Headshot of Trevon James, Research Fellow, The Board Challenge.

Black Directors on Why Board Diversity in Tech is Critical

By Trevon James, Research Fellow, The Board Challenge

July 30, 2021

The Board Challenge recently hosted a Clubhouse chat with two tech boardroom insiders to share their perspective on the importance of diverse boards. Our last conversation aimed to dispel the pipeline myth around a lack of Black corporate board-ready talent.

For this installment of our fireside chats, Guy Primus, co-founder of The Board Challenge and CEO of Valence, hosted an insightful conversation with Merline Saintil, Corporate Director at Rocket Lab and Lightspeed,and Dr. Alec Gallimore, Corporate Director at PagerDuty and ANSYS, and the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of the University of Michigan College of Engineering.

Board Diversity in Tech by the Numbers

Despite numerous pledges to improve the representation for women and racial/ethnic minorities, the tech industry continues to lag behind on diversity metrics. This reality is also reflected in the boardroom of companies across the spectrum- from pre-IPO and venture-backed firms to large public companies.

According to the Spencer Stuart Board Index, 172 new directors were added to the top 200 U.S. tech company boards in 2020 for a total of 1,805 current board seats. Black professionals make up just 3% of the total, holding 55 seats. These numbers may not be encouraging, but the movement to turn the trend around shows promise.

Our two guest speakers, representing a growing cadre of exceptional Black tech board directors, shined a light on where tech boardrooms should be heading.

Change Agents for Innovation and Growth

Saintil and Gallimore hold a combined eight public and private board positions. Often tapped for her expertise in cybersecurity, Saintil sits on six corporate boards. The former tech executive’s extensive strategy and product development experience at such companies as Intel, Yahoo and Paypal fuels her high-demand status for director seats across industries.

Committed to expanding the numbers of Black corporate directors, Saintil co-founded Black Women on Boards and counsels faculty members at the Santa Clara University Black Corporate Directors Program.

Gallimore is the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan, one the nation’s top engineering colleges. In 2019, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest professional distinctions for an engineer. Currently, Gallimore sits on two publicly traded boards. He is a rocket scientist who has also served on advisory boards for NASA and the Department of Defense, including the United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.

“Great board members can be game-changers for companies,” reports the global organizational firm Korn Ferry. “Organizations have found they need to recruit directors with a depth and breadth of technology knowledge, including digital, social media, e-commerce, technology infrastructure and cybersecurity. They’re reaching beyond CEOs and veteran board members and into C-suites to find directors with new knowledge, experience and viewpoints.”

For Saintil, it was her background in cybersecurity and insights for risk management; for Gallimore, it was his high-level security clearance and experience in the defense industry and at NASA.

Although Gallimore did not have tech industry experience before serving on corporate boards, he quickly assessed that “companies need directors who know where to skate and where the puck is headed from a technological perspective.”

Unfortunately, he explained, companies often “use the most convenient way of finding talent” and don’t expand their search wide enough. “For something as important as [board] talent, why not be as rigorous, as broad and as encompassing in our ability to bring in the most talented people possible? Tech boards as well as other industries must find talent that add unique thought processes to the room.”

Saintil said that approach sometimes requires acting like a diversity officer: “I can’t help but show up as who I am.” By “offering her rolodex” she recommends diverse candidates during otherwise narrow search processes.

Saintil, who attended the Stanford Directors’ College before her first board appointment, advised prospective board candidates to find their voice and be concise about what contribution they can make to a boardroom.

Gallimore agreed, encouraging prospective and current directors to “be an agent for the change you wish to see. We need you all to be daring, to be innovative and to be bold.”

Snagajob logo: with letters on a cobalt and purple ground.

Snagajob Joins The Board Challenge as a Pledge Partner

The company commits to add one Black director to its board within one year

July 8, 2021

NEW YORK, July 8, 2021 — The Board Challenge, a movement to accelerate representation for Black leaders on the boards of U.S. companies, announced today that Snagajob, the country’s largest and fastest-growing platform for hourly work, has signed on as a Pledge Partner. By joining The Board Challenge, Snagajob commits to adding a Black director to its board within the next 12 months.

Valence and theBoardlist, co-founders of The Board Challenge, will provide free slates of top director candidates tailored to Snagajob’s board search criteria to strengthen and expedite the company’s recruitment efforts.

“I am pleased to count Snagajob among our Pledge Partners and to collaborate to identify quality candidates for their open board seat,” said Sheryl Hilliard Tucker, executive director of The Board Challenge. “We are seeing real momentum in the push to diversify corporate boards. I continue to advocate for all companies to tap into the vast pipeline of qualified, board-ready Black talent.”

Snagajob joins companies including Zillow, Amperity, Accolade and Nextdoor as Pledge Partners. The Board Challenge has 75+ Partners and Supporters in total who are working across industries to make board diversity a business imperative.

“We know board diversity is a strategic advantage, and believe a variety of perspectives enhances board performance and company success,” Snagajob CEO Mathieu Stevenson said. “Snagajob is excited to partner with the Board Challenge to be part of the movement to increase Black director representation on our own board, while encouraging others to do the same. We hope more of our employees, customers and hourly workers can see themselves on a board one day, and this is an important step toward making that a reality.”

Both public and private U.S. companies are encouraged to take The Board Challenge pledge. Companies that already have at least one Black director are invited to join as Charter Partners and tap their networks to motivate other organizations to take action.

For more information and to take the pledge or express your support, reach out to join@theboardchallenge.org.

About Snagajob

Snagajob, the country’s largest marketplace for hourly jobs and shifts, connects more than 47 million hourly job seekers with employment opportunities at 470,000 employer locations in the US. Snagajob’s mission is to put people in the right-fit positions so they can maximize their potential and live more fulfilling lives. Through Snagajob, workers gain the flexibility of working when and where they choose while employers are assured every shift stays filled. For more information, visit www.snagajob.com or connect with us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

About The Board Challenge

The Board Challenge is a movement to increase representation and accelerate progress for Black board directors at public and private U.S. companies. The initiative was founded in September 2020 by Brad Gerstner (CEO, Altimeter Capital), Sukhinder Singh Cassidy (Founder and Chair, theBoardlist) and Guy Primus (CEO, Valence Community). Companies that take the pledge commit to adding at least one Black director to their board within 12 months, and can leverage resources from theBoardlist and Valence to enhance the search process, including a free, custom slate of top candidates.

For media inquiries, contact:
The Board Challenge


The Seattle downtown skyline, as seen from the Puget Sound. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

The push for corporate board diversity is growing. How do Pacific NW tech companies stack up?

This special series focuses on important community issues, innovative solutions to societal challenges, and people and non-profit groups making an impact through technology.

Headshot of Trevon James, Research Fellow, The Board Challenge.

Turbocharging the Movement to Diversify Corporate Boards: Dispelling the Pipeline Myth

By Trevon James, Research Fellow, The Board Challenge

June 15, 2021

The Board Challenge hosted a second fireside chat on Clubhouse, the invitation-only social networking platform. After addressing the real story behind the recruitment of Black corporate directors in our inaugural discussion, the speakers on June 9 explored what’s driving the movement to increase board diversity and challenged the myth that America lacks enough board-ready African Americans.

Guy Primus, co-founder of The Board Challenge and CEO of Valence, facilitated the conversation with Radina Russell, senior managing director at Teneo and Rhonda Mims, chief legal and external affairs officer at ICMA Retirement Corporation.

These three influential board diversity advocates are forging effective coalitions dedicated to making change and taking immediate action. Russell is a founding board member of the Board Diversity Action Alliance (BDAA) and helped build the Executive Leadership Council’s early efforts to increase board diversity. The ELC has been a primary source of new Black directors in private and public companies over the past several years.

Mims chairs the Thirty Percent Coalition, a forum of public and private companies, professional services firms, institutional investors, government officials and major advocacy groups working together to increase diversity in corporate boardrooms. She also serves on the board of Athena Alliance Inc., which focuses on preparing women for board positions.

Just days before the Clubhouse event, the Alliance for Board Diversity and Deloitte published the second Missing Pieces Report, which revealed that Black directors held 8.7% (510) Fortune 500 board seats in 2020, up from 8.6% (486) in 2018. Since July 2020, 32% of new board members appointed in the S&P 500 are Black. Also, the BoardProspects report issued in March 2021 revealed that 5.4% of the 27,000 total board members for Russell 3000 companies are Black.

While these developments are encouraging, the speakers agreed that we have a long way to go to reach parity on corporate boards.

Public pressure; impressive talent pipelines

What’s turbocharging the board diversity movement? For starters, there’s no shortage of Black boardroom talent.

Before delving in the Black talent pipeline myths, all three speakers underscored the importance of the Black Lives Matter social and racial justice movement along with the protests surrounding the murder of Geroge Floyd in 2020 as catalysts for the surge in appointments of Black directors across public and private companies.

Equally as important, new laws requiring public companies operating in states like California and Washington to diversify their boards are already showing results. According to CNBC, the California mandate has prompted more than a dozen companies to sign pledges and prioritize the appointments of minority board members. Plus, new proposed Nasdaq rules mandating board diversity of companies listed on the world’s largest electronic exchange are signaling to companies that change is on the horizon.

Although the transformation of a boardroom’s diversity should be organic, it needs a strong push at the outset, Russell explained. Investors, corporate governance agencies and the media are turning words into action by working together to build awareness and advocate for change. As a result, more corporations are feeling the pressure to deliver on the diversity pledges made at the height of last year’s unrest. One year later, tracking the progress on these promises in tech and other industries shows mixed results.

Mims acknowledged that although many leaders reject quotas and want to make sure people are qualified before they serve on a board, legislative mandates open doors for underrepresented candidates. She suggested that organic progress takes time, and these initiatives and mandates are helpful for the time being, largely in part because of the momentum they generate.

Russell believes board diversity initiatives must be strategic to be effective. Bringing on any diverse director is not enough. Companies must clearly identify what they are looking for in terms of roles to be filled and skill sets needed to meet their goals.

Still, despite the recent flurry of elections and appointments of experienced Black executives, entrepreneurs and investors to America’s largest companies and hottest tech firms, the pipeline myth surrounding the lack of board-ready Black talent prevails.

That’s why conversations like this fireside chat are so important, Mims said. Demystifying the corporate board recruitment process and clarifying credentials helps Black professionals understand what’s required to serve on a board.

The fact that more Black professionals – especially younger women and men with deep investment, consulting and tech backgrounds – are stepping up to express interest in board positions has helped build a diverse pipeline.

“We can’t be afraid to be vocal about our aspirations,” Primus said.

Board members interacting around a table.

Black Directors Gained Ground in the Boardroom as Others Slipped

New Black directors were near triple the 2019 share, Heidrick & Struggles found

6 office pens of different colors, rubber banded together, and upright.

You say you want a more diverse board. Here's how to make it happen.

Research reveals four commonly cited obstacles and how to overcome them.

Artwork showing overlapping transparent silhouettes in black and white on the left, blending in a wash into bright colors on the right.

Nasdaq Proposed Rules Promote Board Diversity: What Businesses Need to Know

Nasdaq proposed new rules that would require listed companies to have minimum diverse representation on their boards of directors—or explain why they do not—and provide public disclosures about this to investors and others.

Digital artwork collage showing people in a boardroom with a city landscape outside the windows.

What companies can do to speed up board diversity

Companies promised to make their boards more diverse. Here’s how to actually do it.

Back and white etching type drawings of 3 headshots. From left, Michael Garland, a New York City assistant comptroller; John W. Rogers Jr., founder of Ariel Investments; and Dale Jones, CEO of Diversified Search Group.

How to Increase the Number of Black Board Members

If you peek inside a typical corporate board meeting, odds are you won’t see any Black members seated around the table.

A woman speaking at a news conference about the Equality Act in 2019.

A Hidden Hurdle in Efforts to Diversify Boardrooms

Some companies are reluctant to let lower-level managers become outside directors, adding a systemic impediment to the push.