Decreasing Representation of Black Executives in Fortune 500 Companies

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Don ThompsonWhile the U.S. government may have an African-American leader, most of the country?s largest companies still lack diversity in top executives.

During the summer, Don Thompson will take the position of CEO of the McDonald?s corporation, one of the country?s top brands. When Thompson takes his new position, he will be among only six Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

The five other African Americans who serve as active CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are Xerox?s Ursula Burns, Darden Restaurant?s Clarence Otis, TIAA-CREF?s Roger Ferguson, Merck?s Kenneth Frazier, and American Express?s Kenneth Chenault.

The nation?s first Black Fortune 500 CEO assumed office about a decade ago in 1999; Franklin Raines led Fannie Mae for five years.

At the next couple of levels of upper management, including vice presidents, CFOs, CIOs, and the like, the list of Black leaders grows, but not by much.

The Executive Leadership Council, a network of African-American executives at large companies, estimates that there are approximately 800 African-American leaders in the top ranks of the nation?s Fortune 500 companies.

While 800 is a much higher number than six, these 800 upper managers represent only 2 percent of the total executives at that level.

Black representation at the top of corporations has only decreased in the last decade. The Alliance for Board Diversity has found that representation of women and minorities on corporation boards decreased between 2004 and 2012.

The CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, Arnold Donald, is working towards a program to encourage companies to have more diversity within upper management. His goal is to have every top company with a Black executive in its top three levels of management within five years.

In order for companies to have success, Donald argues that diversity and innovation are key. However, the key to diversity is not connected with one specific ethnic group; instead, diversity must include women, Hispanics, and people from other underrepresented groups.

When it comes to the scarcity of Black executives in upper management of large companies, some may wonder if it?s a matter of discrimination. Donald doesn?t think so. Instead of overt discrimination, he believes that the cause of this disparity is because it?s a part of human nature to seek out those like you. It takes effort and a different way of thinking to look for and attract those who are different.

Diversity requires pro-active intervention that is not yet a natural part of corporate America.