20 Black Women Of Power & Influence

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

study revealed the prevalent, though not mysterious, barriers that African American women climbing the corporate ladder face. The four primary factors cited: exclusion from informal networks (54%); male stereotyping and preconceptions of women (51%); lack of mentoring (46%); and lack of line experience (40%). These items also mirror what the women cite as success factors: adapting their styles to make males comfortable (74%); consistently exceeding expectations (66%); having an influential mentor (54%); and seeking difficult or highly visible assignments (51%).

“We must rule with an iron hand cloaked in a velvet glove,” says one of the respondents in the new follow-up Catalyst study to be released in 1998, which will focus on the career mobility of women of color in large corporations. “Women today can be optimistic about their career outlooks, but the progress is not going to happen naturally without the intervention of corporations,” says Dawn Fisher, senior associate of research and project manager of the study.

“In the past, leadership was defined through an Anglo-American, middle class, male lens,” says ogilvie. “Through these women and women like them, corporate America may be able to learn more about leadership and value the new perceptions that people of color can bring to the company.

URSULA M. BURNS Vice President and General Manager, Department Copier Business Xerox
While a student at an all-girls private school, Ursula Burns wanted a career that would offer the most money after four years of college. That career was engineering.
Today, having held a variety of engineering and management jobs in the company, Burns was recently appointed vice president and general manager of Xerox’s Departmental Copier Business. She is charged with the design, development and manufacturing of large workgroup digital copiers and light lens copiers for the $19.5 billion company. In addition, she oversees all sales and service administration. As part of Xerox’s Office Document Products Group, her unit is the Rochester, New York-based company’s largest, with $3 billion in revenues.

“International experience was invaluable,” says 38-year-old Burns, who just returned to the U.S. after two years in London, where she served as vice president and general manager of the Workgroup Copier Business.

After graduating from the Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1980 with a degree in mechanical engineering, she took a summer internship at Xerox and hasn’t looked back since. She went on to get her master’s in mechanical engineering in 1981. Moving into engineering management in 1987 became a turning point that gave her “a great view of getting things done and leading a team,” she says. In 1990, the New York native was tapped to be the executive assistant to Xerox’s executive vice president of marketing and customer operations. Later that year, she held the coveted spot of assistant to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Paul A. Allaire. These jobs gave her ” 16 years of education in a year.”

Burns, who knows the names of all of her high-volume marketing executives throughout the U.S., Europe and Latin America, must now work to continue building the company’s digital technology and

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