This symposium essay summarizes our ongoing ethnographic research on corporate board diversity. This research is based on fifty-seven interviews with corporate directors and a limited number of other persons of interest (including institutional investors, executive search professionals, and proxy advisors) regarding their views on race and gender diversity in the boardroom.

Using a method rooted in anthropology and discourse analysis, we have worked from a general topic outline and conducted open-ended interviews in which respondents are encouraged to raise and develop issues of interest to them. The interviews range from forty-five minutes to two hours in length and each interview is taped and transcribed. As a group, we then listen to each taped interview at least once with transcript in hand, analyzing each interview qualitatively with a focus on the themes that the respondents identify, the emphases given to these themes, the stories (or narratives) that they tell, and the details of the language that they use. We also thematically code the transcripts and use sorting software to get another, complementary view of the frequency and distribution of the various themes.

As we discuss at length in other published work, there are numerous tensions in directors’ accounts of race and gender in the boardroom. In this essay, we discuss what we view as the central tension in our respondents’ views on corporate board diversity—their overwhelmingly enthusiastic support of board diversity coupled with an inability to articulate coherent accounts of board diversity benefits that might rationalize that enthusiasm.