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For More Diverse Corporate Boards, Move Down the Org Chart

Big companies are encouraging more executives to take outside directorships, and many are women or people of color.

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Illustration: Khylin Woodrow for Bloomberg Businessweek

Outside corporate board gigs are a classic perk of being a chief executive officer. The side jobs offer extra pay, as well as a way to network—perhaps for the next big job. But all those top bosses filling up directors’ seats has a predictable effect. Since CEOs are an overwhelmingly white, male bunch, they tend to reinforce the lack of diversity on corporate boards.

That makes a push by Marriott International Inc. to get lower-level executives to join boards a bigger deal than it might seem. CEO Arne Sorenson says his aim is to give the hotel company’s rising stars valuable experience. Incidentally, though, of the five who have found board positions, three are women and one is a black man. The same trend is showing up at other large U.S. companies. Among the 10 companies with the most employees serving on other boards, the executives with directorships are overwhelmingly women or people of color, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.