20 Black Women Of Power & Influence

These African American female corporate executives are shaping the way business is done

Will the first african american to head A major corporation be a woman? Maybe, if any of the women on this list have their way. The following executives wield power and influence in all areas–from the competitive consumer products market to the fast-paced financial arena. They flex their muscle both here and abroad and make bottom-line decisions that impact the lives of almost every American.

In determining the roster of candidates, BE editors went back to where it all began–our inaugural list published in August 1991 entitled “21 Women of Power and Influence in Corporate America.” Of the 21 women profiled that year, 10 are on this list; two others have entered the public or not-for-profit sector; one has retired; four were not in line positions; and we were unsuccessful in tracking down the other four. To round out the list, we scoured the industry–talking to recruiters, industry analysts, professional organizations and through word-of-mouth– and netted more than 50 names. We then painstakingly combed biographies and resumes, investigated and interviewed, to compile this list of 20 dynamic women and six others to watch.

Seven hold the title of president, responsible for subsidiaries or divisions of their corporations. One is an executive vice president. There are also five senior vice presidents and seven vice presidents.
These executives have authority over budgets and revenues totaling over $36 billion. They control subsidiaries, divisions or departments that affect the fiscal health and the direction of their companies. (Women in human resources, legal, corporate communications and other staff functions were not eligible.)

Their average age is 44.5. Marriage and parenthood don’t appear to be major deterrents to their careers since more than half are wives and/or mothers. All have annual compensation packages (including salary, bonuses, stock options and pension plans) ranging from $250,000 to over $1 million dollars. Most also serve on the boards of small corporations and not-for-profit organizations. Eleven are members of the Executive Leadership Council, a prestigious association of African American corporate officials.

Although their impressive credentials, skills and business finesse has garnered them a lofty seat in the executive suite, unfortunately, they are often alone. According to the Glass Ceiling Commission, African American women held only 2.2% of the executive, administrative and managerial jobs in the private sector in 1990. And experts say this number has risen little since then.

“There is still a concrete ceiling and women of color must continually fight negative stereotypes, both related to gender and race,” says dt ogilvie, Ph.D., assistant professor of organization management at Rutgers University Faculty of Management. She and Patricia Parker, Ph.D., professor of communications at Arkansas Tech University, authored a study on African American female executive leadership strategies. “While many more women are coming in at the middle manager level, we must be careful not to assume that these few examples of success are a reflection of what is typical,” says Ogilvie.

In 1996, Catalyst polled 460 women–46 were women of color–who held the title of vice president and above and worked at Fortune 1,000 firms. That

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