The glitter of Silicon Valley hides its grimmest secret: it is brazenly biased towards men, who hire and push men like themselves, and who invest in men like themselves.
Women are typically not welcome despite marquee exceptions such as Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s high-profile “Lean In” COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Apple, the world’s best known technology company, had no women in its top executive team till recently. And Twitter admitted one after a bruising public storm.
“Innovating women: The changing face of technology”, a book by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya due out this week, seeks to end that party with a granular look from the inside.
“You expect women to be at a disadvantage in conservative societies, but not in the most open and innovative place on this planet: Silicon Valley,” said Wadhwa, an IT entrepreneur turned academic, in an interview.
He added: “I was surprised to see how few women were on boards, in management positions, running startup companies. I was shocked to hear the heart-wrenching stories that women told me about how they had been treated by venture capitalists, managers, peers. They had been talked down to, humiliated, and physically assaulted. Again, this is California—you would never expect something like this here.”
His last book was on how US was unable to hold on to the best and brightest foreign students graduating from its universities because of its broken immigration system.
The book was an instant success — made it to The Economist’s Books of the Year for 2012 list — and Wadhwa became a regular at hearings and discussions on immigration.
His next project, which turned into a book later, came to him at an Oscars-like event for the tech industry in 2009. Both he and his wife were struck by the absence of women there.
But telling that to the industry was quite another matter.
Even friends questioned his motives when he first wrote about it in a column in 2010. He was called a “fraud”, someone looking for easy success.
Now, the book. And he is prepared for the worst.
Are Indian Americans, who are among the drivers of the IT industry, any better on this count? “Indian-Americans are no better than Americans are. In fact, some of the biggest sexists are Indian as are some of the best role models,” said Wadhwa.
And the situation in India is no better. But, he added, “The good news is that there are proportionately many more women in the lower ranks of IT than in the US, so this gives India a long-term advantage.”