And just like that, Reddit—Reddit, of all companies—has a female CEO. Nitasha Tiku at Valleywag reports that Yishan Wong resigned as Reddit CEO, leaving Ellen Pao, the head of business and partnerships, to take over as interim CEO. Lead investor Sam Altman announced that Wong voluntarily left over a dispute over office space. As for Pao, Altman says, “Because of her combination of vision, execution, and leadership, I expect that she’ll do an incredible job.”
Wong presided over a rough time in Reddit’s history. The website has been at the center of many scandals that make investors nervous, several involving gross and sexist behavior from some users, like the sharing of celebrities’ stolen naked photos and misogynist subreddits devoted to harassing women. While Wong doesn’t dispute Altman’s story about office location, he says there was more to his decision to resign than that. “The job as CEO of reddit is incredibly stressful and draining,” he writes in an explanation published at Forbes. “After two and a half years, I’m basically completely worn out, and it was having significantly detrimental effects on my personal life.”
This stress and these difficulties are why it’s hard to feel too much excitement over a woman taking the reins. As Bryce Covert wrote for Slate in March, “Evidence suggests that women are more likely to get promoted into leadership during particularly dicey times; then, when fortunes go south, the men who helped them get there scatter and the women are left holding the bag.” Just to give more weight to suspicions that Pao is standing on a glass cliff, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who has returned to the company as executive chairman, told the Wall Street Journal, “This is technically Ellen’s job to lose.” (He later backtracked on Twitter, saying the quote was “out of context” and “I have total confidence in Ellen as CEO and I’m grateful we have her.”)
Taking a more charitable view, perhaps having a woman in charge of a site that is, among other things, a stomping ground for misogynists will have a positive effect. And not just any woman: Pao has a history of confronting sexism in the real world. In 2012, she sued Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for sexual harassment and discrimination. She could be CEO of Reddit when that suit goes to trial.
Look, there are great things on Reddit—I’m a fan of the Game of Thrones fan forums, for instance. But if it ever wants to expand beyond its sewer-dwelling reputation, it’s going to have to be more aggressive in policing the worst impulses of its users. Hopefully Pao will do better on this than Wong did.