Equality v. Twitter

By Michael Johnson (PhD Student at UMass Boston, OSC Track).

Are you kidding me? You mean to tell me there isn’t at least one highly qualified female in the United States who could serve on Twitter’s board of directors? Many people have asked this question over the past few weeks. And yes, at least according to Twitter CEO Dick Costoloit, no qualified females are available for this position.

Twitter has come under fire for the lack of female representation. The firestorm started October 4 when a New York Times article highlighted the board’s all-male cast. Twitter is a privately held company but plans to go public mid-November. As noted in the company’s October 3 S-1 filing, it has only one female among its 12 executive officers and directors and she is not on the board of directors.

CEO Dick Costoloit acknowledges the lack of representation. For Costoloit, however, “appointing women has to be about more than just ‘checking a box.’” Does this sound familiar? In 2011, Mark Zuckerberg made a similar comment regarding Facebook’s male-dominated board, saying, “I’m going to find people who are helpful, and I don’t particularly care what gender they are or what company they are.”

Why should Zuckerberg and Costoloit care? First, women account for more than half of each company’s users. Second, these tech-media empires could benefit from having females in the boardroom and c-suite. Companies with the highest representation of women in leadership roles, including board positions, are better at problem solving (shaping the strategic direction)  and fostering creativity and innovation. They also enjoy better financial performance.

What may be blocking women from entry into the boardroom and the c-suite at many of these tech-media companies is their leaders’ tunnel vision when it comes to networking. Costoloit’s comment on not being able to find qualified women suggests a lack of professional women present in Twitter’s corporate “circle.” This may be true in many other firms as well. Gender-dominated groups typically surround themselves with those who have similar experience, attitudes, interests, and so on. The male version of these elite clubs creates an environment that excludes women from networking and practically eliminates any chance of women getting referred or recommended by someone within the club.

In light of this, corporate leaders asserting a lack of qualified females to fill board positions is a flat-out dodge. From my networking experience, I can name at least 10 suitable individuals for the boards of Twitter and like firms and I am sure you can do the same.

We can overcome barriers to women getting board positions using the power of stakeholders. Twitter’s IPO is approaching. Once it goes public, its stockholders can compel the company to resolve gender equality issues at all levels of the organization. The stakeholders can also influence Twitter to use its corporate social responsibility activities to promote gender inclusion.

In short, companies like Twitter will not be able to ignore their user base for much longer. As more of these inequity issues become apparent, institutional factors that exclude women from board and c-suit leadership positions will not be tolerated.

Auletta, K. (2011, July 11). A Woman’s Place. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/07/11/110711fa_fact_auletta?currentPage=all.
Twitter to go public on NYSE, roadshow to start Oct. 28. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2013, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/markets/2013/10/15/twitter-nyse-ipo/2989905/.
Twitter Inc. (2013, October 03). Form S-1 Registration Statement. Retrieved from http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1418091/000119312513390321/d564001ds1.htm.
Auletta, K. (2011, July 11). A Woman’s Place. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/07/11/110711fa_fact_auletta?currentPage=all.
Fitzgerald, B. (2012, July 9). More Women On Facebook, Twitter And Pinterest Than Men. Huffington Post. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/women-facebook-twitter-pinterest_n_1655164.html.

6 thoughts on “Equality v. Twitter

  1. Great post. I think it would be beneficial to look into the reason why women can get far, but not all the way to the top. I believe one of the reasons is the fact that there are structural impediments put in place that are preventing women from reaching the top. Some have even gone as far as saying that there is a difference in brainpower and that women are less capable of getting the job done (Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2005/1/14/summers-comments-on-women-and-science/). I may be biased here, but I think having more women in board positions can change entire dynamic of the organization for the better. More women on board could improve business performance because they can better understand their customers, stakeholders and the organization can benefit from fresh ideas but we’ll never know until we try..

  2. It would be interesting to compare executives/board members between female and male companies. Are more companies founded by women or men? Do more female executives work at companies founded by a woman?

  3. Michael, This is a great post! I completely agree that in order to overcome these gender barriers we need to use the power of the stakeholders. HOWEVER, I do think part of the problem lies within us women. I know this is a controversial topic but I’m a woman in a leadership position so I feel qualified to comment on this! Many women do not put themselves “out there” to be in running for these c-suit positions. We as women tend to hold back when taking credit for our work. We say things like “oh, I had a great team to get me though it”. I have said this before, on more than one occasion! There are ways to acknowledge the team as well as to take self-credit for a job well-done. I am trying to remember to do this but it is almost against my nature to do it! I want to thank and acknowledge my staff but need to remember that I need to take credit for my work as well.
    I highly recommend reading “Lean-In” by Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook. This book is well-written and Sheryl is an incredible role-model for all female leaders: past, present and future!

  4. Thank you for this article. It is definitely a topic worth discussing. As a recruiter, I understand the mindset of finding the most qualified person (no matter their background, gender, ethnicity, age, etc). However, there is certainly value in diversifying your team. As an example, health care is a female dominated industry when it comes to staff. Many teams like to hire males because it balances things and brings some fresh perspectives to the workplace.

    The point about the networking circle seems to be very valid; I agree that people gravitate toward networking with those who are similar to themselves. I’m not certain how to combat this, but it will be interesting to see what comes with the IPO. Even just having one or two females on the board would bring new perspectives and propel the organization to a stronger position in the marketplace. This lack of women on the board is already hindering the reputation of such a company.

  5. Very valid points made in the comment above. Could the issue be a case of “qualified”? How is Twitter defining qualified? If the focus is on technology, and a high level of knowledge and skill in computers and IT, then maybe there are no qualified women at the c-suite level. Technology is a male-dominated area and, as we look at the senior levels, women in the past were not encouraged to pursue education and careers in the tech fields. I am sure there are twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings with the knowledge, skills and abilities that could move toward a Board position in the future, but I wonder of there are fifty-something females who could say the same. When these women were in their teens and twenties, there may not have been female role models or mentors to encourage them to pursue tech careers. Thankfully, that is changing and we see schools working to encourage girls to pursue tech education. (BTW – this is being written by a forty-something female.)

  6. This is an interesting and challenging argument that I see as a double-edged sword. On one hand, I agree that Dick Costoloit’s claim of inability to identify a female candidate suitable to hold a seat on Twitter’s board of directors can be seen as an evasive statement aimed to deflect the negative connotations associated with what some view as misogynistic hiring practices. Candidate selection should be based on the hiring manager’s perception of the individual’s ability to meet or exceed position requirements, regardless of gender. On the other, I do believe that instances can arise in which suitable women (or men) are not able to be identified from qualified applicant pools.

    Let us examine a hypothetical scenario. Two candidates are involved in the selection process for a position in the c-suite of a large firm, one male, one female. For the sake of the argument, we will assume that all other executive positions are currently held by males. Following interviews, the hiring manager determines that both candidates posess the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform essential job functions, resulting in a “tie”. In this instance, both candidates are equally qualified to fill the position as laid out in the job description.

    Now let’s add a twist. One candidate posesses characteristics that the hiring manager believes would make him/her an asset to the organization, although these characteristics are not expressly laid out as “required” in the position description. In this instance, the candidate viewed as a potential asset has a distinct advantage over his/her competitor. If the female candidate posesses this additional skill set and is selected to fill the open position, much ado is made over the fact that she is the only female member of an otherwise male executive leadership team. If the male candidate is placed in the same scenario, the company is accused of gender discrimination in hiring, regardless of the fact that the male candidate was in fact determined to be better qualified to fill the position. No matter what the company claims, the only thing the public will see is a female being passed over based on her gender.

    Companies must be sensitive to the potential for accusations of discriminatory hiring practices while maintaining a focus on merit-based hiring as opposed to hiring one gender over the other because the public demands it.

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