The tech industry doesn't have the greatest reputation when it comes to gender equality.
Women hold a minority of U.S. tech jobs, and the numbers are even smaller at the highest levels of leadership. That reality has come into sharper focus over the past several years, as high-profile harassment claims at Uber, a wage disparity lawsuit at Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report , and the overall rise of the #MeToo movement has forced the industry to grapple with the implications of its gender breakdown.
The boardroom is one area of leadership where a male-dominated status quo has been especially hard to shake: A recent survey of over 1,300 tech startups found that 40% had no women on their boards, for example. And despite their relative maturity, the large-cap FAANG names haven't moved the needle on female board representation, by and large. Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report , Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report and Facebook (FB) - Get Meta Platforms Inc. Class A Report have two women directors each on their boards; Netflix (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report has four; while Amazon's (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report has the strongest gender diversity, with five women directors on its 11-person board.
"The numbers haven't moved dramatically, but it's a bit of a lagging indicator -- board searches take on average from nine months to a year," said Shannon Gordon, CEO of TheBoardlist, which helps to place highly qualified women candidates in open board seats. "We're seeing a lot of search activity now, and I know a lot of our candidates are in conversations with company boards."
Gordon noted that the passage of laws such as California's SB 826 in October 2018, which requires that publicly held companies have at least one woman on their boards by the end of this year, have accelerated the incentive for companies to seek out women candidates. But she also added that oftentimes, getting the first women to the table is the hardest step.
"There are many companies that have no women on their boards, so the question is how do we penetrate the boardroom? From there, it'll be so obvious the value that is added," Gordon said.
A growing body of research demonstrates a link between diversity -- not just in terms of gender representation, but in racial and educational backgrounds as well -- and better outcomes for companies and their investors over time.
By analyzing 353 Fortune 500 companies between the years of 1996 and 2000, the nonprofit Catalyst found that across all sectors, top-ranked companies on diversity measures also outperformed in two key categories: return on equity and total returns to shareholders. Top-performing companies also had a greater representation of women on their leadership teams over time.
"Ultimately, the business case for recruiting, developing and advancing women maintains that companies that have diversity and manage it properly make better decisions, produce better products, and retain several key business advantages over more homogenous companies," Catalyst concluded.
That's an important signal even as more companies work to meet required gender quotas, Gordon added.
"Even if from an emotional or moral standpoint you don't think [the quotas] are the right thing to do, the data shows that diverse boards perform better. So we're in the midst of that push now," she said.