New Report Finds Asian Representation Lacking on Fortune 1000 Boards

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Tech boards have the most directors, but lag behind their number of Asian employees.

Asian Representation on Fortune 1000 Boards, a report from the KPMG Board Leadership Center and Ascend Pinnacle, found that the perspectives of the U.S. Asian community are lacking in most Fortune 1000 boardrooms.

The report found that 69% of Fortune 1000 boards have no Asian directors, while an additional 23% have just one director of Asian heritage. The number is a slight improvement over the 2020 version of the report, which found that 72% of Fortune 1000 companies lacked an Asian director. 

Nearly 40% of the Asian Fortune 1000 directors are female, a marked stride toward gender parity. Among Fortune 1000 directors of all races, only 28% are women.

The Asian directors joining boards tend to be younger on average than their non-Asian colleagues. The report found that 44% of Asian directors in the Fortune 1000 are in their 50s, while a plurality of all other Fortune 1000 directors (45%) are in their 60s.
In the area of board tenure, 20% of Asian Fortune 1000 directors had service terms of 10 years or more, while that number rose to 32% among all Fortune 1000 board seats. Annalisa Barrett, senior advisor for the KPMG Board Leadership Center, sees this as a positive related to the increasing attention to the need for diversity.

“This may be due to the increasing focus on the benefits of board diversity over the last decade. As institutional investors and other stakeholders have encouraged boards to consider more diverse director candidates, more Asian executives may be considering serving on corporate boards than ever before.”

The percentage of Asian directors varies by industry. Technology companies in the Fortune 1000 are most likely to include at least one Asian director; 59% of those companies have an Asian on their board. Healthcare and industrials companies place second and third at 39% and 32%, respectively. The industries least likely to have at least one Asian director are food, beverages and tobacco (18%), materials (13%) and engineering and construction (11%). While technology companies might have a sizeable lead, Barrett points out that nearly a quarter (23%) of tech industry employees are Asian, while Asians hold just 10% of technology company board seats.

When asked what steps boards can take toward increasing the number of Asian directors, Barrett says boards must hold their company leaders accountable for providing career development and promotion opportunities to all employees. As evidence, she points to other research conducted by Ascend finding that Asian professionals at San Francisco Bay technology companies were the least likely to be promoted to manager and executive level positions.
“Boards most often look for experience serving as an executive or C-suite officer,” says Barrett. Therefore, directors should ensure that the companies they serve provide equal opportunities for Asians and employees from other underrepresented groups to move up to these levels within the boardroom.” 

Barrett also reminds those seeking to diversify their boards that you can’t find what you are not looking for, and that means being intentional about finding Asian talent for the director roster. 

“When boards are seeking new directors, they can proactively look for candidates who will bring diverse backgrounds to the boardroom,” says Barrett. “When boards are intentional about finding the diversity they are lacking among their sitting directors, they have the most success cultivating a diverse board.”

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