58 percent of the over 800 million Facebook users are women. Women spend more time than men making Facebook status and profile updates and commenting on others’ posts. Mark Zuckerberg, the 27-year-old founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Facebook, wrote in a personal letter included in his company’s recent IPO filing that Facebook’s “social mission” is to “give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future.” With all that, then why are there no women on the social networking site’s seven member board of directors? That’s the question being raised as Zuckerberg prepares to take Facebook public in a $5 billion initial public offering.
A recent Bloomberg.com article by reporter Carol Hymowitz opened our eyes to this curious disparity, something we would never have even considered as we, a handful among the site’s 800 million users, log in to our Women You Should Know Facebook page every day. Among the interesting points it makes and perspectives it includes from several women business leaders, the article notes that according to Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit that researches women and business issues, the disconnect between the majority percentage of Facebook users being women in relation to its all male board, “puts the social-media company at odds with others in the industry that have at least one female director, including LinkedIn Corp. and Google Inc., and from most big public companies in the U.S. Just 11.3 percent of the Fortune 500 had male-only boards last year.” But even more interesting is the fact that corporate board diversity has been shown to deliver tangible benefits to major companies, “A Catalyst survey of Fortune 500 companies found that those with three or more female directors outperformed those with fewer between 2005 and 2009, achieving on average 43 percent better return on equity.”
The Facebook board’s all male make-up is even more head scratching because the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, is an outspoken advocate for gender equality. As the Bloomberg article points out, she is Facebook’s best-paid senior executive, receiving $30.9 million in compensation last year. After the IPO, she may own up to 1.7 percent of the company and her stake may be worth $1.7 billion. Go Sheryl! While we applaud her impressive rise to the top, we’d “like” to think she, of all the Facebook executives, would recognize the need and benefit of having at least one female director.
Aside from appearing a bit backward, dare we say archaic, it’s both off-brand and a seemingly unsound business practice for a company as progressive and forward thinking as Facebook to have a homogenized board. As we see it, this is not about equality for equality’s sake; it’s about diversity that can lead to further innovation of ideas and stronger overall performance for the company, as research suggests.