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OpenAI’s new ‘initial’ board is all white, all male. Really?

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman looks on during the APEC CEO Summit at Moscone West on Nov. 16 in San Francisco, California.Justin Sullivan/Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Ge

For a brief shining moment, OpenAI represented what the future of technology should look like: a company headed by a female CEO and board that reached gender parity.

That new world order emerged on Friday when the OpenAI board ousted CEO Sam Altman and named chief technology officer Mira Murati as interim CEO. The boardroom dustup prompted chairman Greg Brockman to depart as well, leaving the artificial intelligence company with a board that was half women.

But that was then. With the return of Altman as CEO, the neanderthal days of technology are back with a vengeance.

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Three of the four board members who pushed Altman out last week are gone, notably the two female directors — tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

We’re all still unpacking the chaos enveloping the world’s most important AI company. One thing I know for sure: The new board can’t remain all-male and all-white.

Here’s the latest for those keeping score at home: Current director and Quora founder Adam D’Angelo kept his seat. The new additions are Bret Taylor, formerly co-CEO of Salesforce, and Larry Summers, former US Treasury secretary and former Harvard president.

Summers, a Harvard professor, has famously misunderstood the gender gap. As Harvard president, he faced a barrage of criticism after suggesting the reason there aren’t more top female scientists is because of “innate” differences between men’s and women’s abilities in math and science. He later apologized.

Generative AI is supposed to change everything and lead us into a better future. But the question has always been for whom?

The fear among those of us who aren’t white men is that AI will maintain our world of inequities. The technology is likely to pose a bigger economic threat to women and people of color. That’s because AI is being brought to us by the same white male creators as before. These biases only disappear when there’s more diversity in corner offices and boardrooms.

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Diversity, as studies have shown, is better for the bottom line. Having different perspectives at the table leads to innovation and breaks group-think.

When I first read about OpenAI’s upheaval, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of women on its board. How progressive for Silicon Valley, I thought. The shakeup reflected a board that wasn’t afraid of disrupting the status quo.

Now what?

All is not lost. I’ve got to think OpenAI is still rebuilding its board. It must make diversity a priority in the next round of board seats. No excuses.

Women and people of color are up to the task. I can think of a few candidates: Rumman Chowdhury, formerly of Twitter and a Responsible AI Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Timnit Gebru, former Googler and founder of The Distributed AI Research Institute; Rana el Kaliouby, cofounder of AI company Affectiva, and Youngme Moon, a Harvard Business School professor who advises early-stage startups and serves on several corporate boards.

If OpenAI is going to lead us into the future, its board has to represent all of us.


Shirley Leung is a Business columnist and host of the Globe Opinion podcast “Say More with Shirley Leung.” Find the podcast on Apple, Spotify, and globe.com/saymore.

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Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com.