The measures taken to promote diversity in the workplace have been commendable. Hiring practices have changed, and salary history bans have leveled the playing field for many, especially when attempting to close the race pay gap. In addition, the added efforts in making diversity and inclusion a priority have allowed companies to thrive, get more creative, and display a far different demographic composition from that with which they started. However, the top brass still looks alarmingly the same, and studies have shown that advancements up top are, in some instances, even declining.
In December 2019, Forbes reported that only four Black Fortune 500 CEOs existed, which was a decline from seven in under ten years. In addition, last year nearly 200 S&P 500 companies (which is about 37%) had no Black board members. Russell 3000 board members also reflected a composition of only 4.1% Black directors.
It’s a curious case, considering so many companies have boasted “Diversity & Inclusion” across the marquees of their mission statements. But that battle cry comes with a price: many people of color are now hired, but few are encouraged to move upward. Some might argue that it’s a “one step at a time” process, especially when newer board members tend to be increasingly more diverse. But there’s a vital piece to the puzzle that’s missing: many board members play the long game on their respective boards, and in doing so, keep their seats filled for far longer than perhaps they should. It’s a problem that is also mirrored in Congress, where members will often keep their seats long past a typical retirement age. This compounds the issue of creating diversity, where more people of color are hired, but they are still blocked off from the tops of the company mastheads.
Some changes are afoot, however. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, resigned from his board position and upon exit requested that a Black board member fill his seat. Reddit later replaced Ohanian with Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel. Should every board member resign and offer up their seat? Probably not, and it’s a nearly impossible ask. But steps to loosen the locks on these doors that have remained shut are essential for diversity and inclusion to truly exist on every rung of the corporate ladder.
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