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Did Former Reddit CEO, Ellen Pao, Take the Fall for Someone Else’s Screw-Up?



Soo…remember how Ellen Pao got a lot of crap for standing up against gender discrimination in the workplace? Then, remember how she got a lot of crap for firing popular Reddit employee, Victoria Taylor? Well, according to former Reddit CEO, Yishan Wong, Pao may not have had anything to do with handing down that decision, and may have undeservedly taken the fall.

As reported by The Daily Dot, Reddit co-founder and Board chairman, Alexis Ohanian, made this statement on Reddit over the weekend:

Ellen is a class act. I have gotten to know Ellen well as we’ve worked closely together over the past eight months and I’m impressed by her hard work and integrity as she’s strived to do what’s right for both reddit the company and reddit the community. I have admired her fearlessness and calm throughout our time together and look forward to following her impact on Silicon Valley and beyond. It was my decision to change how we work with AMAs and the transition was my failure and I hope we can keep moving forward from that lesson. Today was another step. I’m really excited to be working with Steve again and appreciate what Ellen did during her time here.

So wait, you’re saying that the decisions re: how you work with AMAs, including, but not limited to Taylor’s dismissal, was your decision? That’s weird, because from the looks of the entire internet, it seemed like everyone was blaming Pao for it – on the heels of chastising her for daring to fight gender discrimination, no less. Pao herself even apologized, albeit vaguely (and now we may know why). Where was this statement back when Taylor was first fired? But, you know, it’s totally cool that you get to work with your pal again in the meantime, so I guess we should all just forget about it and move on?

I’m not the only one asking these questions. Former Reddit CEO, Wong, who left the company last year, had this to say about Ohanian’s statement:

I’m glad redditors have started to piece together all of this. Here’s the only thing you’re missing:

It travels upstream, except when it comes from the CEO’s boss.

Alexis wasn’t some employee reporting to Pao, he was the Executive Chairman of the Board, i.e. Pao’s boss. He had different ideas for AMAs, he didn’t like Victoria’s role, and decided to fire her. Pao wasn’t able to do anything about it. In this case it shouldn’t have traveled upstream to her, it came from above her.

Then when the hate-train started up against Pao, Alexis should have been out front and center saying very clearly “Ellen Pao did not make this decision, I did.” Instead, he just sat back and let her take the heat. That’s a stunning lack of leadership and an incredibly shitty thing to do.

I actually asked that he be on the board when I joined; I used to respect Alexis Ohanian. After this, not quite so much.

There was a bit more back-and-forth between them, where Ohanian reminded Wong that even though he was Chairman of the Board, he still reported to Pao. Wong then wrote:

I can lighten up a bit…given that in-one-capacity you weren’t her boss, but I am still extremely disappointed in you.

It wasn’t “we didn’t handle it well” – Ellen actually handled things very well, and with quite a bit of grace given the prejudices arrayed against her and the situation she was put in – you didn’t handle it well. There was tremendous amounts of unnecessary damage done as a result, and we are only able to say that things might turn out ok because Huffman agreed to return and take up the mantle.

This entire situation seems extremely unfortunate. All the more unfortunate, considering that these tensions within Reddit seem to go back a long way – long before Pao even arrived on the scene. Now, it just looks like the organization lost two talented women for no real good reason, and that a female CEO of color who fought gender discrimination and tried to improve people’s experience on Reddit by shutting down abusive hate subreddits like /FatPeopleHate has been replaced by an old-school white guy returning to appease Reddit’s overwhelmingly white, male user base.

So much for the Internet being for everyone.

(via The Daily Dot, Image via Christopher Michel on Flickr)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.