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Twitter IPO: “It’s Economics, stupid!” -The Case for a more diverse board

2009_twitter_board_final

wadhwa and costolo

“Twitter lost $69 million in the first 6 months of this year.  Clearly, whatever, it was doing before, which includes relying on an insular circle of men, is NOT working …”

You might have seen the several articles this weekend (New York Times, The Next Web, WSJ, BRW, The Verge, Entrepreneur, BuzzFeed) that all summarized a discussion, ironically that took place on Twitter, over the fact that it has but one woman on its board.

Noted professor and tech industry guru and critic Vivek Wadhwa blasted the company in a New York Times article after Twitter’s IPO filing documents became available revealing the make up of the board.

Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo couldn’t bite his tongue on the criticism and replied in a tweet by calling Wadwha the “Carrot Top of Academics” in reference to the over-the-top red headed comedian known for using elaborate props in his standup routine.

Uh yeah.

So the two go back and forth debating.  A couple of broads tried to chime in (this one included) and got totally ignored.

Tech Investor Anil Dash, also known as a vocal advocate and critic on behalf of less empowered groups and who has been in the middle of several of these types of convos before, naturally, jumped in. Having come from a cell that had a Y chromosome got him acknowledged, at least.

And well, in this era of social media shaming, one of the broads, Nicole Valentine, who happens to be a Chief Technology Officer of a company herself decided to call them out on the slight.

After all, it wasn’t like they ignored just random chicks.

These were innovation strategists and PhD holders Dr. Christine Gulberson and venture capitalists-types Jalak Jobanputra whose contributions were being slighted.

Well, I couldn’t see a good fight go without jumping in. [I know. I’m getting therapy for it. Swear!]

And the shaming worked ‘cause the next day, Wadwha and crew were actively responding to women.

But this isn’t about that!

(Although something as small and simple as an acknowledgement by way of a RT, @ reply or fave could easily have shaken up the old boys’ network, there.)

It’s about the hard-skulled respondents in the comment section to Wadwha’s syndicated summary of the convo  in TechCrunch this morning (and other articles on this story)who see calls for getting women and diverse members to reflect the make up of its service board and immediately think: “Affirmative Action.”

To them, this is all a bunch of PC police, anti-smart white male BS! Once AGAIN, the usual “trouble makers” are  trying to force hires despite the fact that there may not be sufficient “talented women” or “qualified minorities” to fill the roles. [“minorities” in the tech sector exclude Asians, btw]

*big smack on forehead*

First, no one has ever thought about the fact there are no qualifiers injected when describing men to recruit?

But I digress.

It’s not about that either.

It is that idiotic assumption that companies that serve wide diverse audiences can truly max out the earnings, and service outreach potential without having a diverse workforce or having top decision-makers who are intimately familiar and aware with those various groups of users/customers and how they use the services differently.

There’s data behind it.

A Catalyst economic study found that “companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperform those with the lowest by 53 percent. They have a 42 percent higher return on sales and 66 percent higher return on invested capital.”

Similar conclusions were made for companies with women in decision-making roles.

As Wadhwa noted specifically for Twitters,” more women use social media than men, according to a study last month by the Pew Research Center; men and women use Twitter roughly equally. Twitter earns revenue from advertising and women are the chief consumers.”

And given that report after report showing that women make most business decisions and control household budgets, it would be a no brainer for a company that lost $69 million dollars in the first 6 months of the year would want different perspectives than the usual suspects to help guide its future.

2009_twitter_board_finalClearly, whatever, it was doing before, which includes relying on an insular circle of men, is NOT working and it has NOT been creative enough or in-tuned enough to all of its users sufficiently to know how best to monetize their usage of the social media platform.

I recognize a desperate cry for help when I see it.

Sadly, those commenters to Wadhsa’s summary of this weekend’s exchange, published in TechCrunch, Boston Globe and other outlets didn’t get it.

It’s economics,  stupid!

During Saturday night’s exchange, I figured I’d add the  perspective of African Americans anyway, who are also ABSENT from Twitter’s board. But nobody’s talking about that, as per usual, even though  African Americans use Twitter at proportionate rate higher than any other racial group.

[I’m not certain any current board member knows the directions to #BlackTwitter, which is a real place within Twitter, if you didn’t know.]

I cc’d Wadhwa, who I’ve featured before on this blog, with the perspective of how a black man was able to help Starbucks make millions off the urban market in a way it would never had done with an all-white board of decision makers.

Although I too got no reply, I was trying to make the case for how a powerful and influential person of another race CAN and HAS indeed made a business case that was not made previously.

Starbucks had traditionally “redlined” urban neighborhoods out of its nationwide build out plan, obviously, assuming that the market of people, mainly black and Hispanic, that live in their neighborhoods wouldn’t care for a $5 cup of coffee or weren’t connoisseurs of cafes.

It took a former black NBA player to prove them wrong.

In 1998, Johnson convinced the Seattle company to give him a 50% share in a franchise and with that he built 105 stores in urban neighborhoods. When he wanted to fund other business ventures, he sold the company back his share for $100 million dollars netting a reported 60% return on his initial investment.

That’s $100 Million with an “M”, bud!

As Alex Belth summarized over at The Stacks:

“In one of his first meetings with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Johnson convinced the chain to remake its food menu at the Harlem restaurants because while the African-American clientele would purchase coffee like any other consumer, ‘Black people,’ Johnson told Schultz, ‘don’t eat scones.’ It was a small but shrewd example of the different lens Johnson brought to the table.”

No, just keep thinking you guys know all you need to know about your users. All 218 million of them.

*snicker*

If ever there was a case for the value of inclusion of persons with experiences and comfort dealing with diverse voices and communities that was it. The money that was made in those stores would not have been added to the Starbucks’ portfolio without someone with a different background at the table.

I went to a conference this summer, Blogging While Brown, where a multicultural PR company head said Fortune 500 brands have been knocking down her door all year trying to figure out how to create the same mass market following that black women built with the whoe #AskScandal phenomenon. They get it now. They could’ve figured That out too earlier with a more diverse board.

The same can be said about women.

A 2011 MRI Survey of the American Consumer found that 74.9% of women identified themselves as the primary shoppers for their households.

Each week, I get pitched dozens of products and aps from brands and start-ups that want me to review and/or feature them in my popular and high traffic “mom” blog, BellyitchBlog.com.

I am constantly amazed and always delighted to see all the various woman-owned companies that come up with innovative items that I am not certain a man would invent.

For example, last week, publicists for the Lil Stylers app contacted me about its social shopping app which empowers all those hundreds and thousands of moms who enjoy sharing Instagram images of their children wearing cute designer clothes with a money generating opportunity. It would let these women actually monetize the photos they share online by letting viewers instantly purchase the brands.

A hyperlink to the clothes in the image would take a viewer to an online retailer to make a purchase. So in an instant, they are no longer just idle online browser sitting home watching Real Housewives or Dancing with the Stars, they are now sales persons on the side in what could be a lucrative venture for all involved.

The creators of Lil Stylers have figured out how to monetize their presence. I could imagine if the company succeeds, it could get bought out later by a large company with no women on its staff  or board  which maybe never would’ve come up with that concept.

Why go the cheaper route in hiring diverse innovators when you can just let someone else build it and pay three times as much later?

*chuckle*

Again, the Lil Stylers app is an example of the type of out-of-the box thinking that comes from the minds of people who are aware of the different ways people use social media platforms.

Meanwhile, Twitter is still struggling with ways to monetize its bazillion users and diversify its revenue generating potential.

Good thing you’ve figured out to mix it up you need to mix up the voices.

Oh wait. That didn’t’ happen.

——

And the real true lesson in this is:

Have we not learned a thing from the past… Like when self-professed Anti-Racist theologian and advocate Tim Wise got blasted last month after posting a rant on his Facebook page for not acknowledging how his own white privilege has afforded him opportunities not offered to people of color…. and the time, a month before that, Hugo Schwyzer,   a male darling among modern feminist leaders,  was discovered to himself be a misogynist and of hooking up with sex workers?

Let’s quit letting  those who are not part of our demographic become the spokespersons and frontrunners of “our issues.”

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