It's time for technology companies to fix the gender imbalance

Silicon Valley: It's a man's world at the moment, but it shouldn't be

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Technology companies have few - if an - women on their boards. They say this is because there is only a small pool of technical women to recruit from.

Twitter, which recently filed for an IPO public stock-market launch, has no women on its board of directors. As do most Silicon Valley companies, it has an almost all-male management team and an all-male investor group. And it is unapologetic.

In response to criticism I made about the lack of diversity on the Twitter board, chief executive officer Dick Costolo chose not to address the issue. Instead, he launched a personal attack on me and tweeted that “the whole thing has to be about more than checking a box & saying 'we did it!' ”

Corporate America is more professional but makes the same excuses: There are not enough qualified women and it wants to do more than check a box. This is how CEOs account for the dearth of women on boards — as of 2012, only 14 percent of the S&P 1500.

Is there really a shortage of women who are qualified to be on technology-company boards? It depends on how you define the qualifications. If the requirement is that board members must have strong technical skills, then yes, there surely is a shortage. The pipeline is very weak, and fewer women than men are entering computer science.

This criterion is, however, disingenuous or dishonest. Look at the composition of the Twitter board as an example. As Connie Guglielmo reported in Forbes: “Of the 12 'executive officers and directors' called out as 'Management' in Twitter's Oct. 3 S-1 filing, only two — Costolo and Christopher Fry, senior vice president of engineering — have technical degrees.” The rest, she notes, have undergraduate degrees in subjects “from French literature to East Asian Studies to Philosophy, while co-founders Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams, who serve on Twitter's board, are college dropouts.” Further, the filing lists five MBA degrees and the law degree obtained by the general counsel, the one woman on Twitter's top leadership team.

After all, board meetings are not hackathons, in which geeks come together to write computer code. They are about corporate governance and protecting the interests of shareholders. Board members do not need technical skills, other than the ability to operate a laptop or smartphone. The role of the board is to review the performance of the chief executive, monitor finances and budgets, approve compensation, and help set corporate strategy. Having an understanding of the industry is very helpful, but not every board member needs to be an expert.

There are thousands of women who can do this.

Twitter is the most talked-about company in the technology industry now because of its upcoming IPO. It needs to be an example for the industry. And it needs to do what is best for its shareholders. Instead of hiring one woman and checking a box, it should have half of its board be women, as well as include people of color. This will better reflect the demographic of its user base and could lead to much a better financial outcome for its investors. Companies with the highest proportions of female board directors, for example, outperform those with the lowest proportions by 53 percent. They have a 42 per cent higher return on sales and 66 per cent higher returns on invested capital.

Below are my suggestions for women that I know who can do an exceptional job not only on the board of Twitter but also other boards. I've categorized them by their areas of expertise, starting with women who can guide business strategy and take on any boys club. They will surely pave the way for the next female board member — who can provide a broader technology vision and new marketing perspectives. Corporate governance and ethics are a critical component of any board. In each category, I have suggested four very knowledgeable and worldly women. Finally, the company also needs the perspective of the next generation. The vast majority of its users are under 35 years of age. Having some from that age group on the board could only help.

 

Business Strategy and Business Development

Kay Koplovitz, founder or co-founder, USA Networks and the Sci-Fi Channel, Springboard Enterprises, Boldcap Ventures

Julissa Reynoso, ambassador to Uruguay, corporate lawyer

Lynn Tilton, has owned and restructured 150 companies, including Rand McNally, MD Helicopters, Dura Automotive and Spiegel

Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo chairman and CEO

 

Technology Vision and Strategic Partnerships

Megan Smith, MIT Media Lab alum, former CEO of PlanetOut; on Google[x] leadership team; co-created SolveforX

Beth Comstock, General Electric's senior vice president and chief marketing officer

Sophie Vandebroek, chief technology officer at Xerox

AnnaLee Saxenian, author “The New Argonauts,” dean of UC Berkeley's School of Information

 

Corporate Governance and Ethics

Mary Elizabeth Magill, dean of Stanford's law school

Debora Spar, president of Barnard College, a director of Goldman Sachs, and the author of seven books, including “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection”

Sonal Shah, formerly with Goldman Sachs and Google.org, she is now at Case Foundation, working to increase impact investing

Preeta Bansal, former Solicitor General of New York; now at powerhouse law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

 

Up and Coming Stars

Binta Niambi Brown, a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, researching barriers to innovation

Brooks Bell, co-founded HQ Raleigh and ThinkHouse to nurture high-impact start-ups

Shaherose Charania, founded tech industry networking group Women 2.0, runs Founder Labs

TD Lowe, founder of EnovationNation

 

Vivek Wadhwa is vice president of Innovation and Research at Singularity University and Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. His other academic appointments include Duke and Emory Universities as well as past appointments at Harvard and the University of California Berkeley. This piece reflects his opinion.

Copyright Washington Post.

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