Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Four Black Women in WSJ's 2006 "50 Women to Watch" Report

The Journal Report subsection of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured its highly anticipated 50 Women to Watch report. This report, which has been running for the past three years, highlights 50 businesswomen who personify leadership and excellence in a business world dominated by men.

A prominent caption in the middle of the cover page reads, “For women in business, there are some new faces at the top, but the overall numbers have barely budged.” Though it is a harsh reality, it is a reality whose cognizance by the determined will only result in a more equitable distribution of authority and power in our world.

“Women of color -- African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans -- held just 1.7% of corporate-officer positions in 2005, and were 1% of the top five earners at Fortune 500 companies.”

These figures are staggering in light of the well-publicized diversity programs at top corporations and policies such as Affirmative Action. I’d be remiss if I did not mention here, that the beneficiaries of these aforementioned programs and policies are not just minorities. (See APA Affirmative Action: Who Benefits?)

While the number of African-American women who hold corporate-officer positions is itself a trifling sum, we garner hope from the examples of their excellence that shine as a beacon of hope in the darkness of corporate homogeneity.

It is with this in mind that I present the four black women who have earned their place on this most recent Wall Street Journal report. If nothing else, these women serve as yet another example of how a little luck and a gargantuan amount of hard work can shatter glass ceiling and tear the doors of opportunity off their hinges.


President and Chief Executive

In a trio of firsts, Helene Gayle is the first woman, the first minority and the first physician to lead CARE, the 60-year-old humanitarian relief organization that made CARE packages a household word six decades ago.

With 20 years prior work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and five years at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focusing on AIDS, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, Dr. Gayle aims to make CARE more results-oriented in its mission of providing disaster relief, health care, education, economic development, and water and sanitation assistance.

Being CEO of CARE gives the 51-year-old Dr. Gayle a chance to mount a joint attack on disease and poverty. "Poor health is both a cause and a consequence of poverty," she says. "If you strengthen health, you can improve economies."

And she doesn't shrink from controversy. In congressional testimony this fall, Dr. Gayle critiqued Washington's abstinence-centered AIDS grants as impeding life-saving programs. An able diplomat, she honed mediation skills while refereeing often-bitter battles between AIDS activists and scientists.

Nor does she avoid turmoil. On recent rounds of CARE sites, she visited a mosque in Afghanistan to discuss hot issues like female literacy and the drug trade.

A graduate of Barnard College, Dr. Gayle earned her medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's in public health from Johns Hopkins University.

---- Marilyn Chase


Senior Vice President, Marketing and Brand Management

Throughout her career, Jerri DeVard, a senior vice president of brand management and marketing communications at Verizon Communications Inc., has always focused on reaching customers.

"I was always in marketing," she says, "creating demand for products and differentiating them from others."

As a top telecom executive at Verizon, Ms. DeVard is in charge of making sure that Verizon is the provider of choice. She heads the national marketing and communications strategies for consumer and small-business segments as well as brand management, market research and online market strategy.

Today, Ms. DeVard says she is reaching out to existing and prospective customers, giving them information on Verizon's broadband service via TV, radio and online advertisements as well as direct mail. She also is leading local marketing campaigns, such as Verizon's "Richer. Deeper. Broader" Campaign to help convert customers from dial-up to broadband services.

Ms. DeVard's reputation goes beyond her position at Verizon. She was named as one of Black Enterprise magazine's 75 most powerful African-Americans in corporate America in February 2005.

---- Sarmad Ali

Chairman and Chief Executive

The nation's capital wasn't wired for cable television when Debra L. Lee joined Washington-based Black Entertainment Television as its general counsel in 1986, and few people living in the city had ever heard of the network. But Ms. Lee had been impressed by the network's charismatic founder, Robert Johnson, and leapt at the chance to work in the media field.

Before joining Verizon in 2003, she served as chief marketing officer at Citigroup Inc., where she was responsible for the company's e-Consumer line. Prior to that, she was vice president of marketing for color cosmetics at Revlon Inc., vice president of marketing for Harrah's Entertainment in New Orleans, and held several brand management positions at Pillsbury Co. in Minneapolis. She also headed up the private suites marketing of the Minnesota Vikings.

Ms. DeVard's reputation goes beyond her position at Verizon. She was named as one of Black Enterprise magazine's 75 most powerful African-Americans in corporate America in February 2005.

She quickly established herself as one of the company's key executives and played a central role in its initial public offering in 1991. "As general counsel," she says, "I was able to cross departmental lines, and I saw a lot of the deals."

A graduate of Harvard University, Ms. Lee was promoted to chief operating officer in 1995. Last year, she was named CEO but didn't take full control until Mr. Johnson retired this year.

In its early days, BET reached about 10 million subscribers, and its programming was focused music videos and talk shows. Today, the network, which sees its target audience as 18- to 34-year-olds, is increasingly producing its own shows.

Viacom Inc. acquired the network in 2001. So far, though, it has resisted the temptation to fold BET -- which now has about 83 million subscribers -- into MTV Networks. The 52-year-old Ms. Lee says it's important that BET remain apart from Viacom's other operations in order to retain its "unique voice." Her vision for BET is to build its presence both internationally and on other platforms, including the Internet and mobile phones.

---- Matthew Karnitschnig


President, Business Group Operations

As the No. 2 executive at Xerox Corp., Ursula M. Burns has responsibility for all of the copier giant's production, distribution, supply chain and product development. In fact, she runs all operating groups except for professional services and the sales force.

This year, Ms. Burns -- who started her Xerox career as an engineer in research in 1980 before earning a master's degree in mechanical engineering at Columbia University -- was handed responsibility for Xerox's famed research lab as well.

The 48-year-old says that with the latest addition to her portfolio, it feels like coming "full circle." But Ms. Burns aims to make sure the lab's vaunted research skills are applied to profitable products, rather than being a place that invents products that others go on to develop and profit from -- like the Xerox-invented computer mouse in the 1980s.

Ms. Burns says she began to see how executives worked when she was tapped as a special assistant by former chief executive Paul Allaire. In 2001, with Xerox edging toward a possible bankruptcy filing, she was given the task of convincing the unions that the company's only chance of survival was cutting costs by outsourcing manufacturing.

Ms. Burns, who has a reputation for directness, says she wouldn't let negotiations drift away from the choices of slashing wages or laying off workers. "We knew raising prices wasn't an option," she says.

Still, "the separation of a lot of employees," Ms. Burns says, was "the toughest personal thing" she has done at Xerox. She lives in Rochester, N.Y., Xerox's headquarters city, where many manufacturing workers live.

Ms. Burns, who grew up in public housing in New York City, says that Xerox has an unusually diverse upper-management team because it has been recruiting broadly for at least 25 years.

---- William M. Bulkeley

1 comment:

qwerty said...

Kudos to those women, and the other 46 included. I can only imagine what it's like for them, or anyone who's a member of an under-represented group, to rise that high.

Thank you for the article and the APA link. I need to start researching my way to an opinion on AA, and that's a good start.