If you want to see America’s diversity, look no farther than my home state of Nevada where people of color make up 51.3 percent of the population. That diversity has become our biggest strength. Just look at what we have achieved in Nevada; we have become the first state in the country to have a majority female legislature and state Supreme Court.
Yet sadly, this diversity is lagging in the halls of power in Washington and in boardrooms across the country. One of the first things I noticed when I came to Congress was the lack of diversity. People of color make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, but that’s not reflected in House, Senate and committee offices where the laws that affect all Americans are created. We see the same lack of diversity and representation echoed in business boardrooms and executive offices in corporate America. We know that being able to have a seat at the table is extremely important to give a voice to those who have been traditionally underrepresented. But diversity isn’t a check box, it’s a commitment to cultural change to allow us to bring in perspectives that would have otherwise gone unheard.
In my office, I believe my staff should look like the state it represents, which is why 50 percent of top staff within my office are people of color and 62 percent of my total staff are women. And I also believe that corporate America can do the same. For too long, public companies have failed to make sure the voices of women and communities of color are represented in boardrooms and C-suites across our country. That is why I introduced the Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act, to help level the playing field in corporate America by increasing transparency and promoting diversity.
With only 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies openly sharing diversity data, my bill calls for public companies to disclose the gender, racial and ethnic composition of their boards and board nominees to shareholders and the public. While increasing transparency is a good first step public companies can take, the Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act goes a step further by doing more to understand the scope of the issue and address the glaring disparities in leadership diversity we are seeing today.
It’s unacceptable that women and people of color occupy only 38 percent of board seats at Fortune 100 companies and 34 percent at Fortune 500 companies. Studies have shown that diversity not only increases productivity but has also contributed to a 19 percent higher revenue due to innovation. The Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act would establish a Diversity Advisory Group composed of representatives from the federal government, academia and the private sector, to study corporate board diversity, require an annual report on study findings and make recommendations to the Securities and Exchange Commission and House Financial Services Committee, as well as the Senate Banking Committee, of which I am a member.
I always say that it is the honor of my life to be the first female senator for Nevada and the first Latina in the U.S. Senate, but I know I won’t be the last. With the U.S. on track to become majority minority by 2045, corporate America cannot afford to neglect the importance and power of women and people of color as leaders, innovators and drivers of the engine of America’s economic future. Nevada has been leading the way when it comes to increasing female leadership on corporate boards. In 2017, the percentage of female corporate directors at Nevada-based companies was 10.9 percent, but as of June 2019, the total number of women serving as corporate directors in Nevada grew to 20.6 percent.
I’ve always felt that when you are able to walk through those doors of opportunity, you have a responsibility to turn around and open them wider for those who come after you. My Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act builds on those gains and encourages us to understand what else needs to be done to ensure women and people of color have that voice at the table as leaders in businesses in Nevada and across the country.
Cortez Masto is the senior senator from Nevada and is a member of the Banking Committee.