Mays, Leslie A. 19(?)(?)–
Leslie A. Mays 19(?)(?)–
Business executive, organization president
Known for her progressive business practices and her impressive talent for bringing diversity and change management into large corporations, Leslie A. Mays was appointed president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW) in October of 2001. NCBW is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower black women by providing a network through which women can connect with various mentoring programs, training programs, professional and political organizations, and grass-roots organizations. Given Mays’ extraordinary organizational skills, it is not surprising that NCBW appointed her as president. Her plan is to move the organization into the next era by increasing the visibility of the NCBW and to expand internationally. Her desire is to position the coalition as the definitive voice for socially conscious black women across the United States and beyond.
NCBW is an outgrowth of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, an organization established in New York City in 1971. The coalition was initially comprised of influential black women who were dedicated to bringing about change in their communities by organizing into an identifiable group and mobilizing. Ten years later, in 1981, under the leadership of the Coalition’s president, Jewel Jackson McCabe, a national organization was created. By the time the organization gained national status, there were about nine hundred members with representatives from fourteen states. By 1986 the organization had forty-seven chapters in nineteen states and a membership of over three thousand. In 2003 membership grew to more than seven thousand, with sixty-three chapters in twenty-four states, including the District of Columbia. Mays, who has been a board member since 1997 was appointed president of NCBW two years after becoming head of Global Diversity for the Royal Dutch Shell Group. Former NCBW president McCabe told the Call and Post website, “In times like these it is essential to have the leadership of a dynamic, smart woman of color that is embodied in Leslie Mays. As we enter into the next phase of what has been a 20-year journey, her combined experience as a senior corporate executive and black woman grounded in gender consciousness give her the characteristics of leadership that will catapult this organization.”
Mays was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She attended Texas Southern University earning a B.A. degree in communications. After graduation, Mays joined the airline industry, first working as a flight attendant for Texas Air. She then switched to the human resources department, eventually obtaining a managerial position. Attracted to progressive thinking in the corporate world, Mays then went to work for Peoples Express Airlines, (the company that offered an inexpensive, no-frills flight) as a member of their start-up team. Following a move to company headquarters in New Jersey, she created the personnel department and led recruitment programs. Within a few years, Mays became the city manager for the airline. The company then transferred her to Boston where she oversaw ground operations, monitoring twenty incoming and outgoing flights and supervising a staff of forty people. In 1985, when Peoples Express Airlines was bought out by another airline, Mays decided to
Born in Houston, TX, Education: Texas Southern University, BA, 1970s.
Career: Texas Air, flight attendant, human resources manager, 1970s; Peoples Express Airline, personnel director, city manager, 1960s; America Works, recruitment officer, 1980s; Jane C. Edmonds and Associates, consultant, 1980s; Reebok International, Ltd., human resources director, 1989–94; General Mills, diversity department, 1994–96; Royal Dutch/Shell Oil Company, executive director of diversity, 1996–99, vice president of Croup Global Diversity, 1999-.
Memberships: National Coalition of 100 Black Women, member, 1980s–, board member, 1997–2001, president, 2001–.
Addresses; Office— Shell Oil Company, P.O. Box 2463, Houston, TX 77252.
seek employment elsewhere. Remaining in Boston, she accepted the position of head recruitment officer at America Works, an experimental program designed to assist women on welfare in re-entering the work force. In addition to the Boston office, Mays established America Works programs in Hartford, Connecticut, and Buffalo, New York, helping over two hundred women find employment.
Her next job was a consulting position with Jane C. Edmonds and Associates, a well-known female minority-owned business. Jane C. Edmonds and Associates was one of the first business in the northeastern United States to institute diversity training, providing their services and workshops for high-tech companies and financial institutions. While Mays worked for this pioneering firm, she created a profitable department that not only searched for executive level employees, but actually specialized in the placement of minority professionals. While living in Boston, Mays participated in many community organizations and became a member of the Boston chapter of the NCBW.
Having built an impressive reputation as a person who was a progressive thinker and who sought to explore new avenues in the workplace, Mays was recruited in 1989 by Reebok International, Ltd., as senior human resources administrator. Promoted later to director of diversity management, Mays established a department that focused on fostering and maintaining diversity, paying close attention to minorities. Mays was instrumental in setting new procedures and practices that brought about a significant increase in the number of minorities recruited to work for Reebok. In addition, thanks to her effort, job retention among minorities remained impressive at Reebok. As her career developed, Mays attracted the attention of General Mills, the giant food corporation, which recruited Mays in 1994, to create a Diversity and Supplier Development department. Once again, Mays implemented practices to reduce the quick turnover rate among minorities. In addition, she promoted doing business with more minority- and female-owned businesses.
In 1996 Mays returned to Houston to join the Royal Dutch/Shell Oil Company as executive director of diversity. Because Mays did such an exceptional job making Shell Oil an industry leader in corporate diversity, the company created a new position for Mays—vice president for Group Global Diversity, where she provides leadership to consulting teams around the world. Speaking at the IoD Women’s Leadership Summit in 2002 Mays explained, “Diversity has brought greater creativity, coordination and productivity. In principle, you can measure the bottom-line impact of this, but we do not yet have the history to do so meaningfully.” She went on to say, “Achieving diversity and inclusiveness is about fundamentally changing the organization of the business from the board to the shop floor. Thus, diversity strategies engender careful change management. When we commenced the process, we focused on women’s representation at board level because it is the very top people that must buy in to the process and drive it down the organization we should avoid singling women out as specific targets for professional development, but rather change the culture of development across the organization such that it allow women to develop.”
When Mays moved to Shell Oil, she had a big job to accomplish. The oil industry is male dominated and steeped in the traditional one-size-fits-all management approach. And, just before Mays was hired, Shell had been sued by several black employees who argued that they had been overlooked for jobs that had been given to white co-workers. Mays has demonstrated that diversity and mentoring programs invariably lead to higher productivity, higher staff retention rates, and improved employee skills. In addition, these programs facilitate the transition of employees with leadership qualities to higher level positions. In short, it’s a win-win situation. She has also developed and implemented employee network programs that have facilitated change within the workplace by providing an employee forum, or platform, for discussion as a preliminary step to fundamental changes. Mays told the Financial Times, “Diversity will largely dictate our future success in the marketplace.”
Financial Times, October 26, 1999.
“Background—About Us,” National Coalition of 100 Black Women, www.ncbw.org/aboutus/background_long.html (September 3, 2003).
“Leslie Mays Biography,” Harvard Business School African American Alumni Association, www.hbsaaa.org/conf2002/Biographies/conBioLesli-eMays.htm (September 3, 2003).
“Leslie Mays to Head Royal Dutch/Shell Group’s Diversity Efforts Worldwide,” American Association of Blacks in Energy, www.aabe-mich.org/publications/newletters/v8n1/mays.html (September 3, 2003).
“National Coalition of 100 Black Women Elects National President,” Call and Post, www.callandpost.com/women/default_article.asp?id=170®ion=National (September 3, 2003).
“Shell announces global standard on diversity and inclusiveness,” Shell in The Middle East, www.shellme.com/english/apr2002/news-world1.htm (September 3, 2003).
“Shell Picks Diversity Specialist Leslie Mays as VP Global,” USAfrica Online, www.usaafricaonline.com/maysshell.html (September 3, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a printed version of a panel discussion of the IoD Women’s Leadership Summit 2002, on November 13, 2002.
—Christine Miner Minderovic
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