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The Fortune 500 has a new Black CEO

February 26, 2021, 11:36 PM UTC

One of the most talented Black female executives in recent corporate history gets tapped for a big new job, stop blaming Tuskegee on vaccine hesitancy in the Black community, and more allegations of racism at work make the news.

But first, here’s your Equality Act week in review, in Haiku.

Kermit the Frog asked
a smart question back in the
day: Why are there so

many songs about 
rainbows? What’s on the other 
side? Could it be a

world of equity?
Of love and equal access
to jobs and homes and

vital services? 
Or is that just for dreamers.
Someday we’ll find a

rainbow connection 
of lawmakers, allies and…
people with bodies.

Wishing you a happy, blue sky kind of weekend. .

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

We have a new Black CEO, yes we do

Yesterday, the century-old investment manager TIAA, announced Thasunda Brown Duckett, currently the CEO of Chase Consumer Banking, would be its next CEO. She will be replacing Roger Ferguson, who will be stepping down at the end of March. When Duckett takes the helm on May 1, she will join Walgreen’s Roz Brewer as the second Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 firm.

She is also set to become the third-ever Black female Fortune 500 CEO.

“I have so much gratitude for all the shoulders I stand on,” Duckett said in an Instagram post.

Duckett is well known to the raceAhead and Broadsheet communities, two newsletters that focus on inclusive leadership and gender equity. Needless to say, my sisters at the Broadsheet put this move into perfect context:

[W]ith $1.1 trillion in assets under management and $40 billion in revenue in 2019, TIAA is No. 81 on the Fortune 500 list. Many of the Fortune500's current female CEOs (Duckett will be the 41st) are concentrated in the bottom half of the list, but Duckett—and Brewer, for that matter—will serve in the even more exclusive Fortune 100. 

Duckett is known as an outspoken advocate for diversity, and two years ago she told Fortune's Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit about the importance of not "water[ing] down the journey." 

"When I walk into a room, you’re gonna see my race and you’re gonna see my gender,” she said. “I just think that we need to stop being apologetic and trying to fit in."

And it’s worth noting, that Ferguson has become the only outgoing CEO who was replaced with an executive of color, a succession story that I’d love to learn more about. Let’s see what I can dig up.

Until then, let's take a moment to enjoy the rare moment when a person of enormous talent is able to take their next big leap.

On Point

The Tuskegee Study is not really behind low vaccination rates for Black people in the U.S. It’s not that the issue doesn’t matter, or that communities of color aren’t smart to take a pause when faced with trusting the medical establishment. Karen Lincoln, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California, says that the issue is of a more modern vintage. “It's a scapegoat,” Lincoln says. “It’s an excuse. If you continue to use it as a way of explaining why many African Americans are hesitant, it almost absolves you of having to learn more, do more, involve other people – admit that racism is actually a thing today.” What’s happening today? Black communities are having trouble getting access to the vaccine.

Case in point… According to state data, white Alabamans are getting the vaccine at twice the rate of Black ones. According to reporting from Bloomberg, a community clinic that serves the poorest residents from Birmingham’s majority-Black north side has yet to receive or distribute a single dose, while vaccinations are happening in a nearby wealthy white community. “How could the vaccine not have gone first to the people who were getting hurt the worst by the virus?” says Sheila Tyson, a commissioner who serves the Birmingham district.

Line cooks top the list of most likely to die during the pandemic Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco studied California death certificates for working-age people 18 to 65, during the first seven months of the pandemic. While the study has yet to be peer-reviewed, preliminary results are compelling. Overall, the researchers found a 22% increase in mortality during the pandemic – but for jobs like line cooks, the rate was 60%. It outpaced health care workers.  “[W]e’re so surprised to see is just how much that risk varied across sectors and even across specific jobs,” one of the researchers told CNBC. Check out the full study here.

Former producer accuses public radio powerhouse of ‘blatant racism’ Cerise Castle, a former news producer for KCRW-FM, has gone public with her allegations, saying her workplace experiences were “marked by microaggressions, gaslighting, and blatant racism starting when I was physically prevented from entering the building multiple times within my first month of employment.” She first outlined her issues in what is now becoming an important rite of passage, the intra-company farewell letter. Click through for her jarring allegations which include the appropriation of her ideas.
Los Angeles Times


On background

Giving the great outdoors the DEI treatment Longtime readers know this history and my passionate story-telling around it: The U.S. national parks — and other wild outdoor spaces —are the direct result of a deeply racist impulse to give white people respite from the Great Migration “urbanization” of the country. This important update on the work being done to set things right focuses on Donna Carpenter, the board chair of Burton Snowboards, a company founded by her late husband. “We always talk about barriers that people have to leadership, or to becoming a great athlete,” she tells Snews, an outlet that covers outdoor sports. “But, all of a sudden, it was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re part of those barriers,’ and we have to do more to dismantle them.”

Spend a little time with Dolly Parton She’s an enduring legend, a savvy brand, an effective philanthropist, and a dedicated employer operating in an otherwise overlooked part of rural America. And yet, as this wonderful profile makes clear, Dolly Parton is someone we can all agree on. Jad Abumrad was the host of WNYC Studios’ nine-part 2019 podcast Dolly Parton’s America, and had one of the best quotes in the piece. “We talked to these fervent Dolly fans, from Appalachian queer kids to Brooklyn hipsters to [conservative] people in the South. Everyone sees her as theirs." And then this: “I say this with humility and as someone who is not a believer: There’s something very Christ-like about her.” 

Spend a little time with the Oluos Ijeoma Oluo is one of my favorite writers, so I was embarrassed to only now learn that she is also one of the characters in a memoir written by her brother Ahamefule, versions of which have appeared in an off-Broadway show and in a This American Life podcast episode. Thin Skin is now an independent film which premiered this week at the Bentonville Film Festival, and the two Oluos play themselves. (I am shook by this news.) The story centers on the siblings, who grew up in Seattle with their mother after their Nigerian father left them. It looks amazing. Ahamefule, an accomplished jazz musician, provides the soundtrack to the dramatized tale. “Ahamefule is as good an actor as he is a musician, and his sister is brilliant as well,” says one reviewer, sounding a bit surprised. The trailer is here, more on the film below.

This edition of raceAhead is edited by David Z. Morris

Today's mood board


Calvin Ellis (get it?), DC Comics' canonically Black Superman. Ellis may wind up on the silver screen in some form, with Ta-Nehisi Coates tapped to write a forthcoming Superman reboot for J.J. Abrams. Sources told the Hollywood Reporter that the story will introduce a Black Superman to the DC film universe.