Ursula Burns who grew up poor with a single-mother in Manhattan went on to graduate with a Master of Mechanical Engineering from the prestigious Columbia University. After graduating she started as an intern at the pioneer company Xerox Corporation. Who knew that some 30 years later she would rise to become the first African American woman to sit in the top spot as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Burns grew up in the projects where her mother taught her if she has a chance to voice her opinion she should always take the floor. This built her self-confidence. It was this confidence that led her to be in the presence of Wayland Hicks challenging him on the role of women and minorities in the corporate world. She went on to become one of his top assistants arguably putting her on the path to success. Following that role she found herself successively promoted eventually leading to CEO. While it’s easy to type those words, the work she put it was not so easy. How did she do it. Burns says she watched the top executives, mainly white men, and realized there wasn’t much difference between herself and them. So she put in the work, the time and commitment. Xerox Corporation was already making strides in the areas of promoting women. Burns took the reins from Anne Mulcahy, making it the first woman-to-woman hand off of a Fortune 500 company. As if her day job isn’t enough in November 2009 Burns was appointed by President Obama to help lead Educate to Innovate, an initiative intended to improve performance of U.S. high school students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects. In an interview with her alma mater, Columbia University, she stated:“We need more people to pursue engineering careers, especially women and minorities, because our companies are better when we build engineering communities that are diverse. Those who enjoy the challenges of science and math—and are good at it—will be able to find academic and job opportunities that can lead to rewarding career paths. I want to help them get there.”
Hear about Burns in her own words by viewing the video below from the website www.Makers.com. Makers – Women Who Make America is a collaboration between PBS and AOL.
Photo: Xerox Corporation
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