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Is Silicon Valley evolving on issues of pay equity? The latest data point in this debate is provided by Pinterest, the innovative social media platform that allows users to “pin” images from around the web to customizable boards.
Pinterest recently settled a gender discrimination lawsuit with its former chief operating officer for $22.5 million dollars. This development may surprise market watchers, as Pinterest is used to making positive business headlines. Last year, the company went public with an initial valuation of $10 billion. On one hand, the settlement may be indicative of changes already impacting the business world when it comes to pay equity. On the other, the settlement could be viewed as further evidence of entrenched discriminatory practices in the nation’s tech hub.
As the New York Times recently reported, the settlement “may signal a shift in how Silicon Valley handles such suits. In the past, tech companies have typically fought back, such as when the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers disputed a suit brought by one of its former investors, Ellen Pao, in 2012.” Though, as the Times points out, Ms. Pao lost her case, it nonetheless highlighted persistent issues in Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) in big tech. As one prominent employment and labor attorney put it, “the Ellen Pao case, and the media attention it received, helped place concerns about bias and gender pay equity in the spotlight in Silicon Valley.” When viewed in this light, perhaps the Pinterest settlement represents a throughline from the Pao case, with organizations willing to try different tactics to resolve inequities. The Washington Post observed that both Pinterest and Françoise Brougher, the former COO, “will jointly donate $2.5 million to organizations advancing women and underrepresented communities in tech.”
On the other hand, Ms. Brougher’s path to the Pinterest settlement was, in many ways, horrifying. She wrote a post on Medium outlining her experience, which includes exclusion, pay discrimination, and gender stereotyping. She wrote, “I was criticized for my communication style and challenging my peers, asserting that I needed to ‘understand that blanket statements like “we have basically not improved X” land especially heavy from someone in your position.’ If I were a man, I would have been considered bold and thoughtful. As a woman, I was ‘misusing my energy and work ethic.’” Ms. Brougher’s experience, then, seems strikingly familiar to Ms. Pao’s, who testified that, among other events, she was passed over for a promotion based on her gender. So, while Brougher was successful in her fight, can it be said from her experience that Silicon Valley has evolved? That answer, it seems, is very much still up for debate.
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