A Black History Month Tribute
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to be an active member of several collectives and professional organizations whose purposes aim to improve racial equity and justice in housing finance, community development, corporate talent pipeline, and leadership. I would like to highlight two such groups that are particularly important to me – The Executive Leadership Council (ELC) and Citi’s Black Managing Directors (Black MDs).
Founded in 1986, ELC’s roots are embedded in the notion that increasing the number of high-performing Black executives in domestic and international corporate roles, especially in C-suites and on corporate boards, can only add value to the bottom line of the world’s leading companies. While some Black executives have realized these aspirations, so many more have not had the opportunity to do so, through no fault of their own. As the ELC’s newly-elected Board Chair, I am grateful that I will have the opportunity to partner with business leaders of Fortune 1000 and Global 500 companies to improve talent sourcing and pipelines of Black executive leaders in corporate offices and boardrooms. The task will not be easy and will likely be fraught with difficult but candid conversations. Yet, I am humbled to be entrusted with this opportunity and responsibility. Truth be told, I remain optimistic, yet it is not lost on me the reality of the work that needs to be done.
So as we honor Black History Month in the United States and I reflect on the road ahead, I am obliged to acknowledge how difficult the past year was. Suffice it to say, the global pandemic, political divisiveness, police brutality, and clarion calls for racial justice are etched indelibly in my memory of 2020.
While deeply troubled and concerned about the foregoing, I also feel obliged to acknowledge the many organizations that took a public stance against racial injustice and systematic racism. In particular, I am proud of my own organization’s announcement to commit $1 billion in strategic investments to close the racial wealth gap, with a specific focus on the Black community. Even more important for me, the firm publicly made the aspirational statement to strive to be an “anti-racist” organization in its policies, practices and behavior—a first for the financial services industry! Citi’s racial equity commitment would not have happened without the courage of our outgoing CEO, Mike Corbat; our incoming CEO, Jane Fraser; our CFO, Black MD and my fellow ELC member, Mark Mason; and his co-executive sponsor of Citi’s Black Heritage Affinity, Mike Whitaker. In addition to Citi’s principal leaders and to all who contributed to the task force to bring this commitment to life, several of the firm’s other business leaders, including Citi’s Black MDs, were staunch supporters of this effort as well.
Citi’s Black MDs’ stance and corporate voice are inspirational, yet this begs additional questions for all of us to ponder. How will we use our individual voices and positions to advocate for one another’s leadership? Will we speak up and stand up for racial equity and inclusion over division, even when it is inconvenient or difficult? On January 20, under extremely difficult circumstances, our nation inaugurated a new presidential administration, including a lifelong public servant and now America’s oldest president, Joe Biden, and our nation’s first female vice president, Kamala Harris, a Black and South Asian woman. I celebrate Vice President Harris’ extraordinary achievement in securing her seat at the most powerful table in the world. It is with this achievement I hope inspires each of us to resolve to stretch ourselves and carry someone else to the table with us. It is only when we work together to raise others, that we can all rise.