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A Star Witness for Both Sides? Somehow John Doerr Makes Both Ellen Pao and Kleiner Perkins Look Good.

Two sides of the same coin.


In an odd way, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers leader John Doerr became the star witness for both sides in the Ellen Pao gender discrimination and retaliation case — today, he shone for the defense.

Over two days of testimony, Kleiner Perkins’ legal defense team was able to use him as the best example of someone at the firm who has a sustained record of supporting women in technology.

Doerr knows exactly the right things to say about the value of women in these crucial roles. “The number of women in venture capital is pathetic,” he said, because the products that VCs fund are used by women, and often more than half of their customers are women.

Doerr added: “I don’t advocate for women out of a sense of social justice, though I think that’s important. I believe groups make better decisions when they are more diverse, in gender, age and ethnicity.” And: “I think it’s very important to have several female leaders on the boards of companies. It sends an important message to the entire company about diversity, beyond decision making.” And one more: “I have the same high bar whether the person is female or male. I just want to get the best people to lead these companies. Almost always, women are better leaders than men.”

These statements could very well be made by the leader of a discriminatory workplace who has been coached to talk the talk. But they still sounded good for Kleiner Perkins.

Doerr verified on the stand that he had over the years considered Ellen Pao an exceedingly strong contributor at Kleiner Perkins. That’s a valuable endorsement from one of the most powerful men in venture capital and perhaps the whole technology industry. Pao had started at Kleiner Perkins as Doerr’s chief of staff in 2005, and worked in that role for some five years before she was promoted to an investing role, which she held until she was fired in 2012 (after she had filed suit against the firm). Various people, including Pao herself, have described her as Doerr’s “surrogate daughter.”

Even as his partners lost faith in Pao much more quickly — calling her territorial and untrustworthy, and criticizing her lack of “domain expertise” and “thought leadership” (which appear to be the firm’s favorite buzzwords) — Doerr defended her. He forwarded emails praising her to the rest of the firm, he wrote highly complimentary recommendation letters on her behalf, and he helped turn around a negative performance review that would have essentially asked Pao to prepare to leave the firm — until he got involved.

“I was very loyal to Ellen, and I generally took her side of things,” Doerr said on the stand. In the performance review dispute, he said, “They all voted that she not stay. I was the only vote for her.”

Doerr saw flaws in Pao’s behavior even in the early days, and though he probably doesn’t feel as positive about her today, he’s been clear to stand by his praise, even as it is read back to him by Pao’s attorney. He no doubt regrets defending Pao through the years, given the situation he’s in now: Dragged into court, seeing his team dynamic dissected, and showing internal firm documents to the public. If he hadn’t stood by her so steadfastly, none of this would have happened.

And all the while, he was sitting in the witness chair just a few feet from Pao, his former mentee and “surrogate daughter.”

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