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Ellen Pao’s Reddit Resignation Reveals the Enduring Sexism of Tech

Topics: Current Events

Picture this: a new CEO makes a series of controversial changes to the company’s hiring process, policies, and product. Eventually, a popular staffer is fired, and the community revolts, starting a petition, a hashtag campaign on social media, and even sending death threats. Sound surreal? It might be – if the CEO were male. As former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao’s resignation demonstrates, it’s not at all a strange set of circumstances for a woman in charge.


(Photo Credit: Christopher Michel/Flickr)

In her resignation post, Pao said:

Do You Know What You're Worth?

In my eight months as reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.

I just want to remind everyone that I am just another human; I have a family, and I have feelings. Everyone attacked on reddit is just another person like you and me. When people make something up to attack me or someone else, it spreads, and we eventually will see it. And we will feel bad, not just about what was said. Also because it undercuts the authenticity of reddit and shakes our faith in humanity.

The first comment on Pao’s post was an invitation to join an X-rated subreddit. The second nominated her for moderator of the group.

What were Pao’s crimes? A series of controversial decisions, including banning salary negotiation for prospective staffers, creating a harassment policy, and banning five subreddits that explicitly encouraged hate toward specific groups.

During Pao’s tenure, the company also fired Victoria Taylor, the coordinator of the site’s popular AMA feature. While it’s unclear whether Pao was directly involved in Taylor’s dismissal, or indeed exactly what led to it in the first place, the termination inspired a mass moderator revolt. Users of many of the site’s subreddits, including r/IAmA, arrived to them locked.


(Screenshot via Ars Technica)

By Pao’s own admission, communication with moderators suffered in recent months – a big problem, given that Reddit depends on moderators, who are volunteers and unpaid, to manage its core product.

“We screwed up … we haven’t communicated well,” she said. The community “have lost trust in me and us.”

Still, even if you think Pao’s mistakes warranted dismissal, it’s hard to picture a male CEO being the center of such a coordinated campaign to boot him from his post. The petition calling for her firing garnered almost 200,000 signatures.

“In my view, her job was made more difficult because as a woman, she was particularly subject to the abuse stemming from the pockets of toxic misogyny in the Reddit ecosystem,” Mitch Kapor, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The New York Times. Reddit’s user base is 74 percent male, according to Ad Week.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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