Twitter's female "problem" -- This is why mobs don't appoint public company boards

By Sarah Lacy , written on October 8, 2013

From The News Desk

I can't believe this debate about whether Twitter is an awful company, simply because everyone on its board has a Y-chromosome, is still going on.

Memo to the press: It's no longer August. It's not particularly a slow news month. There are so many interesting conversations to be having about Twitter's impending IPO. Really, a three-day freak out about no women being on the board is one of them?

It's not like there are 40 people on said board. It's a small handful. And the company has been very thoughtful about who they are, even rotating out some of its earliest and most loyal backers. Furthermore, Twitter has long been a company priced at perfection with no wiggle room for operational error. The board is a carefully picked group that CEO Dick Costolo felt he could trust when he accepted the challenge of fixing a valuable but highly dysfunctional company. Trust was particularly important, given his rejiggering of the board was in part due to leaks that were damaging the company.

...And we seriously think that amid all that, his fiduciary duty to Twitter's shareholders and employees should have been to stop and think: "Wait, it's not enough that these are the people I trust who are qualified, willing to do this, and who can help me make this into a public company... They aren't diverse enough... Well, let's tear up this list and go get binders of women..."

Do we honestly think that any of the women that the New York Times proposes as women who could add value to Twitter's board would want to be on the board just because Costolo needed a woman? Most successful women I know would be insulted by that kind of tokenism.

And why stop at a woman? I don't see an African American or Latino on Twitter's board. Why aren't we outraged by that?

It's not a surprise that many of the people complaining are the people who literally wake up everyday looking for a women's issue to be outraged about. Don't take it from me. When they invariably slam this piece, go look at their Twitter feeds.

Vivek Wadhwa has been banging this drum for a while, delighted that it gets so much attention. I used to be friends with Vivek. I first convinced him to write for TechCrunch, and even traveled to India with him on a trip for my second book. I've always liked him personally and respected his intellect. And I finally had to block him on social media, because I found his continual comments about gender so offensive. Particularly one Twitter screed that said I only successfully raised venture capital for Pando because of how I look and who I know.

Couldn't possibly be that I was qualified, Vivek? As I told him at the time, in a stretch to prove the Valley's sexism, he actually alleged something far more sexist than anything anyone else has ever said to me in a business setting.

See, people whose media attention or careers live or die by banging the SEXISM! drum don't know what to do when they encounter examples of women who have raised funding and started companies and seem to be doing okay as women in the Valley. So then they have to twist it into something like: "Well, that's because you are connected! Ordinary women can't get funded!" Okay, well then, we're having another argument. You are arguing that the Valley is insular or that you have to have connections to get funded, but we're no longer arguing about gender.

Or in the case of Sheryl Sandberg, they argue she has it easy because she's rich and can't relate to ordinary women trapped under the glass ceiling. But, wait, isn't her success in breaking through that glass ceiling precisely what made her rich? DON'T ASK THAT, IT DOESN'T FIT OUR STORY LINE! LOOK OVER HERE! NO WOMEN ON TWITTER'S BOARD! OUTRAGE! OUTRAGE! TWEET! TWEET! TWEET!

These people can't be happy that there are many signs things are starting to change in the startup world. And as a woman in this industry, I'm sickened by the leagues of people twisting facts and jumping on convenient bandwagons to further their own careers and stay relevant, while doing nothing themselves to create jobs and opportunities for women. That isn't the progress for women that we need.

I'm not saying there is no sexism here, or in any industry, or any part of the world for that matter. There's racism too. There's bigotry of all kind.

And as a venture backed-CEO who has two kids under two, I will be the first to say that woman are at a particular biological disadvantage in today's workforce if they want to raise a family. I've spent the entire time running my company lugging a baby in my womb or a breast pump on my shoulder in between meetings, cities, and appointments. No man can understand the physical exhaustion, the emotional pain of being pulled between a company and kids, and the unfair expectation that women frequently put on themselves to be perfect mothers and bosses. And then, you get the comments about how pregnant you still look mere weeks after giving birth.

It totally sucks. 

But you know what I also got to do the past two years? Raise millions of dollars and hire amazing talent to start the company of my dreams and give birth to two beautiful children that make me smile everyday. If that balance is the ravages of our modern sexist world, bring it the fuck on. Because I'm pretty happy with how it's all going.

Furthermore, none of this is limited to tech. There is still progress to be made, but quotas and witch hunts don't solve the problem. And, frankly, I feel like having to work hard to prove myself made me more resilient and more successful. I do my best work when everyone expects me to fail. I've been doing it my whole career.

That's the attitude a woman needs to survive in a male-dominated industry and, it just so happens, that's precisely the attitude an entrepreneur needs to survive too. Male, female, immigrant, or minority: Building a company is brutal. White men fail all the time if they have a bad idea or execution. Hamish McKenzie wrote recently about the strong crop of Mormon entrepreneurs, who have been steadied precisely by having to endure years of rejection going door-to-door as missionaries.

Sure there are people in Silicon Valley (and everywhere) who get jobs or funded or board seats because they are connected, shared a dormroom with someone, or have some cozy personal advantage. But ultimately, it's a put-up-or-shut-up world here. The ones who make it long term are the ones who earn a seat at the table. Not the ones who get a seat handily doled out to them for an arbitrary reason.

And thankfully, I'm not alone in my views. We are seeing more women "put up" than ever before. It's not just Sheryl and Marissa. Whether it's Ali Pincus of One Kings Lane, Deena Varshavskaya of Wanelo, Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox, Sophia Amoruso of NastyGal, and Kirsten Green and Aileen Lee in the venture world, I know more strong and commanding female founders and CEOs and investors than I have at any other point in Valley history.

Note, these women aren't the ones waking up everyday and trying to manufacture some new feminist outrage. They are simply working hard to lead by example and "change the ratio" by actually building companies and hire diverse and qualified senior teams in their image.

That's how we make progress as women, or any minority. By actually making it, not just whining about why others don't do it for us.