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Tech Industry

Forget binders of women, now there's a database

A new project called the Boardlist lets tech firms peruse a database of more than 600 female leaders prepped to serve on a board of directors.

CNET

A common criticism of technology companies is they don't have enough staff diversity. A common response is it's a pipeline issue -- there are simply not enough women in tech. Well, apparently, that pipeline is full.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, CEO of Joyus, a startup that creates short videos for online shopping, announced a new project on Thursday called the Boardlist. It's a comprehensive database that has a growing list of more than 600 female leaders who could serve as board members for private tech companies.

"Boardlist is key to discovering and helping find the best female board talent for private tech company boards by using the power of our own leadership community, personal endorsement and technology," Cassidy said. "It's necessary because today this process is random, manual, adhoc, word of mouth and we continue to suffer from the perception that there is not enough from a 'pipeline' of great female leaders as a result."

Silicon Valley tech firms have been under the spotlight over the past couple of years as they've been accused of not doing enough to promote gender diversity. The majority of top tech companies have less than 32 percent of women in their workforce, with even lower numbers in leadership and in the technical ranks, according to diversity reports released by companies, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter and Facebook. Cassidy believes the earlier a startup adds women and people of different races to its board and staff, the more diverse it will eventually become.

Numerous studies show diversity adds to success. A Lehman Brothers survey of 100 teams found that "gender balanced" teams were most likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and fulfill tasks. And McKinsey and Co. says diversity translates into dollars: companies that are more gender- and ethnically diverse perform better financially. Yet women held just 14.3 percent of board seats at the top 100 tech companies by revenue in June 2013, according to a survey by executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry.

To create the Boardlist, Cassidy enlisted more than 50 tech leaders and venture capitalists, men and women, from companies like Twitter, LinkedIn and Lyft to suggest between 10 and 30 "stand-out women leaders." It's meant to be a curated resource for private tech firms to use when filling open board seats.

"While women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and women founding companies are critical, long-term areas of focus, there is a tremendous opportunity to drive diversity in virtually 100 percent of privately funded tech companies at the board level," Cassidy wrote in her announcement of the Boardlist. "Every boardroom, founder, and investor can benefit from diverse thinking  -- and the earlier the better."

Cassidy has worked in Silicon Valley for 18 years. Before starting Joyus in January 2011, she worked at several tech companies including Google, Amazon, Polyvore, Yodlee and News Corp. As the topic of women in tech has gotten increased attention, Cassidy said one group that has been left out of the narrative are female founders and CEOs. So, in May, she launched a project called #ChoosePossibility to bring more women leaders into the dialog and come up with ideas of expanding diversity in tech.

The Boardlist is one of the first ideas to come out of #ChoosePossibility. It's currently invite-only, but Cassidy plans to expand the tool and eventually roll it out to a broader audience.

"My hoped for outcome," Cassidy said, is to make Silicon Valley a "place that is able to harness 100 percent of the available talent 100 percent of the time."