A Seat at the Table: Black Executives Discuss Landing On Corporate Boards at Black Men Xcel Summit
Three Black corporate executives sat down for a lunchtime conversation on how Black men and women can get on corporate boards at the Black Men Xcel Summit.
The chat featured Citizens Bancshares Corporation Chairman Ray Robinson, FedEx Senior Vice President Shannon Brown and Thompson Hospitality Corporation Chairman Warren M. Thompson. The chat was hosted by Black Enterprise Editor-in-Chief Derek Dingle.
Robinson, who serves on numerous corporate boards, including American Airlines, the Georgia Aquarium and Progressive Finance, started the panel by discussing why corporate boards are important and why Black Men and women should be represented on them.
“I think it’s obvious to me why it’s important that we seek out opportunities to be on corporate boards Because we basically are the ones that keep America in business,” Robinson told the panel. “We’re active consumers and the way you ensure that you get a piece of the pie is and that your community is being served well is you have to have a voice in the boardroom where decisions are being made and so I firmly believe that the idea of being on a corporate board gives you a voice at the table and a voice that really matters.
“Why do I think it’s important for African-Americans to be there, because we represent a very large part of the consumer base for just about every company in the world.”
According to Harvard, there were 449 new board members appointed in Fortune 500 companies in 2022 Black people accounted for six percent of corporate board seats.
Thompson added that when it comes to equity pledges corporations made in 2020 the role the board should play is ensuring the company acts on its pledges.
“When pledges and Commitments are made, it goes back to the accountability aspect of it,” Brown, who has been with FedEx for more than four decades, told the panel. ”The board should hold the CEO accountable to execute and deliver on those promises so absolutely, the board has a role in that.”
Thompson also talked about DEI pledges and strategies saying that if companies just hire people, their strategy will fail. Instead, it has to be a coordinated effort, which can’t be done overnight.
“DEI is a strategy just like any other strategy, You can’t just go out and say I want to hire two of these and three of these and say okay I have a DEI program, as Ray just stated that’s not sustainable,” Brown added.
“A good DEI strategy and organization understand how people come into an organization, who’s being groomed, who’s being developed, who’s being given the responsibilities so people can see them and what they do and that takes time, so it has to be a strategy.”
The men also touched on how Black men and women can start their path to corporate boards.
”The first boards I joined gave me access to CEOs for major corporations so that was the first step to getting into that club, if you will. Things have changed from 25 years ago, now there are agencies out there that really work for the boards and screen and do a lot of recruiting.”
Thompson added on of the most prominent one of the most prominent recruiters is The Ferguson Group out of Chicago which has established an African-American advisory board to find qualified African-Americans for corporate boards.
According to Thompson, there are another 10 boards like the Ferguson group that do the same.
Thompson added one of the most prominent recruiters is the Ferguson group out of Chicago which has established an African-American advisory board to find qualified African Americans for corporate boards.
According to Thompson, there are more boards like this focused on getting more Black people on corporate boards.
“I would suggest getting to know people through university associations and nonprofit associations but also going through the agencies and getting your resume in their data bank