(Bloomberg) — U.S. publicly-listed companies more than quadrupled the appointment of Latino executives to their boards in the first quarter, a small step toward addressing ethnic and racial inequality across the top corporate ranks.
About 82 Latinos joined the boards of public companies between January and March, up from the 19 appointments the same period a year ago, according to data from the Latino Corporate Directors Association released on Friday. As many as 33 of those individuals are serving on a board for the first time.
U.S. states and organizations have been pushing hard to force big companies to improve diversity in the workplace, and particularly on boards. California passed a law in September that requires public companies based in the state to have at least one director from an under-represented minority group by the end of 2021. In December, Nasdaq filed a proposal with the Securities and Exchange Commission that would make it necessary for its more than 3,000 listed companies to have at least one female director, and one from an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ group.
Putting outside pressure on the companies are campaigners such as LCDA that want to ensure fair representation of all races and ethnicities. The increase in Latino representation among board members is an opportunity to better reflect customers and a range of perspectives, according to Debra Sandler, an LCDA member who serves on the board of several big American companies, including Keurig Dr. Pepper Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland Inc.
“I have a different experience of the world, of this country, than many of the other people around the table,” Sandler said, an Afro-Latina who is based in New York. “That allows me to see things sometimes a little bit differently and then I can add that to the conversation.”
However, Sandler says there’s a lot more work to be done in terms of Latino representation. A report released in March by the LCDA showed that U.S. Latinos only made up 3% of Fortune 1000 board members in 2020 despite the fact that Hispanics and Latinos comprise about a fifth of the country’s population.
Last September the group joined with organizations including the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and UnidosUS, the largest Hispanic non-profit advocacy group, to launch Latino Voices for Boardroom Equity. The campaign is lobbying some of the biggest U.S. corporations with a goal of tripling Latino representation on boards by 2023.
“It’s like when someone asked Ruth Bader Ginsburg, what’s the right number of women on the Supreme Court? And I think she said, well, maybe nine. That’s all of them.” Sandler said. “I’d just like to see even more.”
Sandler said one of the main reasons there aren’t more Latinos sitting on corporate boards today is because companies believe there’s a shortage of candidates to fill those positions. The mentorship and support exists from the current Latino corporate leadership to help overcome those concerns, she said. And companies are also focused on building up a pipeline of professionals for the future: Goldman has set a target of hiring 14% Latino and 11% Black people for entry-level analysts and associate positions.
“Exposure to organizations like the LCDA is absolutely critical because we have a breadth of senior executives across many industries that are very comfortable in the C suite,” Sandler said. But she also wants companies to embrace diversity as an opportunity rather than treat it as requirement because there is pressure from their shareholders, consumers or the Nasdaq with its potential new reporting rules.
“I just really would love for us to get to the point where it becomes the natural order of things where when you start to put together a board for a company you automatically look for a broad base of folks,” Sandler said. “Companies tackle hard things all the time. Getting a broad and diverse board, not so hard.”