Indian-American behind outrage over Twitter's gender skew

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Oct 08, 2013 23:06 IST

Days after making headlines with its upcoming IPO, Twitter finds itself embroiled in an unseemly controversy over the lack of women on its board and in senior positions.

Vivek Wadhwa, an Indian-American technology entrepreneur and academic, was the man who wrote about Twitter's gender-challenged board in a New York Times article.

"The fact that they went to the IPO without a single woman on the board, how dare they?" Wadhwa said in the article, blasting the "elite arrogance of the ... Twitter Mafia."

Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO who tweets frequently and is known for his sharp put-downs, shot back in, what else, a tweet: “Vivek Wadhwa is the Carrot Top of academic sources.”

Carrot Top is the stage name of Scott Thompson, an American comedian with red hair. But Costolo, a former stand up comic himself, was not being funny this time.

“He is on the defensive and because he did not have anything good to say, he just attacked me personally,” Wadhwa told Hindustan Times in a phone interview.

There is no woman on Twitter’s seven-member board, none among its investors and none in its senior staff apart from recently appointed general counsel Vijaya Gadde.

And the charge has stuck, helped in no small way by Costolo’s vicious attack on Wadhwa, who said he was taken aback by the media storm raging around the issue.

He had back-to-back media interviews with Bloomberg TV, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal on Monday. And 40 articles to date, Wadhwa has counted. “I am shocked”.

The controversy found a mark because Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg notwithstanding, women are significantly missing from IT top order.

Wadhwa has been campaigning for more diversity in the “male-dominated” Silicon Valley, which, he has said, also keeps out minorities such African Americans and Hispanics.

But one battle at a time: it’s women for now. He plans to highlight the issue in a book based on crowd-sourced accounts from women he has invited to participate in the project.

“Indians and Indian Americans were in a similar position 20 years ago,” Wadhwa said. They were at the receiving end of discrimination by the same group of “arrogant power brokers”.

Indians pulled themselves out of it, he argued, by helping each other through an informal brotherhood, a network. And Silicon Valley hall of fame is full of such stories.

“Now Indians are part of that same Mafia.”

Vinod Khosla, former Sun Microsystems co-founder and a Silicon Valley leader, retweeted Costolo’s post comparing Wadhwa to Carrot Top. Was that an endorsement?

Wadhwa refused to comment or discuss it.

But he said this entire controversy will have only one ending, and a happy one at that, with Twitter quietly installing a woman on its board a few months down the road.

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