A Reality Check for Ellen Pao’s “Diversity”

Hint: a perfect model of diversity without dissent does not exist.

From taking on investment firm KPMG with sexual discrimination lawsuits, enduring merciless trolling on Reddit, and forming the diversity-focused NGO Project Include, Ellen Pao seems to be the most prominent face for the cause of women and minorities in technology. I am often one of few women at work, so I do appreciate Pao’s mission. However, after looking at when and how she approaches this mission, I’d like to send her one message:

Your actions against Y Combinator should not represent other women or minorities in tech like me.

In case you missed it, Pao decided she wanted to withdrawal support from Y Combinator yesterday. Why, you ask? Because Y Combinator partner Peter Thiel donated a large sum of money to Donald Trump. This snubbing by a seemingly unknown NGO sent shockwaves throughout the blogosphere, and was even covered in the Guardian.

Here’s why I think this move was counterproductive to the cause of diversity in tech:

  1. Generalizations are dangerous, no matter who forms them. Peter Thiel is just one partner among many at Y Combinator. Other prominent partners, such as Paul Graham and Sam Altman, have openly endorsed Hillary Clinton. Why punish the the entire organization for one action by a single person? Is this not the exact mentality that causes people to judge outliers? Please stop doing this. It is a very sound reason for people to completely dismiss your very important cause.
Paul Graham’s thoughts seem pretty clear here.
  1. “Us v Them” Thinking gets us nowhere. Dislike them all you want. Y Combinator is a smart incubator and has produced a range of unicorn startups worth billions of dollars. By attacking their entire organization for one action of one person, you, Ellen Pao, have made it harder for women to be trusted in these very elite circles. It can give men the impression that they will be vilified for the opinions of other people.
  2. It does not appear that you have made any attempts to talk to Y Combinator or Thiel before attacking them. YC’s co-founder Jessica Livingston is a woman, and Peter Thiel is gay. Both have spent time and money supporting diversity in tech. So rather than attempting to find common ground, you seemed to grab these 15 minutes of fame to tear into them. This strikes me as opportunistic and in poor taste.
  3. Be supportive of good guys, don’t just tear bad guys down. Why would you focus on Thiel, when you could focus on Reid Hoffman, Dave McClure, Harper Reid, or the droves of other technologists who have supported Hillary Clinton with both their voices and their pocketbooks? Seriously, please stop.

Ellen, I’m going to “act like a man here” and give you some advice. Take a vacation. Just disappear from the limelight for a bit. Every time you come out in the news, I just cringe. You are so polarizing and seem to love to play the victim card, which is absolutely not the case the other folks in Project Include. Please do not count me in on your seemingly endless war with men in tech. I simply do not care to expend the energy.