theBoardlist Accelerates Gender Diversity in the Boardroom by Jenna Abdou


When Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Founder of Joyus, announced theBoardlist- a hand-selected marketplace of qualified female board members - in July 2015 I sent her an email thanking her for inspiring me to serve on the board of a public or private company. Specifically saying, “I can’t wait to be on that list.” 

Aside from my dad advising me that serving on a board would be a meaningful role in the future, I’d given little thought to the pursuit. 

It wasn’t until this past year when I met women like Sukhinder, angel investor Joanne Wilson, and Freestyle Capital Partner Jenny Lefcourt, that I knew of female board members. Thus, when Blair Christie, Head of Strategic Communications and Partnerships at theBoardlist, reflected on her mother’s advice that “You can’t be what you can’t see,” during our interview I finally understood the sentiment. 

The insight isn’t new. In fact, women hear it more today than ever before. However, it wasn’t until I felt it in my own life that it resonated. For that, I thank Blair, Sukhinder, and the team at theBoardlist for working “to effect and shift the gender ratio in the boardroom.” I hope to play a role, as I know many of my friends do, supporting their efforts. 

Officially launching today, theBoardlist stemmed from the #ChoosePossibility movement, which Sukhinder sparked during the summer of 2015, highlighting women in the technology industry - like Susan Lyne and Kirsten Green - who have refused to let gender disparity influence their success. 

#ChoosePossibility resonated with thousands who shared, commented and added women they admire to list. 

theBoardlist is the team's, and an active group of supporters, aim to define a new narrative for diversity in tech by shifting the conversation from the problem to the solution. 

If people see a solution, they can get behind it. If they don’t see a solution, they focus on the problem.

Sukhinder quoted in Fortune on theBoardlist's impact

Here’s how it works. 

A founder, CEO, or board member signs up for theBoardlist where they can discover and connect with female candidates who have been peer endorsed on the platform. The team currently boasts over 1,000 candidates and plays an active role helping companies in the search. 

According to Blair, the Endorsing Members - founders, investors, or leaders who have worked closely with a candidate in the past - are "the core of the solution." 

“Endorsers play a huge role in furthering our cause and journey to drive gender balance in the boardroom,” she said. 

There are currently over 1,200 members nominating and reviewing candidates on the platform. You can find out if you qualify here and fill out a five-minute Google document to sign up. Your efforts will make a tangible difference. 

The value of the endorsement model is specifically designed to combat the common assertion: “I want to have a diverse boardroom but can’t find any women who are qualified.” 

“We can prove it,” Blair said. “There are thousands of qualified women out there."       

Our goal is to accelerate the discovery and connection with scalable technology.

“If a CEO goes to a recruiter they are going to end up with the same 10 names. They’re 10 incredible names, but these women only have seven days a week," she continued.    

theBoardlist’s core objective is to widen the pool of candidates by relying on their endorsing members and partnering with companies and venture capital firms (they’re currently working with 50) to streamline the placements. 

                   

Karla Martin, former Director of Global Business and Strategic Planning at Google, marked the team’s first placement in December 2015 when she joined the board of Los Angeles startup Challenged. 

We may be rare, but we’re not unicorns. We do exist.

Karla on the claim that there aren't enough qualified women to fill board seats.

“The Challenged team is very pleased with the work that we’ve done with them and the incredible value that Karla has brought to their board," Blair shared. 

40 similar searches are currently underway at theBoardlist - 70% for private companies and 30% for public. The team is hopeful that each successful placement will be a catalyst for the next. 

“We want to really accelerate this so it doesn’t take 40 years to see a level of parody in the boardroom,” Blair asserted, citing a recent study conducted by the Government Accountability Office. 

“There is a tremendous amount of data that diverse teams drive stronger business performance."

“We all want one outcome: a higher degree of success. In order to do that, you need the best candidates. It doesn’t matter if they are male or female or where they were born." 

“The goal that we are trying to drive is making the discovery easier and more efficient to accelerate the process.” 

Among the team’s chief initiatives is encouraging the founders and CEOs of young companies - namely navigating their first four years - to make diversity a priority. 

“In the long list of things that every startup CEO has to tackle, instead of moving this to the bottom of the list, consider putting it at the top,” Sukhinder recommended, in Fortune. 

“It’s really important for young companies to think about the foundation that they are building because chances are that foundation is going to be a reflection of their future,” Blair furthered. 

“Bringing on diverse leaders and team members early has a really positive multiplier effect when you go to attract and hire in the future,” she continued. 

“If you already have a couple hundred of employees and it looks very homogenous the chances are you’re going to have a much greater challenge bringing in new ideas and a diverse team. Starting early is very significant.” 

Assembling a diverse senior leadership team and board sends a powerful message to the organization that you are serious about gender parity. 

It’s equally important for companies to actively seek independent board members, in addition to their investors, to supplement domains of expertise. 

“Bringing in an independent board member early yields a set of experiences that you can really value as an operator," Blair explained. 

Reflecting on her own experiences as Senior Vice President at Cisco and the former Chief Marketing Officer, Blair “understands what it means to shift and re-energize a brand.” 

“I’ve had successes and challenges that I can share with companies so they can learn from them and not repeat them.” 

“There’s a real value in independent board members that an investor only board may not bring to the table."

“Investors are absolutely required but operators and independents can add a lot of value as well;” Making it wise for companies to start adding them to their board prior to later funding rounds. 

The assertion of independent board members leads to Blair’s advice for individuals, both male and female, who aspire to join public and private boards in the future. 

“First and foremost, really start thinking about the value-add that you can bring as a board member over time,” she said. 

“Think about your inventory of capabilities and ask yourself what your super powers are, either the ones you’re building today or are interested in the future.” 

“Being the very best at what you do is the single most important thing to focus on...From communications to product development, and finance, the range of expertise boards are looking for is very broad." 

While 30% of the candidates currently on theBoardlist have experience, the remainder will be joining boards for the first time. The team’s providing training in partnership with Wilson Sonsini to supplement their growth; A further indication of their long-term commitment to make an impact. 

“Board service can be a black box. It’s not something that gets talked about often. We're trying to change that," Blair established. 

Board service is a very powerful piece of professional development for senior women as they grow.

For first-time candidates seeking the right match. Blair advises them to follow the 50/50 rule: “Where do you feel you can bring 50% to the table and still have 50% to learn?” 

Once you answer that question, you can narrow down your options based on interest and commitment.  

Blair currently serves on the boards of AirGrub, MINDBODY, and US2020. 

“Board service should be on on the path of any business leaders’ career journey," she says. "You truly have an opportunity to contribute, learn, and give back." 

When it comes to Blair’s personal decision to join theBoardlist, she shares: “What I’m excited about in particular is that we are using technology to scale and accelerate in a way that we haven’t seen before.” 

“I’ve been involved in many conversations about gender diversity,  imbalance, and why it's an issue.  Most recently, I’ve become fatigued about the conversation of 'Why?' We’ve dissected it enough.” 

“The long-term vision of theBoardlist is a solution, and that’s why I’m involved. It’s taking a step of action towards solving the problem with an ecosystem, not just a group pulling names into a list. It’s CEOs, VCs, business leaders, and women themselves coming together to connect and move forward.” 

“Whether or not it comes through theBoardlist, as long as we see the gender ratio shift in a positive and more accelerated way we’ll know that we’re making progress. I have tremendous faith that is exactly what is going to happen during the coming years.” 


Images retrieved from theBoardlist and San Francisco Chronicle. 



Further Reading
  • Seedling Relies on Childhood Curiosity to Inspire a Creative Team — On a recent flight home, I spent over an hour browsing a children’s play website, completely enamored by sets like Design Your Own Superhero Cape and Invent Your Own Insects. After sharing Seedling with everyone I know, despite few of my friends having children, I wondered why the brand struck a such a meaningful chord with me.
  • How to Make Flexibility Your Startup’s North Star — When Alexis Maybank discusses how photographers utilize Project September - an app making the visual world instantaneously shoppable - she describes it as a “living portfolio where they can unlock new relationships with viewers.” The demographic is different than the fashion bloggers and influencers the New York-based team expected.
  • WeFestival Aims to Make Women Stronger Entrepreneurs — Since launching in December 13,000 messages have been sent across 22 channels in the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival Slack community. Ranging from questions about beta-testing to fundraising, or simply asking for advice, the community thrives on WeFestival’s founding mission to fulfill women’s unique need to connect and be heard.


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