Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has been under attack for putting forth a proposed board for the company’s IPO that is comprised of seven men. The fact that no women are being nominated probably shouldn’t be shocking since 49% of publicly traded technology companies have no women on their boards. Costolo has a lot of company. He claims that it isn’t his role to “check the box” to have a women fill a seat.
And this is where Costolo goes wrong. It isn’t about checking the box. It’s about business performance. If he were paying attention, he would know that public companies with three or more women on the board consistently outperform those that don’t; according to Catalyst research, companies with three or more women on board outperform on three key metrics:
• Return on Equity: On average by 53 percent.
• Return on Sales: On average by 42 percent.
• Return on Invested Capital: On average by 66 percent.
Dick is a very astute businessman; you would think these numbers would impress him. Apparently he doesn’t know this, or he is not impressed, but he should be.
Technology companies often have smaller boards like the seven Twitter will have, rather than the 10 large cap companies generally have. Nonetheless, the gender balance is important for diversity of thought, experience and perspective. It’s important not to give way to group think in this ever-changing field.
The problem is that technology companies are confining their outreach for directors to the same boys clubs of Silicon Valley, or so it appears. Granted, the limited number of women in the technology sector, specifically in computing jobs, has fallen from 34% in 1990 to 27% today. That’s one perspective.
But that’s not the place to be looking. Boards of public companies need diverse skills and experience to be added value for CEOs. Experts in finance, government relations, international business and enterprise partnerships are equally important to knowledge of the technology industry. After all, you would think that management would be filled with technology expertise. The boards should be diverse in skills as well gender or race. Vivak Bajaj, writing in the NY Times Notebook this weekend, noted that Twitter is a media company where more than 50% of its users are women. That alone would have you believe that women, who are voracious users of social media, would add important perspective to the board. This is especially true of qualified board candidates with social media experience.
I don’t think Costolo really believes that women on the board are a means to an end – checking the box. Even if he does, it’s not good enough to only have one. One is too often a token. On a board of seven – it should be at least two. No one wants to be a token, not even women seeking to serve on boards.
So Costolo has work to do. Either replace board members, which isn’t going to happen, or add two or three to the board. Now that would be showing the world he really does understand the business case for board diversity. Instead of a chump, he could be a champion! #WomenonBoards