It took more than a decade for Facebook to appoint an African American to its board of directors. The company finally announced that retiring American Express CEO and chairman Kenneth Chenault will join its board effective on February 5, USA Today reported.
“I’ve been trying to recruit Ken for years,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve — customer service, direct commerce, and building a trusted brand. Ken also has a strong sense of social mission and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.”
Chenault is one of the nation’s most prominent Black corporate leaders. With the appointment, Facebook’s board members will be able to tap into expertise and guidance from a highly knowledgeable finance executive. The appointment is also significant for being the “culmination of years of recruitment efforts,” Zuckerberg said.
What is most important about Chenault’s new position is that he has broken a color barrier. The underrepresentation of Blacks in the executive suite and corporate boardrooms of Silicon Valley’s finest companies is a huge problem, having created an industry dominated by white male hegemony. Chenault, a veteran CEO of a major U.S. corporation, most likely understands this hegemony all too well.
His appointment is a direct challenge to the dominance, a victory for communities of color anxious to turn the tech industry on its head. Many Black people have lobbied for diversifying the tech field, including civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who has urged Facebook to add people of color to its board.
The social media giant had fallen short of expectations among Black communities. The proportion of African-American and Hispanic workers in technical roles has stayed flat at 1% and 3% respectively since 2014. The percentage of African Americans and Latinos in senior leadership positions has mostly remained unchanged. Facebook employed 152 black men and 107 black women out of a total of 11,241 employees in 2016, according to Facebook’s EEO-1, the workforce demographics report that the company files each year with the federal government.
Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg promised to name a Black director to its board months before Chenault’s appointment, PBS reported. His position represents hope for tech-savvy Black graduates eyeing the tech sector.