March 15, 2022

Women’s History Month – Celebrating Black Women in Business

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring several articles that celebrate the achievements of Black women in business.


Forte Foundation – Trailblazing Black Women

The latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and Lean In highlights a concerning metric – women of color currently account for only 4 percent of C-suite leaders and that number has not moved significantly in the past three years.


Aligned with Forté’s mission to advance women in business, the article highlights 14 pioneering Black women who have either paved the way for subsequent generations or are currently changing the status quo in business.  Below is just a snapshot of the women featured in the Forte article:


  • Roz Brewer: CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, one of only two Black women CEOs on the Fortune 500. Brewer’s words of wisdom: “The stress was so high of me trying to be two different people. I could not bear it anymore, I was not myself, and so I just reconciled that I’ve got to bring my whole self to work. And the more that I was like who I am in my day, in my personal life, at work, actually work took off.”
  • Ursula Burns: Former CEO of Xerox from 2010-2017, the first Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. Burns’ words of wisdom: “I didn’t learn to be quiet when I had an opinion. The reason they knew who I was is because I told them.”
  • Alicia Boler Davis: Amazon’s Vice President of Global Customer Fulfillment since 2019, the first Black woman to join the company’s senior leadership group. Davis’ words of wisdom: “My advice would be not to be restricted by what you see, or do not let anyone tell you that you cannot be something, that you can’t do something, or something is impossible.”


Forte Foundation – Harvard’s First African-American Woman MBA

After getting a BA at Howard University and being told by a Howard professor she was “Harvard material”, Lillian Lincoln Lambert – who grew up on a Virginia farm in the segregated South of the 1940s – wanted to pursue further education.  However, she was rejected the first time she applied to Harvard Business School.  This was before the days of pre-MBA resources such as GMAT prep classes and the Forté Foundation, so Lambert did not know how best to prepare for her application.  She tried again after she found out why she was not accepted and prepared thoroughly for her second application and got in.


In HBS’ 1967 class, Lillian was just one of nine African-American students and the only female.  In 1969, she became the first Black woman to graduate with an MBA from HBS.  After her MBA, Lillian became an entrepreneur – launching a building contracting services business that grew to become a $20 million operation with 1,200 employees.  In 2003, Harvard Business School awarded her its most prestigious alumni honor – the Alumni Achievement Award.


Tuck Business School – A conversation with Ella L.J. Bell Smith

Ella L.J. Bell Smith, professor of business administration at Tuck, first published Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women and the Search for Identity over 20 years ago.  The book was republished last year for its 20-year anniversary and while a lot has changed on diversity and identity in two decades, much remains the same.  Undaunted, Smith continues her work out in the world—and was recently recognized with the 2021 Earl Hill Jr. Faculty Achievement and Diversity Leadership Award from the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management.  Click the title link above for a fascinating Q&A conversation from Tuck’s interview with Bell Smith.