I started advocating for women in engineering in 2006 when my dean at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, Kristina Johnson, made me aware of the declining numbers of women entering the field.What he finding is that being a white knight is the feminist equivalent of being a useful idiot.2 They will take your help, but they don't respect you, and if they can gain more points by throwing you to the curb, they will do it in a heartbeat.
Over the past few weeks, I have been accused of financial impropriety, arrogance, insensitivity and worse.
On February 6, WNYC published a podcast titled “Quiet, Wadhwa.” It criticized me for “taking the oxygen out of the room” by “speaking for women.” There were more than 11 minutes of inaccuracies and innuendo made against me without even an attempt at fact-checking — despite the serious nature of the charges. The vast majority of allegations would not have passed a simple Google search. Yet I was not even asked to comment. WNYC completely disregarded the fact that I routinely share my media platform with women and regularly refer journalists to women in tech.
The podcast had referred to my attempt to have a conversation with one of my critics through a Twitter direct message (DM) as “the hand on the knee of social media.”
...the podcast claimed that I had a “tendency to send a DM” and said it is “creepy when someone goes into your DM, it is this non-consensual let’s go over here where people can’t see you criticizing me and maybe I can talk to you there.” They alleged that I done this to several women and said it was like the “hand on the knee” or an invitation to young women to “come sit on my lap.” Many people interpreted these words to imply that I am some sort sexual predator. For the record, I DM people — male and female — in situations like this because I have found that conversations out of the limelight are often far more civil and that usually we find common ground quickly.
But I may have made the mistake of fighting the battles of women in technology for too long... So I am going to bow out of this debate.1
Of course, Wadhwa was also wrong about the discrimination against women in tech. As anyone that has ever worked in a serious tech company can tell you, there is no discrimination against women or minorities. There is discrimination against non-geeks.
Actually, discrimination is the wrong word. It's more accurate to say there is a self-selection bias. As I pointed out in an earlier post (Who is Discouraging Women From STEM Careers?), tech is dominated by a certain personality type. This personality type enjoys working with technology. Other personality types are significantly underrepresented in tech. If you were going to put labels on these two groups, it would be geeks and non-geeks.
Geeks go into tech, because they enjoy it. Non-geeks don't go into tech, because they don't enjoy it. Unfortunately, the geek/non-geek personality types are not distributed equally between men and women. The percentage of women who could be said to have a geek personality type is in the low single digits—less than 5 percent. The reason there are few women in tech is because few women enjoy working in tech.
At some level, I believe most women understand this, so they look at someone like Wadhwa not as an advocate for women, but as a man patronizing women. They don't trust him, and why should they? They know in their gut what he is saying isn't true, and they assume he also must know it isn't true...or that he is an idiot. And women don't respect idiots, even useful idiots.
This is why there is no benefit in being a white knight. Women don't really trust you or your motives, because they can see the duplicity in your actions. At best, you will be seen as a useful idiot. At worse, you'll be thrown to the dogs.
That's the story of Vivek Wadhwa. He played the white knight, and was allowed to hang around as one of the useful idiots. But, when it became more beneficial to throw him to the dogs, there was no hesitation. He was thrown to the dogs.