NEW YORK, Nov 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - White men still overwhelm the boardroom but for the first time, women and minorities together accounted for half of the new independent directors appointed by corporate America this year, a recruitment firm said on Thursday.
Executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart tracked appointments of independent directors made by S&P 500 companies, firms whose shares are listed on major U.S. stock indexes, NYSE or NASDAQ.
It found that diversity was on the rise, signalling its growing importance as firms aim to better reflect wider society.
"Board composition is an important governance issue for many institutional investors," Julie Hembrock Daum, a Spencer Stuart spokeswoman, said in a statement.
"Boards can continue to make progress on this front by committing to regularly reviewing and refreshing the board and by casting a wide net to include first-time director candidates."
Independent directors are brought in from outside a company to enhance corporate transparency.
Statements to shareholders released in 2017 show that S&P 500 companies appointed to their boards 397 independent directors during the period covered by the reports.
When aggregated, women and members of minority groups represented more than half of the new independent directors, the New York-based firm found.
Specifically, women accounted for more than a third of those directors appointed, while minority males represented about a sixth of new appointments. New directors who are both female and members of a minority group totalled 6 percent of the cohort.
The researchers behind the findings defined minorities as being African-American, Hispanic, Latino or Asians.
Despite the new milestone reached this year, women continued to lag in the overall makeup of company boards.
Women made up just 22 percent of all directors in the companies tracked, a 1 percentage point increase from 2016.
The latest ratio of female independent directors or those from minority groups was the highest since Spencer Stuart began tracking the data in 1998, it said, and the first time that women and minorities together exceeded the 50 percent threshold.
Details of Spencer Stuart's findings will be released in a report in mid-November, a spokesman said.
Research has shown that public companies with women directors on average slightly outperform those with no women directors. (Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)