By Jessica DiNapoli
(Reuters) - Black people made record-breaking gains over the last year in securing seats on boards of S&P 500 companies, while women came close to accounting for a third of corporate directors, according to a report from executive search firm Spencer Stuart released on Tuesday.
Ethnic and racial minorities accounted for 47% of all new directors, compared to 22% in the prior year, according to the report. Nearly all of the increase came from the appointment of Black directors, who made up 33% of new board seats from May of 2020 through May of 2021, up from 11% in the prior period.
Julie Daum, who leads the North American board practice at Spencer Stuart, said there was a "very conscious effort" by corporate America to recruit African-American directors after the murder of George Floyd last spring and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black Americans now account for 11% of board seats at S&P 500 companies, edging closer to their roughly 13% representation in the general U.S. population, the report found.
Women now make up 30% of all S&P 500 directors, a key threshold that advocacy organizations including the Thirty Percent Coalition have called for. The figure is up from 28% a year earlier and 16% a decade ago, the report found.
"It took a long time to get there," Daum said.
Spencer Stuart found that adding women directors fell from the third most important priority for boards to 10th, which Daum called "discouraging."
"There is a feeling that we got there, so we don't have to focus on it," she said.
The percentage of new directors who are women fell to 43% over the last year from 47%, according to the report.
Hispanics and Latinos accounted for 5% of corporate directors versus their 18.5% share of the U.S. population, the report found.
Of new directors, Hispanics and Latinos made up 7%, an increase of 3% from the prior year.
The report looked at S&P 500 boards over a one-year period ending in May 2021. Most of the new directors from racial and ethnic minorities were additions to boards, rather than replacements, Daum said.
The retirement age for board directors continues to rise, according to the report.
Boards that set the mandatory retirement age for directors at 75 or over accounted for 51% of those with such policies, up from 48% the prior year.
About 70% of S&P 500 boards have a mandatory retirement policy, according to the report
(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)