SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has nominated prominent technology executive Peggy Alford for election to its board.
Alford would be the first African-American woman and second African-American to join the board of the social media giant. Her nomination at the company’s annual meeting on May 30 would mark a major step in diversifying its nine-member board.
Last year, Facebook named former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault to its board. The move came after years of pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson to add black executives to its board as part of the company’s efforts to reverse decades-long patterns of exclusion in the high-tech industry, which mostly employs white and Asian men.
Peggy Alford (Photo: Facebook)
Erskine Bowles, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, and Reed Hastings, chairman and CEO of Netflix, will not be nominated for re-election at the shareholder meeting, the company said. Both have served on the board since 2011.
Alford is being nominated to Facebook’s board at a particularly turbulent time in the company’s history as it faces intensifying scrutiny of its business practices after months of scandals.
“Peggy is one of those rare people who’s an expert across many different areas — from business management to finance operations to product development,” Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement. “I know she will have great ideas that help us address both the opportunities and challenges facing our company.”
In a statement on her nomination, Alford said she was excited by “the company’s drive and desire to face hard issues head-on while continuing to improve on the amazing connection experiences they have built over the years.”
Facebook had a deadline of 2021 to put a third woman on its board of directors. That’s when a new law in California to boost gender diversity in the boardroom begins requiring companies with six or more board members to have at least three female directors.
California is the first state to require that women be represented on corporate boards. Currently, Facebook has two women on its board: Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Susan D. Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Alford’s profile in the tech world rose in 2017 when she left PayPal to join the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic organization Zuckerberg oversees with wife Priscilla Chan, as chief financial officer and head of operations. Last month, Alford returned to PayPal as part of its senior leadership team. As senior vice president of core markets, she oversees some of the payment company’s largest markets in North America, the U.K., Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Australia.
Over the last two years, women and minorities have gained more of a footing on the boards of the largest public companies in the United States, but their progress remains slow, with most corporate directors still white men, according to a recent study from the Alliance for Board Diversity, which pushes for more diversity in boardrooms, and professional services firm Deloitte.
The representation of African American women on Fortune 500 boards has increased; they now hold 26.2 percent more seats in 2018 than in 2016, the study found. At Fortune 100 companies, there were nearly 45 percent more African American women serving on the boards.
The number and prominence of women and minorities on the boards of tech companies has been under growing scrutiny as Silicon Valley wrestles with its lack of diversity. Such seats come with prestige and a big paycheck and are also seen as being critically important in helping underrepresented groups land more spots, including top spots, at tech companies.
Yet women and minorities are frequently overlooked as candidates for board positions in Silicon Valley. Black women in particular face significant roadblocks — insular networks, negative stereotypes, overlapping discrimination based on gender and race. When they ascend to these powerful perches, they are dismissed by some as diversity, token or quota hires, minimizing their achievements, diversity experts say.
At Facebook, you can almost count on one hand the number of black women — six — who work as senior managers or executives in the U.S., accounting for less than 1 percent of those 769 jobs. The next layer of managers at Facebook isn’t more diverse: 34 are black women out of a total of 2,816, or 1.2 percent. Overall, Facebook employs 278 black women, 1.4 percent of its U.S. workforce of just under 20,000.
Facebook is popular in the black community. Seven out of 10 black U.S. adults use Facebook and 43 percent use Instagram, according to the Pew Research Center.
“As black, Native American and Latinx women comprise less than 1% of tech leadership, but over-index as end users, closing this gap is critical for companies that want to remain relevant in the future,” said Nicole Sanchez, chief executive officer and founder of Vaya Consulting. “It is a great signal that women of color are finally being added to tech boards, but we won’t be able to close this sector-wide gap until a critical mass of women of color comprise leadership positions.”
Prior to joining PayPal in 2011, Alford worked at eBay and at Rent.com, a national internet real estate listing service and former subsidiary of eBay, where she served as president and general manager as well as chief financial officer.
Last year, when she was recognized for her work to advance diversity and inclusion in the tech industry at the Culture Shifting Awards in Silicon Valley, Alford credited her perspective on the value of diversity to her white parents, who adopted six children of different ethnicities and raised them in the Midwest in the 1970s and 1980s.
She described her parents as the Angelina Jolie and Madonna of their time “but with way less money and before it was in style.” Her mother, Dr. Mary Abkemeier, chair of the department of mathematics and computer science at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri, earned a Ph.D. in math and computer science while adopting her first two children. Her father, Bill Abkemeier, is a retired electrical engineer.
“Their example inspired us to question our own comfort zones, to seek opportunities that would help us grow as people and round out our skill set, rather than just advance up some ladder,” Alford said.
Read more: USA TODAY coverage of inclusion, diversity and equity in tech
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