Asian American Women at the Forefront in the Fight to End Silicon Valley’s Culture of Sexual Harassment

Ellen Pao (Photo credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)

In a new tell-all book (Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change) — which has been excerpted in The Cut — former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers junior partner Ellen Pao reveals the culture of sexual harassment that led to her high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit against the powerful venture capital firm.  In 2012, Pao filed a major lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins alleging a culture of gender discrimination, and was terminated from the company while her case was ongoing. Despite a valiant legal battle which included the company’s defense engaging in shameless victim blaming and other forms of character assassination, Pao ultimately lost her lawsuit against the firm. Pao went on to serve for two years as CEO of Reddit (where she notably instituted policies curtailing the posting of revenge porn and eliminating some of the site’s most extremist hate-motivated subreddits), before joining Kapor Capital where she currently works.

Pao’s case against Kleiner Perkins was easily one of the most high-profile and influential gender discrimination lawsuits to be filed against a Silicon Valley firm. Although she didn’t win her battle against a large company with access to vast legal resources, Pao’s courageous lawsuit helped to pull back the veil of Silicon Valley’s culture of sexual and gender harassment.

Pao’s case paved the way for many other women — many of them Asian American women — to reveal their own experiences of gender discrimination in tech; and collectively, the courage of these women in speaking out against a culture of sexual harassment in Silicon Valley is having an impact.

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Yes, Workplace Bias in STEM is Real: Whopping 100% of WOC Scientists Report Facing Racialized Gender Discrimination


Last year, I wrote an overview about the obstacles that Asian American women in science, technology, engineering & mathematics (STEM) fields face. In brief, several studies have now revealed that the bamboo ceiling is more severe for Asian American female scientists than it is for men — despite similar graduation rates and qualifications, Asian American women endure greater obstacles towards grant funding and promotions, resulting in profound delays in career promotion within 15 years following award of an advanced degree. This trend is common to most women of colour scientists.

Now, a new study by investigators at UC Hastings, Columbia and Emory (“Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women of Color in STEM“) has shed some light on the workplace environment that women in STEM face, which may contribute to this persistent glass ceiling.

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STEM’s glass ceiling for Asian American women

I know this woman is doing science because she's holding a beaker.
I know this woman is doing science because she’s holding a beaker.

With the explosive popularity of the #NotYourAsianSidekick Twitter hashtag — and associated mainstream media coverage — some are encountering notions of Asian American feminism possibly for the first time. A subset of those question whether or not Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women experience any form of race- and gender-based discrimination.

This is the first in a series of posts aimed at presenting data on the institutional sexism that affects Asian American women (and by extension other women of colour).

Feminists have long known about the gender income gap, which shows that in aggregate women earn approximately 75 cents to the dollar earned by their male counterparts. One of the more surprising statistics out there, is that when the gender income gap is subsequently stratified by race, the gender income gap is widest within the Asian American community compared to their male counterparts. In fact, Asian women earn 73% the income of Asian men (compared to 81% for income of White women vs White men). While this statistic is tempered by the fact that AAPIs on the whole — i.e. both men and women — are bringing home a much higher median household income than folks of other races, the wide gender pay gap within the Asian American community demonstrates clear evidence of a strong gender-based disparity faced by AAPI women that goes largely unaddressed in our community.

But, some might wonder, what does this number really mean? What are the factors that lead to such a discrepancy in earning between AAPI men and AAPI women?

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