Tuesday, July 17, 2012

African American Female Executives Gather to Increase Representation at Fortune 500 Companies and on Corporate Boards


Johnson Publishing Company CEO Desiree Rodgers and Linda Johnson Rice, Chairperson of Johnson Publishing with Yanick Rice Lamb during the Executive Leadership Council’s Women’s Leadership Forum in Minneapolis on July 10, 2012.

The Women’s Leadership Forum of the Executive Leadership Council Hosts National Conference on “Potential.Purpose.Power.” at Target Field

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – On July 10th, the Executive Leadership Council (ELC) hosted more than 200 African-American women executives for the annual Women’s Leadership Forum and Black Women On…Power series at Target Field. The meeting focused on leadership development and increasing the representation of African-American women in senior leadership positions in corporate America.

This event speaks directly to ELC’s mission and aspirational goals, a recently launched effort to promote corporate diversity. Over the next five years, the ELC will work with corporate America to add at least one African American at the CEO level or one to two levels below at each Fortune 500 company for a total of 500 and increase the number of African Americans on the boards of publicly traded companies by 200.

“The ELC is a national organization of current and former African‐American CEOs and senior executives at Fortune 500 and equivalent companies, and we develop the next generation of African-American business leaders from the classroom to the boardroom,” said Ronald C. Parker, interim president and CEO. “Our goal is to make sure that African Americans have a seat at the decision-making table in corporate America, and that includes African-American women. This group will play an important role in bringing diversity of thinking to the table which spurs innovation and leads to stronger, more profitable corporations and better communities.”

The ELC is taking the lead on elevating the issue of corporate diversity because recent statistics have raised concerns about minority representation, specifically for African Americans at the senior levels in Fortune 500 companies. Key statistics demonstrate that African-American women are extremely underrepresented:

Of the more than 35,000 senior executive positions at the CEO level or those one and two levels below CEO within most Fortune 500 companies, it is estimated that only 3.2 percent – or fewer than 800 – are African American. Furthermore, even within that group, African-American women are disproportionately underrepresented.

According to the Alliance Board for Diversity, of which the ELC is a founding member, the number of Fortune 500 board seats held by women and minorities has remained flat compared to 2004, and they were already severely underrepresented. Even worse, the number of Fortune 100 board seats held by African Americans has declined.

In 2012, there are only six African-American CEOs, accounting for barely one percent of the chief executive officers of the 500 largest companies in the United States. Of the six, only one is an African-American woman, Ursula Burns who heads Xerox.



Laysha Ward (center) board chair of The Executive Leadership Council Foundation and president, community relations, Target Corporation, engages participants in The Executive Leadership Council Women’s Leadership Forum.

“I am honored to welcome this distinguished group of women to Minneapolis,” said Laysha Ward, president, community relations for Target, and board chair of The Executive Leadership Council Foundation. “The Women's Leadership Forum is a great way to help build our pipeline of corporate leaders. With a focus on Potential. Purpose. Power., we will provide critical tools to help African-American women executives tap into their promise and power as they advance in corporate America.”




The first ELC Women’s Leadership Forum was held in October 2003 in Washington, D.C. for ELC members active on public policy issues. Since that time, the forum has grown, and host cities have included New York, Chicago, and now Minneapolis. In addition, the forum’s mandate and reach have expanded with the focus primarily on leadership development, and is now open to all high potential African-American women business leaders.




Pictured L to R: Ronald Parker, interim president and CEO, The Executive Leadership Council; Laysha Ward, board chair, The Executive Leadership Council Foundation; Desiree Rodgers, CEO, Johnson Publishing Company; Linda Johnson Rice, chairman, Johnson Publishing Company; Yanick Rice Lamb, editor-at-large, Heart & Soul magazine; and Women’s Leadership Forum Co-Chairs Leilani Brown, vice president and chief marketing officer of Starr Companies; Nicole Lewis, vice president of global marketing, Kelly Services; and Julia Brown, chief procurement officer and senior vice president for global procurement, Kraft Foods. (Not in photo, co-chair Susan Chapman, senior vice president global real estate and workplace enablement, American Express Company.)

For more information on the Women’s Leadership Forum or The Black Women On…Power panel, please visit www.elcinfo.com/wlsf.php.

About The Executive Leadership Council

The Executive Leadership Council is an independent, non-profit 501(c)(6) corporation founded in 1986, comprised of current and former African-American CEOs and senior executives at Fortune 500 and equivalent companies. For more than 25 years, the ELC has worked to build an inclusive business leadership pipeline and to empower African-American corporate leaders to make significant and impactful contributions in the global marketplace and their communities. Their programs develop future business leaders, filling the pipeline from the classroom to the boardroom.

Photo credit: Stephen Allen