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Private Equity-Backed Firms Shut Out Black Directors, Data Shows

By Max Abelson

Companies that have gone public in the last two decades have had few minorities on their boards, a new report finds. Black directors have held only 49 of about 4,700 board seats created at companies backed by the top 18 private equity and venture capital firms, according to the report released Tuesday by the Board Diversity Action Alliance. The group is working to boost boardroom representation.

A man carries a briefcase while walking down Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Monday, June 13, 2016. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Its report looks at the makeup of companies at the time they went public, compiling data of firms that have had initial public offerings since 2000. Black and Latinx directors each held about 1 percent of board seats, with women at about 10 percent, according to the report. And of about 3,800 positions in the executive suites of those companies, just 25 were held by Black people. 

Progress for minorities has been particularly slow. There were two Black directors at venture-backed companies when they went public from 2000 to 2010, four from 2011 to 2015, and 17 from 2016 to 2020. Black directors made few gains at companies backed by private equity, though the number of Latinx board members improved to 36 from 2016 to 2020 — after only hitting 3 from 2000 to 2010.

Women saw bigger gains. The number of female directors at venture-backed firms jumped to 189 in recent years from 19 in the century’s first decade. 

The alliance was co-founded by Ursula Burns, who was the first Black female chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company when she ran Xerox Corp. Last year, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. announced that Wall Street’s biggest underwriter of initial public offerings in the U.S. will no longer take a company public there or in Europe if its board entirely lacks diversity. Nasdaq Inc. and some states also penalize companies without minority representation on boards. 

“The venture capital and private equity industries are key engines of U.S economic and entrepreneurial growth,” the alliance said in its report. “While there is recent progress, historically they have been neither inclusive nor transparent about the diversity in their teams and operations.”

The group examined high-growth companies because of the outsize influence they wield, said Gaby Sulzberger, a founder of the alliance and a board member at companies like Warby Parker and Cerevel Therapeutics.

“They are sources of a really important innovation effect, not just in the U.S. economy, but the economy globally,” she said. “We expected that the data would be bad, but I have to say, it was worse than we thought.”

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