Pictured left to right: Mike Smith, Nicole North, Elena Gomez, Robin Washington, Jana Rich, John W. Thompson.

Building Tomorrow’s Boardroom, Today.

Nicole North
Jan 30 · 4 min read

By Nicole North and Jana Rich

This week, Lightspeed and Rich Talent Group had the privilege of hosting our first “Building Tomorrow’s Boardroom, Today” event in San Francisco, centered around the actionable steps leaders can take to empower and promote people of color and women to the boardroom.

We’re proud at Lightspeed that over 33% of our consumer portfolio companies are female-founded, but we recognize that we still have a long way to go, and that diversity means so much more than gender. In fact, people of color are one of the most under-represented groups in the boardroom. Currently, women make up 26% of Directors in the S&P 500, while minority women make up just shy of 6%, and, 37% of the S&P 500 don’t have a black Director. That has to change and that’s what “Building Tomorrow’s Boardroom, Today” is all about — driving necessary and meaningful change.

It’s not all doom and gloom though — there’s evidence that the world is moving in the right direction. Take California’s 2018 Board Gender Diversity Bill, for example, as well as Goldman Sachs’ recent announcement that they will not take companies public unless the company has at least one diverse board member. That’s also what Rich Talent Group is working towards — building diverse, transformative teams. Since its inception, 75% of Rich Talent Group’s successful candidates in operating roles added diversity to the team they joined, and nearly 100% at the board level are a woman, person of color or LGBTQ.

It was tremendously inspiring to have so many change-makers in one room and hear directly from thought leaders about where we are today, and where we’re going. We’d like to offer a heartfelt thank you to our powerhouse panelists — John W. Thompson (Venture Partner at Lightspeed, Chairman of Microsoft and board member of Rubrik, Illumina and Seismic), Robin Washington (former CFO of Gilead Science and board member of Honeywell, Salesforce, and Alphabet), Mike Smith (President and COO of Stitch Fix, and board member of Ulta Beauty and Herman Miller), and Elena Gomez (CFO of Zendesk and board member of Smartsheet, PagerDuty and Berkeley’s Haas School of Business) — for sharing such candid, personal stories about their board journeys and covering important topics ranging from board selection, how to manage a board with a day job, onboarding and training new board members, and so many more examples of invaluable real-world experiences.

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Put yourself out there. Board recruitment can vary when it comes to timeline and process, but networking always pays off. Oftentimes, a candidate ends up on “the list” because they made it known they were interested in joining a board and someone advocated for them.
  • Do your diligence before joining a board. Ask yourself: Is this a board where I can contribute my unique expertise and experience? Is this a board where I will learn something that’s of value in my life? In my operating role? Have clear criteria for opportunities that are right for you, because the time you’ll commit to a board is significant.
  • Being a good board member is more than showing up at meetings. Knowing the business, industry, and competitive landscape are table stakes, but don’t forget to get to know the people, too. For example: Learn more about fellow board members by switching up who you sit with at dinner. Immerse yourself in the company by flying in a day early to meet with different teams.
  • The board of the future is diverse. Period. It’s not about filling “the female seat,” or “the person of color seat.” It’s about always having a diverse slate of talented candidates in the pipeline and in your network.

Whether you’re a current board member, future board member, founder, or operator, the decisions made in the boardroom have a tremendous impact on your company, your community, and on the tech ecosystem at large. It’s critical we all do our part to get more under-represented groups a seat at the table.

If you’re interested in attending this event or other related events in the future, please reach out to events@lsvp.com.

Nicole North

Written by

Talent Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. Empowering women and people of color. Building modern teams defining the future of tech.

Lightspeed Venture Partners

Lightspeed is a VC firm focused on accelerating disruptive innovations and trends in the enterprise and consumer sectors. Lightspeed has backed 350+ companies globally in the past two decades including Snap, Honest Co., GIPHY, Nest, Nutanix, AppDynamics and MuleSoft.

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