25 Influential Black Women in Business Redefining Excellence

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(L. to r.) Amy Ellis-Simon, Morgan Stanley; Dorinda Walker, Prudential Financial; Charlene Wheeless (seated), Bechtel Corp.; and Nikki Bethel, Home Box Office Inc.Over the 14 years that I have headed The Network Journal’s editorial department, I have had the privilege of peeking into the hearts and minds of some 350 Black women at the top of their game. These are the women whom TNJ honors every March at its annual 25 Influential Black Women in Business Awards Luncheon in New York City, as we will do yet again on March 23 this year at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square. 

 

An amalgam of cultural references in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, Europe and, of course, the United States, these women excel in industry sectors and professions across the board, notwithstanding a recent League of Black Women survey that deems Black women’s prospects for upward mobility “grim.” [For its 2015 study titled “Daughters of the Dream: Their Lack of Sponsors, Support and Promotions,” the League asked 273 professional Black women — nearly 75 percent of whom hold advanced degrees — about their experiences as they try to cross the bridge to leadership opportunity at work. “More than 72 percent told us the greatest barrier to advancement was lack of sponsorship and access to senior leaders who can advocate for their advancement. As a result, 35 percent said they hadn’t been promoted in five years or more,” says League President and CEO Sandra Finley.]

 

Year after year, as I read of, and often listen to, the journeys of TNJ’s honorees to career success, I marvel at the common ground on which they stand in defining excellence. Resilient, resourceful and fearless, they share an abiding faith in God, an ability to triumph over adversity and personal tragedy, and a passion for giving back to the communities that nurtured them, be it uplifting the less fortunate, mentoring future leaders, or advocating for social, economic or industry policies that would benefit all. These women exalt the values learned from their parents and revel in the love and support of family, close friends, colleagues and mentors. And while they never are immune to the triple challenges of their position, gender and race, quitting is never their option for they find balance in personal spaces they create and in dreams yet to be fulfilled — dreams, for example, of what they would do if time and money permitted. 

 

From May 24 to 26 this year, the League of Black Women will hold its 14th Annual Leadership Symposium and Career Expo at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis in Georgia. This is the group that “unequivocally” supports the nomination of a Black woman to the Supreme Court. “We are confident there are Black women who are ‘indisputably’ qualified to be a Supreme Court nominee,” asserts Finley, whose firm, Sandra Finley Co., specializes in strategic diversity consulting. “To Black women, this is not an issue of political expediency or pandering. It is an issue of inclusion; a matter of acknowledgement that Black women number among those most capable, talented and prepared to serve our country and our national institutions with excellence, at the highest levels of leadership.”

 

As with TNJ and the League, professional Black women across the nation will gather throughout the year for various reasons. The undisputed constant in all these gatherings will be excellence, defined and accepted from a common ground.  


Profiles by Janelle Gordon, Rosalind McLymont, Bevolyn Williams-Harold and Sergie Willoughby. 

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