Ellen Pao confirmed as headline speaker at Inspirefest 2017

30 Jan 2017

Image: Ellen Pao

Ellen Pao rose to prominence as a global figurehead for the gender equality movement, particularly in Venture Capital. Now, she has been confirmed as a headline speaker at Inspirefest 2017.

Ellen Pao became one of the leading figureheads in the ongoing diversity debate in Silicon Valley and beyond when she was thrown into the spotlight by accident rather than design.

Pao is a major player in the tech and investment world, and will be joining dozens of other speakers – including Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton, founder of Kiva and Branch Matt Flannery, and Sugru founder Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh – at this summer’s Inspirefest event.

Sparked an international debate on gender

Pao rose to fame in 2012 when she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which she had joined in 2005.

In her lawsuit, Pao claimed that she was let go from the firm for claiming that one of its former partners had sexually harassed her and that she had seen a number of instances of unfair treatment against women by men in the firm.

Despite the court ruling in favour of the VC firm, the case sparked an international debate on the treatment of women in VC and in tech, particularly when it came to the lack of leadership roles given to women and minorities.

Instigating change at Reddit

In 2013, following her legal battle, Pao was named as the head of business development at Reddit. Within the space of a year, Pao found herself stepping into the role of interim CEO following the resignation of Yishan Wong in November 2014.

During her time leading the company, Pao notably implemented changes to the site and company to address harassment, including banning revenge porn, unauthorised nude photos and several subreddits that were contributing to offline harassment.

In 2015, however, these actions resulted in Pao being subjected to a barrage of vicious and sexist comments from groups of Reddit users. Believing she could not continue in the role, Pao announced her resignation from Reddit, citing differences between herself and the board

The post-Reddit years

Steve Huffman, who took over from Pao following her resignation, commented at the time that the abuse she received was completely beyond the pale.

“It was sickening to see some of the things Redditors wrote about Ellen,” he said. “The reduction in compassion that happens when we’re all behind computer screens is not good for the world. People are still people even if there is internet between you.”

In the intervening years, Pao has written and spoken extensively about diversity and inclusion in tech, and is one of the co-founders of Project Include, a US non-profit providing practical, effective diversity and inclusion recommendations for tech start-ups.

Today, she is also a venture partner with Kapor Capital and was last year included in Siliconrepublic.com’s list of 26 great people spearheading change in tech investment.

“We’re so excited to get Ellen onto the line-up,” said Inspirefest founder, Ann O’Dea.

“She showed remarkable courage in putting her head above the parapet in the traditionally white, male VC industry, and many of the initiatives now being taken by VC firms to include women and minorities as partners date back to her courageous stance in 2012.

“We’re also keen followers of Project Include. This will be one of the talks not to be missed.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get half-price Super Early Bird tickets before prices go up on 15 December.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic