By Katrice L. Mines, Senior Editor
When I think about diversity in corporate America, the visual that I get is being in the lobby of an office high-rise having been invited but with no access up via the elevator. The actuality of such a scenario can be a daunting reality for African-American mid-level executives with their sights on the C-suite, except there is an entry point that many may be missing.
Since I was in elementary school, there has been a constant voice in my ear telling me my potential and guiding me along that trajectory. Not only did my first mentor encourage me to be excellent in the pursuit of things I showed a propensity toward, Dr. Jo-Ann Lipford Sanders pulled me up higher. She noted strengths that I sometimes didn’t recognize in myself and other times needed more confidence to develop; she seized every opportunity to help me increase my capacity. Whenever I have believed a specific “finish” the place to settle in, her query has always been: “what’s next?” From encouraging me to pursue the executive director post of a Big Brothers Big Sister agency in Ohio directly after graduate school to inspiring me to add academia to my resume with an adjunct professor stint at Heidelberg University where she is dean of the School of Education and Counseling, and associate dean and director of the Graduate Counseling Program, Dr. Sanders has not only invited me to the table – she has actively groomed me to be able to substantiate my being there. This is mentoring 2.0.
When she was recently promoted from associate dean of Graduate Studies in Counseling, Lipford Sanders ushered a colleague – also an African-American woman – into the post she vacated. That’s succession planning and diversity work in 2017.
This may be your experience, as well, with a mentor (or sponsor). But these stories are not plentiful enough at the highest levels of corporate America as we know African-American women made up just 1.5 percent of senior-level executives in the private sector in 2014. Today, there are no black women at the head of Fortune 500 companies.
In January 2017, Ursula Burns officially stepped down as the CEO of Xerox Corporation – having been the only African-American woman to have ever lead a Fortune 500 company. Shortly after, Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer announced that she would leave her post as head of the Wal-Mart Stores-owned bulk retailer. Don Thompson retired as CEO of McDonald’s in 2015. His and Burns’s vacancies leave just four CEOs who are African-American in the Fortune 500.
There is work to be done across all sectors and in this issue, we go behind the scenes of how diversity through succession takes place in Heir Apparent, pg. 27