~ November 18, 2013 ~
The recent talk of renewed feminism—of leaning in and having it all—has some folks wondering: Why can’t women behave like Indians?
In 1992, a group of male Silicon Valley executives with roots in the Indus region realized they were being treated like second-class citizens. “We had foreign accents, different educations and values. We dressed differently. People thought, ‘I can’t put this guy in front of a client, I can’t invest in this guy’s company,’” said Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and academic who teaches at Stanford and Duke, among other institutions. “We couldn’t pretend there wasn’t a problem.”
They created The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), which stokes entrepreneurship for members globally. Members systematically sponsored and invested in each other. Each prosperous Indian found a promising protégé to groom. The mentor did whatever was necessary—from making introductions, to personally funding, to buying new clothes—to help the greenhorn adapt and achieve. The members aimed, as TiE’s website says, to foster a “virtuous cycle of wealth creation and giving back to the community.”
TiE now has about 13,000 members in fifty-seven chapters across fourteen countries and, as a result, Wadhwa, who was the founding president of the Carolinas chapter of TiE, said Southeast Asians have become a disproportionately successful, sought-out bloc in the workforce. “It worked for us because we banded together,” he continued. “We fixed the problem systematically and led by example.”
So why haven’t women appropriated this formula for success? “Women fit into society better because you’re only different in one sense. It’s easier for you to pretend you’re the same as guys, but you need to recognize there’s still a problem.”
Even the white boys agree. Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur who has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, and Columbia, said that Silicon Valley in the late 1970s was a sea of homogeny. “The notion of Chinese or Indians running a company was laughable. They were good engineers, but couldn’t run a company,” said Blank, who was listed as one of Harvard Business Review’s “Masters of Innovation” in 2012. “Over the last thirty years, almost every ethnicity started a support group. People collect over the notion of tribes, and the women-thing is the next rational barrier to fall. I have two college-age daughters, and it’s time.”
These guys have a point, but they don’t realize it’s already happening—because the really vibrant women’s networks have been completely underground. Without declaring an explicit agenda like TiE’s, women across the nation have been adopting the Indian model for success. They are mobilizing their #StilettoNetworks (i.e., tribes) and, for the first time in history, seeing a monetary return on time invested with girlfriends.