by Jessica Guynn, via usatoday.com
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has named one of the nation’s most prominent black corporate leaders, American Express‘ Kenneth Chenault, to its board of directors.
The appointment, which gives the social media giant the guidance of a highly regarded finance executive and the first black director on its all-white board, was the culmination of years of recruitment efforts, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “I’ve been trying to recruit Ken for years. He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve — customer service, direct commerce, and building a trusted brand,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “Ken also has a strong sense of social mission and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.”
Chenault announced in October that he would retire as chairman and CEO of American Express on Feb. 1, capping a 16-year run.
Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg told the Congressional Black Caucus in October that the social media giant was in talks to bring aboard its first black board member but she did not disclose the person’s identity.
The striking lack of people of color in the executive suite and on the boards of Silicon Valley companies won’t come as a culture shock to Chenault, one of the longest-serving black CEOs of a major U.S. corporation and a veteran of an industry dominated by white men in its top management ranks. The appointment to the Facebook board, effective Feb. 5, comes after years of lobbying by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to add people of color to the company’s directors.
Diversity remains a top challenge for Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies that are mostly staffed by white and Asian men. Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them, USA TODAY research showed.
Minorities are also sharply underrepresented in non-technical jobs such as sales and administration, with African Americans faring noticeably worse than Hispanics, according to USA TODAY analysis of the employment records of Facebook, Google and Yahoo in 2014.
Women now make up 35% of Facebook’s global workforce, up from 33%, and hold 19% of technical roles, up from 17%, the Menlo Park, Calif. company said last year.
In the U.S., Facebook has brought aboard more people of color. Three percent of Facebook workers are African American, up from 2%, and 5% of them are Hispanic, up from 4%.
But Facebook fell short where the lack of diversity is most acute, in the proportion of African-American and Hispanic workers in technical roles, which has stayed flat at 1% and 3% respectively since 2014. The percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in senior leadership positions at Facebook has also remained largely unchanged.
Chenault was the second black Fortune 500 CEO to announce plans to step down in 2017, along with Xerox Corp.’s Ursula Burns. Less than 5% of the 200 largest U.S. companies are led by African Americans, according to a 2016 report from recruitment firm Spencer Stuart.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Chenault, 66, has been with American Express since 1981. He serves on the boards of IBM, Procter & Gamble and non-profit groups including the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. He’s also a philanthropist who took a lead role in raising money for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
When Chenault announced he was stepping down from American Express, Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is the largest AmEx shareholder, said in a statement that he was the “gold standard for corporate leadership and the benchmark that I measure others against.”