There are smarter ways to think about board diversity, and the pressure is on companies to figure them out

February 4, 2022, 9:29 PM UTC

HBCUs started Black History Month with bomb threats, an unexpected lawsuit rocks the NFL, Google is a white technology company, a historic first for the Harvard Law Review, and Boston considers reparations. All that, plus Jonathan Vanian reports on the pressure on big companies to diversify their boards, and one CEO who understood the assignment.

But first, here’s your Wordle fever week in review, in Haiku.

Just a little game:
A funny guilty pleasure
the whole world now plays

Put five letters in 
exactly the right order,
six unforgiving 

guesses later, a
social media friendly
humble brag for nerds.

Just a little game!
How is it so addicting?
Easy to learn, hard

to master, finding
green letters led to real green!
Low seven figures

Wishing you a simply entertaining weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In brief

It took a painful year of societal reckoning over systemic racism to finally convince companies to recruit people of color to their corporate boards.

“2020 really changed the conversation,” ISS Corporate Solution executive Jun Frank tells Fortune, regarding the year in which the horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black victims dominated news coverage and executive discussions.

Frank’s firm analyzed over 25,000 corporate seats and discovered that the number of seats held by Black business leaders increased from 4.5% in 2019 to 7.4% in 2021. The improved figure still represents a small fraction of overall corporate board seats, in which as of 2021, is comprised of 83% white men and women.

“2020 is when companies said we need to appoint more Black and African Americans directors to the board, and 2021 is when we saw a big spike,” Frank says.

Jennifer Tejada, the CEO of enterprise software company PagerDuty, is pleased that companies are making their boards more diverse, but says that “it's taken too freakin’ long.”

The recruitment process has been “too slow and there are too many excuses, and as a leader, part of your job is excuse removal,” Tejada says.

When Tejada, whose father is Filipino, became PagerDuty’s CEO in 2016, she made it a point to ensure that her board was diverse. As a result, people of color comprise the majority of PagerDuty’s current board.

Some of the tips she shares about building a diverse board includes stepping out of one’s primary network, because you could “get a very homogenous group of candidates.”

She says that she told her search firm to do a “marketplace map” in which she could see possible recruits spanning different races, gender, and age from all kinds of backgrounds, including outside of the tech industry that PagerDuty belongs. Tejada wanted board members from different industries and locations to help steer the software firm to better serve a variety of constituents outside of merely tech-focused companies.

“So I actually forced them to use the same set of filters and the broader aperture that I use,” Tejada says. “It drives them all crazy; they have to do all this extra work up front that they didn't have to do, and then they go, ‘Well, this is great, look at all these candidates we've discovered.”

And while some executives may think they need a superstar like a CEO from their own industry to guide their company as board member, Tejada says that those executives can still play important roles like providing mentorship despite not actually having a board seat.  

Part of looking outside one’s own network to look for more diverse board candidates, could also have a spillover effect. Those diverse board candidates could open doors for executives to expand their networks further.

“I think about board composition and board building as much more than just who are the 10 or 12 people that are going to serve the company in a formal way, but who are the hundreds of people that I can bring into our community,” Tejada says.

She’s hopeful to see “positive signs” that executives are recruiting more people of color and diverse backgrounds to board positions and she says that it’s important to see “leaders using their influence to set standards and to try and hold their peers accountable.”

“I'm a sort of lead by example person,” Tejada says. “It's not enough for me to just go out and say everybody should be diverse, I wanted to prove that it was possible.”


Jonathan Vanian 

On point

“It’ll be worth it” This is what Brian Flores, former head coach with the Miami Dolphins says about the sacrifice he’s prepared to make to challenge the NFL status quo. In a surprise move, Flores was fired from his position last month, leaving some two years on his contract. His response was to file a class-action lawsuit against the league citing racial discrimination. He knows what’s at stake. “This is about something that's much bigger than me, which is a system in the NFL that, in my opinion, is broken as far as hiring practices for Black and minority coaches and minorities in general,” he told NPR. You can read the suit here... and I suggest you do.

Bomb threats on Black History Month  Over 14 historically Black colleges and universities around the country received bomb threats on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month. The FBI said the calls “appear to have a racist motivation,” and has identified six persons of interest, described as “tech savvy” minors. Resolving the threat was stressful, but not surprising says Morgan State University President David K. Willson. “Morgan is one of the most historical and consequential universities in the nation,” he said in a statement. “Our history has been one where we have endured all kinds of challenges and disruptions, but we have always emerged stronger.”
NBC News

Start your (search) engines and start your search here: Black female Google employees. According to former Google employee Alex Hanna, your results will likely be minimal. In this piece, her exit manifesto, Hanna speaks to her experiences and observations, and delivers a plea to think about the problem differently. "In a word, tech has a whiteness problem. Google is not just a tech organization. Google is a white tech organization."  Hanna, a social scientist, shares her own methodology of critique, and offers an important framing for others. “I encourage social scientists, tech critics, and advocates to look at the tech company as a racialized organization. Naming the whiteness of organizational practices can help deconstruct how tech companies are terrible places to work for people of color, but also enable an analysis of how certain pernicious incentives enable them to justify and reconstitute their actions in surveillance capitalist and carceral infrastructures.” 

A big first for the Harvard Law Review Priscilla Coronado has become the first Latina to lead the prestigious Harvard Law Review in its 135-year history. The California-born child of Mexican immigrants plans to make the most of the moment, by sharing her unique perspective and to “work hard to show how being a Latina is an important part of how I am.” She’s the first in her family to go to college, and is interested in education and disability law.
NBC News

Reparations on deck in Boston It’s just a first step, but for a city that has been plagued with racial issues for decades, it’s an important one. Boston City councilors Julia Mejia and Tania Fernandes-Anderson are proposing a new, 15-member panel to study the impacts of systemic racism on the city, and explore possible reparations for Black residents. The experts on the panel would be considered special municipal employees, and their work would consist of data collection, taking oral histories, and would have subpoena-power to compel necessary testimony. If passed, the commission would have two years to submit their recommendations.


News summaries were written by Shannon Worley, a Sweet Equity Media intern. This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

Getting on board, a quick roundup

Egon Zehnder has a board diversity tracker you might be interested in.
Egon Zehnder

Slow progress  The good news? Companies are disclosing their demographic makeup at a record rate. The not-so-good news? Only gender diversity is on the rise.
Corporate Board Practices in the Russell 3000, S&P 500, and S&P MidCap 400: 2021 Edition

BlackRock raised the bar  Citing that “41% of companies where [BlackRock] voted against directors for diversity reasons in 2019 increased their board diversity the following year,” BlackRock plans to use voting against directors as its “most frequent course of action” at any company it believes is not moving with sufficient speed and urgency on gender and racial diversity in 2021.

Goldman Sachs made it plain  In 2020 they announced that they would limit their work to companies who had at least one board director from an underrepresented group, and increased that requirement to two the following year, adding that one must be a woman.
Goldman Sachs

Ursula Burns says stop fretting, white leaders  Her Board Diversity Action Alliance is making progress, with or without you.

The Black Boardroom Initiative was founded in a 2021, and set a goal to increase the ratio of Black executives sitting on S&P 500 corporate boards to one in eight by 2028.Co-sponsored by Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Zillow, with the law firm Perkins Coie with support from Deloitte.
Black Boardroom Initiative

Mood board

Then Syracuse University halfback Ernie Davis holds the 1961 Heisman Trophy. The first Black man to do it, a Friday mood for sure. Happy Black History Month to YOU.
Bettmann/Getty Images

This is the web version of raceAheadFortune’s daily newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet