June 7 (Bloomberg) — We’ve seen this movie before and the ending still stinks.
The sex-discrimination lawsuit by Ellen Pao against the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers may be the gender and workplace story of the moment. But let’s get one thing straight: This doesn’t describe anything that’s new. It seems to happen routinely. Just yesterday, at a hearing in London, a lawyer for Latifa Bouabdillah, a former Deutsche Bank AG director, said the woman’s male colleagues were paid bonuses “double or triple that of the claimant” for the same work.
Swap out Pao for Pamela Martens, who led the class-action “Boom-Boom Room” lawsuit against Smith Barney in the 1990s, or Allison Schieffelin, who sued Morgan Stanley in 2001, or Carla Ingraham, who sued UBS AG in 2009, and you wind up with some combination of the same old complaints: coworker come-ons, power meetings for guys only, higher pay for men and retaliation against the uppity women who have the nerve to complain.
In the venture-capital world, where you get more than the usual share of people who are prone to thinking their every experience is novel, there is shock over news that a highly qualified woman has filed a suit against a celebrity firm. But sex discrimination isn’t the iPad, folks. It’s more like the electric typewriter.
Only a week before Pao filed her lawsuit on May 10, Jack Welch, the former General Electric Co. boss, told a gathering at a Dow Jones “Women in the Economy” conference that women who wanted to advance just needed to work harder. “Over-deliver,” he counseled — advice that would strike a lot of glass-ceiling casualties as exactly what they had been doing their entire careers.
I don’t know about you, but I got tired of this very predictable narrative about 20 years ago.
I have no idea if Pao’s allegations, filed last month in San Francisco Superior Court, are true. But they sure sound familiar. Pao alleges in her complaint that one male coworker gave her a book with sexual drawings and poems on Valentine’s Day and another cut her out of business meetings after she terminated a brief relationship with him. In her 2007 performance review, she was labeled “the top performer of the junior partners,” according to the suit. After that, Pao says she complained about discrimination. Then things changed, with two subsequent reviews citing her “issues and clashes” with other partners, the lawsuit says.
Pao’s San Francisco lawyer, Alan B. Exelrod, declined to comment. Kleiner Perkins said in an e-mail that the suit “is without merit” and will vigorously defend itself. Kleiner general partner John Doerr, whose name is frequently decorated with the phrase “legendary venture capitalist,” said in a statement posted on the firm’s website May 30 that it all amounted to “false allegations” against his firm, which has “the most” women of any leading venture-capital firm.
Twelve of Kleiner’s 49 partners are women, and in the venture-capital business, that’s considered very, very good.
How is it that 20 years after Anita Hill broke the silence about gender discrimination and harassment at work, there are still companies that can take a bow for being gender-equality heroes when 75 percent of their leaders are men?