The push for corporate board diversity has slowed, with women and minorities getting a smaller share of new seats

CEO giving peptalk to businesspeople at meeting in big conference room
Economic uncertainty has returned boards to their old habits.
Getty Images

Good morning.

A new report out this morning from Heidrick & Struggles shows the push for diversity on corporate boards slowed last year. In the midst of economic uncertainty, boards gravitated back to the tried and true—new members who are ex-CEOs and ex-CFOs, and therefore disproportionately white and male.

Some statistics from the report, which covered Fortune 500 companies:

–There were fewer appointments to boards overall—414 in 2022 compared to 449 in 2021.

–40% of the new seats went to women, down from 45% the year before.

–34% of the seats went to racial or ethnic minorities, down from 41% the year before.

–The share of seats going to ex-CEOs went up to 43% from 40% in 2021, and the share going to ex-CFOs was 18%, compared to 14% in 2021.

–The share of seats going to first-time public board directors fell to 32% in 2022 from 43% in 2021.

It’s dangerous to read a trend into one year’s numbers, and the slowdown doesn’t mean an end to progress on board diversity. The percentage of Fortune 500 board seats occupied by women overall, for instance, continued to rise, moving to 31% from 30% the year before. And the share of new seats going to Black directors was still a healthy 17%, even if down from 26% the previous year.

But clearly, progress slowed. Heidrick & Struggles CEO Krishnan Rajagopalan told me that “as boards came under increased pressure to navigate the uncertain economic landscape,” they focused more “on CEOs, CFOs and public company executives who have led through similar environments in the past, which, unfortunately, are a less diverse group overall.” He warned that “this could lead to boards that lack fresh and different perspectives that are crucial for long-term, strategic success.”

The new study was another piece of evidence contributing to a sense I have had since the beginning of the year that the “E” and the “S” of “ESG” are headed in somewhat different directions. Corporate enthusiasm for climate initiatives continues to be strong, in spite of political pushback, because those initiatives have been baked into the economic and strategic logic of companies. There is no easy way, for instance, for GM to back off its commitment to produce only emissions-free vehicles by 2035, or for Walmart to walk away from its pledge to work with suppliers to eliminate a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.   

But DEI efforts, which were supercharged after the killing of George Floyd in 2020, are supported by less transparent targets and metrics, and are less entrenched in business logic—making them more susceptible to political pushback. Worth watching.

More news below.

Alan Murray


TikTok’s possible ban

Senators have introduced a bipartisan bill that would give the Biden administration the power to ban Chinese apps posing security threats, including TikTok. The legislation, called the Restrict Act, would require the commerce secretary to identify threats and create solutions to address them, granting additional powers to the secretary to ban foreign technology products from adversarial nations. Financial Times

Starbucks CEO to testify

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has agreed to testify in a U.S. Senate hearing on March 29 about the company's alleged union-busting practices, following pressure from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.). The hearing will aim to gain a deeper understanding of Starbucks' "partner-first culture and priorities," according to a statement from the company. CNBC

PwC and KPMG lag behind

A recent study by the CFA Institute found that the share of female lead engagement partners on audits of S&P 500 companies stands at 20%, with PwC and KPMG lagging behind competitors EY and Deloitte. Although this number has increased from 15% four years ago, the study suggests that progress needs to accelerate. Financial Times


Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff says nobody saw the market downturn after the ‘best year tech ever had’— but now he’s bracing for a recession by Tristan Bove

Slack, supply chains, and customer services all get generative-A.I. smarts by David Meyer

Powell acknowledges crypto risks, but warns against regulations that could ‘stifle innovation’ by Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez

Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary says Gen Z has ‘no intention’ of ever coming to the office. He’s almost definitely wrong by Jane Thier

​​Intel wants Germany to give it an extra $5 billion in subsidies to build a chips factory by Jillian Deutsch, Ian King, and Bloomberg

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Jackson Fordyce. 

This is the web version of CEO Daily, a newsletter of must-read insights from Fortune CEO Alan Murray. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet