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Record Number of Women Appointed to Fortune 500 Boards

Women comprised 45% of all new Fortune 500 board appointments in 2021, a new high, while Black directors were 26% of new appointees, a tad lower than 2020 after a surge that year, according to a report released Wednesday morning by executive search and leadership consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Why it matters: The yearslong push to diversify boardrooms intensified in 2020 after companies were spurred to action in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd — and it appears to be paying off.

  • With companies increasingly expected to take stands on social issues, there’s an even greater need for a variety of perspectives, experts say.

By the numbers: A record 43% of all new appointees to these boards were first-time directors — a key driver of diversity.

  • Overall, the percentage of women on boards has slowly risen to 29%, from 19% when Heidrick first published this report in 2015. (There was a big uptick in 2017, as the MeToo movement drew major headlines.)
  • In 2009, only 5% of new board appointees were Black, according to data in the report. That number doubled to 10% by 2019 and then surged to 28% in 2020, after the social unrest of that year.

Background: Companies used to justify mostly white male boards by claiming there weren’t any other options.

  • It was expected that board members typically had experience as a CEO, or maybe a CFO, and had previously served on a board. Those roles were typically held by white men — so you can see the problem.
  • In 2021, companies branched out, looking for executives with experience in cybersecurity and sustainability, says Lyndon Taylor, a partner at Heidrick who worked on the report.
  • And a separate report, also released Wednesday morning, found that companies are increasingly placing folks with experience in human resources on boards. There are now 211 HR executives — a majority are women — on Russell 3000 boards, a big increase from 2017, according to the report from Allegis Partners.

What’s next: Hispanic and Asian or Asian American directors are still heavily underrepresented at 6% and 9%, respectively. “There’s work to be done,” says Taylor.


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