There are Only 4 Black CEOs at Fortune 500 Companies. Here’s How the ELC is Changing That

Addressing more than 2,000 high-powered executives and business leaders—including about 150 CEOs of the nation’s largest corporations at its annual hot-ticket gala in Washington, D.C. — Otha T. “Skip” Spriggs, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, offered the evening’s theme and organizational charge: “leading with purpose.” The head of the preeminent group for top black global managers has placed the development and application of “tools to increase the number of black CEOs of publicly traded companies” at the top of that agenda.

Currently, there are four black Fortune 500 CEOs versus seven less than a decade ago, he maintains. Moreover, not a single black woman helms a Fortune 500 or S&P 500 corporation on a permanent basis. So Spriggs took the opportunity at the gala’s opening to share ELC’s high-impact strategies to advance African Americans in corporate America.

“There are qualified and overqualified black managers who can fill these positions,” he maintains. “This is not a talent issue but an access issue.”

executive leadership council

Otha T. “Skip” Spriggs (Image: TIAA)

As in previous years, the event — part annual meeting, part extravaganza — included power networking and musical performances along with salutes to major corporations with the best track records for diversity best practices. This year, UPS received the Corporate Award; scholarships were presented to top-performing HBCU students and other academic achievers; and black corporate and business icons were honored. The 2019 Achievement Award went to Robert F. Smith, the CEO of BE 100s private equity firm Vista Equity Partners and the nation’s leading black billionaire, who came with a message of his own.

Spriggs said that every ethnic group and women have been elevated in employment and managerial positions in corporate America in recent years, except African Americans. As such, Spriggs said at the CEO Game Changers Summit that ELC has produced a model using “cutting-edge data” from consulting firm Korn Ferry to enable chief executives to develop more “professional black P&L leaders.” The data will also aid these executives and their corporate boards to design leadership succession planning.

According to the Harvard Business Review, African Americans represent 8% of the white-collar workforce.

Spriggs also stated that the organization will continue its laser-beam focus on boosting the numbers of African American corporate board members through such measures as the recent African American Directors Forum in Pittsburgh, which resulted in the successful placement of eight new board members at major corporations this year, and its new Advancing Black Directors initiative, which will “for the first time fill the demand” of diverse board candidates among leading corporations in Atlanta to start. The announcement came a day after BLACK ENTERPRISE released its 2019 Registry of Black Corporate Directors.

black CEOs

The 2019 ELC Gala (Twitter.com/CindyRKent)

Another area of strategic engagement involves its philanthropic efforts led by ELC Board Chair Tonie Leatherberry, president of the Deloitte Foundation. ELC plans to boost its annual contributions to scholarships and other such cause-related activities from $ 1 million in 2019 to $ 2 million in 2020. To meet its mandate, the organization has recruited a new chief philanthropic officer to bolster such efforts.

When Smith received his honor, he presented another call to action for ELC members. He stressed expanding internship opportunities for black students in a similar fashion to the thrust of his Fund II Foundation’s internX, a tech-driven program in which diverse engineering and computer sciences students, among others, can gain access to introductory job opportunities at major corporations across varied sectors.

The entrepreneur, who controls one of the biggest enterprise software companies, told the audience–whose attendees ranged from mid-level managers to CEOs–that they must exponentially increase the numbers of black interns their companies hire. This can be accomplished by using a “wholesale strategy.” In other words, recruit from more than just elite schools for diverse talent.

ELC members, Smith said, must become vigilant in meeting this objective.

“I believe the best way to ultimately increase the numbers of black senior managers, board members, and CEOs is to triple down on black interns,” he told the crowd. “It is a low-cost way to tap young, talented, and brilliant young people filled with new ideas. We need to open the windows to opportunity, and then hold open the windows to opportunity for others as long as you can. If that window is forced closed, open up another.”

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