Even among Harvard MBAs, few black women ever reach corporate America’s top rungs

By Duchess Magazine

In recent months, corporate America’s corner office has gotten a little less diverse when it comes to the number of African Americans.

With American Express Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault stepping down, there are just three black CEOs in the Fortune 500. And with the departure of former CEO Ursula Burns from Xerox, announced in 2016, there are no black female CEOs leading companies in the S&P 500 index.

New research featured in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review doesn’t offer much hope that those numbers will improve any time soon. Even among graduates of Harvard Business School — arguably the most elite graduate business program in the country — only 13% of black female Harvard MBAs over the last 40 years have reached the senior-most executive ranks. That’s compared with 40% of non-African-American Harvard MBA degree holders who reach those top ranks.

The analysis, the first of its kind to examine the career paths of Harvard Business School’s black female alumnae, found that 532 African American women graduated from the program between 1977 and 2015, but just 67, or 12.6%, had reached chair, CEO or other C-level executive status. (About 19% of black male graduates had attained similar positions.)

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