2022 may be ripe for Black corporate leadership

EXCLUSIVE: The leadership of Ursula Burns, the first Black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, has opened doors. Morgan Stanley's Carla Harris tells theGrio, “We can't think that we're done.”

Ursula Burns was the first Black woman to become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Her leadership opened the door for two more Black women to assume the reigns of top corporations in the United States. 

In an exclusive interview with theGrio, Carla Harris, a managing director at Morgan Stanley explains how 2022 is ripe for more Black corporate leadership. 

Carla Harris of Morgan Stanley speaks on stage during Texas Conference For Women 2019 at Austin Convention Center on October 24, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Texas Conference for Women 2019)

“We can’t think that we’re done,” Harris told theGrio. “We have to think about this as a continuum that needs to evolve.” 

Harris has been beating the drum on diversity, equity and inclusion before it became a widespread conversation in corporate settings. She contends that the focus on the work after George Floyd’s murder opened the door for companies to evaluate the needs of employees based on their varying life experiences.  

According to Harris, there have been two major shifts that have occurred to facilitate these conversations. 

“First is the amplification of voice and choice. And the second shift is the changing contract between employer and employee,” Harris explained. 

Much of the changing contract Harris referenced has been conceptualized as the Great Resignation, and others have rebranded it as the Great Reshuffle. Employees have decided to pick up and leave companies to seek new opportunities that will further their bottom lines — wages and promotions. 

Along with the emphasis on racial inclusion, Harris acknowledged that there is a generational component to the amplification of voice and choice. She believes that Millennials and Generation Z-ers are looking at the representation of leadership as an indication of whether there are growth opportunities at their companies. If they do not see it for themselves, they are very quick to exit the situation. 

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

“The days are gone where people like me who are boomers and older X-ers were happy and sort of satisfied to be the pioneers and to be the first and the only because we had no choice,” Harris added. 

Mahlet Getachew, managing director of corporate racial equity at PolicyLink, told theGrio the next step for corporations to take is to ensure that everybody in the C-Suite at the board level begins to see themselves as “equity and justice advocates” in their respective roles. 

Getachew cautions that bonus programs and DEI initiatives should not be implemented at the expense of employees from diverse backgrounds. 

“It’s not just about bringing folks on, it’s also about ensuring you have a culture where folks want to stay, they want to grow, they feel like they can achieve their highest potential,” Getachew highlighted. “They’re not othered or tokenized, or the burden of doing the DEI work is on them.”

For Black employees aspiring to become CEOs of corporations, Getachew is optimistic that the opportunities are limitless since there is not a specific pathway an individual needs to take to become a CEO. However, a curb achieving that goal could be the ability to build the right relationships. 

“Ultimately, it’s about who and how you’re able to build those relationships, and whether those at the very top are actually making the effort to expand their networks,” Getachew emphasized. “When leaders say ‘we just can’t find Black leaders,’ we know that that means they’re not extending their network.”

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