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#WeSALUTE Black Women Who Inspire & Lead

When Kamala Harris became the first female, first black individual, and first person of South Asian descent to be sworn in as the Vice President of the United States, she dealt with questions about her identity from every front. Despite her swearing-in being a historic first, it was hard for some to accept if she was “South Asian enough” or “Black enough.” Regardless of what critics may say, Vice President Kamala Harris represents the complex intersectionality and beauty of identity of the 21st-century woman.


Before we dive deeper, let’s take a step back. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished immigration quotas based on national origin and led to an increase in South Asian migrants. When many South Asian men and women came to the United States, the Civil Rights Movement was well underway and they were able to benefit from the freedoms and opportunities created by the hard work of the Black community. On the flip side, Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence movement. While both the South Asian and Black communities have benefited in many ways from each other — we’ve left many opportunities to collaborate and support one another on the table. At SALUTE, our hope is to create more opportunities for collaboration with Black, female-led organizations to find the points of synergy and support for one another’s endeavors. 


As Black History Month comes to a close and we start Women’s History Month, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate some of the inspirational Black women who are paving the way, not just for other women and minorities, but for a more progressive, inclusive culture. The women below represent just a tiny snapshot of the number of leaders working towards these goals. As we move forward, it’s important for us to consider not just what we can do within our own community as South Asian women, but how we can be better allies and partner together to create more opportunities for all female minorities.


Shy Averett, Global Senior Community Program and Events Manager at Microsoft

Once one of the youngest people to ever sit on the board of the NAACP at 16 years old, Shy Averett has long been a force for good in the Black community. From delivering clean bottled water to Flint, MI to creating Mancode, a mentorship initiative at Microsoft that helps minority boys and men navigate their way in the technology and software industry, Averett has been driving positive change both throughout her career and her personal life.


Tracy T. Travis, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of The Estée Lauder Companies

Tracey T. Travis has been Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of The Estée Lauder Companies since August 2012, with responsibilities for Global Finance, Accounting, Investor Relations, Information Technology, and Strategy and New Business Development. She also co-leads the company’s major cost savings and process improvement initiatives. Previously, Ms. Travis was Senior Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer at Ralph Lauren Corporation.


Rosalind G.  Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance

Rosalind G. Brewer, also known as “Roz”, is an American businesswoman serving as the CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance. With her appointment at Walgreens in March 2021, she is one of only two Black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.


Nilka Thomas, Chief People Officer of Lyft

Nilka Thomas is the Chief People Officer of Lift, overseeing every part of team member experience and ensuring Lyft is the best place for everyone to do their best work. Nilka first joined Lyft in 2018 as Vice President of Talent Acquisition & Inclusion, after more than a decade at Google. Prior to rejoining Lyft, Nilka served as Chief People Officer at SeatGeek, where she worked to retain talent and look after their team during the pandemic.


Thasunda Brown Duckett, President and CEO of TIAA

Thasunda Brown Duckett is President and Chief Executive Officer of TIAA, a Fortune 100 provider of secure retirements and outcome-focused investment solutions to millions of people working in higher education, healthcare, and other mission-driven organizations. She joined TIAA after serving as Chief Executive Officer of Chase Consumer Banking, where she oversaw a banking network with more than $600 billion in deposits and 50,000 employees.


Alissa “Dr. Jay” Abdullah, Deputy Chief Security Officer at Mastercard 

Dr. Alissa Abdullah leads the Emerging Corporate Security Solutions team and is responsible for protecting Mastercard’s information assets and driving the future of security at the company. Prior to Mastercard, she was the Chief Information Security Officer of Xerox and also served as the Deputy Chief Information Officer of the White House where she helped modernize the Executive Office of the President’s IT systems with cloud services and virtualization.


Erica Culpepper, General Manager, Multi-cultural Beauty at L’Oreal

Over 17+ years at L’Oreal, in leadership positions spanning marketing, business development, and now general management, Erica Culpepper has helped the beauty company redefine beauty standards and embrace a more diverse, inclusive picture of what it means to be beautiful — including a wide range of skin tones, bodies, and hair textures. 


Dr. Aida Habtezion, Chief Medical Officer at Pfizer

After spending a decade as a tenured professor of medicine at Stanford University, Dr. Habtezion took on the role of Chief Medical Officer at Pfizer during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. She now aims to bring in the perspectives of patients and physicians into the research-focused work at Pfizer, bridging the gaps between innovation and patient needs, with the goal of making healthcare and medicine better serve those who need it.


Mary Obasi, Senior Vice President, Global Climate Risk Executive at Bank of America

“When you think about climate change…it will literally have implications and impact across a broad spectrum of industries across a broad spectrum of geographies,” said Obasi in a press release about a new consortium of 19 banks, including Bank of America, that are developing standards to integrate climate risk management in their operations. Over the past three years, Obasi has led a climate risk management program to help the bank prepare for a low-carbon future.


Ketanji Brown Jackson, Nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Towards the beginning of her legal career, Jackson clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. 22 years later, on February 25th, she was nominated by President Biden to replace his vacancy on the United States Supreme Court. During her role as Judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Jackson met the Trump administration head-on when she ruled against the President to preserve union rights and to compel senior aides to the administration to answer their subpoenas and appear in court.


Timnit Gabru, AI Ethics Researcher & Founder/Executive Director of the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute

Timnit Gebru is an AI Ethics Researcher and Founder/Executive Director of the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR), a space for independent, community-rooted AI research free from Big Tech’s pervasive influence. Prior to 2021, Timmit worked at Google as the co-leader of their ethical AI team.


Shelly Bell, Founder & CEO of Black Girl Ventures 

Shelly Bell is the Founder and CEO of Black Girl Ventures, a fund creating access to capital for female founders of color. They fund and scale tech-forward businesses generating under $1M in revenue founded by people who identify as Black/Brown and female. Most recently, NIKE, Inc. announced Economic Empowerment Partnership with Black Girl Ventures with a $500,000 investment.


Arlan Hamilton, the Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital,

Arlan Hamilton is the Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital, a fund dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in the tech ecosystem by investing in founders who are people of color, women, and/or LGBT. Arlan started her company while homeless and today has raised more than $7 million and invested in more than 130 startup companies led by underestimated founders.

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