Facebook, Under Fire For Lack Of Female Directors, Maybe Needs A List
Facebook, preparing an initial public offering that could value the social network as high as $100 billion, has plenty of options for adding women directors to its board, say women tech executives who have offered up candidates CEO Mark Zuckerberg might consider.
At the top of the list: Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s own chief operating officer.
Facebook, which filed for its IPO in February, has since been criticized by activist groups and shareholders for the lack of diversity on its board — most notably, the lack of a single women among its all male, all white directors. Those seven directors include Zuckerberg, venture capitalists Marc Andreessen, Jim Breyer and Peter Thiel, Donald Graham, chairman and CEO of The Washington Post Co., Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix Inc. and Erskine Bowles, president emeritus of University of North Carolina and former White House Chief of Staff.
Facebook isn’t the only tech company without a women on its board. Longtime tech company Adobe Systems Inc. doesn’t have any women directors, and neither do some of the companies that went public in the past year, including Pandora, Zillow, Zynga and Splunk. Meanwhile, Apple, Groupon and LinkedIn have only one woman board member.
Ultraviolet, a community of women’s rights activists, protested outside Facebook’s New York headquarters this week and submitted a petition signed by 53,000 people (collected online in 48-hours) asking Zuckerberg to add a women to the board before the proposed IPO, which is expected sometime in the next two months and which may raise $5 billion. In February, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the second-largest pension fund in the U.S., sent a letter to Facebook, chastising the company for failing to name a women director “when there is clear evidence that companies with diverse boards perform far better than companies with more homogenous boards.”
“We’re long past having to defend or explain why women should be on boards, given all the data that shows how companies with female as well as male directors perform better,” Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox Corp. and a director at Johnson Johnson, Target and The Washington Post Co., said in a February interview with Bloomberg News. “It’s unfortunate when companies with a large percentage of women constituents don’t reflect that in their boardrooms.”
According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 58 percent of Facebook users are women. Facebook now has more than 900 million users and said it generated $3.7 billion in revenue in 2011.
Katrina Garnett, a longtime software executive and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley who is now CEO of social network My Little Swans, agrees the lack of women on Facebook’s board is troubling. “A lot of companies do the window-dressing board members before going public, and rarely do those kinds of members actually deliver on what you wanted as the CEO/founder,” says Garnett. “The pedigree folks like the prestige and ultimately just act as professional board members, but again, not probably adding the diversity, the value, the experience or the vision that a company like Facebook needs.”
And what they need is someone on the board who can represent more than half of their user base, said another Silicon Valley women tech executive, who asked not to be named. ”It is astonishing and unacceptable that they don’t have a woman on that board,” she said. “I feel they should have half women, not just one token woman. There are plenty of great women to invite, and they don’t need to be technologists, which is what I’ll bet is [Zuckerberg's] hang up.”