Reddit Interim CEO Ellen Pao: A Rare Instance Of A Woman Running A Tech Company

Author

Helen A.S. Popkin

November 18, 2014

Amid the hoopla over the defenestration of Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, few noticed that the social news site did something else really interesting: It named a woman as its interim CEO, one who seems to have a good chance of holding the job permanently.

That would be Ellen Pao, whose last news moment came when she sued venerable venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in 2012 for sexual discrimination. The lawsuit, which is still pending, put a spotlight on gender bias in the male-dominated tech industry.

See also: Building The Front Page Of The Internet: Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian

Pao joined Reddit, which is currently owned by Conde Nast parent company Advance Publications, as a brand strategist in 2013. During her brief tenure, Pao helmed Reddit’s long-awaited move into mobile. Reddit first attempted building a potentially lucrative platform for ad sales in 2011 with an  app so glitchy it was eventually pulled. Under Pao, Reddit’s mobile team launched two successful apps for iOS and Android.

Pao’s ascent is remarkable in Silicon Valley, where most women have better odds of getting their employer to freeze their eggs than of being named CEO. As interim leader, Pao now runs of one of the most popular properties on the Internet, home to 174 million audience and recent recipient of $50 million in Silicon Valley funding. And it’s a striking statement at Reddit, home of The Fappening—a now-shuttered “subreddit” focused on the sharing of celebrity nudes in the wake of Apple’s iCloud leak—and a host of “jailbait” forums dedicated to sexual photos of females who appear to be underage. 

See also: For Once, The Entire Internet Isn’t Blaming The Victims Of This Nude Celebrity Photo Leak

Pao’s diplomas are as impressive as her career. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she is also a Harvard Business School MBA and holds a degree in electrical engineering from Princeton. She worked at a number of Silicon Valley businesses prior to her seven-year career at Kleiner Perkins.

Helming Reddit’s mobile team, Pao oversaw Reddit’s canny push into mainstream by simplifying its most popular forum via the official Reddit Ask Me Anything app. The AMA forum, a crowd-sourced Q&A which has featured luminaries such as President Barack Obama, Bill Gates and a host of celebrities.

See also: How To Host A Reddit AMA

Pao also oversaw the acquisition and rebranding of Alien Blue, the most popular third-party Reddit app for iOS, now available for iOS and Android.

Bolstering Silicon Valley’s Female Elite

As Reddit’s interim CEO, Pao joins—temporarily or not—the minority of female CEOs in Silicon Valley. Despite the visibility of Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, women executives remain rare.

See also: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to Women: Don’t Ask For A Raise, Trust Karma

More than 45% of Silicon Valley companies have no women among its top employees, according to a study by law firm Fenwick & West. Other exceptions include Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman; the CEO of Google-owned YouTube, Susan Wojcicki; and Ramona Pierson, CEO and co-founder of social learning startup Declara. 

Installing Pao as interim CEO with a strong possibility of becoming permanent sends a strong message not just to investors and advertisers, but also to the Reddit community. Pao’s successful mobile push indicates business acumen and organization the for-profit company previously appeared to lack. Her role in making gender inequity and sexual harassment a talking point in Silicon Valley—whether desired or not—may signal a future Reddit less friendly to creepshots and other investor-repelling content.

Lead image courtesy of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

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