Pharmacy giant Walgreens recently announced that Rosalind ‘Roz’ Brewer will be the company’s next CEO. Her ascension will make her the only current Black female CEO and only one of a small group of Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies after Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier steps down at the end of June. This means that while the ranks of Black Fortune 500 leaders will grow briefly, it’s still a dismally small number.
“Just four of the chief executives of America’s top 500 companies—or 1%—are Black, including Mr. Frazier,” notes Jared S. Hopkins in the Wall Street Journal. “The others are Marvin Ellison of big-box hardware store Lowe’s Cos., Roger Ferguson Jr. of the financial-services firm Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America and René Jones, who runs M&T Bank in New York.”
Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners congratulated Brewer on Twitter and highlighted the need for even greater C-suite diversity in the future.
“Congratulations and great admiration to Roz Brewer, @Walgreens’ new CEO. Roz will be the only Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company (and only the 3rd in history). This is a great achievement AND a reminder of how much work is still ahead.”
A Renewed Call for More Diverse Boards
Vista Equity Partners has already made commitments to increase the diversity of their board and the boards of their subsidiaries. In 2019, the company joined other top private equity firms in committing to create five new board roles for every subsidiary company. These new roles would be reserved specifically for diverse candidates, in order to better represent the customers the companies serve.
Smith said about the effort, “In order to address social and economic justice, we need scalable solutions that speak to both Main Street and the boardroom…This is the right way to empower corporations to make strides towards equality of opportunity.” He has also been active with the Thirty Percent Coalition, another organization working to increase diversity in corporate boardrooms across the country. Smith spoke at the Coalition’s 2020 annual summit on the need to improve board diversity.
Creating Diverse Opportunities at the Beginning of the Pipeline
To create pipelines for more diverse candidates to rise to the highest levels of business, Smith has also been an advocate in diversifying intern candidates. InternX, a program Smith supports, is addressing the underrepresentation of students in the workplace by connecting rising sophomores from marginalized communities to STEM and business-focused internships.
Smith has also supported other initiatives and Black leaders’ efforts to increase pipelines to greater diversity in leadership. Following René Jones, CEO of M&T Bank, calling for increased mentorship of marginalized junior workers and closing the digital divide, Smith voiced his support.
“René Jones, CEO @MandT_Bank, is spot on in underscoring our responsibility as executives to invest in the next generation of Black leaders,” Smith tweeted. “Mentorship is key to their empowerment and to creating onramps for access to opportunities in the C-suite.”
Read more about Smith’s work to increase intern diversity that can create a pipeline to increased diversity at the top of the top businesses in the country.