Closing The Gap

Walgreens' new CEO Roz Brewer on bias in the C-suite: 'When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot'

Share
Rosalind 'Roz' Brewer, president and chief executive officer of Sam's Club, speaks during the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. annual shareholders meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Sarah Bentham | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer is continuing to blaze new trails in corporate America.

At the end of February, Brewer, who is the coffeehouse company's first Black and first female COO, will be leaving her position to serve as CEO of drugstore chain Walgreens. In this new role, she will be the only Black woman currently serving as a Fortune 500 CEO, and just the third Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 firm in history. Ursula Burns, who served as the CEO of Xerox between 2009 and 2016 was the first, and Mary Winston, who served as interim CEO at Bed Bath & Beyond in 2019, was the second.

Prior to joining Starbucks in 2017, Brewer spent five years as the CEO of Sam's Club, which is owned by Walmart. As a longtime executive in corporate America, she's spoken openly about the bias and challenges she's faced as one of very few Black women in the C-suite.

Starbucks Chief Operations Officer and Group President Rosalind "Roz" Brewer speaks at the Annual Meeting of Shareholders in Seattle, Washington on March 20, 2019.
Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

"When you're a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot," she said during a 2018 speech at her alma mater Spelman College, which is an all-women HBCU. "You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have that top job. Sometimes you're mistaken for kitchen help. Sometimes people assume you're in the wrong place, and all I can think in the back of my head is, 'No, you're in the wrong place.'"

During the speech, Brewer recalled the time she was invited to an exclusive CEO roundtable in New York City when she was serving as the CEO of Sam's Club. During the reception, she said, she met a fellow CEO and introduced herself in the same way the other men in the room had introduced themselves, "Roz Brewer of Sam's Club." After exchanging introductions, she said the fellow CEO asked her what she did at the company and proceeded to ask if she led marketing. Puzzled by the question as the invitation to the event stated that it was a roundtable for CEOs, Brewer says she responded by saying, "No, that's part of my organization."

After the man continued the conversation by asking if she worked in merchandising, Brewer said she gave the fellow CEO a "side-eye" as she was actually serving as the keynote for the event. "I enjoyed the look on his face when my bio was read," she said. "It was a good day."

Brewer, who was listed at No. 48 on Forbes 2020 Power Women list, explained that the CEO roundtable was one of many incidents in which she's encountered bias inside and outside of work. "If there is a place where bias doesn't exist, I have not found it," she said.

Recognizing that many women experience bias and gender discrimination in the workplace, Brewer said that her biggest message to women in business is to "stay steadfast" and know that "your voice matters."

"You're going to get it wrong sometimes, and there are some ways to clean up your mistakes," she told television host Shaun Robinson in a December 2020 Facebook interview. "First of all, admit that you made the mistake. But, keep using your voice."

Don't miss: The best credit cards for building credit of 2021

Check out:

3 things to know about Rosalind Brewer, Starbucks’ first female and African-American COO

How corporate America’s diversity initiatives continue to fail Black women

Ambition is not the problem: Women want the top jobs—they just don’t get them

VIDEO5:4605:46
Starbucks COO on Investing in Small Business and Corporate America's Role in Reducing Divisiveness