At The Table With America's Black Corporate Directors
Black Enterprise|July/August 2018

The challenge of diversifying the boardroom—and ceo seats— can be found in the pipeline. Our special report shows how some members of the be registry of corporate directors address this vexing issue

Roughly 25 top professionals—a group that included leading corporate executives, major tech financiers, and one former high-ranking official from the Obama administration, among others—gathered at Deloitte University, an expansive complex in bucolic Westlake, Texas. Across a stretch of three hot, humid days in late June, they participated in the firm’s Board Leadership Forum, where Antoinette “Tonie” Leather berry, a principal of Deloitte’s Risk and Financial Advisory Practice and Board Relations Leader, maintained that the invitees would gain “insights from current chief executive officers, corporate directors, and global thought leaders who will explore what it takes to ascend to leadership on corporate boards.”

Hosted jointly with the Executive Leadership Council’s Next Generation CEO Academy under the theme, “Moving The Boardroom Diversity Needle,” the event provided the group with topflight networking and a series of intensive, candid sessions featuring topics such as board leadership positioning, overseeing cyber risk, tough boardroom conversations, and one focused on being “unapologetically black.” Moreover, attendees had the opportunity to receive valuable lessons on how to navigate corporate America at the highest levels through insider chats with Cynthia Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise; Marvin Ellison, the recently installed CEO of home improvement retailer Lowe’s Corp., and Lisa Wardell, president and CEO of Adtalem Global Education and the only black female chief executive among the honchos of the 1,000 largest publicly traded corporations.

The Forum came at a major crossroads in the debate over inclusive corporate governance and senior leadership. As indicated in a 2017 Deloitte survey to “provide a window on board diversity,” there is still much work that needs to be done. The conclusions from the study produced somewhat of a paradox: Although the study revealed that more than 90% of directors indicate that they want greater diversity, approximately half of the surveyed corporations “lack a clear process for recruiting candidates with diverse skill sets or new perspectives.” And despite the fact that more than 90% of the respondents cite that greater board diversity would improve innovation, disruption, and overall business performance, only 16% view lack of diversity among the top challenges in enlisting new board members or succession planning. The Deloitte survey further states that “many boards seek qualified members by tapping pools of C-suite executives and directors but this doesn’t necessarily generate diversity and may work against it.”

The survey results as well as the ongoing research and initiatives by such groups as ELC, the preeminent organization for black senior executives across the globe, and Black Corporate Directors Conference, the annual confab of more than 250 black directors held in early September, underscores why expanding the pipeline is so vital to the progression of African Americans in corporate America.

This report on boardroom power further explores this vexing issue. Over the past six years, BLACK ENTERPRISE has identified Africans Americans who serve on the boards of America’s largest publicly traded corporations. As part of our examination, we have, for the second time, reviewed the entire universe of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies to gain a more thorough assessment of boardroom diversity. As such, we have witnessed an expansion in the membership of African American board members who comprise our exclusive BLACK ENTERPRISE Registry of Corporate Directors. Our series of lists—companies with black board members; corporations without black board members; and those with multiple black directors—serve as a vital part of our barometer on the state of inclusive corporate governance. That’s why we have devoted 20 pages to this report.

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