Despite accounting for 19 percent of the U.S. population, women of color occupy a mere 3 percent of the senior executive or “C-suite” positions in Fortune 500 companies, according to the Women in the Workplace 2017 report.
Five African American women who have broken through the glass ceiling to attain senior corporate executive positions shared words of wisdom and success secrets at a recent panel discussion entitled Women in the C-Suite: Positioned to Prosper. Hosted by the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce (GLAAACC), the panel included: Michelle Avan, director, West Division Supervision Executive Global Wealth Investment Management, Bank of America Merrill Lynch; Beverly Kuykendall, president, Government Business for American Medical Depot; Lorna Little, CEO of St. Anne’s; Lisa Stockmon, founder and CEO, My Atta Grrrl and Bianca Vobecky, founder and president of Vobecky Enterprises. The event was moderated by Liji Thomas, head of diversity and inclusion at Southern California Edison.
“With the current economic climate, it’s more important than ever to create a pipeline of educated women of color that are prepared to step up and take a seat at the corporate table where the real decisions are made,” said GLAAACC President Angela Gibson-Shaw.
Thomas guided the panelists through a series of questions to discuss their career paths and shed light on what it takes to make it to the top levels of executive management.
Lorna Little urged women to “know your value when you step into the room.” She also spoke about the willingness to make a move when the time comes. “The biggest challenge of my life was to pick up and move across the country,” she said. “Sometimes you have to get uncomfortable to seize and move into your position and purpose.”
As a woman in a male dominated field of construction and nationwide trucking, Bianca Vobecky says she never tried to be “one of the guys.”
“I never tried to fit in,” said Vobecky. “I always tried to stand above.”
Beverly Kuykendall spoke about the need to be intentional. “There are three key things you need to get out of every conversation: return on investment; incremental increase in market share; and strategic market advantage,” said Kuykendall. “If you’re talking to someone, and you haven’t considered those three factors, you’re wasting their time and yours.”
As a director responsible for adherence to federal regulatory policy, Michelle Avan downplayed her career challenges and encouraged women to embrace change. “Everything we encounter in life, we’re meant to encounter for a reason. You can’t have growth without change, and change can’t come without growth.”
Lisa Stockmon emphasized the importance of developing relationships and having advocates and sponsors.
“You have to make friends and socialize after work. That’s how you get the information you need,” said Stockmon. “Some of my biggest supporters are people that don’t look like me. It’s interesting where your blessings come from. ”
GLAAACC Director of Programs Chanel Frampton concluded the evening by emphasizing the need for diversity.
“The objective was to have diverse speakers from diverse backgrounds that provided different perspectives,” stated Frampton. “I loved the discussion and transparency from the panel. These conversations are the starting point that help us create better leaders for tomorrow.”
Women in the C-Suite: Positioned to Prosper was presented by Southern California Edison, UCLA Extension, Los Angeles World Airports and the Metropolitan Water District. Attendees received a complimentary gift bag that included products from Captital City, Caudalie, CirCell Skincare, Curls, DNA Publicity, Essence Cosmetics, GLAAACC, House of Sillage, Le Beurre, Love Cortnie, Makeup America, Palais de Thes, Red Apple Lipstick, Taschen, The baker group and Timeless and Timeless Skincare.
To view pictures from Women in the C-Suite: Positioned to Prosper visit http://www.glaaacc.org/networking-opportunities/.