Black Women Don’t Always Realize They Can Be The Leader Of An Organization, Says CMO Ericka Pittman
It’s always been hard for Black women to climb to the top of the ladder in Corporate America, but it seems it has gotten even tougher, as there are very few women who are CEOs in Corporate America. And while there have been 15 African Americans as heads of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, right now we have no Black women in such positions.
As we recently reported, “In Corporate America, Women of color comprise only 16.5 percent of people who work for S&P 500 companies and they represent less than 10 percent of managers and a very low 3.9 percent of executives. Black men are not fairing much better, just 1 percent are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. To be exact, there are five Black men in those posts.”
Ericka Pittman understands the struggles of being a Black woman in Corporate America. Pittman, who had been VP of the Chairman’s Office at Combs Enterprises, overseeing business processes and communication for such brands as Bad Boy Entertainment, CÎROC Ultra Premium Vodka, Sean John, DeLeón Tequila, and REVOLT TV, was recently appointed Chief Marketing Officer of premium alkaline water company AQUAhydrate where she will oversee and spearhead marketing and sales functions.
“It is my opinion that the lack of Black female representation in the C-Suite–particularly the CEO position, is a result of a few moving parts,” said Pittman, who also worked at iVillage, Time Inc., and Conde Nast. “Firstly, women–particularly women of color–are rarely groomed to aspire for leading roles within organizations. More often than not, in my experience, women who are at the helm of a company are usually founders of the organization. Many women, specifically Black women, don’t always realize they can be the leader of an organization–let alone mapping out a plan or path to achievement.”
There are also other external factors, added Pittman, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communications from Baruch College. “The lack of guidance, sponsorship, and mentorship at the executive level creates an even greater challenging for women to navigate the political landscape of executive ascension. In any game there are rules of engagement–you have to learn how to play in order to win. Not many women in positions of power are able to acquire the tools needed to navigate the rules of the game. Those of us that do identify coaching tend to succeed, however few.”
And it’s not just a problem in corporate America, Pittman pointed out. “The glass ceiling still exists globally. While we have seen tremendous progression in the area of leadership and expanded management roles–the world at large struggles with the idea that women are equipped to lead at scale.”
Pittman herself faced challenges, but she said they were not much different from other women in the workplace trying to move up. “I can’t be certain that the challenges that I face daily are unique to my experience. That said, the biggest challenges I face are how quickly I can understand what I commonly call the ‘Corporate Win.’ The quicker I have been able to identify the overarching goal of the organizational leadership, the easier it became for me to find my contribution in achieving the objective. More times than not, your personal win is not the win that counts most. If you can tap into what leadership is passionate about you can identify the rules of the game and navigate your win. Social equity plays a very large role in this process. Aligning with the right constituents as early as possible is pivotal to achieving success.”
Still, there are always sacrifices for women looking to get ahead in the corporate world. “Consistency, persistence, patience, and tenacity are what it takes to be successful in any human endeavor. As I continue to reflect on my career track it is difficult for me to view it as ‘hard’. I suppose I’ve invested a few long hours, made tremendous sacrifices, remained consistent in good scenarios as well as other not so good ones, but all things considered, I can’t say it has been a hard road. A long road yes–hard road, no. I’m proud of my bumps and bruises along the way and I suspect there will be a few more as the future path unfolds–but that’s the juicy bit isn’t it?”
Pittman had always aspired to rise high in Corporate America — a determination she knows has helped her with all the bumps along the way. “I have always considered myself a leader. Every move in my career was intentional, preparing me for the next level. After 20 years at the top media outlets and leading various teams under the Combs Enterprises organization, this appointment as CMO of AQUAhydrate is apt. Success is a living breathing concept–it is ever evolving. I am excited by the possibilities of this new journey.”
So what does Pittman think it will take to get more Black women in positions like hers and beyond? “I believe it will take a combination of mentorship, stewardship, and sponsorship in order for corporations to see an increase of Black women in executive positions. It is important that women who are in these positions reach back–work with young women in schools and in junior level positions to help them understand how to navigate corporate environments so they’re best prepared for the next phase of their careers. Those of us that are fortunate enough to hold positions of power within organizations also carry the responsibility of exemplary behavior to set a precedent for success.”