By Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance
FORTUNE -- Facebook is a great, shining example of the new economy and all its innovative promise, right? Let’s hope not.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with young guys with ideas making lots of money, creating jobs, and making customers happy. But what I do have a problem with in 2011 is a company with a board that looks like a little Rascals clubhouse from 60 years ago with an old wooden sign hanging on the door that says, “No Girls Allowed.” All Things D’s Kara Swisher used this comparison in an article last year, and I think it’s apt.
The all-male Facebook board has been adding new members this year. And guess what? They are all male too. Not a single woman.
Earlier this year, the members of the clubhouse had included Mark, Marc, Jim, Don and Peter. This year, Reed and Erskine joined the club.
Did the Facebook club try to find women with skills and backgrounds that would be useful to their future strategy -- but somehow fail? That’s hard to believe.<!-- more -->
Since the company is not publicly traded, it doesn’t have to disclose its board nominations policies with the SEC. But with over 800 million active users and more than 3,000 employees, you’d think they’d be hip to issues of equal opportunity. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this article, although CEO Mark Zuckerberg did offer comment to the New Yorker after Netflix's (nflx) Reed Hastings joined the club, saying “I’m going to find people who are helpful, and I don’t particularly care what gender they are.” Since then, Erskine Bowles joined, still leaving the board with no female voice.
It is well recognized that leveling the playing field for women in developing economies can boost economies significantly. But what about workers in an economy like our own? Don’t we also need the best and brightest working at the highest levels?
The U.S. seems to be headed in a very different direction. In a recent survey of admissions directors at colleges and universities by Inside Higher Ed, 11% of the four-year institutions surveyed said that they give men with lower grades and test scores preferential admissions treatment.
A recent study by Catalyst shows the continuing sorry state of affairs at corporations. Despite speaking up and making their good work known, women continue to have fewer opportunities for advancement. And according to a Catalyst report published earlier this year, women ages 30 to 44 earn 63% of what men do in the U.S. Women are not near parity anywhere in the world, but they do much better in countries like Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Belgium and Spain.
As the pressure mounts to address economic inequality in this country, it’s time for us to take a hard look in the mirror. While we seek to address complex problems like economic inequality, why can’t we begin to address relatively simple ones like gender representation on company boards?
The recent customer movement away from large banks and towards credit unions and community banks shows that the best efforts of shareholders and corporate watchdogs sometimes pale in comparison to the power of individual customers. While shareholder influence on companies is circumscribed by law and often met with deaf response, customer actions command attention.
Customers will have to step into the breach and reconsider their allocation of time and money to corporations if we have any hope of reshaping minds. Customers will be the ones who will have to ensure that companies are aligned with their values.
Is the elimination of gender discrimination one of those values? The answer will be clear if customers speak up and say, “Facebook: About-face.”
Eleanor Bloxham is CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance (http://thevaluealliance.com), a board advisory firm.