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Putting African-American females in the executive pipeline

Many African-American women who aspire to one day furnish an executive corner office are faced with a “double outsiders” status in today’s organizations. by Lisa Olivia Fitch
NNPA News Service

In the corporate world – the land of office supplies, paper cuts, and ink stains – there has long existed a glass ceiling.  At first glance, the mailroom clerk sees the CEO chair within her grasp, just up the ladder of success. But, alas, there is an invisible barrier. Maybe they are not the “right” race or sex. Or both.

Many African-American women who aspire to one day furnish an executive corner office are faced with a “double outsiders” status in today’s organizations.

 
 Ursula Burns

“Right now there is only one black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company; that’s Ursula Burns at Xerox,” said Michael Dutton, director of communications for the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), an independent, nonprofit organization that provides African-American executives of major U.S. companies with a professional network and forum to offer perspective and dimension on national and international business and public policy issues.

“Our members have achieved success on their own terms, and ELC shares their knowledge with leadership development opportunities,” said Dutton.

According to the Black Women Executives Research Initiatives conducted by the ELC, there is a potential road map that can help African-American women executives prepare for “C-suite” roles.

“The C-suite is the staff of the CEO,” Dutton said. “Those folks (who) support the CEO’s decision process – the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer, the executive vice presidents and the senior vice president. The CEO is occupied with reporting to the board of directors.  It’s his staff that is managing the business and keeping the CEO informed.”

One key finding from the research shows that African-American women executives suffer from the lack of comfortable, trusted and strategic relationships at the senior level with those who are most different from themselves, most notably white males.

CEOs and African-American women executives have different views about the quality of the relationships between the two groups and about the African-American woman’s ability to network.

CEOs believe that African-American women spend too little time developing strategic relationships. They recommend that African-American women be the first to forge stronger relationships with white male executives and increase their risk-taking, as well as make themselves more visible and valuable.

According to a third finding, every aspiring executive must ask, “Do I really want to do what it takes to compete for the top slot?”  If the answer for an African-American  woman executive is “yes,” she must have a plan to get there and put that plan into action at each step of the way.

That’s where ELC comes in. ELC is hosting a “Strategic Pathways” leadership development program July 14-15 in Del Mar, Calif., and applications are due May 6.

The two-day Strategic Pathways program is the shortest of the ELC’s training programs. A second, “Strengthening the Pipeline,” will be held in August in Miami for five days, and “Bright Futures” will be in the same city for three days.

The Del Mar event is designed to assist mid-career African-American women – managers, senior project leaders, directors, and new vice presidents – and create a strategic plan for their personal and professional development.

“What we don’t want to do is just have them sit and talk to them,” Lucas said. “What the participants have to say is just as important as what the trainers have to say. Having dialogues in class is critical to the success of the program.”

Networking – one of the areas the research found lacking – is also a focus.

“Leaving the program doesn’t stop the progress,” Lucas said. “Participants stay in contact. They learn and grow from one another.  After the program, they feel like family. They have a lot in common, they form amazing bonds and support and encourage and continually learn from each other.”

During the program, participants will also have access to a panel of experts, ELC members, who will lead discussions and share their personal success ladder climbing experiences. ELC membership consists of businessmen and women – mostly African American executives who are CEOs or are working within two or three levels of a CEO position.

“Ursula Burns is a member, as well as Clarence Otis, the CEO of Darden Restaurants; and Bernard Tyson, president and COO of Kaiser Permanente,” Dutton said.

A committee of ELC members is now organizing a Black Women’s Leadership Symposium, scheduled to take place in Chicago on July 18 and 19.

(For more information, visit www.elcinfo.com/bwls.php.)

(Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly)

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