Racial diversity has become one of the most pressing agenda items in boardrooms, DealBook hears. Underrepresented ethnic and racial groups make up 40 percent of the U.S. population, but just 12.5 percent of board directors at the 3,000 largest listed companies, up from 10 percent in 2015, The Times’s Peter Eavis writes. Black directors account for 4 percent of all directors, versus 13 percent of the population.
“This is the singular topic of governance discussions,” Daniel Wolf, a partner at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, told DealBook, adding, “Boards are going to try and get ahead of it.” Kirkland recently sent a 19-slide PowerPoint deck to clients that highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion amid increasing shareholder and regulatory scrutiny.
“This seems like a fundamentally different time than the other times Black men were murdered by the police,” said Ursula Burns, a former Xerox C.E.O. who is a director at Exxon, Nestlé and Uber. She is helping to lead the Board Diversity Action Alliance to help companies add Black directors, an organization that has Dow, Mastercard and UPS among its supporters. A similar initiative, the Board Challenge, counts Merck, United Airlines and Verizon among its members.
• “You cannot look your stakeholders in the eye and say, ‘It doesn’t affect us, we are color blind, we don’t need to make changes,’ ” said Rebecca Thornton, the head of director advisory services at JPMorgan. More than 40 percent of the requests for board candidates she has received from clients this year asked for people of color, she noted.
Shareholders — and regulators — are watching. When major institutions put pressure on companies to add women to their boards a few years ago, it had a measurable impact. Now, some of those forces are turning their focus toward racial diversity, hence the warnings about the price of inaction. The evidence of stronger financial returns at more diverse firms also helps.
Who is doing what:
• California passed a bill last month requiring publicly traded companies headquartered in the state to have board members from underrepresented communities.