Casey calls for diversity on corporate boards

By:  Ayana Jones

U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. is calling for more diversity in corporate boardrooms.

On May 21, Casey wrote a letter to Mary Jo White, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission raising concern about the lack of diversity on America’s corporate boards and asked the SEC to take steps to address it.

In his letter, Casey cited a recent report by the Alliance for Board Diversity which found that only 13 percent of board seats among Fortune 500 companies were held by minorities. The report also indicated that women were seriously underrepresented in Fortune 500 boards, with men making up almost 85 percent of the seats.

“This troubling under representation of women and minorities on corporate boards is unfortunately present in Pennsylvania as well,” Casey wrote.

“A December 2010 report by the Urban League of Philadelphia surveyed the top 108 public companies in the Philadelphia region and found that African Americans only make up four percent of board directors. This is in spite of the fact that African Americans make up 44 percent of the city of Philadelphia’s population and 20 percent of the region as a whole.

“In the Pittsburgh region, the 2011 Allegheny County Annual Report found that even though women represent a majority of the population in the region, they held only 14 percent of the board seats of Pittsburgh’s top 50 public companies. Clearly, we must do a better job of encouraging companies to select board members with a variety of different backgrounds and experiences,” his letter said.

During an interview with the Tribune, Casey said that it’s important to be vigilant on the issue of ensuring that corporate boards have a diverse makeup.

“The interesting thing about this is it’s not asking all that much to make sure that corporate boards are diversified. It’s important to have diversity in corporate leadership, but sometimes that takes longer. You have to find someone who is in a fairly high level in a corporation before they are made a CEO or a high level executive — that’s more of a challenge. With corporate boards, I just think that you have a lot more opportunity,” said Casey.

“It’s not a heavy lift to say there are plenty of African American businessmen and businesswomen that can contribute to any board and you ought to try to find and place them.”

In his letter, Casey noted that the SEC has taken steps in recent years to promote diversity in corporate boardrooms, including requiring companies to disclose any diversity policy they have with regard to the selection of board members. He asked the SEC chairman to provide an update on efforts that the SEC has taken so far, the effectiveness of the efforts and what additional steps are being considered.

As of May 31, Casey’s office did not receive a response from the SEC. Casey said it was too soon to expect feedback from the agency. When contacted by the Tribune, SEC spokeswoman Florence Harmon said that the SEC would not be commenting on the matter at this time.