Ellen Pao thinks Elizabeth Holmes should be held accountable for her actions as CEO of the not-quite-what-it-appeared Theranos blood-testing company. But in an essay at the New York Times, Pao writes that something else is true in regard to Holmes' ongoing trial: It "can be sexist to hold her accountable for alleged serious wrongdoing and not hold an array of men accountable for reports of wrongdoing or bad judgment." Pao is a former Reddit executive who has been one of the most vocal critics of sexual discrimination in Silicon Valley. She notes that the world of tech startups has a long history of "questionable, unethical, even dangerous behavior." But it seems that when men are the culprits, the "boys' club" closes ranks and protects its own. Not so when it's a woman.
Pao ticks off examples, including Travis Kalanick, who presided over a scandal-plagued work culture at Uber, only to rebound quite nicely in his next venture. She sees a parallel in how Holmes overhyped Theranos with what Adam Neumann did at WeWork. And in terms of health concerns, consider Kevin Burns of Juul, whose vape company promised to curb smoking but has instead been blamed for getting teens hooked on nicotine. What's more, the CDC has blamed nearly 70 deaths on vaping products. Such men are rarely held accountable, and even when they are, they're welcomed "back into the fold" quickly. "Sexism in tech is real and alive," writes Pao. "If the members of the investors' boys' club won't hold each other accountable, prosecutors must step in, as they're doing now with Elizabeth Holmes." Read her full essay. (Read more Elizabeth Holmes stories.)