New York Magazine

This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley

My lawsuit failed. Others won’t.

IN DECEMBER 2010, Sheryl Sandberg gave a talk about women’s leadership in which she mentioned “sitting at the table.” Women, she said, have to pull up a chair and sit at the conference-room table rather than clinging to the edges of the room, “because no one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side.”

Less than a year later, I would take those words to heart. I had been working for six years at the Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as a junior partner and chief of staff for managing partner John Doerr. Kleiner was then one of the three most powerful venture-capital firms in the world. One day, I was part of a small group flying from San Francisco to New York on the private jet of another managing partner, Ted Schlein. I was the first to arrive at Hayward Airport. The main cabin of the plane was set up with four chairs in pairs facing each other. Usually the most powerful seat faces forward, looking at the TV screen, with the second most powerful next to it. Then came the seats facing backward. I was sure the white men booked on the flight (Ted, senior partner Matt Murphy, a tech CEO, and a tech investor) would be taking those four seats and I would end up on the couch in back. But Sheryl’s words echoed in my mind, and I moved to one of the power seats—the fourth, backward-facing seat, but at the table nonetheless. The rest of the folks filed in one by one. Ted sat across from me, the CEO next to him, and the tech investor next to me on my right. Matt ended up with what would have been my original seat on the couch.

Once we were airborne, the CEO, who’d brought along a few bottles of wine, started bragging about meeting Jenna Jameson, talking about her career as the world’s greatest porn star and how he had taken a photo with her at the Playboy Mansion. He asked if I knew who she was and then proceeded to describe her pay-per-view series (Jenna’s American Sex Star), on which women competed for porn-movie contracts by performing sex acts before a live audience.

“Nope,” I said. “Not a show I’m familiar with.”

Then the CEO switched topics. To sex workers. He asked Ted what kind of “girls” he liked. Ted said that he preferred white girls—Eastern European, to be specific.

Eventually we all moved to the couch for a working session to help the tech CEO; he was trying to recruit a woman to his all-male board. I suggested Marissa Mayer, but the CEO looked at me and dismissively said, “Nah, too controversial.” Then he grinned at Ted and added, “Though I would let her join the board because she’s hot.”

Somehow, I got the distinct vibe that the group couldn’t wait to ditch me. And once we landed at Teterboro, the guys made plans to go to a club, while I headed into Manhattan alone. Taking your seat at the table doesn’t work so well, I thought, when no one wants you there. (When Sandberg’s book Lean In came out, that same Jenna Jameson–obsessed

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