The February issue of Black Enterprise magazine had an interesting report on black board members of major corporations. I have to admit that I’ve never thought about how many black people might be on major corporate boards before, only looking at the sparsity of black CEOs, or minority CEOs for that matter, in the Fortune 500. There are some impressive names there, I have to say.

What really drew me in, though, was a topic of conversation that came up at a seminar that all these board members had been invited to. The question was whether these board members should be using their roles to help promote more diversity within the companies whose boards they sit on, or whether that was beyond their purview. There was no general consensus one way or another, which I’ll admit doesn’t really surprise me any. What did surprise me was Vernon Jordan, long known as a major supporter of equality and diversity from his history as a politician and activist, was one of those who said he didn’t believe it was the role of board members to try to encourage such things for those companies whose boards minorities may sit on.

It’s a very interesting question on many fronts. If it’s not a board members responsibility, then whose responsibility is it? If the responsibility belongs to the CEO, well, who hires the CEO for major corporations? The board! If it’s not the CEO, then who is it that reports to him at some point, and, well, isn’t the role of the CEO to come up with the vision that the entire company is supposed to follow, or at least attempt to put into practice?

It’s made me think of what my role has been, both as an employee, and as a person who’s been on a couple of boards, though much less endowed with cash than these big corporations. As a director, I was always talking to HR about the need to recruit more minority candidates for many reasons, one being that, in New York at least, each hospital is supposed to have immediately available to them someone who can speak the language of any patient who shows up, and often there wasn’t a single person at the facility who could speak another language. That’s not good at all. That, plus a general representation of the local population, which is fair, but in my mind didn’t mean the same when every minority hired worked in the cafeteria or housekeeping.

As for the boards I’m on, two of them don’t count because they’re not company boards, but organizational boards. One can’t quite justify saying we need more minorities in the organization when the first goal is to get more members into the organization in the first place. The other board, though, is an interesting one. I’m one of two minorities of color who sits on the board. I have to say it that way because for this particular organization, the bylaws say that 51% of the board has to be made up of people with disabilities, who, in essence qualify as minorities in this country. In the organization itself, the one director who was a minority of color has just left, but it’s covered in every other way by people with handicaps that there’s really no room or cause for me to say much.

Or is there; talk about a tough one. Still, I’m not scared to address the hard questions within myself or organizations I deal with. Others,… well, to each their own.