Business

Debra Lee Unveils The Monarchs Collective to Elevate Black Executives, Women

Debra L. Lee
Sharon Suh

Debra L. Lee

Co-founded with management consultant Rabia de Lande Long, the firm seeks to diversify board rooms and C-suites.

“Changing the complexion of boards and executive leadership.”

That’s the mission statement for The Monarchs Collective, a new consulting firm co-founded by former BET Networks chairman/CEO Debra Lee and executive coach and management consultant Rabia de Lande Long. Their goal is to "break old systems and networks" to foster the discovery, development and promotion of talented Black and women executives for board and C-suite posts.

As Lee stated in the firm's formal announcement, "Changing the complexion of leadership creates incredible value for the company and the community. Businesses with diverse boards and leadership teams perform better. We know what it takes to help companies transform from the inside out, and it starts at the top. Companies need a new way to diversify board rooms and leadership — and we have the expertise to accelerate their efforts."

Added de Lande Long, "For companies, we help accelerate and amplify the impact of extraordinarily talented Black executives and women on boards and in leadership. For executives seeking board seats, we help build their capabilities, confidence, and community and match them with opportunities. Companies will also get greater return on their diversity and belonging efforts while also elevating the community."

Lee, based in Los Angeles, spent 13 years helming BET. She currently serves on the boards of AT&T, Burberry, Marriott, Procter & Gamble, and several non-profits, where she has led numerous board committees. Lee is also one of six honorary chairs advising the Recording Academy’s Black Music Collective.

Based in New York, de Lande Long consults Fortune 500 companies, specializing in business strategy, organizational effectiveness and change management. She also serves on the boards of two not-for-profits: Charity Navigator and United Hebrew. She chairs the former’s expert group on DEI/organizational health and oversees the latter’s strategic planning committee.

Both Lee and de Lande Long talked with Billboard about their vision for The Monarchs Collective https://monarchscollective.com and the urgent imperative for change. “Most of my career, I’ve been the only Black person and woman [in the room],” says Lee. "And that's unacceptable in our world today."

How did the two of you come together to establish Monarchs?

Lee: Rabia and I have been friends forever. She did a lot of work with me at BET in terms of executive coaching and training my team. After the on-camera murder of George Floyd and the music industry’s Blackout Tuesday in June, we began talking about race issues and the dilemma of companies not being able to find Black board members. It’s something I’ve been hearing for 20 years and it just doesn’t go away. So we formed The Monarchs Collective to change that. Rabia and I have both served on boards and she has the training background, which is an important part in making sure that people of color and women are prepared when they receive board opportunities.

The Booth for Business
Rabia de Lande Long

What do you want to see ultimately accomplished?

De Lande Long: Large-scale change. We want to break the system of the same people calling the same people. So we're looking at it from two different perspectives. One: how do we help the community become more visible? Because we know there are very capable, confident and competent people out there. We want to make them more visible, give them a network community to be part of so we can help them grow in competence and confidence. At the same time, how can we work with companies to help make it easier for them to discover and develop these great people? It’s exciting because people seem to have a hunger for it but they don't know where to start. And we want to start conversations about moving away from just selling one seat at a time to what is your [company’s overall] strategy to truly create the right diverse complexion in the board room and C-suites.

Lee: And that’s where the power is. The music industry is one of the worst offenders. It’s really heartbreaking in an industry that’s built on the backs of Black music and Black artists. So for there to be no representation at some of these companies is unacceptable. If we’re not addressing all companies on that level, things are never going to change.

Why don’t many companies know where to find Black executive talent?

Lee: A lot of times companies don't even think about it. Or they just rely on search firms. And when asked about it, companies will say well, we can't find anyone. That makes my blood boil because I know there are very qualified people out there. A search firm once told me there were no Black male CEOs and I reeled five off the top of my head. So there’s systemic racism going on. Companies bring people into the room that they're comfortable with, who they play golf with, their friends. know, their friends.

De Lande Long: Or companies will say we want to but don't want to lower our standards. That’s an incredibly illogical leap: just because a person doesn’t look like you doesn’t mean he/she’s not as qualified as you. I love presenting people who went to Harvard, Yale, Penn, and they're actually more qualified than the people they're being introduced to. But very often these qualified people aren't getting the nod because we can't see them. So we’ve started a database to build out a strong network of talented executives.

Lee: Changing the complexion of boards and C-suites is about giving people more opportunities and creating Black wealth. We're building a database to get the word out to young and older people who haven't such opportunities. It's amazing how many people don't know about boards or the benefits of serving on a board. Board members get board fees, stock in the company, the chance to network with other board members and advise the CEO. Also with younger people in mind, I’ve separately started the Quinn Coleman Memorial Fund [in honor of her A&R executive son, who died last August]. We’ve raised almost $300,000 to fund internships for young Black people who want to work in the music industry. Some of these positions will be at the Recording Academy and we’re also talking with Capitol and Warner, the labels where Quinn worked. He cared so much about breaking artists and getting more young people involved in the industry. So while this is a personal passion, it’s also part of the change agent strategy that all businesses need to adopt.

What inspired the Monarchs company name?

De Lande Long: It’s a metaphor for talented people out there who are ready to come out of their cocoons and seek more opportunities. interestingly, a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope. And we want to see more of those happening at big corporations as we watch these talents soar.