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There is a new controversy brewing about whether a man should be allowed to comment on the challenges that women in technology face. A podcast on WNYC’s TLDR blog site raised issue with my being quoted in a cover story in Newsweek about Silicon Valley’s sexism. The podcast, which was removed Wednesday, by WNYC, made many false assertions about my intentions and values. It was extremely hurtful and damaging. I was never asked in advance to respond to the many allegations in it, despite their serious nature.

WNYC Vice President Jim Schachter did call me after the podcast was removed to acknowledge that they had made a mistake by not asking me to comment. I thought we had an understanding that WNYC would allow me to respond in the form of a blog post on their Web site. But a day and a half after I sent a response, they informed me that they would not publish it. I had also asked for the podcast to be reinstated so that people could form their own judgment on its merits, but they have also refused to do this. Note that I had never asked for it to be removed—I believe that everyone is entitled to express their opinions.

The podcast can however be found here and I encourage you to listen to it so you can understand the issues.

1. “Vivek Wadhwa is the guy who gets paid to talk about women in tech.”

I have never accepted any form of payment from any organization for speaking on diversity (including women in tech). I have instead asked companies to donate what they would have paid me to women’s organizations or to buy a few copies of my book Innovating Women. On one occasion, Politico reimbursed me part of my airfare ($500) to Washington D.C. to speak at their Women Rule event and they provided a hotel room.

I have advised several CEOs on diversity. In every case, I asked that they donate to groups such as Women 2.0, Anita Borg Institute, National Center for Women & Information Technology, and Black Girls Code. One of these companies made a six-figure dollar donation to Women 2.0.

The truth on Innovating Women.

I invested about $40,000 of my own money in research that was conducted at Stanford and Duke, over a two-year period, on women in innovation. Kauffman Foundation also provided some of the funding for this research. To bring to life the voices of women all over the world, I decided to crowdcreate a book with the help of women. I launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund this book, Innovating Women. Here is what was committed on Indiegogo on the profits from the book:

In addition to the matching funds by Google for Entrepreneurs and book sales and royalties, all Indiegogo funds raised for the Innovating Women campaign in excess of operational costs will be used to support women to learn about advancing technologies at Singularity University’s Graduate Studies Program and in the Singularity University Labs accelerator. Lynn Tilton’s contribution of $9,000 will also be used for the women’s education and accelerator programs. All together, these funds will be split 50/50 between the two programs.

Here is what is written on the front page of the Innovating Women Web site:

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to a fund at Singularity University to educate women about advancing technologies & to fund their start-ups.

The contract with Diversion Books (the publisher of Innovating Women) requires 100% of the proceeds to be deposited into Silicon Valley Community Foundation—a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  I have no access to this money and the funds will only be used as committed.

2. I am trading up the chain. “That is basically what it looks like he did,” they say on the podcast. “He got to VentureBeat and TechCrunch and then he got named Time Tech 40 the most influential minds in tech 2013, like you can’t make that [expletive] up. From there he’s gone to write for the Wall Street Journal about us. He’s written two different articles about women in tech at least.”

Venturebeat and TechCrunch weren’t my start. And I received significant recognition and had a writing platform long before I co-authored Innovating Women.

I became a BusinessWeek columnist in 2004, wrote my first Wall Street Journal oped in 2008, began writing regularly for TechCrunch in 2009, and Washington Post and VentureBeat in 2011. My Washington Postarticles are syndicated to hundreds of newspapers worldwide on the Bloomberg-Washington Post News Service. Huffington Post also started syndicating my articles last year. I have also written for Inc., PBS Newshour, MIT Technology Review, Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, Times of India, ASEE Prism Magazine, MSNBC and many other publications.

In Feb. 2012, the U.S. government awarded me distinguished recognition as an “Outstanding American by Choice”— for my “commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans.” I was named by Foreign Policy Magazine as a Top 100 Global Thinker in 2012. The Economistnamed my book, Immigrant Exodus, a book of the year in 2012. In 2000, Forbes had named me as a “leader of tomorrow”.

I held positions at Harvard Law School, Duke University, UC-Berkeley, Emory University, and Stanford Law School. I was a VP of technology at Credit Suisse First Boston and founded two software companies. We took my first company public in 2005 when it had yearly revenues of $120M. My companies raised more than $100 million in capital from private and public sources.

I have been featured in thousands of articles in top publications worldwide since 1990 and have been on shows such as 60 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, and CBS Morning News. I have testified to the Senate and House on several occasions and have spoken in front of several world leaders.

3. “He has written two articles about women in tech, at least”

I have actually authored more than 75 articles on this subject since 2006—when I first became aware of these issues. Some can be found here.

4. The podcast says that I believe that women understate their accomplishments.

This is not an opinion, but a conclusion drawn from research. In two major research projects I have undertaken, I surveyed and interviewed more than 1,000 women from all over the world. What I learned was that first-time women entrepreneurs need encouragement, support, and mentoring.

Here are two widely cited papers published by Kauffman Foundation that are based on my research and may help to explain my conclusions:

Are Successful Women Entrepreneurs Different From Men?  and

Sources of Economic Hope: Women’s Entrepreneurship

Note that the second paper acknowledges that it is based on my research, but does not list me as an author. I wanted all of the credit to go to the women who helped me analyze the data and to Kauffman Foundation.

5. The podcast claims that, “He is taking up space and sucking all the air out of the room” by speaking on the subject of women in tech.

Much of this controversy started because I was featured in the Newsweek cover story about sexism in tech. Some women believe I, a man, should not have been quoted in this because a woman would have been quoted had I not been. I don’t believe this to be the case and I did refer the author Nina Burleigh, to other women, including Heidi Roizen, who was featured in the story.

I regularly refer journalists who contact me to women in tech. I have chosen not to be quoted or mentioned in the vast majority of articles that I helped journalist with. I explain to them the background of the issue, send them copies of Innovating Women, and tell them who to speak to.

I have never claimed to speak for women but only about my research into the issues of gender discrimination in the technology industry.

6. The podcast describes “my tendency to [direct message]” on Twitter.  “It really feels like the Twitter DM can be like the hand on the knee of social communication”.

Only on one occasion have I had a conversation such as this with a woman on Twitter DM—which is the equivalent of email. This was with Kelly Ellis—who was mentioned in the TLDR podcast. Kelly first sent me 12 messages which raised issue with my name being on the cover of Innovating Women, questioning where the funds from the book were going, and criticizing me for comments I had made. I responded to several of these in the public forum. Then Ellis followed me on Twitter. Rather than continue to engage in a public spat, I asked her via DM to come and speak to me in person at Stanford Law School, where like other professors, I hold regular office hours for students.

My message to her was “Kelly, please visit me when you are at Stanford next. I really feel bad about all this and would love to learn more.”  I sincerely believed that a discussion would be more productive than bantering in 140 characters.

7. The podcast mischaracterizes a line from a VentureBeat column of mine, “Let the boys have their social media while women save the world.” This is supposedly discouraging to women.

The VentureBeat article was the summary of a TEDx Bay Area talk that I had given, on why the future belongs to women. The article explained:

In these rapidly evolving fields, the young male college dropouts who excel at social-media app-building have no advantage. Those with experience and education — particularly in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — have the edge because they can work across disciplines and see the big picture.

Women are primed to lead in this new era. Girls now match boys in mathematical achievement. In the U.S., 140 women enroll in higher education for every 100 men. Women earn more than 50 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and nearly 50 percent of all doctorates. Women’s participation in business and MBA programs has grown more than five-fold since the 1970s, and the increase in the number of engineering degrees granted to women has grown almost tenfold…

At the upcoming Women 2.0 “the next billion” conference, I will be presenting the results of our new research on women in tech. My team at Stanford and Lesa Mitchell of Kauffman Foundation surveyed 500 women entrepreneurs to learn what motivates them and why they took the leap into entrepreneurship. This will also provide insights into a book I am writing on how to encourage more women to become entrepreneurs, to think big, and to help solve humanity’s grand challenges. It is they who are going to save the world, after all.

8. The podcast claims that Innovating Women’s Web site does not list the names of the women who contributed to it.

Wrong. There is a long list of contributors here and here.

9. I’m accused of taking credit for the work of U.S. CTO Megan Smith and Google’s Mary Grove in aHuffington Post column.

My columns almost always originate at The Washington Post, which was the case with this piece.  TheHuffington Post then publishes these 24 hours later. I do not control how these are posted. The byline and headline are not in my hands. The column appeared on The Washington Post with Smith and Grove’s bylines. The Huffington Post piece did list my name, but had a clear acknowledgment at the beginning of the article that this was an excerpt from Innovating Women and was written by Smith and Grove.

***

I became involved with the battle for diversity because I really believed in the cause. It is my intention to keep fighting this battle and to keep speaking about my research and what I believe to be right. This is a fundamental issue of equality and a necessity for our economic competitiveness.

 

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  • sudeep_kumar

    As a software engineer with a passing interest in social issues, if I am ever given half a choice about the issue, I am now determined to never invite a raging feminist into my team. Anything that you say or do will be used to make the most vile accusations against you with absolutely no consequence for the person making the accusations, all because there is a social problem that you had no hand in creating!

    Do people honestly think that nerds created this shortage of women in tech? A social process that is 25+ years long and results in gender disparity at its end is a fault of people whose only act is to hire bright people coming out of universities? There is surely subtle discrimination against women, and I dont like it, but as far as I am concerned, associating with a feminist in a workplace can be severely injurious to my career and well being. Enough.

  • Anon.e.mouse

    Vivek,

    First, you made a big mistake by actually responding and going on to defend yourself on the podcast. No one knew (I certainly didn’t) about this podcast and its producers before, and now a lot of people do — which is probably exactly what they wanted. I don’t think it was good judgment on your part.

    Second, in criticism of your work, whether on women in tech, or the H-1B cap issue, there is very often this implicit reference to the fact that you are not American by birth. Something tells me that you are a much easier target for criticism and ridicule because of the fact that you are not Caucasian.

    Third, the whole “hand on the knee” business is infuriating. I would seriously consider filing a defamation suit if I were you.

  • Has it ever occurred to you that by supporting H1B visas and the work you do, especially trying to help women you may be discriminating against hard working WASP men that may deserve just as much of a chance? The FBI alone kills many of these WASPs careers. I wouldn’t ask you to get into that one. Instead, I advise you take a well deserved rest. Take a vacation if you will. Think things through. Just work on number one – your own career since that is what they are complaining you are doing. I wouldn’t know what was said on your podcast because I don’t even listen to podcasts in computer and network security (what I stupidly thought I should do). Right this second thousands of computers running Windows and a goodly amount of people loading CentOS or some other Linux distro with a web-server and no protection are being hacked. But I finally learned one thing. People want it that way! As strange as it may seem, they love getting their machines infected! So I butt out and let them infect their own machines and services. Note that is both gender and race neutral; many that are going the wrong way in computer security are WASPS. There are some things you cannot do anything to make things better no matter how hard you try. Don’t try to teach the pig to sing …

  • Linnsey

    “Some women believe I, a man, should not have been quoted in this because a woman would have been quoted had I not been.”
    That’s a bit asinine. Whoever has the best argument, study, or sound bite should be the one quoted. Please let’s avoid having all-male panels on the topic, but this is your battle too. Everyone benefits by having more engineers and greater diversity leads to new applications and insights.

    The idea that men shouldn’t speak on this topic is wrong headed. It’s not gender that’s the problem, it’s experience. If you’re going to speak as an expert on something that is outside the realm of personal experience, you need to make sure what you’re saying is grounded in actual fact and accurately resulting from other’s personal experience or from well designed and executed studies. You need the humility to continually question your assumptions and the sympathy to actually listen to those affected. This is what every good Scientist, Journalist and Engineer needs to do to succeed. It’s far harder than it sounds, but in the end this is almost basic social skills. To survive in a cooperative world we all need to get good at empathy and listening.

  • Peter Zafirides, MD

    Mr. Wadhwa: I wanted you to be aware of a comment I left on the TLDR website after Episode 45/46. I hope they post it.

    Kindly,
    Peter Zafirides

    —————-

    Should ‘On The Media’ Fire Meredith Haggerty As Host Of TLDR?

    I was horrified for TLDR when I listened to Episode 45.
    There are ominous concerns, implications and biases that Ms. Haggerty clearly
    revealed in her “reporting” in Ep. 45. I believe there should be serious
    consideration at On The Media to consider removing Meredith Haggerty from the
    host position of TLDR after Ep. 45 and 46.

    1) Does Ms. Haggerty’s believe male academics studying
    women’s issues should have a “quieter” voice in the discussion of women’s
    issues simply because of their gender – and not the QUALITY of their research?

    Is this not an absolute hypocrisy of the entire goal of
    gender equality?

    Cannot a case be made that Mr. Whadwa (by virtue of the
    production of research in women’s studies) may be fairly considered a male
    feminist? I hope (intentionally chosen word to those at On The Media, not
    “trust”) Ms. Hagerty has considered the actual existence of male
    feminists?

    As a psychiatrist, I see the ravages of gender inequality in
    my female patients – both physically and emotionally – every day in my
    practice. It is horrific and heartbreaking. We need to (by any avenue possible)
    continue the discussion of gender inequality in our country. Any researcher and
    who forwards the understanding of gender inequality deserves to be heard – IRRESPECTIVE
    OF GENDER.

    In my heart, I believe that the embarrassment created by Ms.
    Hagerty’s hypocrisy and clear bias was the principal reason Ep. 45 was taken
    down. Beyond the cowardice shown by OTM in taking down the episode (Why not
    just do Ep. 46 and leave Ep. 45 up for the listeners to decide?) I believe the
    show was removed less for “Fairness” Issues (hilarious excuse, by the way). It
    was pulled because it embarrassed TLDR and On The Media.

    2. Chilling Effect / Reverse Effect

    By the end of this episode and in the week of reflection that
    followed, I realized that the marginalization and reduction of an individual based
    on gender is not a one-way street. Ms. Hagerty used the TLDR podcast as her
    bully pulpit. I feel she betrayed basic journalistic principles. She
    betrayed her listeners (of whom I was one) that expected more from her. But
    most of all, Ms. Hagerty betrayed her own personal beliefs, as is evidenced by
    the hypocritical stance she took on Ep. 45 with regards to gender equality.

    While I loved TLDR – especially after Ms. Hagerty took over
    as the host – I believe that the best way to vote my opinion (other than this
    letter) is to unsubscribe from the podcast. And while TLDR has likely gained a legion of subscribers over
    this controversy, please realize that it has done so on the shoulders of
    reverse sexism, conflict and reputational damage of one of the most prominent male
    voices (Mr. Wadhwa, a scientist and researcher) that is truly on your side in
    this debate.

    How proud you must feel.

    — Peter Zafirides, MD

    • Thank you, Peter. My response to the new podcast that they produced will be online tomorrow. They took things one step further by hurling new accusations at me and skillfully cutting and pasting parts of my interview to make me look angry and condescending. This is the worst of journalism.

      Vivek

      • Peter Zafirides, MD

        No need to thank me. I was appalled. As a scientist, you bring invaluable data to the debate. As a psychiatrist, it doesn’t surprise me to see this kind of behavior at all. Confirmation bias is endemic in “objective journalism” – whether overt or unconscious. It saddens me terribly to see emotion and bias so negatively impact a learned debate about gender inequality in this country.

        Try not to let this moment upset you too much. You have experienced the frailty of our existence with your heart problems. It has changed you, though, into a more fulfilled and content human being. While you may feel hurt emotionally and perhaps betrayed in this moment, don’t lose focus of your mission.

        I try my very best to live my life by Emerson’s quote: “Every Wall Is A Door”. We have the power (and the responsibility) to choose how adversity affects us. I would not have been aware of your work if it were not for the TLDR episode. I have unsubscribed from TLDR and have been fortunate to actually converse with you. In the case of my continuing education on the issue, I would argue the cause of gender equality has won as a result of this controversy.

        Every wall is a door, Vivek. Every wall is a door…

        –Peter

        • Thanks, Peter. Tomorrow I am announcing that I am exiting from this debate. I need to preserve my health and fight the next battles.

  • Amelia Cafferkey

    You had the right to be angry and talk over that incompetent journalist. True. Agreed. Just like men can be incompetent, women can be too. But the mob wants you to pussy foot around her incompetence just because she is a women. Did you get that? That is the world you live in. Otherwise, you are just fine. Carry on, or just take a vacation. These shit heads will be gone in 3 days. Thats how long Internet rage lasts.

    • Linnsey

      Anger and disrespect always makes a person look incompetent. It almost doesn’t matter if you’re right if your manner is so distracting no one hears what you said.

      The visual and the delivery can be as powerful as the argument. Yes, we’re particularly sick of seeing men shout down women, but in the modern era, losing your cool means losing the debate.

      (Note: I haven’t watched the podcast so I’m speaking only generally.)

  • Geoffrey Horning

    Those two podcasts were my introduction to you. The first had me wondering if you had any place in the conversation, the second convinced me completely that you do not. Wow, you were really horrible to her, repeatedly spoke over her and twice threatened her with the prospect of going to her bosses. So the initial podcast “had me wondering”, you yourself speaking “had me knowing”. What a piece of work you must be.

    • Anon

      Geoffrey, I disagree with most of what Wadwha has worked on and said. But ask yourself this, how will your tone be after you have been falsely and publicly accused of sexual harassment? I can’t imagine any falsely-accused person not going absolutely berserk….maybe the fact that you wouldn’t says something about you?

  • Merlen Schriefer

    Tldr screwed up. Vivek had a right to be angry. Irresponsible and apparently lazy journalists should be held to account.

  • Yikes

    Well, you came across like a total prick on the latest podcast. Spoke over her repeatedly and solidified a lot of the sentiment presented in their in initial podcast.

  • Moder Chod

    Vivek, how come we don’t hear you crowing about how awesome H1B’s are anymore, we really miss that a lot. Why don’t you go to Southern California Edison, and tell all the IT workers there how fantastic the whole H1B program is

  • THANK YOU VIVEK!!!