Black Board: African Americans in Corporate Governance

In an era of black boycotts of major corporate entities, this article from The Black Web Today by William Reed discusses the issue of African-American membership on major corporate boards. Given our lack of visibility in executive corporate leadership, the lack of membership on corporate boards who have responsibility for supervising and directing corporate officers is not surprising. Reed’s example of the potential ouster of Frank Savage from Lockheed Martin’s board of directors by investors because of his membership on the Enron board is an example of behind-the-scenes actions taken against less visible black power brokers that may go without challenge from the larger community. Granted, all the members of the Enron board are liable for the actions of their officers which led to bankruptcy and the subsequent media frenzy that followed; however, as chairman of Howard University’s Board of Trustees, past senior vice president of The Equitable Life Assurance Society, and chairman of the $35 billion Equitable Capital Management Corporation, Savage is a competent, accomplished executive, who—like many board members—may not have been as active in management affairs as hindsight would suggest. Reed raises interesting questions in his article regarding black board member responses to charges of discrimination filed against their companies. What is your obligation when you sit on a board?

Whether a for-profit board or a not-for-profit board, there are obligations and responsibilities of board members and legal liability attaches to each member for actions taken as a board. If you agree to membership on a board, you should be an active member, familiar with your organization’s policies and mission with an understanding of board of director duties. This link, sponsored by the Internet Nonprofit Center (INC) features guidelines for non-for-profit boards.

The Management Assistance Program for Nonprofits (MAPNP) primarily works with nonprofit
organizations in the Greater Twin Cities Metropolitan Area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Their site features a free library with a complete toolkit for board of director members (includes info on for-profits and not-for-profits). The free library covers a wide variety of leadership and personal/professional development issues.


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