By Ellen McGirt
Updated: September 27, 2017 3:42 PM ET

My latest contribution to the Most Powerful Women in Business canon posted online today, exploring the experience of black women in corporate life.

It’s called The Black Ceiling, and you already know why.

The story starts with a sad statistic: After Ursula Burns stepped down as Xerox CEO last year, there are currently zero African American women running a Fortune 500 company. The pipeline looks similarly grim. This year’s ranking of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business –women with the kind of influence that operational roles provide – has only one, Ann-Marie Campbell, Home Depot’s EVP for U.S. Stores.

“I’m not sure why people are so shocked that someone who had been doing something for eight or ten years would want to move on,” Burns says. “And I’m not sure why people would be shocked that there is nobody there to replace me at Xerox or anyplace else. All you had to do is look.”

And while there is some reason for optimism, it’s important to face some difficult facts. “We’ve been doing this a long time,” Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital told Fortune. “The numbers haven’t moved. And I’m usually the most optimistic person. But math doesn’t lie.”

The math is part of what makes this year’s MPW list so powerful. The list, which focuses on women with demonstrable financial influence, isn’t biased. It reveals the bias in the system. And that’s something to build on.

“One of the things that I think is remarkable about black women is that even with all of the headwinds that we face in terms of advancing ourselves, there is this incredible appetite for learning and preparing ourselves for leadership,” says Susan Reid, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “So many of us grew up in families where we saw women who exhibited real leadership at an early age—like in mine, where my mother was the head of the household.” The gap between that appetite and the opportunities presented cause real frustration and pain. “That gap is what we’re trying to solve for.”

Thanks in advance for reading and sharing. The many women who contributed to this piece are really doing the work.


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