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5 Questions for Carl Brooks Minorities in the C-Suite

April 23, 2009
No matter what he does during his tenure, President Barack Obama will be remembered in history as the first African-American president of the United States. Although that glass ceiling has been broken, much work remains to be done to get more people of color into corporate executive suites, says Carl Brooks, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council. Brooks recently talked to Workforce Management staff writer Mark Schoeff Jr.

Workforce Management: Everyone understands the social-justice reasons for increasing the number of minority executives. What is the business case?

Carl Brooks: The more diverse the grouping, the more creative the output. Progressive companies want to have as broad a group of thinkers involved in the decision-making process as possible. The new markets are obviously the global markets, but the other increasingly attractive market is the emerging domestic markets, which are populated by African-Americans, Hispanics, females, Asian-Americans. To the extent you can ensure that you understand their needs, their desires, you have a greater opportunity to be able to have products and services which satisfy these groups.

WM: What is holding back African-American women?

Brooks: The networks for African-American females were considered more social than strategic. They know each other, they know the family makeup of each other, they socialize together. But they didn’t have the strategic ingredient that would allow them to advance and ask each other for support and endorsements. Without that, no one moves to senior levels in any corporation.

WM: Another problem for African-American women is a misunderstanding of their capabilities. How do the jobs they hold influence that perception?

Brooks: The advice in this research is that if you seek an operational position at the top level, you need to stay focused on that and not move so easily to staff or administrative positions in corporate America.

WM: How is President Obama an inspiration for minorities striving for the C-suite?

Brooks: Barack did in a two-year period [of his campaign] just what we did over longer periods of time. [He] demonstrated that you have a mastery of subject matter, you can motivate people, you can get business results. People see if you prepare yourself right, you get the right education, you get the right experience and you challenge yourself to be the very best, there’s a potential that you can reach the greatest heights in this country.

WM: Does President Obama’s success mean that inequality has been overcome?

Brooks: The truth is that minorities are underutilized in major corporations. There’s a lot of work to be done by this president and this administration. [The problem] wasn’t created in a day, and it’s not going to be solved in a day. The day-to-day reality for so many minorities and females and others in this country is still very, very difficult.

Workforce Management, April 6,2009 , p. 7 -- Subscribe Now!