How Sukhinder Singh Cassidy is helping to solve the problem of boardroom diversity
Since moving to Silicon Valley twenty years ago, Sukhinder Singh Casssidy has founded two companies, headed up Google’s Asia Pacific and Latin American operations, taken on the CEO role at multiple organizations, joined several boards, and become an angel investor. Her latest accomplishment? Launching theBoardlist, an online talent marketplace designed to get more women on boards.
In a 2016 survey, male and female corporate board members were asked why gender diversity was such a challenge at their level. The top answer given by the men? A “lack of qualified female candidates.”
It’s a belief that is unfairly holding women back — there’s a difference between not being in your personal network, and not existing. It’s also a problem that Sukhinder Singh Cassidy is aiming to solve with theBoardlist, an online, curated talent marketplace she founded to recommend, discover and connect highly qualified women leaders with opportunities to serve on private and public company boards.
Originally open to the US market, it launched in Canada in April of 2017. Sukhinder says the reception has been universally positive, because it offers a very specific and actionable solution to a recognized problem. “Busy people like it when you give them finite solutions. Especially on an issue like gender diversity, where there’s a lot of pent up frustration, and people feeling like they either don’t know what to do, or are getting called out for not doing enough,” she says.
In the broad gender diversity landscape, she chose to focus on placing more women on boards because the impact can be immediate, broad-reaching, and relatively simple to attain. “You can have great thought leadership on your board tomorrow,” she points out. “It’s a way to affect the entire ecosystem, at an entry point that seems simpler.”
TheBoardlist tool actually grew out of an earlier initiative led by Sukhinder: the #ChoosePossibility Project. Surveying about 100 women tech entrepreneurs across the US, she hoped to paint an accurate picture of the female side of the sector, which had largely been covered in the press with a focus on the gender bias they faced, rather than the success they had achieved.
“I was frustrated by the negative narrative, while recognizing it was true,” Sukhinder explains. “I mean, are we just going to talk about how terrible it is again, or are we going to do something about it? I really wanted to use my voice, I wanted to see if other founders felt the same way I did — which is why I asked them to do the survey — and of course, there’s strength in numbers. I liked the idea of collecting data, so it wasn’t just me spouting my experience.”
Sukhinder has only had one Silicon Valley role where she’s felt gender discrimination — but she’s still aware of the problem. “You see that it’s real. I think the idea of unconscious bias has always been there, and I think for women — particularly if you’re unknown, don’t have your own network, and there’s no data — then I think you are subjected to a lot of subconscious bias.”
While she’s dedicated much of her time and energy to helping solve the problem in Silicon Valley (and beyond), she’s actually a transplant to the region. Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Sukhinder immigrated with her family to St.Catherine’s, Ontario at the age of two. She was too young to remember the transition, but it left an impact. Seeing her parents rebuild their lives in Canada exposed her to “an immigrant work ethic first hand,” as well as her first look at the world of entrepreneurship. Her parents were both doctors, and after redoing their residency, were able to open a practice — which she says her father ran like a business.
After six years working in investment banking and media, Sukhinder moved from London, UK, to Silicon Valley because she ultimately wanted to become an entrepreneur herself. “I used to dream of starting businesses in my late twenties. My roommates and I would cook up all these ideas — we had no idea what we were doing. So I moved to The Valley to get close to entrepreneurship.”
She joined e-commerce startup Junglee in 1998, which was purchased by Amazon within a year. The five male engineer founders began a new journey towards angel investing. They were putting money behind another group of engineers that had created software for aggregating financial data, but lacked a business founder. They suggested that Sukhinder step in, and soon after she joined the founding team of Yodlee.
Since moving to Silicon Valley twenty years ago, the list of Sukhinder’s accomplishments has continued to grow. She’s headed up Google’s Asia Pacific and Latin American operations, taken on the CEO role at multiple organizations, joined the board of TripAdvisor and Ericsson, and become an angel investor. And she has somehow made time to launch and champion theBoardlist while in her current role as founder and chairman of Joyus, a video and e-commerce start-up. It’s a journey that speaks to her intelligence and her drive, traits that she believes make her suited to The Valley.
“I found my tribe. I got to a place where my aggressiveness, my assertiveness, my hustle — those things that kind of make make me, me — seemed to fit. You’re surrounded by these incredibly smart people, and you think you’re ambitious and then you get there and you realize there’s a whole other level of ambition that’s kind of hard to believe.”