Scores of black board members who represent the corporate elite made a bit of history Wednesday night as they were honored at the spectacular National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. BLACK ENTERPRISE saluted those listed on its just-released Registry of Corporate Directors, an exclusive club whose members serve on the boards of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies.
“It is our great pleasure to hold this special recognition ceremony for those at the highest level of corporate America and exemplars of consummate business leadership,” BE President and CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. told the crowd of high-powered business and government leaders at this invitation-only gathering hosted by Bank of America, which has been included among BE’s Best Companies for Diversity and was praised by Graves for its culture of inclusion, including corporate governance. Among Bank of America’s top-level executives in attendance: D. Steve Boland, Managing Director, Consumer Lending and one of BE’s 300 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America; Andy Seig, President of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management; and Cynthia H. Bowman, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer and one of BE’s Most Powerful Women in Corporate Diversity.
“We look forward to members of our B.E. Registry continuing their individual and collective advocacy to make major companies better by creating fully inclusive environments. They realize that opportunity is the byproduct of corporate policies and practices related to hiring, training, and promotion of employees; procurement of suppliers; and philanthropic giving to charities and causes. So if you care about African Americans in senior management, more contracts for black-owned firms, or the allocation of more corporate dollars to charities, causes, and nonprofits that impact communities of color, then you must care about board diversity and must salute the value of these brilliant fiduciaries of shareholder value.”
Among Registry members representing iconic corporations in attendance: Lionel L. Nowell III of Bank of America; Ray M. Robinson of American Airlines; Peggy Alford of Facebook; Bruce S. Gordon of Northrop Grumman: Barbara L. Bowles of WEC Energy; J. Veronica Biggins of Southwest Airlines and Louis B. Lynn and K. David Boyer, Jr. of BB&T Corp., currently pending merger approval with SunTrust Banks to create TRUIST Financial Corp. (its CEO Kelly S. King was one of the high-level CEOs at the event).
For the seventh consecutive year, BE has unveiled its listing of blacks seated at the nation’s largest publicly traded companies. Graves revealed the configuration of this year’s list: 322 black corporate directors at 307 S&P 500 companies, a slight but noticeable increase from 308 at 316 index corporations in 2018. He also focused on the continued persistence of “imbalance in the boardroom” as the S&P 500 achieved the milestone of having 100% representation of white women on its boards while roughly 37% of that group do not have any black representation in their boardrooms.
The B.E. Registry, along with accompanying lists of companies with and without black board members, serves as one of the leading annual barometers on the state of diversity and inclusion in corporate governance. For more than a half decade, BE’s data and analysis have been used by civil rights groups, government agencies, and corporate diversity advocacy organizations to change corporate board composition within entire sectors—most prominently Silicon Valley-based tech companies.
Other speakers at the event, which included Smithsonian Secretary and NMAAHC’s founding director Lonnie Bunch and Executive Leadership Council Chair Tonie Leatherberry, commented on the importance of this expanding phalanx of black guardians of shareholder value. In addition to citing the significance of black directors fittingly being saluted at “the world’s most diverse museum,” Bunch noted that NMAAHC was developed through corporate donations due, in large part, to the efforts of black directors like those being honored.
Leatherberry, who also serves as Deloitte’s board relations leader and foundation president, cited statistics from the 2018 Missing Pieces—which the leading accounting and consulting firm developed in conjunction with the Alliance for Board Diversity—as confirmation of the overwhelmingly positive impact of diverse boards. In addition to the report disclosing that the number of Fortune 500 companies with 40% diversity has doubled from 2012 and 2018, she also said it revealed that publicly traded corporations with racial and gender diversity greatly outperform peer companies that lack such inclusion in corporate governance.
Speaking on behalf of fellow B.E. Registry members, Lionel Nowell III discussed the value of diversity and inclusion at the highest levels at Bank of America and other corporations that enthusiastically embraced that thrust. The former PepsiCo treasurer is one of two African American directors on the financial services giant’s corporate board—the other, Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald, appears on the cover of BE’s accompanying print issue. Nowell told those assembled that as corporate America continues to be transformed by major business shifts and challenging financial headwinds that could lead to downsizing and realignments, black directors must remain vigilant in ensuring that the pipeline of black senior managers and prospective c-suite leadership continues to flow.