Twitter criticized for all-male board

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In the beginning of October, Twitter announced its long-awaited IPO to much fanfare. The company is looking to raise $1 billion, and it’s expected that many millionaires will be created.

However, a shadow has fallen on Twitter amidst all the excitement. The publication earlier this year of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller Lean In has brought renewed attention to the lack of female representation at senior levels of leadership in American business. This has brought scrutiny upon many firms, especially in the tech sector where the number of women tends to be even fewer. Taking this tack, Vivek Wadhwa, a voluble former entrepreneur turned academic, in an interview with the New York Times criticized Twitter for having an all-male board, calling it “male chauvinist thinking.”

Twitter’s COO Dick Costolo went on Twitter to fight back. There, he called Wadhwa “the Carrot Top of academic sources”, a reference to a stand-up comedian who makes exaggerated statements.  It happens that I have in the past heard similar criticism of Wadhwa from my academic friends, so I found it quite interesting to hear the CEO of Twitter say essentially the same thing. However, this dismissive statement from Costolo proved to be very unwise, as it ignited a firestorm of indignation and intensified the scrutiny of Twitter’s lack of gender balance on its board.

The most recent and prominent person to criticize Twitter is Nicholas Kristof, a popular columnist for the New York Times who often writes about issues of gender equality. He called the fact that Twitter’s board contains seven white men “stale, old thinking”, and quoted research that shows that companies with more women on their boards outperform those with fewer women in terms of return on equity and invested capital. He also pointed to research showing that diverse teams are the best at problem solving.

As a consultant who often advises companies on matters of diversity, I’m glad that people are becoming more aware of the importance of including women at the highest levels in organizations, and highly value the research Kristof pointed to. At the same time, to be quite honest the criticism of Twitter is making me rather uncomfortable. In my mind, the essence of diversity is to not judge people based on factors that they cannot control such as their race, age, or gender. But that’s what is happening when people focus on the race and gender of Twitter’s board members.  Having never met them, I can’t say whether they were chosen due to “stale, old thinking” or based on their skills and contributions.

Doubtless Twitter will appoint a female board member at some point, if only to appease its critics. But I personally wouldn’t want to be that woman, because everyone would think that I had been chosen solely on the basis of my gender. I’d like to see the day that we can all get past putting people in demographic categories, and instead focus on them as talented individuals.

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Japan Intercultural Consulting http://www.japanintercultural.com

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