TOP OF MIND: What directors are thinking (Janet S. Wong, Enviva Partners, BigControls)
The focus on the value of more diversity on corporate boards has specifically emphasized women, but not all women.
Numerous resources have been developed to help companies identify qualified women candidates for board seats, and as a result, gender representation is slowly increasing. Today, women represent 23% of S&P 1500 directors. However, women of color — African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American — represent only 3.5% of these appointments, according to Institutional Shareholder Services.
Why does it matter? Women of color comprise nearly 40% of the U.S. female population and have a buying power estimated to be more than $1 trillion. African American, Asian and Hispanic women are on track to comprise a majority of all women in our country, according to census data for the coming decades.
During my career in public accounting, I participated in a number of audit committee and board meetings. With a goal to take my years of business experience further into the corporate boardroom as a director, I reached out to my network to share my interest which resulted in my first public company board role.
By not including women of color, the company’s board of directors is not representative of a large portion of the population, and in many cases, the company’s customer base now and into the future.
In addition, the high correlation between gender-diverse boards and strong company performance is validated by several years of extensive research by numerous firms, such as Credit Suisse and McKinsey. Companies with boards that include different competencies and experience — as well as diversity of race, ethnicity and gender — exhibit stronger company performance and better risk management, the research finds.
As a public company board director, I decided to do something about it. I serve as the senior executive adviser for Ascend Pinnacle, the nation’s largest network of Asian-American corporate board directors, and in that role I am proud to lead our efforts supporting The Thirty Percent Coalition, a national awareness campaign to promote women of color on corporate boards.
The Coalition, founded in 2011, is advocating for diversity in the corporate boardroom with the reach and credibility to influence corporations’ approach to board diversity and wants women to hold at least 30% of board seats at public companies in the U.S. It consists of institutional investors and nonprofits, and we just kicked off a major initiative to help add women of color to their ranks. Coalition members sent letters to companies in the S&P 1500 asking them to consider the value of adding women of color to their boards and inviting these companies to a series of regional events this fall. At these events, company senior leadership will be able to connect with qualified board candidates.
I believe that cultivating diversity on a board especially with women of color will result in strong company performance through a tone at the top that will foster innovation, creativity, and different perspectives resulting in more successful outcomes.
(For more information on The Thirty Percent Coalition, please go to www.30percentcoalition.org.)
Janet S. Wong chairs the audit committee for Enviva Partners. She serves on the Advisory Board of BigControls, a cloud-based software company. Janet is a licensed CPA and a retired partner with KPMG. In 2018, she was named to Directors & Boards’ “Directors to Watch.”