Quorum, Out Leadership’s initiative dedicated to increasing the representation of openly LGBT directors on corporate boards, convened a conversation in San Francisco on Monday night to discuss the challenges and opportunities those efforts face. Hosted by Twitter, the evening featured keynotes from California Controller Betty T. Yee and California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, as well as a lively panel discussion moderated by Kara Swisher of Re/Code, featuring Lorrie Norrington (Lead Edge Capital), Jana Rich (Rich Talent Group), and Alex Schultz (Facebook). More than 120 senior LGBT and ally executives gathered to network and engage with the global business community’s first-ever effort to get more LGBT people on corporate boards.
Skip Schipper, Head of Human Resources, Twitter, delivered opening remarks
Controller Yee – who was celebrating her birthday – kicked off the program. “I want to applaud Quorum’s efforts. We talk about corporate engagement all the time. We look at communities of color and the LGBT community, and we always end up talking about the pipeline. Asking: where is the talent, where are the candidates? To be in a room of senior leaders to discuss this issue is amazing. And Quorum and Out Leadership are really at the forefront.”
California Controller Betty T. Yee
Controller Yee noted that in her role as the leader of two of the largest pension funds, she sees corporate diversity as being integral to her fiduciary duties. “It’s pretty clear now that diversity brings value, or rather, not just value but long-term value,” she said.
Observing that board diversity is a knotty issue and that state pensions must take steps to not be seen as activist investors, she noted that “California is the 7th biggest economy in the world, and it’s home to two pension boards that are two of the biggest global investors, but we talk about this every day – how do we build support for those moving in the right direction? And I have to ask you all, please engage with us at the pension boards about diversity, because we’re constantly told to stay in our lane.”
She continued, “I can assure you that between me and the pension boards, we will continue to look at board diversity. It brings value. It’s the smart business decision today.”
Todd Sears introduces Kara Swisher
Taking the stage after Controller Yee to introduce the panel, Out Leadership Principal Todd Sears noted that working with controllers and pension boards is a key part of Quorum’s strategy. “We want to help leverage pension boards to increase the number of openly LGBT people on boards. I hope you will help us create a list of top LGBT talent that our allies and ambassadors can use when board seats become available. “
Kara Swisher and Lorrie Norrington
Kara Swisher led our panel in a wide-ranging conversation about best practices for board service. Key questions included: What would a public campaign to increase awareness about diverse boards look like? How can we better frame the value proposition about why it is important to have LGBT representation on boards, and move the conversation from reputation and image, and towards business results?
“It’s important to be able to make the argument that board diversity is good for business,” said Alex Schultz, VP of Growth at Facebook and a leader of many of that company’s LGBT initiatives, noting that the opportunity exists to articulate board diversity as a business driver, rather than an HR or PR play. “We’re in a boomtime, so justifying spending to increase diversity is easy right now, but in a downturn diversity and HR can be easy to cut.”
Lorrie Norrington, Alex Schultz, and Jana Rich
“I want to tell a story about how we got Lorrie onto the Eventbrite board,” said Jana Rich, CEO of Rich Talent Group. “Lorrie was the perfect candidate; she was a female with board experience. And because Eventbrite was a company valued at over $1 billion, a unicorn, we figured it would be a big press event. But everyone said they didn’t want press on it. One woman on the board isn’t noteworthy – when we have three women that’s noteworthy.”
Lorrie Norrington continued, “If you have 3 people of diversity, that board will change. When the 3rd woman joins, all hell breaks lose – in a good way… After having been on boards ten, twelve, thirteen years now, I can say that the process by which board openings are filled has changed immensely,” she said. “Boards used to go through the motions, but now expectations have risen. You get more questions from your employees than from shareholders. People are beginning to understand.”
Ara Tucker, Morgan Stanley, asks a question
Kara Swisher noted that even companies that have the best of intentions can feel lost at where to start on board diversity. “There can be a feeling of wanting to do something but not knowing how to do it. CEOs really need to be led here. They’re looking for lists. You know, people laughed at Mitt Romney and the binders full of women, but I totally know what he was talking about. I always call San Francisco assisted living for Millennials – we need a Munchery for diverse board members.”
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones closed the conversation by noting that huge business opportunities await businesses that engage openly on diversity issues. “In one industry we monitor, $930 million was spent with diverse suppliers. LGBT businesses receive only 3 of 1300 contracts. That gives you a sense of perspective of what can be done.” He continued, “I find unacceptable the argument that we can’t find people with the right skills. We are excited about the opportunity to continue to do that with you.”
Check out #LGBTQuorum for more tweets from panelists and participants.
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) October 20, 2015