WiLab Loves: Sheryl Sandberg and Marc Andreessen Are Sending Women to Boot Camp

How do you get on a board of directors if you’ve never been on a board of directors?Sheryl Sandberg and Marc Andreessen found themselves grappling with that paradox one day earlier this year. They were talking about workplace diversity when Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and the author of Lean In, pushed Andreessen, co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, to use his wide talent network  to help make Silicon Valley look more like America.Here’s what he came up with.

Boot camp.

Andreessen marshaled the resources of his firm to launch and fund a basic-training program for an elite corps of promising, diverse candidates in what it means to be on a board—the legal obligations, the roles of the different committees, and more. The goal is to arm the participants—all women and minorities who have yet to serve on boards other than their own companies’—with the knowledge to take seats on corporate and start-up boards. The effort comes as tech struggles with its abysmal diversity numbers and Silicon Valley watches Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of its storied venture firms, defend itself in court against allegations of gender discrimination.

This month, the first class of 40 would-be directors completed the course, developed with the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. The two-day immersion program included a mix of courses taught by Stanford law professors and panel discussions featuring sitting board members swapping war stories.

“We want everyone who is talented and determined to have a full opportunity to contribute to Silicon Valley and Valley companies,” said Andreessen, who led the development of Mosaic, the first popular web browser.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz. Photo from Bloomberg.com

Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz. Photo from Bloomberg.com

Boards searching for new directors typically want to see candidates who have already served on a board and know the ropes—a Catch 22 that prevents many candidates from getting their first seat. So Andreessen Horowitz, which has backed dozens of tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter, tapped its network of founders and co-investors, and friends such as Sandberg. It wanted names of high-potential women and executives of color who had yet to serve.

Among those they identified were Tristan Walker, founder and CEO of Walker & Co., a health and beauty products company for people of color, and Varsha Rao, head of global operations for Airbnb. Andreessen Horowitz is an investor in both companies. (Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg Business, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.) When he introduced himself to the class, Walker said, he told them, “This is the most diverse group I’ve been in in a very long time.”

Continue reading the full story on Bloomberg here.

WILAB LOVES is a series of articles and blog posts from across the web that Women’s iLab supports. This article was written by Stephanie Mehta and published on BLOOMBERG.COM on March 20, 2015.