The Root has conducted an interview with one of the most powerful corporate women in the world, and she happens to be a lady of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc. Her name is Laysha Ward.
One of only few high powered African American executives, Soror Ward is the president of community relations at Target and the Chair of the Executive Leadership Council (ELC). The ELC is an organization focused on increasing the number of African Americans at the senior level in Fortune 500 companies and on corporate boards. According to the group, of the more than 35,000 senior-executive positions either at the CEO level or those one or two levels below CEO within Fortune 500 companies, it is estimated that only 3.2 percent — or fewer than 800 — are black.
Soror Ward is looking to change that.
See some of the discussion from The Root
The Root: Why is an organization like the ELC necessary?
Laysha Ward: The numbers tell the story. Fewer than 1 percent of corporate CEOs are African American, and only one is a woman. We’ve been working for more than 25 years now to fill the pipeline of corporate leadership with African-American leaders, and we’ve made some progress, but we have a very long way to go.
To that end, we hope to accelerate the progress through our recently announced “aspirational goals,” which are focused on getting more African Americans into the CEO-level position and those one and two levels below CEO, with an expectation of 500 leaders at [all three] levels. We also want to get an incremental 200 African Americans on the boards of publicly traded companies. We’ll keep track of the numbers each year to see how we’re making progress against these goals.
We have a very rich history, focused on diversity and inclusion in all aspects of business, including recruiting and retaining diverse talent. We have been very fortunate to — through our Executive Leadership Foundation — support a variety of educational initiatives. Ultimately, the education issue is a global-competitiveness issue.
TR:The Executive Leadership Council describes its mission as training the next generation of African-American business leaders “from the classroom to the boardroom.” What types of things are taught in “classrooms” such as your Women’s Leadership Forum leadership-development workshops and panels?
LW: The Women’s Leadership Forum is one of our signature programs. This year’s theme was “Potential, purpose and power.” We’re very focused on things like blind spots — are they assets or liabilities? For example, one blind spot could be how one gets feedback, and whether that feedback is seen as a strength or a potential derailer in one’s career.
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