Five years after the #MeToo movement went viral, ‘the accountability is still missing’ in the tech industry: Ellen Pao
It was a landmark case.
Ten years ago, Ellen Pao filed a gender bias lawsuit against her employer, the legendary venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, alleging that the firm had denied Pao promotions and compensation because of her gender, then fired her a few months later in retaliation for her litigation.
Kleiner Perkins vehemently denied the allegations, and Pao ultimately lost the high-profile case. Even so, the trial unearthed some of the daily indignities and systemic bias that women face when pursuing a career in Silicon Valley. It was a prolific and very-public lawsuit that laid groundwork for what would later become known as the #MeToo movement, which went viral shortly after the New York Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017, unleashing a global conversation and reckoning with the sexual harrassment and assault women have faced in the workplace.
Five years later, what’s been done, and what’s changed? In a recent feature story for Fortune, four of my colleagues ask women integral to the movement—including Pao, Tarana Burke, Gretchen Carlson, and dream hampton—these very questions.
As part of the feature, my colleague Maria Aspan sat down with Pao over Zoom, to reflect on the legacy of her landmark lawsuit and gauge the current state of the VC industry.
You can read the full interview here, but I’ve decided to run an abbreviated portion of their conversation in today’s Term Sheet:
Aspan: So with everything you went through, was it worth it?
Pao: Yes, I have no regrets. I think it opened a conversation and shed light on a problem that many people didn’t want to talk about. There were so many people who told me about how ashamed they felt about being harassed or being discriminated against, and how they blamed themselves. Because there was no other framework, right? [Certain] people were allowed to do whatever they want—and if you had something bad happen to you, you need to change. I think my speaking up and litigating helped [other women] understand that it’s not your fault, and this is something that’s wrong. But it’s also not your fault if you don’t speak up—because look at what happens when you do.
I lost—but I feel like in many ways, I won. Over time, the press and the public started to understand what the problem was, and became much more supportive at the end of the trial than they were in the beginning. But it took waves of people speaking up to make a difference. With #MeToo, which also has been around for many years [activist Tarana Burke first coined the phrase in 2006], it took all of those women speaking up, in an environment that was actively hostile to their stories, to make change happen.
Looking back today, how much do you think #MeToo really changed the tech industry?
I have a lot of ambivalence about the long-term response to #MeToo. The accountability is still missing—all those people are back in the tech industry. It’s embarrassing. It makes no sense. But it’s happening, because the people who have the checkbooks and have the big investment funds don’t really seem to care that much. And because of that, we aren’t seeing meaningful change, and we just keep making the same mistakes.
I don’t feel like we’ve had a real reckoning about restitution, and what it takes to get back into the industry. It’s been more, “We can’t cancel people, so let’s just not deal with it.” I don’t think anybody’s looking to cancel people and keep them out forever—but we want to know that they’ve actually changed, that they’re not causing more harm, and also that they’ve addressed the harm that they’ve actually caused in the past.
There’s a segment of tech that is really dismissive of #MeToo and they’re kind of digging in their heels, like a child: “Oh, if you’re going to push in this direction, I’m going to double down and push even harder, I’m going to give more money to founders who have been accused of fraud or sexual harassment.” It’s kind of sad, really. It’s like a tantrum where they’re pushing back in a way that isn’t in their best interests—but they want to make a stand, because they’re not going to be told what to do.
You can find the full interview with Pao here. And read Fortune’s #MeToo feature story here.
For good measure… Make sure to check out Fortune’s list of the most powerful women in the startup industry, published this morning as part of our Most Powerful Women series. From Divya Gokulnath, Fidji Simo, to Toyin Ajayi, here are the women making the biggest moves in the startup world.
While I still have you… I’m excited to announce that my dear colleague Anne Sraders has agreed to help co-write this newsletter, so get ready to start regularly seeing her byline in Term Sheet. Please make sure to give her a warm welcome tomorrow!
Thanks for reading,
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.
– WorkSpan, a San Bernardino, Calif.-based ecosystem cloud platform, raised $30 million in Series C funding. Insight Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Mayfield and M12.
– Humaans, a London-based employee experience app, raised $15 million in Series A funding. Lachy Groom led the round and was joined by investors including Exor, Exponent Founders Capital, and other angels.
– EcoCart, a San Francisco-based e-commerce infrastructure software company, raised $14.5 million in Series A funding. Fifth Wall Climate led the round and was joined by investors including Capital One Ventures, SVB Capital, Ryder Ventures, and others.
– GAMURS, a Sydney, Australia-based gaming, e-sports, and entertainment media network, raised $12 million in Series A funding. Elysian Park Ventures and Cerro Capital co-led the round.
– Oort, a Boston, Mass.-based enterprise security platform, raised $11.5 million in Series A funding. .406 Ventures and Energy Impact Partners co-led the round and were joined by investors including Cisco Investments, 645 Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, and First Star Ventures.
– Proto Axiom, a Haymarket, Australia-based biomedical technology incubator, raised $10 million in funding. Catalio Capital Management, Parkview International, HOF Capital, TIME Ventures Holdings, and other angels invested in the round.
– Comprehensive, a San Francisco-based compensation platform, raised $6 million in seed funding. Inspired Capital, Floodgate, SV Angel, and other angels.
– PropHero, a Sydney, Australia and Madrid, Spain-based property investment company, raised A$8 million ($5.2 million) in seed funding. Fifth Wall and Samaipata co-led the round and were joined by investors including Jelix Ventures and AfterWork Ventures.
– LoudCrowd, an Austin, Texas-based UGC growth platform, raised $5 million in Series A funding. Mucker Capital led the round and was joined by investors including LiveOak and Active Capital.
– Fizz, a San Francisco-based social media platform for college campuses, raised $4.5 million in seed funding. Lightspeed Venture Partners, Octane Venture Partners, and other angels invested in the round.
– Easop, a New York-based equity provider company to international hires, raised $2.5 million in seed funding. boldstart ventures, Kima Ventures, and Partech Partners invested in the round.
– EmployBridge, backed by Apollo, agreed to acquire Bluecrew, a Chicago-based W-2 workforce-as-a-service platform. Financial terms were not disclosed.
– Mercer Global Advisors, backed by Oak Hill Capital and Genstar Capital, acquired The Asset Advisory Group, a Cincinnati-based wealth management firm. Financial terms were not disclosed.
– Freepik acquired Iconfinder, a Copenhagen, Denmark-based icons and illustrations marketplace, and Original Mockups, a Cartagena, Colombia-based 3D resources and mockup templates provider. Financial terms were not disclosed.
– RoadRunner Recycling acquired Compology, a San Francisco-based waste and recycling smart metering technology company. Financial terms were not disclosed.
– Turtle & Hughes acquired a minority stake in Cadenza Innovation, a Danbury, Conn.-based lithium-ion batteries and energy storage solutions company. Financial terms were not disclosed.
– Wealth Enhancement Group acquired Scroggins Wealth Management, a Fort Myers, Fla. and New Lenox, Ill.-based independent RIA. Financial terms were not disclosed.
FUNDS + FUNDS OF FUNDS
– Energy Capital Ventures, a Chicago-based venture capital firm, raised $61 million for a fund focused on decarbonization, sustainability, and digitization of the natural gas industry investments.
– Energize Ventures, a Chicago-based alternative investment manager, hired Jeff Schmidt as head of commercialization, David Yi as portfolio finance specialist, and Meredith Breach and Jarell Mason as a senior investment associate. Formerly, Schmidt was with Norwest Venture Partners, Yi was with Clean Power Finance, Breach was with Vista Equity Partners, and Mason was with Phillips 66.
– Ridge Ventures, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, hired Alayzain Rizavi as principal. Formerly, he was with Pelion Venture Partners.