Fortune 500 appointed record number of Black board directors in 2020

10 June 2021 2 min. read
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The number of new Black directors increased to 28% of board seats filled by US Fortune 500 companies in 2020, according to Heidrick & Struggles’ annual US Board Monitor report.

Fortune 500 companies in 2020 appointed a record share of racially and ethnically diverse directors, climbing to 41% of new appointees. This broadly aligns with US demographics, where 39% of the population is racially and ethnically diverse.

The increase was driven by a sharp surge in Black appointments – nearly tripling to 28% from 10% of new board directors in 2019. Three-quarters of those appointments were made after the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd – which accelerated corporate commitments to diversity and racial equality.

Though new Black directors represented more than double their demographic share (13.4%), new Latino and Hispanic directors fell one point to 4% in 2020. That is far below the estimated Latino population of the US, at 18%.

New board director appointments, by race and ethnicity

Asian directors, meanwhile, represented 9% of new appointees in 2020, up one point from the previous year. Asians make up approximately 5.9% of the US population.

“We are heartened to see an overall increase in ethnically and racially diverse board members, but the slower progress seen with Latinx, Asian, and Asian American representation also illuminates the need for boards to take a wider view on inclusive representation," said Lyndon Taylor, managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles' DEI practice.

The percentage of new women directors fell slightly in 2020, falling to 41% after a record high of 44% in 2019. The share of women directors has steadily risen nearly every year since 2009, when the share of women appointees was 18%.

Actual versus projected share of women appointed to Fortune 500 boards

Heidrick & Struggles – one of the world’s largest recruitment and HR consultancies – estimates women directors will represent 50% of new appointments by 2023.

“We consider it crucial that boards not trade one form of diversity for another," said Bonnie Gwin, vice chairman at Heidrick & Struggles. "There is clear value to having a variety of voices and life experiences around the table. The most forward-looking boards are looking comprehensively and strategically at board refreshment – which means building the most inclusive board possible."

The number of new board seats filled in 2020 fell 6% to 425, down from a record high of 467 in 2019.

In terms of career background, the share of directors with experience in financial risk and compliance jumped to 21% from 12%, amid the economic turbulence of the pandemic. Directors with sustainability experience declined to 6% in 2020 from 10% the previous year.