Women on Boards

Urban Revolt

For a company whose target market is mostly women, Urban Outfitters is failing miserably on behalf of its board’s gender diversity. Investors are not pleased. Almost half of the company's independent shareholders voted in favor of a resolution to commit to a policy of inclusion that would consider women and minority candidates for the board. The resolution was rejected.
Over the past three years, shareholders have repeatedly voiced concern regarding Urban’s all male board, submitting proposals that would address the issue. With each proposal getting shot down, shareholders are digging in, refusing to accept such blatant disregard for gender diversity in the corporate world. In response to their disgruntled investors, Urban appointed one woman to the board last year: the founder and chief executive’s wife. As Gretchen Morgensen said in a New York Times article last year, "Talk about poking your shareholders in the eye with a stick."
Trying to understand Urban’s response is perhaps even more difficult when you compare Urban to a company in the same market: Abercrombie & Fitch. A&F jumped the proverbial gun and nominated four women executives, highly qualified in retail, to their board in anticipation of their annual meeting this month.
We applaud the Urban investors and their protest vote, and hope more companies like Abercrombie & Fitch recognize the value that women bring to the boardroom table. 

Investing responsibly? Vote your proxy.

In our work to highlight and influence the vast number of opportunities for corporate board diversity, it seems only natural to take a look at the current weight shareholders carry when it comes to Socially Responsible Investing. There are a number of historical precedents for SRI, and lately, with companies jumping on the ethically concerned bandwagon, investors can now take into consideration not only a promising financial return, but their own social consciousness. There’s no question that investors have been increasingly mindful of their social responsibility and impact when seeking out new investment opportunities. Whether it’s concern for the environment or avoiding companies that profit from tobacco, profitability is no longer the sole factor for investors. The number of investment opportunities that meet both criteria is flourishing.
Despite this good news, however, it seems that boardroom diversity still manages to fall to the wayside. With so many companies providing SRI opportunities with real return, one has to wonder why boardroom diversity is not just a given, but a requirement for any socially responsible company. Thus with proxy season underway, we ask investors to not only vote their proxies, but look carefully at the board slates. Say no to all male boards and write boldly onto your proxy ballot WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? when there are none on the slate. If there is only one woman on the board, vote only for that woman. As shareholders, our vote can send a message to boards that gender diversity does matter.

Launching an IPO? Follow Zendesk's lead.

Zendesk, a leader in providing cloud software for better customer service, announced that it would be appointing three new members to its board of directors, all of whom are women. Caryn Marooney, Vice President of technology communications at Facebook; Elizabeth "Betsey" Nelson, former chief financial officer of Macromedia; and Michelle Wilson, former Amazon.com General Counsel. Zendesk's board now stands at 4-3, men to women. With companies like Twitter and Facebook taking so much heat for not having any women on their board, Zendesk's seemingly unprovoked decision sets a new precedent, giving hope for the future of corporate board diversity.
In a separate declaration, Zendesk stated that they have reached 40,000 customers, now serving over 300 million people worldwide--giving all the more reason to expect that the company is headed toward an IPO.
Whether influenced by the desire to go public, or genuinely falling in line with corporate board diversity, Zendesk has put its full faith behind its new board members: "Caryn, Betsey and Michelle know what it takes to turn growing companies into some of the most respected brands in the world," said Mikkel Svane, Zendesk founder and CEO. "Their talents will help us share our vision for bringing companies and customers closer together with even more people around the world."
Other companies getting ready to launch IPOs can learn from Zendesk's example. In an earlier blog post, we called for a checklist for companies about to go public. If you missed it, you'll find it here.

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