30-second bio blog post describing the sexual harassment she endured at Uber, becoming more effective? Yeah, I think [the legal system] is failing women.
I think it’s failing people of color, employees who are older. It’s not a great
place to try to work out your problems because the company will be able to
out-lawyer you, out-PR you, and drag things out and make things expensive
and painful for you. I see it as a place of last resort. [Speaking out publicly]
is going to be how you infuence the managers, CEOs, VCs, board members.
That ends up causing change. In the past, the press has not been so easy to
work with. [But] a lot of these male reporters are now much more open and
understand the issues a lot better.
I think the fact that I lost was validating for some people who had never
complained and maybe had an opportunity to litigate and decided not to.
They could see that the legal system is not actually a good place to try to
resolve these issues. I think it helped some people come to terms with the
fact that they didn’t push as hard as maybe they could have because they
saw that actually it is not a fruitful path.
Why do you think it’s so diffcult for the general public to believe women
when they say that they’ve been mistreated or discriminated against?
Some people [think] that we moved past all this in the ’80s and ’90s. They
thought we had resolved all of these issues, and it’s a shock to them that this
kind of behavior thrives. And I think some people just don’t want to believe.
And then there is a set of people who really don’t think there’s a problem
with the behavior, a bigger set than I could possibly have imagined. The
election, the behavior of people post-election, the behavior we knew about
pre-election and that still got voted in—all of that was a shock to me.
After you took over as interim CEO of Reddit in 2013, you banned revenge porn and unauthorized nude photos, which users largely supported. But when you tried to limit harassment on the site, you received
a food of abuse and online threats. Why? Five subreddits [featured]
coordinated, targeted harassment of individuals. There was racism. One
was transgender-phobic. One was fat-phobic. So we took down those fve
sites, and that was when the backlash happened. These subreddits
became part of a crusade around
This debate about the limits of
free speech is still very much
alive in the tech world. What
obligation do social media sites
have to protect users? There is
no way you should allow targeted
harassment on your site. Encouraging a variety of views is often
what free speech advocates [want].
But bullying people [through] fear
tactics shouldn’t be allowed. You
could have one vocal group that
just harasses every other group off your platform and so you’d have one
perspective instead of hundreds of thousands. So when you talk about a
free speech platform, part of it is having different perspectives, and that’s
not possible if groups are allowed to harass other groups off the platform. If
[Reddit] had wanted to go the way of unauthorized nude pictures, [it] could
be the site where you could go all day to fnd nude pictures of your favorite
celebrity and could push off all other activity. Would that be a good thing
for Reddit? Probably not.
So many leaders at otherwise
visionary tech companies seem
really stymied when it comes to
ending harassment on their platforms. Is it really that diffcult?
It’s complicated. Just taking [hateful
content] down is not that easy because it will pop up in different ways.
People are always testing the lines.
When I was in law school, we had
professors who were debating what’s
hate speech, and it wasn’t always
clear. You can’t pay somebody $15 an
hour and have them be able to fgure
it out easily. The second problem is
that most of these platforms were
built by people who don’t suffer from
the harassment that women and people of color, and especially women of
color, experience. They don’t know
what harassment feels like.
You titled the chapter about your
time at Reddit “The Glass Cliff,”
referring to the phenomenon
where a woman is brought in to
lead a company when it’s having
trouble and winds up as the scapegoat. Do you think that you were
set up to fail at Reddit? It defnitely
felt that way. There was a point when
one of the board members said that
he wanted me to get to half a billion
users by the end of the year, and in
my mind that just was so unrealistic.
It made me wonder a little bit. But
it wasn’t until I had more time and
more perspective that it felt more so.
While launching your nonproft,
Project Include, in 2016, you
lamented in a post that most
startups take limited and often
potentially damaging actions to
address diversity. They assume
they have to “lower the bar” for
hiring. How do you propose that
new companies make signifcant
positive impact instead? We [at
Project Include] ended up coming
up with 87 recommendations. For
me, it’s [about] shaping companies
by shaping the CEOs—and hopefully
infuencing VC frms, if that is possible, so that the right decisions get
made, the right cultures get built
and retained at scale, and everybody
gets a chance to succeed.
Next Creative Conversation
“The company will
be able to out-lawyer
you, out-PR you,
and drag things out
and make things
expensive and pain-
ful for you. I see [the
legal system] as a
place of last resort.”
Cofounder of the nonprofit Project Include;
chief diversity and
inclusion officer and
venture partner at Kapor
Capital; author of Reset:
My Fight for Inclusion
and Lasting Change
Bachelor’s degree in
from Princeton University; law and business
degrees from Harvard
Lawyer for Cravath,
Swaine & Moore, followed by tenures at tech
startups including BEA
Systems and Web TV;
chief of staff and junior
partner at VC firm
Kleiner Perkins; interim
CEO of Reddit