The Queerest Board in History (that we know of…)
The decision by Grindr, a company owned by straight people, but with many LGBTQ+ employees and consumers (and soon investors) to have a 60% LGBTQ+ Board raises a serious question for companies in similar situation and without any out LGBTQ+ representation on their board. How long can they sustain this remaining lavender ceiling?
The announcement by Grindr that it would go public was accompanied by the presentation of its 10 people proposed Board (see the list in the investor deck) that would oversee the company once the deal closes. The proposed slate includes 6 LGBTQ+ Board Members, making it the gayest Board in history that we know of.
Grindr’s Board not only would increase tremendously the number of LGBTQ+ board members in public company in the United States but also specifically in New York where the company is incorporated.
As a reminder, out of 5,670 seats in Fortune 500 companies, I estimate that only 30 or 0.5% are occupied by LGBTQ+ people. If you exclude the 4 LGBTQ+ CEOs (Tim Cook/Apple, Jim Fitterling/Dow Chemicals, Beth Ford/Land O’Lakes, Macy’s/ Jeffrey Gennette), the number of independent directors gets even smaller.
All-straight boards are not only a statistical aberration, but also unfortunately a passive and persistent form of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people which is very common in business. The underlying issue is often lack of access, mistrust, and discomfort with LGBTQ+ people. The challenge for LGBTQ+ people to gain admittance to corporate boards is the same than for other minorities: a secretive and discretionary selection process. To be elected by shareholders, candidates must be nominated to stand for election by current board members or by an investor. These are positions which cannot be applied to.
It is NEVER an issue of an LGBTQ+ pipeline of talent. To paraphrase Mitt Romney, I have binders and binders of Board-ready LGBTQ+ people. Indeed another important aspect in the Grindr announcement is that the selected Board Members are far from being tokens, George Arison, Maggie Lower, Meghan Stabler, Daniel Baer, Nathan Richardson, and Gary Horowitz are recognized top-tier corporate leaders.
Efforts by the regulator to step in have been thwarted lately by groups with a vested interest to maintain straight white male dominance on boards. Both AB979 (minority representation) and SB 826 (gender representation) in California were stuck down in the past two months. Similarly, in the UK the Financial Conduct Authority passed a listing rule that ignores LGBTQ+ people. While I am still an expert witness for California DOJ in the US federal lawsuit (Alliance for Fair Board Recruitment v. Weber), I am refocusing my efforts to convince companies they should self-diversify.
Grindr’s decision was obviously motivated by the fact that Grindr serves the queer community and has a high representation of queer employees. But LGBTQ+ consume goods and services and work for companies that produce more than matchmaking.
I can think of many other companies with disproportionate representation of LGBTQ+ employees among their employees which do not have any out LGBTQ+ Board members such as Google (Board here), IKEA (here), Microsoft (here) or Target (here).
In fact, most globally recognized brands which market aggressively to LGBTQ+ people, even rely on LGBTQ+ people for most of their business, do not have any out LGBTQ+ on their boards of directors. Exceptions include Disney (Susan Arnold), PepsiCo, Block and Ralph Lauren (Darren Walker), Coned (Dwight McBride), Nike (Tim Cook) or Prudential (Peter R. Lighte) — (see a slightly outdated list of Out LGBTQ+ Board members in Fortune 500).
Grindr’s move shows companies everywhere how easy — and how beneficial — it is to diversify Boards to reflect the existence of LGBTQ+ people in the population, among consumers, among employees and among investors.
Hopefully, the creation of the queerest board in history will contribute to shatter the ultimate Lavender Ceiling in corporate America.
Fabrice Houdart is a former World Bank and UN Human Rights staff | Advisor/Consultant to Global Fortune 500 | Editorial Committee Women’s Forum | Board Member, you can receive his weekly updates at the interconnection of business and LGBTQ+ rights by signing up here.