Everything you need to know about CEO diversity

AboveBoard | Oct 27, 2022

The lowdown on C-suite diversity and how to advance beyond the status quo

Though America has become increasingly more diverse, C-suite diversity continues to lag behind.Though America has become increasingly more diverse, C-suite diversity continues to lag behind.

You can (almost) count the number of Black CEOs on one hand. Female executives are underrepresented in roles leading to the CEO candidate pool. And it may come as no surprise that, per the latest available comprehensive reports on CEO diversity, corporate America’s top echelons consist mostly of white male Ivy League graduates. 

In this article, we’ll outline the numbers on CEO diversity, why C-suite diversity matters, and simple steps your organization can take today to advance diversity in the C-suite. Let’s get started.

Why CEO diversity matters

First, let’s talk about why diversity in the workplace matters. You can think of diversity as variety; in the workplace, exhibiting diversity means having a variety of ethnicities, genders, ages, and educational backgrounds, to name a few factors, represented. Diversity is more than just having the “right” ratios or checking a box; it’s about creating a culture where all people have a seat at the table and are heard and respected at the table. The types of environments where diversity of thought thrives can supercharge collaboration, productivity, and job satisfaction. 

Leaders have a role in shaping such inclusive, supportive cultures. That’s where C-suite and CEO diversity come in. Representation matters, and CEO diversity can play an influential role in laying the groundwork for inclusive decision making, establishing more fair hiring practices, and offering better service overall.

And that’s not even to mention the business case to be made for diversity. Findings from McKinsey & Company confirm that “the business case [for diversity] remains robust.” Diversity on executive teams and financial outperformance are tandem forces that have “strengthened over time,” according to the firm.

The data on CEO diversity

In this year’s Fortune 500 rankings, only six CEOs out of 500 are Black, according to Fortune. And although women make up about 58.7 percent of the workforce, they make up only 8.8 percent of leaders in the Fortune 500. 

In another report analyzing both the Fortune 500 and S&P 500, researchers found that the number of female and minority CEOs roughly doubled from a decade ago, at about 7.3 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively. Though these gains are meaningful, about 88 percent of CEOs are still Caucasian men. 

And what about the pipeline to the CEO post? Stanford University's Rock Center for Corporate Governance found that “women are underrepresented in positions that directly feed into future CEO and board roles.” And representation of racially diverse executives in the C-suite were “slightly skewed toward positions with lower potential for advancement.” C-suite diversity is sorely needed, not just at the top level, but especially within the ranks that eventually lead to the CEO post.

Strategies and steps to promote CEO diversity

The road to representation in the C-suite is long, but not impossible. Here are some simple steps your organization can take to make strides toward C-suite diversity.

Reframe educational requirements

Graduating from a top-tier school does not necessarily make someone a good fit for your business. Even still, the Ivy League educates more CEOs than any other higher education conference, including the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Pacific Twelve, and Southeastern Conference, according to the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 analysis. Prioritizing academic prestige in the executive recruitment often leads to leaving out marginalized groups of executives while reinforcing barriers to success. 

To reframe educational requirements effectively, consider a blind requirement practice like disregarding “college pedigree,” as recommended by Workable. For instance, you may request applicants include the type of degree they’ve earned, such as a master’s in business administration or a bachelor’s of science, and opt not to ask where that degree was earned. Alternatively, you could forego the education question entirely and supplement the application with skills-based assessments.

Mentor and promote inclusively

Mentorship plays an incredibly influential role in helping people level-up throughout the course of their careers. According to a report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, “organizations’ formal mentoring programs increased the representation of women and people of color in management by 9% to 24% on average, with some of the largest increases in leadership positions among Black women.” Even informal mentorship opportunities through Employee Resource Groups can offer much-needed support for underrepresented employees and current or future executives.

According to the Center for Executive Succession, a “relatively homogenous feeder pool results in a similarly homogenous succession pool.” Supporting, mentoring, and ultimately promoting diverse candidates can ultimately lead to more CEO diversity.

Diversify your pipeline

In a survey of Chief Human Resources Officers on pipeline diversity, 17 percent reported they needed to begin identifying diverse CEO candidates earlier in the process. “This suggests that CHROs recognize that in the past their firms have been too passive in identifying diverse talent early, and simply relied on the normal talent processes to work,” researchers wrote. That’s the thing about standard executive recruitment strategies—they’re designed to produce the results we already have. If CEO diversity is your goal, it’s time to proactively seek out diverse talent. Achieving C-suite diversity requires incredible intention, from long-term succession planning and mentoring inclusively to expanding your talent pool both internally and externally.

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AboveBoard is an executive hiring platform that connects qualified executives with board and full-time opportunities. We are expanding access for underrepresented groups of executives—particularly Black, Latinx, and women. To join visit

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