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Way fewer Fortune 500 board seats are going to CEOs

An empty board room.
Reuters/Andrew Kelly/File
Who’s in charge here?
  • Walter Frick
By Walter Frick

Executive editor

Published Last updated

The path to a Fortune 500 board seat is changing.

Of the 449 seats filled on Fortune 500 boards in 2021, only 40% went to current or former CEOs, down from 60% in 2018, according to executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. And 43% of the appointments went to first-time public board directors, the highest figure since the company began tracking it in 2015.

The shift was driven by companies’ recognition of the need for new perspectives—especially on issues of sustainability, inclusion, cybersecurity, and political involvement. The share of board appointees with sustainability experience rose to 14% from just 6% percent the year before; the share with cybersecurity experience jumped to 17%, up from 8% in 2020.

Boards are becoming more diverse—but very slowly

Forty-five percent of new board appointments in 2021 went to women, who now make up 29% of Fortune 500 board members.  Fifty-nine percent of new board appointees were white, tied with 2020 for the lowest figure since 2009.

One board statistic isn’t changing, though, despite companies’ push to bring in new experience: Boards are just as old as they’ve ever been. The average age of a new board member in 2021 was 57, and the average age of board members was 64, both relatively unchanged since Heidrick began collecting data.

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