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A Hidden Obstacle to Boardroom Diversity – The New York Times

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And with companies facing growing calls from investors and society to diversify their boards, a new fault line is being exposed in corporate America: Should companies let their managers spread their wings?

Ms. Christoff is eager to bring attention to the issue. “People don’t know that these policies exist, and it’s not just Salesforce that has this policy,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to restrict board service to senior management. And so highlighting that issue to me feels important both from an equity perspective, but also from a business perspective.”

By state law, all public companies based in California must have at least one female board member and one from an underrepresented community. Nasdaq has proposed a rule that all companies listed on the exchange must disclose the diversity of their boards and must have at least one woman and one director who self-identifies as an underrepresented minority or L.G.B.T.Q. Goldman Sachs has said it won’t take a company public unless its board has at least two directors who aren’t straight, white men.

Although 59 percent of new directors at S&P 500 companies last year were women or ethnic and racial minorities, according to the recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, turnover in board seats is limited, so progress in diversifying boardrooms remains slow. (The average board has 11 directors, with a typical tenure of eight years.)

Women now account for just under 30 percent of directors at the largest listed companies, while ethnic and racial minorities make up around 20 percent. When they are hired on a board, candidates from these groups are more likely to be first-time directors than white men, less likely to be current or former chief executives and tend to be younger.

Mr. Benioff’s policy at Salesforce isn’t unusual. Many companies, especially technology firms, restrict corporate board membership, in part because they worry it could divert employees’ attention from their core responsibilities. (Companies tend to impose fewer restrictions on joining charity boards.)

“I know that all of our 57,000 employees would love to join a board,” Mr. Benioff told me. “Unfortunately it’s not tenable.”

This content was originally published here.

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