Rise in Women on Boards of VC-Backed Private Companies

Him For Her and Crunchbase released the third annual Study of Gender Diversity on Private Company Boards which revealed that women now hold 14% of seats on the boards of the most heavily funded private companies. This increase from 11% in the prior year reflects a slower rate of change than the gains observed in last year’s study. At the same time, the percentage of board seats held by women of color remains unchanged at 3%. Strikingly, life sciences companies outperform technology companies on board-diversity metrics. This collaborative study analyzed the boards of 500 private, venture-backed companies based in the U.S., each with at least $100 million in funding.

Multiple studies track diversity among the boards of U.S.-based public companies. However, the composition of private company boards has largely been ignored despite the fact that public companies represent just 1% of U.S. businesses. This ground-breaking benchmark study, originally published in December 2019, was created to shine light on the gender disparity in private company boardrooms and create a baseline for tracking improvement. The third annual report analyzes board diversity in 2021 and measures progress compared with the two prior years.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Only 14% of board seats among the companies studied are held by women, up from 11% in 2020 and 7% in 2019. Among public companies, women hold 30% of the director seats on the boards of S&P 500 companies and 26 percent on the boards of Russell 3000 companies.
  • Nearly 40% of companies don’t have any women on their board, an improvement from roughly half of companies in the 2020 study and 60% in 2019. By contrast, not one board among the S&P 500 is all-male.
  • Of the 3,437 board seats studied, only 115 (3%) are held by women of color, reflecting no significant change from the prior year. Men of color hold 19% of the board seats studied. For reference, the report defined people of color as individuals who are likely to identify as Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other
  • Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latina, and/or mixed-race.
  • More than three quarters of company boards (78%) do not include a single woman of color.
  • Investors now hold fewer than half of board seats, as independent directors command a larger board footprint. Women are most likely to be independent directors.
  • Just 25% of the companies studied have more than one woman on the board. While research suggests that boards need at least three women to capture the full economic benefits of diversity, only 9% of the companies studied meet this criteria.
  • Among life-science companies, 17% of board directors are women. That number drops to 11% for technology companies.

The study analyzed board members by type — executive directors, investor directors and independent directors — and found that women continue to be underrepresented in every category. Investors make up the largest number of private company directors with 48% of seats, with women holding only 9% of them. In a trend first observed last year, independent directors continue to gain share, now accounting for 29% of board seats, of which women hold 27%. Executive directors account for the smallest group with 23% of board seats, of which women only hold 8%.

“This year’s study points to continued progress, and yet still two out of five high-growth private company boards are all-male,” said Ann Shepherd, co-founder of social impact venture Him For Her. “The lack of gender and racial diversity on startup boards points to both a blind spot and an opportunity for these companies. CEOs and investors need to know: the candidates are out there. Finding them requires looking beyond your personal network.”

“Diversity in the startup ecosystem, including private company boards, matters to the nation’s economic well-being,” said Marlize van Romburgh, Editor in Chief at Crunchbase News. “The findings in this year’s report show some real gains, but also prove how very far we still have to go. By putting this information out there, we believe Him For Her will continue to inspire real change.”


This tracking update largely reproduced the methodology employed in the two prior studies in 2019 and 2020. For the 2021 study, researchers analyzed 500 of the most heavily funded, private U.S.-based companies to understand the composition of their boards as of Q3 2021, one year after the prior

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