Women Picket Facebook Offices to Protest Its All-Male Board

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg advocates for women in leadership.

Social media has inspired people to use their voices to protest everything from products and services to politics, and physical protests have spilled into the streets as people stood up for what they believe in. Now, ironically, social media giant Facebook was the target of a protest at its New York office on April 25, when a group of women (organized by Ultraviolet) delivered a petition with more than 50,000 signatures urging the social behemoth to add women to its all-male board before its upcoming IPO.

Curious business decision

More than half of Facebook’s 900 million users are women, and women are more active on the site than men. A Catalyst study showed that companies with more women board members performed better than companies with the least number of women board members with a 53 percent higher return on equity, 42 percent higher return on sales and 66 percent higher return on invested capital. So, for a global company with a high female consumer base and a female second in command that has vocally advocated for women to lead in business to reject board diversity, is puzzling.

The Catalyst study goes on to say that the optimal number of women on a board is three, enhancing “the likelihood that women’s ideas are heard and that boardroom dynamics change substantially.” If Facebook added three women to its board, they would constitute nearly half of the seven-person group. When asked, CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed that he promoted people to the board on merit. Period. Yet, there is not a single woman or board member of color to be found.

Perhaps the absence of women on the board explains why Facebook has come under fire for woman-related issues. Earlier this year women protested when Facebook arbitrarily took down breast-feeding photos and penalized the account holders. Women have also protested the proliferation of pro-rape and sexual assault fan pages found on the social media network. Despite running contrary to Facebook’s own terms of use, very few of those pages have been removed.

Heavy-handed tactic or valid consumer feedback?

The protesters chanted “Shame on Facebook” and held signs saying, “Facebook: Women are Good for Business.” Should consumers weigh in on how a company is run at the board level? Is this a case of strongly presented consumer feedback, or an extreme reaction to a business decision that, unfortunately, many companies have made to not have women on their boards?

Will Facebook take this action more or less seriously because it’s a group of women spearheading it? Women represent a large customer demographic for the company, but when women express anger and righteous indignation, it usually undercuts their cause and is more easily dismissed than anger in men. In the business world, female anger is equated to less competence in the eyes of colleagues and management. Will the company take the petition seriously, or issue a bland statement, sweep it under the rug and decide that appeasing more than 50,000 women isn’t important enough to change the way they do business?

When Greenpeace mounted its relentless campaign against Facebook to discontinue using coal to power their data centers, people applauded. After a nearly two-year onslaught, Facebook finally conceded, committing to building a data center in Sweden that will run on renewable energy.

How will Facebook react to this women’s action? And how should they?

image: World Economic Forum via Flickr (some rights reserved)

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

2 responses

  1. Facebook needs women in the “C suite”, check and on their board, fail; it’s key, an all male board particularly for a company that the majority users are women is missing key intel, missing key insights and skills, missing an opportunity to put Sandberg’s words at the core of the company’s practices.

    Donna Morton, CEO, First Power

  2. I feel bad for Sheryl Sandberg, having to be the poster child for the lack of women in positions of leadership at Facebook. Every article about this issue includes a picture of her (including those I’ve chosen myself). It’s a shame that she can’t just be an awesome COO but must also be the visual embodiment of what’s wrong at Facebook.

    I guess that’s more of a comment on what a bummer it is that minorities become poster children than anything else.

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