Record number of women appointed to Fortune 500 boards

11 May 2022 2 min. read

Women accounted for 45% of new board appointments at Fortune 500 companies in 2021, according to Heidrick & Struggles’  annual US Board Monitor report.

The report, which monitors representation by gender, race/ethnicity, and experience, also found that the percentage of first-time director appointments rose to a record-high 43% as large companies sought to continue the diversification of their boards.

Faced by the pandemic era’s increased focus on social justice movements, environmental sustainability, and cybersecurity, board appointments saw a pronounced shift to professionals with more diverse backgrounds in 2020. That trend has been maintained in 2021.

Women made up 45% of new appointments, up from 41% in 2020. The gender balance of Fortune 500 boards has been steadily shifting the last several years, with women accounting for 29% of boards – up from 19% in 2015.

Record number of women appointed to Fortune 500 boards

The share of new seats filled by Black directors maintained its significant uptick from 2020 (28%), remaining relatively flat at 26%. Black professionals accounted for between 9%-11% of new appointments between 2015 and 2019.

Asian appointments stayed flat at 9% in 2021, while Hispanic appointments increased slightly from 4% in 2020 to 6% in 2021.

Black Americans account for 13.4% of the US population; Asian Americans account for 7.2%; and Hispanic Americans represent 19% of the US population.

Black overrepresentation and Hispanic underrepresentation is at least partially a function of the response to the racial justice protests of summer 2020. The resulting diversity correction in American boardrooms and media has understandably focused on Black Americans, but Hispanic Americans have been left in the lurch.

Record number of women appointed to Fortune 500 boards

“A recent survey we conducted of Hispanic or Latinx directors and aspiring directors shows that almost all believe that too little attention has been paid to them as part of organizations’ overall DE&I efforts and that more progress will be made when more Hispanic or Latinx people hold more influential board positions,” the Heidrick & Struggles report noted.

The 2021 results saw a sizable increase in appointments with cybersecurity and sustainability experience. The share of new seats filled by people with cybersecurity experience more than doubled from 8% in 2020 to 17% in 2021, while the share of new appointments with sustainability experience jumped from 6% in 2020 to 14% in 2021.

As companies sought to diversify boards, the proportion of current or former CEOs and CFOs dropped. CEOs accounted for 40% of appointees in 2021, down from a high of 60% in 2018; CFOs made up 14% of appointees in 2021, down from a high of 21% in 2020.