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49% of late-stage private company boards are still all-male

March 1, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

The all-male board is an endangered species among public companies. In the S&P 500, no companies now have boards with zero women; in the Fortune 500, there are only a few holdouts.

But among private companies, the practice persists. According to a new report by Crunchbase and the organization Him for Her, 49% of private companies that have raised at least $100 million in funding don’t have any women on their boards of directors. Eighty-one percent of these businesses don’t have a woman of color on their board. And still, that’s an improvement from the first edition of this study last year, which found that 60% lacked any female representation.

“There are far more private companies in this country than there are public,” says Ann Shepherd, cofounder of Him for Her, a referral network that aims to diversify boards of directors. “And [some] companies that have raised in excess of $100 million didn’t have a single woman on the board.”

These companies, with at least nine figures in venture capital behind them, are the ones on their way to the public markets, where scrutiny of board demographics is tougher. Over the past year, stakeholders crucial to the transition from private to public began taking a stand against non-diverse boards. Goldman Sachs at the beginning of 2020 announced it wouldn’t take companies public if they didn’t have at least one “diverse” board member. Nasdaq at the end of last year proposed instituting board diversity requirements for all companies listed on its stock exchange.

These measures have the potential to push companies to diversify their boards earlier, instead of waiting until they face the scrutiny of public investors. But so far, these efforts are not enough.

Measuring the number of companies with “at least one” female board member holds businesses accountable to the bare minimum of board diversity requirements. But it doesn’t communicate exactly how many more board seats are still held by men. Only 18% of the 359 companies studied by Crunchbase and Him for Her had more than one woman on their boards; women held 11% of board seats across the companies, up from 7% a year earlier, the report found. Only 3% of all board seats were held by women of color.

Among private companies, boards are often small, and the few seats that are available are often earmarked for a company’s founders or investors. But women are underrepresented in every category of board member, this report found, from investor (women hold 9% of these seats), to executive director (7%), to independent director (20%). “Even among those independent directors, where companies have all degrees of freedom for who they choose to bring into their boardroom, only one in five was a woman,” says Shepherd.

Him for Her estimates that at the current pace, it will take five years to eliminate the 49% of all-male boards that remain. And that number doesn’t account for the time required to reach gender and racial parity across all board seats more broadly.

“There’s good progress,” says Shepherd, “but still so much work to be done.”

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