The Tragedy of Losing Vivek Wadhwa as an Ally

I don’t know how many of you have actually met or worked with Vivek Wadhwa.

I have known him for several years, having first met him at Singularity University in Silicon Valley. When we met we discussed the discrimination he faced in America as an Indian immigrant, and how those challenges parallel those women face.

Wadhwa is one of the few men I know who has done more than just talk about gender discrimination. In the summer of 2013, Wadhwa led a crowdfunding campaign with Farai Chideya, an African American female journalist, NYU professor, and political commentator. Their mission was to raise money from the public to produce a book about how women are fueling innovation. Over $45k was raised and Google for Entrepreneurs matched the amount.

Over 300 women came forward to serve as Ambassadors for the project, and over 200 women were interviewed by female researchers for the book. I was asked to contribute alongside Whitney Johnson, Heidi Roizen, Megan Smith, and many other women in the field of technology and innovation. A private TIE group was established for women to share our stories and to discuss our thoughts about innovation. The discussion among the women was vibrant and provocative. Wadhwa was the driving force behind this conversation and community.

At the end of the research, Wadhwa and Chideya read and edited all of the submissions, producing the book Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Women in Technology. It was released last fall with successful events on the East and West coasts. Wadhwa did none of this for profit. The Innovating Women website made clear that 100% of book proceeds would go to women’s technologies and start ups. He used his personal email list to ask for money for Innovating Women, and was not paid for this work.

Wadhwa is eminently qualified to speak on this topic as he understands discrimination on a personal level, has listened to accounts from hundreds of women in the trenches, and has done academic research. He can speak to trends in the industry as a whole in contrast to others who can comment only on their own personal situation.

In the past few weeks there have been attacks on Wadhwa as a man who is frequently interviewed by media to comment on the topic of gender discrimination in tech. Many of the reports in the media have focused on whether he should be a spokesperson and question his motives. Wadhwa became a spokesperson by default—he never set out for this role. He is credible, quotable, and controversial, and had important things to say.

The articles I have read in the NYT and other outlets in the last week never even bothered to interview even one of the hundreds of women who were interviewed for the book or volunteered to serve as Ambassadors. This is journalism with a one-sided point of view and/or superficial reporting.

We need all the champions of women in tech we can get. Wadhwa speaks with authority because he understands the evils of discrimination and has listened to hundreds of women. He is authentic and a person who puts his time and money behind what he believes in, in contrast to others who are happy to say they support women and never lift a finger.

It is a sad day when men who help women and have so much to offer are personally attacked to the point where they are pushed away to focus on other matters. It is women who will lose the most from the loss of Wadhwa as a vocal supporter of gender equality. The real, systemic problems of gender discrimination in tech have become highjacked by the politics of who can speak for whom. Finally, women have lost an important ally.

What kind of a message does this give to other men who want to champion women?