Skip to content

Success from Defeat – Ellen Pao’s loss in court has not prevented her from furthering gender equality in Silicon Valley

April 27, 2015

Piper O’keefe ’17 – Women In Leadership

Even today in the United States, where a woman has just declared her intention to run for president in 2016 and is already considered a frontrunner, women continue to face inequality in many different ways. This is especially seen in Silicon Valley, which contains some of the largest high-tech corporations in the United States. Incredibly so, women only hold 15% of technical jobs and the number of women in computing has not increased in past fifty years. Furthermore, only 4% of senior partners in venture capitalist firms are women.[1] Ellen Pao, who has recently come to international attention, has experienced this inequality first hand and is working to defeat it. Pao, who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University and degrees from both Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, worked as a corporate attorney before transitioning to a venture capitalist position and becoming a junior partner for Kleiner Perkins from 2005-2012. Currently, she now is working as the interim CEO for Reddit. While Pao has shattered many “glass ceilings,” she is now working in a Silicon Valley primarily dominated by men, proving that gender inequality does not hold her back from achieving success. Kleiner has faced much discrimination because of her gender and has gone on to make an incredible impact in the fight for gender equality in the past three years. Pao has raised awareness for Silicon Valley’s discrimination by filing claims against Kleiner and has now moved on to make a momentous move to ensure pay equality as the CEO of Reddit.

This lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins revolved around her treatment while working at the company. While working there, Pao believes that she was not given the fair amount of opportunities that she was entitled to simply because of her gender. For example, there was a case in which she was not invited to a dinner with Al Gore because a certain partner felt that having a woman present would “kill the buzz.” She also faced sexual harassment, having to counter many inappropriate comments and advances from her colleagues. While working at Kleiner, she was eventually pressured into having an affair with a fellow employee of Kleiner Perkins but eventually chose to end the relationship. Because of this, the firm punished her by denying her a promotion and then eventually fired her. On this basis, she filed four claims against Kleiner Perkins after her termination in 2012, holding that Kleiner: did not give her a promotion, because she is a woman; then punished her for complaining; did not prevent discrimination against her for being a woman; and eventually punished her for complaining about this by firing her.[2] On March 27, 2015, the jury ruled against Pao on all four counts.

Despite the fact that the court upheld Pao’s claims, her case has had a drastic impact on women working in Silicon Valley and other firms in general. As AP reporter Sudhin Thanawala observes, Pao’s lawsuit has become “a flashpoint” in conversations about inequality women face at corporations and venture capital firms. It has made many other women think about the discrimination they are facing in the workplace, already prompting some to go to court themselves (such as two women formerly employed at Twitter and Facebook) and encouraging others to do the same in the future. The lawsuit has also made companies realize that they need to improve the working environment for women. While Pao’s case was ongoing, Freada Kapor Klein, who runs the Level Playing Field Institute, working to further minorities in STEM, was contacted by over a dozen companies interested in improving their work conditions for women. Similarly, Laura Bates of The Guardian argues that Pao’s case has both raised awareness for gender inequality in the workplace and shown how hard it is for sexism in the work place to be proven. The greatest lesson that can come out of Pao’s trial is that although women should be encouraged to take cases of discrimination to court, “it is deeply unrealistic to expect victims to be the ones to fix the problem.” Instead, companies should take the initiative to target inequality by increasing diversity and putting measures in place to discourage discrimination.

Interestingly, Pao herself has done just as Bates suggested. This past week, while acting as the interim CEO of Reddit, Pao proposed that salary negotiations be removed from the hiring process in order to prevent gender inequality in salary from the beginning. Studies have proven that while half of men negotiated for their salaries, only one-eighth of women did, because women who negotiate for their own salaries are more likely to be disliked by their interviewer, while men face little repercussions. That being said, men often receive a higher starting salary when they are initially hired. With this in mind, Pao feels that her proposal could serve to level the playing field women face in the work place. As Noreen Farrell of the Huffington Post goes on to say, there are numerous other alternatives to this proposal that could serve to increase gender wage equality, but what is truly important is that Pao is doing something. The inequality that Pao faced as a woman in Silicon Valley has driven her to go to court and, despite her eventual loss, allowed her to raise awareness about the issue, prompting other women and companies to realize the inequality women face and act. As her recent proposal for Reddit shows, Pao will continue to lead by example for gender equality efforts in the workplace.

Should You Stand With Rand?

April 23, 2015

Alexander Engelsman ’18 – Inside Politics Program

Recently, the 2016 presidential field grew with Rand Paul declaring his bid for President in the upcoming election. With his recent announcement, the new question that everyone’s asking is, can Paul win? Rand has many supporters that make him the most mainstream fringe candidate we’ve seen in a long time. He appeals to many minorities in the Republican Party and is showing good polling numbers in some early and battleground states like Pennsylvania, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

But why vote for Rand Paul? Can a Libertarian from Kentucky really beat out Jeb Bush or Scott Walker for the nomination? How in the world would he overcome those obstacles, not to mention his own flaws? Rand has many different stances that completely set him apart from the field. An article posted by CNN outlines Paul’s main strategies and the differences between him and his father, Ron Paul.

First off, in order for Rand to succeed, he needs to distance himself from his father. While Ron laid the groundwork for the Libertarian movement, Rand has every intention of using his father’s network everywhere he goes.  In order to successfully do so, Rand must break from the purist Libertarian ideas and come into the mainstream if he wants to make a serious run for the nomination. He is still making appeals to the Republican base and in doing so has placed himself between the Libertarian and Republican ideologies than his father. He and his father disagree mainly in foreign policy, with Rand using “intervention as a last resort” while his father is an all-out isolationist. Other than that, the two are still rather similar and work well together on other issues.

Rand’s main campaign is an appeal to the Tea Party movement that won him his Senate seat back in 2010. His big point during the campaign is that big government has been running away with the nation, and the “Washington Machine” has taken the American Dream from the people. With about forty percent of his money coming from small donations, a number normally unheard of, his campaign is solidly riding with the anti-government groups and grassroots campaigners. However, he has his own problems with the Tea Party groups. The Tea Party is famously and adamantly socially conservative, which is where the two have their breaking point – Rand is pro-marriage equality, and not as pro-life as some of the Tea Party supporters would like their candidate to be. Paul has openly stated that while he is personally against gay marriage, he believes it is not the government’s place to decide whom a person can or cannot marry.

However, Rand has certain popularity amongst other groups including minority voters in the Republican Party. Rand is incredibly popular among Black-American conservatives, young republicans, and Latino voters, even though these groups are predominantly liberal. And while those groups may normally be Liberal, Rand can put up a fight for them with anyone the Democrats nominate. Rand has broken from the normal conservative doctrine of defaming and blaming the protesters for the debates that arise and even went to Ferguson to discuss civil rights and liberties.

One problem that may be becoming prevalent with Rand’s campaign is that, in stark difference with his father’s three runs, Rand is trying to appeal to way too many people. While Ron focused on appealing to the Libertarian base, and simply offering people the invitation to add to it, Rand is desperately trying to get every demographic of voter he can on his side. From the Black-American vote to the Tea Party movement, two groups that are normally at odds, Rand is painting himself as a non-traditional candidate that is a man of the people who wants to change Washington for the better.

Overall, Rand Paul is looking to be a very serious contender for the Republican nomination for President. He has moderate bipartisan support, is liked by the base and fringe groups alike, and is different enough to get the nation interested in what he has to say. While we may be too far out from Iowa to begin making accurate predictions, Rand Paul looks like a candidate with a real shot at winning if the dice fall in his favor.

Was it Bibi Netanyahu Who Singlehandedly Just Now Shredded the Dream For a Two-State Solution?

April 20, 2015

Albert Kuhel ’18 – Inside Politics Program

The Royal Society is a fellowship of the most eminent scientists in the world. It’s motto, Nullius in verba (Take nobody’s word for it) – adopted in 1663 – is an expression of the determination of its members to withstand the domination of authority – and to verify all statements by direct observation.

So what does the motto of the world’s preeminent scientific society have to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Let me provide some background first and then I’ll explain.

For decades, the goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy. On March 16th, two days before the most recent Israeli election, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, made a controversial comment about the prospects for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

These are his remarks as translated from Hebrew and printed in the New York Times: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel.”

Several days later, after the election, Netanyahu went to great lengths to clarify that his comments were a reflection of the current state of affairs, in which the Palestinian Authority (PA) is committe5d to forming a unity government with Hamas (Israel, the US, and most European countries consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization) – and the entire region is engulfed in chaos and violence. Nonetheless, the press overwhelmingly trumpeted the accepted wisdom that Netanyahu was the primary obstacle to a peaceful settlement – and President Obama asserted that the U.S. would have to reassess its relationship with Israel based on Netanyahu’s statement.

Contrast the reaction to Netanyahu’s rhetoric with the level of scrutiny afforded to Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, who is invariably referred to in the mainstream media as a “moderate.”

This is from a New York Times editorial that was published on October 10th, 2014: “Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the last six years. Ending this depressing cycle will require…imaginative diplomacy…designed in a way that strengthens the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate committed to peace with Israel, while weakening Hamas, Israel’s implacable enemy.”

So should we take the word of the Editorial Board of the New York Times that Abbas is a moderate who is committed to peace?

I vote for, Nullius in verba.

Consider, for example, these words that President Abbas spoke on October 30st, 2013 while personally welcoming Palestinian prisoners released by Israel as a concession for renewing peace talks: “We welcome our heroic brothers who come from behind bars to the world of freedom. We congratulate ourselves and we congratulate all of you in this great celebration that unifies and returns our sons to us” (PMW). Among those released was Issa Abd Rabbo, who was serving a life sentence for the murder of two Israeli university students, Ron Levi and Revital Seri. Mr. Rabbo abducted the students while they were hiking south of Jerusalem on Oct. 22, 1984, tied them up, put bags over their heads and then shot them to death. President Abbas held up Abd Rabbo’s hand in front of a cheering crowd while Abd Rabbo made the V sign of victory.

Or consider the condolence letter that President Abbas sent to the parents of Moataz Hejazi who was killed after he shot an American-born Israeli rabbi, Yehuda Glick, five times on October 29th, 2014. In his letter, President Abbas referred to Mr. Hejazi as “a Martyr who rose to Heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places” (PMW).

Because President Abbas is in control of the official PA media (Ma’an News, Feb. 17, 2006) it is also important to examine PA radio and television broadcasts and it’s publications

For example, consider suicide bomber Izz Al-Din Al-Masri who detonated himself in a Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem on August 9th, 2001 killing eight adults (including a pregnant American woman) and seven children, and injuring 130. On May 5th, 2014 Israel returned Mr. Al-Masri’s body to the Palestinian Authority who honored him with a military funeral. Mr. Al-Masri was lauded as “Martyr,” the highest religious level a Muslim can reach, on PA TV news. PA TV News also reported that Izz Al-Din Al-Masri “gave his soul for the struggle of a nation that strives for freedom,” and described Al-Masri’s funeral as his “wedding to the 72 Virgins in Paradise, the great reward Islam promises to those who die as Martyrs for Allah” (Official PA TV, April 30, 2014). The Secretary General of Mahmoud Abbas’ office, Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim, commented: “We will never forget them, and we will always remain faithful to their vow… Oh brothers (Martyrs), your souls now hover above us and say to us: ‘Follow in our path, stick to the obligation that is incumbent upon us.” (PMW).

Unfortunately, the examples cited above are typical of the behavior and rhetoric of President Abbas and the PA. And it is also unfortunate that virtually none of this is reported in the mainstream media and unless you are fluent in Arabic and listen to PA radio and television and read their press releases, or you monitor internet sites such as PMW and MEMRI, which translate Palestinian media into English, you might actually believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is the primary obstacle to the two-state solution.

Women in STEM

April 19, 2015

Katherine Morfill ’18 – Women in Leadership

On March 23, 2015, a Google Doodle featured the 113th birthday of Emmy Noether, one of the most influential mathematicians of the past century. Born in Germany, Noether was discouraged from receiving a college-level education and from teaching at various universities. Noether overcame the obstacles associated with being a woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in the twentieth century and today receives admiration for the brilliant and underpaid contributions she made to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. The advancement of women in STEM fields remains prevalent today more than ever. Recently, a new research report, published by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), noted that more girls and women than ever before are studying in the STEM field. However, those gains are not being reflected in the workforce; and Janet Bandows Koster, CEO of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), gave an interview discussing the cultural practices preventing the growth of women in STEM.

The AAUW report, Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing asks why there are persistently so few women in engineering and computing and offers an explanation as to how we can make these fields more open and desirable for both sexes. The report found that the number of women in computing has fallen from 35 percent in 1990 to just 26 percent today. To make matters worse, the number of women in engineering is only at 12 percent. The report also found that more qualified women are leaving the STEM workforce despite the rising demand for their skills and the flexibility for balancing work-life issues that STEM occupations offer. Furthermore, there is a major issue that there are still stereotypes and biases discouraging women from pursuing STEM careers, both early in their education and in the workplace.

These gender biases are shaped by stereotypes found in mainstream culture. As Koster of the AWIS says in her interview, “Progress has been slow, but cultural change is difficult.” Constant vigilance is necessary to keep women progressing in STEM. Koster has seen that when gender biases are not actively challenged, they can revert back to their male-dominated tendencies. Even older members of the AWIS, do not see the problems that young women are facing today. One of the biggest issues, Koster says, is that, “a lot of people think that there are no more problems for women.” Recognizing roadblocks and pushing past them is imperative for the continuing advancement of women in STEM.

One of the most persistent stereotypes is the idea that boys are naturally better at math and science than girls are, and a study in the AAUW report found that this bias makes employers more likely to hire a male rather than a female candidate for science and mathematics jobs, regardless of their qualifications. In order to increase the number of girls pursuing careers in STEM fields and to retain the current workforce of women in STEM, stereotypes and biases such as these need to be confronted head-on.

The presence of women in STEM is important. Workplace diversity promotes innovation and productivity. Both sexes bring different experiences to the table, and their equal representation provides new perspectives and ideas. It is estimated that in less than 10 years, the United States will need 1.7 million more engineers and computing professionals. Discouraging the talent of half the population to explore these fields is not something we can afford to continue to do. Retaining a skilled workforce starts with making the workplace accommodating and desirable to both sexes. As we move closer towards gender equality in STEM fields, these stereotypes and biases will break down as more and more women will prove to be role models for girls wanting to pursue STEM. Just as we look back on the advancement of influential STEM women like Emmy Noether, we should be looking forward to the next generations of STEM women who will do great work.

Clinton 2016: Experience or Exhaustion?

April 15, 2015

Katerina Krohn ‘17 – Inside Politics Program

Just recently after the announcement that she would run for presidency in 2016, Hilary Clinton has held the spotlight as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. While many Democrats are lining up to support Hilary, both parties are beginning to question her ability to win over American voters with her experience-based appeal.

According to a recent article by RT, more than 60% of democratic voters are looking for a new face—a candidate that has never run for president in the past. The article notes that Democratic support for Clinton specifically is dropping. Support for Hillary has fallen about 15 points since mid-February with as few as 45% of Democrats supporting her in a mid-March survey. Criticism toward Clinton is coming from within the party through the general public as well as through other potential candidates. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley criticized possible candidates from political families in a recent interview with ABC’s “This Week,” targeting not only Clinton but also Republican frontrunner Jeb Bush. “I think that our country always benefits from new leadership and new perspectives,” O’Malley stated. “The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust that is to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people” [1].

Criticism toward Clinton’s potential candidacy will continue to come from a variety of sources that will challenge her ability to successfully promote change in her campaign. Clinton’s campaign will be fatigued by her family’s presence in the political world, her unsuccessful prior candidacy, and controversy over her actions as secretary of state. The recent email controversy has only added to the nation’s exhaustion with secrecy and scandal among political families. Time will tell if the emails dispute will actually affect Hillary’s potential candidacy, but it certainly won’t help her promote an image of a fresh start.

Recently, however, some are criticizing Hillary. “She will have to break with Obama significantly and substantively if she wants to win,” said Phil Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association. “Obama is no Reagan, and America is ready for the end of his presidency, not the extension of it” [2]. While Obama may not have the approval rating of President Reagan, his stabilizing approval rating and steadily improving economy may not hurt her as much as criticisms are predicting.

It should be interesting to see how Hilary will answer the call for change now that she has decided to run, however it is still unclear what her message will be. After a prior loss, a publicized past, an association with the current president, Clinton will need to prove to the American people that she can somehow bring a fresh start.



ISIS Targets Women—As Recruits

April 14, 2015

Nicole Miller – Women In Leadership

The notoriously violent, ruthless, and extremist terrorist group ISIS has given itself the mission of targeting women—but not just as victims, as recruits. Aside from the fact that ISIS is an extremist faction of Al Qaeda—that’s right, ISIS was too extreme for Al Qaeda—that tasks itself with violently dismantling the western world, one innocent civilian at a time, it is common knowledge that Islam and countries under Sharia law are especially oppressive towards women. In countries under Sharia law (the “divine law” defined by the Quran), women are not allowed to drive, or allowed to leave the house without accompaniment of their husband or son. They do not work and it is widely believed they are to stay inside the house. So why, then, would any woman be compelled to make the dangerous journey to Syria to willingly join this openly oppressive (let alone violent and extremist) group?

The rise and recruitment practices of ISIS present such an interesting case of study because it is the first movement of its type to utilize the Internet and the relatively new phenomena of social media as a tool. Through blogs and standard social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), women supposedly living in Syria as members of ISIS communicate directly with potential recruits. They reach out to these potential recruits by offering glimpses into what their daily life is like. Reading such accounts offers an interesting combination of offensive and grotesque displays of approval for violence towards westerners that seems highly disjointed from our world. However, other posts are eerily familiar to anyone from the west with posts like pictures of sunsets, food, Nutella, and even “selfies”. They encourage potential recruits to make the journey to Syria by vehemently insisting their decision to do so, while difficult, was “the best decision” many of them have “ever made.” Women in ISIS on social media even assist with the recruitment process by offering detailed step-by-step travel instructions, and one post refers to the use of the social media outlet Kik to communicate directly with those seriously considering joining.

Social media and the apparently candid and first-hand look into the lives of these women it seems to provide has created the ability for ISIS to appeal to women through romanticism. Through social media, women in ISIS convince potential recruits they are happy with their limited rights, are fulfilled by their duty to serve their “warrior” husbands and sons, and lead relatively regular lives of cooking and coffee dates similar to those of western women. Their lives only differ from women living in the west when it comes to issues of Sharia law, when images of dead westerners, various weapons, and hate speech are interspersed with their otherwise seemingly normal posts.

ISIS has found a very effective method of recruitment by communicating with women directly at their homes through social media. Through romanticism, they draw women’s attention and use a clever combination of a seemingly western lifestyle mixed with an anti-western sentiment to encourage women to join ISIS, and then use the same social media outlets to assist these women with travel plans. The world has never before experienced such a direct, wide-ranging, and seemingly unstoppable recruitment practice such as that of ISIS and its use of social media to recruit women.

McCutcheon v. FEC and Its Effect On Future Elections

April 14, 2015

Yanet Gonzalez ’17 – Women in Leadership

The framers’ commitment to ensure that freedom of speech is not infringed upon is evident in the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Despite the clarity of the words, the most prominent question after identifying what constitutes as “speech,” is the degree to which the Constitution protects that speech. The importance of this amendment cannot be denied given that it was public speech against an oppressive Great Britain, which fueled the revolution and served as founding principles for a new nation. Throughout the years of countless cases dealing with free speech that have come before the Supreme Court and despite the seemingly overarching umbrella that protects everything underneath it, the Supreme Court has demonstrated that there are still limits to the First Amendment.

The quest to regulate campaign finance peaked in March of 2002 when President Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). Primarily, the act imposed two different types of limits. A base limit, which is how much money one can contribute to a particular candidate or committee, and aggregate limits, which restrict how much money can be donated in total. Under the BCRA, the aggregate limits were adjusted to future inflation and the limits for individual contributions were changed from annual to biennial. In 2013-2014, the aggregate amount that an individual was able to donate was capped at $123,200, which included candidates, national party committees and other political committees. Citizens like Shawn McCutcheon however, believed that the regulations under the BCRA prohibited him contributing amounts at his own discretion, thus impeding on his right to free speech. The Supreme Court decided that the BCRA did not provide a sufficient governmental interest in preventing corruption and that the limitations imposed by this act severely interfere with the “core values” of the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court insisted there are multiple ways in which one can be involved with the electoral process that does not involve donating money such as running for office themselves or working in a campaign. However, after cases like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon, the role of wealthy individuals and corporations will alter the political process in an unimaginable way.

One of the major ways in which the McCutcheon will influence elections is that it will place a greater importance of joint fundraising committees (JFCs). It will become legal for JFC’s to “bundle together their contributions to several entities in a single check.” Furthermore, it will increase the influence of major donors, which in turn will increase the political power of “members of congress who have a strong relationship with high-net-worth donors” In 2012, a study showed that 216 people contributed roughly 68% of the total money received by super PACs. In addition, the Center for Responsive Politics also found that the 1.2 million people, who donated during the 2012 election cycle, were able to raise a total of 2.8 billion dollars.

These statistics reinforce the idea that without limits to aggregate contributions, a very small portion of the population can fund an entire campaign. The unintended consequences of the McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission will undoubtedly affect elections in the years to come. The door will remain open for future generations to find a balance between protecting our First Amendment rights and maintaining the integrity of our political process.