After achieving diversity goals among its board of directors set five years ago, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce has raised the bar for the next five years. And this time, the chamber hopes to spur its 1,300 corporate members to come along.
About 20 percent of the chamber’s seats are held by people of color, and 40 percent are held by women, up from 12 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in 2016. (The chamber has an unusually large board, with 150 or so seats, although much of its work is done by a 33-member executive committee.) The chamber’s leadership decided last week that those diversity numbers simply aren’t good enough. So the chamber informed its members via a memo Tuesday of new targets: By 2026, half the board seats should be held by women, and 37 percent by people of color.
The chamber is urging its member companies to adopt similarly ambitious targets for their boards of directors — and to make those numbers public. It is offering to connect members with professional networking organizations — The Last Mile for women, and The Partnership, Amplify Latinx, ALPFA, and the NAACP for people of color — who could refer prospective board candidates.
“It removes the ‘we can’t find them excuse,’ to say, ‘OK, well, let us help you,’” said Jim Rooney, the chamber’s chief executive. “You often hear that diverse perspectives make you stronger. … We feel like we are a case study in that.”
Reflecting on the twin crises of racism and the COVID-19 pandemic prompted chamber leaders to think about how to open up economic opportunities and make this region more competitive. The chamber is one of several local business organizations that are stepping up their diversity efforts.
“We believe that diverse leadership matters to our ability to attract and inspire the best talent,” said Micho Spring, the chamber’s board chair and New England president at PR firm Weber Shandwick. “More diverse leadership is key to being able to rebuild our economy in a more equitable and sustainable way.”
Spring said the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 brought new urgency to the issue. “We’ve all had conversations with our employees and really understand in a whole new way what the issues have been for people of color,” she said.
This time, the chamber is setting specific racial targets for its own board in 2026: 17 percent Black, 10 percent Asian, 10 percent Latinx. Currently the composition is 13 percent Black, 4 percent Asian, and 3 percent Latinx.
Chamber officials say their research, based on Census data, shows that Blacks hold approximately 4 percent of management jobs in Greater Boston, while Asian residents hold roughly 7 percent and Latinx professionals hold 5 percent. Women, they say, hold about one-third of executive positions in the region, and more than 40 percent of management jobs.
The chamber typically recruits from the pool of top local executives for its board. Its new goals represent much higher levels of diversity.
By being more aggressive, Spring said she hopes the chamber can nudge the rest of the business community along.
“It doesn’t reflect the Boston we are today,” Spring said. “It reflects the Boston we want it to be.”