SBA Joins with LinkedIn to Boost Private Board Diversity

Continuing to push the advantages of diversity in the final months of the Obama era, the chief of the Small Business Administration on Thursday unveiled a new study of gender and racial makeup of private company boards while also announcing a recruiting partnership with LinkedIn.

SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet told a gathering at the Library of Congress that “start-ups owned by women and minorities often face an even more daunting challenge accessing the capital they need to grow and prosper.” 

The new study—written by business professors based on customized research for SBA from scholars at the library—“confirms that challenge but it also shows that we can expand opportunity and increase our overall economic strength by ensuring more women and underrepresented groups are in a position to make major investment decisions.”

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Researchers in a year-old Library of Congress outreach division conducted a survey of board membership by gender, race and ethnicity in firms eligible for loans under the SBA’s six-decades-old Small Business Investment Company Program, an alternative source of capital for high-risk small businesses. 

They found evidence that the program “is generally more diverse with respect to gender, ethnicity and race than the broader private equity universe,” and that “diverse populations are better served by and through a diverse team of fund managers.”

The study was among the first from a fee-for-service customized research unit formalized last year “to make our research and our people better serve the American people and those abroad,” said Jane McAuliffe, Library of Congress director of national and international outreach. 

The SBA chief also announced the new partnership with the LinkedIn—which claims 450 million online members in its resume bank—called Open Network for Board Diversity or ONBOARD. It seeks to use online networking to increase the presence of women, African Americans and Hispanics on boards of small businesses, especially those supported by the SBA’s lending program.

“Everyone has embedded biases,” Contreras-Sweet told Government Executive, but “when a first impression is online, you don’t always know if the person is male or female, and you’re more apt to fund them if you’re focused on their skill set and value system.”

Asked whether the two new diversity initiatives would likely be continued by the next administration, she referred to diversity principles going back to the Labor Department’s 1990s Glass Ceiling Commission, on which she served. “The enduring focus on workplace diversity,” she said, “will endure in the future regardless of who is at SBA or in the White House.”

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