Feminist group pushes Facebook to appoint female board member

The online activist group Ultraviolet is petitioning Facebook to put a woman on its board before going public

The online feminist group Ultraviolet launched a petition on Thursday demanding that Facebook appoint a woman to its all-male board before it becomes a publicly traded company.

Facebook is expected to hold its initial public offering next month. The company filed the required paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in January. The SEC requires public companies to disclose the diversity of their boards.

About 11 percent of Fortune 500 companies had all-male boards in 2011, according to a study by Catalyst. Facebook's user base is nearly 60 percent female. But the company has a prominent top female executive in Sheryl Sandberg, its chief operating officer.

"Facebook and many other Silicon Valley tech companies are predominantly populated by males and male engineering culture," said Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner. "However, Facebook is a bit different in that they have a very strong female at the helm or near the helm."

Valdes said Sandberg's prominence would likely prevent the Ultraviolet petition from gaining "huge traction."

Susan Herring, a professor at Indiana University who has studied gender and communications, said that, because more than half of Facebook's users are female, more than half of its board should "ideally" be women. But, she said, "The actual situation reflects historical factors," including the scarcity of women in computer science.

"The pipeline is impoverished," Herring said.

Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College and a member of Microsoft's board, has encouraged more women to pursue careers in technology. "In my experience every board is more effective with a diverse group of people, so I'm surprised that Mark hasn't figured this out," she said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Another 2011 study from Catalyst reported that the Fortune 500 companies with the most women on their boards outperformed those with the fewest over a four-year period.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

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