Power. What is it and who has it? Corporate muscle is defined by an executive’s ability to have some bearing on the direction of a company. “There may be different degrees, but if you can influence decision making at a company, that is power,” says Jerri DeVard, senior vice president of marketing and brand management at the telecom giant Verizon. “You can give your input, but that’s not influence. You have to have the ability to impact the actual outcome. Power is the result of influence.”
Membership in the corporate elite doesn’t come easy. It requires having the power to steer some of the world’s corporate leviathans and impact the products companies sell, the markets they pursue, and the revenues flowing into their coffers. Because of their pull, the executives, entrepreneurs, and specialized professionals who appear on the following pages make up BLACK ENTERPRISE’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Black Women in Business. And they run the gamut, from senior managers of multinational corporations to founders of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses.
|Women of Power By the Numbers|
Over a six-month period, our editors reviewed biographies and resumes and conducted interviews with hundreds of potential candidates. Since a title is not automatically synonymous with power, we further narrowed the list by talking to top executives, industry insiders, and the heads of professional organizations. All candidates were judged based on the following criteria: the extent to which her clout inside the company has a direct impact on revenues, profitability, product development, and brand position; the scope of her career; her ability to influence the direction of major corporations, nonprofits, and institutions through board membership; her unfettered access to the CEO, top management, and corporate board; and her industrywide reputation. Women who hold positions in diversity, human resources, legal affairs, corporate communications, and other staff management areas were not eligible.
Without exception, our list reveals 50 women who represent the top echelon of business. They have authority over budgets totaling billions of dollars and they control subsidiaries, divisions, or departments that affect the fiscal health and direction of their entities.
Although the clout of our top 50 is considerable, very little has changed in the executive suite. According to Catalyst, a research and advisory firm, women of color represent about 1.6% of corporate officers and top earners at the nation’s 500 leading industrial companies. When we published our list of “21 Women of Power and Influence in Corporate America” in 1991, black women constituted 3% of corporate management and 0.9% of corporate officers. According to Catalyst, women of color currently hold 3% of the board seats at 415 of the nation’s 500 largest industrial corporations. Of all 655 seats held by women, 104 are held by African Americans. Says Katherine Giscombe, Catalyst’s senior director of research, many women of color continue to get “discouraged by looking up the corporate ladder