Questioning Success at NCRW's Corporate Leadership Summit

By Jacqueline Mumbey*

Last week, NCRW held a two-day corporate leadership summit (April 27-28) at Time Warner. It was an inspiring series of roundtables and explorations of the challenges and opportunities for retaining and advancing women of color in the corporate sector.

One session I attended was entitled “How Do We Define Success/Who Do We Define As Successful?”
Expertly moderated by Jennifer W. Allyn of PricewaterhouseCoopers, it was a fascinating exploration
of some of the organizational barriers that are preventing greater numbers of women from advancing.
The situation is quite depressing: Today, women of color make up only 1.7% of the 15.7% women holding corporate officer positions in the Fortune 500. To think that I had to attend the Summit to learn this fact is even more alarming.   
Faced with this stark reality, the panelists presented compelling cases for the state of women of color in the corporate world. 
  • Vishakha N. Desai of Asia Society drew into the discussion the importance of cultural sensitivity when engaging with women of color. In many cases, the lack of familiarity with other cultures within a corporate setting creates conflict and hinders the career advancement of women of color.
  • Linda A. Hill of Harvard Business School pointed out that star employees are embedded in the right place. Essentially, a formula for success lies in choosing a context that is the right “fit” and in tune with one’s personal values.
  • Audrey J. Murrell of University of Pittsburg called for the introduction of intelligent mentoring – an approach that would ensure sensitivity towards social, economic, cultural, and individual differences.
  • Ancella Livers of Institute for Leadership Development and Research felt that the quality of the relationship between CEOs and black women executives is greatly impacted by a mutual mistrust. This often translates into miscommunication and poor career prospects.
  • Rachel C. Cheeks-Givan of PepsiCo outlined a program at PepsiCo known as “Power Pairs” that partners women of color with typically white male managers to discuss their job performance. By strengthening mentor-mentee relationships the program enhances career prospects for women of color.
  • LaMae Allen deJongh of Accenture said that with more than 177, 000 employees worldwide, diversity defines its corporate culture. Placing value on diversity is felt at the topmost leadership levels, but what was even more impressive was her company’s emphasis on equipping its women with practical sets of skills aimed at furthering their careers.
  • Jerri DeVard of DeVard Marketing Group challenged everyone in the audience to think about a certain lack of accountability in corporations and urged everyone to recognize that they each had the power to effect change.
  • Kerrie Peraino of American Express recommended segmentation targeting specific sub-groups coupled with sustainable solutions that last beyond very limited project dates.    
In business school, diversity was often painted as a comparative advantage in the globalized economy. Following the two-day Summit, it dawned on me that the richness in culture and skills that women of color bring to the table is quite simply a strategic imperative.
* Jacqueline Mumbey is a Communications Intern with the National Council for Research on Women and a recent graduate of City College with a Masters in International Affairs.


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