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November 08, 2013

(Andrew Grabois is manager of corporate philanthropy at the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the addition of corporate sustainability data to Foundation Directory Online.)

Women_on_tech_boardsMuch has been written about Twitter's IPO -- including analyses of the social media company's revenues, profits, share price, and even the stylistic turns of its S-1 prospectus. What you don't see, however, are articles or blog posts lamenting the complete absence of corporate philanthropy at the company. After all, Twitter, as the company's execs write in its prospectus summary, has "democratized content creation and distribution, enabling any voice to echo around the world instantly and unfiltered." With such an empowering, public-spirited mission, why should Twitter -- or any Silicon Valley high-flyer, for that matter -- concern itself with charitable giving or other aspects of corporate social responsibility?

The answer is that Twitter will never truly "democratize content creation and distribution" until it practices what it preaches. In that respect, it has a ways to go. For instance, more than a few people have noticed that Twitter doesn't have any women on its board of directors. And it's not alone. A well-traveled infographic created by Jim Cooke of Gawker shows that Twitter is one of four tech companies without a single female on the board -- and the other dozen companies included in the infographic scarcely do better. Taken together, the companies on Gawker's list averaged slightly more than one out of ten (13 percent) women on their boards, with those sitting at least one woman averaging closer to two out of ten (17 percent). Abysmally low, to be sure, but only marginally lower than the 14 percent reported by GMI Ratings in 2013 for S&P 1500 public companies and the 17 percent for Fortune 500 companies in 2012 as reported by Catalyst.

Companies with philanthropic programs don't do much better. According to figures compiled by the Foundation Center, the share of women sitting on the boards of 768 U.S. public companies that sponsor affiliated foundations and charities or administer a direct giving program is just under 16 percent. Some do better than others, and there are differences between and within industries. If we look at the Foundation Center's sample by broad industrial sector using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), we find that public companies in the Information sector, including the baker's dozen from Silicon Valley, fall squarely in the middle of the pack:


Of the above industry sectors, none averages more than three out of ten (30 percent) women directors, and only companies in the Educational Services and Retail Trade sector average at least 25 percent -- a far cry from the 40 percent goal proposed by the European Commission for the European Union. Indeed, more often than not, sectors with the highest percentage of female directors also had workforces that were predominantly female:


Analyses of gender representation on boards of public companies usually focus on geography, sales, or indices. The Foundation Center has produced one of the only breakdowns by industry. (Searching by NAICS industry will be available to users of Foundation Directory Online in the first quarter of 2014.)

And while it's true that Twitter and other newborn social media companies will not win any prizes for the gender diversity of their boards and workforces, taken together, Silicon Valley tech companies are no worse than most -- and compared to the construction and energy industries (to name two) are significantly better than many. What they -- and we -- fail to realize however, is that world-changing ambitions do not necessarily lead to community-changing results.

What do you think? Do diverse boards in and of themselves makes companies good corporate citizens, or can companies be socially responsible without boards and workforces that are fully representative of the nation's increasingly diverse population? 

Share your thoughts in the comments section below....

(Illustration credit: The New York Times)

-- Andrew Grabois

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