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2021 Spencer Stuart Healthcare Sector Snapshot

2021 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index

Governance structures and practices of boards of healthcare companies in the S&P 500 index — a universe of 60 companies — are similar to other S&P 500 boards

  • The average age of independent directors on healthcare boards is 63.5, just above the S&P 500 average of 63.0.
  • The youngest average age of a healthcare board is 55.8 years and the oldest is 71.3.
  • Healthcare boards average 10.4 members, below the 10.8 director average for S&P 500 company boards overall.
  • Independent directors represent 86% of all directors on healthcare boards, equal to the 86% average for the S&P 500 universe.
  • The average tenure of independent directors on healthcare boards is 8.0 years, just above the S&P 500 average of 7.8 years.
  • The longest average tenure for a healthcare board is 16.8 years.


The diversity of healthcare boards aligns with the S&P 500 universe, with directors from underrepresented communities (women, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino and Asian men) constituting 44% of directors on healthcare boards, compared with 43% of S&P 500 boards. Women represent 30% of all healthcare board members in 2021, matching the 30% of S&P 500 directors. Healthcare is tied with the IT sector for having the lowest percentage of Hispanic/Latino/a directors (3% of sector) compared to other primary sectors.

Both the healthcare sector and the S&P 500 index fall short of reflecting U.S. demographics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 51% of the U.S. population are women and about 42% identify as Hispanic/Latino/a (18.5%), Black/African-American (13.4%), Asian (5.9%), American Indian or Alaskan native (1.3%), or multiracial (2.8%).

One-quarter (25%) of healthcare companies disclosed director-specific race/ethnicity details, compared to 28% of all S&P 500 companies. Forty-seven percent (47%) of the sector disclosed a commitment to including directors from underrepresented communities in searches for new directors, higher than the 39% average of S&P 500 companies.

Diversity of healthcare Boards

Nine healthcare boards (15% of the sector) have no Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/a or Asian directors. In contrast, 37 (8%) of S&P 500 boards have no Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/a or Asian directors. Ninety-six percent (96%) of the S&P 500 index have at least two female directors, and two thirds (72%) of S&P 500 boards have three or more female directors. In contrast, 75% of healthcare boards have three or more women directors. Sixteen S&P 500 boards are composed of at least 50% women; no healthcare boards are at least 50% women.

New independent director backgrounds

Thirty-one companies — 52% of the surveyed S&P 500 healthcare companies — added at least one independent director over the past year. Appointees averaged 58.7 years of age, a year older than the 57.5 average for all independent directors joining S&P 500 boards. First-time directors represented 32% of independent directors joining healthcare boards in 2021, lower than the 35% overall average for the S&P 500.

Directors from underrepresented communities constituted 77% of the 44 directors joining healthcare boards over the past year, higher than the 72% of directors joining S&P 500 boards. Healthcare boards added the highest percentage of females of all primary sectors.

Diversity of Independent Directors Joining Healthcare Boards

Fifty-five percent (55%) of the independent directors joining healthcare boards are actively employed, just shy of the 56% of independent directors joining S&P 500 boards overall. In 2021, healthcare companies appointed the highest percentage of “other” professionals of all sectors. Compared to the S&P 500 incoming class, fewer independent directors joining healthcare boards had financial or executive leadership (CEO, functional or divisional) experience. The percentage of the sector’s incoming class with CEO backgrounds (14%) is the second lowest of all S&P 500 primary sectors.

New Independent Director Functional Backgrounds
2021 Healthcare 2021 S&P 500
CEOs 14% 22%
Active 11% 12%
Retired 2% 10%
Chairs / presidents / COOs 5% 4%
Active 2% 2%
Retired 2% 2%
Line / functional leaders 20% 21%
Division / subsidiary leaders 9% 12%
Finance / accounting executives 23% 27%
Financial executives / CFOs / treasurers 16% 13%
Investment managers / investors 7% 8%
Bankers / investment bankers 0% 3%
Public accounting executives 0% 3%
Academics / nonprofit executives 7% 4%
Consultants 2% 1%
Legal  2% 4%
Others 18% 5%

Board leadership

Just over half of healthcare companies (53%) separate the chair and CEO roles, below the 59% average for the S&P 500 index. Independent chairs are in place at 37% of healthcare companies, matching the 37% of the S&P 500. Seventy-two percent (72%) of all healthcare companies have an independent lead or presiding director versus 70% of the S&P 500.

Board organization and process

As detailed below, the healthcare sector’s governance processes and structures are generally aligned with the S&P 500 index. One difference is director terms: 22% of healthcare companies have staggered three-year terms for directors, the highest percentage of all S&P 500 primary sectors. In contrast, only 10% of S&P 500 companies have classified boards.

Board Organization and Process
2021 Healthcare 2021 S&P 500
Classified board 22% 10%
Board meetings (avg #) 8.7 9.4
Board committees (avg #) 4.2 4.2
Audit committee
Size (avg #) 4 4.5
Meetings (avg #) 9.1 8.4
Compensation committee
Size (avg #) 4 4.3
Meetings (avg #) 5.9 6.2
Nominating / governance committee
Size (avg #) 4.2 4.4
Meetings (avg #) 4.7 4.7
Mandatory retirement 65% 70%
Retirement age (avg) 73.8 73.7

Editor’s Note: The data in this report is taken from the 2021 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index which is based on our analysis of the most recent proxy reports from the S&P 500. The 2021 edition of the index draws on the latest DEF14A proxy statements from 493 companies filed with the SEC between May 28, 2020, and May 13, 2021.

Data in tables and charts may not total 100% due to rounding.

Healthcare Sector Companies

Abbott Laboratories
Agilent Technologies
Align Technology
AmerisourceBergen Corporation
Baxter International
Becton, Dickinson and Company
Bio-Rad Laboratories
Biogen Idec
Boston Scientific Corporation
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
Cardinal Health
Centene Corporation
Cerner Corporation
Cigna Corporation
CVS Health Corporation
Danaher Corporation
Dentsply Sirona
Edwards Lifesciences Corporation
Eli Lilly & Company
Gilead Sciences
HCA Healthcare
Henry Schein
IDEXX Laboratories
Incyte Corporation
Intuitive Surgical
IQVIA Holdings
Johnson & Johnson
Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings
McKesson Corporation
Merck & Co.
Mettler-Toledo International
Perrigo Company
Quest Diagnostics
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals
Stryker Corporation
The Cooper Companies
Thermo Fisher Scientific
UnitedHealth Group
Universal Health Services
Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Waters Corporation
West Pharmaceutical Services
Zimmer Biomet Holdings

2021 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index

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