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Op-Ed: Are corporate America’s boardrooms diverse and inclusive?

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Public discussion and social movements like Black Lives Matter might suggest there has been great progress in terms of diversity and inclusion in corporate America’s boardrooms. Let’s take a look at what a recent study shows.

According to the 6th edition of the “Missing Pieces Report,” conducted by the Alliance of Board Diversity (ABD) in collaboration with Deloitte, 82.5% of Directors among American Fortune 500 company boards are white.

That leaves little representation from other ethnicities or races, with only 8.7% being African American/Black, 4.6% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 4.1% Hispanic/Latino. This fact results in a huge contrast with the United States increasingly diverse demographics and, most importantly, their strong buying power. 

The recently published report showed that not even one of the Fortune 500 boards in the United States is demographically representative, based on the benchmarks of 50% women, 13% African American/Black, 18% Hispanic/Latino and 6% Asian/Pacific Islander, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data as of July 2019.

But it seems we are finally making slow progress in some areas. It caught my attention that white women made the largest percent increase in board seats, larger than any other group or gender, a gain of 209 seats for a total of 21%.

In relation to minority men, their rate of representation has been growing at less than 0.5% per year since 2010. Key findings also reflect that African American/Black men lost five seats in the Fortune 500 boardrooms versus the previous study from 2018.

It is overly concerning that the ABD and Deloitte’s report concludes that, at the current rate of change, it would take decades for boardrooms to reach proportional representation or catch-up versus the actual demographics of the American population. It also states that “progress has been painfully slow,”

Author Gladys M. Díaz, APR, R-209, is a public relations professional and the CEO of GMD Public Relations Consultants.

The findings, based on companies on the Fortune 500 list published in 2020, should provoke an internal analysis among corporate America, but not only to create reports that later are part of a company’s archive. It is imperative to reexamine the appropriate mix of talent, skills and experiences that best match the strategic priorities of organizations to create an inclusive environment.

Doing so with transparency and accountability requires the development of a realistic action plan to document progress and outcomes strictly related to D&I. Public Relations professionals can lead this comprehensive process with employers or client’s top management, taking into consideration reliable data that demonstrates how having a diverse leadership is directly related to better business performance and identification with key publics, ultimately responsible for a company’s growth.

It should not take decades to change the boardroom composition of U.S. Fortune 500 companies. And it should not happen as a reaction to social events or pressure from different groups of interests and stakeholders.

Real change is needed now. It cannot wait nor be delayed. It is beneficial for companies, while serving the public interest, it is truly representative of the American people, and it can lead or trickle real social change.

Many statistics are discussed in these boardrooms and diversity should be on the top of the agenda. We, as public relations practitioners, have the knowledge and the commitment to promote inclusion and fair representation in and outside the boardroom.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.
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