Holy Crap – Caste Discrimination in Silicon Valley Land

Holy Crap - Caste Discrimination in Silicon Valley Land


The word going around is a that what happens in Silicon Valley’s deep tech innovation in start ups hits India’s Silicon Valley within months. Such is the bridge between the two start up ecosystems. However some nasty developments in the Silicon Valley is something that India’s Silicon Valley would not like to discuss and emulate. Yes, I am taking of Hindu Caste Discrimination as a law in California. Today, the Governor of California vetoed and refused to sign, the unanimously approved Senate Bill (SB) 403 that aims to amend Section 51 of the Civil Code, Sections 200 and 210.2 of the Education Code, and Sections 11135, 12920, 12921, 12926, 12930, 12931, 12940, 12944, 12955, 12955.8, 12956.1, 12956.2, and 12993 of the Government Code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of ancestry and caste. I am sure many Indian Senators cutting across party lines and various Indian Activists would have lobbied with the Governor for the veto!   

Let’s trace the journey on SB 403.

As a global senior leadership of Cisco, as part of the leadership induction, I was walked through the performance management system, the inclusive culture and innovation through its start up spin outs to accelerate the product development and go to market. Cisco in this acts as a venture capitalist funding its own employees to form start ups. One such start up was of Sundar Iyer, a Distinguished Engineer in the CTO group in the Insieme Business Unit at Cisco and co-founder and head of Candid Systems, a Cisco Alpha Company. Iyer as his family name says is an Upper Indian Caste. One Dalit employee (code named “John Doe” filed a caste discrimination case against Iyer and one of his co-colleagues and Cisco for Caste discrimination for his promotion and increment. Imagine this in Silicon Valley!

Iyer and John Doe’s co-colleague have been absolved from the case by the Courts in the US, but the case against Cisco continues. In the meantime, Aisha Wahab is an American politician who has been a member of the California State Senate from the 10th district since 2022. Aisha Wahab is the sponsor of Senate Bill 403 (SB 403), which was introduced on February 9, 2023, in the California State Senate. The bill passed with a vote of 34 to 1 in the Senate floor on May 11, 2023. If enacted into law, SB 403 would make California the first state in the US to ban caste-based discrimination.

More about Aisha Wahab, she is a member of the Democratic Party and the first Muslim elected to the California State Senate. Born in Queens, New York City, to refugees who fled Afghanistan in the 1980s, Wahab was adopted by an Afghan couple in Fremont, California, and moved to Hayward after the 2008 Financial Crisis. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in political science at San Jose State University and a Masters in Business Administration from Cal State East Bay. Before entering politics, she worked in non-profit organizations and is currently an IT consultant. Wahab served on the Hayward City Council from 2018 to 2022 and was one of the first Afghan-Americans elected to public office, alongside New Hampshire state representative Safiya Wazir.

The Implications: Caste the New Hindu Divide in the US?

When I filled college admissions for my kids in the US, there was just a religion column. I am now informed that many colleges and universities in California have started asking for the caste to be filled in the admissions forms. We all know that there are not many merit quota seats in Indian premier educational institutions hence we as parents spend hefty fees to educate our kids in the US to offer them the best competitive environment. A caste-based system in the US colleges?

An upper caste or a lower caste, the person has made it to the Silicon Valley in the US is a validation that its all about merit and hard work. To taint the US system with another lens of Indian caste system is a bit of a stretch to me. If a Dalit who has made it to the Silicon Valley and now wants a quota for his raise and promotion is not fit for the US. The person should better apply for quota jobs in India and be happy for the reservation and its perks.

It’s just not about Indian Caste System. I am sure the Africans have their Tribes hierarchy and many other races and religions around the world have some sort of sub sects. Starting with the Hindus, will the State of California go on to protect these castes as well? I am not sure if the senator, Aisha Wahab, who pushed for SB 403 has ever understood Indian Caste System to enact such a bill. If SB 403 becomes an Act, will it mean that India’s Silicon Valley will also push for caste based quotas and shun its meritocracy?

As regards Cisco, it recruits the best of the best, irrespective of caste, creed, colour and conviction. I went through a global search for a leadership role there with 9 rounds of interviews, a business plan presentation and solid reference checks. After working with such breed of leadership, do I expect to play my caste card for increments and promotions. My work itself spoke for me. I was confirmed in 6-months (as originally signed 1-year) with half-yearly bonus, additional RSUs and other benefits. Leadership prides in working with such peers of leaders. Only weak leader such as John Doe will play the caste card and drag Cisco into a discrimination case.

Lastly, from the investor perspective, if SB 403 goes through, will the Silicon Valley VCs and LPs also have to provide for caste-based investment thesis?     

Holy Crap!