Insight: Tech start-ups show little imagination on board gender diversity

Fri Dec 6, 2013 1:44pm EST
 
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By Sarah McBride and Poornima Gupta

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - At Pinterest, the four-year-old online bulletin board service that is valued near $3.8 billion, some 70 percent of the users are female. But the company's board of directors is 100 percent male.

Male-heavy boards dominate in the start-up mecca of Silicon Valley, which prides itself on progressive thinking and putting talent first. A Reuters survey of the 10 top venture-backed start-ups, as measured by venture funds raised, shows that six do not have any women on the board, including Pinterest. And none has more than one.

Reuters' research relied on publicly available data and discussions with start-up executives and board members.

The gender imbalance has been the norm for years despite some recent signs of change. Google, Facebook and Twitter all went public without a woman on the board. They are more diverse now.

Big, established companies, by contrast, frequently have two or more female directors, based on the 10 largest U.S. tech companies by market value. All of the top 20 have at least one.

The dismal record of start-ups when it comes to gender diversity was highlighted last month when Twitter came under fire for its all-male board on the eve of its public offering. On Thursday, the company announced that it had added former Pearson chief Marjorie Scardino to its board.

Entrepreneurs and executives contacted by Reuters did not question the conclusion that there are few women directors at start-ups, but they frequently described it as unintended, and some such as Pinterest say their executive ranks are more balanced.

Start-ups tend to blame the lack of women on their boards on factors such as their youth, their small boards, their single-minded focus on growth to the exclusion of other priorities, and a scarcity of women steeped in technology. They also blame venture capitalists, who are usually male, usually hold the bulk of board seats - and don't want to see their voting power diluted by adding noninvestor board members.   Continued...

 
Nokia's Chief Executive Stephen Elop (L), Chairman of the Board Jorma Ollila (C), and Vice Chairman Dame Marjorie Scardino (R) take part in the 2011 Nokia Annual General Meeting in Helsinki, in this May 3, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Jussi Nukari