Seventeen years ago, as a young research assistant at Catalyst, I began to document and track the status of women and minorities on corporate boards. Over the years, I made it my life’s work to identify, familiarize myself with, and memorize the names of successful women and minority business leaders who serve as executives and on boards at America’s leading companies.
For years, I’ve shared the profiles, backgrounds, and success stories of incredibly talented and accomplished women and minorities with individuals and companies looking to fill vacant board seats. Yes, my work and efforts have been extremely fulfilling and important! I do this work each day with the hope that a woman or person of color will be placed on a company board.
What stirs me most about what I do is the simple truth that after nearly 20 years of trying to increase the representation of women and minorities on boards, they remain largely untapped, underutilized, and almost invisible in corporate boardrooms. According to Missing Pieces: The 2016 Board Diversity Census, a report published by Deloitte in partnership with the Alliance For Board Diversity, almost 70% of Fortune 500 board seats are still held by white men. Women and minorities make up only 30.8% of board seats, just a slight increase from 26.7% in 2012 and 25.5% in 2010, when I first began working on these issues.
Here I am, still counting, tracking, and testifying to the remarkable business achievements of women and minorities—and yet board diversity continues to be disproportionately low, and not nearly close to parity.
Sadly, the Missing Pieces study also reveals that fewer than 15% of all board seats in the Fortune 500 were held by minorities. This is not nearly enough progress, especially in a rapidly changing world that is quickly shifting in demographics. It’s time for companies to move beyond the status quo and be disruptive when it comes to operating boards—ensuring that boards reflect the communities in which they serve.
As I approach almost two decades of tracking and working to increase diversity in the boardroom, I know that now more than ever we must advocate for change. Twenty years of counting is already too much—we have to accelerate progress. It’s time that all boardrooms reflect the diverse world in which we live.