Kenneth Chenault, the longtime chairman and CEO of American Express, is retiring from the company and offered a few ideas to the Associated Press on how Fortune 500 companies could fill the void of top African American executives.
“Company boards and management have to say: ‘diversity and inclusion is a core priority, and it’s not a flavor of the month,” said Chenault, whose departure from AmEx leaves just three Black CEOs in corporate America.
“It’s not something we’re just going to try for a year or two. We’re going to keep at it until we get it right.’ And I think we need that level of intensity and focus,” he continued.
The lack of diversity is “embarrassing,” added Chenault, who was recently tagged by Airbnb and Facebook to join their boards. Thousands of qualified African Americans are not getting the opportunity to lead top companies. It’s not that complicated, he underscored. First, the corporate community must develop a pipeline. Once talented candidates come in the door, companies have to create an environment where Black executives are not just tolerated but embraced.
“You need to, in fact, develop people strategies just as you do for business strategies. And you need to put metrics in place, and hold people accountable for making progress,” he added.
The lack of diversity at the top of Fortune 500 companies is indeed shameful. About 73 percent of Whites hold senior executive positions, according to Fortune. Asians represent 21 percent of business leaders, while Latinos and Blacks hold just 3 percent and 2 percent of those positions respectively.