Ursula Burns | How Far We’ve Come, How Far to Go

Ursula Burns achieves a first

Xerox makes a lot more than copiers nowadays. Image from Flickr.

Xerox makes a lot more than copiers nowadays. Image from Flickr.

In July of this year, Ursula Burns became the first black, female CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she took over Xerox. I was not the slightest bit surprised that a black woman could become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but I was surprised that Ursula Burns, in July of 2009, was the first one.

For those of us who haven’t seen the discrimination that existed 30 years ago, it’s easy to forget that women haven’t always been an everyday part of corporate life. I’ve grown up in a world where women can run large, successful businesses. Women are inventors, breadwinners, financial analysts and high-ranking politicians. As far as I know, they always have been, throughout all of my adult life. For as long as I’ve been old enough to take out payday loans online, women have been running things — big things.

We still have far to go

However, finding out that Ursula Burns is the first and only black woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company made me think of some of the other disparities that still exist in our country. I have always lived in areas that are predominantly white, so I haven’t observed much racism, at least not firsthand.

And just because I haven’t felt discriminated against because I am a woman doesn’t mean it still doesn’t happen. Nowadays, though, it doesn’t seem that discrimination is as much a problem as just the long, slow recovery from years of traditional thinking that said women belonged in the home. In many developing countries that attitude is still dominant, and often women aren’t even encouraged to go to school. It’s easy to forget that here in the U.S.

A few more firsts to come

Still, though we have surpassed a lot of countries when it comes to our attitudes toward women in the U.S., we still have some battles left. Last year we came closer than ever to having a female president, but that still hasn’t happened. Many countries outside the U.S. have had women presidents or the equivalent.

Also, if you check out the list of people with the most money in the world, it is overwhelmingly white men. The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, has $40 billion, while the world’s richest woman is worth $17.6 billion. The two richest women in the world inherited their fortunes from Wal-Mart. Ursula Burns, however, grew up in poverty and worked her way to the top.

Natural progression

It will still be a while before the thought processes that led to so many years of discrimination will be eradicated. I think most women in their 20s and 30s don’t feel they have to “fight” for rights anymore, and I think that’s a good thing. I do believe a time will come when we have a woman president and more women billionaires. Thanks to the loud, pushy feminists who came before us, we can simply sit back and enjoy living in a world where we have very few barriers preventing us from leading the lives we want.

Sure, there is more work to be done, but Ursula Burns shows that we have made a lot of progress and we will slowly but surely continue to do so.

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