Landscape of Black Corporate America: Shrinking Leadership

Pam’s Blog: Insights
Pam’s Blog: Insights


As we celebrate black history this month and think about black progress, I felt it appropriate to share my insights on the state of black leadership in corporate America – specifically the changing dynamics that impact the pipeline. I want to call attention to the shrinking pipeline that is not necessarily intentional but an inherent byproduct of widening the focus of diversity far beyond black and white.



Representation goals are ultimately satisfied with recruiting strategies. The desire to pursue a diverse array of leaders – including women and all people of color – is having the result of diminishing black representation in leadership. Whether companies are providing lip service to recruit black leaders or making real efforts, the reality is that their focus is on the larger goal of ensuring a fully diverse group of leaders that includes both women and people of color.

Back in the day, a group of 10 leaders was considered diverse with five white males, one white woman and four black people. That scenario is so no longer typical. Today, a diverse group is five white males, three white women, one Hispanic and one black person.

So if the diverse talent focus is on all ethnicities and women, then what is the reality for black leaders in corporate America? It is good to ensure that black leaders have a seat at the table, but it is even more important that they have the ability to thrive and that they feel they can achieve and sustain themselves.

Below are the current statistics for black leadership in corporate America as reported by 2014 DMBA ILI (based on 300 U.S. companies with an average size of 30,000 employees):

– 1 percent of Fortune 500 companies have black CEOs in 2015. (Companies include American Express, Carnival,
Xerox, Merck and Delphi Automotive, as reported by CNN);

– 7 percent of C-level positions (that report to CEO) are held by black employees;

– 8 percent of executive vice president or similarly defined positions are held by blacks;

– 6 percent of vice president or similarly defined positions;

– 16 percent of directors or similarly defined positions;

– 13 percent of middle managers or similarly defined positions; and

– 16 percent of the employee base (all non-exempt; non part-time) is black

With the increased options corporate America has in selecting who works for them, these diversity gaps will likely remain a reality.

Should blacks view corporate America as the foundation for developing skills and relationships that will propel them to the next assignment? Should blacks with entrepreneurial instincts think about building their skills for entrepreneurial opportunities?

I think black leaders need to be clear where they stand in the BIG PICTURE of what companies are doing to diversify the leadership ranks. As the data above illustrates, sharing the pool with everyone else means it is inevitable that the percentage of black leader shrinks.