OpenAI says white men ‘Bret, Larry and Adam’ will work hard to build diverse board

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In a blog post yesterday that formally announced an initial slate for its board of directors, OpenAI included a message from CEO Sam Altman that “Bret, Larry, and Adam will be working very hard on the extremely important task of building out a board of diverse perspectives, improving our governance structure and overseeing an independent review of recent events.”

“Bret, Larry and Adam” refer to former Salesforce CEO Bret Taylor, economist Larry Summers and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, who currently make up OpenAI’s new board, along with a non-voting observer seat for Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor and partner.

OpenAI’s two female board members were removed

The irony of three white men deciding on the future diversity of OpenAI’s board was not lost on many who had expected more from yesterday’s announcement, especially since the original nonprofit board’s only two female members — Helen Toner, of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology, and technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley — were removed when Altman returned to OpenAI five days after being fired. Toner posted about her “official resignation” this morning, with a thread on X saying: “Much has been written about the last week or two; much more will surely be said. For now, the incoming board has announced it will supervise a full independent review to determine the best next steps.”

Sasha Luccioni, an AI researcher and climate lead at Hugging Face, posted on LinkedIn with a question: “Still no women on OpenAI’s board but at least now there’s a Big Tech company… How is that even possible? Will Clippy have a seat at the table?” And tech journalist Kara Swisher put it bluntly in a post on X: “Now let’s add some women pls.”

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OpenAI’s board announcement came days after many were already questioning the lack of board diversity after Toner and McCauley’s removal. A report in Wired pointed out the gender imbalance of the revamped board and said it “illustrates the precarious position of women in AI.”

‘Genuinely surprised’ by composition of new OpenAI board

Elissa Fink, former CMO of software company Tableau, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2019, now serves as a board member for AI data platform Dataiku, as well as Qumulo, Pantheon Platform and Intellimize.

“I was genuinely surprised at the composition of the new OpenAI board,” she told VentureBeat. “We are in a time where AI is already actively shaping our future, so having a diverse board isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.” OpenAI’s board, she added, should reflect a wide spectrum of ethnicities, ages and backgrounds. “It’s absolutely crucial in steering AI towards unbiased, inclusive outcomes…I’m hopeful OpenAI already realizes this and we’ll soon hear about additional appointments to their board.”

And Audrey MacLean, the acting chair on the board of enterprise AI solution Aible, told VentureBeat that AI governance “has to inherently come from a diversity of approaches acting as checks and balances.” AI company boards as well as their technological approaches should be diverse, she added: “For instance, our board at Aible is majority female and incorporates perspectives from three continents.”

‘Important for any board to be representative of society’

Kay Firth-Butterfield, CEO of Good Tech Advisory and former inaugural head of AI at the World Economic Forum, also weighed in: “It is important for any board to be representative of society so to include women, gender and racial diversity,” she said. “This is a particular necessity for a company creating a technology which is shaping the future of humanity.”

She also added that “given that most of the data on the internet on which Open AI trains its models has been predominantly created by white men it is all the more important to ensure oversight from other groups — if AI is to change the whole world and lift everyone then including people from outside the U.S. and not educated in the U.S. would also make considerable sense.”

While it would have been better if OpenAI started with a more diverse board, Firth-Butterfield emphasized that the current board must be “extra diligent in its choice of talent search provider, bringing in diversity at that level to ensure the right mix of candidates is found. At that point they need to take advice and exercise diligence in selection of new board members. It behooves them to be transparent in their selection categories and decisions.”

Discussion about OpenAI board exploded after Altman’s ouster

The makeup of the OpenAI board of directors was rarely explored before Altman’s ouster — although VentureBeat reported on the board’s outsized power just a few days earlier. But when Altman was fired by the nonprofit board, media headlines immediately focused on non-employee members Toner, McCauley and D’Angelo — particularly their reported ties to the Effective Altruism movement.

Yet, it was only Toner and McCauley that were removed, while D’Angelo remains on the board. It remains unclear why that is the case and why Altman was fired in the first place. In her comments on Twitter, Toner said “to be clear: our decision was about the board’s ability to effectively supervise the company, which was our role and responsibility. Though there has been speculation, we were not motivated by a desire to slow down OpenAI’s work.”

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