Washington Mystics president Sheila C. Johnson presented former Xerox chairman and CEO Ursula Burns with the prestigious Billie Jean King Leadership Award. In her personal experience a barrier breaker, Burns shares how to turn the “three strikes” of race, gender and class into a “home run.” Watch the full Women’s Sports Foundation's Annual Salute to Women in Sports presented by Yahoo Sports here.
- The Billie Jean King Leadership Award honors someone whose leadership has truly broken barriers. Tonight's illustrious recipient shattered the glass ceiling in business. Ursula Burns also served on the board of the US Olympic Committee, and so our Olympic gold medalist Jessica Mendoza shares her story.
JESSICA MENDOZA (VOICEOVER): In December 2009, Ursula Burns was named the chairman and CEO of the Xerox corporation, thus making her the first African American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. This historic achievement is even more impressive when Ursula's humble beginnings are considered.
URSULA BURNS: I grew up in the lower east side of Manhattan. There was a fairly consistent lifestyle that we all lived. We were poor. And I went to an engineering school, and it was very normal to be the only women all the time. Particularly women trying to get into stem, I guarantee you, you will be the minority in the room, and instead of that being a burden, it should be an opportunity for you.
I started here, and by any view and vision, I ended up at the top of some mountain. I have more money, more than my mother would have ever imagined, and I still don't judge my success by that. Not everybody is going to end up to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but if I would've stopped my progression four jobs ago, I would still have a great life. The story would be great. And that's why you don't give up.
DARREN WALKER: Ursula, there is no doubt her success is in part because, like many women athletes, she refuses to take no for an answer. And I think it's Ursula's humility and humanity that have been the keys to her success, just as women like Billie Jean King and so many others in the sports arena. When I consider Ursula's track record, I think she is in great company with women like Billie Jean King.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Ursula, she's been so extraordinary in how she has broken down barriers for all of us to witness and understand that how she's going to be helping so many generations of women leaders for now and for the future. And she's such a shero to me. Ursula, you're a game changer. We owe so much to you, and congratulations.
- Presenting the 2020 Billie Jean King Leadership Award is last year's prestigious award winner, the co-owner of the Washington Mystics, Capitals, and Wizards, Sheila C. Johnson.
SHEILA C. JOHNSON: Good evening, Ursula. How are you?
URSULA BURNS: I'm great.
SHEILA C. JOHNSON: Oh, it's a pleasure to have you here tonight. Do you think of Billie Jean King, when I bring her name up to you, what are the attributes that come to mind?
URSULA BURNS: I met Billie Jean years ago, and what struck me then is what strikes me now, incredible focus and almost this, it doesn't matter what the challenge is kind of attitude. It's, I got it, I kind of have it under control, or I, we can take care of it.
SHEILA C. JOHNSON: Now, I've heard you speak about having three strikes. It's race, gender, and class. Can you talk about your philosophy of turning them into home runs?
URSULA BURNS: I loved being Black, and I really love being a woman, and the combination is just amazing. I was always, from the time that I was small, really proud and pleased of, like, who I was and how I looked, and, and it was just part of-- it was a place of strength.
SHEILA C. JOHNSON: My mother always said, Sheila, I want you to always own your power. Just own it. And I think that's really, really important, and I see that so much with this award that you're getting. You know, this is something that's very powerful. So considering that there are so few women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and not a single one of them is Black, the odds were not on your side. So was there a moment when you realized that you could become a CEO of Xerox?
URSULA BURNS: Yeah, it was well into my career at Xerox, though. And when I was younger, I didn't even know what a CEO was. I'd never heard of one. I grew up in a time right before internet, and I started working at Xerox. I had this, just the unbelievable fortune of picking this great company, or them picking me, that fit me perfectly.
And I was, I remember sitting with a guy who was my mentor, who happened to be the chairman of the-- chairman and CEO of the company, and I remember having the conversation with him, and it wasn't about my future. It was just about the company. And I remember very distinctly saying I could do this job, the job that he had, very distinctly. I said yeah, I could do this job.
It was very-- he made it very accessible. About five years later is when it became very clear-- I'd been promoted one more time-- that I was definitely in the leadership ranks, and if there were three people around the table who had a shot at it, I was one of those three.
SHEILA C. JOHNSON: So you know, one of the famous lines of Billie Jean King was pressure is a privilege. Can you, how do you manage under pressure? I love pressure.
URSULA BURNS: Yeah, you know, part of the challenge that I have, Sheila, is that I'm, I don't know what no pressure is like.
SHEILA C. JOHNSON: Right.
URSULA BURNS: My whole life is that way. This is from the time I was young to now, I don't, I've always been in this situation. So it's not only privilege, it is standard. And I feel very fortunate that I, that I can deal with it kind of in a standard way.
SHEILA C. JOHNSON: There's thousands of young girls and women watching you tonight, and is there any lasting advice you can give any of them, especially girls of color, who might think the board room is out of reach.
URSULA BURNS: And what I say to girls, young women, you know, success doesn't only look like a CEO, right? That's one thing. And so I say to the women, [INAUDIBLE], it's not about whether you make it only. It's about whether we can all make it. And the only way that's going to happen is if we are unflinching in our impatience for change. Be prepared for some fundamental inequality, for some injustice. Be prepared for it, but don't settle for it.
SHEILA C. JOHNSON: Now thank you, and congratulations.
URSULA BURNS: OK, wonderful. Thank you very much.