Female Business Leaders & The Businesswomen Who Paved The Way

Female Business Leaders & The Businesswomen Who Paved The Way

Black women are trailblazers, leading organizations long before diversity in the business world became a trending topic.

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, we would like to honor Black generational excellence across the technology, business, and beauty realms. This recognition highlights the iconic businesswomen who set the standard and laid the foundation for the next wave of powerful Black women to take the lead. For instance, the CEO of Sundial Brands, Cara Sabin, is intentionally keeping the great Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy alive with MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker line of hair products in its portfolio.

Now, that is gratitude and power at its finest.


Claudette McGowan: Global information technology leader

Claudette McGowan is a global information technology leader who is dedicated to increasing the representation and empowerment of Black people in technology and innovation.

A sought-out mentor of many young professionals, McGowan launched the annual Black Arts and Innovation Expo in 2016 to empower young people as they develop their passion in the fields of Innovation and the Arts. She co-founded Firewood, a national community of executive and entrepreneurial women in technology, offering women professional development, networking, mentorship, jobs, and funding opportunities.

McGowan is, without a doubt, one of Canada’s most powerful women to become a force in changing the world for the better.

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson: A pioneer in technology

A Black Enterprise’s Women of Power Legacy Award Winner, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is a leader who has made breakthroughs in the technology ecosystem. She is the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT and the first African American woman to serve as president at a top-ranked research university. Throughout her distinguished career, Jackson worked as a theoretical physicist and held senior leadership positions in academia, government, industry, and research.

“I think one can obviously say the diverse perspectives are very important to the functioning of a great company and particularly one that accesses diverse markets,” she said in the July/August 2016 edition of Black Enterprise magazine.

Jackson leveraged her knowledge of physics to advance telecommunications research at Bell Laboratories, which influenced the creation of the portable fax, the touch-tone phone, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.


Cara Sabin: Preserving a legacy

Cara is currently the CEO of Sundial Brands, makers of SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, nyakio beauty, emerge, and MCJW—inspired by the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker. The beauty marketing executive has over 20 years of general management, business strategy, consumer marketing, digital, and innovation experience.

Prior to her current role, she held management positions in prestige beauty, leading Global Marketing for Clinique’s $1B Makeup and Fragrance portfolio as well as Marketing for NARS Cosmetics’ Americas business.

Madam C.J. Walker: Black self-made millionaire

Madam C.J. Walker was revered as a master brand builder who paved the way for millions of Black women. Her legacy has outlasted those who preceded her, thanks to the commitment of her great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles.

The self-made millionaire had a vision for her life. That vision came to her after experiencing hair loss due to stress and weathering. That vision would supersede her career as a washerwoman, help her overcome poverty, create thousands of jobs, and provide generational wealth for her family. She would go on to invent the world’s first hair-straightening formula.

Sundial’s CEO Cara Sabin and Bundles have teamed up on numerous occasions to tap into the spirit of the pioneering matriarch.

“We wanted to make sure we honored Madam Walker’s contributions and that every detail centered her legacy,” Sabin told Byrdie.

Fortune 500

Rosalind “Roz” Brewer: A powerful woman in business

Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Rosalind “Roz” Brewer is one of two Black female CEOs that run Fortune 500 companies. As of 2021, she is listed as the highest-paid female chief executive, according to a previous Equilar study. 

Brewer’s rise to the top transpired after holding several executive leadership positions with Walmart beginning in 2006. She most recently served as Chief Operating Officer and Group President at Starbucks from October 2017 to January 2021. Before vying for leadership roles, she worked at Starbucks drive-thru service and studied Walmart trucking logistics.

“I was willing to take a step down to go much further, and then that’s when my career began to really explode. I was in a learning mode, but I took a step back to get ahead,” she said, per CNBC.

She is currently ranked No. 7 on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and was named one of the 25 most influential women by the Financial Times in 2021.

Ursula Burns: One of the most important Black people in technology

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox Corp. from 2009 to 2017, was the first Black woman to ever serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She began her career at Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering intern. Today, the Columbia University grad continues to pave the way for those who aspire to make bold moves in spaces where Black women are underrepresented.

“If I raised my hand in any meeting, almost surely, it was called on,” Burns told CNBC, according to A previous BLACK ENTERPRISE report. “You’re so different that, at least in open spaces, they can’t ignore you.”

The Panama-born business executive leans on her strong work ethic and desire to solve almost any problem. As a minority, she has felt more of an advantage than a disadvantage at Xerox.

Fortune magazine acknowledged her as one of its “50 Most Powerful Women in American Business” from 2003 to 2006.