In January 2015 Jillian Berman wrote a compelling yet shocking piece about the decline of African American CEOs at Fortune 500 Companies entitled Soon, Not Even 1 Percent Of Fortune 500 Companies Will Have Black CEOs. In an amazing country where we had recently made history by electing our very first African American president it was unfathomable as to why there was such a small number of African American CEOs at Fortune 500 Companies. It was also unfathomable that as an African American woman, not one Fortune 500 CEO looked like me.
In 2009 Xerox had African American women around the world rejoicing as they announced their first African American CEO, Ursula Burns.
Ursula Burns was no stranger to Xerox. She had literally worked tirelessly for the company since she began in 1980 as an intern. While many men and women often only dream of being able to climb the corporate ladder and bust through the glass ceiling it was not an easy journey for Burns.
In recent years Burn's time as the only African American Fortune 500 Woman CEO has been viewed as a "glass cliff". It is a term that has been used to describe women and minorities who are only put into leadership positions when the company is faced with downturn or crisis. While many corporate executives continue to dispel this phenomenon as a myth it proved to be true with Burns who will be stepping down later this year. Burns departure will return the number of African American Women Fortune 500 CEOs back to 0.
It has been speculated that Xerox, who had been declining in share prices since 1999 had already been experiencing hardship prior to Burns being promoted in 2009 while others such as Douglas McIntyre seemed to believe she has destroyed the company.
The glass cliff phenomena may never be confirmed but what can be confirmed is that there have only been 15 African American CEOs in the history of Fortune 500 Companies and the only one remaining who looked like me, just stepped off the list.