Executive Summaries » What The Pao Case Says About Diversity

What The Pao Case Says About Diversity

June 24, 2015

A jury rejected gender discrimination claims lodged by Ellen Pao, a former employee at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, but the case nonetheless generated negative publicity for the firm. Regardless of a company’s demographics or policies, biases may exist. The best defense is prevention, starting with a company-wide focus on diversity.

While strides have been made toward removing structural barriers to advancement for women and minorities, more progress is needed, including in the legal field. According to the ABA, the percentage of female general counsel at Fortune 500 companies stands at 21 percent.

Sustained, meaningful investment in diversity and inclusion goes a long way toward rooting out unintentional bias and preventing the sense of disenfranchisement that often leads to claims of outright discrimination. When a company’s upper management lacks diversity, there is a greater risk for allegations of double standards. One area where this can play out is in performance evaluations, which may be influenced by the opinions and biases of the reviewer. Many studies on unconscious biases have shown that it’s in our nature to give preference to people who look and sound like us. That’s problematic when the task is to give impartial feedback.

Mentoring and sponsorship are other essential tools for ensuring that employees feel supported in their professional development. The importance of mentors is magnified in organizations in which there is a lack of diversity in upper management.

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