As one might expect, there are many similarities between the circumstances of women directors and directors of color, which includes African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. Indeed, both groups began appearing on corporate boards in significant numbers during the same period - right after the Civil Rights Movement pursuant to which the push for racial equality throughout society precipitated efforts to achieve greater representation of people of color as well as women on corporate boards. Moreover, while women and people of color have experienced some increase in board representation over the last few decades, both groups also have encountered significant barriers to their success on corporate boards. However, people of color appear to have experienced more significant barriers than women, while women of color appear to be experiencing the most formidable of such barriers.
Without question, corporations have achieved better representation of women and people of color within their boardrooms in recent history. Further, if the historical patterns related to these groups' increase continue, we may expect that virtually every major corporation will have at least one woman or person of color on their board within the next two decades. However, women and people of color continue to be under represented, suggesting that they face barriers preventing them from translating their thirty percent and near fifty percent status in the labor force into similar numbers at the corporate board level. Part of those barriers stems from the difficulties women and people of color experience with advancing into executive positions at major corporations. Because corporations rely heavily on people who have held such positions, these difficulties have a negative impact on efforts to increase diversity on corporate boards. Of particular concern may be the plight of women of color. Indeed, studies suggest that women of color have achieved the least amount of success with regard to board representation, and that women of color experience the most significant barriers with regard to achieving success within corporate America. This is particularly daunting considering the disproportionate number of African American women in the workforce and student population as compared to African American men, which will make achieving more representative percentages of racial and ethnic diversity on the board significantly more difficult.
Lisa M. Fairfax, Some Reflections on the Diversity of Corporate Boards: Women, People of Color, and the Unique Issues Associated with Women of Color, 79 St. John's L. Rev. 1105 (2005).