her tenure as a prime of the workforce at Kleiner Perkins that she fully sheds the voice of the harmless babe in the woods and permits some welcome cynicism and anger to return. Her sentences get sharper, her jokes more cutting. She is scornful and humorous at the managing partners’ deathly worry about flying business and their wealthy human being’s preparations for the apocalypse, plenty of which include escaping to New Zealand. (“Maybe it’s the operational manager in me, but all I can think about are apocalypse logistics: What zombie pilot goes flying all those planes, and which zombie air-site visitors controller goes to assist land them?”) Lonely and at an age where she thought she would have begun her own family, she has had a few sexual encounters with a colleague, whom she describes as charmless but persistent. She ends things when she discovers he’s no longer getting divorced from his spouse. Eventually, she says, the retaliation starts offevolved when he receives promoted and starts wielding strength over her, freezing her out of opportunities and giving her bad overall performance opinions.

The other men, she says, retreated to their boys’ club. “I heard regularly that girls had been just not funny or that we weren’t able to make a comic story or didn’t smile sufficient,” she writes, recalling that her boss advised she take a route in stand-up comedy so as “to get airtime.” Of direction, as Pao acidly notes, “I didn’t locate the guys especially hilarious.” They went on all-male retreats and organized dinners, insisting ladies might “kill the excitement.” When Kleiner hired an investigator, and Pao tried to file a prolonged conversation among a number of the guys, approximately porn stars, the investigator stored asking her about a famous porn person they hadn’t talked about, “announcing that Sasha Grey changed into crossing over into valid acting. … He regarded the need to speak about Sasha Grey and her profession.”

Readers seeking out other sorts of place of business gossip will find a smattering here: a challenge capital scion who “never regarded to work mainly difficult”; a self-proclaimed vegetarian who could load up his plate with the steak on the workplace lunch buffet; the managing partners’ weird fixation on hiring 26-yr-olds. Pao describes a whirlwind courtship with her cutting-edge husband, the black hedge fund manager Alphonse Fletcher Jr., called Buddy, who helped her emerge as more attuned to problems of race and intersectionality. They had a daughter in 2008, and in 2012, pregnant once more, Pao filed her lawsuit and had a miscarriage a month later. She felt “Kleiner had taken the entirety of me,” and they “started to talk up within the workplace,” having nothing to lose.

But of direction, there was still plenty to lose. She describes the sensation of sitting in court, “paying attention to Kleiner partners trash me from the stand,” said Pao changed into “no longer the warmest individual,” “a piece too opinionated” — or, as one accomplice cruelly put it, a “most cancers.” In a bitterly ironic flip, Pao turned into compelled to surrender from her role as meantime leader of government at Reddit much less than four months after she lost her lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, having already drawn the ire of Reddit customers outraged through her choice to rid the website of revenge porn and other offensive content. They bombarded her with the whole thing, from penis imagery to threats of rape and homicide.

Pao doesn’t have too much to say about her experience with the web hordes apart from the nation that she was terrified of. After all, what is there to parse? The foul misogynists on Reddit never pretended to be whatever aside from foul misogynists; it changed into the genteel chauvinism of the enlightened elites at Kleiner Perkins that carried with it the edge of betrayal. They promised her a meritocracy and gave her a pitcher ceiling instead: “It simply wasn’t fair.”

She’s right. But then there’s plenty of unfairness to head around. Even as a stymied member of the professional-managerial elegance, she’s close sufficient to the top that stuff rolls downhill — to the receptionist who finally ends up fetching the cookies for a meeting while Pao (understandably) doesn’t need to or the nanny whose day by day shift begins at five:30 a.M. So that Pao could make it to 6:30 a.M. Conferences (which have been installed with the aid of Kleiner Perkins after her maternity leave, as if “to haze me”). Pao, like Sheryl Sandberg, implies that having extra girls in positions of electricity will subsequently advantage all ladies, and “Reset” ends with her having observed sisterhood and solidarity within the tech world, helping determined Project Include to restore a device that has “exclusion built into its design.”

This seems like a promising improvement for Silicon Valley. In her book, even though it places Pao’s lower back in protection mode, she abandons the scabrous energy of her center chapters and reverts to the type of upbeat language she used while describing her childhood. The equal goes for the metaphor she chose for her name. “Reset” sounds so cautious, offensive, and technocratic; after seeing a glimpse of the franker, loose-wheeling Ellen Pao, it possibly assists in hoping for something more.