Minorities Lose Ground In Big Corporate Boardrooms

The boards of directors of Fortune 500 companies still look pretty much how you’d expect: Primarily male, and primarily white.

The 2010 Alliance for Board Diversity Census, released this week, found that as of last year white men made up 72.9 percent of board members at the nation's 100 largest companies, up from 71.2 percent in 2004, when the board last analyzed the data.

When the board expanded the census to look at the nation's 500 largest companies by revenue, the results were even less diverse: white men held about 77 percent of board seats.

The remaining seats were held by white women (13 percent), minority men (7 percent) and minority women (3 percent), based on public documents provided by the Fortune 500 companies in filings.

Those involved in the study said they had expected to see the corporate boards grow more diverse, rather than less, over the six-year period.

"I frankly was really surprised," said Arnold Donald, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, a professional network of African-American executives.

Donald said he suspects that one reason for the lack of progress is that regulations, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, have left many companies eager to recruit retired financial executives to their boards, and that is likely to be a less diverse group. He also said some African-American board members may have retired and not been replaced by new minority board members.

The recession also may have played a role, in part because many companies found themselves focused on issues other than diversity, said Ilene Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, which seeks to advance women's roles in the workplace, and the chair of the Alliance for Board Diversity. She doesn't think companies are actively seeking to exclude women and minorities, yet they may not have made a major effort to include them.

"The biggest contributor is just lack of proactive intervention," Donald said.

Among the Fortune 100 companies, women made slight boardroom gains during the six-year period studied, while African-American men lost ground. A full list of Fortune 500 companies is available here.

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