“We want to add a woman to our board—We just don’t know any,” is a common refrain from tech companies questioned about their lack of gender diversity, according to the diversity advocates 2020 Women on Boards.
One entrepreneur has created a resource to change that—or at least eliminate it as an excuse. Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, co-founder and CEO of Joyus, a shopping start-up, launched the BoardList at a Fortune conference in Aspen last week. It’s a members-only site for use by tech companies keen to discover board talent, and it already includes over 700 women.
“The idea is really creating, for the first time ever, a curated resource of highly-endorsed women from the tech community—potential leaders for private company tech boards,” Singh Cassidy told Quartz.
Behind the database is a tool that allows members—for now, a founding cohort of 50 CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, and venture capital firms—to nominate women they think would be suitable for a wide variety of different tech board roles, for companies from start-up to growth stage, and in every possible specialism.
The idea was triggered by the low female participation rate on tech company boards, which is part of a wider conversation about boards in general taking place in America and across much of the developed world. ChoosePossibility, a project which Singh Cassidy founded alongside the BoardList, estimates that as few as 23% to 32% of privately funded tech companies have a woman on their board, meaning that about three-quarters don’t have any women on their boards.
Given the scale of the problem, it’s perhaps most surprising that such a service didn’t exist until now.
“Like many things for which technology provides a solution today, people used to do this by word of mouth,” Singh Cassidy says. “Word of mouth is inefficient, it’s manual, ad hoc.”
But communication is only half the problem: Many remain convinced that appropriate female candidates aren’t out there. “The perception that there’s not enough talent exists, and that’s one of the things I wanted to get rid of,” Singh Cassidy says. “In fact the talent does exist, it’s just about how to find it, how to discover it.”
The pool of 50 “nominators” will expand once the project is out of beta testing phase, she said. And from the outset, the work of data collection will run in parallel with that of matching women to board seats. Tech is often cited as a particularly male-dominated industry, but on the start-up side little data actually exists to elucidate what’s going on.
Singh Cassidy admits that the foundation of what is essentially a private club could leave some women even less able to gain nomination to boards: If you’re not connected enough to be on the BoardList, the bar to entry could be even higher.
But the benefits outweigh the potential for exclusion, she says: “I would frame it this way: I think the BoardList is more of an opportunity than a risk. Because it gives a picture of where demand is and where supply is. We know there are a lot of opportunities…[and] our job is to understand where demand is, and then bring great supply.”