Features & Columns

WALKING THE LINE: TechCrunch's Michael Arrington asks Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to sign a Vogue magazine photo spread at last year's Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

It Starts from the Top

Twitter made big waves when it revealed its IPO filing in October 2013. This showed that all of Twitter's board members were male, as were all of its executives—other than one lawyer whom the company added a few weeks earlier—and all of its key investors.

It isn't about diversity for the sake of diversity. Having women on boards produces better outcomes. Companies with the highest proportions of women board directors outperform those with the lowest proportions by 53 percent. They have a 42 percent higher return on sales and a 66 percent higher return on invested capital.

Twitter handled this matter very badly—despite loud calls to add women to the board, they refused to budge for weeks. Finally, the company announced the addition of a board member: Marjorie Scardino, former chief executive of publishing giant Pearson. Since then, there has been a flurry of announcements of technology companies adding woman board members. Twitter's PR bungle may have accelerated important progress.

One woman board member isn't enough, however, no matter how competent or outspoken she is. Research shows that board productivity increases the most when there are three or more women on boards. So a lot more needs to be done at Twitter and other companies.

Correcting the Gender Gap

A common excuse for the lack of women in technology companies is that women simply aren't available. I heard the same from a startup, Humin, that I have been mentoring and joined the board of.

"We'd love to have women on our engineering team, but we just can't find any—no matter how hard we try. I know that we need to have a team that understands the product needs of more than just the young male user," said founder Ankur Jain.

"Not good enough; change the recruiting specs, network with women's groups, do whatever it takes," was my response.

And that is what they did. Humin's VP of product and engineering, Percy Rajani, revamped their interviewing process to look for top talent in unconventional places.

Humin did succeed in assembling an exceptional and diverse engineering team. By broadening their search process, they found a depth and breadth of female talent, especially among developers whose original background was in engineering fields outside of computer science. Today, six of Humin's engineering team of 18—or 33 percent—are women.

Xerox CTO Sophie Vandebroek also found a way to fix the gender balance in her team by doing in-college hiring and creating a culture and work environment that was appealing to women engineers. More than 40 percent of her teams' engineering departments hire women; in some years, it's more than 50 percent.

Fostering Entrepreneurship

Thirty years ago, there were hardly any Silicon Valley firms with Indian-born founders. UC-Berkeley's AnnaLee Saxenian documented that 7 percent of tech companies started in 1980 to 1998 had an Indian founder. A survey conducted by my research team at Duke University found that this proportion had increased to 13.4 percent from 1995 to 2005 and then to 15.5 percent in 2012.

Indian immigrants didn't have it easy. They suffered from the same types of stereotypes as women, African-Americans, and Hispanics. Despite having co-founded a software company that we took from startup to $120 million in revenue, profitability, and IPO in a record five years, I couldn't get Research Triangle Park (RTP) VCs to even return my phone calls when I was ready to start my second venture. I later found out why: "my people" were great at mathematics and made great engineers, but didn't make great CEOs—"we" didn't have the necessary management skills and couldn't "fit" into the rough-and-tough American business-management culture. That's what one RTP VC told me over lunch. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? My "people" didn't fit the pattern that VCs knew would lead to success.

So how did "my people" rise above ignorance and bigotry?

When the first generation of Indians in Silicon Valley succeeded in shattering the glass ceiling, they decided to help others follow their path.

In 1992, a number of highly successful Indian business executives formed a group called The Indus Entrepreneurs (which is now called TiE). Their mission was to give back to the community by fostering entrepreneurship. They would hold monthly events, teach entrepreneurship, and provide mentoring and support.

Women need to help one another, to have corporate leaders be personally involved in mentoring, proselytizing, and demonstrating by example a different model of investing in women and minority-group entrepreneurs. There is nothing more powerful within an organization than having its own CTO talk about the importance of, for example, promoting women.

And we need to have VCs mentor the women and minorities they typically ignore. They need to do this not only for social good, but also for their own survival.

This piece was excerpted from: Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya published Sept. 9, 2014 by Diversion Books $14.99 paperback/$9.99 Kindle edition on amazon.com

Vivek Wadhwa

Innovating women: The Changing Face of Technology
with BlogHer's Elisa Camahort Page

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