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Facebook Doesn't 'Like' Female Board Members

Facebook Logo Mark Zuckerberg Inset - H 2012

Despite founder Mark Zuckerberg's insistence on "giving everyone a voice," Facebook's board features no women.

Despite the insistence of critics and even many of its makers that The Social Network is a fictionalization of the rise of Facebook, the film may have been more accurate than some would care to admit. In Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, Mark Zuckerberg created the site because a girl scorned him, and director David Fincher’s film chronicles the construction of an online forum by a group of young men who are too awkward or uncomfortable to effectively interact with their female counterparts.

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But an article posted Feb. 2 on Bloomberg.com revealed that all of its board members are male, despite the irony that since its inception the site has become more popular among women users than men.

While this information may come as little surprise within a industrial culture where it seems as if most companies still mostly have men in top positions, Facebook is in a severe minority of corporations not to have at least one female member on their board: according to Catalyst, a Ney York-based nonprofit organization that investigates women and business issues, just 11.3 percent of Fortune 500 companies had male-only boards in 2011. And what’s stranger is that the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, is not only an outspoken advocate for gender equality, but Facebook’s best-paid senior executive after receiving $30.9 million in compensation last year.

The news also seems to reinforce Sorkin’s depiction of Zuckerberg (or at least, the creative culture he founded) as a domineering leader with questionable interest in outside input or opinions – or at least, the belief that he can do it better than anyone. A Catalyst survey of Fortune 500 companies revealed that from 2005 to 2009, those with three or more female directors outperformed those with fewer, achieving on average a 43 percent better return on equity. Susan Stautberg, the co-founder of Women Corporate Directors, a New York-based company that promotes female board membership, connected the dots more pointedly between the makeup of their board and the potential viability of their business strategies. She said, “It doesn’t make sense for a company that claims to be so forward looking to not have any women directors. If they just have an old boy’s network in the boardroom, they won’t have access to diverse ideas and strategies.”

Meanwhile, 58 percent of Facebook’s users are women, according to a 2010 survey. And in a letter submitted with the company’s recent IPO filing, founder Mark Zuckerberg emphasized the company’s focus on inclusion and interaction both online and in society at large. “Facebook… was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected,” Zuckerberg wrote. “There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future.”

Nevertheless, the film’s recent IPO announcement suggests that the site can and will continue to grow. But until the board adds a female member, many in the corporate community and even among Facebook’s 800 million active users may decline to “like” what the company is doing for gender equity.