Black Enterprise Multimedia Special Projects Editor Sonja Mack with Sundra L. Ryce, President & CEO of SLR Contracting & Service Co. Inc. (left) and Chekesha Kidd, President of Aetna Student Health (Photo by Lonnie C. Major)
Our lists are among our most important franchises—and for good reason. With many of the media portrayals still offering demeaning images of African Americans, particularly in their depiction of women, our intention is for these lists to serve not only as inspiration for achievement and an affirmation of our vast contributions to business and enterprise, but as an opportunity to examine the environments in which these dynamic professionals thrive.
“Rising Stars 40 & Under,” is our first list celebrating the achievements of young female professionals. At a time when the business community is experiencing limited access to funding and a tightening of loans, and when corporate professionals are witnessing high unemployment and a relaxed commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts, these young professionals have made great strides in what is the toughest and most competitive business environment in recent times.
Although there are programs and set-asides for minority women intended to level the field of business opportunities, and despite the data that show how companies benefit from having women in senior positions, black women still have to fight misperceptions and stereotypes in business and the workforce in every area, from compensation to obtaining contracts and promotions. “[Our] research shows that women M.B.A.s start at lower positions and salaries and do not catch up to their male colleagues, putting them and their employers at a disadvantage,” says Katherine Giscombe, Ph.D., vice president, Diverse Women & Inclusion Research at Catalyst, a research and advocacy group focused on expanding opportunities for women and business.
“In fact, our research shows that women M.B.A. graduates earn $4,600 less than male M.B.A. graduates in their first job after business school. We found in our recent report, The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All the Right Things Really Get Women Ahead, that the gap had widened to $31,285 by midcareer! Catalyst research also shows that women don’t receive the sponsorship of highly influential individuals, which our research indicates is critical for advancement. Catalyst’s Women of Color in Professional Services research series also shows that diverse women face even tougher hurdles, with fewer of them reporting having influential mentors as compared with white women.”
Multimedia Special Projects Editor Sonja D. Mack, who oversaw the development of this list, has been excited and encouraged by her findings. “It was very interesting to hear some of the wisdom these young women had gained and to listen to the principles they’ve learned to work and live by—proven tenets for them and great advice for everyone else,” offers Mack. “I was really impressed with a lot of what these women have done in their careers so far. Talking to them was enlightening.” Our hope is that you will find the same level of inspiration.