How to Increase the Number of Black Board Members

Racially diverse boards still aren’t the rule. Three insiders say there are things companies can do to change that.

From left, Michael Garland, a New York City assistant comptroller; John W. Rogers Jr., founder of Ariel Investments; and Dale Jones, CEO of Diversified Search Group.

Photo: WSJ

If you peek inside a typical corporate board meeting, odds are you won’t see any Black members seated around the table.

Nearly two-thirds of companies in the Russell 3000 index lacked a Black director in 2020, according to data analyzed by Institutional Shareholder Services, a proxy adviser. The year before, about 70% didn’t have one.

But the recent clamor for greater racial justice and increased investor pressure has convinced many U.S. businesses they need to reshape their largely white and male boards. From June to November 2020, at least 35 companies named one or more Black directors to their boards. They included Allstate Corp. , Procter & Gamble Co. , Ralph Lauren Corp. and Zillow Group Inc.

Nasdaq Inc., meanwhile, proposed a new rule in December that would require all companies listed on the exchange to have at least one female director as well as a board member who is a racial minority or who self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

The proposal, if approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission, would follow California’s enactment of a similar requirement earlier in 2020 that required publicly traded companies based there to appoint at least one director with a racial, ethnic or other minority background by year-end. A conservative legal group sued to block the California measure, saying in a filing last fall in Los Angeles Superior Court that the law is unconstitutional.

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