Blue-chip firms got more diverse in 2021 with increasing female, black execs: report

The largest companies in the US continued their diversity push last year, with the number of black CFOs doubling and the number of women in the C-suite ticking slightly higher, according to a report.

The report, from executive recruiting firm Crist Kolder Associates, looked at 682 companies comprised of firms in the S&P 500 index and in the Fortune 500.

Of those companies, 12 had a black chief financial officer in 2020, according to the firm’s calculations. In 2021, that number rose to 20, the firm said.

In total, there were 73 non-white CFOs working for top companies in 2021, according to the report. Of the minority CFOs, 39 were categorized as Asian or Indian; 14 were Hispanic of Latino; and 20 were black.

That means 11% of CFOs were minorities — an all-time high for the figures, according to Crist Kolder’s calculations.

Telecom behemoth AT&T, sports retailer Foot Locker, industrial supply company W.W. Grainger, and investment firm Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America are among the companies that hired black CFOs last year.

Large companies have also been making a concerted effort to fill their executive ranks with women, according to the study.

For the third consecutive year, there was an increase in the number of women who were hired as CEOs — though the hiring has been gradual. Women also make up 15% of company finance chiefs, according to the study.

In 2021, 47 companies were led by a woman CEO — a slight rise over the year before, when there were 44 women in that position.

One marker of change is the number of women CFOs, which rose to its highest ever, according to Crist Kolder. Last year, 101 firms employed a woman CFO — up from 90 in 2020, the study found. In 2010, there were just 55 women CFOs among the top companies in corporate America.

Eli Lilly, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Charter Communications all hired a woman as CFO in 2021.

Crist Kolder also tracked the ethnic and racial makeup of company CEOs. It found there was a slight decrease in the number of companies who employed a non-white CEO in 2021 — from 69 the year before to 66 last year.

New research shows there was an increase in the number of African-Americans hired as chief financial officers at companies listed on the S&P 500.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

The technology sector boasted the highest level of racial and ethnic diversity in its senior ranks. Of the 66 non-white CEOs, 25 of them worked in tech, according to the report.

In breaking down the ethnic makeup of minority CEOs, Crist Kolder’s data shows that while the number of Hispanic and Latino executives is on the rise, the hiring of black chief executive officers has remained stagnant.

The private sector stepped up diversity initiatives in earnest following the May 2020 police-involved death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots.

In December 2020, the Nasdaq, whose index is comprised largely of tech stocks, said that it would require corporate boards to disclose diversity data or risk public shaming.

Earlier this month, a study conducted by Morgan Stanley found that stocks of US companies with greater corporate board diversity performed better.

According to the research, companies that boasted people of color on their boards saw 1.5% higher returns than those that did not.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink on Tuesday pushed back against criticism of the asset management firm’s embrace of stakeholder capitalism, arguing the practice is not “woke” but a necessity for long-term success.

Fink defended his stance in his widely read annual letter to CEOs. BlackRock has faced backlash from conservatives who say the firm’s consideration of climate change in its investment strategy is a politically motivated effort to build goodwill.

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