Board diversity is being scrutinized more than ever before. Here's the gender breakdown at 21 of the biggest unicorns including Stripe, 23andMe, and Affirm.

  • The discussion around board diversity — or lack thereof — was renewed when Nasdaq announced that it asked the SEC to approve a new proposal.
  • It's suggested that no company could trade on its exchange without two diverse board members, one who identifies as female and one who identifies as an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ.
  • The Nasdaq follows the likes of Goldman Sachs, which announced early in 2020 that it would not underwrite any IPO of a company that did not have at least one diverse board member.
  • Business Insider reviewed the boards of 21 of the biggest unicorns out there — including names like 23andMe, Stripe, and Affirm — and found an overwhelming bias toward men. Of the 153 board seats, only 31 were held by women.
  • Three unicorns — ThoughtSpot, Lookout, and Rubrik – have no women on their boards at all.  
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After the red-hot IPOs of Airbnb and DoorDash, there seems to be nothing that could quell interest in the biggest private companies.

Names like Stripe, 23andMe, Rent The Runway, and more have raised tens of billions, and unicorns like Affirm and Coinbase are beginning the process to go public. 

But these companies are facing the same challenge their publicly traded peers are as well: board diversity, or the lack thereof. 

Nasdaq's recent SEC proposal to require all companies trading on its exchange to have two diverse board members — including at least one woman — in two years has reignited the conversation around board composition, which has traditionally been an overwhelmingly white and male community. An S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of the more than 2,700 companies on Nasdaq's exchange found that nearly 20% did not have any women on their board.

See more: IT'S NOT THAT HARD: Here are 21 female tech leaders ideal for board seats as Nasdaq forces corporate America's hand

Business Insider reviewed the boards of 21 of the biggest private companies to see how they stacked up, and the numbers were similar to that of public companies. Of the 153 board seats (there are not 153 different individuals as people such as investors Andrew Braccia and Anton Levy serve on multiple boards), only 31 are filled by women — a rate of just over 20%. 


Three companies — ThoughtSpot, Lookout, and Rubrik – have no women on their boards at all, though Mark Nasiff, CFO and COO at Lookout, told Business Insider in a statement that "the board is currently implementing a plan to increase the diversity of its membership." ThoughtSpot and Lookout confirmed the composition of their respective boards but had no additional comment.

These companies could also be in danger of missing out on the services of Goldman Sachs as their underwriter for an IPO; the bank announced roughly a year ago that it would require any company it would take public to have at least one "diverse" board member, with a "focus on women." 

Read more: Hundreds of startups go public every year. Only 20 have ever been founded and led by women.

Ten more of the 21 unicorns reviewed by Business Insider have only a single female board member, including 23andMe, which was cofounded by a woman, Anne Wojcicki, who is subsequently the only female board member at the company. 

The only boards that are at least 50% female are two female-founded companies that cater to a mostly female clientele: Rent The Runway and make-up startup Glossier. 

Below is a rundown of the boards of the 21 start-ups.

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