In the corporate world–the land of office supplies, paper cuts and ink stains–there has long existed a glass ceiling. At first glance, the mailroom clerk sees the CEO chair within her grasp, just up the ladder of success. But, alas, there is an invisible barrier. Maybe they are not the “right” race or sex. Or both.

Many Black women who aspire to one day furnish an executive corner office are faced with a “double outsiders” status in today’s organizations.

“Right now there is only one Black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company; that’s Ursula Burns at Xerox,” Michael Dutton, director of communications for the Executive Leadership Council (ELC) said. “Our members have achieved success on their own terms, and ELC shares their knowledge with leadership development opportunities.”

According to the Black Women Executives Research Initiatives conducted by the ELC, there is a potential road map that can help Black women executives prepare for “C-suite” roles.

“The C-suite is the staff of the CEO,” Dutton explained. “Those folks (who) support the CEO’s decision process–the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer, the executive vice presidents and the senior vice president. The CEO is occupied with reporting to the board of directors. It’s his staff that is managing the business and keeping the CEO informed.”

One key finding from the research states that Black women executives suffer from the lack of comfortable, trusted and strategic relationships at the senior level with those who are most different from themselves, most notably White males.

CEOs and Black women executives have different views about the quality of the relationships between the two groups and about the Black woman’s ability to network.

CEOs believe that Black women spend too little time developing strategic relationships. They recommend that Black women be the first to forge stronger relationships with White male executives and increase their risk-taking, as well as make themselves more visible and valuable.

A third finding states that every aspiring executive must ask: “Do I really want to do what it takes to compete for the top slot?” If the answer for a Black woman executive is “yes,” she must have a plan to get there and put that plan into action at each step of the way. That’s where ELC comes in.

ELC is hosting a “Strategic Pathways” leadership development program July 14 and 15 in Del Mar, Calif., and applications are due May 6.

“We had our pilot launch in 2010,” ELC’s Institute for Leadership Development and Research program manager Nichele Lucas said. “We had 19 participants from all walks of business. The more we can get, the further we feel our reach. Every person we touch can create a snowball, a domino effect.”

“We want aspiring executives to know that they do have support,” she added. “We understand their plight and what they’re going through.”

The two-day Strategic Pathways program is the shortest of the ELC’s training programs. A second, “Strengthening the Pipeline,” will be held in August in Miami for five days, and “Bright Futures” will be in the same city for three days.

The Del Mar event is designed to assist mid-career Black women–managers, senior project leaders, directors and new vice presidents–and create a strategic plan for their personal and professional development.

“These women have been six to 15 years in their careers, and if they’re 20 years in, that’s absolutely fine, too,” Lucas said. “There is a set of questions on the application to make sure that one of the three programs is a good fit.”

“This is an opportunity for them to start their goal-setting, to measure their next steps–where they are, where they’re going and where they want to be.”

In addition to the classroom format sessions with trainers, there are interactive, experiential activities over the two days.

“What we don’t want to do is just have them sit and talk to them,” Lucas said. “What the participants have to say is just as important as what the trainers have to say. Having dialogues in class is critical to the success of the program.”

“We look at their individual situations and development needs,” she added. “What they walk away with, can potentially help them. They’ll have something actionable to take back to their real work life.”

Networking–one of the areas the research found lacking–is also a focus.

“Leaving the program doesn’t stop the progress,” Lucas said. “Participants stay in contact. They learn and grow from one another. After the program, they feel like family. They have a lot in common, they form amazing bonds and support and encourage and continually learn from each other.”

During the program, participants will also have access to a panel of experts, ELC members, who will lead discussions and share their personal success ladder climbing experiences.

Creating and filling these leadership pipelines is exactly what ELC is all about. According to the group the mission of the ELC is to build an inclusive business leadership pipeline, and to develop African American corporate leaders–one student and one executive at a time. Members of the council work to achieve its goals through a variety of initiatives and programs. All are supported by contributions to the Executive Leadership Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, established in 1989 as an affiliate of the ELC. The Foundation provides financial support for educational and leadership initiatives developed by members of the Council.

ELC membership consists of businessmen and women–mostly African American executives who are CEOs or are working within two or three levels of a CEO position.

“Ursula Burns is a member, as well as Clarence Otis, the CEO of Darden Restaurants; and Bernard Tyson, president and COO of Kaiser Permanente,” Dutton said. “Some of our members do participate in the main tent event–the presentation to our participants.”

The ELC awarded Magic Johnson during its 2009 gala in Washington, D.C. More than 2,200 people attended that annual event in celebration of African American achievements in corporate America. Talk about a networking event.

A committee of ELC members is now organizing a Black Women’s Leadership Symposium, scheduled to take place in Chicago on July 18 and 19. As details are fleshed out, they will be

Locally, the Black Women’s Network is celebrating 32-years of community service in Los Angeles. They will be holding a regular meeting titled “Networking is a Contact Sport” at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 9, at the Inglewood Veterans Memorial Building, 330 Centinela Ave., Inglewood. Call (323) 964-4003 to make reservations for this open event, which includes a light lunch.

Sororities: building a future full of women leaders

Compiled by Brittney M. Walker
OW Staff Writer

Black sororities have a long history of training African American women formally and informally for leadership roles. Below find a brief look at what they offer.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
AMICAE–As early as 1940, graduate chapters of Zeta Phi Beta began to realize the importance, prestige and good will of working with women who, for various reasons, were not members of any Greek-letter organization. Under the administration of Lullelia Harrison, the first Amicae chapter was organized in Omaha, Neb., in 1947, making Zeta the first sorority in the National Pan-Hellenic Council to organize an auxiliary group. Zeta Amicae are affiliated through local chapters.

The purpose of the group is to assist and contribute to the efforts of Zeta Phi Beta. Amicae members work as community advocates and leaders for the organization.

Women can get involved by contacting a local Zeta chapter.

ARCHONETTES–High school-aged young ladies who demonstrate an interest in the goals and the ideals of scholarship, sisterly love and community service. They too work alongside Zeta members to serve the community and act in leadership positions. Archonette groups are affiliated through local chapters.

AMICETTES–Girls 9 to 13 years of age who are willing to strive toward the high ideals of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and who demonstrate potential for leadership in service to the community. Amicettes are affiliated through local chapters.

PEARLETTES–Girls under 9 years old who are mentored by ladies of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. to become outstanding leaders in their community.

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.
PHILO AFFILIATES–Since its inception, Sigma Gamma Rho has promoted unity among women and for years many alumnae chapters worked with individuals who were not members of Greek-letter organizations. These women were organized into auxiliaries that had various names until 1954 when the sorority officially approved the organized affiliate group and accepted the name of “Philo” (meaning Friend) as their official name.

In 1980, the Philos were organized on a national level and have grown to represent hundreds of women organized on a regional level as well. The Philos have contributed countless hours of community service and thousands of dollars to aid Sigma Gamma Rho’s aim to enhance the quality of life within every community.

If you are interested in finding a Philo Club in your area, complete the membership interest form below to receive more information.

RHOER AFFILIATES–A love for youth and the development of their full potential was the primary motivating factor that inspired founder Mary Lou Allison Gardner Little to organize Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. Young people today face challenges that could never have been imagined years ago, but such challenges provide the sorority with opportunities to carry on Little’s vision.

Rhoers are young girls organized on a local, regional and national level. The Rhoer affiliates are working to help other young people while they learn about their heritage and develop leadership skills. Sigma Gamma Rho is dedicated to helping Rhoers grow to be women of substance dedicated to service.

If you are interested in finding a Rhoer Club in your area, complete the membership interest form below to receive more information.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
DELTA ACADEMY–The Delta Academy was created out of an urgent sense that bold action was needed to save our young females (ages 11-14) from the perils of academic failure, low self-esteem, and crippled futures. The Delta Academy provides an opportunity for local Delta chapters to enrich and enhance the education that young teens receive in public schools across the nation. Specifically, the sorority augments their scholarship in math, science and technology; their opportunities to provide service in the form of leadership through service learning; their sisterhood, defined as the cultivation of service learning, and their cultivation and maintenance of relationships. A primary goal of the program is to prepare young girls for full participation as leaders in the 21st century.

The Delta Academy has taken many forms. In some chapters, the academies are after-school or Saturday programs. Others are weekly or biweekly throughout the school year, and still other programs occur monthly. At a minimum, chapters plan and implement varied activities based upon the needs of the early adolescents in their areas. The activities implemented most often include computer training, self-esteem and etiquette workshops, field trips for science experiences and for college exposure, and special outings to cultural events, fancy dinners, museums, plays and concerts.

DELTA GEMS–A natural outgrowth and expansion for the continuation of the highly successful Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy. Delta Gems was created to catch the dreams of African American at-risk, adolescent girls aged 14-18. Delta Gems provides the framework to actualize those dreams through the performance of specific tasks that develop a can-do attitude. The goals for Delta Gems are:

* To instill the need to excel academically

* To provide tools that enable girls to sharpen and enhance their skills to achieve high levels of academic success

* To assist girls in proper goal setting and planning for their futures, high school and beyond

* To create compassionate, caring and community-minded young women by actively involving them in service learning and community service opportunities.

The Delta Gems framework is composed of five major components–Scholarship, Sisterhood, Show Me the Money, Service, and Infinitely Complete–forming a road map for college and career planning. Topics within the five major components are designed to provide interactive lessons and activities that provide opportunities for self-reflection and individual growth.

Delta Gems, like Delta Academy, is implemented by chapters of Delta Sigma Theta.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
EMERGING YOUNG LEADERS INITIATIVES (EYL)–This signature program is designed to impact the lives of 10,000 girls in grades six through eight by providing leadership development, civic engagement, enhanced academic preparation and character building. The increasing demands of the 21st century mandate that youth be better leaders at a younger age, making smart choices with positive consequences.

GLOBAL POVERTY–The goals for this initiative are to end hunger, preserve the environment and empower women. The program provides food-production skills and training in self-reliance through gifts of seeds, livestock and training in environmentally sound agriculture. It believes that education in sustainable food practices makes women equal partners in ending poverty and hunger. Alpha Kappa Alpha continues its membership and consultative status with UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization). It has global partners for self-help projects and awareness campaigns within the United States and abroad.