Why Corporate Boards Are So White and Male, in One Chart

Photograph by Getty Images

To the growing body of evidence that suggests most of the people running America’s biggest corporations don’t care much about diversity, add a recent survey of 863 board members of publicly traded companies in the U.S. by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The results are no fun at all if you’re not white and/or male.


Only 37 percent of directors think that it’s very important to have women on boards. Even fewer placed a premium on racial diversity. That sentiment might be related to the fact that women hold fewer than a fifth of board seats at Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index companies, according to the report.  A separate tally, by the research organization Catalyst, found that racial minorities account for 13 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies.

Female board directors were about twice as likely as men to say that the homogeneity of the white, male boards matters a lot.

Research suggests they may be right. Catalyst found in 2011 that companies with the highest proportion of women on their boards earned a 26 percent higher return than their competitors on invested capital, as well as  a 16 percent higher return on sales. Likewise, a 2007 McKinsey & Co. report (PDF) found that shares in European companies with more female board members grew in value 1.7 times as fast as the industry average and performed better than their peers on a number of other measures.

In the PricewaterhouseCoopers study, the majority of board directors also said that “there are no perceived impediments to increasing gender diversity.” Except, of course,  directors who don’t think it matters.

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