A Moment Defined: Corporate Board Composition and Intersectionality, the Broadening Conceptualization of Gender-only to Gender and Race
Clark, Agenia W.
This study explores the experiences of African-American females (AA/Fs) who serve as corporate board directors of public and private corporations in the United States. Questions that guided this research attempted to offer insights into who these AA/Fs are and how they ascended to corporate boardrooms. Because there are few AA/Fs on corporate boards, this study aims to identify the commonalities that attribute to success among these women. Findings from this study included: (1) AA/F corporate directors felt that the most important resources available to them included networks, connections, and a dependency on white men who are already in the boardroom. The data also showed that these women had all served on non-profit boards, which served as resources for their networks and relationships, along with a heavy reliance on academics. All had advanced-level degrees (JDs, MBAs, PhDs, etc.) and had amassed mid- to senior-level business experience. (2) Respondents named a willingness to prepare for each board meeting, being comfortable asking questions, and accepting that one is not in the boardroom to be an expert on everything. Many discussed their initial fears that they had to compete and know about everything regarding the business. The skill they most heavily relied on were overcoming their fear of being the only woman and the only black person in the boardroom, which can be uncomfortable, but is necessary to overcome. It is also interesting to note that, according to the data, the majority of the women did not think that knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order, a standard in boardroom governance, was a necessary skill to have in order to effectively serve on boards. (3) All were confident that this is the best time to seek out boardroom opportunities. AA/Fs bring perspectives that can fill many gaps as businesses look to represent more of their constituents, an observation repeatedly made by the respondents. Study participants also shared that, in order for AA/Fs to secure board seats, there must be an intentional and targeted effort at networking because, in order to get an invitation, someone has to know you. These AA/Fs felt that their invitations occurred when they least expected them, but they felt that their professional experiences best prepared them to serve. Most of the women in this study had served on at least one corporate board, while several had served on as many as six. Many felt that one invitation into a corporate boardroom is an entrée into others if the opportunity is approached intentionally.