Ursula Burns, CEO Xerox
First black woman to run a Fortune 500 company
I grew up in Manhattan in the late 1950s through the mid-’70s within about 10 blocks on the Lower East Side, in the Baruch housing projects. It was actually fun and good. I look back on it often, because if you see the neighborhood, there would be assumptions that we lived in squalor and fear and hunger. But there was none of that.
We started out in the tenements, and we kept moving up. We ended up in the housing projects, which were outstanding. If you went to them now, you would say, This is outstanding? But for us, the transitions were marked, and they were always a transition of improvement—from a tenement house to a little apartment in the projects to a bigger apartment in the projects. Those were all signs of progress for us.
Someone once characterized what they called “three strikes” against me. I thought it was an interesting thing to say, but I try not to characterize them as strikes: I was poor, I was black and I was female.
For women and women of color, if you walk into a STEM environment, you will be the minority in the room. Everybody has their eye on your work. Instead of your differences becoming a burden, it should be an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself. That’s what I turned those two “strikes” into.
Time Magazine’s full interview
Excerpt from TIME Firsts: Women Who Are Changing The World
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