It was always a long shot.

The jury in Ellen Pao’s sex discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers had to find that Pao’s gender was the reason she didn’t ascend to the rarefied club of general partners at the vaunted venture capital firm.

They had to believe that the slights Pao experienced, the odd conversation about porn stars on a private jet and the boards she was left off, had a cumulative effect; that she couldn’t get ahead no matter what, because she is a woman.

They had to ignore her performance reviews, criticizing her for conflicts with other partners.

But they did not, on Friday, delivering a sweeping legal victory to Kleiner, and leaving Pao without the millions she sought.

That’s not the end of it, of course.

This trial resonated with many women in Silicon Valley, because they perceive the playing field isn’t level when it comes to getting a job at a tech company, earning a promotion, securing funding or working at a VC firm. And I’m pretty certain the outcome of this trial will not change their minds.

Pao was never the perfect plaintiff. And Kleiner, which claimed it was the best of the VC bunch on gender issues, wasn’t the best target.

But Pao’s suit highlighted an important question: Are Silicon Valley companies just paying lip service when they say they support women in tech, or are they taking action to change the working culture?

“If I have helped to level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it,” Pao said Friday after the verdict.

There is fear that with Pao’s loss, nothing has to change, several women told me. “I hope this loss does not lead anyone to think that gender discrimination isn’t a real problem with venture firms. It is,” said Robin Wolaner, chief operating officer of We Care Solar, a nonprofit.

Freada Kapor Klein, the co-chair of the Kapor Center, compared Pao to Anita Hill, who in 1991 testified at the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination, accusing him in a nationally televised hearing about his alleged sexual harassment.

Even though Thomas was confirmed, “that didn’t stop the avalanche of change that was triggered by the hearings,” said Klein. “I don’t think it’s possible to put the genie in the bottle now given what we have learned about venture capital and Silicon Valley.”

“The gig is up,” added Ann Skeet, the director of leadership ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. “Given all that was revealed in the case, we learned what a tough environment venture can be for women.”

So now what?

Pao will go back to her job at Reddit, the social media news site, as interim CEO. Kleiner will continue funding companies.

But the trial and its sordid details will linger, a blemish for Kleiner and another reminder of how far the tech industry, even at the highest levels, has to go to treat women as equals.

Pao may not have won her legal case. But if nothing else, her suit will be a significant step toward making sure that future Ellen Paos have the shot they deserve to succeed in the tech industry.

Contact Michelle Quinn at 510-394-4196 and Follow her at