Boosting Diversity on Corporate Boards


with Cid Wilson of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility


Sep 17, 2018

In 2016, less than 15 percent of all board seats in the Fortune 500 were held by minorities. Despite moderate gains in the past few years, women and minorities – and in particular, Latinas – see little change in representation within the top U.S. companies.

Cid Wilson, President and CEO of Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, joins Nathalia Ortiz to discuss his organization’s efforts to advance the inclusion of Hispanics in corporate America.

Hosted by: Nathalia Ortiz Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Ortiz: Latino buying power contributes $1.5 trillion to the economy, yet Hispanics comprise only 3.5% of board seats across all Fortune 500 companies. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Nathalia Ortiz. With me to discuss Latinos and representation in all areas of corporate America is Cid Wilson, President and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. Cid, welcome.

Wilson: Thank you. Thank you. Great to be here.

Ortiz: Cid, the obvious question is, why are we underrepresented in these boards?

Wilson: So, the big challenge is that Latinos only make up about 3.5% of all the Fortune 500 board seats, despite the fact that we have over $1.5 trillion in economic buying power. We´re a growing economic force in America. We would be the 11th largest economy if we were our own economy. But corporate America treats the board very differently, and corporate boards is about credibility. It´s not just about qualification. And so we have certainly very qualified, very board-ready candidates, but corporate America needs to change its culture of effectively being very clubbish when they select their board seats.

Ortiz: So, what about the current culture within boards do you think is deterring them or maybe not encouraging Hispanics to even want to become a part of their boards, perhaps? Is that part of it?

Wilson: Well, it´s not so much that Hispanics don´t want to be a part of the boards, ´cause we have a lot of Hispanics that are ready to serve on these boards.

Ortiz: Right.

Wilson: But most board selections, 2/3 of board selections, are by word of mouth. If you and I are on a board together and we need a board seat, I´ll go to you to tell me, "Who do you know?"

Ortiz: Right. "I know a guy," right?

Wilson: "Yeah, I know a guy." Country club.

Ortiz: Right. Golf outings.

Wilson: Golf outings, this... "This person would be great for this board." But if you´re not in a diverse environment and you don´t have a diverse board and you yourself may not be in a diverse neighborhood, chances are who you´re gonna refer is not gonna be a diverse candidate.

Ortiz: So, how can we break that cycle? What can we do so that we can... I don´t want to say "infiltrate." That sounds so negative. But just become a part of and integrate ourselves into these boards?

Wilson: Well, there´s a lot of things we can do to integrate. Number one is that we need to be active shareholders, because these are publicly traded companies, and when you buy shares, you have a voice in those annual shareholders meeting. Secondly is reminding companies, who are their consumers? Who are their employees? And who are their talents? And when you make it a priority to the board, you make it a priority to your corporation. And then, three, remind them that your competitor is watching, and if your competitor is doing a better job with diversity, now you´re talking about market share.

Ortiz: And do you think -- Okay, that´s a good point. Do you think that people... They´re not late to the game? Aren´t they late to the game? Like, Hispanics are going into all types of industries and positions and titles, and this just hasn´t happened yet in the boards. Why do you think?

Wilson: You know, I think that what has happened is that we´re seeing more activism to call on companies to be more vocal. You´re seeing media that is giving attention to companies that still do not have diverse boards, that don´t have Hispanics on their boards. There are still companies that have all male, white on their boards. No women, no people of color, and you´re seeing that become increasingly illuminated. And one thing that companies don´t like is bad media. But when that takes place, it raises that concern. But we have to continue to be very active and very vocal and also making sure that they understand that it´s not a check box. It´s not that "I´m doing you a favor." This is a business imperative, because having Hispanics on your board is gonna make your company more profitable, more productive, and even potentially increase their shareholder value.

Ortiz: It also broadens your perspective, right, on -- So, who is your consumer and what do they look like? What do they sound like? What do they want? Because when you´re on the board, you know, you can talk about that, you can speak to that. What is specifically your organization doing to help this? Like, talk to me about action.

Wilson: Yeah. So, the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. We´ve been around since 1986. Our mission is to advance Hispanic inclusion in corporate America at levels commensurate to our economic contributions. So, the way we execute on our mission is, one, programmatically, making sure that we have a pipeline of Latinos that are ready to rise up into the C-suite and into the board. But as we improve the pipeline, we also simultaneously need to make sure we´re working with the companies so that they have the seats that are ready. So we talk to CEOs all the time whenever there´s a vacancy and say...

Ortiz: You´re prepping them.

Wilson: ..."You have a vacancy on your board. Here are some candidates that we know are board-ready. They´re qualified." And we need to be very active with them, with those qualifications, as well as the fact that they´re coming very well-endorsed, so that as they look at their board selections, that we can make sure that Latinos are included. But working with many other organizations and other leaders, because this is not something that we can do by ourselves.

Ortiz: Right.

Wilson: We need to continue to be very vocal with companies, but we also need the shareholders to be active, as well. And all of us, whether you know it or not, are shareholders, whether your 401(k), your IRA...

Ortiz: Right. Yes, absolutely.

Wilson: ...all those things. You are shareholders of your companies without even realizing it, and so you have a voice.

Ortiz: Cid Wilson, thank you for joining us.

Wilson: Thank you.

Ortiz: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Nathalia Ortiz.

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