But those moves to step up diversity are aimed solely at public companies or those about to arrive on Wall Street, overlooking the nation's much-larger crop of boards that govern startups and other private companies. Indeed, more than half of 304 US and European companies had all-male boards when going public or announcing IPOs since January 2019, according to a new analysis by PitchBook.
The dearth of women on boards has a long history rooted in the male-dominated ecosystem of venture capital, private equity and startups. Most newly public companies receive PE or VC backing, and their boards tend to reflect the gender makeup of their main institutional investors.
"The lack of gender diversity among funders and founders really has a downstream effect when you're looking at gender diversity in the boardroom," said Ann Shepherd, co-founder of Him For Her, an organization that promotes greater board diversity.
Women make up 12% of the investing partners at venture capital and angel firms in the US, according to PitchBook research published in November in collaboration with All Raise, a group that helps advance women in the VC-backed startup ecosystem.
The diversity divide between public and private companies takes on even greater importance as growing startups stay private longer and more companies avoid going public altogether.
Moreover, the main levers that public policymakers and large institutions have for changing public companies don't carry over to the lightly regulated private markets. That is why more advocates are focusing on a more diverse makeup at the investor base of the private market ecosystem.
"This all really starts on day zero. We need more women venture capital partners investing in companies and then taking board seats," said Amy Nelson, founder of The Riveter, a female-focused co-working startup based in Seattle. The Riveter's board includes Hope Cochran, managing director of Madrona Venture Group.