This Is the End of Black Female CEOs In Corporate America

Rosalind Brewer's retirement as CEO of Sam's Club signals the end of black women in the C-Suite at major corporations

Former Sam's Club CEO Rosalind Brewer (Former Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer)


When it comes to the highest echelons of corporate America, women of color are missing in action. Rosalind G. Brewer’s retirement as CEO of Sam’s Club is a major blow to the number of African Americans in the C-suite. Brewer was the first woman and first African American to hold a CEO position at one of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s business units. In 2015, she was named one of BLACK ENTERPRISE’s 50 Most Powerful Women In Corporate America. She joined four women, including BET Networks Chairman and CEO Debra Lee (Viacom Inc.), who served as the chief executive of a business unit or subsidiary of a major corporation, while Ursula Burns reigned as then-CEO of Xerox, an S&P 500 company.

Ursula Burns Ursula Burns


After six years as Xerox CEO, Burns stepped down in 2016 following the company’s split into two public companies: a business process outsourcing company and a document technology company. Burns is the first and only African American woman to ever run an S&P 500 company. Considering only 15 African American executives have ever made CEO of an S&P 500 company, the departures of Burns and Brewer offers a dismal outlook for African American women in the corporate sector.


White Women Represent Diversity in Corporate America


The research and advisory organization Catalyst reports that there are a mere 22 female CEOs (at 4.4%) among S&P 500 companies. Only one of those women is a person of color, PepsiCo’s Indian-American CEO Indra Nooyi, a position she’s held since 2006. Catalyst released a report in 2015 that revealed women of color represent an important and growing source of talent. Women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population, and are 52% of the U.S. professional workforce, per the U.S. Census Bureau. While women of color make up 18% of the U.S. population, they are one-third of the female workforce.

What’s more, women of color are scarce in corporate America. Women of color make up just 16.5% of people who work for S&P 500 companies. But they become even rarer the further up the ladder you go. They represent less than 10% of managers and a measly 3.9% of executives.

During an edition of NewsOne Now, host Roland Martin and his panel of guests discussed “what looks to be the end of an era as it relates to African American women running companies in corporate America, what can be done to reverse this trend, and who diversity is actually benefiting.”

NewsOne Now panelist Avis Jones-DeWeever explained how, saying, “Diversity has now come in practice to mean white women.” The founder of the Exceptional Leadership Institute for Women continued, “If you specifically look at who are CEOs in America and Fortune 500 companies since between 2008 and 2009, we’ve seen an increase of white women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies by four-fold. At the same time, we’ve only had one black woman ever in the history of the Fortune 500 and the number of people of color generally has gone down,” explained DeWeever. The “problem” with our nation’s discussion about diversity, she added is that “when we talk about diversity, when we talk about who is going to get the benefits, we find it is primarily white women, so much so, that there is “more diversity among male CEOs in Fortune 500 companies than there is among female CEOs.”


Black Male CEOs Hanging on By a Thread


The number of black men in the C-suite remains abysmal. Just barely 1% are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. As of 2016, five black men serve in that role: Kenneth I. Chenault, CEO of Amex since 2001; TIAA’s Roger W. Ferguson was appointed in 2008; Merck’s Kenneth C. Frazier became CEO in 2011; Carnival’s Arnold W. Donald took the helm in 2013; and, JC Penney Co. named Marvin Ellison CEO in 2015. Then there’s Craig Arnold, who became CEO of the power management giant Eaton Corp., which moved its operations to Ireland in 2013, making it ineligible for Fortune 500’s ranking.

Marvin Ellison (Marvin Ellison, CEO of JC Penney Co.)


For much of corporate America, racial diversity continues to be a challenge. In fact, when Brewer recounted a meeting with a supplier who had no representation of women or people of color on his team during a CNN interview, she spoke out about her efforts to build a diverse team and the difficulty of often being the only minority and the only woman in the room. “My executive team is very diverse, and I make that a priority. I demand it within my team,” Brewer shared at the time. She was attacked and accused on social media of bias against white men.

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  • MK

    Were Burns and Brewer able to groom more Black executives at the board and executive levels for succession? Were Black employees organized to help them do so? Has Butch Graves’ outstanding and forceful call to action a couple of years ago to demand (not weak talk about “diversity”)equitable positions for Blacks on the board, executive, and management levels been heeded? Graves told us that Blacks on corporate boards were being replaced with white women. He saw what was going on. Who has taken action? Black execs, on this MLK day, let us commit to both excellence and to battle. We must and will win.

  • MK

    (Or use the capital and knowledge gained to finance and grow our own) Don Thompson, former CEO of McDonald’s, has it right with his venture company.

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  • H.Hinchcliff

    I long for the day that we are no longer forced to be put in a “category” gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic…yada yada. As long division is promoted, instead of just being American’s, real racism (not the overused go-to race card) will remain. All CEO’s regardless of race should be judges on their performance professionally and their character in their personal life. Mrs. Burns inability to understand or execute fundamental leader has negatively impacted 1000’s Xerox employees and their family’s. Including companies unfortunate enough to have been acquired during her failed reign. Bottom line, her poor professional performance and lack of ethical treatment of her employees was unbelievable. She should have been gone years ago. Hopefully it not too late for Xerox for the poor souls that remain employee there.

  • MK

    You long for no such thing-if so, why are you reading Black Enterprise? It is called Black Enterprise, not multicultural, not diversity, not buzzword of the week. Black. Many white CEOs would be gone tomorrow if it were strictly about performance. Your baseless accusations impress no one. Fact: Ursula Burns is Chairman of the Xerox Board. She’s good. The article is about current trends. It is a call to action for the current and next generation of Black executives.

    • H.Hinchcliff

      MK, So I have to be black to read “Black Enterprise” or have an opinion about a “black” CEO? Thank you for proving my point your attitude is ridiculous & divisive. These are not “accusation” they are facts that you are not in position to refute unless you too worked under this inept leader. I’m not asking that you take my word for it look her up . As a 30yr Xerox employee I speak from real life experience. My fellow employees and I witnessed firsthand the destruction of Xerox under her “leadership”, more importantly the demise of a once positive ethical company culture. Your comment about white CEO implies that I think they should get a pass for poor performance. Pay attention, unlike yourself I do not judge people or give them a pass based on the color of their skin but by the content of their character. In this case their professional record of poor performance. You should really evolve from your “victim” mentality and try this approach. Equal rights for all includes failing sometimes, accepting that failure, learning lesson and moving on. I hope the next CEO is hired based not on race or gender but on qualification and past performance…Period!

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