Needed: A New IPO Checklist that Includes Women

Last year, when Facebook issued its IPO without a woman on its board of directors there was huge public outcry about the oversight. Women's organizations called for a boycott; people picketed Facebook's offices in New York. After the company went public it tried to rectify the error by putting Sheryl Sandberg on its board. Soon after that, Facebook appointed a second woman, Susan Desmond-Hellman.
History repeated itself this year when Twitter announced its IPO plan. Again, stakeholders who care about good corporate governance and company transparency voiced their outrage that another technology giant would go public without any women in the boardroom. During the IPO launch Twitter CEO Dick Costello sparred with Vivek Wadhwa, fellow at Stanford's Rock Center for Corporate Governance, for his statement in the New York Times, " The fact that they went to the I.P.O. without a single woman on the board, how dare they?"
Following the IPO, Twitter announced the appointment of its first woman director, Marjorie Scardino, former executive director of Pearson. When asked about the lack of gender diversity on the Twitter board Costello said it was a pipeline issue. But if Scardino was available after the IPO she was probably available before it, along with other qualified women. Men who use the pipeline argument are out of touch with today’s business environment.
In 2013 in Silicon Valley, eight out of 13 companies that launched IPOs had no women on their boards. This situation is not because of a pipeline issue; it's directly related to the male-dominated venture community. Venture firms appoint their investors to fill start-up board seats and venture investors are predominantly white and male.
What's a start up to do? Rely on a new IPO Launch Checklist, one that includes examining the board and executive team to make sure that it is diverse and reflects its stakeholders. It should go something like this:
1. Develop an impressive management and professional team.
2. Grow the company's business with an eye to the marketplace.
3. Obtain audited financial statements using IPO-accepted accounting principles.
4. Get ready for public scrutiny.
5. Establish antitakeover procedures.
6 Develop good corporate governance practices.
7. Take advantage of IPO windows.
8. Make sure there is 20% or more women on your board.
Will companies get the message in 2014?
Sources: Go Public Institute; A Striking Absence of Women, NYT Sunday Review, October 12, 2013, Twitter's Not Alone - 8 other Silicon Valley Companies have no Women on Board, Silicon Valley Business Journal, October 8, 2013.