Facebook's Diversity Flop

The Face It Campaign

(The Root) — When Facebook announced that it was launching a $5 billion initial public offering, with a corporate board composed exclusively of white male members, Alice Buttrick and Alice Baumgartner launched Face It, a campaign to spread the message that the company's board should represent the diversity of its users and the country. To the two white Ivy League graduates in their early 20s, that means "the board of white men should include women of all colors."

They founded the organization in April of this year, using protests and an online petition to pressure the social networking giant to go public with a board that reflects what it claimed was its own corporate mission: to make the world more open and connected. That didn't happen, and although on May 15 it was reported that Facebook had hired a search firm to find "at least one woman" for the board, Buttrick says, "We think just one woman reinforces the token status of women and minorities in leadership, and we are keeping the pressure on."

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Even after the IPO flop, Face It is not stopping the push for representation. The campaign provided Facebook with a list of candidates that it says are qualified, which it declined to disclose to The Root. However, Buttrick told The Root that she's confident the company's leadership "knows now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the problem is not supply but demand."

In an email exchange, Buttrick provided responses on behalf of Face It, telling The Root about why the campaign chose to focus on Facebook, what the lawsuits filed against Face It mean for its mission and why diversity wouldn't benefit just those who have been left out but would actually be a smart choice for the company.

The Root: Why does the racial and gender composition of Facebook's board matter?

Face It: It matters to the company's shareholders because a diverse board is a symbol of good company management, and studies show that diverse boards, in terms of both gender and ethnicity, improve business outcomes for the company.

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It matters to Facebook's employees because diversity at the top tends to help diversity at every level — women will better understand what female employees need in terms of flexibility, mentorship and support, and policies that support flexibility and diverse lifestyles tend to improve productivity and morale.

It matters to Facebook's users, 58 percent of which are women, that their perspectives are represented at the top of a company built overwhelmingly on the backs of their participation, so that they know the communities they have built using Facebook as a tool will be treated with respect.

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And finally, it matters to everyone in the world who is not a rich white male that a company heralded as the future of big business not look so resolutely into the past for a model with which to choose its leaders. In the 21st century, the future, at least, should have a more diverse face.

TR: Does Facebook have a moral obligation to diversify its board? An obligation to shareholders?

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FI: If Facebook wishes to live up to the expectations of its newly public ownership, it should do everything it can to ensure that its early, and admittedly meteoric, success can be shored up by solid, long-term leadership. And there is a solid business case for a diverse board: Companies with women on the board make more money.

Studies have shown that there is a correlation between boards with female representation and increased returns on sales, investments and equity. And companies with women on the board function better. Studies have also indicated that women improve the ways that boards function and make decisions.

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TR: Facebook and Morgan Stanley are now facing a class-action suit over the IPO. What's your take on this news, and does it have any bearing on your interest in inclusion?

FI: While it is unclear whether any of these suits have merit, they all point to the fact that some of the money around Facebook still acts like an old boys' network — which is unsurprising given that, in addition to Facebook's seven white men, the leadership at Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs does skew overwhelmingly in the same direction.

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A more diverse group may not fall prey as easily to insider behaviors and groupthink.

TR: Are there any other companies you'd like to pressure to diversify in the same way, or is Facebook unique?

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FI: We would like every company to make an effort to include qualified women of all colors on its board. Only 24 women were added to Fortune 500 boards in 2011. At this sluggish rate, it will take 40 years for women to occupy just 30 percent of Fortune 500 board seats. The reasons we think Facebook should add women to its board hold true for many others.

We focused on Facebook for this campaign because we thought that the situation was unique: a young company purporting openness and progressive policies, the brightest star of an industry powered by women, led by a member of our own generation, who has certainly grown up surrounded by the evidence of women's equal abilities. We thought Facebook was a place to begin a revolution in corporate leadership. Thus far, we have been disappointed.

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TR: How do you respond to the notion that women and minorities should create their own, separate, ventures instead of hoping to be included in places where it seems the value of diversity isn't recognized?

FI: Minority groups should certainly pursue many paths to equality and recognition. We have championed this one because Facebook may be led by white men, but it is used by people around the world, of different colors, genders and creeds, and we think they should have a seat at the table they helped build.

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Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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