With a new policy to consider more diverse board candidates in place, Amazon has named Starbucks COO Rosalind Brewer as director.
Demand is coming from various corners for big U.S. companies, particularly technology giants, to add more women and non-white people to their boards. Shareholders are especially vocal. Last spring, CtW Investment Group requested that Amazon adopt a “Rooney Rule,” saying that “the initial list of candidates from which new management-supported director nominees are chosen should include qualified women and minority candidates.” Amazon initially rejected the proposal, but reversed course amidst a backlash, adopting a formal policy to consider more diverse board candidates.
“Shareholders have long believed that embracing diversity will benefit companies by providing greater access to talent, harnessing existing talent more effectively, and improving decision making by reducing groupthink and similar psychological biases,” the proposal from CtW read. “There is now ample evidence in support of this belief,” it continued, citing a 2017 McKinsey study.
With the appointment of Brewer, Amazon’s 10-member board now has four women, including Jamie Gorelick, Judith McGrath and Patricia Stonesifer. Brewer has also been appointed to the board’s Leadership Development and Compensation Committee, the company said. She brings an exceptional background in retail to the boardroom: Prior to being appointed COO of Starbucks in 2017, she was CEO of Walmart’s warehouse chain, Sam’s Club.
Brewer is also the second black woman to serve on Amazon’s board, Reuters reports. Pharmaceutical executive Myrtle Potter was the first, serving from 2004 to 2009. While board diversity in the U.S. has increased in recent years, minority women still hold less than 5% of board seats in Fortune 500 companies and just under 6% in Fortune 100 companies, according to the 2018 Board Diversity Census from the Alliance for Board Diversity and consulting firm Deloitte.
“It is my hope that this barrier-breaking appointment serves as an example to other industry leaders regarding the positive economic, business, innovation and inclusion benefits offered by increasing board diversity, especially to companies leading the way in our modern innovation economy,” said Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois, co-chair of the House Tech Accountability Caucus. Members of the House Tech Accountability Caucus, including Kelly, were among those pushing Amazon to diversify its board last year.