Ellen Pao became a hero to many when she took on the entrenched sexist culture of Silicon Valley. But sentiment is a fickle thing.
Late Friday, she fell victim to a crowd demanding her ouster as chief executive of the popular social media site Reddit.
Ms Pao’s abrupt downfall in the face of a torrent of sexist and racist comments, many of them on Reddit itself, is quite likely to renew charges that bullying, harassment and cruel behavior are out of control on the internet - and that Silicon Valley’s well-publicised problem with gender and ethnic diversity in its workforce persists.
The debates over diversity in technology and invective on the internet have boiled over in the last year.
One reason is Ms Pao's lawsuit against her former employer, the venerable venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Her gender discrimination case failed to sway a jury, but did reveal a community that casually tolerated an atmosphere where women often seemed to be relegated to secondary roles.
The dispute at Reddit, which arose from the dismissal of a well-liked employee this month, drew much of its intensity from Ms Pao’s lawsuit - and her gender.
"The attacks were worse on Ellen because she is a woman," said Sam Altman, a member of the Reddit board. "And that's just a shame against humanity."
More than 213,000 people signed a petition demanding Ms Pao’s resignation. After her departure was announced, Reddit users celebrated in an over-the-top fashion. “Rejoice internet brethren,” wrote one. “The great evil has been slain.”
Ms Pao wrote in a Reddit post on Friday that in her eight months as chief executive, “I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.” She added that “the good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.”
She characterised her exit as a mutual agreement with the board after having differing views about the company’s future.
Ms Pao's departure from Reddit was prompted after the online message board's tight-knit community broke into upheaval when news broke that Victoria Taylor, a prominent Reddit employee, had been suddenly dismissed from the company this month with no public explanation.
Ms Pao apologised to the site’s members for the episode earlier this week.
At Reddit, Ms Pao will be replaced by Steve Huffman, the chief technology officer at Hipmunk, a travel search site.
Ms Pao said she would remain as an adviser to Reddit’s board for the remainder of the year.
New York Times