Him For Her and Crunchbase released the third annual Study of Gender Diversity on Private Company Boards. It revealed that women now hold 14 percent of seats on the boards of the most heavily funded private companies. This increase from 11 percent in the prior year reflects a slower rate of change compared to last year. At the same time, the percentage of board seats held by women of color remains unchanged at three percent. Strikingly, life sciences companies outperform technology companies on board diversity metrics. This collaborative study analyzed the boards of 500 private, venture-backed companies based in the U.S. Each had at least $100 million in funding.
Multiple studies track diversity among the boards of U.S.-based public companies. However, these studies have largely ignored the composition of private company boards. This is despite the fact that public companies represent just one percent of U.S. businesses. This ground-breaking benchmark study, originally published in December 2019, was created to shine a light on the gender disparity in private company boardrooms and create a baseline for tracking improvement. The third annual report analyzes board diversity in 2021 and measures progress compared with the two prior years.
Key findings from the study include:
- Women hold only 14 percent of board seats among the companies studied. This is up from 11 percent in 2020 and seven percent in 2019. Among public companies, women hold 30 percent of the director seats on the boards of S&P 500 companies and 26 percent on the boards of Russell 3000 companies.
- Nearly 40 percent of companies don’t have any women on their board, an improvement from roughly half of companies in the 2020 study and 60 percent in 2019. By contrast, not one board among the S&P 500 is all-male.
- Of the 3,437 board seats studied, only 115 (three percent) are held by women of color. This reflects no significant change from the prior year. Men of color hold 19 percent of the board seats studied. For reference, the report defined people of color as individuals who are likely to identify as Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latina and/or mixed-race.
- More than three-quarters of company boards (78 percent) do not include a single woman of color.
- Investors now hold fewer than half of board seats, as independent directors command a larger board footprint. Women are most likely to be independent directors.
- Just 25 percent of the companies studied have more than one woman on the board. Research suggests that boards need at least three women to capture the full economic benefits of diversity. Despite this, only nine percent of the companies studied met these criteria.
- Among life-science companies, 17 percent of board directors are women. That number drops to 11 percent for technology companies.
Takeaways from the study
The study analyzed board members by type — executive directors, investor directors and independent directors. It found that women continue to be underrepresented in every category. Investors make up the largest number of private company directors with 48 percent of seats, with women holding only nine percent. In a trend first observed last year, independent directors continue to gain share. They now account for 29 percent of board seats, of which women hold 27 percent. Executive directors account for the smallest group with 23 percent of board seats, of which women only hold eight percent.
“This year’s study points to continued progress, yet still two out of five high-growth private company boards are all-male,” said Ann Shepherd, co-founder of social impact venture Him For Her. “The lack of gender and racial diversity on startup boards points to both a blind spot and an opportunity for these companies. CEOs and investors need to know that the candidates are out there. Finding them requires looking beyond your personal network.”
“Diversity in the startup ecosystem, including private company boards, matters to the nation’s economic well-being,” said Marlize van Romburgh, Editor in Chief at Crunchbase News. “The findings in this year’s report show some real gains, but also prove how far we have to go. By putting this information out there, we believe Him For Her will continue to inspire real change.”
This tracking update largely reproduced the methodology employed in the two prior studies in 2019 and 2020. For the 2021 study, researchers analyzed 500 of the most heavily funded private U.S.-based companies to understand the composition of their boards as of Q3 2021, one year after the prior study.
The study sample was drawn from a population of 1,950 U.S.-based private companies founded since 2003 with cumulative funding of at least $100 million as of June 30, 2021, according to Crunchbase data. To ensure that each company’s board profile was current, only companies that published their board of directors were included.
About Him For Her
Him For Her is a social impact venture aimed at accelerating diversity on corporate boards. To bridge the network gap responsible for the sparsity of women in the boardroom, Him For Her engages business luminaries to connect the world’s most talented “Hers” to board service. Since its founding in 2018, Him For Her has built a referral-only talent network of 4500+ board-ready women, more than a third of whom are women of color and provided free board referrals to 900+ companies ranging from start-ups to S&P 100. Him For Her creates warm introductions between board candidates and CEOs through more than 100 roundtable discussions guest-hosted by renowned leaders such as Scott Cook, Carmine Di Sibio, Robin Washington, Eric Yuan and many more. A 501c3 corporation, Him For Her provides its services free of charge thanks to supporters like Brad Feld & Amy Batchelor, Reid Hoffman, Jeff Weiner, Nasdaq and others.
Crunchbase is the leading provider of private-company prospecting and research solutions. Over 70 million users — including salespeople, entrepreneurs, investors and market researchers — use Crunchbase to prospect for new business opportunities. And companies all over the world rely on us to power their applications, making over six billion calls to our API each year. To learn more, visit about.crunchbase.com/ and follow us on Twitter @crunchbase.