Skip to content Skip to footer

No Seat At the Table

No Seat At the Table

Corporations Vowed to Diversify Their Boards 
So much for the racial reckoning

This story is a collaboration between WURD Radio, WHYY and URL Media. 

By Madhusmita Bora

Maria Frizelle Roberts is tired of waiting.

An alum of the University of Pennsylvania, University of California at Berkeley and St. Joseph’s University, she has an impressive academic and corporate resume. As the CEO of  MFR Consultants, Inc., a full-service technology and business advisory company, she leads an interdisciplinary team and sits on nonprofit boards including the Philadelphia African American Chamber of Commerce.

Despite these accomplishments, she hasn’t been invited into the boardroom.

Those appointments require nominations from existing board members and company executives. Unlike non-profit board positions, which are voluntary and 

Maria Frizelle Roberts
Photo Credit: Edward Savaria

almost always unpaid work with a donor or fundraising commitment, independent corporate board jobs are lucrative and draw from an extremely closed circle of contenders, usually white men. “It’s truly frustrating to see the same plantation mentality,” Roberts said. “Women other than women of color are getting on boards at a higher rate and chipping away at the glass ceiling, at least you can see through that ceiling. For Black women, it’s a concrete ceiling. We need a sledgehammer because we can’t even see through the ceiling.”

The civic unrest after the slow, torturous murder of George Floyd for all the world to witness and a succession of killings of Blacks by police led to the racial reckoning of 2020, prompting corporate America and big financial institutions to make several pledges, including changing boardroom compositions to reflect the communities they serve. Companies such as Equilar started tracking boardroom diversity data. In September 2020, three Silicon Valley executives, with a mission to improve Black representation in boardrooms, launched The Board Challenge. Participating companies pledge to appoint a Black director within the year. If the company already has a Black director, they make a promise to introduce their network to The Board Challenge and leverage influence to improve representation in other corporate boards. More than 75 companies have taken the pledge. Boardroom diversity is now occupying center stage in legislative, regulatory, academic, public and media discourse.

But, have these conversations transformed to tangible actions? Are Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts making boards more nonwhite? Does having representation at the top move the needle for employees, businesses, homeowners and communities of color? How much influence can an individual or a small group assert on behalf of a community when they are compensated as part of their representation?

“Diversity in the corporate sector is dying in the middle of the organization,” Sulaiman Rahman, CEO of DiverseForce.

According to Board Prospects, Black members make up only 5.4 percent of the nearly 27,000 board members within the Russell 3000 (an index tracking the 3,000 largest publicly traded U.S. stocks weighted by market capitalization). Sixty percent of the listed companies on the index do not have a single Black board member. There is not a single for profit company out there that has a boardroom reflecting the demographics it serves, experts said.

Nonwhite representation is insignificant in the highest corporate jobs as well. Currently, only four Black CEOs head Fortune 500 companies. They are: Marvin Ellison of Lowe’s, Thasunda Brown Duckett of TIAA, Rene Jones of M&T Bank and Rosalind Brewer of Walgreens Boots Alliance. Those numbers are problematic because boardrooms prefer to draw its members from C-suites.

To be in parity with current population size, there should be at least 60 Black CEOs heading corporations, said Sulaiman Rahman, CEO of DiverseForce,  a strategic human capital solutions firm specializing in cultivating diverse leadership pipelines and inclusive ecosystems. He said Black people are grossly underrepresented in C-suites because there is no intentional mentoring and development of a pipeline.“Diversity in the corporate sector is dying in the middle of the organization,” he said.

“That’s why when you look at higher levels you see less and less of Black and Brown people.”

The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that just 17.7 percent of boardroom seats in the 30 Philadelphia-area Fortune 1000 companies are filled by people of color. White men hold 61 percent of those positions, and white women 21.3 percent. Only 8.2  percent of those jobs are held by Black men, while Black women occupy 1.3 percent.

Author Bethany B. Wilkinson, in her book “The Diversity Gap,” said “in an organization where white male leadership has been the historical norm, diversity initiatives often cater best to the needs of the white people (who share the racial identity of the historical leadership) and men of color (who share the gender identity of historical leadership).”

“This leaves gaping holes in the experiences and opportunities afforded to women of color,” she wrote.

Roberts, who has more than three decades of experience in corporate C-suites and is the chairperson at  Merakey Total Health and vice chair of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, said there’s a subconscious bias against accomplished Black women in particular. Corporations often tokenize people of color by limiting their numbers. By doing so, they also limit their powers and ability to implement change.

“They can’t see past the color of our skin,” she said. “There’s a fear that if you put a Black woman on the board who is comfortable in their skin and knowledge, they will speak up and challenge–which is frequently viewed as being difficult.”

Only a few individuals such as Charisse R. Lillie have successfully broken the concrete ceiling that Roberts refers to. Lillie, CEO of CRL Consulting LLC, a former fellow and vice president of community investment for Comcast Corporation and former president of the Comcast Foundation, sits on multiple corporate boards such as PECO, Independence Health Group Inc.  and The Penn Mutual Life Company. She also serves on the Regional Advisory Board of PNC Bank, PA/SNJ/DE and the corporate Advisory Board of  KnectIQ, Inc. To get on a corporate board one needs to know the CEO or an executive at the senior position, she said. Historically women, especially women of color, have been excluded from these networks and that makes it an uphill battle. For each board position she has occupied, she was granted access to the boardroom by someone in her network.

The Tale of Monochromatic Boards

For most of the last century, existing board of directors at publicly traded companies have nominated their successors, said Joseph Blasi, director of the Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing at Rutgers University. The number of people nominated always corresponds to the number of vacancies.

“Unfortunately it’s never been a competitive election and shareholders are asked to vote on an entire slate,” he said.

Sometimes, shareholders can withhold votes on certain members of the slate, and the board might honor the protest vote. But that rarely happens. In recent years, there has been a practice called proxy access which allows long-term shareowners to place a limited number of alternative board candidates on the proxy ballot.

“Either way it’s a very cumbersome process,” Blasi said. “Typically management will oppose and shareowners have to hire lawyers and work with the media to build public awareness and opinion.”

Because of how the system works, corporate boardrooms have always failed to represent people of color or those from diverse backgrounds. Candidates have historically been drawn from a very narrow pool of mostly white men with generational wealth, who belong to the same social network. Occasionally there is representation from nonwhite communities. But those candidates tend to come from wealthier backgrounds with access to mostly white institutions.

In the past, most of the people who become directors are former attorneys or executives from large public accounting firms and C-level executives, said Toya Lawson, partner at Bridge Partners, an executive search firm with a mission to diversify leadership teams.

“Those fields have been dominated by white men for a very long time,” she said.

When a company has an all-white board, diversifying becomes a challenge, said Alexandra Thornton, senior director for tax policy at the Center for American Progress

“If you start with a largely white male board, then they are not reaching beyond their arm’s  length to find their successor,” she said.

The other challenge: many of the boards do not have term limits, and members sometimes serve until they are 75 years old.  It takes forever for a position to open up.

The Power of the Boardroom

Board of directors occupy the top most position in any organization. They set the tone for workplace culture and drive personnel and company policies. For underserved communities, it is pertinent to have a seat at the decision-making table. “The business and finance world is so central to social, economic and political power that underrepresented groups need to be in the boardroom as part of a general forward advance in society, ” said Michael K. Pearson, partner at Iron Steel Real Estate and principal of Michael K. Pearson Consulting.

If boards prioritize issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion, C-suite executives have no choice but to listen. A diverse board tends to be more racially sensitive because of the lived experiences of its members.

“For directors to really understand how systemic racism impacts the workforce, they need empathy,” said Douglas K. Chia, a fellow at the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance. “Those who have never personally experienced racism and discrimination, it is difficult to truly appreciate the physiological and psychological effects.”

Some make a business case for an inclusive board. Employees are inspired to patronize and work for corporations led by leaders, who look like them. A diverse board tends to make better decisions and the companies tend to be more profitable, according to a study by McKinsey & Co. It creates a space for people from different walks of life to bring in a wide variety of perspectives and represent their communities within the organization.

“The business and finance world is so central to social, economic and political power that underrepresented groups need to be in the boardroom as part of a general forward advance in society,” Michael K. Pearson, principal of Michael K. Pearson Consulting.

But, Wilkinson, the author, terms the business case for diversity as a “failed motivation” undermining a racially, ethnically and culturally diverse organization.

“The business case for diversity is problematic because it’s an assault on human dignity,” she said. When diversity strategy is designed for competitive advantage, people are reduced to a commodity.

Pearson, who specializes in business strategy and operations consulting for for-profit and nonprofit C-suite decision makers, said as the country’s demographic pattern changes, corporations will  have to answer to investors, potential employees and customers, who increasingly value diversity. When applying for jobs, millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born from 1997 onward) are screening companies on their diversity record, their stance on systemic racism and promotion tracks. Unlike their predecessors, both these generations are more socially aware and use social media and the internet to track companies and their culture and values. Sixty-seven percent of Gen Z respondents said in a survey that their buying powers will permanently be affected by how businesses deliver on their pledges to Black Lives Matter.

People these days are more savvy about where and how they invest money, Pearson said.

“Ultimately,  it (having a more diverse board) is just the right thing to do, but it definitely helps a company’s financial  performance as well,” he said.

A Call to Action

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and other Black Americans renewed focus on systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement, prompting private, public and regulatory agencies to lobby for change in the corporate world.

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently approved a proposal that requires Nasdaq listed companies, with a few exceptions, to disclose their boardroom composition and have at least one woman and either one person from an underrepresented or LGBTQ+ community by 2023. If a company doesn’t meet the standards, it is required to disclose the reasons in advance of the company’s next shareholder meeting on their proxy statement or on the company’s website. By 2026, companies listed on Nasdaq Capital Market must have two diverse directors. So far there is no penalty in failure to comply, but the measure is already facing a legal challenge. Goldman Sachs announced last year it will only underwrite IPOs in the U.S. and Europe of private companies that have at least two diverse board members.

On the legislative side, California enacted laws that put an end to all white male boardrooms by requiring boards of publicly traded companies based in the state to have at least one diverse director by 2021. Although the California law has been challenged in courts citing unfair discrimination toward white men, following its lead, several other states such as New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania have either passed or introduced laws to address board diversity. In a CNBC interview last fall, Kenneth C. Frazier,  executive  chairman of Merck’s board of directors and an advocate for board diversity, said he is optimistic about changes because every boardroom is confronting the issue of equity and inclusion. Merck is expanding its pool of qualified candidates for board positions and ensuring that there are “no systemic or implicit barriers.” In a boardroom of 13, the company now has three Black directors.

A 2021 study by executive recruiting and leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart found that ethnic and racial minorities made up 47 percent of all new directors on boards of S&P 500 companies. Black directors secured 33 percent of the new board seats.

But, despite the uptick, corporate paid  boardroom positions nationally and locally continue to be dominated largely by white men. These positions are lucrative, unlike nonprofit board jobs, which are seen as a charitable contribution and are generally not compensated. The average annual compensation, including meeting fees, the retainer and stock options for independent directors of small and midcap companies is $175,834, according to consulting firm FW Cook. At JPMorgan Chase, directors earned $250,000 in stock awards in 2020, and the highest paid director earned $140,000 in cash.

Philadelphia-area companies have yet to show any signs of a real sense of urgency for increasing diversity in the boardroom, recruiters and industry experts said.

Toya Lawson
Photo Credit: Samantha, City Headshots

“In the last two years, I have seen a major push by nonprofit organizations to use our recruitment services,” said Lawson of Bridge Partners, the executive search firm. “But, while my phone rings off the hook for nonprofits, it’s not ringing the same way for the city’s for-profit mid-market companies.” 

Lawson’s company keeps track of their success in recruiting and placing diverse candidates. In 2020, Bridge Partners successfully placed 71 percent of BIPOC candidates in corporate leadership positions nationwide. Lawson said for her to do her job of making boards and C-suites more diverse, companies like hers need access to people in power. She has been able to make breakthroughs when someone in the community introduces her to clients, usually CEOs, who are intentional about hiring a diverse slate.

“For most people of color, what works is access and familiarity,” she said. “Just give us opportunity and access.”

“Even the most radical Black person cannot wave a magic wand and create equity on their own. We need systemic change at all levels and inside and outside of corporate America.” Dr. Leigh-Anne Francis, Associate Professor, The College of New Jersey

Regina A. Hairston, president & CEO of the African-American Chamber of Commerce (PA, NJ &DE) , said the chamber has never received calls from area corporations to help develop a pipeline or tap individuals from the community for paid board positions.

“If companies want to intentionally diversify, they should be reaching out to the people who are doing this work,” she said. “I am happy to partner with them, but we haven’t received any calls for that so far.”

Last year, for the first time, The Forum of Executive Women reviewed racial and ethnic diversity data of boardrooms for the top 100 publicly traded companies in the Philadelphia region.

“We found that the data was sparse,” said Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake, Forum member and president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation. In the Women in Leadership 2021 report, the organization reviewed the statistics again and found that racial and ethnic diversity of Board and workplaces at the companies was still “light”, but the number of companies making the disclosure grew.

“We have to stay vigilant,” Marshall-Blake said. “The more we track and report on it, the more we put it out there and at some point they (companies) will have to take notice. It’s like the squeaky wheel. We gotta keep on.”

Blasi of Rutgers University believes there needs to be more pressure from the federal government. Central government regulation and requirements worked well in diversifying boardrooms in Europe. He said the current diversity disclosure requirements by the Securities and Exchange Commission is weak.

“They (SEC) haven’t played a significant role in moving the ball forward,” he said. “If we use weak, insignificant incremental approaches, we are going to see decades of obfuscation and very slow moving metrics.”

Black executives and entrepreneurs agree.

After two years of Covid and five years of participating in conversations,  I have become aware that DEI initiatives are a complete waste of my time,” said Tayyib Smith, entrepreneur and principal of Meta Global, parent company to Little Giant Creative, a full service creative agency.

Smith, who sits on nonprofit boards such as Kensington Corridor Trust, Prizm Art Fair in Miami, Memphis Slim House, BlackStar Film Festival, said there was a time when he wondered why he hadn’t had the opportunity to be part of a corporate boardroom. Not anymore.

“Now I have a better understanding of the ecosystem and it doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “I tend to be an authentic and honest voice and they [corporations] are looking for people who will parrot their mediocre diversity and inclusion programs.”

Tayyib Smith
Entrepreneur and Principal of Meta Global
Photo Credit: Zamani Feelings

The board of trustees, executives and C-suites that control all the resources and mechanization in the city, region, bureaucracy, politics, state and federal governments, universities, hospitals, public and private partnerships,  don’t reflect the city’s demographics, he said.

“We are still living in infrastructures of colonialism and white supremacy,” he said.”Like Frederick Douglass said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand’.”

Smith said corporate America continues to treat DEI initiatives and corporate giving as a marketing ploy. It doesn’t categorize it as a public policy investment.

“That’s why it’s never in the best interest of the most marginalized,” he said.

“The few Black people who sit on the boards are drawn from the same institutions as their white peers and to some extent are contractually beholden to the corporation’s best interest.”

Dr. Leigh-Anne Francis, an associate professor with the Department of African American Studies and Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at The College of New Jersey said for meaningful change to happen, corporations have to transform from top down to bottom up and empower people and powerless communities. Just adding one or two Black and Brown people in the boardroom of a company will not have any measurable impact, she said.

“If increasing the representation of Black people at the executive level creates racial equity from top down we would have seen that already,” she said. “Even the most radical Black person. cannot wave a magic wand and create equity on their own. We need systemic change at all levels levels and inside and outside of corporate America.”

Francis said corporations need to increase Black representation at all tiers of management, so that those employees and managers can hire and implement programs to create racial equity. Black employees should be offered mentoring and have opportunities for promotions, she said. Once representation of Black people is achieved across all income levels, there will be a shift in workplace culture making it more just and equitable.

“If you want to increase representation of Black people, you have to hire in clusters so that they have a support network,” she said. “Being the only one in a group is isolating and tokenizing.”

Academic and industry experts say there is no company out there that is currently recruiting the right way.

“People have strong opinions about what boards should look like,” said M.K. Chin, assistant professor, Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at Indiana University, Bloomington. “There’s no research or scientific conclusion that concludes  what’s the right amount of diversity.”

Roberts of MFR Consultants said there needs to be a private-public partnership and more intentional work so everyone can have a voice and space at the leadership table. That’s important not just for the current generation of Black people, but the future.White people see themselves everywhere and that helps reinforce that they can achieve anything,” she said. “It’s not the same for people like us. After 400 years of oppression, representation really matters.”

Madhusmita Bora (she/her) is a writer, teacher and an award-winning multidisciplinary artist. She has previously worked for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Indianapolis Star and St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times).

This story is a collaboration between WURD Radio’s Lively-HOOD initiative, WHYY and URL Media. It is part of a series called The Future of Work, which explores what work will look like as we move beyond the pandemic. It’s produced with funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. WURD/Lively-Hood is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic mobility. 

Banks and Boardroom Diversity

Here’s a list of banks featured in our previous story about racial reckoning in big banks along with a breakdown on how the banks fare in their commitment to boardroom diversity. The information has been curated from 2021 proxy statements and Equilar.


Company Name

# of Directors



# Female

# Ethnically Diverse


% Female

% Ethnically Diverse

Bank of America Corporation









Capital One Financial Corporation









JPMorgan Chase & Co.









The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.









Wells Fargo & Company









WSFS Financial Corporation









Citizens Financial Group, Inc.



1 (identifies as Black/White)







Source: Equilar & SEC Filings


Bank of America

Diversity Policy:

“Our company has built a diverse pipeline of candidates for positions at all levels of the company, including leadership positions, as demonstrated in our published diversity representation metrics. For over a decade, our company has had a longstanding practice of utilizing diverse slates in order to grow diversity at the top and middle levels of the company. To further demonstrate our commitment to this important practice, we have formalized this long-standing practice for the use of diverse candidate slates into a policy. The use of diverse slates, amongst other practices, has resulted in strong representation across our company where our broad employee population mirrors the clients and communities we serve.”

Core director attributes:

“High personal integrity, strong business judgment, demonstrated achievement in public or private sectors,  proven leadership and management ability, dedicated—able to devote necessary time to oversight duties and represent shareholders’ interest, free of potential conflicts of interests, collegial manner.”


Capital One Financial Corporation

Diversity Policy:

 “Believe having a Board with members who demonstrate a diversity of thought, perspectives, skills, backgrounds and experiences is important to building an effective and resilient board, and as a result, have a goal of identifying candidates that can contribute to that diversity in a variety of ways, including racially/ethnically and gender diverse candidates.”

Core director attributes:

“High personal and professional ethics, integrity and honesty, good character and judgment. Independence and absence of any actual or perceived conflicts of interest. The ability to be an independent thinker and willingness to provide effective challenges to management. A willingness to commit the time and energy to satisfy the requirements of Board and committee membership, including the ability to attend and participate in meetings of the Board and committees of which they are a member and the annual meeting of stockholders and be available to management to provide advice and counsel. A willingness to rigorously prepare prior to each meeting and actively participate in the meeting. Possess, or be willing to develop, a broad knowledge of both critical issues affecting the Company and a director’s roles and responsibilities.  A willingness to comply with Capital One’s Director Stock Ownership Requirements, Corporate Governance Guidelines and Code of Conduct.

Strong educational background. Substantial tenure and breadth of experience in leadership capacities. Business and financial acumen. Understanding of the intricacies of a public company. Experience in risk management.”


JP Morgan Chase:

Diversity Policy:

“The Board looks for candidates with a diversity of experience, perspectives and viewpoints, including diversity with respect to gender, race, ethnicity and nationality.”

Core director attributes:

“JPMorgan Chase seeks director candidates who uphold the highest standards, are committed to the Firm’s values and are strong independent stewards of the long-term interests of shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and communities in which we work. The Board, including the Corporate Governance & Nominating Committee (“Governance Committee”), considers Board composition holistically, with a focus on recruiting directors who have the qualities required to effectively oversee the Firm, including its present and future strategy. The Board seeks directors with experience in executive fields who will bring experienced and fresh perspectives and insight, and come together to effectively challenge and provide independent oversight of management.”


PNC Bank

Diversity Policy:

“Although the Board has not adopted a formal policy on diversity, the Board recognizes the value of a diverse Board. Therefore, the Nominating and Governance Committee considers the diversity of directors in the context of the Board’s overall needs, including the diversity of perspective, experience, knowledge, education, age and skills of each director. The Committee evaluates diversity in a broad sense, recognizing the benefits of demographic and cognitive diversity, and the breadth of diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences the directors bring to the Board.”

Core director attributes

“A sustained record of high achievement in financial services, business, industry, government, academia, the professions, or civic, charitable or non-profit organizations. Manifest competence and integrity. A strong commitment to the ethical and diligent pursuit of shareholders’ best interests. The strength of character necessary to challenge management’s recommendations and actions when appropriate and to confirm the adequacy and completeness of management’s responses to such challenges to his or her satisfaction. The Board’s strong desire to maintain its diversity in terms of race and gender. Personal qualities that will help to sustain an atmosphere of mutual respect and collegiality among the members of the Board.”


Wells Fargo

Diversity policy:

“The company does not have a specific policy on diversity, our Corporate Governance Guidelines and the Governance and Nominating Committee’s charter specify that the Board and Governance and Nominating Committee incorporate a broad view of diversity into its director nomination process. In addition, the Board has a diverse candidate pool for each director search the Board undertakes. The current composition of our Board reflects those efforts and the importance our Board places on diversity of the Board.”

Core director attributes:

“Our Board has identified the following minimum qualifications for its directors: character and integrity. Must be an individual of the highest character and integrity. 100% CEO / leadership experience. Demonstrated breadth and depth of management and/or leadership experience preferably in a senior leadership role, in a large or recognized organization or governmental entity. Financial literacy or other relevant professional or business experience. Financial literacy or other professional or business experience relevant to an understanding of our Company and its business. Independence and constructive collegiality. Must have a demonstrated ability to think and act independently as well as the ability to work constructively in a collegial environment.”



 Diversity Policy:

Rebecca Acevedo, spokeswoman said in an email: “We believe that a Board of 10 to 12 members is optimal and there is currently one board member who identifies as Black. We are working on implementing a more structured approach to DE&I across the business that includes measurable outcomes. WSFS is committed to modeling the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion for our associates and the communities we serve.”

Core director attributes:

“We believe it is important to have a strong Board of Directors comprised of a majority of independent directors that is accountable to our stockholders. The Corporate Governance and Nominating Committee is responsible for identifying qualified individuals as candidates for membership on the Board of Directors. The Corporate Governance and Nominating Committee considers the Board of Directors’ current makeup to assure director candidates possess a wide range of leadership accomplishments; skills, knowledge and experience sought by the Board of Directors; cultural fit and diversity. The Board of Directors believes directors should be knowledgeable about the business activities and market areas in which we and our subsidiaries engage. A candidate’s breadth of knowledge and experience should also enable that person to make a meaningful contribution to the governance of a complex, multi-billion dollar financial institution. The Board of Directors aims to establish diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds, such as geographic, age, gender, race and ethnicity in all decisions. The Board of Directors evaluates candidates who achieved prominence in their fields and ideally possess strong management experience.”


Citizens Financial Group

Diversity Policy:

“Over 53% of our Board represents diverse groups (three women, two people of color and two veterans). The Board values diverse perspectives and experiences. When reviewing Board and Committee composition, the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee considers self-identified diverse characteristics of directors and nominees in addition to each person’s background and experience. As part of its commitment to diversity, the Board requests that any firms engaged in the director search process include individuals from underrepresented groups in its list of potential candidates.”

Core director attributes:

“Have demonstrated leadership. Have relevant background, experience and key skills.Are financially literate. Have risk management experience and other business experience and acumen. Exhibit independent thought and judgement. Have time availability and commitment.”


Do you have what it takes to land a paid boardroom seat?

Do you have what it takes to land a paid boardroom seat? Many of the large publicly traded companies draw from a current pool of C-suite executives to fill vacant board positions. Compensation for these positions varies according to the size of the company and can range from $75,000 to $500,000, according to Women in the Boardroom. Publicly traded companies additionally also offer cash and stock or stock options to board members. Some companies offer other perks such as health insurance, life insurance or matching charitable contributions. If you are a CEO or CFO, here’s how you could create a pathway to a seat in a corporate boardroom. But know that it’s not an easy ride. There are still barriers of accessibility for people of color to the exclusive network of decision makers. “That’s the hardest part,” said Toya Lawson of Bridge Partners.
“It’s like the elite country club, if you are not a member, you can’t get in.”

  • Start volunteering in the community and look for openings on nonprofit boards that inspire you.

 “It comes down to exposure, and people knowing who you are,” said Sulaiman  Rahman, CEO of DiverseForce. Performance, image and exposure are key to corporate success, he said. “Many of the Black and Brown folks die out in middle management. They perform well in those positions, but the companies are not intentional in helping them build an image or offer them exposure and access to people in power.”

  • Once you get on to a nonprofit board, get to know your fellow board members and build your network and resume. CEOs, CFOS, attorneys and accountants often volunteer as board members in nonprofit organizations. Become part of their social circle so they remember you when a position is available.

 “People do business with people they know, they like and they trust,” Lawson said.

  • Network and network some more. Most corporate boardroom openings aren’t public knowledge, and the only way to know about them and access information is through  people, search firms  and organizations connected with the company.
  • Connect with an executive search firm. Some companies hire firms to look for candidates. These firms will definitely know about available positions. Build a relationship with a recruiter in one of these search firms, offer your resume and tell them of your interest in occupying a board position. Be aware of the firms and people who work on specific niche. It on’t lead to them placing you. somewhere.
  • Pay attention to the skills that the board desires. Know the value you will bring into the company and promote yourself to your network. Spend time meditating on the professional and personal skills that makes you the most desired candidate and prepare your elevator speech. Focus on financial literacy and brush up or sharpen your skills on profit & loss.
  • Know your bandwidth. Being on any board is a time commitment. Find out what kind of obligation the position demands.
  • Once you are in, share your opinion, make your voice heard in the boardroom and represent the issues and people that you care about.
  • While you are on a nonprofit board, invest your time and energy in making an impression. Be prepared for meetings and learn about issues. Do your homework before you go into any meeting. Get noticed.

Source:  Toya Lawson, Bridge Partners, LLC; Sulaiman Rahman, DiverseForce

Madhusmita Bora (she/her) is a writer, teacher and an award-winning multidisciplinary artist. She has previously worked for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Indianapolis Star and St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times).

This story is a collaboration between WURD Radio’s Lively-HOOD initiative, WHYY and URL Media. It is part of a series called The Future of Work, which explores what work will look like as we move beyond the pandemic. It’s produced with funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. WURD/Lively-Hood is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic mobility. 

Skip to content