Tech companies seem to have inherited the Earth from more staid and conservative sectors, such as financial services. They have broken the business mould in numerous different ways, but where they let themselves down is in the gender make-up of the boardroom. Given their hot property status and the likelihood many of these companies will have significant cultural reach and influence going forward, it is essential that the issue of gender diversity in the boardroom is placed centre stage from the outset, since once the ratio is set, it tends to become entrenched, and so institutionalised resistance to change develops.
"With only 7 percent of board seats on private tech companies held by women, and start-ups valued at $1 billion or more, known as “unicorns”, faring not much better at 10 percent, there is a clear need to recruit more female directors."
The Boardlist is a VC resolving to do just that, and in the process shatter the myth that recruitment to date has been based on merit. They firmly reject the notion of insufficient numbers of suitably qualified women, rather, believing the odds to be stacked against women because the recruitment culture and agenda is shaped by men.
Essentially, the Boardlist is a searchable database of qualified female board candidates that companies can access when they’re searching for directors. Qualified candidates are nominated for inclusion by C-suites and venture capitalists and vetted by the Boardlist. Meanwhile, those companies looking to avail themselves of the platform for search purposes are required to provide data on their firms, which themselves must have $5 million+ in revenue p.a. or series A funding. Successes to date directly resulting from the venture include women having assumed board seats at Shutterfly and Shutterstock, as well as the social awareness app, Challenged.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, tech entrepreneur and founder of the Boardlist advocates greater transparency in the process of filling board seats, and her aim is for the database to be informed by this at every turn. To this end, the Boardlist Index tracks the number of public and private tech company board seats filled by women, such that the task ahead is quantifiable and progress can be documented. Force for good credentials are further enhanced by the Boardlist having committed to fund a scholarship in an under-represented community for every board seat it fills.
The Boardlist founder has her eyes on rolling out the venture to other key cities across the US and into Europe, while new revenue streams include supplemental programs, such as board-readiness workshops. The Boardlist is a step in the right direction in addressing a situation that sees four of every five private tech companies with zero female representation on the board at present. Yet, fundamental change will require a sea change in silicon valley culture, that sees both more women creating and investing in start ups, as well as a willingness from this male-dominated world to proactively relinquish its stranglehold on power.
Even Singh Cassidy herself has come to the realisation that the Boardlist must help to “make the market”. We should all consider this to be a somewhat perverse state of affairs, since businesses with more diverse boards are undoubtedly at a commercial advantage. In reflecting their customers’ demographic make-up more accurately, they are able to strategise more effectively and ultimately deliver increased value to all stakeholders.