Faced with a firestorm of criticism for lacking a woman director, Twitter last week named media executive Marjorie Scardino to its board.
While Scardino’s appointment to the previously all-male board finally quashes the raunchy (forgive us) “three Peters and Dick” joke that was making the rounds within the company (because of its directors Peter Chernin, Peter Currie, Peter Fenton and CEO Dick Costolo), it still begs several questions, like why did it take Twitter so long to add a woman to its board in the first place, and why did it choose someone without a technical background?
It’s no secret that there’s a minority of women working in IT – just 25 percent of engineering teams include a female. So it stands to reason that finding a woman tech executive to fill a board seat would be a challenge. But if Twitter recruited a non-technology executive, why couldn’t it have found a woman years ago? A post on Reuters offers an interesting perspective:
Start-ups tend to blame the lack of women on their boards on factors such as their youth, their small boards, their single-minded focus on growth to the exclusion of other priorities, and a scarcity of women steeped in technology. They also blame venture capitalists, who are usually male, usually hold the bulk of board seats – and don’t want to see their voting power diluted by adding noninvestor board members.
Twitter’s Lack of Women
Keeping an eye out for diversity may not be baked into Twitter’s DNA. Of its top 12 executives, only two are women. One is the vice president of human resources and the other is its general counsel. In the company’s technical ranks, it’s highly paid senior vice president of technology, Chris Fry, is a male, as is CTO Adam Messinger. The mere fact that a woman now serves on Twitter’s board is unlikely to have any dramatic impact on the company’s effort to reach out to women. Without a technical background, Scardino is unlikely to make referrals of women in IT.
Scardino does bring real value to Twitter’s board, however. She’ll bolster the company’s media know-how in the face of potentially crushing competition from the likes of Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Asian competitors. Besides Facebook and its acquired Instagram, Twitter is concerned about Google leveraging its position in specific markets and adding features to its products and services that may squash the bird. In Asia, smaller rivals are emerging, such as Sina Weibo and LINE.
A critic of the lack of women representation on boards, Scardino previously served as CEO of Pearson Plc., a UK publisher whose products include the Financial. Before that she was CEO at the Economist Group, another media firm. She not only brings her past media experience to the table, but also experience as a CEO. In naming her to the board, Twitter accomplished three things: landing a woman director, gaining greater depth on the media front and adding the experience of someone steeped in corporate operations.