Women and people of color still hold few leadership positions at large American companies. Among the 500 highest-grossing firms, 6.4%have female CEOs. That’s up from 4.2% last year, but it means there are still only 32 female CEOs in the set. And not a single one of those women is African-American. Across S&P 500 companies, 21% of board members were female in 2016, inching up from 20% in 2015.
Many factors are likely driving this slow pace of change, ranging from personal bias to board tenure — the average board member stays on a board for 8 years.
But perceptions of corporate diversity appear to be changing much more rapidly. PwC released its annual Corporate Directors Survey, revealing this trend. The survey polled 886 directors coming from more than two dozen industries. The vast majority of those directors’ companies have annual revenue north of $1 billion.
In two key questions in PwC’s survey, board members were asked whether they think board diversity has an impact on their company’s performance and on their board’s performance.
Perceived effects of board diversity on company performance
Perceived effects of board diversity on board performance
The question wording varied slightly in each year. In 2016, PwC asked whether directors think board diversity improves performance. In 2017, it asked whether board diversity had enhanced performance. Although not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, it’s still fair to draw conclusions from the large difference, according to a PwC spokesperson.
What has caused the shift in perceptions? “Maybe board directors have actually gotten a chance to experience this diversity and see some of the effects,” says Paula Loop, who leads PwC’s Governance Insights Center. She thinks a heightened focus on diversity in modern conversation has also played a role. “The issue has been raised, and they’re starting to think more about it.”