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10 Black Women Pulling Up To The C-Suite On The Boards Of Fortune 500 Companies

Lately, we've found ourselves asking, "Yeah, that's cute, but what does your board look like?"

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So, it basically goes without saying that we are living in a new day—in the absolute best way. The liberation of basic racial equality has welcomed itself into our homes and told everyone that they live with us now (word to Christopher Columbus).

Additionally, with companies in such a rush to suddenly scream "Black Lives Matter", without monetary compensation or legislative outreach, lately we find ourselves side-eyeing major brands, being more intentional with how we spend our very valuable black dollar, and asking: yeah, that's cute, but what does your board look like?

In 2018, Black women gained just 13 seats of the 1,222 seats at the Fortune 100 table (32 were gained at Fortune 500 companies). And although this is a historical high, we undoubtedly have an extremely long way to go. Despite it all, sitting on the Board of Directors is a major accomplishment, so we're here to highlight a few women making their mark by doing just that.

Here are 10 pioneering women who are packing up their melanin, and pulling up to the C-Suite:

1. Susan Rice | Netflix

vasilis asvestas / Shutterstock.com

Ambassador Susan Rice's resume comes stacked with foreign and political accolades that stretches from the east coast to the west coast. She served on President Barack Obama's Cabinet as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and as a national security advisor prior to being appointed as a Board Member with Netflix. Rice is even up for consideration as a VP candidate for Joe Biden's upcoming election.

Cousin to former US Secretary of State, Condeleezza Rice, Susan has received more than 50 major awards for her work in expanding opportunity and advancing multi-racial democracy.

In other words, sis does not play.

Expect to hear more about her impressive background as she comes to the forefront. You can also learn more about her on her social media accounts, where she often shows off her work and beautiful family.

2. Ursula Burns | Uber

Ursula Burns is the first black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company (Xerox), where she sat from 2010 to 2016. I'll say that again since it's 2020 and whatnot: Ursula Burns is the first black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The first black woman CEO.

With Xerox, she managed to transform its business model and generate $18 billion in revenue. Again, I said billion.

Recently, Burns made headlines when she went on CNBC's Closing Bell and stated, "I'm part of the 1%, and I still worry when I'm approached by a police person." And to back it up, she has publicly called on other companies to diversify their portfolios, something that she is willingly taking head-on.

"Before you even look at the companies, look at the boards. Most of the boards still have zero or one African-American on board, and I think pressure in that area, can help to speed up progress and transitions for companies."

Whew, Ursula Burns ladies and gentlemen.

3. Edith Cooper | Etsy, Slack

Edith Cooper served as a Capital Management Head for Goldman Sach's for over 20 years before retiring and joining Esty and Slack's Board of Directors. She was named in Black Enterprise's 2017 "300 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America" list, and was recognized by Crain's New York Business as one of the "Most Powerful Women", among many other awards and honors that would take days for me to list. So, it goes without saying that Ms. Edith is a chief in her own right.

According to her Linkedin profile, Cooper now acts as a co-founder of Medley, which is described as an organization that "harnesses the power of small groups to help people grow."

She credits her family life for making her more focused in life and at work, enhancing her ability to identify ideas and opportunities with impact. And what's even more inspiring about her representation, is she's not afraid to show up to her headshots with a killer twist out.

Queen.

4. Linda Johnson Rice | Grubhub

Queen Linda is the former CEO of EBONY and Jet—a position she resigned from last year. Since joining Grubhub in 2016, she has also served on the board of directors of Tesla, Inc. and Kimberly-Clark Corporation, so if there's one thing she knows about, it's a boardroom.

Rice now resides in Chicago, where she also is a Trustee at the Art Institute of Chicago, President of the Chicago Public Library board of directors, a founding member of the Council of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and a founding member of the Adweek Diversity & Inclusion Council, Northwestern Memorial Corporation and much more.

#inspiring

5. Serena Williams | Poshmark, Survey Monkey

Jan Zahradka / Shutterstock.com

There's not much more that needs to be said about the greatest athlete of all time, but here's Serena Williams.

As if dominating an entire sport, while simultaneously being a loving wife and mother isn't enough, Serena also manages to sit on not one, but two boards: Survey Monkey (a market research software platform which she joined in 2017) and Poshmark (a consignment apparel reselling company which she joined in 2019).

And I could literally go on and on for hours about how amazing both her and her sister, Venus, are (Venus also sits on the board of Zeel)—but I mean, you guys know.

Additionally, in 2014, Williams launched, Serena Ventures, a venture capitalist company focusing on start-ups, to continue to build and provide opportunities to businesses—with some companies in her profile including The Wing, Daily Harvest, and Olly.

Expect to see even more monumental and superstar-caliber moves across the board from this giant.

6. Rosalind G. Brewer | Amazon

Rosalind Brewer is the current COO of Starbucks, and former President and CEO of Sam's Club. She is the first black person to both of those positions at each of those companies. Brewer also chairs the board of trustees at Spelman College, a prominent HBCU.

Most impressively, Brewer has been listed as the "57th Most Powerful Woman In The World" by Forbes, a title she has been given numerous times by the publication.

A bar that she has set at an airplane altitude.

7. Peggy Alford | Facebook

Like so many before her, Peggy is the first black woman to join her board and the second black person in Facebook's history behind Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of AMEX.

The self-proclaimed "unapologetically reserved" titan had gotten her start at eBay, after they acquired Rent.com and asked her to be CFO. Alford is currently an SVP of Global Sales at Paypal, with no plans of slowing down any time soon.

Outside of her resume, you can find her happily being a mom to her three boys, who she adores most and she credits to keeping her balanced.

8. Robin Washington | Salesforce.com, Honeywell, Alphabet Inc.

Robin Washington is a superhuman within her own right. As the former Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Gilead Sciences Inc., Washington has managed to become the only black woman on Salesforce's board, and one of the only two African-Americans—the other being Colin Powell.

And since her professional retirement in 2018, Washington has pivoted her career to include being a professional board member by also joining Honeywell and Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google).

She has been named Financial Woman of the Year by peer organizations in Silicon Valley, continued to be a commodity in business and finance operations, and continuously provides strategic oversight in investor relations.

In other words, she is corporate royalty.

9. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala | Twitter, Gavi, African Risk Capacity

And speaking of royalty, in walks the phenom Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She's a Nigerian-born economist, specializing in international development. She joined Twitter's board upon Debra Lee's departure—directly appointed—and as the former Managing Director at World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala has somehow managed to fly under the radar of being a black woman you need to know.

But to put it blatantly, get to know her work. She is a major contributor to societal evolution and the merging of Black America to Nigeria, as well as other African countries. Per Forbes, she is the first woman to be the finance minister and the foreign minister of the West African country with a GDP of $502 billion.

In other words, a board is the least of her accomplishments.

Diaspora gap shrinkage, we see you!

10.  Debra Lee | Marriott, AT&T

Jamie Lamor Thompson / Shutterstock.com

Debra Lee, Debra Lee.

This BET Networks constructor, who single-handedly took on the job of cleaning up and welcoming so many African-American programs into the forefront, is responsible for the careers and history-making moments of some of our favorite artists. She retired in 2018, after 13 years at the head of the table but sis is very much so still making her mark.

She has since joined both Marriott and AT&T's Board after retiring from Twitter's in 2019.

"When you have diverse people on your board, people are going to hold you accountable. Once you have one person in the room or a couple of people, you can hold the company's feet to the fire. I'm not going to sit in a boardroom, where I'm the only black woman, and not ask why there isn't another black woman, or why there aren't other people of color."

And to prove how much she backs up what she says, when she resigned from Twitter's board, she demanded her replacement be a black woman, which turned out to be Nigerian businesswoman, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (also listed in this article).

Lee has recently hinted in possibly launching a tech fund for women of color, so stay tuned for what (and who) she is bringing to her table.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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