How to Improve Corporate Board Diversity

To increase opportunities for Black business executives and leaders, corporate board members must be willing to support new diverse talent.


Air Date: June 23, 2022

Moderator: Rick Wade, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Marcel Bucsescu, Senior Director, Credentialing & Engagement, National Association of Corporate Directors

Featured Guests: Dennis Lanham, Executive Director, Silicon Valley Executive Center, Santa Clara University, Latricia Boone, Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Quaadman, Executive Vice President, Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness (CCMC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Sue Siegel, Board Member, Chairman, Advisor, Cynthia Burks, Board Member, Advisor

Increasing diversity in America’s boardrooms is a top priority for U.S.-based companies. But to improve opportunities for Black business executives and leaders, existing board members must be willing to support new diverse talent.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), and the Black Corporate Board Readiness program (BCBR) at Santa Clara University gathered to discuss the current landscape for corporate boards at a recent Equality of Opportunity event. Speakers shared best practices on strategies to achieve diversity and inclusion.

Authentic Conversations Encourage Up-and-Coming Board Members

Sue Siegel, board member, chairman, and advisor for multiple companies and organizations, said there is an overwhelming amount of board diversity programs because of the high demand for them.

“But what drew me to Santa Clara [is] quality … and the authenticity of the experience that Santa Clara University was offering, particularly through the BCBR,” she said.

“What I have found … is you want to find those programs that really will provide folks [who] are both qualified, but also understand their role on the board,” she continued.

Siegel noted the BCBR excels by running sessions where they ask the questions among members like “What does it mean to be a Black corporate board member?”, “What is your role, particularly as we’re breaking through with diversity onto boards that have not had the diversity?” and “What is your role being either the first or maybe the second underrepresented minority?”

“That intimate conversation amongst knowledgeable, practiced board members and those [who] are actually training is so authentic and reveals so much in terms of not just the mechanics and the technical aspects of things, but frankly, what you need in terms of character,” she said. “And this character of leadership to be able to have the privilege of representing a company — but also representing a population.”

Peer-to-Peer Learning Is an Integral Part of Cultivating Vulnerability

Through programs like the BCBR, up-and-coming board members can help facilitate the necessary learning and training to thrive.

“From an executive education standpoint, there are a few things that I just believe make for good learning, specifically executive-level learning,” said Dennis Lanham, Executive Director of Silicon Valley Executive Center at Santa Clara University. “One is that you gotta have peer-to-peer learning. So it’s really important to put together cohort members [who] can learn from each other, and you gotta create a sense of vulnerability in the classroom.”

Because the program is virtual due to the pandemic, Lanham noted they had to be more creative when creating an environment that would lend itself to that level of vulnerability.

“The other piece that I think makes for really good executive ed is it’s not necessarily faculty models,” he said. “Faculty models are a huge piece of value for any executive ed program, but … when you’re being taught by someone with lived experience, either as a woman or as a Black corporate director who perhaps has had experiences that are unlike their counterparts in that boardroom, the … level of learning and intimacy that comes from that can be very powerful for participants.”

Lanham stressed the importance of pulling the right facilitators and mentors to teach and support board-ready candidates.

Accelerating Board Diversity Requires a Supportive Network

When Cynthia Burks, board member and advisor to multiple companies, tried navigating her transition to the boardroom, she was met with many barriers.

“When I started my board journey, honestly, I knew nothing,” she said. In fact, she viewed it as an opportunity to leverage her business, legal, and HR background.

“I didn’t have a network to go to ask questions,” she continued. “[The BCBR] really offers the specifics around: What does the interview process look like? How do you market yourself? How do you build a board bio? How do you talk about compensation? What’s reasonable to ask, and at what point in the process?”

“It also really helped us understand the differences between companies and what that might look like in terms of board responsibilities,” she continued. “I was really fortunate to connect to this group so that as I continued my board journey, I had resources that I could really rely on.”