Shaping Corporate Leadership: Black Women on Boards

Investor, advisor and board member of The Harvard Business School Club of New York, Tamara Bowens, is an expert in sales, branding and partnership marketing. Her current board appointment was announced in August 2023, and while it’s not her first time serving on a board, she feels it expands her reach and allows her voice to be heard.  

Tamara Bowens, board member, Harvard Business Club of New York

“That’s something I’ve always tried to do is be true to who I am, no matter what room I am in, and if I know that I’ve been true to myself, then I know that I have a real seat at the table and I can make a real impact.”

Sulamain Rahman, CEO at DiverseForce in Philadelphia and board member of Lendistry, is a board matchmaker. His program, DiverseForce On Boards, prepares high-potential middle to senior-level leaders of color to expand their capabilities through a board training and matching program. He says just having Black women on boards isn’t the solution, but making sure those appointed are there to move the needle. 

“The reality is, it’s not really about just having Black and brown faces in high places, but how do we make sure our presence is felt in those spaces? Unfortunately, many people don’t sign up to be civil rights leaders, if you will, when they’re on boards.”

As a Black woman, Bowens is given the opportunity to share her vast business experience and unique perspectives on issues that may go unnoticed without representation.

“There have been times when there has been a discussion about things that are ‘culturally difficult’, is a way I would put it. But then I have to be the one in the room to raise my hand and go, ‘oh, but yeah, I understand your point of view, but let me just tell you how people who look like me feel’.”

Miquel Purvis McMoore, of Minneapolis, serves on various non-profits and a Life Advisory Board position for Wise Inc., a corporate board. She is also CEO of KP Companies, an executive search firm in Minneapolis that recruits to fill board seats. She sees more boards actively looking for Black women to serve as leaders and says Black women who want to be on boards should prepare themselves early.

Miquel Purvis McMoore, CEO of KP Companies in Minneapolis

“Depending on where you are in your career would determine how you should prepare yourself for board readiness. I think the skills you gain, obviously, on your job, your organizational skills, project management skills and specialty skills, such as accounting or legal.”

Rahman wants upcoming leaders to understand that their diversity is invaluable, but they also need expertise, confidence and broad experiences to be effective company leaders.

“The CEO is going to that board, reporting to that board, and is providing oversight as well as strategic advice on how to take that organization to the next level.”

Rahman encourages those interested in filling board seats to start with non-profit organizations to gain experience. Some of those positions are paid, but most board members start with volunteer boards.

According to McMoore, networking and letting folks know you are interested in bringing your skills to companies is another important way to be placed on the shortlist.