Top Chicago companies lack minority representation in boardrooms

Chicago's top companies have to broaden their search when looking for new minority executives, board members

November 15, 2012

Chicago lacks minority representation in senior level positions. That’s according to a new study released Thursday by Chicago United, a membership organization that promotes opportunities for people of color.

According to the report, among the top 50 companies in the city, only 12 percent of board seats are held by minorities. African Americans had the largest representation followed by Hispanics and Asians.

Peter Crist is the head of Crist Kolder associates, a firm that recruits for senior level offices. He said companies have been moving really slow at recognizing diversity as an important element. But, he also added that it’s hard to find minorities with the right set of skills who are available.  

“The most prominent people of color and women who are capable of filling that role, if you look at their profile, they may be on three or four boards,” said Crist.

Gloria Castillo, president of Chicago United, disagrees with that idea.

“Many companies are stuck with a very old model that says the only individuals who are appropriate for board service are currently sitting or immediately retired CEOs,” said Castillo.  

She said that although a larger pool of minority professionals is needed, companies have to broaden their search. In addition, Castillo argues that companies need to be more intentional about being inclusive in the work place.

“Look at companies like Northern and Trust that have rotational programs. They are also very intentional about their talent development. They are inclusive of the ethnic minorities in their rotational assignments,” she added.

Wilfred J. Lucas is president of the W. Lucas Group, Inc., a coaching organization for business leaders. He said that it's also up to minority professionals to develop strong relationships.

“One of the key things is making sure the people who are in a position to a make a decision know who you are and not only know who you are, they need to be saying positive things about you,” said Lucas.