Closing the diversity gap on Fortune 1000 boards means understanding the job description for a board position and developing the needed skills.
By Jonathan Higuera
HISPANIC BUSINESS® magazine
Armando Codina has a reputation as a pioneer when it comes to serving on corporate boards. The CEO of the Codina Group, a commercial real estate development firm in Miami, has served on six boards of Fortune 1000 companies since 1985. Together with Colorado Rockies owner Linda Alvarado, former U.S. Treasurer Katherine Ortega, and entrepreneur Enrique Hernandez, Mr. Codina stands as one of the few Hispanics to serve on four boards simultaneously (see article, “Growing Representation?”). According to this year’s HISPANIC BUSINESS Boardroom Elite directory [PDF], 82 Hispanics currently hold 114 board seats among the Fortune 1000. That represents 52 percent increase from last year, but with nearly 10,600 total board slots at Fortune 1000 corporations, it’s far short of parity with the Hispanic population. How can the diversity gap be narrowed? First, Mr. Codina says, a clear understanding of the job description implied by board membership is required. “I consider my constituency my shareholders,” he explains, summing up his approach to board service. “You happen to be Hispanic and that gives you a good perspective on some things, but your fiduciary responsibility is to the shareholders. It’s not about wearing a Hispanic hat but adding value to the company.” “The Latino community doesn’t elect you to these boards – shareholders do,” says Pastora San Juan Cafferty, a professor at the University of Chicago who serves on three Fortune 1000 boards. “I don’t think anyone represents an ethnic constituency with a board seat, the way a member of Congress represents a district. It’s not a political appointment. This involves a different voice and a different legitimacy.” Like many women and minorities of her generation, Ms. Cafferty came to the corporate boardroom through service on civic boards. In contrast, today’s boardroom recruiters look for corporate managerial experience, and Ms. Cafferty believes diversity in the corporate work force eventually will yield more diversity on the board. In the meantime, insistence that board members have a major corporate job title – specifically, CEO at a public company – leads to a dilemma, according to Mr. Codina. Because CEOs need to spend their time running the company, boards often limit the number of outside boards on which their CEO can serve, even while they try to recruit CEOs at other companies to join their board. In fact, a simple re-evaluation of the prerequisites for board service would go a long way to opening up opportunities for talented Hispanics, says David Gomez, owner of David Gomez & Associates, a Chicago-based executive search firm. “It will take a lot of time and concerted efforts from executive search organizations to reach out from their normal way of searching for board members,” he says. He cites a panel he organized in New York earlier this year made up of representatives from some of the country’s top executive search firms. “I basically heard them say they can’t find anybody and that Hispanics have to hang out more with other board members,” he recalls. When boardroom recruiters start to look at successful CEOs of private mid-sized companies, they’ll have more success in finding diverse candidates, Mr. Gomez predicts. “People who have started their own business, worked their hearts out, and fought against all odds to become very successful could be better board members” than corporate managers, he maintains.
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