Gender Diversity in Silicon Valley

David A. Bell and Dawn Belt are partners at Fenwick & West LLP. This post is based on a Fenwick memorandum.

Fenwick & West has released its updated study about gender diversity on boards and executive management teams of companies in the technology and life science companies included in the Silicon Valley 150 Index and very large public companies included in the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index. [1] The Fenwick Gender Diversity Survey uses 23 years of data to provide a better picture of women’s participation at the most senior levels of public companies in Silicon Valley.

The complete publication (available here) reviews public filings from 1996 through 2018 to analyze the gender makeup of boards, board leadership, board committees and executive management teams in the two groups, with special comparisons showing how the Top 15 largest companies in the SV 150 fare, as they are the peers of the large public companies included in the S&P 100.

Executive Summary

Gender diversity in corporate leadership—and diversity in the business world more broadly—continues to drive vigorous discussion across the country, with Silicon Valley and the tech industry often at the center of heightened scrutiny.

The year 2018—dubbed by some as “the year of the woman”—moved the needle in some areas of gender diversity. In the S&P 500, companies appointed a record number of women directors to their boards. In politics, the 2018 midterm elections ushered in a record number of women to serve in Congress. California became the first state in the United States to mandate that public companies include women directors on their corporate boards. Progress to meaningfully diversify corporate leadership, however, has continued to be scant across the country even as public pressure to move from the status quo has continued to grow, most notably through the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, and from institutional investors, regulators and lawmakers.

Findings from the Fenwick & West Gender Diversity Survey, which looks at women’s positions in leadership based on public data from the last 23 years, point to some promising trends and areas where Silicon Valley leads, mixed with some areas with room for continued improvement.

Fenwick’s gender diversity survey provides unique insight into women’s participation at the most senior levels of technology and life sciences public companies in the Silicon Valley 150 Index (SV 150) and the large public companies of the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index (S&P 100). The report reviews public filings beginning in 1996 (the first year for which electronic filings with the SEC were broadly made in the EDGAR system) through the 2018 proxy season to analyze the gender makeup of boards, board leadership, board committees and executive management teams, in the two groups, with special comparisons showing how the Top 15 largest companies in the SV 150 fare (as they are the peers of the large public companies included in the S&P 100).

Our latest survey indicates that company size continues to matter; the bigger the company, the more diverse its leadership. Diversity numbers for the Top 15 largest companies in the SV 150 are generally closer to—and in some cases exceed—those of the S&P 100.

Companies, board members and C-level executives can use this survey as a statistical benchmark for Silicon Valley leaders, as well as for comparison to the landscape of the largest public companies across the United States.

For a long time, much of the discussion about gender diversity in Silicon Valley was based on personal observation and limited data. We believe that our survey, covering more than two decades of statistics, adds perspective and depth to the discussion.

Key observations include:

Growth rates remain low.

  • The representation of women on boards continued to increase between the 2016 proxy season (the last time Fenwick published the gender diversity survey) and the 2018 proxy season in the United States, but at lower rates than in some countries. The average percentage of women directors increased 3.0 percentage points in the SV 150 to 17.7% in 2018 and in the S&P 100 rose 1.6 percentage points to 24.7% (with the Top 15 companies in the SV 150 increasing 3.6 percentage points to 25.8%) (page 15).
  • However, over the last few years in both the S&P 100 and the Top 15 of the SV 150, 100% of companies have had at least one woman director. In the SV 150 overall, the percentage of companies with at least one woman director increased 7.6 percentage points to 81.6% (page 16).

Fenwick Gender Diversity ScoreTM

Fenwick created the Gender Diversity Score in 2014 as a metric for assessing gender diversity overall. This composite score is based on data at the board and executive management level in the SV 150, Top 15 of the SV 150, and S&P 100 each year over the last two-plus decades surveyed and in a set of categories selected as representative of the overall gender diversity picture (pages 9 and 72).

A review of the annual score over the last 23 years shows that:

  • Gender diversity generally has improved over time—albeit slowly—with some years showing no progress.
  • In the S&P 100, gender diversity has grown slowly but steadily at a cumulative rate of 70%, or a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.44%.
  • The SV 150 has lower scores overall, but a greater cumulative growth rate of 198%, and more than double the CAGR, 5.09%.
  • Among the Top 15 largest companies in the SV 150, where the diversity score is now similar to the S&P 100, the cumulative growth rate has been 140%, or a CAGR of 4.06%, well above the S&P 100 but below the aggregate growth rate of the SV 150 over the period—although, after exceeding the S&P 100 in 2016, the diversity score for the Top 15 companies has declined over the last two years.

New California law requires women in corporate leadership.

Most companies in the SV 150 would meet the new standard affecting California-based public companies set out by a new law mandating inclusion of women on boards of directors in 2019 (page 14).

  • Our data show that most SV 150 companies will need to add women to meet the law’s 2021 standard.
  • Most companies in the S&P 100—all of which have boards with six or more directors—would meet the 2021 standard, with only 24% of this cohort having fewer than three women on their boards (the requirement for boards of six or more directors; page 16).

Size continues to matter; Board Leadership.

  • Larger companies by revenue and market capitalization tend to have larger boards and executive management teams, which tend to be more diverse.
  • In recent years, the Top 15 largest companies in the SV 150 have surpassed the S&P 100 in percentage of women in board leadership positions, including board chairs, lead directors and committee chairs (page 33).
  • Women board chairs are rare across the U.S., but the Top 15 largest SV 150 companies have in recent years more frequently had women board chairs than the similarly sized S&P 100 companies, although they had a similar percentage in 2018 (page 33).
  • The Top 15 of the SV 150 appointed women as lead directors—now often considered the most significant board leadership role—at roughly twice the rate of their S&P 100 peers (page 34).
  • In 2018, women were more likely than men to serve on primary board committees (audit, compensation, nominating) for S&P 100, SV 150 and the Top 15 of the SV 150, showing that the women who serve on these boards, though fewer in number than men, are viewed as equal partners with their male peers. That has been the case now for half of the last 14 years.

Chief Executive Officers (page 52)

Women CEOs continue to be a rarity in the United States, and companies in the SV 150 mirror the percentage of women CEOs in the general corporate population (approximately 4.8%). However, the S&P 100, with 8% women CEOs, meaningfully exceeds that rate, and the Top 15 companies of the SV 150, though a small sample set, continued to come in at 13.3% with women CEOs.

Executive Officers (page 38)

While the SV 150 initially slightly exceeded the S&P 100 in terms of average percentage of women executive officers, the growth rate of women executive officers, in terms of either the average number of women executive officers per company or the average percentage of executive officers that are women, has been faster in the S&P 100 over the survey period.

Named Executive Officers (NEOs) (page 46)

Named executive officers are the executives that are generally the most highly compensated and in some sense those that a company considers among the most important. As a group, the SV 150 has shown a faster rate of increase in numbers in this cohort.

Notably, the average percentage growth rate of women NEOs has been faster in the Top 15 of the SV 150 (approximately 871% cumulative growth, or 10.79% CAGR) and the SV 150 generally (approximately 560% cumulative growth, or 8.95% CAGR) than in the S&P 100 (approximately 471% cumulative growth, or 8.28% CAGR).

What’s more, when measured in terms of likelihood of being a NEO among women that serve as executive officers, the SV 150 as a whole and the Top 15 companies of the SV 150 have been significantly more likely to include women as NEOs than the S&P 100.

S&P 100 companies had more women NEOs under a woman CEO (pages 46-53).

Generally, women CEOs were not more likely to include women in significant roles than men serving as CEOs.

Percentage of Women NEOs

S&P 100 SV 150 Top 15 (SV 150)
Women NEOs under Male CEO 13% 11% 16%
Women NEOs under Female CEO 33% 8% 0%

Care should be taken when comparing statistics for women and men serving as CEO, as the number of women CEOs is very low.

As discussed previously, the gender diversity survey evolved out of a study of corporate governance more broadly, for which the norms of the S&P 100 companies are often held out as best practices. However, as noted above, size is a significant factor in the diversity statistics studied. Consequently, the broad range of companies in the SV 150 (whether measured in terms of size, age or revenue) is associated with a similarly broad range of gender diversity. Comparison of gender diversity statistics and trends for the Top 15, top 50, middle 50 and bottom 50 companies of the SV 150 (in terms of revenue) [2] bears this out. As a result, throughout the survey we compare the Top 15 of the SV 150 to the S&P 100 because the Top 15 are more similar in size to the S&P 100 and therefore a more apt comparison group than the full SV 150. The survey also includes data broken down by the top 50, middle 50 and bottom 50 of the SV 150 (by revenue) in a variety of categories.

Full Coverage:

For each of the S&P 100, Top 15 of the SV 150 and the full SV 150, the survey includes review of overall gender diversity in these groups (through the Fenwick Gender Diversity ScoreTM) the gender diversity specifically of:

  • board of directors, including analysis in comparison to the recently adopted California gender quota
  • board committees
  • board and committee leadership
  • executive officers
  • NEOs
  • chief executive officer (CEO)
  • president/top operations executive
  • chief financial officer (CFO)
  • top legal officer/general counsel (GC)
  • top technology/engineering/r&d executive
  • top sales executive
  • top marketing executive
  • top corporate/business development executive

The survey also includes data broken down by the top 50, middle 50 and bottom 50 of the SV 150 in a variety of categories.

The complete publication is available here.


1The S&P 100 is a cross-section of companies across industries, but is not a cross-section of companies across all size ranges (it represents the largest companies in the United States). While the SV 150 is made up of the largest public companies in Silicon Valley by one measure—revenue, it is actually a fairly broad cross-section of companies by size, but is limited to the technology and life science companies based in Silicon Valley. Compared to the S&P 100, SV 150 companies are generally much smaller and younger, have lower revenue, and are concentrated in the technology and life sciences industries. The 2018 constituent companies of the SV 150 range from Apple and Alphabet with revenue of approximately $239B and $111B, respectively, to Intevac and Aquantia, with revenue of approximately $113M and $103M, in each case for the four quarters ended on or about December 31, 2017. Apple went public in 1980, Alphabet (as Google) in 2004, and Intevac in 1990 and Aquantia in 2004, with the Top 15 companies averaging 18 more years as a public company than the bottom 15 companies in the SV 150. Apple and Alphabet’s peers clearly include companies in the S&P 100, of which they are also constituent members (eight companies were constituents of both indices for the survey in the 2018 proxy season), where market capitalization averages approximately $308B. Intevac and Aquantia’s peers are smaller technology companies that went public more recently and have market capitalizations well under $1B, many of which went public relatively recently. In terms of number of employees, the SV 150 averages 8,900 employees (with a median of 1,837 employees), ranging from Oracle Corp. with 138,000 employees across dozens of countries to companies such as Aemetis with 140 employees in the United States and India, as of the end of their respective fiscal years 2017 (Innoviva, ranked 128 in the SV 150, has the fewest full-time employees—12). The S&P 100 averages approximately 136,000 employees and includes Walmart with 2.3 million employees in more than two dozen countries at its most recent fiscal year-end. The S&P 100 companies are not necessarily representative of companies in the United States generally, just as the SV 150 companies are not necessarily representative of Silicon Valley generally.(go back)

2The Top 15, top 50, middle 50 and bottom 50 companies of the SV 150, include companies with revenue in the following respective ranges: $11B or more, $1.6B or more, $400M but less than $1.6B, and $103M but less than $399M. The respective average market capitalizations of these groups are $220B, $81B, $3.4B and $1.3B.(go back)


Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.