By Quinci LeGardye, California Black Media

While the representation of women on the boards of California publicly traded companies has increased over the past few years, Black women remain disturbingly underrepresented.

In fact, African Americans account for only 2 % of all women serving on corporate boards, according to a report the California Partners Project (CPP) recently released.

The annual report follows the Women on Boards Law also known as Senate Bill (SB) 826. Signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2018, SB 826 requires publicly held corporations based in California to have at least one female member on its board of directors by the end of 2021, with the minimum number increasing based on the number of board seats.

“I am mindful that there is still room for more diversity on corporate boards and California can do better achieving gender-diverse corporate boards for the benefit of our state, its economy, and above all, its people,” said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber.

Weber’s office is responsible for enforcing SB 826. Under the law, companies that are not in compliance with SB 826 by the end of year could be fined up to $100,000.

According to the CPP report, the number of female board members overall has increased by over 500 across California since SB 826 passed, but a majority of the women being appointed to serve on California’s corporate boards are White.

Across the state, a total of 1,483 women now serve on corporate boards. Although White women make up 18.5 % of California’s population, they hold 20.2 % of those corporate board seats.

The report states, “Women on corporate boards have been shown to drive business growth, with a triple bottom line model of environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and strong governance practices. Before us now is the opportunity to fill more board seats with women of color, whose unique perspectives and experiences can lead our state — and the world — into a future of greater equity, prosperity, and health for everyone.”

The report found that although women now hold 26.5 % of California’s public company board seats, only 6.6 % are held by women of color, who make up 32 % of California’s population. The report also found that Latinas hold 1 % of the seats on California’s corporate boards.

Responding to the report’s findings, CPP, an organization California First Partner was co- Jennifer Siebel Newsom co-founded, is calling for California’s publicly held companies to fill upcoming board vacancies with people of color. The recommendation also falls in line with the mandate of another law on corporate board representation, the Underrepresented Communities on Boards law or Assembly Bill (AB) 979.

AB 979, which was signed into law in September 2020, requires California-based publicly held corporations to have at least one board member from an underrepresented minority in the state by the end of 2021.

The report also includes strategies for recruiting women of color to corporate boards. Informed by focus groups CPP organized, recommendations include guidance that encourages corporation executives and recruiters expand their insular networks; expand their definition of qualified; think of diversity as an opportunity; and seek difference over conformity.