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.