Ellen Pao lost her sex-discrimination suit against venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, but her supporters want to keep the issues raised by the case alive in Silicon Valley.
Tuesday, a group of Pao supporters took out a local newspaper ad with the words, “Thanks Ellen.” The phrase is appearing on social media, and T-shirts are in the works.
Lori Hobson, who works in business development in Palo Alto, said the idea for the ad arose from a Sunday conversation with two other women and a man around a café table. Participants created a PayPal account to raise $960 to pay for the ad, which appeared Monday in the Palo Alto Daily Post, a free newspaper.
Hobson says the group hoped the ad would be seen in in Silicon Valley restaurants and offices, where many are discussing the case. Kleiner Perkins’ office in Menlo Park is a few miles from the Palo Alto café, and well within the newspaper’s circulation area. A Facebook page has been created, and T-shirts are for sale.
The roughly 35 people who contributed to the project “personally appreciate the issues that she raised,” Hobson said. She said backers could relate to “the fine line” they perceived that Pao had to walk as she set up boundaries against alleged romantic overtures and was criticized for being standoffish.
In the trial, Pao said she was denied promotions, and ultimately fired, because of bias. She said a married male Kleiner Perkins partner gave her an inappropriate gift on Valentine’s Day, that she was subjected to talk of porn stars on a plane ride, and that she was asked to sit in the back of meetings and take notes.
Kleiner Perkins disputed the accounts, and said it has been a leader in promoting women in venture capital. A six-man, six-woman jury found for Kleiner Perkins on four counts of discrimination and retaliation in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday after a four-week trial.
Hobson said her group is not disputing the verdict. “We don’t doubt the jury,” Hobson says. “We just admire that she was willing to take the risk.”
Graphic artist Kris Loew said she “jumped at the chance” to design the ad and T-shirts because in her 20-year Silicon Valley career, “I’ve seen gender-bias and sexual harassment in every job I’ve had.”
Pao did not immediately respond to a request for comment.