Trailblazing Black Women Who Are Leading the Way in Business

Splashy headlines touting the advancement of women in business are everywhere, but dig deeper to see a different reality for women of color.

The latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and Lean In notes that while “women’s representation improved across all levels of the corporate pipeline in 2020,” women of color currently “account for only 4 percent of C-suite leaders, a number that hasn’t moved significantly in the past three years.”

In honor of Black History Month and aligned with Forté’s mission to advance women in business, we highlight 14 pioneering Black women who have either paved the way for subsequent generations or are currently changing the status quo in business. Many are “firsts” in their industry or position, but they surely will not be the last.

  • Roz Brewer: CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, one of only two Black women CEOs on the Fortune 500.
    • Words of wisdom: The stress was so high of me trying to be two different people. I could not bear it anymore, I was not myself, and so I just reconciled that I’ve got to bring my whole self to work. And the more that I was like who I am in my day, in my personal life, at work, actually work took off.”
  • Dalana Brand: Chief People and Diversity Officer at Twitter, and the first Black woman and third Black C-suite executive at Twitter since the company went public in 2013.
  • Ursula Burns: Former CEO of Xerox from 2010-2017, the first Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.
    • Words of wisdom: “I didn’t learn to be quiet when I had an opinion. The reason they knew who I was is because I told them.”
  • Dana Canedy: Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former New York Times journalist who serves as Senior Vice President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster, the first Black person to head a division at a major U.S. publishing house. Canedy’s memoir, A Journal for Jordan, was made into a 2021 film directed by Denzel Washington.
  • Susan M. Collins: President, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the first Black woman to lead one of the 12 regional Fed branches since the establishment of the central bank system in 1914.
  • Alicia Boler Davis: Amazon’s Vice President of Global Customer Fulfillment since 2019, the first Black woman to join the company’s senior leadership group.
    • Words of wisdom: “My advice would be not to be restricted by what you see, or do not let anyone tell you that you cannot be something, that you can’t do something, or something is impossible.”
  • Thasunda Brown Duckett: CEO of TIAA, one of two Black women CEOs on the Fortune 500.
  • Vicky Free: Head of Global Marketing at Adidas, the first Black woman to hold this position.
  • Ramona Hood: Starting as a receptionist in 1991, she rose to become President and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical, the first Black woman to lead a FedEX operating company.
  • Cathy Hughes: After being rejected at 32 banks, she and her husband found a lender to purchase their own radio station. As founder and Chairwoman of Urban One Inc., she is the first Black woman to chair a publicly held corporation.
  • Renee Rhem: Vice President Customer Advocacy at Subaru of America, the first Black women to hold a C-suite position at the company.
  • Bozoma Saint John: Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix, the first Black C-suite executive at the company.
    • Words of wisdom: “Bring your whole self to the experience. Because the more we do that, the more that people get to see that, the more comfortable everybody’s gonna be with it.”
  • Stacey D. Stewart: CEO of March of Dimes, the first Black women to serve as its CEO, and one of a handful of Black women who have served as CEO of three national or global organizations.
  • Shelly Cayette Weston: Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of Cleveland Cavaliers, the first Black woman CCO in the National Basketball Association.

These are just a few Black women in business who are not only leading the way but knocking down doors and breaking glass ceilings. During Black History Month, Forté salutes these women and the women they inspire to carve their own paths to success.

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