It takes a lot to shock Washington Post columnist and Singularity University distinguished scholar Vivek Wadhwa, but in researching and writing his new book about the problems women face in technology and business, “Innovating Women: the Changing Face of Technology,” he admits he was flummoxed.
“This whole experience in listening to the struggles and success of women has changed me,” the Indian American researcher told India-West. “Before I started researching the topic, I was largely ignorant. I thought there was no difference between men and women entrepreneurs,” he said.
“I was stunned to learn the stories of almost all great women — the discrimination they faced, the abuse they suffered, the hurdles they had to surmount to achieve success and the lack of recognition they have achieved.”
The book, which will be released Sept. 2, was co-written by journalist Farai Chideya. It is based on interviews with 500 women, of which about 100 are quoted in the book.
This is Wadhwa’s second book. His first, "The Immigrant Exodus,” demonstrated that foreign-born entrepreneurs were reshaping Silicon Valley by starting new technology companies. It opened some eyes, but this book will leave readers even more wide-eyed, he believes.
“I was shocked at how a couple of Silicon Valley’s moguls — who I used to hold in high regard and consider my friends — turned out to be small-minded sexists,” he told India-West in answer to e-mailed questions.
India-West readers will remember that Twitter chief executive officer Dick Costolo and Wadhwa had a testy exchange on Twitter after the Indian American writer had the temerity to knock Costello for the lack of women executives at the board level and top management at Twitter (I-W, Oct. 13, 2013).
Twitter is not the exception to the rule, Wadhwa’s new book points out. “I was disgusted with the way a few men reacted to my views. If I am experiencing such anger and resentment for supporting women, ‘imagine how women must feel,’ is what my wife, Tavinder, said to me.
“She has been the one pushing me to research this topic and be so outspoken about it. She says that we don’t have daughters, but hope to have daughters-in-law. I should do this for them and the women of the world. Very few have the platform that I do and are in a position to fight for change. That is why I am doing this and that is why the book…is so important.”
Women executives in India feature prominently in the book. “The second highest number of responses we got to our research were from India and the book has stories of many Indian women,” Wadhwa explained.
“Lakshmi Pratury, who runs the TED India affiliate, Ink India, contributed the most powerful essay. Many Indian women contributed their ideas to the book and the accompanying research…will be published by Kauffman Foundation.”
Asked if women in India face the same problems as do women in the U.S., he responded, “Yes, Indian women face the same problems. Our research showed, however, that women in Silicon Valley are increasingly gaining support and mentorship. India has not caught up yet.”
Wadhwa reiterated what he told reporters in India recently: “Indian boards are no better than the U.S. The majority of publicly traded Indian companies — 922 of 1,462 — have no women on their boards. Women hold barely 5% of board seats in India, in comparison with 17% in the United States.
“Indian industry too is needlessly holding itself back. Indian IT companies have a bigger management problem. Look at the executive ranks of Infosys, Wipro, TCS, Tech Mahindra, and the others, and you will hardly find any women. This is surely hurting Indian IT.”
But not all the news from India is negative.
“There is good news at the lower ranks,” Wadhwa said. “Unlike in the U.S., where, because of the boys’ club, the proportion of women studying computer science fell from 37% in 1987 to 17% in 2012, India’s numbers of female IT students are increasing.
“According to NASSCOM, IT services’ gender diversity ranges from 24-32%…One million of India's 3.1 million IT workforce is female and women now represent 38 to 40% of entry-level recruits.”
“Most surprising is the Indian financial services industry. It has an astonishing number of women CEOs,” Wadhwa said “There has never been a women CEO of an investment bank in the U.S.,” he added.
Even in Silicon Valley, “things are changing for the better,” Wadhwa said.
“There is outrage at the sexism that is coming to light in Silicon Valley; solutions are being discussed and implemented; women are beginning to help each other; and the venture-capital system is looking at itself critically and mending its ways.”
“I have learned that we have been holding back the most innovative, empathetic, and sensible half of our population,” Wadhwa told India-West.
“I have realized that in this new era of advancing technologies, women hold the key to solving humanity’s problems. That is the key message of the book. I expect it to inspire and motive thousands of women to think big and solve the world’s problems.”