board of directors

Fitbit Not Fit for Women

Fitbit, the colorful bracelet seen on the wrists of the fit and wanna-be fit, is not fit for women. The company that is dedicated to health and fitness of the masses is going public with no women on its five-member board – another technology company taking the lead from its male investors. We say it’s time that the VC community pay attention to stakeholders who want to see the boards of companies where they work, shop and invest reflect the population, more than half of which is women.
 
Of the ten biggest tech IPOs of 2015 (Wall Street Journal, 6/17) three are Zero 'Z' Companies with no women directors (Black Knight Financial Services, Shopify and Apigee) and five are Token 'T' Companies with one woman director (Innovation Holdings, GoDaddy, Evolent Health, Baozun and MaxPoint Interactive). Two of the companies are Winning 'W' Companies, with 20% or more board seats held by women (Etsy and Box).
 
We all know that women make up a huge number of Fitbit customers - maybe the majority. The same can be said of most of the companies on the 2015 technology IPO list. To imply that there are no women qualified to serve on the Fitbit board is ludicrous. At best it's a gross oversight. At worst, it's discrimination, plain and simple. Discriminating against your customer base is just bad business.
 
We implore Fitbit to put women on its board.

Diversity and Meritocracy

A few weeks ago a campaign supporter suggested that our messaging was off. He said we are alienating half of our audience by insisting on boardroom diversity. Instead, he said, board directors should be chosen by meritocracy, based on ability and skill. If we selected our leaders based on meritocracy, he was sure that women would find their place on boards and in executive suites. Problem solved.
 
The word diversity has been bantered around for decades in discussions about corporate leadership. We’re told that diversity is a business imperative, that it’s good for business. In 2009 the SEC required companies to disclose their approach to diversity, without ever defining it. Diversity could mean anything. It was for the company to define, and the term can take on an empty ring.
 
2020 Women on Boards was the first organization to put a stake in the ground and define diversity to mean a minimum of 20% women on public company boards. Other groups added their own definitions and there are now diversity initiatives that call for 25%, 30%, 40% and parity for women on boards, many of these initiatives coming from European countries where strict quotas are enforced by law.
 
Those who talk about meritocracy when it comes to board service are perpetuating the myth that boards are chosen based on a specific set of criteria. It is not like applying to college. Each board has a unique set of challenges that are best addressed by a diverse group that brings a vast range of skills and experiences to the table. Most board members are selected because other board members know them or know of them. There’s nothing meritocratic about it.
 
Speak out against all male boards. Vote your proxies and send a message to companies that gender diversity is a priority!

IPOs Getting on the Diversity Bandwagon?

Last week it was Box Inc. and this week Shake Shack. Both companies launched IPOs with women on their boards. Box, the newest in file sharing platforms, went public as a Winning 'W' Company, with two of its ten directors women. Shake Shack, the hip, roadside burger joint coming to all neighborhoods soon, went public with just one woman on its board. It’s a 2020 Token 'T' Company.
 
We're happy to see companies take our advice (Needed: IPO Checklist that Includes Women) by putting their board in order before they go public, and not scramble to do the right thing after their IPO. But, we want our burgers and eat them too. So don’t stop now, Shake Shack. Put another woman on your board and join the ranks of Winning 'W' Companies. Your stakeholders will thank you!

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