Empowering Black Women in Leadership
Consider why it is essential to include diverse perspectives across leadership teams, and how you can attract high-level Black women to your corporate board.
It shouldn’t come as a shock that the underrepresentation of women of color on corporate boards is an issue across the United States. Even though it’s been over 50 years since Patricia Roberts Harris became the first Black woman on a Fortune 500 board at IBM, little progress has been made in this area.
In 2020, about 26.5 percent of S&P 500 company board seats were occupied by women. Minority men represent 12 percent, and only four percent of board seats at S&P 500 companies are held by Black women.
Why Diversity Matters on Corporate Boards
Different perspectives allow members to see circumstances from multiple angles, allowing them to make better decisions.
Corporate board and leadership team diversity gives greater depth and breadth of experience and perspective, which results in a greater ability to relate to clients, prospective clients, and employees. Innovation is critical to capturing and maintaining market share, but it’s impossible without a wide range of experience, perspective, and relatability.
Different perspectives allow members to see circumstances from multiple angles, allowing them to make better decisions. With a more diverse board, inclusive decisions are more likely. Board diversity means more lived experiences and backgrounds reflected in how the company and its culture are shaped.
Diversity fashions more energy and engagement. The more energy a board possesses, the more creative and effective its potential. There’s also a greater capacity for learning from others who are different from ourselves.
Ideas to Attract High-Level Black Women to Boards
It’s one thing to say that you desire an inclusive and diverse board, but it’s quite another to take active steps to make it happen.
A thriving, diverse, and well-managed leadership team that can deliver real benefits requires discipline, courage, and a lot of listening. Here are some ways your company can work towards attracting more Black women to its board:
Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk
It’s one thing to say that you desire an inclusive and diverse board, but it’s quite another to take active steps to make it happen. You can’t just claim you care about DEI. Instead, consider working with a diversity consultant who can help you act in meaningful and fruitful ways. Taking the time to create an honest and open forum for idea sharing is another way you can turn your words into actions.
Provide Better Networking Opportunities
Consider that some experts agree that the vast majority of the challenges Black women face in earning a board seat are due to a lack of access to the right networks. Providing better networking opportunities to BIPOC throughout your company can go a long way in increasing the chances that Black women will be on your board.
Think about ways you can increase these opportunities while making them more inclusive.
Get Help from Existing Board Members
You can also enlist the help of your current board members. Ask and encourage them to broaden their own networks and build up their relationships with others to help spread the word. Maybe they already know some high-level Black women who might be an excellent fit for an open board position or can keep their eye on someone who is up and coming.
Open Up Boards to Accept Unlikely Candidates
Another hurdle to Black women accessing corporate board memberships is that many don’t know they can be board leaders full-time or that they can do it in addition to their full-time executive jobs. Ensure your board is open to accepting unlikely candidates who may not be a former chief executive officer or even a direct report to the CEO. Be willing to look further down the line.
Additionally, it’s essential to get the word out that being a board leader can be a full-time job and that candidates can be on a board and still keep their current position. Black women already within your company and within your company’s networks need to know these things; otherwise, they may have no reason to consider seeking a board position.
Attracting high-level Black women to your corporate board takes time. By implementing these ideas, you can induce change within your corporate culture that will welcome diversity and propel the right Black women to your board.
In practice for 30 years, April D. Jones is the founder and CEO of the Jones Law Firm, PC. Leading a powerhouse team of practitioners that have helped thousands of families and individuals through high-level family law legal services, Jones was recently awarded the Individual Inclusiveness@Work award by The Center for Legal Inclusiveness (CLI).
Jones leads the Sam Cary Bar Association in a second term as President (2005 and 2021). She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Jones is a member of the California State and Colorado State Bars and is a 2021 recipient of the Denver Business Journal “Outstanding Women in Business Award.”