Black CEOs make up just 1% of CEOs in the Fortune 500.
The ranks of African-American CEOs running a Fortune 500 company remain very slim: There are only five black CEOs on the 2020 list, which debuted last month.
They include Marvin Ellison at home-improvement retailer Lowe’s (No. 44), Kenneth Frazier at pharmaceuticals maker Merck (No. 69), Roger Ferguson at financial services company TIAA (No. 81), René Jones at M&T Bank (No. 438) and Jide Zeitlin at Tapestry (No. 485), who became CEO of the company that owns Coach and Kate Spade in September. The only black woman to ever helm a Fortune 500 CEO was Xerox’s Ursula Burns, who stepped down in 2016. (Last year, after the 2019 list was published, Mary Winston served as interim CEO of Bed Bath & Beyond for several months.)
That means that black CEOs make up a tiny fraction—just 1%—of the Fortune 500 despite African-Americans representing 13.4% of the U.S. population, according to the most recent government estimates. In all there have only been 18 black CEOs on the Fortune 500 lists since 1999. The peak was six in 2012. With social unrest, protests, mass arrests, and curfews rocking America’s largest cities in the wake of the most recent gruesome videos of treatment of blacks at the hands of police, Ellison and Frazier were among those to speak personally about the crisis.
We’re in the midst of a reckoning on systemic racism in America, and many companies are promising to do better. They say they’re aware that black people and people of color are woefully underrepresented in their ranks and often especially at the top levels. There’s no denying that the people who will be asked to take on those roles aren’t walking into the rosiest of situations. It could become a good momento to start seeing Black CEOs across these companies, but let us keep in mind they will not only just have to work with a mess on race. They’ll surely pick up a company in the midst of a pandemic and a major economic downturn. The challenge is truly big.
“The issue is you’re not only bringing in this person to fix the firm, but they’re not operating from baseline,” said Chanda Daniels, co-founder of the Reclaim, an intersectional women’s rights and gender equity organization. “They have so much work to do [on fixing office culture] than their predecessor ever had to do. And on top of that, they have to outperform their predecessor to justify them being in the position.”