Thasunda Brown Duckett Says ‘The Time Is Now’ For Black Professionals To Accumulate AI Skills

Thasunda Brown Duckett Says ‘The Time Is Now’ For Black Professionals To Accumulate AI Skills

Over the years, Thasunda Brown Duckett has gained global recognition for her monumental career strides, impact, and influence.

As previously reported by AFROTECH™, the TIAA president and CEO’s historic feats include, in 2021, becoming the first woman to lead the financial retirement services company in more than 100 years as well as one of two Black women to helm a Fortune 500 company. What’s more, Duckett was named on Forbes’ list of “The World’s Most Powerful Women” in 2023 and TIME’s “100 Most Influential People of 2024” the following year.

As Duckett continues to make efforts toward closing the racial retirement gap and women’s retirement gap and tirelessly advocates for DEI, she credits her foundation for fueling the leader she is today. On July 5, 2024, at the Global Black Economic Forum (GBEF) Business Summit during the ESSENCE Festival Of Culture presented by Coca-Cola, she thanks her parents, Otis and Rosie Brown, for teaching her the level of resilience required to be a CEO as well as “the importance of seeing everyone.”

“My parents came from the segregated South. I’m first-generation, full integration,” the Arlington, TX, native told Rashida Jones, president of MSNBC, during the GBEF Business Summit fireside chat, “Visionary Leadership in Disruptive Times.”

She added, “My dad scanned boxes and drove trucks, so how can I be a CEO and not see the people in the mailroom and the contribution that they make to my company?”

In the same way that Duckett’s parents paved the way for her to excel in leadership, she expressed that she wants to be a part of opening the door for young Black women to know that regardless of their circumstances and where they are on their career journey that they belong in rooms like the Global Black Economic Forum, which works to advance economic and social justice for the Black Diaspora.

In addition to topics such as leadership and wealth, the GBEF Business Summit held a session titled, “The Future of Work: Artificial Intelligence and Opportunities for Business & People of Color” with Renee King, founder of FundBlackFounders; Dr. Knatokie Ford, founder and CEO of Fly Sci Enterprise; and Isa Watson, founder and CEO of Squad.

GBEF President and CEO Alphonso David shared with AFROTECH™ that including AI in the summit’s discussions was to help redefine the narrative and approach around the technology to ensure Black and brown people are included in its advantages.

“So when you talk about AI, generally we’re talking about it through a lens of fear, and I want to talk about it through the lens of empowerment because not only are we going to be the ones that will redefine that conversation, but we can also redefine it for people that are making the decisions,” David said. “So you have CEOs in the room, you have CMOs in the room, you have those that are making decisions as it relates to AI for their employees, but also their consumers. So if they can rethink their approach to AI, it actually benefits us. And it serves as a tool for empowerment, which is what we wanted to do. Redefine the narrative. That’s what the Global Black Economic Forum is all about.”

In addition, Duckett told AFROTECH™ that she believes there’s no better time than now for Black professionals to actively tap into the AI industry.

“Through the lens of leadership, what’s so important about approaching AI as opportunity is that these are new skills,” she said. “When you think about the opportunity to shift and accumulate higher earnings, to accumulate a different shift on your trajectory, everyone’s at base camp in learning the skills, the certifications.”

She continued, “The time is now for everyone. And I think we cannot subscribe to being afraid of it. We have to lean in and say, ‘You know what, let me take a coding class. Let me take a [cybersecurity course] if I’m concerned about the security of it all — let me jump in on this part.’ I think particularly for women, for people of color, for African Americans, we have to look at this as an opportunity to say, ‘I can accumulate skills. I can have the same baseline and change the trajectory of our family and of our community.’ And that to me is what’s also exciting. It’s a new frontier that we need to be at the table for, and we cannot shy away from it and think that it does not belong to us in terms of learning the skills that are required to transform what technology will be able to do across the globe.”

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