Vivek Wadhwa still fearless on the issue of women in tech

Vivek Wadhwa (photo by Halley Suitt Tucker)
Vivek Wadhwa (photo by Halley Suitt Tucker)

Something very big is happening in tech on Sept. 9, and I’m not talking about the Apple announcement. On Tuesday, a new book from Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya, Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology, is coming out. I caught up with him in Silicon Valley this week to talk about diversity in technology and hear more about the book.

It was particularly fun to meet him at the Menlo Park Starbucks as it’s essentially “ground zero” for the white male venture capitalists whose offices dot Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley. We were meeting on that exact street, though we’d actually met before in Cambridge.

“We met at Harvard Berkman,” I told him, “July 2010.”

“Right,” he said, “when I was there to talk about my research on gender and technology. And it was after I wrote that piece in February in TechCrunch, ‘Silicon Valley: You and Some of Your VC’s Have a Gender Problem.’ People around here were really furious at me for that. I was shocked at the reactions I got. I was attacked online over that.”

It seems so long ago now. The “gender gap” wasn’t even called that then. Vivek Wadwha was one of the first people to name it and research it. He was fearless then and still is. He met with fierce resistance and resentment from the same VCs who are standing politely in line for coffee a few feet away from us here.

I asked him why it seems to be taking off now.

“The tide has turned. The tech industry is hurting itself and our economy by keeping women out of innovation. It’s limiting itself by sexism. We need diversity now more than ever. In fact, the most important trends in technology now are about social connection and beautiful design. Women know all about that.”

“You can’t ignore the numbers that even as users, women are dominating gaming, social media, and online shopping. The idea of the old boys network funding young men to control these startups doesn’t make sense anymore.”

He makes it sound obvious. Not worthy of even arguing about.

“The world has big problems to solve. We need leaders who can identify and actually empathize with their constituencies, or, in terms of business, with their clients. We need empathy, which of course is something women are naturally able to incorporate in their leadership. Women care. Women want to fix things, make things better for others. Women are ready to take on the important problems technology can help solve. Silicon Valley is wasting time with funding silly little solutions. We don’t need any more young men writing brain-dead apps for other young men to say, ‘Yo’ to one another.”

As for diversity, he explains that the book is a collection of voices. He says that as a man he has no business telling women what to do, and decided to crowdfund the project on Indiegogo, pulling together a collection of women’s voices on the subject of innovation, including a chapter by Megan Smith, who was just appointed the US chief technology officer.

“Silicon Valley likes to talk about making a pivot — shifting directions when a company needs to take a new approach. They are about to make a very big pivot. They need to bring diversity into startups, boardrooms, and investment firms now. I’m optimistic about it. It’s happening. Women are changing things.”

Halley Suitt Tucker is an author, entrepreneur, TechStars alum, and two-time successful Kickstarter campaigner. She lives in Arlington.
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