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Fortune 500 board diversity shows improvement, study finds

The number of Fortune 500 companies whose boards are more than 40% diverse has more than doubled in six years, said results of a study published by the Alliance for Board Diversity in collaboration with Deloitte.

The study, "Missing Pieces Report: The 2018 Board Diversity Census of Women and Minorities on Fortune 500 Boards," found that in 2018, nearly one-third of all Fortune 500 boards — 145 — have greater than 40% diversity. This is up from the 69 companies in 2012.

"It's indicative of a change being made," said Linda Akutagawa, chairwoman for the Alliance for Board Diversity, and president and CEO of Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics. "Stakeholders are seeing the value of diverse perspectives on boards, and we're seeing them be more vocal for greater diversity."

Ms. Akutagawa added: "There's actual data showing that boards with diversity actually are seeing better innovation, better market performance."

Deborah DeHaas, vice chairman and national managing partner of the Deloitte Center for Board Effectiveness, added that not only is this "the highest (level of) diversity we've seen since we began recording this in 2004," but the "pace of change is accelerating."

"Given the environment that companies are operating in today, the world's getting increasingly complex, and there's extreme value in bringing diverse skills and experiences needed to address complex business issues to boards and executive leadership ranks," Ms. DeHaas added.

Other findings from the study include that Asian/Pacific Islander women and African-American/black women made the largest percentage gains in board seats in both the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500, larger than any other group or gender. Asian/Pacific Islander women saw an increase in seats of 38.6% in 2018 from 2016, while African-American/black women saw an increase of 26.2%. The last study of this kind was done in 2016.

Overall, women and people of color have made more progress in board representation in Fortune 500 companies between 2016 and 2018 than between 2012 and 2016.

"The representation of women and minorities in the Fortune 100 has reached a high of 38.6%, outpacing the broader Fortune 500, which is 34%," the study said.

The study added: "Despite some notable gains, women and minorities remain underrepresented in the boardroom," with 71 non-white women holding board seats and 167 non-white men having seats, compared to 750 white men being board members of Fortune 100 companies.

Ms. Akutagawa noted that although progress is being made, "underrepresentation is still a key issue," pointing out that of the new directors added between 2016 and 2018, more than half of them were white men.

"There's still work to be done," Ms. Akutagawa said.