Microsoft chief digital officer Jacky Wright has been named the United Kingdom’s most influential Black person. But the US-based executive says she might not have reached the top of her profession had she stayed in Britain.
Wright, who topped the Powerlist 2022 ranking from Powerful Media, told CNN Business that her career may not have taken off in the United Kingdom because there are fewer opportunities and a lack of Black women role models at the top of the corporate ladder.
The Microsoft (MSFT)executive was ranked ahead of Manchester United footballer and child poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford, Netflix (NFLX) vice president Anne Mensah and Oscar-winning actor Daniel Kaluuya in the annual list of Britain’s most influential Black people, which is sponsored by companies including PwC, Facebook (FB) and Mastercard (MA).
Wright was born in London, but her career has spanned the United States and the United Kingdom, including chief information officer roles at BP (BP) and GE (GE). She told CNN Business that her life “straddles” both countries.
She took a secondment from Microsoft in 2017 and worked for two years as chief digital officer for the UK government’s tax and customs department, overseeing the agency’s digital transformation and efforts to simplify tax collection.
But now she’s back in the United States, and working a job with expansive influence.
“While my role says ‘US,’ I have a global influence because I work with large global companies and I do other things in the UK, Europe and Africa, so my purview is global and it’s always been that way,” she said.
‘A long way to go’
Wright attributes some of her success to geography.
“There are more opportunities in the US than there are in the UK,” she told CNN Business.
“And I think this notion of really highlighting and focusing on change, right now at least, is in earnest in the UK. But I think we have a long way to go.”
Wright’s father was born in Jamaica and served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. According to Wright, it was his experience of racism in Britain that prompted the family to move to the United States, where she attended the City University of New York.
“My dad and uncles were all from the era of Enoch Powell and had a firm belief that change was going to take much longer in the UK than the US, where he thought we had a better opportunity,” she said, referring to the politician known for a 1968 speech opposing immigration from former British colonies.
“In hindsight, I would tend to agree,” said Wright. “Because I’m not sure I would be chief digital officer at Microsoft had I not been in the US taking a series of career steps.”
Seeing Black women in prominent corporate positions in the United States provided a confidence boost, according to Wright.
“Part of it relates to having a support group, having role models and seeing what I could be, based on looking at some of these women,” she said. “We’re talking about [former Xerox CEO] Ursula Burns and [Under Armour board member] Jerri DeVard and other women [of color] in senior positions that didn’t exist in the UK.”
There are no Black CEOs, CFOs or chairs at the 100 most valuable companies on the London Stock Exchange, according to Green Park, an executive recruitment and diversity consultancy agency. The percentage of Black executive directors and non-executive directors in the FTSE 100 (UKX) is 1.1%, down from 1.3% in 2014, according to the agency.
In the United States, 11.4% of board seats at Fortune 100 companies were occupied by Black leaders in 2020, according to Deloitte.
Tech makes a difference
As a career technologist, Wright sees digital inclusion as central to social mobility for people of color as well as wider society.
“I think it is incumbent upon us to make sure that we all become digitally included because the world is digital and if you are not, it exacerbates the inequality that exists,” she said.
“Technology has the ability to be the great equalizer and so we really need to focus on this as a society, and on how we do this the right way. The digital curricula excludes a lot of people, but some folks will be excluded more than others because of cultural reasons and a lack of access to devices,” she said.
But she said the government has a role to play.
“I think the government should work in partnership with the private sector and academia to provide these wraparound type services to improve digital inclusion,” she said.