Mar 20 2013
Paul Solman: Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa is a widely heard voice on the value of immigration for the U.S. economy. We first featured him a year ago in “Man v. Machine,” a story on the automation of work and did so again on this page last fall on the threat posed by a programmable robot named Baxter.
An immigrant himself (from India), Wadhwa used to think Silicon Valley was a a paragon of open access: talent like his would inevitably prevail. But he has been writing and speaking lately about the Valley’s “myth of meritocracy.” All, he realized, was not as it seemed, and he followed up his dawning disillusionment with research, which he will publish soon. But his findings seemed so noteworthy, I asked if he would share them with us at the NewsHour. And so he has.
Vivek Wadhwa: Visit any company in the Valley, and you’ll see that it resembles the United Nations. At the Google cafeteria, they always serve Indian, Chinese and Mexican food; hamburgers and hot dogs are nowhere to be found. Indeed, my research team documented that 52 percent of startups in Silicon Valley during the recent tech boom were founded by immigrants — like me. So I used to call Silicon Valley the world’s greatest meritocracy.
This was before I moved to the Valley and my wife pointed out something strange: that practically all of the people at Silicon Valley’s big networking events were male. They were mostly white, Indian, or Chinese. Women, blacks and Hispanics were nowhere to be found. When I analyzed company founder data from the Kauffman Foundation, I was shocked to learn that only 3 percent of the tech firms were founded by women. When I looked at the executive teams of the Valley’s top tech firms, with a couple of notable exceptions, I couldn’t find any women technology heads. Even the management team of Apple didn’t have a single woman in it. And I learned that virtually all of Silicon Valley’s venture-capital firms are male dominated — the few women whom you find there are in either marketing or human resources. Indeed, of the 89 venture capitalists on the 2009 TheFunded list of top venture capitalists, only one was a woman.
So I was wrong; this is no meritocracy.