Ellen Pao gender-bias lawsuit is a setback for women

The jury is deliberating in the lawsuit of Ellen Pao, a former junior partner of Silicon Valley heavyweight venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins, who is suing the firm for gender-based discrimination. I am a huge proponent of women in business and believe that from technology firms to public company boards, women are severely underrepresented. However, I think that regardless of the outcome, Ellen Pao's lawsuit is frivolous and moreover, a setback for professional women.

Ellen Pao arrives at San Francisco Superior Court, March 24, 2015.
Robert Galbraith | Reuters
Ellen Pao arrives at San Francisco Superior Court, March 24, 2015.

First, I am going to say to Pao and other financial-services workers the same thing that I have said to minimum-wage workers and everyone in between: nobody owes you a job.

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A job is an exchange of services on one side for compensation on the other. If that exchange is not working for either side, then move on. If you don't like how you are being treated, what you are getting paid, your opportunities, your co-workers or any other aspect of where you are working, leave and get a new job or start your own business. That's what America and the free markets should be about. And with more than six million employers in the U.S. alone, plus myriad cross-border employers and entrepreneurial opportunities, you have more opportunities that you could ever handle to find a better fit for you, regardless if you feel you were being treated "unfairly" by your previous employer.

There's also a bigger issue at play. There's a bona fide problem with the underrepresentation of women in senior business roles across industries, but especially in financial services and technology. This isn't an issue because of some moral need to fill arbitrary quotas, but because women bring a different and highly valuable perspective to business, especially given their influence as consumers. Plus, there is a bevy of statistics showing how successful companies who put women in senior roles and on corporate boards become. However, the way to deal with the lack of women in these roles it isn't through legislation and the accompanying lawsuits, but by continuing to create awareness not only about the issues, but also highlighting the factual, numbers-based beneficial results.

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If Pao wins her lawsuit — and frankly, even just from her bringing such a lawsuit to bear — she actually creates an additional handicap for women to overcome. It will give those in Silicon Valley and elsewhere pause and concern when hiring women because of an unfair potential liability. Why hire someone who you are concerned could sue you by playing the gender card if things didn't work out?

If Pao wanted to bring attention to the challenges women face getting ahead or making it in Silicon Valley, she could have authored an article, gone on a media tour or even sued for the grand sum of $1, underscoring that her primary intention was to make a point. Or, she could have gone elsewhere and competed against her previous firm, become wildly successful and used herself as a case study of why it's important to nurture women in business. Success is truly the best revenge.

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As a former officer of an investment-banking firm and a former public company director, I know firsthand about the challenges for women in both obtaining and navigating high-level business positions. So, I will continue to highlight the success stories of women and the businesses that they have positively impacted. I will also continue to advocate for women taking on leadership roles in business, as well as for tech firms, venture capitalists, private-equity firms, boards and others to leverage the benefits of the many women powerhouses out there. But I will not defend this lawsuit — or any "victory" — as some sort of champion of the cause of women; it's bad for everyone other than Ellen Pao.

Commentary by Carol Roth, a "recovering" investment banker (corporate finance), entrepreneur/small-business owner, investor and author of "The Entrepreneur Equation." Follow her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth.