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African-Americans make up 6.6% of Chicago corporate boards

Updated: March 28, 2013 6:44AM

African Americans make up only 6.6 percent of the 1,527 board members at 160 public companies in the Chicago area, according to a KPMG survey commissioned and released by the Chicago Urban League.

The good news is that more than half — 53 percent — of the companies had at least one African-American board member, Chicago Urban League President and Chief Executive Officer Andrea Zopp said of the results, which will be discussed at a program Wednesday morning.

“That’s absolutely a step in the right direction, but that means close to 50 percent did not, and when you look at a community that is a third African American, you’d like to see more,” she said. “The point is we have work to do.”

The organization will look to engage companies that don’t have black representation on their boards to discuss how they can identify appropriate candidates, Zopp said. It also will use the survey as an advocacy tool and hopes it will help create dialogue among boards,’ nominating and governance committees, so when they’re looking for board candidates, diversity will be among their priorities, Zopp added.

“We believe strongly that diversity on boards is important,” she said. “Research indicates those boards will perform better. For all of us who care about corporate performance, we believe that diversity is an important element of that.”

The report found that two companies had three African-American board members: McDonald’s Corp. and Compuware Corp. Twelve had two African-American board members, including Illinois Tool Works and Ingredion, formerly Corn Products International.

At Ingredion, its ten-member board, includes three women, two African-American men and one Mexican national, said Ilene Gordon, chairman, president and CEO of the Westchester-based company. Ingredion benefits from that diversity, she said.

“By having diverse perspectives it creates an environment for better decision making because you consider projects and investments from several points of view, whether it’s geographic or it’s a particular product or a target market,” she said. “You create an environment to debate issues and come to better decisions. I think you create better shareholder value.”

Gordon said finding qualified African- American and women candidates requires that companies look beyond individuals who’ve served as CEOs of large companies and include candidates who are running large businesses.

Businesses and community-based organizations should collaborate to identify and develop the next generation of black corporate leaders and to create and strengthen partnerships with organizations that focus on minority inclusion on corporate boards, the report advised.

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