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More Black Leaders Are Joining Corporate Boards. In the C-Suite, It’s a Different Story

Words by Leon Kaye
Black leaders

A research team at Black Enterprise spent six months mining documents, including proxy statements, to learn about the representation and participation of Black leaders at the highest levels of corporate America. The results are a mixed bag overall, but last year’s corporate commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) may have made some difference in the transformation of more boards of directors across the U.S.

The big number? Within the S&P 500, the number of companies without any Black representation at the board level dropped by almost half — 47 percent to be exact.

That’s only part of the story, however, as “it is way too early to break out the party hats and horns,” the report’s authors write. 

First, the big numbers. To start, currently 100 S&P companies lack any Black board members, down from 187 two years ago. The number of companies with Black directors hit almost 400, a 30 percent increase from 2019. Overall, Black directors now hold 425 board seats in the S&P 500, up more than 30 percent over the past two years.

But those numbers are only part of the story in the role Black leaders have in the U.S. business community. Black Enterprise cites an August 2020 study which found only 1.8 percent of the top executive positions in S&P 100 (five out of 279) were held by Black leaders, and two of them have since retired.

Debra Lee, the retired chair and CEO of BET Networks, is among the leaders who are doing their part to ensure more Black professionals have a fair shake at such opportunities. Lee co-founded The Monarchs Collective, a consultancy focused on working with women and people of color so they can gain more board and C-level positions. “We are in an environment where companies are still looking for diverse board members. Some of them are fishing in the same pond that they’ve been fishing in for years,” she told Black Enterprise.

Overall, there’s a sense of cautious optimism. “I have to say that African Americans are getting opportunities to be on boards in unprecedented levels," John Rogers Jr., chairman, co-CEO and chief investment officer at Ariel Investments, told reporter Jeffrey McKinney of Black Enterprise. "Everyone sort of jumped on board, and people realized it’s really critical to do the right thing after the assassination of George Floyd and all the turmoil and heartbreak in our country."

For example, more private equity firms are appointing Black leaders to their boards. Rogers believes this could lead to more companies ranked within the Russell 2,000 doing more to recruit and appoint people of color as directors. Meanwhile, companies including Walgreens Boots Alliance, TIAA and Qurate Retail (which owns QVC and HSN) have brought on Black leaders as CEOs.

But again, it’s clear that adding to the ranks of Black decision-makers at America’s largest companies will take a while. Black Enterprise’s latest corporate directory finds only seven Black chairs of corporate boards and 10 lead directors across the S&P 500.

Image credit: Cytonn Photography via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked and lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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