Missing pieces report: The 2018 board diversity census of women and minorities on Fortune 500 boards

Fortune 500 boards with over 40 percent diversity doubled since 2012

This multiyear study published by the Alliance for Board Diversity (ABD), in collaboration with Deloitte for the 2016 and 2018 censuses, provides powerful metrics on the slow change of diversity in the boardroom, and may help encourage corporate boards to continue to embrace the benefits of diverse board composition. Though still a slow pace in relation to the rapidly shifting demographics in the US, the shifts point towards greater diversity in America’s board rooms.

Board diversity trends

A critical need for inclusive leadership, the shifting US demographics, and investor pressure in the United States have increased the focus on diversity in the C-suite and on public company boards. As demographics and buying power1 in the United States become increasingly more diverse, forward-thinking boards are determining ways to gain more diversity of background, experience, and thought in the boardroom.

This study is the culmination of a multiyear effort organized by the Alliance for Board Diversity, collaborating with Deloitte for the 2016 and 2018 censuses, which has examined and chronicled the representation of women and minorities on public company boards of directors across America’s largest companies.

Originally organized as a “snapshot” of board diversity, the data since accumulated over time has allowed for the development of information on trends relative to overall diversity as well as the comparative differences in rates of representation among minorities and women over a period of more than a decade. This 2018 Missing Pieces Report highlights the progress to date that has been made (or not) for women and minorities on corporate boards. While there have been a few gains for some demographic groups, advancement is still slow. This movement is also not representative of the broad demographic transformations that have been seen in the United States over the same period of time.

Missing Pieces Report: 2018 Board Diversity Census

Key findings

Reviewing the data provides insight into board diversity changes from 2016 to 2018 across the Fortune 500. The companies included in the Fortune 100 and 500 change over time. A few specific summary items to note:

  • African American/Black women and Asian/Pacific Islander women made the largest percentage increase in board seats gained in both the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500, larger than any other group or gender. African American/Black women saw an increase in seats of 26.2 percent in 2018, while Asian/Pacific Islander women saw an increase of 38.6 percent. While strong percentage increases, the raw numbers are still quite small.
  • At the current rate of progress, we predict that we would see the number of women and minorities increased to 40 percent (a target percentage set by the Alliance for Board Diversity) by year 2024.2
  • In the Fortune 100, minority men show an increase in the rate of progress, nearly an additional one percent gain in just the last two years, as compared to the total one percent gained over the course of the previous 12 years. Minority men have made almost as much progress in the last two years as they did in the 12 years before that.
  • Overall, women and minorities have made more progress in board representation for the Fortune 500 between 2016 and 2018 than between 2012 and 2016. This increased rate of change, while still slow, is encouraging. Explore the data below.
  • In the Fortune 500, 1,033 board seats were filled by directors new to Fortune 500 boards (i.e., those not present on boards in the 2016 census).3 Of those 1,033 board seats, 80.7 percent were filled by Caucasian/White directors, with 59.6 percent filled by Caucasian/White men. The percentage of minority directors holding board seats is slightly better for Fortune 100 (77 percent of board seats filled by new directors were filled by Caucasian/White directors, with 51.1 percent filled by Caucasian/White men).
  • Of the many correlations examined, we found the strongest positive correlation with board diversity to be the tenure of the company on the Fortune 500 list. While exhibiting a slight positive correlation, we did not find that boards with the term and/or age limits were any more likely to have diverse boards.

Overall this year’s census provides powerful metrics on the slow change of diversity in the boardroom and may help to guide corporations and advocates toward future improvements in accelerating minority and women board representation.

About the Alliance for Board Diversity

Founded in 2004, the Alliance for Board Diversity (ABD) is a collaboration of four leadership organizations: Catalyst, The Executive Leadership Council (ELC), the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), and LEAP (Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics). Diversified Search, an executive search firm, is a founding partner of the alliance and serves as an advisor and facilitator. The ABD’s mission is to increase the representation of women and minorities on corporate boards. More information about ABD is available at


1 The Selig Center estimates that the nation’s African American buying power will rise to $1.54 trillion by 2022 (a five-year estimated growth of 21 percent, vs. 18 percent for non-Hispanic Whites), driven by inspirational gains in population, income, and education. The Nielsen Company (US), Inc., From consumers to creators; The digital lives of black consumers, September 13, 2018, Asian/Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States with purchasing power of $986 billion in 2018, up 257 percent since 2000. The Nielsen Company (US), Inc. 2018 Asian American Consumer Report, Asian Americans: Digital Lives and Growing Influence.

This year is calculated assuming that the percentage of Caucasian/White men on boards continues to decrease by 1 percent per year. While this is a simple straight-line trend, this metric provides a sense of the progress to expect in the next decade (while not accounting for the nuances of board terms and board member pipelines).

3 This number contains both directors who are new to board service and any board member on a board who was not in the Fortune 500 in 2016 (the date of the last census).

4 For this census, we measured the top companies by revenue as identified by our research cutoff date (for 2018, the research cutoff date was June 30, 2018). The census compares Fortune 100 or 500 results against results from prior censuses, not against a specific identified set of companies over time (in other words, the composition of the Fortune 100 and 500 groups changes over time, but the methodology to identify them does not).

5 Fortune 100 analyses are based on data from 98 companies in the Fortune 100. Results were accurate within one-tenth of a percent. Percentages many not sum to 100 because of rounding; please see the methodology for more details.

6 Fortune 500 analyses are based on data from 490 companies in the Fortune 500. Results were accurate within one-tenth of a percent. Percentages many not sum to 100 because of rounding; please see the methodology for more details.

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