Boards of directors at leading U.S. companies are becoming more diverse. A 2021 survey conducted by leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart, published this past January, found that 19.1% of new board directors at S&P 500 technology companies were African American, compared to just 2.9% in 2020. Gender representation has also increased, with women accounting for 28% of board positions in these companies in 2021, up from 17% in 2017, Spencer Stuart found.
Yet more needs to be done to ensure adequate representation in corporate America. Despite the recent increases, the total percentage of African Americans in board positions at S&P 500 tech companies is only 4.4%, and only 3.4% of new directors at S&P 500 tech companies – and 1.8% of all tech board directors – are Latino, according to Spencer Stuart.
Similar patterns are reflected at Fortune 500 companies, with some underrepresented groups making further strides than others. The share of African American people added to boards actually decreased by two percentage points in 2021, dropping to 26% from 28% just a year before, according to executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. The same report also reported that Asian American and Latino board members “continue to be underrepresented at 9% and 6%, respectively — percentages that have not risen in recent years,” the report noted. Such stagnation has business leaders continuing to call for companies to diversify their leadership.
Robert F. Smith’s Focus on Board and Company Diversity
In 2020, Robert F. Smith, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, wrote in an op-ed that “we all have a stake in hiring a more diverse workforce and diversifying top leadership.” A champion of diversity efforts, as recognized by institutions like Forbes, Smith has made improving board diversity a pillar of his work. Vista Equity Partners is a member of the Thirty Percent Coalition, a collective of companies, investors, government officials and advocacy groups working “to increase gender diversity in the corporate boardroom and in senior leadership.” The coalition has a special emphasis on gender diversity, its name being a nod to the goal of achieving 30% female representation across all boards at major corporations.
Smith is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Business Roundtable, where he has championed The 2% Solution, a public call for companies to invest 2% of their earnings to dismantle systemic racism across American institutions. Business Roundtable also partners with organizations like the Women Business Collaborative to advocate for more women representation in C-Suite and board positions.
To ensure that everyone has a seat at the table at major companies in the United States, leaders must enact policies that intentionally include women and people of color on their boards. Learn more about the work Business Roundtable organizations are doing to promote diverse leadership here.