Taking the Reins of Opportunity

and black women managers tended to be clustered in ancillary business areas. In most cases, black women weren’t just hitting the glass ceiling, they were being aimed at it.

Fast-forward 15 years and enter Ursula Burns. She’s a math wiz, a natural leader, and a risk taker with a reputation for being supremely grounded. My admiration for her runs deep. Also, and I mean this in the best way possible, Burns reminds me of my mother.

Burns is a native New Yorker who grew up with limited means, like my mother, Winifred Pamphile Graves. Burns is known for her sharp wit and sense of loyalty, like my mother. She sets the bar high and then leaps over it, and she is physically diminutive, like my mother. But Burns’ achievements were completely outside the realm of possibility for my mother and black women of her generation—or mine.

Education, opportunity, timing—these made all the difference between the paths Burns and the women we spotlight in this issue have taken and the paths of the countless bright, driven, capable women who preceded them. Directly or not, they are connected to each other, they have taught and learned from each other—in many cases via the pages of  black enterprise—and they are as respectful of those who came before as they are mindful of the BE Nexters who are following fast on their heels.

Picture this: Ursula Burns one day handing over the Xerox reins to another black woman. It would be spectacularly good news. And now, it is completely within the realm of possibility.

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