New Walgreens CEO boosts c-suite diversity

Brewer was the first Black woman to lead a division at Starbucks, now she is joining pharmaceutical retailer Walgreens as its new CEO

One of the most senior staff at Starbucks is moving to the US pharmacy store chain, Walgreens, in what will be a boon to black female representation in America’s corporate world.

This week it was announced that Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer, who has been at the company since 2017, will become CEO of Walgreens – replacing current CEO Stefano Pessina who announced his decision to step down from the role last summer.

How Brewer is diversifying corporate America

The move will make Brewer the only Black female leader of a Fortune 500 company. Her new appointment follows growing discussions around diversity and inclusion at board level in America’s public companies. Prior to Starbucks, she was CEO at Sam’s Club, a retailer owned by Walmart, and held senior positions at manufacturing giant, Kimberly-Clark, and aerospace company, Lockheed Martin.

Brewer already made corporate history at Starbucks as the first Black woman to hold the title of COO and head a division there. She sits on the board of Amazon and is a Spelman College trustee, a historically Black female institution where she is an alumna. She is due to leave her position at Starbucks in late February.

C-suite diversity figures (US & UK)

Brewer’s recent appointment has received attention because the presence of executives at her level remains rare. A 2020 study by the University of Stanford on c-suite diversity found that women only held 7% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies, while ethnic minorities held 9%. This means that Brewer, as a woman of colour, has defied some heavy statistical odds to arrive where she has. While many institutions promote D&I through policies and initiatives, the study then states that they are still failing to help more women and minorities become corporate leaders.

In the UK, the picture is equally grim. Last year, a British recruitment firm found 83% of chief executive hires already had C-suite experience, leaving little room for new talent to rise through the ranks. It also found that UK CEO hires were 95% male, a figure that was up by 2% from 2019. The growing demand for experienced executives is thought to result from the coronavirus pandemic and a desire among businesses for stability over risk.

In the FTSE 100 in 2020, only six BAME people were occupying a chair or CEO position, and over a third of FTSE 100 companies didn’t have any BAME board members at all. With the Confederation of British Industry advising that all FTSE 100 firms should have at least one BAME member on their boards this year, they’ll have a lot of work to do to make appointments like Brewer’s less of an exception.

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