Marjorie Scardino. Photo: Financial Times photos/Flickr
Twitter has appointed its first ever female board member. Marjorie Scardino, CEO of publishing and education outfit Pearson, will join not only Twitter’s board but its audit committee. The move deepens Twitter’s ties with the media world and diversifies a board that has been all male and mostly white for six years.
Scardino is a highly qualified and welcome addition to Twitter. But her hiring doesn’t change the fact that the company spent the last year making a mockery of calls to diversify its board, and completely bungled the issue of gender diversity. While the company’s microblogging service has provided a new way for the socially conscious to organize and launch public debates, its executives have been slow to action with regard to board diversity, and more egregiously, they actively turned their nose up at people who called for change.
In October of 2012, more than a year ago, the company declined to comment on a report that some on the board wanted to add a woman director. And it still had not added a woman director nearly a year later, when Kara Swisher of All Things D raised the issue again.
Then, after a New York Times article focused on Twitter’s lack of diversity and all-white-male board, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo went into reactionary mode. He attacked one of the sources in the Times story, Stanford professor Vivek Wadhwa, as “the Carrot Top of academic sources,” and he wrote that simply bringing on a woman director was a bad idea because it would amount to “just checking a box.”
This only turned a simple controversy into an outright circus. Since Costolo’s statement seemed to imply Twitter could not find a qualified woman for its board, scores of pundits weighed in with suggestions. Times reporter Claire Cain Miller produced a list of 25 candidates, and Matthew Lynley of BuzzFeed listed 10.
Scardino is, by any serious analysis, hugely qualified for her job. She led a remarkable turnaround at Pearson and was CEO of the Economist Group. But Costolo and the board have invited the very accusations of quota-filling that Costolo said he was trying to avoid, a situation that’s deeply unfair to Scardino.
In practical terms for the Twitter board, what’s done is done. Hopefully the company has digested the lessons from this episode and moved on. But Twitter’s woman director fiasco should resonate for other startups for years to come. It’s a textbook case of how not to handle criticism over a lack of diversity.