I’ve always thought of a company board of directors as a group of wrinkly, old men sitting on piles of money in a dark room conniving to make yet more moolah. After all, often times when boards of directors are mentioned in the news, it is in the context of corporate wrongdoings. But as I thought about it more, I realized it was high time that I learned a little more about boards as they are, or, as we hope they are in 2018.
I called Brit Morin, Founder and CEO of Brit + Co, a media company for women who are looking to jump-start their creativity, keep up with the latest in pop culture and take online classes from calligraphy to coding. Launched in 2011, Brit + Co has been growing 50 to 100 % every year, with revenues in the 10s of millions of dollars and over 75 employees.
She’s just joined the board of Life360, a family networking app, that allows family members (or other self-designated groups) to share their location with each other. Morin has been an enthusiastic user of the app for years. Unlike many users, who want to keep track of their teenage drivers, Morin finds it convenient to keep up with the activities of the family. “I can look at the app and see that my sister-in-law has gone for a trail run in Montana. I’ll text her and start a conversation around that. It keeps us communicating.”
Glassdoor: Why did you decide to join the board of Life360?
Brit Morin: I met the co-founder Chris Hulls a couple of years ago and we’ve kept in touch. Life360 had had a light bulb moment and wanted a woman on the board. About a year ago Chris started talking to me about joining. We had many conversations, often about his primary users, who are women and moms, and I mirror both.
I bring not only the female users’ point of view on the product, I have experience starting and running my own female branded online business. The two companies are similar in size, in terms of revenues and number of employees. It makes for a perfect fit. I saw that I could serve a purpose by offering my informed opinion as a user, as well as making suggestions for more uses of the app. I consider this giving back to a larger community.
Glassdoor: Does Brit + Co have a board of directors? Can you speak about how the board is chosen?
Brit Morin: Yes, we started with a three-person board and now have five people serving, including investors. Venture capitalists often want a seat on the board of a company they’ve put money into. Our board is 80% woman. Four women and one man. The board reflects our end user, which is really important. Everyone – on staff or on the board – should be thinking about the customer and since 94% of our users are women, it’s obvious that a woman-focused board makes sense.
Just as I’m an independent member of Life360, Tina Sharkey is an independent board member for Brit + Co. She has started and run e-commerce sites that bring consumers and businesses together. Tina’s work has been around serving communities of women, starting with iVillage, which she co-founded and BabyCenter, where she was CEO. Recently she co-founded Brandless, an e-commerce site. She serves much the same purpose for Brit + Co., as I do for Life360. She knows the product well, and she brings invaluable experience having brought women-centered businesses to scale.
Glassdoor: What responsibility does a board have in responding to crises?
Brit Morin: I think the board’s and executive teams’ responsibilities lie more importantly in day-to-day business. Diversity and safety within their companies should always be on their minds. Alarms are going off, at least in Silicon Valley, about inclusion. Diversity across all aspects – from gender and race to education and skills – is now being talked about. Companies are trying to figure it out. We have a diversity committee who meets monthly to look at things from our photography (Are we showing all kinds of women?) to hiring practices.
Glassdoor: Do you really think things will change or is all the talk of diversity simply lip service?
Brit Morin: Things will change. I don’t have any hard data, but I know In the Fortune 1000 companies only 18% of board members have been women. Recently, I’m hearing about more and more women being asked to serve on important boards. That’s the beginning. Boards have to be reflective of their customers and sensitive to their concerns.
Glassdoor: What is your background? For example, did you major in engineering or business or both in college?
Brit Morin: Actually, I graduated from the University of Texas, Austin two years early. I was excited to get into the work world. I had taken a lot of computer science courses in college and AP computer science in high school. I knew I was headed for the tech world.
After college, I moved to Silicon Valley and worked at Apple, where I was involved with iTunes, and then I was at Google for four years. My assignments were on the product side, on teams for Google Maps and other projects. I was given a lot of responsibility when I was in my twenties. The years when I was employed at large, fast-moving corporations gave me my MBA.
I got my second MBA as an entrepreneur which no one can teach you. You have to get in there and do it. I learned about venture capital, boards, hiring and managing on my own. I took what I had learned earlier about how to talk to engineers and marketers into my own business. It’s all been a learning experience.
Glassdoor: When job seekers look at a company for potential employment, should they take a glance at the board?
Brit Morin: I think you should look at both the makeup of the board and the executive teams. Are they diverse? Are they reflective of the company’s target user? What have they accomplished to those ends? That will give you another way to look at a company which is always useful.