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raceAhead: Where Are the Black Female CEOs?

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.

On Point

Women will be able to legally drive in Saudi ArabiaYesterday, the Saudi Foreign ministry announced a royal decree that will allow women to drive by next June. The decision, which comes after years of activism, brings the country in line with the rest of the world. Women have begun celebrating throughout the kingdom. “Being able to drive really facilitates a lot of logistics and helps with shaving off the time to get things done,” one young designer told CNN. “It’s so thrilling to be able to do this.”CNN

A nasty Facebook battle helps two Georgia state legislators find common ground
After State Rep. Jason Spencer publicly told LaDawn Jones, a former state representative, that her quest to remove Confederate monuments could lead to certain violence (in more colloquial terms), the exchange went viral. Spencer was widely attacked for his remarks. Shocked by the attention, the two have decided to work together on legislation that would convert Georgia’s Stone Mountain into a Civil War monument, and overturn state law that currently prevents municipalities from removing their own Confederate monuments. Spencer and Jones are legislator-friends who sat next to each other for years; neither wanted to let their public outburst define their relationship. Proximity works, y’all.
The Intercept

A veteran once convicted of a hate crime finds friends and redemption
Ted Hakey Jr., a former U.S. Marine, was drunk and distraught when he was arrested after firing 30 shots into the Ahmadiyya Baitul Aman Mosque in Meriden, Conn. in 2015. It was deemed a hate crime. But his tearful apology before sentencing moved the Ahmadiyya community; one of the leaders even visited Hakey every two weeks while he served his sentence. They became, they say, like brothers. Now, Hakey is an advocate for a deeper understanding of Islam and actively helps build bridges within the community. “What you see on social media sites,” Hakey said. “That was my education of Islam.”

Dell creates a new role for diversity chief
Brian Reaves joins Dell as its first Chief Diversity Officer, having held a top spot in diversity at SAP in Palo Alto for years. “Put simply, a diverse range of ideas, perspectives and experience drives innovation, and so when we cultivate a culture of inclusivity, both our employees and our customers win,” said Chief Customer Officer Karen Quintos in a blog post. The new role is meant to focus diversity efforts that had been spread throughout the company, and the first such role created since Dell acquired EMC in 2016
Austin Business Journal

The Woke Leader

It’s “thunder ceases” today, soon it will be “insects hole up underground”
The Japanese calendar beautifully honors the moments in nature that mark the passing of time, with 72 , or microseasons, that last around five days. Although the seasons were inspired originally by the Chinese, they were re-written in 1685 by the court astronomer to, one assumes, more accurately reflect the Japanese aesthetic. It’s a lovely way to think about the world; for example, U.S. tax day falls during “first rainbows” and my birthday is right in the middle of “peonies bloom.” Please mark your calendars.

By overvaluing confidence, we’ve lost our way 
In a world that tends to overvalue the brash, confident and arrogant among us –and that embraces the egocentric bias – we’ve overlooked the power of intellectual humility, argues Jacob Burak, a culture writer. Intellectually humble people, he says, prefer truth over status, work hard to grow, and exhibit an openness to new ideas even when they conflict with their own. Here’s just one outcome of valuing confidence over humility: Online trolls thrive. 

When work tests your sobriety
For anyone who is newly sober, boozy work functions – a staple of modern corporate life – can be a test for the ages. This poignant and funny essay takes on the culture of drinking, how hard it is to stay healthy, and the hard, cold realization that you’re surrounded by misogynistic jerks at work. When you turn yourself into the minority, the transition can be sobering.


Many of us have had to fight for our identity wherever we go, but wherever we go, we carry hope with us. It walks with us.”
—Jean Oyola