Why Boardroom Diversity Matters — Jerusha Stewart

In Corporate America, the boardroom is where strategic decisions are made in terms of capital investments. Decisions that can affect the lives of millions of people. In the past, when organizations have talked about diversifying their boards, they meant gender, which led to a focus on adding white women directors. In terms of racial diversity, the numbers have been dismal. In 2021, 4.1% of directors were Black, while Black women directors represented 1% — essentially approaching invisibility. As a Black woman, this is what drives my passion for creating systemic change in the boardroom.

Now think about how a company expands and how money is invested. Plans are shared among the directors, discussed, and greenlit. For example, one neighborhood will get a bank and another won’t. If someone of color is sitting in that boardroom, someone who can speak up for a community that has a greater need, it is highly likely that financial institution will open in the more deserving community. And the company will have made a potentially more profitable decision. Without that voice, it probably won’t. This is just one aspect of the importance of representation in the Boardroom.

For hundreds of years, Black families have lost out on an influential lottery. In a way we are a lost generation. We went to law school and business school just like our white peers, but there was still a door that we didn’t know about. The door to the room where the most powerful decisions are made and even more money is earned through retainers, liquidity events, and stock holdings granted to those at the table.

When the board diversity movements started last year, many questioned our board qualifications. The answer is we’re as ready as those in the room today when they took their seats. Take Your Seat has created one of the largest directories of Black professional talent that currently exists. In my view, it’s the boards that need to be ready to accept candidates with diverse experiences and perspectives. We’ve doubled down on racial diversity and board inclusivity which has been proven to lead to an increase in their bottom line and positions the board as a company’s competitive advantage. In fact, the push to diversify boards is not only coming from equity accelerators like the recent rules and mandates; it’s emanating from informed shareholders raising their collective voices. Not since the financial crisis of 2008 have shareholders so consistently expressed their criticism and rising expectations of boards. They’ve weighed in — they don’t want to do business as usual anymore.

Take Your Seat is providing the pipeline of Black talent for the next generation of boards. The next five to ten years of excellence, talent, and experience who can step into the boardrooms to make decisions and manifest a new level of generational wealth for Black families across the entire country. In some way, this might possibly represent a new form of reparations. So we are offering a way for people of difference to come together and learn together. To learn about diversity, about board governance, about what it takes to create that inclusive boardroom of the future.

This article is adapted from a 2021 interview on The Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Podcast. To see the full conversation, click here

About Jerusha Stewart: Jerusha is a mission-focused entrepreneur creating opportunities for a more equitable future. With a vast background in law, sales, public relations and marketing, Jerusha is well-versed in creating innovative problem solving initiatives and implementing successful communication strategies. Most recently, Jerusha has dedicated herself to her latest mission, Take Your Seat, a Public Benefit corporation focused on recognizing the wealth of global Black talent and accelerating inclusivity in corporate boardrooms to maximize corporate performance.

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