“We are unapologetically Black
on the issues of systemic racism in corporate America and the lack of Black representation in C-suites, as CEOs, and in board rooms… But let me be clear: I see this inflection point in our history not as Black vs. White. It’s Black vs. racism, which means it’s got to be everyone vs. racism… Everyone has to be an ally.”
The Executive Leadership Council (the ELC) has seized the opportunity presented by what seemed at first to be unimaginable events beginning earlier this year. First the coronavirus pandemic, continuing to roll across the united states and the globe, laid bare the gaping inequities in health care services and health outcomes that have stressed Black Americans for centuries. then videos of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer coalesced in the minds of many Americans the long history of unjustified violence by law enforcement, igniting protests in cities and towns across the country. the protests continue, escalated by more violence against protesters, local, state and federal military-like responses to them, and then the provocation of white armed “militia.” this is not the America we want. We cannot continue to ignore the contradiction between the founders’ written ideals and the fact of slavery and its legacy. reconciliation is the only path toward the more perfect union our Constitution anticipated. “We are unapologetically Black on the issues of systemic racism in corporate America and the lack of Black representation in C-suites, as Ceos, and in boardrooms,” declares Crystal E. Ashby, interim president and Ceo of the eLC as of January 1, 2020, and the first woman to hold that title. “We know the changes that must occur, and we embrace using our voice and power to effect that change,” she continues. “But let me be clear: I see this inflection point in our history not as Black vs. White. it is Black vs. racism, which means it’s got to be everyone vs. racism. if Black people could have solved this problem on our own, we would have done so already. no one gets to stand on the sidelines anymore. everyone has to be an ally. the future has to be different from this moment.” in fact, major corporations were among the first to speak out against centuries of disparate treatment and present governmental overreach, recognizing that paying lip service to inequities is no longer acceptable. speaking directly to corporate America, Ceo Ashby asks: “Having allies is critical to effecting real change. What political capital are you willing to spend to ensure that tomorrow is better than today?”
The ELC is partnering with corporations as they navigate an end to the deep inequities spotlighted by the twin pandemics of Covid-19 and racism.
After decades of research, philanthropy, and leadership development, the ELC plays a central role as a change agent, with its time-tested, unique services to members, corporate America, entrepreneurs, and the broader Black community in the us and the world. the ELC is partnering with corporations as they navigate an end to the deep inequities spotlighted by the twin pandemics of Covid-19 and racism to: (1) increase the representation of Black executives in the C-suite, in the Ceo office, and in the boardrooms of the top 500 companies, and (2) build an ever-increasing pipeline of Black Americans at all levels of operation who are ready to step into those roles for generations to come. Black excellence, ignored for decades – really centuries – must be a part of the new reality.
the ELC’s 2020 Juneteenth Call to Action
immediately following the protests against the murder of george Floyd, CEO Ashby seized the ELC’S microphone, calling on the Ceos of ELC member corporations to join the ELC’S Juneteenth Convening. “if Black lives don’t matter, no lives matter,” Ceo Ashby declared. “silence and inaction are unacceptable.” Barely three weeks later, the ELC convened – virtually – nearly 240 ELC members and current and former Ceos of member companies, “Juneteenth was our stake in the ground,” she says. “You can’t deny the racism pandemic anymore. You have to act on it.” ELC member memories of personal discriminatory experiences set the tone. ELC board Chair tonie Leatherberry opened the meeting with reflections on the defining moments of racism in her own life. “the trauma is real,” she stated. “We are at the tipping point in our businesses and within ourselves. the emergence of Covid-19 has amplified health disparities and educational inequities that now force us, as leaders, to look at things differently. We must employ economic, business, and community perspectives to face these challenges together, and these are all economic and business challenges.” Ceo Ashby moderated the hour-long session, where all five speakers – Marvin Ellison, Ceo of Lowe’s; Clarence Otis, Jr., Lead director, verizon, and former Ceo of darden restaurants; Carol tomé, Ceo, UPS; David G. Clunie, executive director of the Black economic Alliance (BEA); and Dr. robert W. Livingston, Public Policy Lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy school of government – called on participants to face the root causes of racism in America, still reverberating today, and to begin the journey to enduring change, both inside and outside their corporations. CEO Ashby first asserted the obvious: “there is no risk attached to investing in Black talent.” she then asked each Ceo to “own the path forward… be intentional and transparent… and stay the course.” she added, “invest in HBCus [Historically Black Colleges and universities] and invest in and cultivate Black businesses to begin closing the racial wealth gap.” A copy of the eLC report ELC Juneteenth CEO Convening – CEOs Combat Systemic Racism: A Framework for Success was distributed. it provides a road map for achieving a transformed corporate culture through immediate Ceo steps, longer-term strategies for systemic change, scorecards to measure progress, and radical steps to advance racial justice. “to paraphrase famed architect Buckminster Fuller,” concluded CEO Ashby, “we are building a new model that makes the old model obsolete. We are here to help, and together we can create a different future that delivers value to society and to our shareholders.”
the Disappointing status Quo: Facts about black Inclusion at the top
the ELC’S focus, to see corporate Black excellence rewarded, is compelling, for Black Americans as well as for all American business. But progress has been slow, often agonizingly slow. since the death of george Floyd, several companies have already stepped up to increase their Black board representation, some by filling vacancies and others by increasing the size of their boards. And a number of companies and individuals have reached out to the ELC for its deep pool of qualified candidates.
the finding from Missing Pieces: The 2018 Board Diversity Census of Women and Minorities on Fortune 500 Boards, published January 2019 by the Alliance for Board diversity (ABd) (a collaboration among the eLC, Catalyst, HACr (Hispanic Association on Corporate responsibility), and LeAP (Leadership education for Asian Pacifics)), and diversified search and deloitte that women and minorities will represent 40% of those boards by 2024 is certainly welcome, but it glosses over the fact that Black representation, when disaggregated, is far below a critical mass and is not trending up. Black men and women together held only 486 (8.6%) of 5,670 board seats at Fortune 500 and equivalent companies, 332 by Black men (5.9%) and 154 (2.7%) by Black women. other recent surveys do not improve these statistics. Black Ceos of Fortune 500 or equivalent companies, as of september 2020, still total less than 1%, none of them women. A July 2020 USA TODAY review of proxy statements from the top 50 Standard & Poor’s 100 found only five Black executives among the 279 named most senior executives, just under 2%, and that figure includes two Black executives who have since retired. What holds back Black board Ceo and C-suite representation? “Black corporate leaders are in your organizations now, despite what i often hear,” answers CEO Ashby. A 2019 study jointly conducted by the eLC and Korn Ferry, The Black P&L Leader Report, proved that current Black P&L leaders not only exist but that they share all the skills, experiences and competencies, drivers and traits of their white counterparts. “they simply lack opportunities for advancement,” explains CEO Ashby. “they’re overwhelmingly not seen, not valued as highly as their peers, not positioned for success.”
“Black men and women together held only 486 (8.6%) of 5,670 board seats at Fortune 500 and equivalent companies…”
Alexis de tocqueville, a French diplomat and historian fascinated by the American experiment from its beginning, observed after a visit in 1830, “the surface of American society is covered with a thin layer of democratic paint.” He was thinking of the aristocracy near the surface, but he could as easily have been thinking of slavery. Will America finally strip away the badges of slavery that to this day fence Blacks from the inclusion they have more than earned? What follows are the steps the eLC has made to take advantage of today’s historic opportunity.
the board Diversity Action Alliance and the board Challenge
in early september 2020, the eLC announced the formation of two new partnerships to jump-start change. the eLC partnered with the board Diversity Action Alliance, led by Ursula burns, former Xerox Ceo, Gabrielle sulzberger, Chairman of true Food Kitchen investco
“Our objective this year was to inspire and motivate CEOs to embrace disruptive strategies that yield bold, transformational and measurable actions… We want to eradicate systemic racism.”
LLC and general Partner at rustic Canyon, and its founding partners, the Ford Foundation and global CEO advisory firm teneo. it is a focused and aligned effort to increase the representation of racially and ethnically diverse directors on corporate boards, beginning with Black directors. signatories commit to:
• Increase the number of black directors to one or more;
• Disclose the self-identified race and ethnicity of board directors; and
• report on diversity, equity and inclusion measures on an annual basis.
The eLC is also a Charter Pledge Partner in the board Challenge, a movement to “challenge” companies to appoint a Black director within the next year. the initiative was founded by Altimeter Capital, valence, and theBoardlist, and has already been signed by 43 Founding and Charter Pledge Partners. the strategy for meeting the Challenge is to convince corporations to go beyond requiring director candidates to have prior board service and draw from a wider pool of candidates ready with the broad skills board members seek for their companies.
2020 GameChanger Conference©
the theme of the second GameChanger Conference©, a virtual gathering of eLC members and their Ceos the day of the virtual 2020 Annual eLC gala, was not modest: “Driving a Systemic Breakthrough: The Eradication of Racism in Business.” this off-the-record peer-to-peer experience allowed Ceos, C-suite executives and thought leaders to share data-driven insights and best practices. “our objective this year was to inspire and motivate Ceos to embrace disruptive strategies that yield bold, transformational and measurable actions,” reports CEO Ashby. “We are looking for tangible results. We want to eradicate systemic racism.” Featured speakers were brian Cornell, board chair & Ceo, target; David taylor, chair, president & Ceo, P&g; Doug McMillon, president & Ceo, Walmart inc., chair, the Business roundtable;
tim ryan, senior partner & chair, PwC us; Cindy Kent, eLC member, president & evP, senior Living, Brookdale senior Living; Clarence Otis, Jr., eLC member, lead director, verizon; hubert Joly, professor, Harvard Business school, former executive chair, Best Buy; Eddie Glaude, Jr., Ph.d, professor & chair, African-American studies, Princeton university; Michael hyter, eLC member, Cdo, Korn Ferry; Lanaya Irvin, president, Coqual; Julia taylor Kennedy, evP, Coqual; and Ed Dandridge, eLC board member, svP, Boeing. Four companies, self-appointed “early adopters” – At&t, JPMorganChase, P&G, and target – reported on progress they had made over the last year reviewing their own Black leaders as well as their internal assessment, development, promotion, and succession practices and procedures to find and eliminate barriers. “their purpose was to put in place our road map to sustainable change in recognizing and promoting Black executives within their own organizations,”
explains eLC vice President teresa Payne-Nunn, “and there have been important successes.” Former eLC board member Michael hyter, a managing partner and chief diversity officer at global consulting firm Korn Ferry and a consultant to Ceos on inclusion for decades, senses real change: “this time feels different. i see a genuine interest from senior leaders to address root causes and, most importantly, to address them in measurable ways.”
Dramatic Increase in the reach of the ELC Corporate board Initiative
For many years, the eLC’s Corporate Board initiative (CBi), in conjunction with heidrick and struggles and Ey, has been preparing select eLC members for board directorships. through a program on board governance in partnership with the National Association of Corporate Directors (nACd), four cohorts of members studied the basics and complexities involved. they are introduced to
decision-makers at networking events, and receive one-on-one coaching with eLC members who are already directors. the eLC gives names of ready candidates to search firms and others when they reach out to the eLC for referrals. Board directorship is not a great stretch for eLC members, explains CBi chair Paula Cholmondeley, Ceo of the sorrel group, “because our members are already functional heads; they are the ones that are making presentations to their boards now.” the eLC’s goal is for them “to have the background, to understand how boards function, to be the strongest executives they can be when there are board opportunities.” statistical progress, however, has stayed disappointing, caused by what Cholmondeley labels “benign neglect” or “subconscious avoidance.” since the death of george Floyd, however, the eLC has seen an increase in requests for board referrals, Cholmondeley reports, “from private and public companies, mutual funds, private equity firms, banks, across the whole spectrum. this can become an ongoing process, so when expanding the board, replacing a director, or taking a company public, they can look to the eLC.” to keep up, the eLC established its own in-depth database of members’ experience and specific skill sets and a two-step process to select members to refer. First the database is scanned to create a pool of possibilities, and then the Board referral subcommittee, a rotating group of eLC members who already sit as directors, makes the final recommendation. in addition, database companies that search firms rely on in responding to their clients are approaching the eLC to partner with them. “it’s a benefit to these organizations,” says Cholmondeley, “because they increase the number of African Americans in their databases, and it’s a benefit to our members, if they choose to be listed, because they get exposure to many more opportunities. the eLC is maturing and deepening both the visibility it offers its members and its profile as the repository for information on Black business executives.”
Just five years ago The ELC embarked on a campaign to “increase our relevance not just in the us but across the world,” recalls Arlene Isaacs-Lowe, co-chair of the eLC’s international Presence Committee (iPC) and global Head of Corporate social responsibility at moody’s, who
”Since the death of George Floyd, The ELC has seen an increase in requests for board referrals, from… across the whole spectrum.“
spent years living in London but is now back at headquarters in new York. “We recognized that African and Caribbean Blacks in the uK face many of the same challenges we face here,” agrees board Chair Leatherberry, “and broadening our community beyond our borders increases the benefit for all of us.” “the iPC also offers an instant network for eLC members who are expats on assignment in the uK,” says Libi sprow rice, eLC vP and Chief marketing and Communications officer, who helped launch iPC. “Connecting with other Black and African diaspora senior executives can help them navigate the uK corporate environment.” now there are close to 20 Black British eLC members. the iPC co-chair based in London, Andrew Pearce, an Accenture managing director, reports, “We are now visible role models here, inspiring future Black leaders.” rather than starting programs in the uK, “we partner with uK organizations aligned with eLC key strategic objectives,” explains isaacs-Lowe. the eLC sponsors the black british business Award (BBBA) to recognize successful corporate executives and entrepreneurs, and members serve on the selection panel. “We partner with the Power List,” adds Pearce, “which publishes a list of the top 100 high-potential Black talent, which always includes uK eLC members.” the BBBA’s talent Accelerator Program, also sponsored by the eLC, has created the same sort of learning experiences the eLC has in the us. A corporate board initiative similar to the eLC’s “provides experiences for senior black professionals to network with uK corporate executives and board members,” isaacs-Lowe relates. Pearce continues, “inside track, another program we launched, hosts small meetings with prominent media and political figures to discuss the challenges of race and how the eLC can help.” us and uK eLC members had immediate resources to offer when Covid-19 and racial protests swept the us and the
“We partner with UK organizations aligned with ELC key strategic objectives…”