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Leadership
Michael Brown, Roger Lee  |  July 15, 2015
Choose More Diverse Boards

A few weeks ago, we were approached by a prominent Silicon Valley executive we both know, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, about helping her with a project called Boardlist to increase the number of women on private-company boards.

Our response? Of course.

To us, this project, which was announced this morning at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen and is part of the larger ChoosePossibility diversity initiative, is a no-brainer. We obviously recognize that the technology industry needs to be more diverse, and multiple studies have shown diverse viewpoints on boards and in company management lead to better financial performance. As investors who back private companies, that sounds like a win-win to us.

But the industry is clearly behind on this issue. ChoosePossibility’s initial survey of a subset of venture-capital firms—in which our firm, Battery Ventures, participated—found that only about 32% of the companies in these firms’ portfolios had at least one woman on their boards. A separate analysis of data provided by a large law firm revealed that just 23% of companies that recently received funding rounds (series B, C or D) had a woman on their board. Private-company boards normally have anywhere from four to eight people, including investors, company executives and independent members.

Part of the problem, we think, is myopia: Many tech executives faced with filling independent board seats don’t know a lot of female executives in the first place, or they keep going back to the same, small group of women they consider qualified to serve on boards. So, they quickly run out of names. This is short-sighted to us. Cassidy’s Boardlist project has already gathered more than 600 names of high-powered, qualified women who can serve on boards, and it will keep adding more.

We’ve submitted some names of women who might not fit the typical Silicon Valley board profile—people like Traci Dolan, the former CFO of ExactTarget*. She lives in Indianapolis.  There’s also Ai-Li Lim, who runs HR at Boston Brewing Co., and is the former head of HR at Vistaprint, also based in Boston. Since our portfolio skews heavily toward the enterprise, we also provided names like Intel executives Kim Stevenson and Diane Bryant, as well as Carol Carpenter, the GM of the consumer business at Trend Micro.

And of course we included the female CEOs and founders in our portfolio: Ann Johnson of big-data firm Interana; Amanda Kahlow of 6Sense, a B2B, predictive-analytics company; Heidi Jannenga, co-founder and COO of WebPT; and Mona Bijoor, who runs retail-software company Joor. Our investment in WebPT was led by our Battery General Partner Chelsea Stoner, who ups the diversity quotient of all the company boards on which she serves. Still, we know we need to do even better.

Going forward, Boardlist will have a give-to-get business model: Companies or VC firms who contribute names to the list can access the database to search for women uniquely qualified to serve on boards for particular types of companies. They can search by industry (software, e-commerce), functionality (finance, HR) and stage of company (early stage all the way up to public.) Look for more news soon about Boardlist’s rollout.

We hope this project will increase the number of women on private-company boards and, more broadly, draw more attention to the need for more diverse viewpoints of all types on private-company boards and in company management. We certainly intend to use this tool for our portfolio and are honored to support the Boardlist and ChoosePossibility initiatives.

ExactTarget was a Battery portfolio company. For a full list of all Battery investments and exits, please click here.

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