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Twitter Finds a Whole Lotta Woman in Marjorie Scardino

Marjorie Scardino, former CEO of Pearson Plc, presents the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award 2013 in London.

Photograph by Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Marjorie Scardino, former CEO of Pearson Plc, presents the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award 2013 in London.

Marjorie Scardino is many things: a former CEO, a Dame, a journalist, a noted rodeo rider in her teens, a Texan living in London, the mother of former child star Hal Scardino (The Indian in the Cupboard), a global pundit, and more. But, in the boardroom of Twitter (TWTR), her most compelling feature seems to be her gender.

That’s certainly the message in the headlines dubbing Scardino as Twitter’s first female board member. (Gigaom even led with “Well all that bitching and moaning paid off.”) As with Facebook (FB), the tech company’s all-male board became a hot topic as it prepared to go public. For any company–never mind one in social media–to woo shareholders by presenting a cast of white men to protect their interests seems clueless. (CEO Dick Costolo, a former stand-up comedian, didn’t help matters when he tried to make light of the issue with a jokey tweet.)

So did Twitter’s board tap Scardino because of her gender? Probably. And that’s okay. She’ll bring a lot more to the boardroom than girly anatomy and a woman’s perspective. But all this fuss about women on boards–Germany being the latest to move on mandating quotas to get them there–reflects the fact that it matters. Board diversity isn’t a populist cause like, say, equal pay or maternity benefits. After all, these spots tend to go to wealthy people who get to make a quarter of a million dollars for a few weeks of work a year.

But look behind many corporate scandals and business failures, and fingers quickly point to the board. They didn’t ask enough questions, rein in the CEO’s ego, pick the right leader, get nervous about risky bets, or shoot down a stupid strategy. In short, they fall prey to group think. Bringing a woman on board isn’t the only remedy; the best boards have diversity in areas like talent, age, and geography, too. But time and time again, the stats show companies with women directors do better. Maybe they ask more questions. Maybe they prompt more diverse leadership (and vice-versa, as a new EY study finds companies with women leaders also have much more diverse boards.) Maybe the men show up more prepared because they don’t want to be outdone by a girl. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, companies discover that having women on their boards tends to be a win-win. Investors like it. Regulators like it. Consumers like it, or at least they can’t be offended by the fact that you have none. All the more reason why it’s so perplexing that almost 40 percent of tech companies in the S&P 1500 still have no women on their boards. (The overall number is 22 percent.) Mark Zuckerberg and Dick Costolo are no longer in that category, thanks to Sheryl Sandberg and Marjorie Scardino.

Scardino may not be the most passionate advocate of social media. Her first–and thus far only–tweet was a thanks to the Twitter brass for bringing her on board. (And I suspect she’s not getting tweets from U.K. Education Secretary Michael Gove.) That’s okay. Scardino’s resume suggests she’ll bring plenty of other stuff to the table–from how to build a global media business to steering clear of stuff that doesn’t make sense. What’s more, the next time someone takes a swipe at Silicon Valley’s boardroom boys clubs, Twitter won’t be on the list.

Brady is a senior editor for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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