When a company is added to the S&P 500, it is like being drafted by the major leagues. Warren Buffett, for one, invests in the S&P 500 because he sees it as a perfect microcosm of the entire economy.
If you discover, then, women represent only 21% of boards of directors on the list, it starts to sound more like a microcosm of the local sports tavern. And when you examine the companies more closely, you will likely be surprised by some of the biggest gender offenders.
The search engine giant isn’t reticent about embracing diversity, especially in the engineering ranks. But on billionaires row, the status quo is in safe hands. Here it is, 19 years after the company was founded, Google’s board is 77% male, the executive committee is a male trio, and the four senior officers are a male quartet. In the Google orchestra, women play second fiddle.
Facebook is not much better
When the company went public in 2012, angry protesters decried the company’s lack of women on the board. Mark Zuckerberg soon announced Sheryl Sandberg, a stunningly qualified woman, would be its first female. But why did it take four years and why did he choose a subordinate over an independent female candidate?
“At our current rate, it will take four decades to achieve gender parity.”
When the gender rules are ‘for them not us’, it leads to dissent or in some cases, radicalization. Is it any wonder James Damore’s diversity memo sent Google into a social media meltdown? The facts of the memo have been hotly debated, but the ruckus was caused by Google’s clumsy response — firing the engineer out of fear of a gender backlash.
Same song, same dance
Since 1972, when Katherine Graham was named the first female CEO and director of a Fortune 500 company, boards say they want to vastly increase the number of women. Yes, really.
But based on the Government Accounting Office’s findings, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. At our current rate, it will take four decades to achieve gender parity. By 2057, Elon Musk will convene a board meeting on Mars and we will still be asking why aren’t there more women on Earth’s boards.
This isn’t a ‘go girl’ program, but a life changer.
Let’s call it the Board Corps, modeled after the Peace Corps. The purpose is to train aspiring and dedicated people to do business in a multi-gender and ethnic society, and who can be the global eyes and ears of the boardroom. It also is a solution to the gender imbalance, as you will see.
We also will need boards of directors to address the challenge with a bias toward action, because our problem isn’t lack of will, it’s lack of urgency.
If we really want to eliminate the bottleneck, broaden the ‘spec’ by starting with women from diverse backgrounds and a worldly orientation. Look beyond the Ivy League elite, where women have careers identical to the men, and the result is sameness in a different outfit.
A better future board director might be a woman from the Congo who ran a shelter for abandoned children. She might actually help management in dealing with adversity.
Then get Congress and the State attorneys general to tamp down on a plaintiff bar disagreeably attached to litigation against boards. Rather than fighting for shareholders, they turn board directors into change fearing automatons.