Going Public with an All-Male Board

by Julie Graber | on 15 Aug 2019

The We Company (WeWork) is just the latest in a long line of firms who have filed for an IPO with an all-male board. Per usual, when the lack of board diversity comes up, it is quickly defended by noting that IPO boards are usually heavily influenced by the venture capital firm/firms that funded the company’s start-up (you know, men).

That’s where the argument falls apart. And I don’t understand why we have to keep explaining this.

  • When a company goes “public,” it’s no longer just the venture capital firm’s money that’s at risk. 

  • When a company goes “public,” it’s asking a much broader and more diverse group of shareholders to invest in its growth.

  • When a company goes “public,” it has an obligation to appoint a board that represents the interests of broad and diverse group of shareholders - not just the venture capitalists. 

Even if most of the initial shares are purchased by large investors, like mutual funds and pension funds, those firms are often investing on behalf of a much broader and diverse group of shareholders - you know, the public (teachers, public employees, etc.). 

This shouldn’t be confusing - it’s in the name - “initial PUBLIC offering.” 

I could go on and talk about the demographics of individuals using co-working spaces (40% female). Or the research that shows that companies with diverse boards perform better. But I won’t, because women shouldn’t have to justify their place on a board any more than men do.

The first paragraph in the We Company’s prospectus describes the company as a “community” committed to global impact. Their mission is to “elevate the world’s consciousness.” They claim to create “beautiful spaces, a culture of inclusivity and the energy of an inspired community.” They strive to “elevate how people work, live and grow.”

If they meant it, their board (and senior leadership) would reflect it - a “community,” an “elevated consciousness,” “a culture of inclusivity.” Instead, the board is merely a sign of the same, old, tired thinking about who belongs on the board of directors.

It’s time the investment community stops rewarding this short-sighted behavior. Wouldn’t it be nice if no one would buy their shares?

*More on IPOs with all-male boards: