Finally, some good news to report related to women on corporate boards!

According to a new report report released by executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, Fortune 500 boards appointed a record number of women in 2021. In fact, the 2022 Board Monitor report, the firm’s long-standing study of trends in board composition in countries around the world, found that 45 percent of the 449 board seats filled in 2021 were women directors, up from 41 percent the previous year.

Why the renewed interest in women representing and leading organizations? Global events like the pandemic, climate change, increased calls for racial and social justice, and the war in Ukraine have prompted corporations to focus more attention on “organizational purpose,” according to the report. As a result, Fortune 500 boards of directors shifted to bringing in a wider range of experience to their boards, including more directors who are women, diverse, and serving for the first time in the boardroom.

“Boards continue to seek fresh thinking as evidenced by the appointment of directors with more diverse backgrounds,” said Bonnie Gwin, vice chair and co-managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ global CEO and board of directors practice. “And the truly cutting-edge boards are taking a strategic, holistic approach to board succession by continuously monitoring refreshment opportunities to meet today’s challenges and respond with resilience when the unexpected occurs.”

While the number of women board members continues to trend upward — 29 percent of all directors on Fortune 500 boards are women, up from 19 percent in 2015 — the number of Asian or Asian-American women and Hispanic or Latinx women lag considerably. Only 31 percent of Hispanic or Latinx appointments and 33 percent of Asian or Asian-American appointees are women compared to the higher gender diversity among Black (43 percent) and white (49 percent) appointees.

Other interesting tidbits from the report include:

  • In 2021, 40 percent of appointees were current or former CEOs, down significantly from the high of 60 percent in 2018. Current or former CFOs made up 14 percent of appointments in 2021, down from a high of 21 percent in 2020. Notably, 16 percent of newly appointed women directors have CFO experience compared to 11 percent of men.
  • New appointees continue to broaden boards’ experience in digital, financial risk and compliance, cybersecurity, and sustainability to strengthen resilience given higher levels of uncertainty. Seats going to directors with cybersecurity experience jumped to 17 percent from 8 percent in 2020. Those with sustainability backgrounds rose to 14 percent from 6 percent, and most have had previous international experience.
  • For the sixth consecutive year, the average age of new board members held steady at around 57, with 64 percent of the seats in 2021 going to people 55 and older and only 6 percent to those under 45.

We here at the Women in Retail Leadership Circle (WIRLC) love to share information and knowledge that can help more women land spots on corporate boards. In that spirt, we produced a virtual workshop designed to answer that question — and more. WIRLC members can get free access to the virtual workshop, “Getting Board Ready: The Secrets to Landing a Board Seat and Being a Great Director,” by clicking here. Lastly, if you would like to become a member (so you can have access to great content like this and more), please feel free to check us out here.