As corporations across the country commit to diversifying their ranks, theBoardlist, which helps companies find female board members, is committing to diversify its repository of talent too.
The company is now opening its online platform to all people of color, regardless of gender, hoping to help businesses address racial inequities on their boards of directors. The shift, says founder and chair Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, is a direct response to the calls for racial justice that have followed the killing of George Floyd by police. But it's also a response to what Singh Cassidy said has been a surge in demand from companies seeking more representation of people of color on their boards recently. In the last two months, 90% of searches on the Boardlist have been for women of color.
"I think it's very fair to say the events of the last six, and even three, months have driven the issue of racial inequity and racial diversity, its opposite, to the forefront," Singh Cassidy said.
TheBoardlist initially set out to correct the gender imbalance on boards in corporate America, where white men hold about 66% of seats and 91% of chairmanships on the Fortune 500. Data on the tech industry specifically is harder to come by, but one 2019 survey of tech startups found that 40 percent of respondents had no women on their boards.
In recent years, there's been a surge in legislation requiring boards to include at least one female director. California passed a law to that effect in 2018, and several other states have since introduced similar bills. But the racial imbalance on boards is even more stark, with people of color of all genders holding only about 16% of board seats on the Fortune 500.
And yet, there are signs that this moment in history is poised to change that. In a July survey of 100 board executives conducted by theBoardlist, 74% of respondents said they believed that it should be mandatory for boards to be inclusive of people of color. Some are staking their own board seats on that belief. In June, shortly after protests began in the wake of Floyd's death Reddit co-founder and CEO Alexis Ohanian stepped down from the company's board, asking to be replaced by a Black candidate.
"I'm saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: 'What did you do?'" Ohanian, who is married to tennis champion Serena Williams, wrote in a tweet. Days later, Reddit announced Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel as Ohanian's replacement.
TheBoardlist operates through a network of individual endorsers, CEOs and board members who recommend potential candidates. It doesn't require those people to report the candidates' race, so theBoardlists' data on its own current pipeline of talent is limited. But Singh Cassidy said she estimates about 20% of its candidates are currently people of color.
Now, she expects that figure to grow as the network opens up to all people of color and as theBoardlist itself seeks out partnerships with organizations that will have a more diverse network of talent to recommend. She said the goal is to grow the supply of talent to a point where "no one can argue there aren't enough great candidates."