Study of Fortune 500 Black, Latino and Latina Board Members Shows Companies Still Struggle to Operationalize DE&I Goals, Despite Greater Board Diversity
February 28, 2022 – Recently lauded ISS data shows that non-white directors now occupy ~50% more board seats at companies in the Russell 3000 stock index than in 2019.1 Corporate America has made demonstrable progress on diverse board representation. Yet, a new study released for Black History Month shows the world’s largest companies still have room to grow on effectively operationalizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) goals and driving measurable results.
Ariel Investments, LLC, a global asset management firm (“Ariel”) co-founded the Black Corporate Directors Conference (“the conference”) in 2002 with Russell Reynolds. Twenty years later, the annual event brings Black, Latino and Latina Fortune 500 directors together to share best practices and commit to promoting the civil rights agenda within their respective boardrooms.
In September 2021, Ariel commissioned a study of 151 Black, Latino and Latina Fortune 500 corporate directors who virtually attended the conference. Responses were fielded by Ariel’s data partner, Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey). Ariel and Momentive also polled a sample of 4,958 U.S. workers nationally, across races, for direct comparison to the corporate director group.
While 90% of directors surveyed say their boards are more racially diverse now than five years ago, several obstacles are holding back progress throughout all levels of corporations.
- DE&I is a newer agenda item for many boards, added over the past 18 months following the murder of George Floyd. In a few cases, it is still not at the top of the list.
- 40% of respondents say their boards recently added DE&I as a primary agenda item over the last 18 months, while 7% have still not added it to the agenda.
- The good news: when DE&I is a primary agenda item, resources are allocated to support those goals. For companies where DE&I is prioritized, 82% of directors say their companies invest capital to support these initiatives, and 71% feel there is sufficient capital committed.
- Many respondents feel there is inadequate board oversight of DE&I issues. Also, diverse directors are not well-positioned to drive change.
- Nearly half (41%) of diverse directors say their boards do not regularly oversee risks related to potential impacts on communities of color.
- There is also evidence that business leaders need better training to implement programs. Almost half (45%) of respondents say their boards do not prepare organizational leaders for effective oversight of DE&I.
- There remains an opportunity to better position diverse directors to drive change. Less than half of respondents (45%) say diverse directors on their boards have oversight of DE&I through Nominating and Governance committees, or other relevant committees.
- There is an education gap between the board and average employees on how DE&I contributes to business outcomes.
- Most diverse directors believe companies act on DE&I issues out of interest in the experience of diverse employees (66%), concern for social inequality (59%), and the interests of shareholders (59%)—suggesting that directors believe DE&I is critical to a company’s success.
- However, employees do not trust that corporations are prioritizing DE&I for business or social reasons. 62% of U.S. workers believe companies act for public relations reasons or political concerns.
- This mismatch could be attributed to a lack of information sharing and a disconnect between employees and leaders: 37% of directors think their companies’ leadership teams are out of touch with the actual experiences of their diverse employees.
- Without an adequate understanding of the purpose DE&I initiatives serve, U.S. workers say leadership teams pay too much attention to race.
- Diverse directors overwhelmingly (62%) feel race receives too little attention from company leadership teams.
- However, U.S. workers disagree. More than half of white male workers (54%) and nearly half of white women (40%) say their leadership team pays too much attention to race.
- Surprisingly, a significant portion of Black (35% of men, 32% of women) and Hispanic (42% of men, 28% of women) workers feel the same way.
Calls-to-Action for Corporate America
Ariel Investments remains steadfast in the following calls-to-action for boards and leadership, titled: the Three Ps: People, Purchasing and Philanthropy. In light of the inaugural Black Corporate Directors Study, Ariel Investments recommends additional tactics for directors and management teams aiming to meaningfully advance their DE&I objectives at all levels of their companies:
- What gets measured, gets done: When developing DE&I goals, ensure commitments are measurable by including key dates, deadlines and targets.
- Create accountability: Do not only incentivize leadership teams to be successful – also hold them financially accountable for lack of progress.
- Capital counts: When goals are set, ensure specific budget line items are allocated to achieve them, with finite dates and deadlines, and reassess annually.
- Transparency translates: Update all stakeholders on a regular basis (e.g., quarterly) on DE&I progress, and be honest about challenges.
- Offer data: Educate all employees—from the rank-and-file to the C-Suite—using data on why diversity is good for corporate results. Link business objectives to DE&I goals using evidence on the revenue-driving benefits of diversity. For example, a 2018 McKinsey study found that companies with the most ethnically and culturally diverse boards were 43% more likely to experience higher profits.
- Representation in the right places: Ensure that when diverse directors join boards, they are well-positioned to advance DE&I goals by serving on Nominating and Governance committees, in addition to other committees. Also, recruit directors of all races who value and have a proven track record in confronting DE&I issues.
- Keep DE&I on the agenda, indefinitely: Foster a board culture that empowers directors to speak up by regularly including the company’s racial justice agenda in board meetings and actively soliciting input from diverse directors.
About the Black Corporate Directors Conference
In 2002, Ariel Investments co-founded the Black Corporate Directors Conference with Russell Reynolds to develop best practices, foster corporate diversity and inclusion, and encourage directors to promote the civil rights agenda within their respective boardrooms. Following the activism of our attendees, we see more comprehensive dialogues surrounding the need for diversity and inclusion within the corporate sector. The 2021 conference, held virtually, brought together more than 150 Black, Latino and Latina directors, as well as members of their company leadership teams. The event is made possible by a partnership between Ariel Investments, Russell Reynolds and Deloitte.
About Ariel Investments
Ariel Investments, LLC is a global value-based asset management firm founded in 1983. Ariel is headquartered in Chicago, with offices in New York City, San Francisco, and Sydney. As of December 31, 2021, Ariel’s firm-wide assets under management totaled approximately $18.3 billion, which includes $873.7 million in assets from Ariel Alternatives, a subsidiary of Ariel Investments. Ariel serves individual and institutional investors through five no-load mutual funds and nine separate account strategies. For more information, please visit Ariel’s website at arielinvestments.com.
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