Speech on the occasion of the launch of the Association of LGBTQ+ Corporate Directors

Thank you for your kind words Betsy and thank you for saying “yes” when I asked you to lend your name, expertise and knowledge to the Association. It is an honor to have you on our Advisory Board. Let me also echo our gratitude to our friends at JP Morgan and in particular Managing Director Brad Baumoel, for hosting our launch event this evening. When I called Brad to ask him about tonight, his immediate response was “Yes, what do you want for dinner?”.

My name is Fabrice Houdart and I am the Executive Director of the newly created Association of LGBTQ+ Corporate Directors. I am asking our Advisory Board members present today to please stand up: Richard Socarides, Betsy Bernard of course, Chiqui Cartagena, Ozzie Gromada-Mesa and Gerry Rodriguez. Five could unfortunately not join us this evening including the legendary Imara Jones, Michael Camunez, Heather Hiles, Elizabeth Mora and Denice Torres. Let me also acknowledge our COO Stephen Smith, who made this evening possible.

Since the Association was launched two months ago, I have had many conversations with Board candidates, existing directors, C-suite leaders and professionals in the governance space about the reasons behind our initiative. Almost invariably the response has been: “this is important” followed by “I can’t believe such an initiative does not exist yet”. I take it as clear sign that time has come to improve our numbers in the boardroom.

Most of you know that I spent my career in public service and the Corporate Governance space is somewhat new to me. But the reason I am passionate about it and wanted this Association to become reality, is that it shares a commonality with the challenge of LGBTQ+ inclusion in international development or the Human Rights agenda. They are all niche topics and an uphill battles.

A niche topic because the LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion efforts have focused on rank and file employees, sometimes Senior Management, rarely the C-suite, often forgetting the boardroom. In fact, LGBTQ+ Board Diversity is a fairly new topic almost completely limited to the US context with some movement in Canada and Australia.

An uphill battle because LGBTQ+ people are the least represented compared to any other group. Only 0.6% of the Fortune 500 company board seats are held by our LGBTQ+ people, despite estimates that we represent 5 to 7% of the US population.

We are being left behind. Since I started working on this topic three years ago, we only gained 0.1 points in the Fortune 500 going from 0.5 to 0.6% of the seats. LGBTQ+ people often remain invisible in the boardroom for two main reasons: Boards are not asking for LGBTQ+ candidates, and too often we are not supporting each other. Those in the boardroom need to become advocate for true inclusion at the table.

A month ago, the NASDAQ listing rule became effective. The Board Diversity Matrices that companies have now published on their websites and proxies confirmed what many of us have known for some time. Our research partner present tonight, Equilar, is now compiling this data. The abysmal statistics regarding the lack of diversity in Corporate America are worse outside of Fortune 500.

Even though there are more LGBTQ+ qualified diverse candidates for corporate board seats than ever before, almost none of these candidates are on the radar screen of nominating and governance committees. Even though our nation has grown to value LGBTQ+ contributions, the corporate boardroom is proving resistant to change mostly because our efforts have focused more on advocacy than placement.

As Betsy alluded to, it is not that LGBTQ+ people are less skilled, competent or ambitious, it is that they live at the margin of the Board ecosystem but also that Boards have to develop trust and comfort with our candidates.

I am convinced that the solution is to focus on providing resources to the ample LGBTQ+ talent pipeline. Resources include access to a powerful network, the ability to be part of the pipeline and amplifying of LGBTQ+ backgrounds. Being part of the Association is a commitment to advance this mission. We will also have a particular focus on ensuring women and LGBTQ+ people of color are benefiting from our efforts because we are part of a broader Board diversity agenda intersectional by nature. Tonight, there is only a third of participants that are women, the Association targets complete parity.

Concretely, it will mean for the Association to build relationships with the chairs of nominating and governance committees, with existing board members and with the governance community at-large. It will also mean for us to provide individual and quality services to our members but also to newly appointed and existing Board members.

Board diversity is a team sport and the fact that so many of you took the time to gather here this evening bodes well for the future. I see in this room many key partners: NASDAQ, KPMG, McKinsey, Spencer Stuart or the NACD … The reason we are gathering everyone is to say, we need your help and we need to do this together.

The corporate boardroom is not a place where change typically happens swiftly and we will need both patience and determination but it is worth it. I am excited to embark on this journey with you and I thank you for your support.

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Fabrice Houdart

Fabrice is on the Board of Outright Action International. Previously he was an officer at the UN Human Rights Office and World Bank