Economics/Class Relations

Diversity Among CEOs and Corporate Directors: Has the Heyday Come and Gone?

The website of William Domhoff, a leading proponent and scholar of “elite theory,” is well worth checking out.

By Richard L. Zweigenhaft

Who Rules America?

For many years now, Bill Domhoff and I have kept an eye on and tried to understand diversity in the corporate elite. Why did it happen? Does it matter? Our work in the early 1980s lead us to conclude that one previously excluded group, Jews, were becoming a part of the corporate elite, a shocker back then given the level of anti-Semitism that persisted into the 1960s, but by now commonplace (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 1982). Then, in the first edition of a book about a group of low-income black students who attended elite prep schools through a foundation- and corporation-funded program called A Better Chance, we skeptically asserted that even with degrees from elite boarding schools and the Ivy League colleges, it was not likely that very many blacks would become CEOs of Fortune-level companies any time soon due to continuing racial discrimination (Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, 1991, p. 136).

However, the appointment of 14 black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies between 1999 and 2010 revealed how wrong we were. Intrigued by these appointments, and by the increasing number of appointments of white women, Latinos and Asian Americans as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, we focused on the changes that had taken place at the CEO-level in our 2011 book, The New CEOs, which comes out in paperback in March 2014 with updates and a new introduction ( or

In this document I take an updated look at diversity in the corporate elite. I begin by briefly discussing the appointments of “new CEOs” between 2011 and January 15, 2014, which brings the accumulated total of non-white-male CEOs to 109 since the early 1990s, when there were only two or three. Next, I search out the non-white males who were directors of Fortune 500 companies in 2011, as well as those diversifiers who sat on the boards of trustees of one or more of four key policy groups that are very much a part of the intertwined corporate network: the Business Roundtable, the Business Council, The Brookings Institution, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Because of the rulings the Supreme Court made in 2013 that endanger the voting rights of people of color and call into question the continuation of affirmative action policies in higher education, this most current look at diversity in the corporate world may take on particular importance. Moreover, as my new findings show, the trends at the top have reversed directions with one exception. The heyday of diversity already may have come and gone. At the least, things were in a twilight zone as of early 2014.


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