Board Directorships for Minorities Is Not a Zero Sum Game

A letter from our guest editor, Roel Campos, chair of the Latino Corporate Directors Association

Company boards do want diversity and they do want inclusion. Today, diversity for most boards begins with a search for women candidates, as the advocacy for women has been ongoing for many years and is just now having an impact. As such, boards will often become aware of qualified white women before becoming aware of qualified male and female minorities. This is perhaps to be expected, given existing business networks, and may represent the normal evolution of diversity and inclusion in corporate America. However, boards are overlooking an extraordinary amount of talent and experience when their searches do not also seek qualified Latinos, African Americans, and other minorities of both genders.

One of my roles as the chair of the nonprofit Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA) is to encourage boards to look broadly when filling director vacancies and to consider candidates from the large pool of outstanding and qualified Latinos and Latinas in all business sectors and industries. The LCDA assists many corporate boards and their recruiters in identifying qualified Latinos/as for board and senior executive positions.

Currently Latinos constitute less than 3 percent of directors on Fortune 500 boards. Latinas are even less. In contrast, women as a group (on Fortune 500 boards) increased from 15.7 percent in 2010 to 21.9 percent in 2018 (per Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity). This increase is certainly welcome, but clearly more progress is needed. It is important to remember that diversity on boards is not a zero sum game. White women can gain board seats, but at the same time, so can Latinos and other minorities.

I often relate to executives and directors the compelling business case for American Latinos. For example, the US Latino community currently accounts for 18 percent (59 million) of the nation’s population, with some projecting an overall population of 100 million American Latinos in about 2050. American Latinos today represent over $2.1 trillion in purchasing power. According to the Pew Research Center, every month about 70,000 Latinos/as reach voting age as American citizens. To cite only a few examples, Latinos in America make up a huge percentage of the revenue of Facebook, Walmart, and for all music sales in the US.

In short, it is hard to see how any business can ignore 20 percent (and growing) of consumers in the US. Any company that markets its products and services nationwide needs a Latino strategy to be successful. Latino directors can often be a valuable resource in accessing the US Latino market. In other words, Latino directors help deliver the benefits of diversity and help move the bottom line higher.

“[D]iversity on boards is not a zero sum game. White women can gain board seats, but at the same time, so can Latinos and other minorities.”

The LCDA has urged institutional investors, such as Blackrock, to advocate to their portfolio public companies for both women and minorities, including Latinos. In addition, as part of LCDA, we also urge individual board members to do more in promoting diversity and Latinos on their boards. As a board director and the chair of a public company’s corporate governance and nominations (CGN) committee, I have posed a very specific challenge to myself and my board: when director vacancies occur, strive to identify qualified women, Latinos, and other minorities to be a part of the list of candidates for the board’s consideration. Make this objective a requirement for the recruiter. 

Recently, my public company board determined to bring on a new director. The directors agreed that the board needed technological and digital backgrounds and experience to assist our company to move into the digital space. Given our board’s commitment to diversity, I asked our recruiter to seek to include among the candidates women and minorities with these skills. And among the candidates our recruiter helped us identify were more than twenty minority women with tremendous qualifications. So much for the worn-out excuse: “We can’t find qualified minorities.” I am delighted to report that after reducing the list, which was difficult, the board was so impressed that we offered two board positions— instead of one—to two minority women, one Latina and one African American.

Imagine how diversity on boards could be increased if other board members also accepted the challenge of identifying at least one qualified minority candidate, including Latinos/as, to be considered and interviewed for the next board vacancy. Of course interviewing a minority candidate does not mean he or she will be selected. However, there is a huge positive contribution in introducing such candidates to other directors, who may establish new business relationships, which may also lead to different opportunities for that candidate on another board.

So, if you are a fellow director, why not join me and challenge yourself to do this? In particular, if you are a minority or woman director serving on a board, you probably know very qualified women and minorities that you could bring forward for your board’s consideration. I hope you see what a positive difference you can make. Diversity increases the bottom line and shareholders will applaud.

Roel Campos’s Advice for Board Director Candidates

Landing a board position requires two things: the right timing and the right qualifications. The key is to have a skill or experience that is useful to a particular board. Like a traditional job search, a lot of factors outside of your control need to align, but these tips will help you be prepared to seize an opportunity when it comes your way.

  • Get an understanding of the way boards work. There are a lot of director training programs these days, available either online or, for instance, through my organization, the Latino Corporate Directors Association.
  • Join organizations that notify you of opportunities and will advocate for you on your behalf. For example, at the LCDA, we stay informed of searches and send notifications to members that, though we don’t necessarily name the company, include what the company is looking for in terms of experience. We do our best to identify qualified Latinos/as for these searches from our own membership and outside through different networks.
  • Don’t narrow your search to public companies. There are many private companies and nonprofits that have boards, as well. Look for opportunities to serve on such boards to develop your experience and skills.
  • Be one of the strongest candidates out there. Just as if you were selling yourself to an employer, you need to focus on and emphasize the areas in which you’re really strong, then find companies that are a match. Look in industries where you have some background and experience, where you can help improve the company’s performance, or where your personal network will be an asset.
  • Search in your network for people who are serving on boards and ask them if your skill set might be interesting to the board, and whether they could put your name forward when there’s an opening, or even in advance of an opening. You want to get on the list of interviewees, and you can do that through your own personal contacts, in the same way you would in a job search.
  • Some people write directly to a company where they think they could add value. You can write to the CEO and the head of the corporate governance nominations committee—those are the two people who would consider your letter and resume. As always, it helps if you know someone on the board or in upper management who can be a good reference for you. 

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