Mandy Brown comments on the ruling in Ellen Pao’s suit against Kleiner Perkins.
The law has been constructed in such a way that only extremely blatant discrimination counts. More subtle sexism (and racism) can hide behind all kinds of gender- or race-neutral justifications which can never be wholly dismissed. So Pao wasn’t passed up because she was a woman, but because she wasn’t likeable. She wasn’t fired because of her lawsuit, but because she didn’t have what it takes. She was both too pushy and not pushy enough. She wasn’t a “thought leader.”
The message here is you can discriminate all you want so long as you aren’t completely stupid about it.
“Thought leader”? That made me jump. I didn’t know it was a catchphrase; I thought it was something special that Edwina Rogers dreamed up for the Global not-Global Secular Thingummy. Thought leader. Lead me to your thought thinkings. Lead me into the sunny uplands of skilled thoughting. But not about gender bias or stereotype threat or double binds or always having to be better and still not getting the promotion – none of that kind of thoughting. Only the approved kind – lead me to that.
The Times quotes Peter Fenton, an investor at Benchmark, in response to the ruling: “I really worry more that there will be a chilling effect on the risk-taking appetite toward getting diversity into venture. Kleiner took the risk and look what happened.” Ho boy. Let’s unpack that. Kleiner did not “take a risk” in hiring a woman; Kleiner hired a demonstrably competent and talented woman who even by their own testimony seems to have been pretty damn good at her job. The notion that every woman you may hire has some measurable risk associated with her—as if we’re all ticking discrimination lawsuit timebombs—is itself discrimination. The “risk,” if there even is any, isn’t located in the women a firm may or may not hire, but in the structure of their own organization.
Oh come now. Be fair. Hiring a woman is pretty much like hiring a hungry bear. Women aren’t normal. They aren’t like everyone else. You don’t know where you are with them. They’re always flipping out, or spilling milk on the floor, or being way uglier than you wanted them to be. They’re nothing but risk. With men you know where you are.