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Racial justice in the workplace: In-depth look at diversity’s struggle to crack corporate boardrooms

Charisse Jones, Jayme Fraser and Dian Zhang (USA TODAY)


In the wake of George Floyd's murder, corporate America pledged to do better, saying it would diversify its leadership, encourage equity and take concrete actions to root out systemic racism.

But a USA TODAY analysis of previously undisclosed hiring records from dozens of top firms found that more than a year later, executive roles remain overwhelmingly white and male. Black and Hispanic workers, particularly women, tend to be concentrated in the lowest ranks, and some of the nation's most powerful brands still refuse to disclose data on the gender, ethnic and racial makeup of their workforce.

The eight-part series combed the records of the Standard & Poor’s 100, some of the most highly valued companies in the stock market.

Anthony D. Wilbon, dean of the Howard School of Business, and Charlotte Newman, senior manager at Amazon, talk growth strategies for diversity and equity


They revealed that while Black and Hispanic employees are often overrepresented as compared to U.S. census data on the nation's workforce among the technicians, administrative assistants and laborers who form the backbone of many organizations, they are less likely to be found at the company's senior levels, or in other professional positions. 

The lack of diversity in corporate roles that pay the highest salaries, offer the best benefits and provide a path to promotions, influence and leadership, hardens the racial and gender wealth gap that's resulted in the typical white family having eight times the wealth of the typical Black family and five times the wealth of the typical Hispanic household.  

Companies are more transparent, but not all  

Companies have become more transparent in the 14 months since Floyd's killing when protests condemning systemic bias and calling for social justice swept the nation. 

Among the S&P 100, a record 54 companies, including Merck, Ford Motor Co, Bank of America and Target, gave USA TODAY their EEO-1 forms, documents detailing the gender, race and ethnic breakdown of their workforces that businesses are required to provide each year to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Another 23 corporations, including Home Depot, Walmart and Boeing said they would publicly disclose that information this year or in 2022.

Altria, Abbott Laboratories, AT&T, General Dynamics and UnitedHealth Group were among the companies that provided their EEO-1 reports after publication deadline.

But some of the nation’s most well-known brands, such as Exxon, T-Mobile and FedEx, rejected USA TODAY’s requests and gave no future date when they might provide such information to the public. Amazon, which last released its EEO-1 report in 2016, also would not provide the most recent demographic data of its workforce but said it would release its 2020 data in the coming months.

Federal officials will not release these demographic records to the public without companies’ permission, citing privacy protections in the Civil Rights Act. A civil suit filed by Reveal, a nonprofit investigative journalism outlet, challenges the legality of hiding these records from the public. 

Boards are largely white and male

Companies often point to the diversity of their boards of directors to distract from the concentration of white men in their corporate suites. But board membership at the 54 companies examined by USA TODAY also did not reflect the racial makeup of their business's workforces, let alone the nation's overall population.

While white men make up about a third of U.S. workers, they held half or more of board seats at 33 of the 54 companies.

Amgen, a biopharmaceutical company, had the highest percentage of white men on its board – eight people, or 73% – even though only 30% of the company's workers are white males. White women held two of the remaining three board seats, which is almost half of their rate in the company's workforce.

Compared to their company workforces, white, non-Hispanic men were only underrepresented on 12 company boards, almost always by just a handful of percentage points. Among the remaining corporations reviewed, the share of white, male board directors often was two or three times higher than their business' workforce.  

The companies also appointed white women to their boards at higher rates than people of color.

White, non-Hispanic women held a disproportionately large share of board memberships at about two-thirds of companies.

White women had no seats on the board of Coca-Cola despite holding 23% of all jobs. At Starbucks, they held just 9% of seats while accounting for 38% of the company's workers.

About a third of companies had boards where the percentage of men of color matched or exceeded their representation in the business's workforce. Six companies did not have any men of color on their boards. 

Another 19 companies did not have any directors who were women of color. They were equitably represented or overrepresented on the boards of just 10 companies. But those figures are based on counting all non-white women together, obscuring the lack of Black and Hispanic women board members in particular.  

“We have to move from tokenism to transformation,'' says Darren Walker, who is head of the philanthropic Ford Foundation and a diversity advocate. "Having one Black on the board or the chief diversity officer three levels down from the CEO will not result in a successful strategy. There has to be genuine authenticity.”

At about half of the companies reviewed, the board membership had more representation for people of color than among the business's executives, although men of color were much more likely to hold those seats than women.

For instance, 44% of board seats at Gilead Sciences Inc., a pharmaceutical company, are filled by four men of color but no women of color. Two white men and three white women hold the rest. Yet, men of color account for 20% of the company's executives and 26% of its workforce.

Women of color account for a larger share of McDonald's workforce than any of the 54 companies reviewed: 44%. None sit on the company's 13-member board.

Again, these tallies lump together ethnic and racial groups that face different challenges with workplace discrimination and gaining the kind of career recognition that leads to invites for board seats. Closing the gaps will take targeted strategies, experts say.

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    Gender Equity/Diversity
    Racial Equity/Diversity

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