Celebrating Women of Color

When you meet Sam’s Club CEO Roz Brewer, she greets you with a warm smile. Always wearing something elegant and professional but never stuffy, she’s the kind of successful woman I admire most. Not for her outfit or even her demeanor, but because she is genuine, sharp, compassionate and courageous.

Her deep personal values are reflected in her private and professional life – and in her friendships with women like me. The first female and first African-American CEO of Sam’s Club prioritizes her family. She even brought her husband to a recent Board of Directors Network event – since it was “date night.”

I know personally that she believes in supporting women’s advancement and promoting high-potential women. Why does she stand out? Because, still today, it is a risk for women leaders to promote other women!

Example: A senior law partner confided in me that she wouldn’t give a big case to an up-and-coming woman. “If she messed up, it’d be my head on the chopping block,” she told me over lunch. “But if I give the opportunity to one of the good ‘ole boys, no one will blame me if he blows it.” Sadly, it’s true. Women remain under a microscope.

Only 2 percent of law partners are women of color according to the latest Catalyst study. In 2010 there were only 15 women of color general counsels in the Fortune 500. Plus, minority women fare the worst when it comes to the pay gap.

There are a great many extraordinary women of color I admire.

Among them? Women like the SBA’s Deputy Administrator Marie Johns, the first African-American woman to hold the job. Nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed unanimously by the Senate in 2010, she isn’t shy about leading the way. As president of Verizon Washington, she was responsible for nearly 2,000 employees and more than 800,000 customers.

My heart goes out to women of color who have overcome the odds to get where they are (and even to the late Whitney Houston with all her talent and troubles).

So, I’m especially proud of today’s story, Women Making History. It showcases women of color yesterday and today – since these women in particular depend on examples and support from role models. “Lack of mentors was cited by women of color as the biggest barrier to success,” says Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, following their large survey on the issue.

The women we’ve featured serve as fine examples and mentors, not just for other black women, but every woman who ever had a dream of doing more in her career, in her life and for the world.

By Cynthia Good

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