On Friday, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. announced the resignation of its Chief Executive Officer, Rosalind Brewer, in a move that sent ripples through corporate America. Brewer, the only Black female CEO currently leading an S&P 500 company, left a notable void in the corporate landscape. Her departure not only underscores the challenges of diversity at the highest echelons of American business but also highlights the broader issue of representation in corporate leadership.
Brewer took to her LinkedIn profile to personally communicate her transition with her followers, expressing the gravity of the moment. “This is perhaps one of the most difficult notes I have ever written over the course of my career”, Brewer wrote. “But I wanted to share with you directly that the Board and I have mutually agreed that I will step down as the Company’s CEO and a member of the Board, effective today. This decision did not come without great consideration for what is best for all of you, our shareholders, customers, patients, and my family. In the near-term, I will continue to advise the Board as they search for a permanent CEO with healthcare expertise.”
Brewer, a former executive at Starbucks and Sam’s Club and Detroit native, took the reins of Walgreens in March 2021 with the mandate to transform the company. Unfortunately, the company’s stock value declined significantly during her tenure, leading to her departure. Despite this, her groundbreaking appointment as CEO was a historic moment for diversity in corporate leadership. Before Brewer, Ursula Burns, who left Xerox in 2016, was the last Black woman to helm an S&P 500 company.
The glaring lack of Black female CEOs in major companies reveals the slow progress made in achieving diversity at the highest corporate levels. The departure of Rosalind Brewer underscores the need for sustained efforts to overcome the barriers that Black women face in breaking into the corporate C-suite.
Corporate leadership in the United States remains predominantly dominated by white men. According to a USA TODAY analysis, white men represent seven out of every ten named executive officers in S&P 500 companies. Shockingly, about one in seven companies had executive teams consisting solely of white men in 2022. In stark contrast, women make up only 17% of named executive officers, with women of color accounting for an even smaller fraction.
Black women, in particular, are strikingly underrepresented in top leadership roles. They comprise just 1% of top leaders, and this scarcity extends to the CEO level as well. These statistics highlight the systemic challenges that Black women continue to face in ascending the corporate ladder.
Brewer’s resignation from Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. serves as a stark reminder of the uphill battle for diversity and representation in corporate America. While her appointment as CEO was a historic milestone, her departure highlights the continued underrepresentation of Black women at the highest levels of leadership. Achieving true diversity in corporate leadership will require sustained efforts to break down the concrete walls that prevent more Black women from reaching the top and to create an inclusive environment where diversity is celebrated and nurtured, rather than being the exception.