Leadership Starts at the Top - Crystal Ashby

3 min readMay 19, 2021
Photo by Alfred Aloushy on Unsplash
Photo by Alfred Aloushy on Unsplash

Crystal Ashby, the former first female president of the Executive Leadership Council, actively pursues a transformation of the current workplace. The council’s mission is to create an environment that is not disproportionate toward Black leaders and invests in equal opportunities for Black talent. To further the change, The ELC, among other professionals such as Ursula Burns, Gabrielle Sulzberger, the Ford Foundation, launched their Board Diversity Action Alliance initiative to accomplish higher representation of diverse candidates among boards.

“Social norms have limited the opportunities for certain groups and the Black population has been consistently limited. The fact that boards have been predominantly white and male implies a certain type of ownership, but they do not own those seats. Those seats belong to all of us and we all deserve to have the opportunities to obtain them. And therefore, part of what the ELC, talks about is:

  • How do you create the opportunities and prepare people to get there?
  • How do you develop and advance the executives?
  • How do you create stretch assignments?
  • How do you provide them with mentorship and sponsorship?

“So, once you take that investment and you bring them into your organization, you move them through the organization and you prepare them for those C-suite roles, you get them P&L opportunities. If you look at the Korn Ferry Black P&L Leadership Study, you create opportunities for them to have P&L responsibilities so that when they’re being evaluated for the C-suite, and subsequently the board, because everyone knows one of the questions going on a board is, ‘Have they had P&L responsibility?’ that they cannot say they have not had that.

“The talent is there. They’ve all been prepared for it. You just have to look for it in different places.

“So, you have to be having the what I would call ‘difficult conversations’ internally:

  • What does it really mean and how does it change the path forward for them?
  • What does it look like for them?
  • How are you now addressing the racism that exists in corporate America?
  • How are you dealing with the systemic issue that exists in your organization?
  • How are you dealing with things like micro-aggressions?
  • How are you responding to the Amy Coopers that exist in your organization?

“We existed in a place where there was a very lightly placed veneer of political correctness and the permission, for all of that to be gone and thrown out. I will say because George Floyd’s murder resonated beyond the US with people who are protesting worldwide. If you think about it, protest is the voice of the unheard. If you were looking at all of this active protest, it’s saying to everyone, something is very, very wrong in the way we exist, and it’s bigger and broader than our day-to-day business activities. It’s very much about our lives in general. The manner in which we attack this, the manner in which we go about trying to correct it, these are the most critical things. It cannot be something that is presumed to be the responsibility of one group of people or one set of people or another. We all have to work together to change where we currently are, to change the way in which policing is done, to change the way in which people are treated, to change the way in which we engage with each other, to change how corporate America has responsibility.

“Everyone has ownership here. It is not a Black problem. It is everyone’s problem. What I’m looking for are people that are not just allies, but people that are accomplices; people that are going to step to the line and work to make this change with us. I think it’s critical for everyone to understand that everyone has a role in it.”





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