Why Executive Search Firm Diversity Matters
I’ve been chewing on it a while. I’ve had something I’ve wanted to say. Executive search firm diversity matters. I know it is impolitic to discuss issues with one’s own industry. I am fully aware it is so much safer to remain silent (and boring). But truth is the executive search firm business lacks diversity.
There I said it.In fact, I said it at length in a blog post on our retained search firm website. The article is entitled Search Firm Diversity Impact on Executive Hires.
The lack of executive search firm diversity is concerning because search firms recruit senior executives and board members to companies that also lack diversity. It is only natural to wonder is there a relationship between the two? That’s what executive search firm diversity matters. Consequently we ought to have the courage to ask tough questions We must ensure that homogenous search firms don’t build homogenous executive teams and board of directors at the client companies they serve.
If there is a relationship — if there is a cause and effect — then I don’t think it is intentional. At least, I’d prefer to think no one wants to discriminate. Rather, I suspect what may be at the root of it all is unconscious bias. We humans come wired that way. If we all have that inclination to prejudge — if we all are prone to error in that way — then there is no one person to blame. And if there is no one person to blame, there is hope that we can come together and fix this thing.
Of course, diversity is notoriously difficult to discuss. Finding ways to talk about executive search firm diversity can be challenging. This is sensitive stuff. Tempers can flare. I’d venture a guess that this blog post might upset some of the leading search firms out there But that’s okay. I’ve always believed in standing for what’s right. Fairness. A level playing field. That’s right as rain.
Still diversity is challenging to discuss. If what I say upsets someone — if white, black, hispanic, man, woman, or LGBT feels somehow unappreciated or unheard — we can get through this thing. There still is hope in this dog-eat-dog world of ours.
There is Adele.
Search Firm Diversity (or Lack Thereof)
When I was a board member of the International Association of Corporate and Professional Recruiters, I served on a committee that lined up speakers for IACPR events. As a former journalist, I was naturally drawn to hot topics — subjects that might inspire informative debate and discourse. So one day, I suggested that we examine diversity within the ranks of the retained search industry. Does the lack of search firm diversity perpetuate a lack of the diversity at the companies they serve? At the time, it seemed a reasonable question to ask.
It was not a topic the IACPR wanted to pursue.
Of course, there may be no cause and effect between search firm diversity and the board and senior executive diversity of the clients that they serve. There may be no direct or indirect relationship. Or if there is a correlation, it may be incredibly hard to prove. I get that.
Begin The Conversation
Still, the search firm industry claims to care about senior executive diversity. We offer services to that effect. Moreover, we serve client companies that express deep concern for executive diversity. A thoughtful discussion could lead to solutions we haven’t even imagined. That is why, years later, I think it high time we begin the conversation.
Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About
What follows is a list detailing the diversity of retained search firm leaders. In the absence of self-identification, we have have made educated guesses as to each leader’s gender and diversity. Consequently, we invite corrections. We want this list to serve as a trusted resource. We invite your suggestions on additional firms to include. We care what you think. So please weigh in below with your thoughts and comments.
Search Firm Diversity Common Sense
Common sense suggests that there is a relationship between the lack of diversity at leading search firms and the lack of diversity at the senior executive levels of the companies they serve. I’m not saying this in a blame-the-white-guy kind of way. There are enlightened male feminists who are allies in efforts for fairness. (Shout out to actor Bradley Cooper.) I don’t say this in a white-women-deserve-their-piece-of-the-pie-first kind of way either. This isn’t a white women problem. (Shout out to Leslie Miley’s insights on racial diversity in tech.) This is an all-of-us-are-in-this-together problem. We are a community. Let’s start acting like it so we can get on with the work.
Truth is we all have unconscious bias. We can’t help it. We’re human. So let’s deal with it. For example, the reason some search firms and companies don’t envision women in leadership roles is that, in so many ways ,we don’t see women at all.
I mean, literally, we don’t see women.
Women have been rendered invisible. In a McKinsey & Company video, actor Geena Davis explains:
Unconscious Bias Within
Some well-meaning, enlightened retained search partners and hiring executives may be discriminating against those who do not resemble the power elite — which last I checked remains white and male. This is not a white-male thing. It is a human thing. Some well-meaning, enlightened women may be similarly tilting the scale away from parity. Against ourselves. Unconscious bias lies hidden deep within us. That’s no one’s fault.
(Okay, it probably is some people’s fault, but that whole blaming thing gets us nowhere.)
I would argue it is our job to raise our own consciousness, and then turn to the next person, and share insights on unconscious bias, and have them turn to the next person and pass it on, until we all get it.
That is why I compile a list detailing the diversity of retained search firm leaders. The list is designed to get us thinking about ways to fix what is broken about diversity. It is designed to begin the conversation. So please weigh in with your constructive comments. I am genuinely interested in what you have to say and welcome diversity of thought and insight. Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.
The number of women in tech is rising fast. In fact, Zuzana Padychova of Potential, Coupofy, and the Potential Female Founder’s Syndicate just put together an infographic. It finds that the number of women in tech are growing 238% faster than men. The women in tech infographic brings to life data from the top 8 tech companies and “30 trusted sources”. Those sources are footnoted at the bottom of the infographic.
Inspired by the rising trend of women in the tech, we have aggregated the data from 30 trusted sources and looked at the most successful women in the industry and their roles as founders, leaders and venture capitalists.
Look at the most interesting facts in this infographic.”
Women in Tech Consciousness Raising
The Women in Tech infographic is encouraging. It suggests that recent consciousness raising may be taking hold. A series of recent social media campaigns have prompted men and women alike to stop and think. Now more than ever before we are thinking about gender in the workplace.
What an Engineer Looks Like
It is hard to say when Twitter campaign #ILookLikeAnEngineer took off. It happened sometime after Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt made headlines when he asserted that women were distracting in the laboratory. Then One Login full-stack engineer Isis Anchalee was asked be one of participants in a recruiting campaign. As she later wrote in Medium,
I was not personally ready for the amount of attention that it has brought me.”
She received feedback on her photo mostly relating to her appearance. The feedback undermined her professionally. She responded with a simple declarative statement about her looks.
The Twitter hashtag caught on and lives on to this day. Now, helps engineers who happen to be women find one another. As for Isis Anchalee ? She is organizing a team to develop a safe platform for women to continue to share their stories and experiences relating to diversity issues in tech.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
The book by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead examines women’s will to advance themselves in an organization. To move forward, women must lean in to be counted. Her book sparked a dialog about what holds women back at work and about how, at times, we hold ourselves back. While we have miles to go particularly at the senior executive level, the women in tech infographic is encouraging. Sheryl Sandberg would be proud: women really are leaning in. The numbers are starting prove it. To continue in that effort, we encourage you go visit LeanIn.org.
Why I Care
I head a retained search firm, The Good Search. We specialize in senior executive search in technology. We do a great deal of work in diversity recruiting. We help Fortune 500 companies that want to become more diverse, particularly at the C-Level. Our recruiting research firm, Intellerati, supports diversity recruiting efforts by ensuring inclusion. In 2016, we have an opportunity to make a real difference. I invite you to join us.
Question for you
What other consciousness raising campaigns and trends may be responsible for the rise in Women in Tech?
Venture capitalists are all about the money. I say this in a good way: they do the math. So when the founder of the boston venture capital firm OpenView Scott Maxwell lays his bets on a working mother — a story reported by Dylan Martin of BostInno — I pay attention.
Boston VC Scott Maxwell is known for the Maxwell Curve. It depicts how how Scrum team productivity actually decreases as teams work longer hours in a given week. Clearly, Maxwell is a guy who obsesses about the relationship between productivity and profitability. It makes total sense when you examine his actions supporting a woman partner at his firm.
Graphic by Jeff Sutherland
OpenView Partner Devon McDonald sits on the Investment Committee that decides what B2B software companies to invest in, explains BostInno. She earned that right after serving as the firm’s director of growth for five years.
Here’s where it gets interesting . . .
Right smack dab in the middle Devon’s second maternity — about the time many working mothers at the partner level feel unrelenting pressure to cut their family leave short — founder Scott Maxwell advised her to stay the course. He pointed out that she had an opportunity to “be the example” for the other women in her wake. Devon McDonald remembers him saying:
You have to be the example and show that family comes first . . . so that future women who have babies here don’t feel the pressure that they can completely kill themselves, particularly when they’re adjusting to this major life change.”
I’ve never met Scott. After this, I’d enjoy having a conversation about his decision to invest in Devon in this way. The Maxwell Curve tells me he is not simply doing it to be a nice guy. He’s doing it because he believes he’ll enjoy a significant return on his investment.
ROI in the venture capital world is not your average ROI. The yield is massive. It involves a lot of zeros. In fact, when unicorn investments pay off, they return so much ROI it is redundant. It gives select VCs entrée into 3 comma club — a club described in the hit HBO series Silicon Valley by a fictional VC investor Russ Hanneman who learned he is no longer a member.
So how might an investment in a working mother yield billions in ROI, one might ask? Any VC partner who is adept at choosing the right portfolio company could total do that. Devon could totally do that. If I had to guess, she would not obsess quite so much about the car.
Actor Bradley Cooper has a way of taking a woman’s breath away. But now he’s topped himself. LennyLetter is reporting How Bradley Cooper Is Helping His Female Co-Stars Negotiate Higher Pay.
The newly launched newsletter was founded by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner who write, direct and produce HBO’s hit series, Girls. The newsletter already had captured the nation’s attention by publishing an essay written by actor Jennifer Lawrence about unequal pay for female actors in Hollywood. (News flash: it isn’t equal.)
Then Bradley Cooper weighed in.
The American actor and producer has been nominated for four Academy Awards, three for acting and one for producing. He has a Tony Award. People magazine has named him the “Sexiest Man Alive”, rounding out his collection of honors. What makes him sexy to women is that he gets us. He sees us for who we really are. Better, he knows our true value.
LennyLetter has reported the following:
To support Lawrence’s efforts—and those of all his female co-stars—Cooper is planning to take preemptive action by leveraging his own salary in favor of theirs for all films he’s considering. According to Reuters, the actor “has begun teaming up with female co-stars to negotiate salaries before any film he is interested in working on goes into production.”
In other words, Cooper did to Hollywood’s male-dominant status quo what he did to Christian Bale’s comb-over in American Hustle.
Way to go, Coop!
As someone who heads a retained search firm that does I lot of work in diversity recruiting at the board and C-Levels , I wonder what kind of impact Bradley Cooper’s equal pay advocacy will have.
Will senior executives (who happen to be men) support their colleagues (who happen to be women) in similar fashion? Women certainly don’t need permission to stand up for equal pay for themselves. But allies like Cooper do help. Yet in order for men to help us, first we must help ourselves. Women must know their true value before men can recognize it and advocate for it.
In this particular case, first Sony was hacked, leaking internal documents that revealed the wage disparity between Jennifer Lawrence and her male co-stars. (You can review the Sony hacks documents yourself on WikiLeaks.) Sony hacks was Jennifer’s wake-up call:
When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself.”
In her LennyLetter essay entitled Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑Stars?, Jennifer reveals she had to come to terms with standing up for herself. She believes she failed as a negotiator because she gave up too early. The reason? She wanted to be liked.
I didn’t want to seem “difficult” or “spoiled.” At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being “difficult” or “spoiled.”
Jennifer’s worries are not unfounded. She suspects her male co-stars were likely “commended for being fierce and tactical”, while she was “busy worrying about coming across as a brat”. In fact, there is evidence men and women are viewed differently at the bargaining table.
Again, this might have NOTHING to do with my vagina, but I wasn’t completely wrong when another leaked Sony email revealed a producer referring to a fellow lead actress in a negotiation as a “spoiled brat.” For some reason, I just can’t picture someone saying that about a man.”
I bet she also didn’t picture a man like Bradley Cooper stepping up to champion her equal pay cause. But he has. In doing so, he has made it okay to advocate for being fair. Bestill my heart.
Best Buy has learned that the best man for a job is a woman times three. Financial Officer Sharon McCollam, President eCommerce Mary Lou Kelley, and US Retail President Shari Ballard have architected the turnaround of Best Buy under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Hubert Joly. They serve as three shining examples of women leadership that saved the day by saving Best Buy — when turnarounds are not for the faint of heart. Fortune Magazine tells the story and it is a good read.
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Sharon McCollam, Best Buy CFO
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Mary Lou Kelley Best Buy President eCommerce
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Shari Ballard Best Buy President US Retail
What did the triptych of women leaders manage to pull off? Fortune Magazine puts it this way:
The largest consumer-electronics retailer in the world (No. 72 on the Fortune500) and the only surviving U.S. nationwide chain, Best Buy has redesigned most of its 1,433 U.S. stores, put its retail employees through retraining boot camp, become a force in e-commerce, and excised $1 billion in annual costs.”
In doing so, the women are giving Walmart and Amazon a run for their money. That’s right, Walmart and Amazon — the brick-and-mortar and eCommerce companies that ate retail. Unlike Amazon, Best Buy’s big box retail category is mature and, as a result, is more challenging to grow given its company lifecycle constraint. Yet Best Buy has set a strategy to provide the Geek Squad, a mobile tech support team to help its customers install — if not figure out how to use — the increasingly technical things that we buy in this, the era of the Internet of Things. It also has streamlined its supply chain and rearchitected the bestbuy.com website more effective and less prone to crashing. In doing so, Best Buy has become a electronic gadget toy store for grown-ups. Despite its nerdy focus, women lead the charge:
In a wrinkle that defies gadget-geek stereotypes, Best Buy’s leadership team is largely female: Women run operations accounting for 90% of its revenue. Inspired by a McKinsey colleague’s gender-diversity research—on which Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is partly based—Joly has fully committed to it at Best Buy.”
Why do I keep writing about women diversity at the senior executive level? I head an executive search (The Good Search) and recruiting research (Intellerati) firms help companies become more diverse at the board and C-level. Most companies want to be more diverse: they simply don’t know how to get there. CNNMoney reports only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women. Worse, only 24 of the CEOs are women, less than 5%. The playing field will not be officially level until that percentage hits 50.
Wanting to be more diverse is a good thing, but a simple wish is not enough to affect change. Successful diversity initiatives require that we begin with the realization that yes, women can do this. Best Buy gets that and the company has benefited mightily. CEO Joly put it this way:
If it had been Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers, maybe it would not have been the catastrophe that it was.”
Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.Org delivered the results of a diversity study it conducted with McKinsey & Co called Women in the Workplace 2015. The comprehensive study of the state of 118 companies and nearly 30,000 employees found that despite modest improvements since 2012, women remain underrepresented at every corporate level. The study serves as a business case for why you should make your next C-level hire a woman. As Ms. Sandberg wrote in When Women Get Stuck, Corporate America Gets Stuck in the Wall Street Journal,
Women, on average, are not leaving these companies at higher rates than men. Rather, they face more barriers to advancement and are less likely to reach senior leadership positions . . . Women see an uneven playing field—a workplace tilted against them. Women are twice as likely to believe their gender will make it harder to advance, and senior-level women view gender as a bigger obstacle than entry-level women do.
Sheryl Sandberg. Photo: Facebook/Zuma Press
As the study confirms, corporations that lack diversity at the senior executive level have a hard time shattering the glass ceiling. The reasons are many. Ms. Sandberg, who also serves as COO of Facebook, explains only part of the problem has to do with women not leaning in:
The unfortunate reality is that women at every stage in their careers are less interested than men in becoming a top executive. Contrary to popular belief, this is not solely rooted in family concerns. Our research shows that even women without children cite stress and pressure as their main issue. This points to another possible explanation for the leadership ambition gap: The path to senior positions is disproportionately stressful for women.”
But to blame women for the lack of senior executive diversity — to conclude that women aren’t leaning in far enough or trying hard enough misses Ms. Sandberg’s ultimate point: there is a bias against female leadership:
To get more women into leadership roles, we have to address our culture’s discomfort with female leadership. Young girls are called “bossy” on our playgrounds, while young boys are expected and encouraged to lead. This dynamic carries over into the workplace, where women walk a tightrope between being liked and being respected—and men do not. This persistent bias creates a double bind for women that we must surface, acknowledge and fix.”
I happen to head a retained executive search firm (The Good Search) and recruiting research practice (Intellerati). We help corporations become more diverse where it counts the most: at the board and senior executive levels. Interestingly, from a global perspective, there is but one group that is under represented in the C-suite: women. Yet when qualified women executives are included in slates of finalist candidates for senior leadership openings, all too frequently men get the offers. I’ve seen it happen time and again at the very corporations that say they want to be more diverse and that invest in programs promoting diversity. I think I know one of the reasons why. Women continue to hit the glass ceiling — despite the best intentions of concerned corporations — due to employee referrals.
Check Employee Referral Programs for Gender Bias
Employee referrals — often a favorite source of hires for corporations — have a way of undermining diversity efforts. They perpetuate the status quo. Birds of a feather not only flock together: they want to work together. Consequently, members of homogeneous executive teams tend to refer in more of the same. White male executives frequently recommend other white male executives through employee referral not because they’re overtly, consciously prejudiced. They do it because these are the guys they know. Once they do, those recommended candidates have the wind at their backs. Employee referrals typically bypass the screening and recruiting process that was put in place to ensure consistent quality and diversity. Candidates who are referred in by a team member are often introduced immediately to the hiring executive. So by the time the referred candidate is introduced to HR to fill out the necessary applicant paperwork, the white male candidate referral has become a runaway train. In that scenario, rock-star executive women and diverse men are snubbed for lesser executives because the white guy has become unstoppable as a candidate.
Referrals offer a rich source of pre-referenced, often plug-and-play talent. For companies scaling quickly, referrals can make all the difference between filling the role in a timely fashion or having it languish unfilled as the rest of the team gets stressed out from over-work, missed deadlines, overdue product launches, and lost revenue. The opportunity cost for failing to fill senior executive openings is massive.
There’s a legal cost as well. If you don’t put a stop to short cuts for the white guy with connections in your employee referral program, you are putting yourself and your company at risk of being slapped with a discrimination suit due to disparate impact. You can get nailed even if you believe in diversity and actively promote advancing women and other diverse candidates into senior executive ranks. If you fast track your majority class through employee referral while giving unrepresented classes the third degree, that fact alone could very well come back to haunt you in court.
So what’s a hiring executive to do?
- Do a quick check to determine whether your employee referral program is torpedoing your diversity efforts.
- Educate those who refer prospective candidates to eliminate their inherent bias by advancing diverse candidates.
- Do not allow referred candidates to bypass phone screens and other processes required of other candidates. For an opportunity to be truly equal, the playing field must be leveled.
- Identify, profile, qualify, and cultivate relationships with diverse candidates in advance of job openings. Make sure they are as well-networked into your company as the majority.
- Conduct competitive mapping to identify all viable candidates for a role to ensure inclusion of diverse candidates — prospects that all too often are overlooked.
Make 50% Your Gender Diversity Target
Wherever women comprise less than 50% of an executive team, we have a problem. Women make up half the working population and, as logic would hold, should make up half of your leadership team. Yet when I stopped to think about it, I couldn’t think of a single Fortune 1000 corporation with 50% or more women at the senior executive level. (When you stop to think about it, can you?)
Naturally, I “googled” it to see if I could find such a diversity unicorn. The National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) listed 2 companies in its 2015 Top 50 Companies for Executive Women with 50% women in roles reporting directly to the CEO: DigitasLBi and State Farm. However, that was as of February/March 2015. When I double-checked the About page for DigitasLBi, only 25% (10 out of 40) of the listed leaders are women. So, DigitasLBi is not at 50% as far as I can tell. State Farm lists just the CEO on its Leadership Team page. Without transparency, it difficult to verify that half of State Farm senior executives are, indeed, women. However, whatever the percentage, one thing is clear: with few exceptions, there is a case to be made for more women at the senior leadership level.
Become a Gender Diversity Booster
There are a whole host of steps one can take to boost the diversity of women at the senior executive level. For example, our research division Intellerati conducts research to create diversity talent pools. We identify, profile, and qualify diverse executives to ensure inclusion in advance of openings. We help clients benchmark diversity best practices by conducting investigative research to determine the diversity of client competitors at the senior executive level. We then analyze that information to glean insights about what strategies and tactics actually move the needle.
I’ve always found it strange that the federal government requires reporting of diversity statistics to the EEOC, but does not make that information public. But companies can report their own diversity statistics, inviting in the sunshine and diversity consciousness. Case in point: Microsoft. In December, CEO Satya Nadella released Microsoft’s federally-mandated diversity numbers in its EEO-1 form. He promised to do so after Rev. Jesse Jackson called on the tech industry to improve its diversity. In fact, a host of other tech companies, including Intel, have revealed their diversity numbers in the last year. Ms. Sanberg recommends increasing transparency to help employees see that there is, indeed, a problem. She suggests the next steps listed below.
Diversity Next Steps:
- Determine how diverse you are
- Determine how diverse your peers are
- Set diversity goals and benchmark
- Implement training to counteract bias
- Sponsor, mentor, and support women employees
For other ideas, check out LeanIn.org and join a few of their circles. Check out Catalyst.org. Check out Women in the Workplace 2015, read the full report, and review their list of Things You Can Do. In other words, do something. Whatever step you choose, let’s take that journey together.
The Unconscious Gender Bias Within
Unconscious gender bias at the senior executive level is real. In fact, it may be one of the primary reasons so many companies that want to be diverse have so few women at the senior executive level.
I head a retained executive search and recruiting research practice that does a lot of work in diversity. We provide services to companies seeking to become more diverse at the senior executive and board levels. In every instance, we work with good leaders who are dedicated to leveling the playing field for senior executive women. Inevitably in our practice, we witness random acts of bias as good leaders attempt to become better. Keep Reading!
Google shows you ads for better jobs if it thinks you’re a guy. MIT Technology Review reports that Google’s ad targeting appears to be discriminatory, a story also highlighted by Gizmodo’s Kate Knibbs.
That means even if you Lean In, as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg advised; and even if you chalk up as many accomplishments and degrees; you’re still not going to get as many intriguing, higher paying jobs dangled in front of you online as a male version of you. MIT Technology Review explained it this way,
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the International Computer Science Institute built a tool called AdFisher to probe the targeting of ads served up by Google on third-party websites. They found that fake Web users believed by Google to be male job seekers were much more likely than equivalent female job seekers to be shown a pair of ads for high-paying executive jobs when they later visited a news website.
If you think it through, fewer awesome opportunities likely is exacerbating lower salaries for women — due to the simple law of supply and demand. As Catalyst Inc. documents extensively in the United States, “No matter what their race/ethnicity, age, occupation, or education, all women are impacted by the gender wage gap.”
So, Google . . . .not helping.
What exactly caused those specific patterns is unclear, because Google’s ad-serving system is very complex. But even if it is an unintended consequence of ad targeting, it means deserving women executives remain at a disadvantage more than previously imagined. Not only do women make less than men, on average, in their current workplaces ,they also are being shortchanged by future employers. Google ad targeting appears to have a built-in bias because it displays ads for better jobs to men.
Anupam Datta, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who helped develop AdFisher believes the gender targeting disparity highlights the need for tools to uncover how online ad companies differentiate between people.
Perhaps Google, a company that has vowed to do no evil in its “Ten things we know to be true” company philosophy, ought to take a page from Microsoft’s playbook. Professor Datta has begun collaborating with Microsoft, much to Microsoft’s credit, to develop a version of AdFisher for use inside the company, to look for potentially worrying patterns in the ad targeting on the Bing search engine.
Gender Diversity Study
The lack of gender diversity at high tech companies in the Silicon Valley has been the subject of much debate, but little progress. Few could agree on the diversity facts of record because no serious research had been done measuring how few women executives there are in comparison to their male counterparts. However, a landmark gender diversity study has been released that tells us just how bad the Bay Area bastion of tech maleness really is. The ground breaking study was conducted by the tech law practice of Fenwick & West and is entitled Gender Diversity in Silicon Valley: a Comparison of Silicon Valley Public Companies and Large Public Companies. In fact, the study finds that the paucity of gender diversity at the board level is likely worse than you thought. As Business Insider Reporter Lydia Dallett pointed out,
“In the 2013 proxy season, more than 80% of Silicon Valley 150 companies had only one woman director or none at all.”
In other words, public companies to large public companies not counted among the SV150, the difference is vast.
The law firm sifted through public filings for the proxy seasons from 1996 through 2013, tallying up the number of women serving on boards and executive teams of companies in the boards of directors and 40% have just one woman director.
The Silicon Valley tech companies are public companies, mind you, not tech startups. They each have, on average, 8500 employees. S&P 100 companies average 170,000 employees. However, when you compare the two, SV150 companies seem as immature as a school boy who punches a classmate in the arm to show her how much he likes her.
The facts are now indisputable: women are profoundly under-represented at the senior executive and board levels in Silicon Valley. Of course, the question becomes what do we do about that? At a minimum, the law firm Fenwick & West suggests the following:
As anyone who lives and works in the high technology and life sciences industries of Silicon Valley can readily attest, Silicon Valley is quite diverse in terms of ethnicity and culture as well as in many other ways, drawing talent from across the United States and around the world. And, as a general matter, Silicon Valley companies embrace open-mindedness and meritocracy as core values and are interested in attracting the best, most talented workforce possible, in the belief that it is essential to the success of their businesses. We hope that the information in this study . . . will spur and inform additional thought and discussion among the participants and leaders in the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
Dude, Where’s My Code?
Of course, any woman working in the tech industry has likely experienced the lack of gender diversity first hand. In fact, the male gender dominance has given rise to so-called “bro” culture. If nerds with pocket protecters were not enough, women of the Silicon Valley have the growing ranks of brogrammers with which to contend. According to the Urban Dictionary:
A programmer who breaks the usual expectations of quiet nerdiness and opts instead for the usual trappings of a frat-boy: popped collars, bad beer, and calling everybody “bro”. Despised by everyone, especially other programmers.
Example: “Oh my god, John is talking about football and chicks again. That guy is such a brogrammer.”
I’d like to believe that the gender diversity study will prompt more evolved leaders in Silicon Valley to take steps to ensure fairness for all deserving candidates. There are simple steps one can take to level the playing field. Our retained search practice The Good Search and our research practice Intellerati have done extensive work in diversity recruiting and diversity talent acquisition. We help top media and technology companies identify, profile, and cultivate relationships with the best and brightest diverse talent at the senior executive level — well in advance of hiring needs. We develop diversity talent pools uncovering top diverse talent to ensure their light is not hidden under a bushel. Moreover, diversity talent pools also help to off-set the homogenous effect of employee referrals. To become truly diverse, we must reach beyond our own networks to include executives who do not resemble ourselves.