There is a long documented problem with diversity in the tech industry. The blame for that has frequently been put on the shoulders of women and minorities rather than CEOs and managers who won’t expand their circle of acceptable hires. The criticism and poor response to criticism have led to the strange and competitive practice of begging well-known women in tech to join company boards.
The New York Times reports that Amy Chang, chief executive of Silicon Valley start-up Accompany, has turned down “15 to 20 first meetings” with companies looking to get her on their board. Julie Bornstein, chief operating officer of online personal stylist service Stitch Fix, told them she received 30 to 40 calls from companies interested in her.
Bornstein says that a board position does require experience, but many tech companies are reluctant to move outside the group of people they’re familiar with, who include few women. Expand the group of candidates “requires taking bets on new people,” according to Bornstein. But it doesn’t seem to be happening:
While Twitter and other tech companies have taken steps to add more women to boards, the tech industry still lags others in gender diversity. Among Silicon Valley’s 150 largest companies, only 15 percent of board seats were filled by women in 2016, compared with 21 percent for companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, according to the research firm Equilar.
In mid 2015, an initiative called the Boardlist was started by Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, intended to help founders find women to serve on boards. (Singh Cassidy is herself on the boards of TripAdvisor and Ericsson.) She says when larger companies like Google and Facebook embrace diversity, it has an effect on smaller start ups, which will eventually train diverse candidates to a place where they can take a board position as well. The Boardlist has grown from 600 names to 1,300 since it began. She says, “There has been pressure from all parts of the ecosystem, which has created a groundswell.”
In addition to potentially being a powerful voice that promotes diversity and inclusion, a board position means a lot of money. Chang eventually agreed to join Cisco Systems, and is paid an annual retainer of $75,000 and “a grant of restricted stock worth several hundred thousand dollars.” So, if Google would like me to join their board they can @ me on Twitter whenever.