For over 15 years, Chicago United has prepared executives of color for board seats. Their program, Business Leaders of Color (BLC) has presented over 400 leaders with all holding more than 300 corporate board positions.
Given the myth that people of color aren’t qualified to occupy board seats, the BLC aims to debunk it. Tiffany Hamel Johnson said, “The BLC combats this by identifying top leaders of color. We go through a rigorous selection process. This confirms their qualifications. Further aligning them with what corporate board recruiters are looking for.” The Chicago United President and CEO added, “This visibility increases their presence. Putting them on corporate board recruiters’ radars. And it’s one of many ways that combats the myth that there unqualified people of color for board seats.”
The origin of the common misconception is unknown. But, Johnson feels that “It’s rooted in historical, structural and systematic factors. And it’s proven to be difficult to overcome, despite the shifts in demographics that we’ve seen. Factors include unconscious bias and barriers. Which has led to an unleveled playing field. But with BLC, we are working hard at debunking the myth.”
“What I have learned is we need people of color in executive-level management. It creates a pipeline that moves them. And without it, it makes it harder to identify people to sit on boards.”
With diversity, equity, and inclusion on the rise, Tiffany envisions improvements. She said, “Last year was an inflection point following the murder of George Floyd. Companies realized they were not doing enough for their Black employees. And there has been a call to action to be more than just a statement. There’s an accountability piece that wasn’t there before.”
As for how people should prepare for board positions, Tiffany advises networking. “Network with those who sit on boards or influence nominating committees. Also, search for companies that are intentional about including people of color.”
She added, “We’re starting to see more companies having board diversity strategies. So when you marry that with networking, there will be an increase in people of color on boards.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion help to drive the performance of a company positively. Having diverse representation increases shareholder value and supplies innovation. When you tie that to the bottom line, and people are held accountable, companies thrive. And that includes at the board level. Because they are creating the policies and practices.”
For more information on Chicago United, visit https://www.chicago-united.org/.
Contributing Writer Racquel Coral is a national lifestyle writer and journalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.