Rosalind Brewer Becomes Third Black Woman to Head a Fortune 500 Company

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek February 1, 2021
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​Rosalind Brewer will become the only Black woman currently leading a Fortune 500 company in the U.S. when she takes on the role of chief executive officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) on March 15. 

Brewer is the third Black female to serve as CEO at a Fortune 500 company. Ursula Burns was CEO of Xerox Co. from 2010-16, and Mary Winston was interim CEO at Bed Bath & Beyond in 2019. There has been a push in recent years to increase the number of women in the top executive ranks, including recruiting them as members of boards of directors.

Brewer most recently served as chief operating officer, group president and member of Starbucks' board of directors. She is a former director of Amazon, Lockheed Martin and Molson Coors Brewing Co.

Brewer's move to Walgreens means she will resign from Amazon's board, since it is becoming a competitor to Walgreens with its expansion into health care. Brewer succeeds Stefano Pessina, who will transition to the role of executive chairman of the board of WBA, Walgreens announced Jan. 26.

There are few Black top executive officers of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. in general. Only three Black men currently run Fortune 500 companies—Kenneth Frazier of pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.Marvin Ellison of home improvement retailer Lowe's; and Roger W. Ferguson Jr. of insurance company TIAA.

In an announcement of Brewer's new role, Pessina described her as "a distinguished and experienced executive who has led organizations globally through periods of changing consumer behavior by applying innovation that elevates customer experiences—ultimately  driving significant and sustainable growth and value creation." 

SHRM Online has collected the following articles about bringing more women into top leadership positions at their organizations. 

Walgreens' New CEO 'Roz' Brewer on Bias in the C-Suite: 'When You're a Black Woman, You Get Mistaken a Lot' 

As a longtime executive in corporate America, Brewer has spoken openly about the bias and challenges she's faced as one of very few Black women in the C-suite. Here, CNBC shares the speech she gave in 2018 at Spelman College, her alma mater and an all-women educational institution.

"When you're a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot," Brewer said. "You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have that top job. Sometimes you're mistaken for kitchen help. Sometimes people assume you're in the wrong place, and all I can think in the back of my head is, 'No, you're in the wrong place.' " 
(CNBC)   

Female CEOs of the S&P 500  

Women currently hold 30 (6 percent) of the CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. To find out how many women are at other levels of S&P 500 companies, take a look at the Women in S&P 500 Companies pyramid.
(Catalyst)  

There Are More Female CEOs Than Ever, and Many of Them Are in Retail  

In a year especially hard on many working women, the corporate world can hail one major milestone: A record 41 female CEOs are slated to soon run Fortune 500 companies. The rising numbers partly reflect companies' efforts in recent years to more systematically build a bench of senior female talent, particularly in the retail industry, executives and recruiters said. 
(Wall Street Journal)   

Female Fortune 500 CEOs Reach an All-Time High, but It's Still a Small Percentage 

The number of women running Fortune 500 companies has hit an all-time record. Among female CEOs, some are leaders of companies that debuted on the Fortune 500 for the first time in 2020. In May 2020, there were 37 female CEOs, up from 33 in 2019 and 24 in 2018. And to really put things in perspective, 20 years ago there were only two female-led companies, according to Fortune
(CNN)

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How Intentional Are Your DE&I Efforts? 

If companies genuinely want to hire and promote more women of color, they must think carefully about every aspect of these women's career paths, including job assignments and career coaching. 
(SHRM Online)   

Diversifying the Path to CEO in Financial Services 

This 2020 report, the third in Deloitte's Within Reach series on women in financial services, examines the path to CEO at the 107 biggest public U.S. financial services companies (by asset size), as well as where women are currently situated in leadership. Prioritizing gender diversity and inclusion in leadership development and succession planning could improve outcomes, according to Deloitte.
One way to achieve greater opportunity for women at the highest level may be for boards and leadership teams at financial companies to establish programs that would encourage and enable more women to assume roles historically considered as potential CEO candidates, as well as track their progress.
(Deloitte)


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