Are big companies getting better at cultivating Black leaders and diverse talent?

·3-min read
Companies need to do more than pay lip service when it comes to Black leadership.

At the start of this Black History Month, two reports reveal a striking lack of Black leadership in the biggest US and UK companies. Fortune, famous for its Fortune 500 list of top companies, published this week an in-depth feature that tallies how many current and past CEOS of these firms are Black, while UK consultancy Green Park tallies up the number of Black leaders in the top three positions (CEO, CFO and chair) in the FTSE 100; the findings on both sides of the Atlantic show little, if any progress in this regard.

In its report , Fortune finds that, with Roz Brewer taking up the top post at Walgreens Boots Alliance mid-March but Roger Ferguson Jr. stepping down that same month from his position at the TIAA pension fund, at the end of March 2021, there will be just four Black CEOs heading up Fortune 500 companies.

Meanwhile, Green Park consultancy revealed in its Business Leaders Index , out Wednesday, that for the first time in six years, there is not a single Black CEO, CFO or chair among the 100 companies that make up the FTSE 100 from the London Stock Exchange. Meanwhile, only 10 people of the 297 occupying such positions identify as other than White. The consultancy, which began its annual study in 2014, notes that the proportion of leaders in these top three roles who are of an ethnic minority is the same as when the first such report was done, and that while percentages of other ethnic minorities in these positions have increased by a small amount since 2014 it's not the case for Black execs, whose representation has "stalled and dropped to zero."

Both reports underline the dearth of Black leaders over time, with Fortune noting that of the 1800 CEOs tallied during the existence of its Fortune 500 list, first published in 1955, there have only been 19 Black top execs. And the publication points out that the highest number at any time in its history of the list was in 2012 -- with six.

More than lip service

The factors that play a role in such dismal figures are manifold: Fortune points out that such companies tend to recruit from "traditionally elite schools" and that "too few Black businesspeople are put on a management track early in their career." And as more efforts should be made to help Black business leaders make their way up a ladder in a company, René Jones, CEO of M&T Bank points out that it's also important to recognize that talent can come from outside the Fortune 500 and that young Black entrepreneurs may in fact be creating the top companies of the future.

Meanwhile, as the UK holds its first ever Race Equality Week , Trevor Phillips, Chair of Green Park, emphasizes: "We cannot go back to business as usual. It is time that shareholders, consumers and employees start questioning whether Black Lives Matter is just rhetoric rather than reality...Corporate leaders need to stop telling us how much they care and do something to show us that black lives really do matter."