This Powerful Black Woman Trailblazed Her Way To The Top

Fortune Most Powerful Women 2012/Krista Kennell/Flickr/CC0


"You have three strikes against you. You're poor, you're black and you're a woman."  

An elder said this to a 13-year-old Ursula Burns, who grew up in the Baruch Houses, one of the roughest projects in New York City's Lower East Side.

And for a while, this message deeply affected her.

Fast forward to 2017. Burns has amassed numerous accolades, including recognition as the first Black woman to rise to CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and ranking 22 on Forbes' List of Most Powerful Women!

Burns has come a long way from the Baruch Houses. Yet, even as she continues to break glass ceilings in the business world, she notes that it took a combination of hard work and positive relationships to make it to the top.

Ursula Burns first entered Xerox as an intern in the early 80s, before eventually securing an entry-level position. Though her hard work afforded her stability in the company, it was an intense discussion on workplace diversity which ultimately put her on the radar. She was handpicked to serve as assistant to the Executive Vice President.

Burns faced several obstacles along the way. She was often the only Black woman in the room; and sometimes she was the only woman, period. She had the added pressure of blindly blazing her own path, as role models in the business world were limited.

Despite the odds, by the year 2000 she'd risen to the role of vice president of corporate strategic services where she worked closely with Anne Mulcahy, who was gearing to become CEO. In 2009, Ursula Burns succeeded Mulcahy and was named CEO.

She believes firmly in helping people step into their destiny. For that reason, she takes every opportunity she can to share her journey and advice with others.

With vision, sharp intellect, staying power, and a humble spirit, Burns is a powerful example of what it means to turn "strikes" into strides.

If you were inspired by Burns’ story, learn about more powerful leaders in the book "The New CEOs: Women, African American, Latino, and Asian American Leaders of Fortune 500 Companies.”

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