World News: Spelman Alumna Rosalind Brewer to be the only Black Woman Leading a Fortune 500 Company
Spelman Alumna and corporate leader Rosalind Brewer continues to forge a path and reduce barriers for women of color within corporate America and beyond.
Succeeding Stefano Pessina, Rosalind Brewer will officially become the chief executive officer (CEO) of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc on March 15. In this role, she will be the only Black woman currently leading a Fortune 500 company in the United States, and just the third Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 firm in history. Playing a prominent role in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, the company will be completely dependent on the leadership of Brewer to navigate it through financial difficulties and other situations.
The seasoned executive launched her career as a scientist at Kimberly-Clark Corporation for 22 years. Following this endeavor, Brewer became the first woman and the first Black executive to lead a major unit of Walmart after being named the chief executive of its Sam’s Club division in 2012. Soon after joining the board of Starbucks in 2017, Brewer was asked to lead operations at the coffee giant. She became the first woman and first Black individual to hold the role of the chief operating officer at Starbucks.
Within months of the new position, she found herself guiding the company through a fallout after the arrest of two Black men waiting at a cafe in Philadelphia. “As a Black woman, as a mother of a 23-year-old Black male myself, a girl from Detroit who challenges racism every day because she’s never had a choice, and as a human being, it infuriates me to see acts of hate, acts of entitlement, acts of privilege repeating over and over and over and over and over again in this country,” she said of the Philadelphia incident in her 2018 speech at the Spelman College commencement ceremony.
This singular distinction is stunning for the year 2021, yet it likewise serves as a stark reminder of how far corporate America and its top decision-makers must go to diversify its top ranks. The appointment of Brewer as the chief executive officer at one of the global leaders in retail and wholesale pharmacies comes at a time when women and minorities continue to be vastly underrepresented at the executive level.
Amid the past year, American businesses and corporations have been grappling with their role on racial equity, following nationwide protests in response to killings at the hands of the police. According to Fortune.com, there have been only 18 Black chief executives of Fortune 500 companies since 1999. Stepping down later in 2016, Ursula Burns was the first Black woman to lead such a company when she became the CEO of Xerox in 2009. The second Black woman was Mary Winston after she became interim CEO of Bed Bath and Beyond in 2019, but she was only in the position for six months.
“When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot,” Brewer said during a 2018 speech at her alma mater. “You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have that top job. Sometimes you’re mistaken for kitchen help. Sometimes people assume you’re in the wrong place, and all I can think in the back of my head is, ‘No, you’re in the wrong place.”