Hey CEOs: Here’s where you can find great women to fill open board seats
Two months ago, I joined 59 other female founders and growth CEOs to pen a letter called “Choose Possibility.” It was aimed at sharing our perspectives on, and some important new data about, diversity in the tech community. Our data-collection “project” unearthed some eye-opening information about topics such as whether a STEM—as in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics—degree is necessary to be a tech entrepreneur (it’s not); how many of the women in our survey had a male mentor (37%); and whether women are judged differently than men in the workplace (86% of respondents agreed).
After the letter was published, I was grateful and encouraged to see the support we received on all fronts—in the press, on social media, and directly from fellow entrepreneurs and investors, both male and female. Most of all, there is a strong desire for new, tangible solutions from the community, for the community—to help female leaders contribute at their highest potential in our industry.
I’m delighted to announce the next phase of the #ChoosePossibility project, aimed at providing some of those solutions solving diversity issues at the board level.
In partnership with more than 50 founding members—both male and female leaders and investors in tech —#ChoosePossibility on Tuesday launched a rich and potentially powerful database called the Boardlist. Now in beta, it’s the first-ever, curated resource that helps companies and investors discover and find amazing female leaders for private tech company boards. The Boardlist (beta) includes more than 800 endorsements of more than 600 female leaders (and counting) who are highly qualified and peer-endorsed as candidates for private growth-stage boards.
Our founding members include leaders from Marketo, Lyft, Box, Shyp, Twitter, LinkedIn, Thumbtack, Vida, AOL, Box, One Kings Lane, Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, Battery Ventures, DFJ, Norwest Venture Partners, Harrison Metal, and many others, as well as our founding sponsors WSGR and SVB. We’re grateful for their support as we launch this tool.
Long before the letter, I started talking with leading VCs about what could be done to solve the gender diversity problem in tech. I began to realize that, while women in STEM and women-founded companies are critical, long-term areas of focus, there is a tremendous opportunity to drive diversity in virtually 100% of privately funded tech companies at the board level. We all know, and the data is clear, that every boardroom, founder, and investor can benefit from diverse thinking—the earlier the better.
We often think of board diversity as being a “public company” problem. I’m not sure why. There are 250 or so pubic tech companies, yet there are thousands of privately-funded growth-stage ones. By our data collection (through the partners on this initiative), we estimate that 23% to 32% of private funded tech boards have a woman on the board, including female investor and female founders/CEO board seats. This means that roughly 70% to 75% of private companies have none.
More importantly, at critical stages of a tech company’s growth, the need to have functional expertise, independent thought and insight, and a peer or fellow operator as the founder/CEO may be infinitely more valuable now than waiting to fill this seat. This is an area we often ignore as private company CEOs, but it’s equally an area of massive opportunity.
Bringing diverse thought into the boardroom not only drives private company business performance, it has one other potentially large impact: It can also help accelerate opportunities for more gender diversity within the organization itself, from helping to recruit more women to the executive team to identifying policies more friendly to both sexes.
Even beyond the benefits to any one company, these actions also amplify the number of visible female role models we have in the tech industry as a whole.
How does it work?
The Boardlist is a deceptively simple idea—create a way for leaders in the tech industry to share their top female picks for private company boards so CEOs, executives, and investors can find great women to fill open board seats when they need them. Through the Boardlist, we create opportunities for exceptional women to leverage their talent and expertise while companies benefit from diverse perspectives around the table.
Our starting approach was equally simple. Similar to the letter, I reached out to a set of highly credible, diverse leaders in tech—CEOs, functional leaders, and entrepreneurs alike—and asked them to help. We asked every leader to nominate roughly 10 to 30 stand-out female leaders whom they believe to be great candidates for tech boards, according to stage of board (Series B through F, as well as public), functional and industry expertise, and their “superpowers”—what they excel at—to help “seed” the list.
Similarly, I reached out to a handful of great investors whom I thought would be helpful, responsive, and open to a new approach to solving this issue. I asked each to share their own personal nominations for female directors, but also that they be able to bring potential “demand” in terms of portfolio companies that need, or will need, new independent board members over time. Finally, we asked the investors for stats on their portfolio companies’ board diversity, and to commit to providing this information annually so we can track progress over time.
The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive; leaders on both sides validated that the largest issue today is one of discovery of more great female talent for boards. This is the first and largest order problem we seek to solve with the beta launch of the Boardlist.
The Boardlist is also a powerful tool that makes us all more efficient when it comes to identifying and sharing talent for quality board opportunities. Members can manage their list of endorsed women and add new endorsements through the tool. They can also conduct searches to generate a list of potential qualified candidates for specific board openings and share that list via email with other board member-seekers.
We’re just getting started
The Boardlist (beta) is currently a private, invite-only community tool, but our goal is to grow this resource significantly and thoughtfully in the coming months.
In order to do so, we will need to harness the contributions of a much wider group of tech leaders to help drive greater discovery and access to the best board talent for our own ecosystem.
If you’d like to join us in this initiative you can let us know here and help us make this an amazing resource.
Many, many thanks to the founding members who partnered with me in great faith, trust, and aspiration to help us launch quickly and aggressively today and who choose to believe in what’s possible too.