Corporate Board Census Shows Significant Decline in Seats Held by African Americans

I have served on a number of nonprofit boards in my time. I have not had a chance to serve on a corporate board in my career. It appears that very few people of color are getting the opportunity to serve on corporate boards.

At least that is the conclusion reached in the corporate board census by the Alliance for Board Diversity (ABD).

ABD reported a surprising decline in the combined number of seats for women and people of color on the boards of the nation’s leading corporations. The largest decline was among Blacks. This year’s report found that in the Fortune 100 between 2004 and 2010, African Americans lost over 40 board seats while white men increased their presence on corporate boards, adding over 30.

Overall, women did not see an appreciable increase in their share of board seats. The Executive Leadership Council (ELC), an independent, non-profit corporation founded in 1986, is a founding partner in the Alliance for Board Diversity. ELC members are African American senior executives of Fortune 500 companies and equivalents. Considering the hundreds of board seats that became available during the six year period, ELC sees the combined decrease for all underrepresented groups and the steep decline for Blacks as disconcerting.
It is troubling groups already severely underrepresented on corporate boards have collectively experienced a decline over the last six years,” ELC president and CEO Arnold W. Donald remarked in his assessment of the available data. "Most business leaders recognize that inclusion and the diversity of thinking that results from it creates real value. Shareholder value for most of the companies listed in the census is being compromised by the lack of board diversity. A decline in any single group of minorities or women is not good, a collective decline is troubling."
The ABD has worked collaboratively for more than six years to encourage corporations to increase the diversity of their boards. Catalyzed by sponsoring companies Altria and Kraft, the ELC has recently begun its own Corporate Board Initiative. ELC identifies and offers development opportunities to its members who are “board ready” and those who are nearly ready to assume the rigors of corporate board responsibilities. The organization has assembled an elite cadre of members prepared for board leadership and has worked with leading search organizations such as Heidrick & Struggles to prepare candidates and match them with opportunities.

Recent U.S. Census data shows that women and men of color comprise 66 percent of the U.S. population. Yet the ABD report indicates that more than 325 of the Fortune 500 have less than 25 percent representation, nearly 100 have less than 10 percent, and 37 companies have no women or minority representation whatsoever.
"Few will debate that inclusion and the diversity of thinking that it brings to business challenges creates real shareholder value," further stated Mr. Donald of ELC. "That's why the decline in the collective presence of underrepresented groups on the boards of America’s largest corporations as reported in this study is more than a little concerning. We at ELC, together with our ABD partners, plan to make a meaningful contribution in helping America's corporations address this missed opportunity."
Of course the first step towards serving on a corporate board is becoming a corporate executive. BDPA members who are currently serving in management positions within Corporate America are encouraged to consider applying for the Executive Protege Program *or* seeking out elected office at local, regional or national level within BDPA.

Do you have any thoughts on why there are so few African Americans on the corporate board of directors? It would seem that Corporate America could do better in the 'age of Obama', don't you think?

Replies to this Topic

Interesting! I can't help but think that somhow the transition away from the more "traditional" "low-tech" business model into more STEM and IT-based business models may have a lot to do with. I suspect this trend is paralleled and even reflected in the trends of graduates comprised of women and people of color in these fields. I think that through attrition and the lack of blacks pursuing STEM or IT-oriented careers, the selection pools are becoming dismally low. The fact of the matter is that we are not generating more blacks into these areas, but less, and that's the tragedy. Where does the blame lay? That's the million dollar question. However, I would dare to speculate that there has been a paradigm shift for blacks away from careers that require a substantial sacrifice of time or immediate prosperity in favor of the immediacy of the "having it now" mentality. This essentially means getting a BS degree as soon as possible in something as "easy" as possible. Many are opting for the non-traditional college crash couses that make outlandish promises of obtaining jobs that offer outragious salaries to folks with very little or no practical experience. It's a superb marketing extravaganza! The reality of these "pipe" dreams are easily revealed by the sustantial number of unemployed black graduates with BS/BA degrees that are virtually worthless, due to their irrelavance, or lack of accredation. Sure, they got the degree as painlessly and as quickly as they wanted but where are the fruits of their labor? This is so reminscent of Carter G. Goodson's pivotal book, "The Miseducation of the Negro", that surfaced in 1933 of the last century. And yet, nearly 100 years later, we are still caught in the grips of this mentality of producing countless negroes for careers that either don't exist, or never will exist. 

Unfortunately, the black community is being swayed away from making these kinds of sacrifices and, in some cases, even discouraged from making them. It's the "now, now, now, right now!" mentality that's not only affecting us but others as well. However, our numbers are much more evident. How can we intelligently address these issues in the long-term when reading, writing, and math high school test scores are at all-time lows? Are these students the ones we place our hopes on? How do we address generations of blacks totally conditioned to do everything but read a book? I'm sorry, but in light of the tragic set of circumstances looming on the horizon, I see our representation on corporate boards actually declining even more. Maybe I'm mistaken but if so, I'm open to any kind of enlightenment. I thank God for BDPA and its efforts, and the efforts of other such organizations. However, we need a more comprehensive approach that extends down to the grade-school level. I think that the forces that undermine these efforts will have to be addressed before any real change can take place. We all know what those forces are that have the most detrimental influence on the black community's young.


It would seem that Corporate America could do better in the 'age of Obama', don't you think?

Well, I don't know how much affect his presidency has on the hearts of the "good ole boy" network but I would wager to think that it is nil. After all, most of them voted for someone else. It would be interesting to know what percentage of those who did vote for him, and supported him financially, are guilty of this practice. Is there any way of finding that out? I tend to think that those who did vote for him probably don't think they owe him, or black America, anything, at least not in terms of positive retributions. Unfortunately, they know, what most blacks are in denial of, that a single-term of any president is symbolic at best. The fact that President Obama is black is insignificant at this point, in terms of the way this country does business and how it views blacks. Let's face it, the GOBN didn't wake up the next morning after the election with some epiphany that blacks were just as capable, entitled, and worthy of respect and dignity as they are.

At best, President Obama's presidency is a beacon of hope for those of us who thought we would never see the day, at least not in our lifetimes, when a black person, particularly a black man, would ever call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. I never thought it would change how I was viewed in the work-place during his first term. As for the rest of the country, I think it's business as usual. Should he, through some divine miracle, win a second term, then I think his presidency, and his race for that matter, would be very impacting on the way this country does business, and would most likely do more to redress the issues of race in this country in general, and in business in particular.  However, it will be our responsibility to make sure that the corporate labor pools are adequately filled with blacks from which such businesses can draw board members. This will not be a President Obama administration issue as much as it will be a black community issue. The question is, "Are we up to it?"


When are we going to stop asking for the crumbs from someone else's table? A bold new vision of the future requires the energy to know who we are and whose we are. Our currency is not derived, it is recognized.

Be Blessed

Rev. Mark -- Your reply calls to mind the Nguzo Saba principle of 'Ujamaa'.   I think that BDPA believes in that concept (cooperative economics).   One of the organization's stakeholders is 'entrepreneurs'.    There is a remarkable wealth of income in the Black community.   We truly could create our own tables instead of crumbs from others ... 

Anyhow, thanx for sharing your reply.  Hopefully others will join the dialogue!

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