ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



November 2017



Reset by Ellen Pao

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Men who don’t seem to get how hard it is for women and people of color at the highest levels of their field; women who need a little inspiration and some bad ass women to look up to.

In a nutshell: Woman of color venture capitalist is sabotaged by the old boys club in infuriating ways, fights back all the way to court, loses, but still comes out WAY ahead of those assholes.

Line that sticks with me: “I was appalled by their refusal to admit, despite their near-total homogeneity, that they had any problems with diversity.”

Why I chose it: My husband, who works in tech and is especially interested in inclusion, purchased this and recommended it to me after he finished it.

Review: I’m exhausted. Ladies, are you exhausted? Every day I open twitter and cringe as I scroll through my feed, wondering who the latest man is who did something ranging from depraved and disgusting (say, multiple allegations of sexual assault of a minor – sup Kevin Spacey) to depraved and disturbing (say, pulling out one’s penis and masturbating in front of non-consenting adults – sup Louis C.K.). In just the last 24 hours, I’ve spent time with three sets of friends, and every time at least part — if not most — of our discussion involved how we’re all feeling during this time. What this is bringing back up for people who’ve been harassed (e.g., all women). What this means for men trying to figure out how to have these conversations with their female friends. What the difference is between being a sexual assaulter, being a sexual harasser, and just being a misogynistic, racist asshole.

I say this as a preface to my review because while this book focuses primarily on that last category of mistreatment women face in the workplace, I couldn’t help but think about all of the different ways in which men use their power – whether implicitly or explicitly, to hold women down. There are moments of sexual harassment (a colleague lied to Ms. Pao and said he and his wife had separated, then retaliated against her when she found out about his lie and stopped dating him), but the real injustice comes from the millions of ways that the higher levels of industry — in this case, the tech world — perpetuate the idea that men do the work and women should be thought of primarily as assistants.

Ms. Pao’s resume is absurd. She has a bachelor’s in engineering from Princeton. She graduated from Harvard Law School and worked as an attorney. She then returned to Harvard Business School to earn her MBA. And she worked her way across Silicon Valley at start-ups until she was pursued by a venture capital (VC) firm called Kleiner Perkins. While serving as John Doerr’s technical chief of staff, she witnessed and experienced distressing episode after distressing episode. Junior men who produced less were promoted above more qualified women who had produced more. Men automatically assumed the women would take notes or fetch coffee. Men held all-dude retreats, keeping women out of the rooms where the important deals were being made.

So much in this book makes me want to throw things. It’s maddening and disgusting and disheartening. But the reality is, Ms. Pao was never in danger of being, say, left homeless or without an income. So it doesn’t have the urgency of, say, a book about the mistreatment of undocumented farm workers who may very well lose everything if they report abuse.

But at the same time, even though her lawsuit was a long shot, she chose to take it on because she knew she could afford to lose, and wanted to speak out for women who didn’t have the same option. There are a lot of fights we need to engage in, and one of them is making sure that people of color and women not only have a seat at the table, but are listened to and supported in a way that allows them to contribute meaningfully in all realms.

I know that there are some who read about books like this and think that even if people like Ms. Pao are successful, they’re really still only helping more rich people get rich, and not addressing the wealth disparities that allow VC folks to earn millions and millions of dollars while other people make the actual products and perform the labor. And I get that. But I also think about all of the creative work, all the careers, and the ways in which our society is losing out because women and people of color are kept from the rooms where the decisions are made. What amazing tech, what beautiful art, what insightful books have not been created because some straight rich white dudes kept people who don’t look like them down? It’s deeply sad, and our society is the poorer for it.

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