Why the former CEO of Xerox turned her attention to corporate diversity—and how she thinks business is failing

September 29, 2020, 9:30 AM UTC
Ursula Burns on Leadership Next.
Ursula Burns on Leadership Next.
Stuart Isett—Fortune

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Ursula Burns stepped down from her position as the CEO of Xerox in 2016, and later turned her focus to diversifying corporate boards with the Board Diversity Action Alliance. As the first—and only—Black woman to run a Fortune 500 company, she is uniquely suited for the work.

On the latest episode of Leadership Next, Burns speaks with cohosts Ellen McGirt and Alan Murray about the need for true diversity and equity in America.

“We have a responsibility to leave behind a world that’s better than it is when we inhabited it,” Burns says. At the moment, she says business is failing to live up to that responsibility. 

Businesses are failing on diversity, transparency, worker pay, environmentalism, and more, according to Burns. And it starts at the top, with the chief executives and the boards. For her part, she is leading up the alliance in partnership with Gabrielle Sulzberger, Teneo (for which she is a senior adviser), the Ford Foundation, and the Executive Leadership Council. Toward its goal of increasing the proportion of racially and ethnically diverse directors on corporate boards, the alliance is focusing on getting Black professionals to the table.

So far corporate powerhouses such as Macy’s, Mastercard, UPS, Uber, and Dow have all signed the pledge to increase the number of Black directors on their boards to one or more, and to disclose their board demographics along with their inclusion metrics.

Around the 6:50 mark of the episode, McGirt brings in Fortune features editor Kristen Bellstrom, who heads up the annual Most Powerful Women list, and The Broadsheet, the newsletter for and about those women. In that interview, Bellstrom draws on her years of experience as a business journalist to add further context to the major issue of corporate diversity.

To hear that interview and more from Burns, including her opinions on the CEOs who are voting for Donald Trump, listen to the episode below.

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