Facebook diversifies board with American Express CEO

Kenneth Chenault, who plans to retire from American Express this year, will become Facebook's first black board member.

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Kenneth I. Chenault will join Facebook's board.

Michael Cohen/Getty

Facebook is nabbing outgoing American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault for its board of directors — and in doing so, appointing its first black board member.

"I've been trying to recruit Ken for years," CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement Thursday. "He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve — customer service, direct commerce and building a trusted brand." Zuckerberg also noted Chenault's strong sense of social mission.

Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express since 2001, in February will join a board that includes Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, entrepreneur and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, as well as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

The addition comes at a time when Silicon Valley is taking serious flak for its lack of diversity. In tech, the representation of blacks and Hispanics in particular is low — usually well under 10 percent each. Facebook's most recent diversity report from August 2017 disclosed that the company's workforce is 3 percent black, up one percentage point from the previous year. What's more, representation tends to decrease higher up the corporate ladder.

People outside tech have noticed the disparity. In October, Reps. Barbara Lee from California and G.K. Butterfield from North Carolina— members of the Congressional Black Caucus— visited Silicon Valley to meet with companies like Facebook and Twitter about increasing representation all the way up to the board level.

Boards can also present a particular challenge as there are a limited number of seats and those positions often go to early investors. Turnover is also less frequent.

"I'm delighted to join the board and look forward to working with Mark and the other directors as Facebook continues to build communities that help bring people closer to friends, family and the world around them," Chenault said in a statement.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Chenault declined to comment further.

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