Illinois Passes Watered-Down Bill To Diversify Corporate Boards

A provision in the bill to require public companies in Illinois to have at least one woman, one black and one Latino director on their boards got scrapped.

Illinois lawmakers passed a bill that was supposed to diversify the state’s largely white, male corporate boards, but the legislation got watered down to a version that no longer requires specific minority representation.

House Bill 3394, meant to promote workplace diversity, passed at the end of the state General Assembly’s legislative session last week. It now heads to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk for signing.

The House’s version of the bill, which passed in March, would have required Illinois companies to have at least one woman, one African-American and one Latino on their corporate boards by the end of 2020. But the Senate dropped that provision in its version, replacing it with a requirement for publicly traded companies to report their board’s demographics and diversity initiatives on their websites. That bill also requires the University of Illinois to publish an annual report card on the progress.

All but one of the 30 most valuable companies ― according to their May 3 stock market valuations ― had at least three women on their boards, according to data collected last month by the Chicago Tribune. Women directors hold 26% of board seats, black directors hold 9% and Latinos 2%, though the Tribune said not all companies responded to its data request.

Some people said the bill is a step in the right direction, even if weakened, though the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the Tribune that the legislation was “gutted.”

“The struggle continues,” said Jackson, who has addressed corporate diversity before. “But it’s just not the board ― it goes beyond the board members, how many black or Latino lawyers are employed by the company? How many people of color are handling the 401K investments, the procurement pipelines ― what kind of diversity is there?”

The legislation comes after California passed a law last year requiring publicly traded companies in the state to have at least one woman on the board by the end of 2019. Those same companies will then be required by 2021 to have two women on a board of at least five members, and three women on a board of at least seven members.