Silicon Valley, Here’s That List of Boss Ladies You Needed

Silicon Valley, Here’s That List of Boss Ladies You Needed

SILICON VALLEY IS under intense pressure to increase diversity. And what better time for companies to address the issue than at the beginning?

This week Silicon Valley veteran Sukhinder Singh Cassidy unveiled The Boardlist, a database to help startup CEOs find qualified women to appoint to their private boards. The list includes more than 600 female leaders compiled by more than 50 high-profile tech industry insiders and venture capitalists (both men and women) in the San Francisco Bay Area1.

The thinking is that the list could act as a resource for companies who are looking to bring diversity into their boardrooms at earlier stages in their development. Entrepreneurs who are focused on growing the company are often too busy with business operations and don’t have easy access to acquiring great talent, Cassidy says. Soliciting references to fill those spots are often ad hoc and time-consuming efforts. The Boardlist aims to provide an easier system for the discovery and matching of CEOs and pre-vetted female board candidates, letting users of the database (which is in beta for now), dig into categories like functional expertise, industry, company stage, and board experience.

“There’s a big opportunity early in a company’s life cycle to get diverse candidates in the board room and promote diversity of thought,” Cassidy tells WIRED.

Losing Out
The story of the paucity of women in technology is familiar by now. About a year ago, beginning with Google, companies started to release data on the gender and racial makeup of their workforces. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Amazon and other big-name companies followed suit. The results were dismal, and a year later, the needle still hasn’t moved by much—especially at the management level.

And the same holds for startups: Cassidy, currently CEO of video shopping site JOYUS, estimates that between only about a quarter to one-third of private tech companies have a woman on the board.

Many blame the so-called pipeline, saying it’s difficult to hire diverse candidates because qualified candidates are hard to find. But in failing to make diversity a priority, organizations are losing out. Considerable research has shown that companies with more gender diversity outperform their competition—according to McKinsey, companies in the top quarter for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. That makes the Boardlist a real tool, as Cassidy says, for businesses aiming to improve performance.

The Letter
The Boardlist started coming together around two months ago when Cassidy and 59 other women published an open letter that, among other things, criticized what Cassidy called the domination of “negative signals” in press coverage about women in tech.

“The narrative rightly identifies that many of the issues in the Valley that demonstrate women are not yet contributing at their fullest potential here,” Cassidy wrote. “But absent almost entirely in this coverage is the experience of women entrepreneurs themselves. Looking at the press, one might think women are not only hard to find, but struggling to succeed.” If more women leaders hoped to progress in the industry, Cassidy argued, that piece of the story needed to be a big part of the conversation.

The response to the open letter was overwhelmingly positive, Cassidy says, and the idea of highlighting the accomplishments of such highly credible women in tech set the stage for Boardlist. Starting with her initial network, Cassidy reached out to CEOs and entrepreneurs and asked them to nominate 10 to 30 female leaders to start the list off. Those who nominated candidates were also asked to provide details about what stage in a company’s life a candidate might be most suited for (early, mid, late, public) and a description of where they excel.

Network Effects
At the moment, access to The Boardlist is still invite-only, and Cassidy says there’s work to be done yet. By the end of the year, she hopes to include more than 2,000 candidates in the database.

She also acknowledges that the tool’s utility so far doesn’t extend to racial diversity. She says the list hasn’t been analyzed yet to determine the ethnic breakdown of its candidates. “But if I had to give you a hypothesis … ethnic diversity is very low among female founders,” she says. “It was predominantly white and Asian, and I don’t know that I would expect that ratio to change.”

If the tech industry has struggled with gender diversity, racial diversity has been an even more serious problem. Last year, a report from USA Today found that top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate leading technology companies hire them. This month, Mother Jones calculated that all the black employees from Facebook, Google, and Twitter could fit onto a single jumbo jet.

Which points to the other knotty problem of the network effect. Because The Boardlist started off from an initial core network and grew outward, candidates who weren’t plugged in from the start could have a harder time making the list. “One of the challenges in this environment is that people go to the first person they know,” Cassidy says. “But I think the way this tool fits in is it gets you beyond that one-degree of separation for candidates.”

Though it may not be perfect, Cassidy says the top priority now is putting the product out there in the first place—a product that hasn’t existed before. She says, “Today, my first order of business is that I want there to be ten candidate results on every page.”


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