Facebook announced last week that Kenneth I. Chenault, the retiring CEO of American Express, would join the social media giant’s board of directors on February 5. A 37-year employee of American Express, Chenault was appointed to the chief executive post in 2001, joining the very small club of people of color in the upper echelons of corporate America. Next month, he will become the first person of color on Facebook’s board, Hanna Kozlowska notes at Quartz, fulfilling a promise Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg had made to the Congressional Black Caucus last year that the company would soon appoint an African-American director.
With Facebook, like all of its peers in big tech, has been criticized for a lack of diversity in its workforce, particularly in technical and managerial positions. Its latest diversity report, released last August, showed modest progress, with black Americans making up 3 percent of its US workforce and Hispanic Americans 5 percent. Women now make up 35 percent of Facebook’s global workforce, 28 percent of its leadership, and 19 percent of its technical staff. Minority presence in senior leadership, however, has stagnated since 2014.
The other eight members of Facebook’s board include just two women: Sandberg and Susan Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. CEO Mark Zuckerberg retains majority voting power, so the board plays an advisory role but does not have control over the company’s decisions.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus voiced appreciation for the addition of Chenault. “I am pleased to hear that Facebook has not only acknowledged the lack of diversity within its company but they listened to our concerns and chose a new direction for the future,” Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II said in a statement to Recode.