A black woman may not be the image that comes to mind for most people when they hear corporate power—and it certainly won’t be the result of a Google search—but around here, we know better. Women of color are remaking the face of leadership teams and C-suites at corporations across the country and around the globe.
So we’re celebrating the fearless female executives who have managed both to stand firm in the face of hostile corporate environments and to take the bull by the metaphorical horns, powering their careers to the top.
The recent Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and LeanIn showed that black women receive the least support of all women (and significantly less support than men) from their managers, with just 35% reporting that their managers create opportunities for them to showcase their work, promote their contributions to others, or socialize with them outside of work.
So how have dozens of black women overcome these obstacles to make it to the top of the corporate ladder? By owning their power, of course.
“Take ownership for your own career,” says Tracey Travis, CFO of Estée Lauder.
“You have an opportunity of readying yourself and expressing an interest in those areas that the management team is looking at in terms of valued experience and trying to build relationships with the folks that run those areas to make yourself more known.”
The 136 women on the roster make up our largest ever list of the crème of the crop of the most powerful black women in corporate America. They have succeeded by leading with performance, deeply understanding their company culture, deftly navigating the corporate landscape, and—above all—wisely wielding their power to determine their own destiny.
HOW WE CHOSE THE MOST POWERFUL WOMEN IN CORPORATE AMERICA
Hold companywide and industrywide influence, each list member represents the highest-ranking executives among the following universes:
1,000 largest publicly traded companies
100 largest international companies with significant U.S. operations
S&P 500 companies
- Largest privately held companies and institutions
- Each executive has a direct impact on ensuring their corporations are market leaders and/or play a vital leadership role in revenue generation, profitability, market share, and strategic development. As such, they hold top-tier and executive officer positions of the entire enterprise; oversee major global, national, and regional subsidiaries and divisions; and maintain significant budget authority. Positions include those with oversight of operations, sales, marketing, talent, technological infrastructure, and product development.
Each executive reports directly to the CEO, COO, or the executive management team or hold positions on corporate board committees.
Top-tier executives who serve as corporate officers or members of the senior leadership team.
Women who hold C-suite positions including CEO (chief executive officer); COO (chief operating
officer); CFO (chief financial officer); CAO (chief administrative officer); CIO/CTO (chief information
officer/chief technology officer); or another top designation on the corporate leadership
team, senior management group, executive committee, or corporate board. Those who hold the
positions of Chief Compliance Officer; Chief Legal Officer and/or General Counsel and Chief Human
Resource Officer are included. Other titles include president, general manager, executive vice
president, or other such high-ranking positions. Using our research and reporting, BE may have
also chosen executives based on their decision-making clout and influence within a given sector
All executives have held their positions as of Dec. 1, 2018.
Executives who have been excluded from our list:
- Non-executive corporate directors—regardless of board position including chairman and lead director.
- Executives who manage local and statewide divisions.
- Executives who work for government agencies and entities under full government control.
- Regardless of inclusion on the executive committee, leading executives with sole responsibility for staff functions such as corporate communications, corporate affairs, investor relations, public affairs, public policy, media relations, and community affairs.
- Although vital to global business overall, CEOs and top executives from the BE 100s—the nation’s largest black businesses—were not included. (BE has separate rankings for the BE 100s.)
-List research and additional reporting by Lisa Fraser, Roland Michel, and Delicia Paisley-Smith