Inside the Circles podcast: The power of HBCUs in closing the Black leadership gap

February 25, 2021 | By Anthony Venutolo

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) play a unique role in diversifying the talent pipeline to corporate America. On this episode of “Inside the Circles,” Mastercard’s podcast about the future of work and the topics of now, host Latoya Bennett-Johnson, herself a Hampton University alum, chats with two Mastercard executives and HBCU graduates about their experiences, their advice for young Black students considering college and making decisions about their careers, and what can be done close to the leadership gap.

Alissa “Dr. Jay” Abdullah is Mastercard’s deputy chief security officer and a graduate of Savannah State University who also received a master’s from George Washington University and Cappella University. Les Matthews is an executive vice president in sales and servicing for the company’s Data & Services business who got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Clark Atlanta University.


“My HBCU experience gave me awareness of self,” Abdullah says. “When I left, I was able to stand in my own truth and be very powerful and accepting of who I was and what I wanted to be and what I represented.”

Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, but represent only 3% of the executive and senior level roles at companies, and fewer than 1% of CEOS from Fortune 500 companies are Black , according to a 2019 Coqual study “Being Black in Corporate America.” In December, Mastercard joined the HBCU Partnership Challenge, an effort to promote greater engagement and support between private companies and HBCUs, to better ensure it recruits, develops and retains an inclusive workforce at every level, including Black employees.

To hear more from Bennett-Johnson, Abdullah and Matthews, subscribe to “Inside the Circles” on Apple Podcasts here or stream it directly below.

Anthony Venutolo, Manager, Global Communications