Study Reveals a Roadmap to the Top for Black Women Executives

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Alexandria, VA (July 6, 2016) – There is a way for black women executives to increase their numbers in business leadership positions if conscientious and intentional steps are taken to recognize and reward their talents and contributions to business success. A qualitative study conducted by The Executive Leadership Council, the preeminent membership organization for the development of global black leaders, in collaboration with Springboard – Partners in Cross Cultural Leadership, builds on the findings of the groundbreaking research in the Black Women Executives (BWE) Research Initiative in 2008.

The current findings, published in the Black Women Executives Research Initiative Revisited, examine the facilitators and impediments to Black Women Executives (BWEs) in reaching the C- Suite. The new findings show that while nearly 27 percent of BWEs received promotions or advanced their positions in the same or a different company during the period, more than 50 percent stayed in the same or similar position, made lateral moves in the same or different company, or lost ground through diminished roles or transitioning out of the corporate workplace entirely. All of which took place during a severe recession, one of the most difficult economic periods in modern history.

“The findings of the Black Women Executives Research Initiative Revisited present an insightful perspective on the performance and opportunities for black women executives during a turbulent and challenging period for global business,” said Ronald C. Parker, President and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council. “It shows that although more than a quarter of the respondents advanced their careers under difficult circumstances, there is much more that needs to be done by black women and companies to recognize and reward the underutilized talent of these exceptional leaders.”

The interviews with the BWEs identified four factors critical to understanding why BWEs were both successful and challenged during the 2007 – 2015 timeframe. Four areas of opportunity for BWEs to influence positive outcomes were revealed: (1) Alignment of Values; (2) Agility and Repurposement; (3) Sponsor Relationships; and, (4) Relationship-building as Politics. These four areas of focus could create a “roadmap” leading to an increase in the representation of BWEs in corporate C-Suites and on boards. Of the four, the two most important areas suggested by the research were relationship building and agility, and repurposement.

“The ‘runway’ is so important,” said Pamela Carlton, president of Springboard – Partners in Cross Cultural Leadership and Co-Founder of The Everest Project, which explored contributions of multicultural women to business success. “It is clear that BWEs must start early in their careers, in the first 5 – 7 years, to develop strategic multiple relationships with the people who can support and advance their careers. The most successful BWEs take risks and have the opportunity for big roles early in their careers, allowing them to build the long runway of leadership experiences all executives need, build alliances and create a track record of success,” Carlton added.

Details on the findings are available in an Executive Summary available on The ELC’s website at Two areas of particular interest are “Sponsorship: Who’s in Your Wallet,” and “Relationship-building as Politics.” Both speak to the importance of BWEs building and nurturing a network of allies, in addition to sponsors, in a very competitive environment where everyone performs at a high level, demonstrates agility and an alignment with the values and mission of the enterprise, and is willing to take risks with so-called “glass cliff” assignments. The study found that BWEs are willing to take on daunting assignments, but frequently are not recognized with promotions for successfully achieving or exceeding favorable outcomes.

“This is the kind of research that helps us develop the necessary leadership development programs, strategies, and research that will help BWEs navigate the corporate landscape and find a path to the top,” said Steven Williams, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR, Vice President & Chief Learning Officer of The ELC’s Institute for Leadership Development & Research. “The findings of this research will help guide our efforts to develop a pathway to success for BWEs that we believe will contribute to more positive results.”

The findings from the Black Women Executives Research Initiative Revisited also contributed to a larger study of multicultural women as part of The Everest Project, which examined the influence of women’s leadership in today’s global economy and provided insight into how the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and sexual orientation impacts women in the workplace. The study titled Eve of Change: Women Redefining Corporate America involved participants who identified as Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ, Pan Asian or White and represented over eighty Fortune 500 corporations from a range of different industries and regions. It found that female executives are leading transformation and “making their mark by creating the capacity of teams to innovate, a phenomenon that will fuel corporate growth well into the future,” Carlton underscored.

The issue of women in corporate leadership and on corporate boards has been explored and discussed in a number of studies and blogs, including a GAO Report on women on corporate boards, a study of women leaders from Capitol Hill to the board room in Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), The ELC Institute and a blog exploring the nuances of a blended masculine-feminine style of leadership contributing to business success. Trends are leaning towards increasing the representation of women in corporate leadership and women of color have the most ground to make up to reach parity.

About The Executive Leadership Council:

The Executive Leadership Council, an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation founded in 1986, is the pre-eminent membership organization committed to increasing the number of global black executives in C-Suites, on corporate boards and in global enterprises. Comprised of more than 600 current and former black CEOs, board members and senior executives at Fortune 1000 and Global 500 companies, and entrepreneurs at top-tier firms, its members work to build an inclusive business leadership pipeline that empowers global black leaders to make impactful contributions to the marketplace and the global communities they serve. For more information, please visit

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