Like Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas, Ellen Pao Lost Kleiner Perkins Gender Fight But Women Gained

Sometimes, even a loss can be a win.

A San Francisco jury said last month that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers did not discriminate or retaliate against its former junior partner, Ellen Pao. From my column for

The four-week trial had received intense media coverage for its allegations of porn-star talk in business settings and exclusion of women from company events. Rather than invite a woman on a company ski trip, “Why don’t we punt on her and find 2 guys who are awesome?” a Kleiner partner suggested in an email.

Pao lost. But women didn’t. The case brought huge attention to workplace issues that rarely get aired. Most employers require employees to agree to give up their right to sue before they even show up for the first day of work. So-called “mandatory arbitration” agreements keep gender discrimination complaints out of the public eye, and leave violators of our discrimination laws unaccountable.

You can read my column here.

4 Things Kleiner Perkins Doesn’t Want Jury to Hear in Ellen Pao’s Sex Bias Case

Oral arguments are expected to begin Tuesday in the sex discrimination case against the powerful Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Ellen Pao, who sued Kleiner nearly three years ago, accused the firm of gender discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation. I wrote about her case in my column for TheStreet last week.

Pao, who is interim CEO of the micro-blogging site Reddit, says that after she complained of discrimination at Kleiner, she went from being a star among junior partners to an employee viewed as a whiner who had “issues and clashes” with colleagues. She says one coworker badgered her into having an affair, and that a partner at the firm gave her a copy of a book of poetry with sexual imagery.

Kleiner has asked the judge to clear the courtroom when there’s evidence being presented about its proprietary business information and financial performance, among other things. Even if it wins on that motion, there are sure to be plenty of fireworks that remain for public consumption.

When Pao filed her suit in 2012, I noted this about the sad history of women in the workplace a column for Bloomberg View:

Twelve of Kleiner’s 49 partners are women, and in the venture-capital business, that’s considered very, very good. How is it that 20 years after Anita Hill broke the silence about gender discrimination and harassment at work, there are still companies that can take a bow for being gender-equality heroes when 75 percent of their leaders are men?

You can read the Bloomberg column here. The more recent column for the Street is here.

Sabew Commentary Award

Today, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers said that I won the “Best in Business” award for commentary in the news agency category for columns I wrote in 2013 for Bloomberg View.

Here’s a list of all the winners, including writers worth following on a regular basis, such as Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica and Michael Smallberg of The Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

If you’re looking for smart and talented financial journalists worth adding to your regular reading list, take a few minutes to go through the roster of Sabew winners.

Notes from the judges on my submission:


Winner: Susan Antilla, Bloomberg View, for her columns.

Terrific topics. Tough, engaging, enlightening, head-snapping. Well-reasoned arguments. Writes with authority and insight in a simple, declarative style that doesnt wander. No navel-gazing. Sophisticated humor used lightly in a way that advances the argument. Not humor for humors sake.

Here are links to the stories the judges considered:

Do Deutsche Bank’s ‘Prettier’ Women Get the Best?

JP Morgan’s Teflon CEO Glides Past Reputation Hits

Hate Follows When the Police Try to Do Their Job

Top Stock Picks of 2013 Lose Out to Honey Boo-Boo

Kim O’Grady becomes “Mr. Kim O’Grady” and Gets the Job

I missed this one when I was off on vacation last week. A management consultant in Perth, Australia — Kim O’Grady — told the story of how perplexed he was back in the late 1990s when he shipped out his impressive resume to employer after employer, but received nothing but rejection letters.

So he studied his CV to see what might be putting people off. “A horrible truth slowly dawned on me,” he wrote. “My name.”

That is, potential employers were probably figuring that  ”Kim O’Grady” was a woman, not a man.

So he says he made a single change — “Kim O’Grady” became “Mr. Kim O’Grady” — and canvassed potential employers all over again. “I got an interview for the very next job I applied for,” he wrote. “And the one after that.”

(I’m awaiting a reply from Mr. O’Grady to understand why he’s revealing a story from the late 1990s all these years later.)

I wish I could say that things have changed in the two decades since Mr. O’Grady’s apparent epiphany. Academics at Yale University asked professors in the biology, chemistry and physics departments at six major universities to evaluate applications from recent graduates looking for jobs as lab managers, slapping the name “John” on half the applications and “Jennifer” on the other half. (There was no difference in the copy other than the first names.) “John” got an average score of 4 out of 7 for competence while “Jennifer” got only a 3.3.

Similarly, a female website developer who was having a tough time drumming up new business changed her name to “James Chartrand” and business picked up nicely. I wrote about that in a blog post on September 24.

There are no doubt neanderthals out there who consciously exclude a woman when they’re evaluating job applications, but the problem is more complicated than that. A New York Times story about the Yale study said that while scientists found bias to be pervasive, it “probably reflected subconscious cultural influences rather than overt or deliberate discrimination.”

Translation: Pay attention when you’re evaluating job applicants. You may not even be aware of what’s motivating you to proceed with some applicants, but to reject others.

How banks keep the lid on sex discrimination cases (and thus avoid having to change)

In my Bloomberg View column earlier this week, I wrote about the disconnect between image and reality when it comes to Deutsche Bank’s record on diversity. The Frankfurt-based global bank wins all those warm-and-fuzzy prizes for “Best Company” for working mothers, for example, but is the target of lawsuits brought by women who say are treated with nasty little barbs at work such as “Maybe I should get pregnant so I can work from home.”

Those same women say they endured more than Neanderthal-style comments from the guys: They say lost their jobs when they became mothers, too. Deutsche Bank dodged a bullet big-time when two women who were considering a class-action pregnancy discrimination suit settled with the bank earlier this year. In a court filing, the bank denied one of the pregnancy claims against it, and its spokeswoman Michele Allison declined to comment on the others.

Discrimination against women on Wall Street is a persistent problem that hasn’t been fixed despite an assortment of programs that purport to address it. Deutsche Bank, in fact, takes a deep bow for its programs around the world for women in finance. The bank says that 5,000 women from Deutsche and other firms attended their conferences for women last year alone.

Despite all the woman programs, diversity training and new “heads of diversity” jobs at financial firms, the lawsuits and internal investigations around gender discrimination just keep on coming.

Deutsche Bank is far from the only problematic bank out there — they all are. But  it does have some history that illustrates how hard financial firms work to keep the public from knowing how bad things are for their female employees. In a splashy lawsuit filed more than a decade ago, Virginia Gambale, a partner in Deutsche Bank’s Capital partners unit, said she was passed over for a promotion because of gender discrimination and that the bank’s work environment was hostile to women. She would wind up with a “multi-million dollar settlement,” according to a transcript of a court conference in her case.

Gambale’s lawsuit described a September 1999 business meeting she was required to attend in Cannes, France where approximately 100 men and 5 women had to walk past “a welcoming committee of ‘sex goddesses’ who were wearing revealing clothing that was highly inappropriate for a business meeting.” The complaint said that entertainment at the meeting included “a scantily clad Marilyn Monroe look-alike, who publicly fondled several male executives.”

The most interesting part of her lawsuit, though, were the lengths Deutsche Bank went to to avoid having information about the gender breakdown of salary and promotion at the bank become public. In an August 2, 2004 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the second circuit, Judge Robert D. Sack described some of the history around efforts by the bank to lock up documents.

During discovery, Deutsche Bank had produced compensation planning charts “and four pages of an internal Bank study of diversity at the Bank, which contained information about the gender composition of the Bank’s employees,” Sack wrote. The judge added that the bank had said the settlement was “motivated significantly by its desire to avoid public disclosure at trial of the temporarily sealed documents.”

Sack wrote that Harold Baer, the district judge in the case had “wondered aloud why the public should not know about discrimination at a major banking institution.” Baer told the bank that he’d disclose the contents of the settlement agreement unless Deutsche Bank agreed to hire a third party to do a global gender review and provide the results to the court. No way, said the bank, cooking up a stipulation of dismissal with Gambale to get the case out of Baer’s jurisdiction.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to a number of women who’ve taken settlements after years of emotional and expensive litigation. They get worn out, and often wind up feeling guilty that they didn’t fight to the bitter end in court so that the ugly details of gender differences in pay and promotion would be exposed. Those who can’t sue in court because of mandatory arbitration agreements don’t even get satisfaction when they win: Men who lose a discrimination or harassment case do not have to reveal that in their public “BrokerCheck” records. Is there any wonder the problems go on and on?

What we really need is a system that forces employers to report how many internal complaints they’re getting that allege discrimination, and how much men and women are being paid for doing similar jobs. We’ve got an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after all, and it’s time that agency’s mandate was expanded to demand those statistics. The way things work now, there are too many ways for banks and brokers to keep evidence of their discrimination under lock and key.

A bit of welcome news in all this: It turns out that six years after Gambale’s 2003 settlement, some of those Deutsche Bank documents were unsealed. They are not available electronically, but I’ve put in a request with a document service to get them. Look for another post when I’ve got them in hand.

Do Deutsche Bank’s ‘Prettier’ Women Get the Best?

This article originally appeared in Bloomberg View on May 5th, 2013.

Most big-name financial firms pay lip service to diversity, peppering their websites with smiling women and people of color who are in short supply in the mostly white-male trading rooms and executive offices of real life.

Amid the spin, though, there’s one bank that wins plaudits around the globe for its gender programs.

At Deutsche Bank AG, business conferences and seminars for women attracted 5,000 of the company’s employees and clients last year, according to the bank’s website. It has scored a spot on Working Mother magazine’s “100 Best Companies” list 13 times since 1996, and was named “Best in Financial Services Sector” by the U.K. charity Working Families, which does research on work-life issues.

Eileen Taylor, Deutsche Bank’s global head of diversity, said in an e-mailed statement that a program called Atlas, started in 2009, has helped push 50 percent of the women who have used it into broader roles.

So you have to wonder why the Frankfurt-based bank is spending so much of its time fending off lawsuits that accuse it of harassment, retaliation, gender bias and discrimination against pregnant women.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 28 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Yosefa Shliselberg, a director in the global transaction banking group and 10-year Deutsche Bank veteran, said she was called into human resources one afternoon in 2011 and told, “The business has decided to exit you.” She says it happened two months after she complained to HR about gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

Performance Reviews

Shliselberg, whose performance evaluations cited her “remarkable analytic skills” and “deep understanding” of the bank’s products, told me during an interview last month at her lawyer’s office in New York that the bank had opened an investigation into her effort to start — I’m not kidding — a women’s initiative.

The probe found no wrongdoing, according to her complaint, which would hardly be a shock considering she says she received kudos for her project from everyone from her immediate boss to Deutsche Bank’s former chief executive officer of the Americas: “I’m very proud of you,” Seth Waugh wrote in an e-mail on Feb 11, 2011, that Shliselberg allowed me to review.

After that session in HR, Shliselberg was escorted to her desk, where boxes had already been delivered so she could pack and leave.

You almost wonder if there was something in the water at the bank that can’t do enough to advocate for women. Twelve days before Shliselberg filed her lawsuit, Deutsche Bank fired Heather Zhao, a vice president in Deutsche Bank’s global investment solutions group.

That axing came nine days before Zhao was scheduled to return from maternity leave, according to her complaint filed March 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Zhao’s suit says that after she learned she was pregnant in early 2012, she was blanketed with Neanderthal-style remarks from men at the bank. One highlight, according to her complaint: “Maybe I should get pregnant so I can work from home.”

Best place for mothers, indeed.

Deutsche Bank spokeswoman Michele Allison said the bank wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Not to pile on, but while we’re on the subject of pregnancy, another employee, Kelley Voelker, was fired from her job as a vice president on the securities-lending desk in September. She said in an amended complaint in U.S. District Court in October that after suing the bank for pregnancy discrimination in September 2011, Deutsche Bank retaliated by firing her. In a response, the bank denied it discriminated or retaliated against Voelker.

Class Act

Deutsche Bank is still in litigation with Voelker, but according to a transcript of a March 18 hearing in her case, two unidentified women who considered starting a class action reached settlements with the bank this year.

Another settlement: Latifa Bouabdillah, a former director in London who sued in May 2011 in the U.K. for sex discrimination. Her lawyer, Tim Johnson, said in an e-mail that the terms were confidential.

As for Shliselberg, I have to wonder if her sorry fate wasn’t somehow related to the dopey public statement of Deutsche Bank’s former CEO Josef Ackermann, who in February 2011 said that the bank’s executive committee would be “more colorful and prettier” once it added a woman or two. Ackermann’s words led to a media maelstrom just as Shliselberg was getting traction for her idea to start a nonprofit group to be called Women in Sovereign Entities.

By the time she was meeting with a bank steering committee in London in April 2011, she was hearing worries that had more than a hint of paranoia: Shliselberg told me one man at the meeting said he was afraid that her proposed group might host an event where women could “get out of control” and take over the agenda.

In its response to a parallel complaint Shliselberg filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Deutsche Bank said she had misinterpreted management’s support for her proposal, and that she had raised her allegations of discrimination as leverage to negotiate a cushy exit package. Shliselberg “began neglecting her work” after she started to focus on creating the women’s organization, the bank said. Deutsche Bank’s decision not to sponsor her project was based on business concerns, not discrimination, according to the response.

It’s hard to buy the idea that the same woman who had been praised in performance evaluations as having “excellent communications skills” somehow went clueless when her bosses were trying to tell her that her project for women was a no-go. If this is the best that the “best” company for women can come up with, the banking industry is even more hopeless than I thought.

Don’t Skewer Sheryl Sandberg

There’s a lot of work to be done between here and equality for women. Rich women in good jobs have one set of problems and poor women have another. Women with children pile on a whole new set of challenges. And women most anywhere can tell you there’s still discrimination that needs to be fixed in the workplace.

So why do critics expect that Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, would be able to solve every problem that women face in one book? I review Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead” for Bloomberg Muse today. You can read it here.