I don’t really know if Ellen Pao was an effective leader or not within the walls of Reddit. What I do know is that not much seemed to actually change during her tenure until the last month or so, and by that time, the angry outrage brigade had already made it clear they were determined to destroy her.
I also know that these same assholes are now trying to start a debate, challenging the ‘narrative’ that Ellen Pao was driven away under an avalanche of misogyny perpetuated by it’s worst members – as detailed by Gawker, the Daily Beast (also here) and the New York Times, among others. Allow me to save the suspense: there’s nothing to debate. Whatever else happened during her tenure, Pao endured ridiculous misogyny the entire time – before she’d done pretty much ANYTHING to earn her ire.
Ellen Pao started in November at Reddit, and almost immediately, Reddit soured on her, driven largely by the fact that she had an open gender discrimination case from her previous job – and danced in glee when she ultimately lost it. From the outset, attempts were made to slander and minimize her as a gold digging slut, with plenty of wonderful language describing her intellect, her sexuality and her vagina.
Things didn’t really go off the rails, though, until she promised to crack down on harassment on the service, which ultimately resulted in the shutdown of ‘FatPeopleHate’, a subreddit where members would routinely go to other reddits or even sites on the internet, and piledrive fat people with harassment and abuse, with some proudly goading terrified victims to kill themselves. When she shut down this (but left up awful places such as ‘coontown‘ which at least have the decency to keep their abuse to themselves), things went into overdrive, adding in layers of anti-Asian racism as well as numerous attempts to paint her as a dictator, google bomb her with the nazi flag, etc, etc. Again, despite the fact that Reddit will allow almost anything on their forums, provided it’s legal and doesn’t result in harassment of other internet locations.
I pretty much knew that she would be on her way out with the #RedditRevolt, where after an abrupt and unexpected firing of a popular moderator (which wasn’t her call, and WON’T be reversed with the new chairman), much of the rest of the moderation staff revolted, going on strike. This strike was driven by the forces for good instead of evil – they were protesting the lack of decent procedures and tools to actually moderate against the mouthbreathing troll brigade that haunts Reddit’s underbelly. These trolls captured this momentum and built upon it, ultimately leading to her demise. But the sad truth is that she tried to give the trolls way more than her moderators wanted her to, but could not find a middle ground where anyone could be happy.
Some have tried to argue that Pao’s dismissal is proof of sexism in the tech world – that a man would not have been fired in the same situation. I disagree – Pao had clearly lost control of the situation, which had resulted in a flurry of bad press about the company appearing in mainstream outlets, and its not unusual for executives, particularly CEOs with ‘interims’ attached to their title, to take the fall in these scenarios.
That being said, I do believe that the blatant misogyny that Peo was subjected to – the unrealistic expectations, the slanders, the gendered insults – would never have been levied against a male CEO with a similar resume, and so this scenario would not have appeared for a man who delivered the same results. And I also do believe that Pao is probably delighted to finally have reprieve after 9 months of hell.