Diversity On Corporate Boards — What The Numbers Say

What the numbers say about diversity on corporate boards.

Through the decades, corporate boards have been mostly white and mostly male.

That started changing in the early 1970s. Fueled by the historic gains of the Civil Rights Movement that broke down racial and gender barriers, a variety of social groups such as the National Black MBA Association and the National Organization for Women pressured corporations to build diversity programs into their management structures.

Over the years, a dramatic change has occurred. My latest research on the corporate boards of the top 50 companies from 2011 to 2023 shows that the percentage of whites dropped to 73.6%, the percentage of men dropped to 65.3% and, rather remarkably, the percentage of white men dropped below 50%, to 49.5%.

My research included reviewing the published names of the members of the boards of directors of the top 50 companies on the 2011 and 2023 Fortune 500 lists, as well as information on company websites about each of these hundreds of directors. I coded for gender, ethnicity and educational background.

Though the patterns differ for each of these demographic groups, the percentages of white women, Asian, Hispanic and Black Americans increased by different amounts as the percentage of white men decreased.

White female directors

The percentage of white females serving on boards at the top-50 companies increased from 16.8% in 2011 to 24.1% in 2023. All of these white women had undergraduate degrees, and almost two-thirds had advanced degrees, including in business, law and medicine. Many of them were current or former CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Notably, and related to the increase in white female directors, between 2000 and 2020 there was a dramatic increase in the number of white female CEOs.

There were almost as many white female directors in 2023 as there were Blacks, Asian Americans and Latinos combined. In terms of sheer numbers, white men have been replaced by white women more than by any other single group.

Asian American directors

The changes can be seen clearly in a comparison between the makeup of the top-50 company boards between 2011 and 2023.

During that time period, the percentage of Asian Americans more than tripled, from 1.8% to 6.1%. The percentages more than doubled for Asian American men, and increased almost ninefold for Asian American females.

Strikingly, 17 of the 20 Asian American men who were directors in 2023 were of Indian heritage – and most but not all were born in India. Only six of the 15 Asian American women were of Indian heritage, and seven were of Chinese background.

Asian Americans make up about 7% of the population, so they are now only slightly underrepresented on the top Fortune boards.

Black and Hispanic directors

Black Americans also showed a sizable increase, from 9.4% in 2011 to 15.1% in 2023. They, too, showed a bigger jump for women, from 1.9% to 5.9%, than for men, from 7.4% to 9.2%.

Black people made up about 13.6% of the population in 2023, so they were slightly overrepresented on these Fortune boards.

McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, conducted a study of 53 corporations, most of which were Fortune 500 companies. The study, released in 2022, found that there were far fewer Black men and women in the pipeline leading to the CEO office than on the boards. That pipeline includes jobs such as managers, vice presidents and others on leadership teams.

This suggests that these companies are trying to appear diverse through the makeup of their boards, even as they haven’t diversified the executive ranks.

Hispanic Americans showed only a slight increase in representation on the boards, from 4.7% in 2011 to 5.2% in 2023, with women almost doubling their representation, from 1.1% to 2.1%, and men decreasing from 3.6% to 3.1%.

Hispanic Americans make up about 19% of the U.S. population. As a group, they were very much underrepresented on corporate boards.

Many of those in all of the groups I looked at had attended elite colleges and universities, either as undergraduates or for postgraduate work. Recent evidence showing that Hispanic men and women have been vastly underrepresented at elite colleges over the past two decades suggests that few are making it through the pipeline from these schools to Fortune 500 boards.

Recent attacks on diversity

With the 2023 Supreme Court decision against affirmative action in higher education – and subsequent lawsuits against the practices that some corporations have used to address inequality – the civil rights gains in higher education and on corporate boards are in jeopardy of being reversed by conservative resistance.

In fact, many big companies have been “backing away from efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their ranks,” according to a Washington Post corporate culture reporter.

The pattern that I have found in board composition between the 1990s and 2023 is consistent with data from 2013 to 2023 that was published by Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm. It found that in 2013, only 39% of newly appointed directors were women and underrepresented minorities.

In the next decade, the percentage of new diversity appointments to boards increased dramatically, from the 39% in 2013, to 60% in 2018, to 86% in 2021, and then tapered off to 82% in 2022 and 75% in 2023.

Based on my findings and those of other researchers, it is likely that the ups and downs of diversity on corporate boards will serve as an indicator of the success – or failure – of ongoing efforts to increase inclusion in all walks of American life.The Conversation

Richie Zweigenhaft, Guilford College

Richie Zweigenhaft, Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Guilford College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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