Ellen Pao Resigns, Reddit Celebrates, and Sexism Continues

Ellen Pao’s resignation today as interim CEO of Reddit marks the sorry end to a saga of sexism and racism that, by now, is a familiar one in tech. In an interview quoted by The New York Times, Pao described her reasons for leaving as creative and strategic differences with Reddit’s board, but last week’s raucous insurrection from Reddit users and moderators almost certainly played a part.

[jump] You probably know the sordid details by now, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes: Victoria Taylor, a Reddit employee who coordinated the company’s popular Ask Me Anything sessions with celebrities and other public figures, was abruptly fired on July 2, outraging Reddit’s close-knit community of moderators.

On Monday, Pao issued a public apology for the company’s failure of communication, but it was too little, too late: Several subreddits had gone down in protest of Taylor’s dismissal, and a Change.org petition calling for Pao’s ouster garnered more than 100,000 signatures (up to 200,000 today).

Pao’s resignation after only eight months as CEO adds another chapter to tech’s long spectacle of misogyny. The industry’s gender gap has been widely reported. According to Huffington Post, women hold 17 percent of tech jobs at Google, 15 percent at Facebook, and just 10 percent at Twitter. Industry-wide, women held 26 percent of computing jobs in the U.S. in 2013. Words such as “brogrammer” have come to define tech's exclusionary culture. 

While Pao’s resignation comes cloaked in the measured language of corporate boardrooms, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a double standard at play. As the CEO of one of the Internet’s most trafficked websites — and a company internally valued at $250 million — Pao was in the unenviable position of having to prove herself inside the boys clubhouse that is tech’s upper echelon. The vitriol of Redditors who seemed personally offended by Pao's leadership was startling.  

It didn’t help that Pao became the public face of tech’s gender bias earlier this year when she lost her discrimination suit against former employer Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. As Davey Alba wrote at Wired, that trial was just as much about Pao's personality as her gender (but, in the toxic way of such straw man tactics, it was still about her gender): 

Using witness testimony and performance reviews conducted by Kleiner before Pao was dismissed from the firm, Kleiner has worked to show that Pao herself was the problem, not her gender. The reviews called Pao “territorial.” She had “sharp elbows” and was “not a team player.” She “raised her voice” at times, and yet “could not own a room.” 

On Reddit, users created dozens of troll-heavy subreddits including “Pao Must Resign” and “Chairman Pao,” a reference to the derogatory nickname with which users ranted against Pao. After her resignation today, the subreddit was flooded with threads titled “Reddit won,” “we did it bby,” “victory for Reddit!” and “oh shit, it worked.”

Pao will continue to advise Reddit’s board, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company’s co-founder and former CEO Steve Huffman will now take the reins.  


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