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US companies step up pace of hiring black directors in wake of George Floyd murder

The number of S&P 500 companies appointing black board members has jumped in the wake of George Floyd’s murder one year ago, according to new research.

As scrutiny of white, male corporate boardrooms intensified during the worldwide demonstrations following Floyd’s murder, 148 S&P 500 companies appointed a black director, up from just 52 new appointments in the same period a year earlier, according to a report published on Tuesday by ISS Corporate Solutions, a data provider.

From July 1 2020 to May 19 2021, a third of newly appointed directors were black, up from 11 per cent from the same period a year earlier, ICS said.

Overall, black directors made up 10.6 per cent of S&P 500 board members as of May 19, compared with 8.3 per cent a year earlier and 7.8 per cent in 2019.

“The needle has clearly moved,” said Marija Kramer, head of ISS Corporate Solutions.

Among recent appointments, Goldman Sachs on Monday named Kimberley Harris, NBCUniversal’s general counsel, to its board. When Starbucks designated Mellody Hobson its board chair in December last year, she became the second black woman — after Ursula Burns at Xerox — to chair an S&P 500 company.

Mellody Hobson was elevated to chair at Starbucks in December © Amy Harris/Invision/AP

The pace of change has been fastest at larger companies. Across the broader Russell 3000, black board members comprised just 22 per cent of new appointees from July 1 2020 to May 19 2021, ICS said.

The pressure on companies to diversify boardrooms is likely to increase in the months ahead. Nasdaq has proposed new listing rules that would require companies to have two diverse directors — including one who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as black or another under-represented minority group.

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Beginning in 2022, the large index fund manager State Street has said it will also vote against the chair of the nominating and governance committees of companies that do not have at least one minority board member.

The ICS analysis also showed that almost half of newly-appointed black board members were new to a public company board, up from 36 per cent the year before.

“The pipeline of minority director talent is growing at a faster rate than previously evidenced,” Kramer said.

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