Headshot of Sheryl Hilliard Tucker, Executive Director.

An update on the movement to make full board representation a reality

By Sheryl Hilliard Tucker, Executive Director, The Board Challenge

March 26, 2021

While much of the country is caught up in March Madness and the countdown to the Final Four, the push to diversify corporate boardrooms continues to unveil a wealth of Black talent across all industries. The pipeline myth is officially busted. We are encouraged by the outstanding new Black directors joining companies of all sizes, but we’re continuing to drive more organizations to take action – and fast.

Since The Board Challenge launched in September 2020, 13 of our Pledge Partners and unprecedented numbers of Nasdaq, NYSE, Russell 3000 and newly minted public companies and private firms have appointed Black board directors. Over the past decade, Black directorship often felt like it was climbing in slow motion. Significant barriers stymied change and a limited group of heavy-hitting Black directors, including two of The Board Challenge’s most ardent Supporters, Les Brun and Shellye Archambeau, were tapped for open seats.

What changed in 2020? No doubt the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequent reckoning on systemic racism kick-started unprecedented momentum toward stronger board representation. And like Brun and Archambeau, many highly respected Black directors are now publicly fighting to increase the pool of Black leaders and place the next generation of board-ready candidates into new roles.

Still, this is not the time to take a break. The Board Challenge encourages our Partners and Supporters to lean in, double down and keep introducing your colleagues and networks to the benefits of board diversity. The Board Challenge founders – Brad Gerstner, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy and Guy Primus – connect with CEOs and investors every week to drive this movement forward.

The Board Challenge is ready to do more, and we need your help

  • Contact The Board Challenge team to set up an introductory meeting and explore ways to leverage your professional network to help make corporate boards more diverse
  • Visit our new website and share it with your network
  • Refer board-ready leaders to our team so we can recommend top talent to our Partners
  • Engage theBoardlist and Valence to curate a free slate of board candidates for your organization

Recent board diversity trends and highlights

  • An expanded bench of players stepped up their advocacy. Corporate America, investors, social justice organizations, elected officials and the media are leveraging their muscle, using new tools and finding common ground in the movement for board diversity. Bold moves from companies like Goldman Sachs and The Carlyle Group to increase board representation are game-changing strategies and hard for other companies to ignore.
  • Powerhouse thought leaders McKinsey, PwC, Deloitte, Diligent, Harvard and others are releasing and reissuing a torrent of compelling research that makes a hard-to-deny business case linking corporate performance with board diversity.
  • Nasdaq leveraged a massive body of empirical research in its proposal to the SEC to make board diversity a requirement for listing. NYSE continues this work through its Initiative to Advance Board Diversity. Both organizations are Charter Partners of The Board Challenge.
  • California Assembly Bill 979, requiring California-based companies to have at least one director from an underrepresented community, has inspired New York, New Jersey and other states to take action.
  • The Executive Leadership Council (ELC) and the Thirty Percent Coalition are ensuring Black executives and corporate America keep diverse leadership a C-suite and board priority. ELC is a major feeder of the board diversity pipeline, as evidenced by its regular board announcements on LinkedIn.
  • The media is shining light on often unspoken barriers to progress and opportunities for success in building fuller board representation. Black Enterprise’s Boardroom Chats – which will feature our co-founder, Guy Primus, next month – dissect these complex challenges. And check out SAVOY for a steady stream of newly elected Black directors.

Color photo of Guy Primus at a baseball field.

Guy Primus Offers 120 S&P 500 Companies Help Finding Black Directors

The Board Challenge co-founder talks about the challenges facing the board diversity movement and how directors could be doing more.

Black and white headshot photograph of Aishetu Fatima Dozie.

Beyond the Board: Aishetu Fatima Dozie

Aishetu Dozie is the newest board member at Altimeter Growth Corp. (AGC), a SPAC formed by Altimeter Capital focused on the tech sector.

Aisha, as her friends and colleagues call her, was already a seasoned Finance professional when her personal interests and passion led her to pursue entrepreneurship. She’s since proven herself a skilled business leader across many different environments. From supporting transactions in both the public and private markets to launching her own company, Aisha brings an extraordinary mix of high-level insight and hands-on grit to the AGC board.

What benefits do your unique background and skill set bring to the AGC board?

Prior to AGC, “I had already spent many years in boardrooms, primarily evaluating credit decisions,” she explains. A former investment banker in both the US and Africa, Aisha specialized in mergers and acquisitions. She developed a keen eye for “evaluating what makes a company special, the synergies that come out of that and how to sell it.” Those insights, combined with her experience building her own cosmetics company, Bossy Beauty, allow her to uniquely internalize the needs and perspective of all parties involved in AGC transactions.

What led you to the board opportunity at AGC?

When her career pivoted to entrepreneurship, Aisha missed pieces of Finance. She felt it was important that she continue to leverage that experience. She became interested in board seats, yet found she wasn’t in the right networks. “It’s not like applying for a job. The board process is not transparent at all,” she explains. With the help of some mentors, she put together a board biography and shared with those in her network. Ultimately, a classmate from business school introduced her to Brad Gertsner, the CEO of Altimeter Growth Corp.

What made the opportunity at AGC the right fit for you?

From the start, Aisha was impressed by the work that Brad and AGC were doing. Reimagining the way that companies go public, Aisha says, “is like a rebranding exercise.” Brad and the rest of the board focus “on a high quality experience [for the company/founder] and getting to market quickly and efficiently”. That was innovative and intriguing to her.

She was also compelled by Brad and AGC’s commitment to diversity, Brad’s leadership of The Board Challenge in particular. For her, “it’s the decisions that go beyond performative speech,” she explains.

What do you think will make you a successful board member?

Aisha explains she has been fortunate to have strong mentors, already serving on multiple public boards, to guide her through the learning curve. However, new online groups, like theBoardlist and Him for Her, have also been great resources. She’s made sure to attend webinars and discussions wherever possible. Also, she feels fortunate to be in a supportive environment where she can learn as she goes.

“How can I be of service here?” is a question that Aisha often asks herself. She believes that as a board member it’s important to understand the domain expertise you bring and ensure you are a value add in that specific area. “My voice matters at certain meetings [and less at others]”, she explains. “I’ll speak on issues where I have a very strong opinion.” Aisha’s thoughtful approach, combined with her unique perspective and voice, will undoubtedly prove to be an invaluable asset to the team at AGC.

Black and white headshot photograph of Lizette Williams.

Beyond the Board: Lizette Williams

Lizette Williams is the newest board member at RealSelf, a platform that provides information and reviews for people considering elective cosmetic treatments.

Lizette Williams is a seasoned marketing and advertising executive, having led teams at both large consumer companies and, most recently, Facebook. However, she is best known for her expertise in multicultural marketing and cutting-edge work at the intersection of brands, culture and technology. Lizette’s innovative approach and hands-on experience addressing the needs of a diverse consumer base will prove indispensable as the RealSelf team continues to grow its platform.

What experiences in your career have positioned you for a seat on RealSelf’s board?

Lizette began her marketing career cutting her chops with the best. Over 13 years, she held increasingly senior roles at consumer product and restaurant leaders, including Pepsi, Kimberly-Clark and McDonald’s. While building a strong marketing base, she became intrigued by the critical role that technology was playing within her industry. Lizette decided that a digital native experience would deepen her marketing toolkit. She made the calculated decision to join Facebook, where she had previously been a client during her time at McDonalds. She now leads a global marketing team helping companies across multiple industries maximize their potential on the platform. She explains that this role allows her to drive cultural relevance and impact on an even broader scale.

How were you connected to the RealSelf board opportunity?

Lizette was introduced to the RealSelf team through a friend and former colleague who was acquainted with RealSelf’s current CEO. RealSelf was looking for a seasoned marketing expert to join their board. Moreover, they were motivated to add a member who could bring a diverse perspective and voice to their team. “Diversity informs standards of beauty,” explains Lizette. Lizette and RealSelf leadership both believed there was an “untapped opportunity” for the company to engage a fast-growing base of diverse consumers seeking cosmetic treatments.

How did you know that the RealSelf board position was a good fit?

RealSelf’s vision spoke to Lizette from the first interaction. She explains that Realself “aims to provide equity in the cosmetic procedure space, something previously held only for affluent people. “Regardless of your socio-economic background, gender or race, [the platform] empowers you to make decisions about your body, as a human being.” She was inspired by this mission. The more she learned about the platform, the more intrigued she was; she saw enormous potential in the company. Women – diverse women, in particular – have an increasing propensity to spend. She notes that “there are very few platforms that speak to them.”

How was your experience joining the RealSelf board?

Lizette has served on the board of the Chicago Advertising Federation for seven years, the city’s oldest marketing trade organization, where she formerly served as President and chairs the Diversity Thought Leaders’ Council. In joining RealSelf, she found that there were many similarities in serving on a for-profit board. However, she was impressed by the unique, supportive culture she found at RealSelf.

“Everyone was so supportive because I was new,” she explained, “and [multiple people] reached out to set up calls, to help me know what to expect, and discuss the pre-reads.” The company’s executive chairman, Tom Seery, even reached out in advance of the first meeting!

Lizette was also invited to the company’s quarterly all-hands meeting, where her appointment was announced. She describes the “collegial environment” she experienced while on site. She was particularly blown away when an employee of a diverse background sent her a note and told her how happy she was that Lizette would be joining the board.

With Lizette’s expertise and infectious passion for consumer-centric, modern marketing, there is no doubt that many others – from board members to platform users – will be thankful Lizette has joined the RealSelf team.

Black and white headshot photograph of Claire Cormier Thielke.

Beyond the Board: Claire Cormier Thielke

Claire Cormier Thielke is the newest board member at Zillow Group, a real estate and rental marketplace dedicated to empowering consumers and connecting them to professionals who can help.

Claire began her career in real estate young – at just 13 years old, she persuaded her family to move after locating the perfect home on the MLS! The early start clearly paid off. Since then, she’s served as Chief Operating Officer of Investment Management for Hines and, most recently, managing director of Hines Asia-Pacific. Claire’s industry expertise, combined with the rigor she’s developed after decades as a professional track and field athlete, is certain to support and strengthen Zillow’s boardroom.

How will your professional background and experiences benefit the team at Zillow?

“Zillow,” Claire explains, “is at the cutting edge of real estate.” She believes that her experience in urban planning and design as well as scaling real estate portfolios will be helpful to the company as it enters the “Zillow 2.0” era, expanding its offerings to principal acquisition and risk-taking. She is also excited to apply the lessons learned in fund management to board work.

Claire is fascinated by how cities grow and evolve. She focused her studies on urban planning and began her real estate career in emerging markets. With every new role, Claire has been careful to reflect on lessons learned from previous projects and experiences. “You can see patterns in one place and apply that to others,” she explains. These insights have served her well as she’s taken on more senior and visible roles and will play a role in her work as a board member.

How did you know that Zillow was the right fit for you?

From the first conversation with the Zillow team, Claire was compelled. She explains that when deciding to join a board, whether for profit or non-profit, “there’s a level of introspection [that I look for]. What’s on their roadmap – strategy, tech, people?” She believed that “Zillow had [this introspection] in spades. It was part of their DNA.”

Zillow’s commitment to diversity also deeply resonated with Claire. “It’s a brave thing to be so blunt, to be open about the need to add diversity. They took the [The Board Challenge] pledge, set a goal, made it public, and then delivered” she explains. “Nobody says they want less diversity, but few are willing to ‘walk the walk’ especially when moving with Zillow’s hallmark deliberate speed.”

How will you contribute as a board member at Zillow?

Claire uses a clever athletic analogy to describe joining a board. ”It’s like coming into the relay race, mid-way,” she explains in that it’s important to get up to speed quickly and learn the dynamics of the organization. She focuses on asking the right questions, adding value as a thought partner and bringing perspective to the management team.

As she reflects upon her own growth as both a professional and a board member, she draws upon yet another insightful athletic reference. “Practice is painful, but you put in the reps so that when you get to the competition – you’ve seen it before.” There is no doubt that Claire will bring that same competitive spirit and tenacity to her work within Zillow’s boardroom.

Black and white headshot photograph of Pam El.

Beyond the Board: Pam El

Pam El is the newest board member at Ranpak, a manufacturer of protective paper packaging materials and systems.

Each chapter of Pam El’s career has been more interesting and impressive than the next. After almost two decades in advertising, followed by executive marketing roles in companies spanning startups to big insurance to the NBA, she now owns her own consulting practice. She has also dedicated the final chapter of her career to board service. She recently joined the board at Ranpak, where she is positioned to leverage her marketing background to support the company through unprecedented changes in the retail and sustainability landscape.

Tell us more about your background and the transitions you’ve made in your career as an advertising and marketing executive.

Pam spent the early years of her career within advertising agencies, supporting clients across all verticals. After developing a deep industry expertise, she made the calculated decision to switch to the client side. Pam found a home within the insurance world, taking increasingly senior roles and ascending to Vice President at State Farm and SVP at Nationwide. However, in 2014 Pam landed her “dream job”, as she calls it. Pam admits herself a sports fanatic, with basketball her favorite sport. To land the job of EVP and Global CMO of the NBA was truly a dream come true.

However, unsurprisingly, Pam’s ambition didn’t stop there. Her vision for the final chapter of her career was clear: board service. After nearly five years, Pam left the NBA. She took a year to travel and “play” (which, as expected given Pam’s record, was hardly that; she also established her consulting practice). Pam then turned her attention to board opportunities.

Why is board work important to you?

Pam’s passion for board service stems from having seen it in action as an executive over the years. “The ‘noses in, fingers out’ approach is truly unique,” she shares. “Board work focuses on strategy that guides execution.” The opportunity to transition from her previous experience and focus in the corporate world was intriguing to her.

Pam also notes, “I didn’t want to sit around in retirement!” Her unmatched energy – as well as her desire to continue evolving her career – is a fantastic fit for board service.

How were you connected with the Ranpak board?

In business and in life, connections are everything. Pam had worked with Michael Gliedman at the NBA, where he was Chief Information Officer. After he left the NBA, they stayed in touch. Michael subsequently became a Ranpak board member and then the company’s CTO. In late 2019, Michael introduced Pam to Omar Asali, CEO of Ranpak.

Pam flew to New York in March 2020 to meet several of Ranpak’s board members. She recalls having wonderful conversations and capping off the trip with a Knicks game. As luck would have it, a week later the COVID-19 pandemic brought all business travel to a screeching halt.

Omar called Pam shortly after her trip. She had impressed the board and Omar wanted to move forward. Pam inquired, “so am I still interviewing?” Omar simply said, “My word is my bond.

Pam was moved by Omar’s transparency and integrity; it further affirmed to her that Ranpak was the right fit. She now feels incredibly lucky to have met her fellow board members in person, although she’s been impressed by the board’s focus and perseverance in a virtual setting.

What advice do you have for a Black professional seeking board opportunities?

“Watch and listen to people who look and act like the person you want to become,” Pam shares. She believes you can learn a lot just from keeping your eyes and ears open. Pam also notes that she has built a great network, particularly of African American females, who have supported her in her career. When she decided to explore board roles, they were equally invested in her success.

Pam’s roles on nonprofit boards, including service at her alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, also shaped her skills and experience. “I had often been told that non-profit work didn’t count. I disagree with that,” says Pam. She explains that the governance, materials and board discussions were excellent preparation for her work at Ranpak.

Lastly, Pam advises diverse candidates to be discerning about board roles. “If someone comes to you and says ‘I just need an African American female,’ turn and walk away,” notes Pam. “What they should say is [I need] consumer data expertise, someone who has dealt with customers. And I’m looking for diversity on my board so I would prefer an African American female.”

The sage advice comes from someone who has not only blazed a trail in marketing and advertising, but also committed the latter half of her career to giving back. Pam’s contributions – both to Ranpak’s board as well as to future African American board candidates – will not go unappreciated.