Sacramento, CA – When California State Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) first introduced Assembly Bill 979 (AB 979), which would require companies whose principal executive offices are located in California, to impose strict minimum numbers of corporate directors from the underrepresented community (defined as African-American, Hispanic, and Native American), the APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander Americans) community was not included as being underrepresented.
APIA was probably considered not underrepresented based on the myth that we are a “model minority” and that we have already claimed our fair share of corporate directorship. While the perception is that Asian Americans are more successful when compared to other minorities, the reality is that the corporate Bamboo Ceiling is still intact and not leveled.
According to research by the Ascend Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Pan-Asian organization engaged in research with a mission to advocate and enable business leaders to reach their full potential, Asian Americans in the professional workforce are the least likely to be promoted to manager or executive positions in California. As late as 2015, nearly 80 percent of the Fortune 500 corporations have no Asian Americans on their boards. Of the 399 new Fortune 500 board directors in 2015, there were only 19 Asian Americans (4.8% versus 5.3% in 2014).
The situation may have improved. Based on 2018 data from Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity, the percentages of Fortune 500 company board seats held by people identified as African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander were 8.6 percent, 3.8 percent, and 3.7 percent, as compared to their populations of 13.4 percent, 18.3 percent, and 5.9 percent, respectively. This shows that APIA representation is about on par with African American/blacks at 63% vs 64%, while both are ahead of Hispanics/Latinos at 21%. Ideally, the percentage of corporate directorship should reflect the percentage of the population.
As soon as this omission was brought to the attention of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA) through concerned leaders including Buck Gee, Board Member of Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, APAPA together with these leaders immediately sought the assistance of Assemblymember David Chiu, Chair of the California APIA Legislative Caucus, and California State Senator Richard Pan. Through their efforts, the author and former Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, Assemblymember Chris Holden immediately agreed to include APIA into the bill and this amendment was heavily supported by Principal Co-authors, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, demonstrating that cross-cultural coalitions can join forces to fight for the same goals for fairness and equal opportunity for all ethnic communities.
While college admission based on racial quotas has been ruled illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke), AB 979 is being compared to SB 826, a 2018 bill that was passed and signed by former Governor Jerry Brown to address gender inequality concerns with California companies. The latest data indicates that most public companies headquartered in California are complying or heading in that direction.
Although AB 979 has been amended to include APIA as an underrepresented community, it still must go through the legislative process before becoming law. AB 979 is set for hearing in the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, July 28 at 1:30 P.M. in the Senate Chambers.
APAPA is appreciative of our members and fellow APIA organizations who have alerted us about the omission of APIA in the bill and have taken actions with us to amend this discrepancy. We are also appreciative of our African and Latino American friends and allies as we pledge to work with them together to level the playing field for all Americans. APAPA will continue to cooperate with all parties and strive for equality and inclusion in addressing AB 979 and similar issues!