Change in Corporate America often begins in the board room, and by that measure, the biggest public companies in Massachusetts have a long way to go when it comes to appointing Black directors.
Of the 100 largest public companies in the Commonwealth, close to two-thirds do not have a single Black board member, according to analysis by BoardProspects, an online platform that specializes in corporate director and advisory board searches.
While some companies have achieved a measure of gender and racial diversity on their boards, Black executives have been left behind, accounting for about 4 percent, or only 39 of the 903 board seats tied to the state’s top 100 public companies, according to BoardProspects.
This means Black people, who make up 7 percent of the Massachusetts population and 12 percent of the US, are woefully under-represented, and there can be no excuse for that. Boards now find themselves under pressure to nominate Black directors after the death of George Floyd sparked protests and forced Corporate America to grapple with its role in perpetuating racial inequities.
Among those without a Black board member are some of Massachusetts’s most prominent companies, including BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dunkin’ Brands, HubSpot, State Street, TJX Cos., and Wayfair.
Companies that chose to comment said they value diversity and have women and people of color on their boards. TJX, the Framingham parent of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods, has had Black board members in the past, while Boston online housewares giant Wayfair, which went public in 2014, has never had a Black director.
Three out of Dunkin’s 10 board members are people of color, including Raul Alvarez, who is Latino and the lead independent director, and Irene Chang Britt, who is Asian and chair of the nominating and corporate governance committee. The Canton coffee chain has never had a Black director.
“From 2018 to present, Dunkin’ Brands hiring of diverse candidates has increased each year,” said Dunkin’ chief communications officer Karen Raskopf in a statement. “We remain committed to continuing to work to attract and retain diverse talent at all levels of the organization, including at the corporate leadership and board levels.”
HubSpot cofounder and chief executive Brian Halligan said in a statement he’s “proud of the progress” the Cambridge technology company has made with three women and two leaders of color on the board. But he acknowledges the company needs “to move the needle and to walk the walk with the commitment we’ve made to our Black employees, customers, and partners to make HubSpot a company our grandkids can be proud of, and that includes increasing representation in leadership at every level.”
State Street — whose chief executive Ron O’Hanley recently called for racial diversity on boards of companies it invests in — said in a statement: “While we have taken many steps to address inequality and racism in our organization, in our communities, and through our asset stewardship program, we know we have more work to do.”
Close to one-third of the state’s top 100 public companies have one Black board member, while three companies — Berkshire Hills Bancorp., Boston Scientific, and Rapid7 — have two Black board members each, according to BoardProspects.
Companies have given all kinds of reasons why their boards aren’t more diverse. Chief among them: turnover is slow, and they can’t find enough qualified candidates.
Of course, that is the same set of excuses that kept many women out of boardrooms until public pressure in recent years forced companies to reevaluate how they recruit directors.
Similar barriers hold back Black candidates. Boardrooms will remain a largely white male world, especially if directors continue to pluck names from their own networks.
“You don’t go to the desert for water,” said Donna James, who is Black, and has served on the Boston Scientific board since 2015. “It’s not that potential Black directors aren’t there [but] where are you looking?”
James, a former division president of Nationwide Insurance, has served on more than half a dozen boards over the course of two decades. She said companies need to take “bold measures” to increase the number of Black people not only in the boardroom but in the executive suite.
“We don’t think broadly about cracking the code,” said James. “Where we are today is nowhere where we need to be in Corporate America.”
Rapid7, a Boston cybersecurity firm, has two Black board members, including its chief executive, Corey Thomas, who is also the only Black CEO among the 100 biggest public companies in the state.
When Rapid7 was expanding its board, Thomas knew Brown from his own network and valued his business development skills. “I didn’t reach out to Marc because he was a Black man,” said Thomas.” “He would have been at the top of any list no matter what.”
Thomas said there are plenty of talented Black candidates, but boards need to do the work to find them.
“I don’t think you can actually build a diverse team at all unless you have a diverse network,” said Thomas. “We should all be building our networks over time.”
Mark Rogers, founder and CEO of BoardProspects, the Quincy company that conducted the director analysis for the Globe, said the makeup of boards will change if institutional investors like the State Streets and Vanguards of the world demand diversity.
Rogers also said that change will happen when boards move from an “episodic” to “proactive” recruitment process, planning ahead instead of waiting for an opening to begin a search.
“The nominating committee should always be thinking about board succession,” said Rogers. “Who is on the board now, what’s missing ... how do you create a board pipeline that is diverse?”
BoardProspects maintains an online community of about 3,200 candidates, including more than 300 Black leaders. Among them is Kathy Kountze, senior vice president and chief information officer at Eversource Energy, who has been seeking a board seat for over a year.
Prior to Floyd and the protests, Kountze said, she had no board inquiries from companies. But since then, Kountze said, companies have expressed interest because they seem intentional about broadening their outreach.
“It’s progress that companies are starting to recognize that they need to change the way they look for candidates to fill these positions,” she said.
Kountze, who has been Eversource’s CIO for a decade, said she can bring to a board skills in cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and digital transformation.
“The one thing I fear is someone who wants to check the box,” said Kountze. “I want to go where I can add value.”
Black directors in Massachusetts are where female directors were not that long ago. In 2003, when the Boston Club — a group that advances female leaders ― published its first analysis of women on boards, half of the state’s top 100 public companies did not have a female director. In the 2019 census, 98 of them had at least one woman on the board.
Women have been able to crack the glass ceiling in boardrooms. Now it’s time to act, so that Black executives can do the same.
Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.