Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Role Models and a New Network

NYU-Stern graduate Daria Burke
Who are the women of color, the women from under-represented groups who occupy "C-suite" positions at companies involved in global business? A roster of such names usually includes Ursula Burns at Xerox, Andreae Jung (until earlier this month) at Avon, and Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, CEOs of companies with billions in revenues and even greater numbers in market value.

Burns, Jung, Nooyi and others preside over companies, business sectors, geographic units, corporate brands, major subsidiaries and functions in finance and treasury. They would also be women from who hustled, regrouped, paused to raise families, scratched, climbed and willed their way into top spots, board rooms and significant leadership positions.  Their  few numbers, while growing, suggest there is still a ways to go. Those in CEO roles, such as Burns, Nooyi and Jung, are known and are seen commanding the podium at shareholder meetings or outlining strategic plans in a broadcast on CNBC.

Those below the CEO rung may not be as widely known outside of their industries and are not prominently profiled  in the business media. As such, they aren't presented as role models as widely as they could be--especially as role models for younger women contemplating a similar corporate-ladder climb or a long-term career in business after the MBA.

That's where Daria Burke, a Consortium alum and MBA graduate from NYU-Stern, stepped in.  She is doing her part by establishing a network of black women with MBA degrees, with corporate promise and with the resolve to succeed in business. Earlier this year, she and others established a new group, called Black MBA Women. The group has its own website and Linkedin group.
Burke wanted the group to go beyond sharing experiences and expertise about business opportunities in a network forum. She also wanted network members to learn about, study and follow the career steps of other successful black women in business. For many black women at or near the top rungs, there are lessons that can be shared or advice that can be exploited, based on their experiences.

Hence, the group will present and highlight success stories to share with members. It will spread the news and show what has been accomplished by black women in senior business positions, whether they were CEOs, CFOs, or heads of international marketing and sales, legal and compliance, client relationships, Europe subsidiaries, Asia expansion, risk management, technology and systems, or human resources.

The new group's mission is "to reinforce and create a strong network of African-American women with top MBAs."  The group will try to influence and encourage younger professionals and students and "empower the next generation of young black women by increasing their access to education and business networks."  Hence, identifying role models, presenting the profiles of women in senior roles, and heralding their achievements are primary objectives.

Burke says in the website she was concerned about the "staggering number of African-American girls and post-collegiate women" who don't know about the business successes of black professional women with MBAs from top schools.

She said this week, "I was truly inspired to create this organization by my personal network and by all the young ladies I meet and speak to about going to business school."  She added, "I've gotten a wonderful reception so far and am grateful for the support."

Since graduating from Stern four years ago, Burke has worked in various marketing roles--her specialty.  She is currently Director of Makeup Marketing (North America) at Estee Lauder, steadily rising into roles of greater responsibility and impact.  At Stern she was a student leader in the school's Association for Hispanic and Black Business Students (AHBBS). Today, she is the head of that group's alumni group and decided, along with others, they can do their part to support black women MBA students and alumnae.

The group's website features "Power Profiles" that highlight the business accomplishments and career paths of black women in senior business roles. They include Tracey Travis, the CFO at Polo Ralph Lauren, who has an MBA from Columbia.  Ursula Burns, Xerox's CEO, is featured with a profile that highlights her engineering background. Burns used her undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering to launch a 32-year (thus far) career at Xerox.  She was named CEO in 2009.

Edith Cooper, global head of human capital management at Goldman Sachs, also profiled, started out in the firm's energy group and now manages all facets of the firm's recruiting efforts and diversity hiring.  Cooper received her graduate business degree from Northwestern-Kellogg. Rosalind Brewer, CEO at
Sam's Club, is featured, as well.

As Burke hopes to show, dozens, hundreds, if not thousands, of young students may not have been aware of the women in these roles, the bottom-line responsibilities they have at large, major companies, the quiet, effective influence they have in diversity initiatives, and the impact on younger women just from being in the position.

Burke encourages women to join the group as members on the website or via Linkedin.

Tracy Williams

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