How we’re building the next generation of Black executive leaders

One autumn night in Georgia, Sara Prince, a McKinsey partner who helps clients build capabilities, settled into her favorite armchair to do a little work. The chair, a family heirloom, last belonged to Sara’s late grandmother, who just a few decades prior had sent her son—Sara’s father—to integrate a school in North Carolina. “She was an inspiration,” says Sara. “That chair is so special to me.”

Sara’s work that night was also about advancing equality. She was reviewing a collection of fresh participant feedback from the kickoff meeting of a bold new McKinsey Academy initiative that aims to equip Black business leaders with the capabilities, mindsets, behaviors, and network they need to achieve their professional aspirations. Launched as part of our firm’s 10 Actions to combat racism, it’s called the Black Leadership Academy.

The material Sara was looking at included dozens of testimonials from Black professionals across corporate America who had just taken a course in the academy’s executive leadership program. Each wrote openly and in detail about their experiences in the workplace. They described what the course, and the chance to connect with their peers, meant to them. As she read story after story, Sara immediately recognized her own—and found reason to be hopeful.

McKinsey associate partner Ankur Kumar

“There are very few moments in my day when I am not the only person like me in a room or on a call at work, and we had hundreds of people join this session who go through the same thing every day,” Sara says. “So, I’m sitting there in my grandmother’s chair, and I’m reading all of these stories and notes where people are saying how powerful it felt to finally not be an only for once. And I was just feeling the joy—I had goosebumps.”

Sara’s likely not the only one; the program is already hugely popular. According to Ankur Kumar, an associate partner in McKinsey Academy who specializes in executive leadership training and helped launch the Black Leadership Academy, enrollment numbers have skyrocketed across the program’s first few months. “When we rolled out our first session, we had about 4,000 Black business leaders enrolled,” Ankur says. “Now, we have more than 14,000 slots filledwe’re at capacity for the majority of 2021.”

Ankur attributes that success to the Black Leadership Academy’s distinctive learning curricula, which are tailored to serve two cohorts: senior executives looking to ascend to the C-suite and early- to mid-career managers aspiring to join the ranks of senior leadership. “We think our biggest opportunity to help Black business leaders advance resides in these two groups,” Ankur explains. “McKinsey Academy has partnered with more than 400 companies around the world to help their people acquire the skills they need. We understand the capabilities and mindsets needed to join executive ranks—and we know how to help people get there.” 

The senior executive program, known as the Black Executive Leadership Program, focuses on building the leadership capabilities and network that successful executives need to help them achieve the next critical step in their careers. “These are people who are just a step or two at most away from the C-suite, but that move can feel like a giant leap,” says Ankur. “Our goal is to help them make it.” These participants learn what it takes to be an effective leader, how to deliver impact, and how to drive the transformational change necessary for success in today’s business environment.

The Black Leadership Academy’s Management Accelerator, meanwhile, is designed for high-performing, early-tenured Black managers looking to move into senior leadership roles. It focuses on helping participants gain core management and leadership skills, as well as the cross-functional knowledge—across topics like strategy, finance, operations, and risk—it takes to lead successful businesses and teams.

These programs are changing lives...I came away energized and ready to apply different leadership.

Black Leadership Academy participant

The convening power of these programs is critical to helping Black leaders advance. It provides participants with access to a new ecosystem of peers, mentors, and sponsors across corporate America. “When all of us choose people for leadership opportunities, we tend to pick people we’ve sponsored,” Ankur explains, “and when we choose the people we sponsor, we tend to pick people we have things in common with—which means we tend to pick people who are like ourselves. This has been a huge hurdle, particularly for rising Black leaders, and we think our program has an opportunity to address it.”

Black Leadership Academy alums are already attesting to its burgeoning impact. “These programs are changing lives,” said one participant from the retail sector. “The content was thought provoking, the time together was rich in reflection, and I came away energized and ready to apply different leadership.” Another leader from the healthcare industry agreed. “Without a doubt, the most powerful experience I can recall,” they said. “The ability to engage, connect, and share the deepest stories is where we are drawing the power from each other.”

And although it’s still early days for the academy, it’s that power, assembled in this new setting, that promises a better tomorrow for Black business leaders. “Is what we’ve accomplished to date alone enough to sustain change? No,” says Sara. “But we’re going to keep doing this, and we’re going to scale it.”

“That fact alone,” Sara adds, “gives all of us the ability to dream for a different outcome for Black people in corporate America in a way that hasn’t ever felt this real.”

Never miss a story

Stay updated about McKinsey news as it happens