"Is this the trial of the century?" asked Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal each time I went on his radio show to discuss Ellen Pao's gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against her former employer Kleiner Perkins.
I wasn't sure how to answer that. In a sense it's a ridiculous question (no offense to Kai). It is not hard to think of cases that have set more important legal precedents in the fields of both employment and technology. This was a trial at a San Francisco city courthouse. It wasn't even a federal case.
But then why were Nellie Bowles and I covering it so closely for Re/code?
Ultimately, it's because the Pao/Kleiner Perkins trial was not setting a legal precedent, but a public discussion precedent. While we didn't know that would be the case going in, we dug in and committed to daily reports when we realized what was going on.
Because at the core, the trial provoked many people, both inside the technology world and outside, to think about the mechanics of how an elite gender-imbalanced world works.
Consider the optimistic estimate of venture capital, as presented by a Kleiner Perkins expert at the trial, that six percent of investors are women. That's simply terrible. VCs are the powerful funding sources behind the technology that helps define our modern lives and they should better represent the people who use that technology.
But that was true before the trial. From the onset, Kleiner Perkins' public image was battered by Pao's lawsuit, and the venture capital world had a terrible record on including women.
What the trial did change is how those issues resonated, as it dragged everyone through the excruciating details of Pao's tenure at Kleiner Perkins and made us turn the prickly and complex situations over in our own minds.
Each day brought a new piece of the puzzle, whether it was a salacious incident, a questionable performance review, or when two people had entirely different recollections of a conversation they both participated in.
Those of us following the trial day by day in person or by reading reports had to consider how a person's personality plays into their ability to fit into an elite club. It made us think through how we'd handle subtle situations that could be seen completely differently through different people's eyes. It made us reevaluate the ground rules for ambition.
At times it was like we were all in a "Lean In" book club together, discussing the themes of the famous book about women in the workplace by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — and that conversation included people who would never be caught dead reading "Lean In."
For me personally, it was a welcome opportunity to go deep on a topic and develop an educated perspective on it, something I'll be doing going forward in the form of a regular new column for Re/code about innovation and the impact of technology. In it, I hope to educate readers and even myself about what's really going on at the heart of Silicon Valley and beyond, trying to grok what's at the heart of perhaps the most important economic engine of this era. Like the Kleiner trial, it won't always be pretty; but like it too, it will not be something you can easily boil down to simple narratives and conclusions.
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