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Joanna Coles did not take less pay than other Snap directors. The real issue for tech is why so many thought she did.

The outspoken editor could not speak out on an inaccurate meme, due to Snap’s quiet period.

Asa Mathat

For anyone who knows top Hearst exec Joanna Coles, it’s pretty clear, pretty quickly, that she is not a person who is a pushover.

Witty and often ribald, the former editor of Cosmopolitan — who is now Hearst’s chief of content — cannot be described as any of the following: A shrinking violet, a shy type, Type B, the quiet one who sits in the back.

What she is, and has been throughout her entire career, has been pretty out-there, as you might imagine the editor of Cosmo would have to be. I’ve known this since just a year ago, when I was interviewing her onstage at our Code Media conference and we somehow got off the topic of digital distribution to how puritanical America is about sex.

Noting that the topic is one of her favorites, in front of a pretty geeky tech crowd she suddenly turned to me and said, “I’m thinking there should be a Cosmo sex position called ‘The Swisher.’ And I’m just wondering what it would involve.”

Let it be said: I have never had such a back-and-forth with Bill Gates, and this is why one has to love Joanna Coles.

Which is why it came as a surprise to me when a report from Fortune said the compensation for Snap’s only female director was a fraction of that of the other, male board members’.

Um, no, as it was dead easy to find out with just a few calls to sources with knowledge of the situation. (And kudos to Axios’ Dan Primack for being the only one who did that quickly.)

Snap did not comment on the first Fortune story — quiet periods are like that — but it was incomplete by a long stretch. Because of the filing’s timing, the post did not reflect critical information on a four-year contract Coles signed in December that included a large stock grant that brought her in line with two other directors. Both joined the board well after Coles, who came to Snap’s board in late 2015.

The catch was that she only signed a one-year contract then, which meant her comp looked like it was much less. Once she moved to the four-year deal, it was not. Snap released all this new information in an amended filing.

Coles and those two male directors are still not the big moneymakers among Snap’s directors. Best paid are two other male board members, including former P&G chairman A.G. Lafley, which, sources say, have more significant board duties requiring higher payment. But there are also unpaid directors, including founders Evan Spiegel (CEO) and Bobby Murphy (CTO), as well as Benchmark’s Mitch Lasky and Executive Chairman Michael Lynton. All of these people already hold significant stock in Snap and, frankly, do not need more lucre from the company.

All’s well that ends well? I suppose, but the incident was fascinating and instructive to me, since the less-than-fleshed-out story was repeated as fact by numerous media outlets, often with a pretty sharp tone, but without additional basic reporting that would have simply cleared it up.

More to the point, the bad report also got amplified, resulting in an uproar on social media, including attacks on Snap for continuing to be such obvious frat bros and also on Coles for being such a lady wimp.

I was at numerous events in Silicon Valley, where many — mostly women — were dumbfounded by the discrepancy, even after I explained that is was not so. Even the amended filing was met with dubious looks.

“Well,” said one top-ranking woman, who knows Cole well. “It feels true.”

Yes, it does, which is perhaps the most accurate thing to be said in this incident.

That’s because there is a truckload of well-documented studies and a myriad of facts about women’s pay on boards being lower — reflecting a similar trend in the workplace. That is, if women are sitting at the boardroom table in the first place.

I wrote about the issue in 2010 in a post titled, “The Men and No Women of Web 2.0 Boards (BoomTown's Talking to You: Twitter, Facebook, Zynga, Groupon and Foursquare)” and then again in 2013 when Twitter was going public — let’s hope Snap’s turns out better — in a post, “Will Twitter Add a Woman Director Before the IPO?”

As I wrote then, Coles-style, about the names of some of the directors of Twitter:

The lack of a female director on its board even caused one board member to make a naughty joke that has been widely repeated inside the company — and forgive me in advance for this — that Twitter’s governing body has to expand beyond “three Peters and a Dick.”

Ahahaha. Ha.

Eh, it’s really not that funny, since after years of complaining, the situation does not seem to have gotten much better. Only about 20 percent of S&P 500 board seats are held by women, even though there are also a lot of studies indicating that boards with more female directors have better results.

Tech has an even worse record, at about 15 percent, with most board appointments at startups being men — and typically white men — with perhaps only a token person of color or one woman present. Or not: None of the current crop of likely headed-to-IPO hotties — including Airbnb and Slack — have any female directors. (Uber just added Arianna Huffington to its board.)

Also annoying is the frequent refrain — when people call for more board diversity — that a company has “standards” to uphold. That's laudable, except that criteria is never mentioned when boards are packed with white men. Does that mean that all these men are perfect? Or that the language mysteriously changes when it comes to opening up the board to different perspectives and experiences?

Still, there is some evidence that things are changing. Twitter now has three women as directors, along with Google, Amazon and Salesforce, and Facebook and Apple have two.

But it still feels achingly slow-going, on what seems to be an obvious fix. While the New York Times wrote a pretty breathless report on how pursued women are to be on tech boards and how hard companies were trying (really, really, really hard, we swear), the numbers are still what they are — and they remain stubbornly low, given how many qualified women there are for such seats.

Maybe we can get to the day when stories like Coles not getting her fair share are not so easily believable. Sources said that Snap is looking for another board member now and that person is likely to be a woman. Whoever that is, let’s assume she asks for and gets the big bucks.

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