Over the past two years, there has been has been a focus on increasing diversity on the corporate boardrooms of the nation’s largest companies. So far, it has worked as the number of Blacks on boards have seen a boost, which most observers attribute to the country’s racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 in Minneapolis.
These boards have traditionally been dominated by white men, but according to new data, companies in the S&P 500 have added more African-Americans and more women of color to their boards.
The biggest gains were had by Hispanic and Black women, according to a USA Today analysis of information compiled by data firm DiversIQ.
Since May 25, 2020, the day Floyd was killed, the number of Black board members at S&P 500 companies has gone up to 11.7 percent from 8.4 percent.
Of the more than 1,000 board positions filled in that time period at S&P 500 companies, nearly 26 Percent to African-Americans.
Of the 500 companies, 225 have added at least one Black director; 32 have added two Black directors. Only three companies – American Express, Crown Castle and First Energy – have added three.
Merline Saintil, who with Robin Washington launched a grouped Black Women on Boards to ready Black women for corporate board positions, estimated that about 80 percent of the challenges Black women face in earning a board seat are due to a lack of access to the right network.
“The answer that I typically get is ‘’I didn’t realize I could do this,’” Saintil told Fortune. “That is the thing that I hear most often.”
Board members are appointed by the company and then voted on by the shareholders. The member tend to come from a wide range of industries and backgrounds. Members work onboard part-time and typically get a substantial paycheck — at the largest 100 companies, board member compensation tops $300,000.
Boards also wield power, and a diverse board can propel real change inside American corporations, said Lisa Wardell, executive chairman of AdTalem Global Education, who sits on the board of American Express.
“Boards hire and fire CEOs. Period. Full stop,” Wardell said. “It takes a diverse board, for the most part, to hire a diverse CEO.”
Hispanic women, who are 7.3 percent of the workforce, hold 3.1 percent of board seats. Black women have 4.6 percent of board seats and account for 6 percent of all U.S. workers.
The number of men and white men holding board seats on S&P 500 companies is decreasing, USA Today reports. The newspaper’s analysis found that men comprise 53 percent of the U.S. workforce and are 36 percent of board members, a major drop from 72.2 percent in 2020. White men, who held 60 percent of board seats in 2020, now hold 23 percent.
Black men currently hold a higher percentage of board seats — 7.1 percent — than their representation in the U.S. workforce — 5.2 percent.
If the increases continue at the current rate, Black women and Hispanic women could reach parity in the boardroom in the next year or two, according to the USA Today analysis.
“Prior to 2020, you wouldn’t have people publicly talking about structural or systemic racism in boardrooms and in C-suites and now it happens all the time,” James D. White, a veteran corporate executive who sits on the boards of Honest Company and Affirm, told USA Today. “The fact that the conversation has changed gives us at least some opportunity to make progress in the real world that impacts people’s lives.”