Study: Racial diversity stagnated on corporate boards

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FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2000, file photo, commuters walk into a tunnel at Los Angeles's Amtrack-Metrolink Union Station under the mural "City of Dreams/River of History" by artist Richard Wyatt, showing the diversity of California's population. Many U.S. companies have rushed to appoint Black members to their board of directors since racial justice protests swept the country last year. But in the two preceding years, progress on increasing racial diversity on boards stagnated, a new study revealed Tuesday, June 8, 2021. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law last year giving companies until the end of 2021 to have at least one board member from an underrepresented ethnic communities, or who identify as LBGT. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

NEW YORK – Many U.S. companies have rushed to appoint Black members to their boards of directors since racial justice protests swept the country last year.

But in the two preceding years, progress on increasing racial diversity on boards stagnated, a new study revealed Tuesday. Black men even lost ground.

The study, conducted by the Alliance of Board Diversity and the consulting firm Deloitte, points to the steep deficit companies face when it comes to fulfilling pledges to diversity in their ranks. An overwhelming 82.5% of directors among Fortune 500 company boards are white, according to the Missing Pieces Report: A Board Diversity Census of Women and Minorities on Fortune 500 Boards.

The study suggests that, until the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd galvanized a national reckoning on systemic racism, attention to racial diversity took something of a backseat to gender equality in boardrooms.

Between July 2020 and May 2021, some 32% of newly appointed board members in the S&P 500 were Black, according to an analysis by ISS Corporate Solutions, which advises companies on improving shareholder value and reducing risk. That was a leap compared to 11% during the previous year.

But the time before then shows a sudden shift in priorities. The Missing Pieces Report found that the number of women serving on Fortune 500 boards rose 4 percentage points to 26.5% between 2018 and June of 2020 — a faster pace of progress than the 2% increase over the preceding two years.

In contrast, the number of racial minorities on Fortune 500 boards rose by just above a percentage point. That was a slower pace than the 2% increase during the previous two years. In a telling finding, the number of Black men on Fortune 500 boards fell by 1.5% between 2018 and June 2020, even as the representation of Black women rose by 18%.

Attention to gender equality did bolster the ranks of minority women on Fortune 500 boards, though their numbers remain small at 6%, according to the census. The number of minority men remained virtually unchanged at just under 12%.