Arkansas' Public Firms Lack Director Diversity

by Mark Hengel  on Monday, Jul. 28, 2008 12:00 am  

Mary Good, dean of the Donaghey College of Information Science & Systems Engineering at UALR, serves on Acxiom Corp.'s board of directors.

"If that's the criteria they are using, there is not going to be much change anyway," Davis said.

Davis also said that companies should not be too timid to search beyond the business world to find candidates for positions on boards of directors. The University of Arkansas system board of trustees does not have a single member who is the head of a similarly sized educational institution, Davis said. Davis said the diverse mix of backgrounds on the system's board only aids the institution.

Women and minorities are underrepresented on boards across the country, said Diana Bilimoria, a professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and co-author of several articles on the representation of women on corporate boards.

Bilimoria said the traditional method for selecting board members has been for a company's CEO or chairman to select someone from his personal Rolodex.

"The nomination proceeds on the recommendation of the CEO, and they [the CEOs] usually tap people they know or people who they know know," Bilimoria said. "It's an art of tapping into the network of powerful individuals."

Both Bilimoria and Damon Williams, a spokesperson for the Executive Leadership Council, an organization representing African-Americans in corporate America, said the "pipeline argument" is the most common explanation provided by companies for why women and minorities are not represented.

The argument is that since so few women and minorities possess the background required to become a director, many companies cannot find qualified women and minorities to fill open board seats.

Williams said that his organization is evidence that the pipeline argument is not valid.

"With the Executive Leadership Council alone, you are talking about more than 400 of the most senior African-Americans in corporate America," Williams said. "The fact is that this argument that there aren't enough African-Americans to fill the positions is not applicable."

Williams said his organization will act as a conduit for businesses looking to broaden the representation on boards. The council has a program through the National Association of Corporate Directors that has certified more than 275 of the council's members to become directors.

"It's not a question anymore of are there people out there," Williams said. "It's a question of where corporations can reach out to and find qualified candidates."

Bishop Steven M. Arnold, senior pastor of St. Mark Baptist Church in Little Rock, said he was asked to serve on the Bank of the Ozarks board of directors after his church transferred accounts to the bank.



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