Ellen Pao Creates Project to Address Silicon Valley’s Gender Diversity Problem

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Ellen Pao, former interim chief executive of the social-networking and news site Reddit, announced on Tuesday that she is assembling a group of eight women to launch an initiative, called Project Include, to empower leaders in startup tech companies via the sharing of ideas and data with the goal of improving diversity.

Pao — previously employed with the firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Silicon Valley — gained attention last year from the high-profile discrimination lawsuit she brought against her former employer, which she eventually lost.

Project Include consists of Pao; Erica Baker, an engineer with the messaging app Slack who gained attention when she started a salary spreadsheet that highlighted pay inequalities at Google; Tracy Chou, a software engineer with Pinterest who, in 2013, set up a place for people to share information on the number of female engineers; Susan Wu, an entrepreneur and investor who works at the mobile payment startup Stripe; Laura Gomez, whose software startup is aimed at helping companies recruit more diverse employees; Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a former labor lawyer who now leads a diversity consulting firm; Bethanye McKinney Blount, a former engineering executive at Reddit; and Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at Kapor Capital and the Kapor Center for Social Impact, who is a longtime advocate for diversity in the tech industry.

Though much has been said about the need to increase diversity in Silicon Valley — specifically at large companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Facebook — Project Include will focus its efforts on CEOs at startups and medium-sized companies to encourage them to address the issue at an earlier stage.

Pao said in an interview that the project is reaching out to leaders of small companies “before a lot of these problems have been built in and are almost impossible for us as individuals to try to change.”

“We wanted to focus on a group that could create meaningful change and have similar enough needs that we could address them on a website,” Pao said.

Project Include’s website acts as a practical how-to guide for leaders wanting to make their companies more diverse. It suggests ways to build teams, reduce bias from the interview process on, and improve performance reviews.

The group hopes to work with up to 18 startups or mid-size companies and plans to have a series of meetings with the leaders of these companies over a period of several months, during which they will track diversity metrics, facilitate discussion forums, and eventually publish data on each company’s progress. Until then, Project Include plans to publish aggregate, anonymous data on startups’ diversity statistics.

“Knowledge is power,” Pao said. “Being able to bring our knowledge to others so they don’t have to make the same mistakes and start closer to the finish line is one of the driving goals.”