Celebrate Black History Month With Inspiring Stories From Black Female Entrepreneurs
Ever since Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month, the event has picked up momentum across the country and is becoming a nationwide tradition. This year, we celebrate and acknowledge the impressive work Black Canadians are achieving on multiple levels, from culture, business to politics.
To honor Black History Month, I wanted to present the experiences black female entrepreneurs’ go through when they set up a business. With everything that has happened in 2020 and with rising support for black people, I felt it was time to connect closely with black women and learn what it is like to be a black female entrepreneur, understand the struggles they encounter, and how they overcome them.
“Nineteen percent of all employer-based businesses were female-led-but 36.1% of all Black-owned businesses were headed by women. That’s the highest share of businesses within any racial or ethnic group.”
While the number of businesses owned by black women is growing, they face several hurdles and limitations. For example, startup and marketing funding is grossly limited for women of color. According to an article published by CNN in Dec 2020, over 60% of black women describe financing and access to credit as one of the biggest financial challenges. Besides that, there’s also a lack of mentorship, networking opportunities, and lack of representation.
Honoring Black History Month With Imani, Sophia & Janet
I asked Imani Watson, founder of Mommy’s Break Inc., Sophia Murphy and Janet Murphy, founders of Roots to Curls to share their own experiences and feedback on these points, and here’s what they told me.
Describe your experience starting a business?
Imani Watson declared that financial funding was one of the main obstacles she faced when launching her business. In her own words, Imani said, “It has almost seemed as if to receive the help I have to prove that I’m worthy of help, but hard to prove that without someone trusting and taking a chance on my ideas.”
Sophia and Janet Murphy described common challenges an entrepreneur faces when starting a new business, like managing finances, branding a business, and building relationships with vendors and customers. The ladies credit their business success to networking and mentorship from established entrepreneurs. Sophia and Janet recommend finding a supportive mentor who knows your business’s struggles and is willing to provide sound guidance. “We were fortunate enough to meet Vivian Kaye, founder of Kinky Curly Yaki, a multi-million dollar company. She encouraged us and offered support and mentorship with our biggest challenge — social media engagement.”
How do you cope with race and ethnicity challenges in your business?
As someone who belongs to a minority group, I experienced race challenges at work and business, even though I don’t look like a stereotypical minority woman. If my physical appearance conceals my actual background, an Arab, my pronunciation and writing give it away. My own experience drove me to reflect and question what a woman of color experience at work. When I look around, I notice that it is more likely for a minority entrepreneur to achieve success if their business caters to “her people” than the mass! Ethnic grocery stores, restaurants, fashion retailers gain more support and prosperity within niche communities. The same applies to black women who venture into entrepreneurship.
Imani believes that women of color face gender and race biases in business, both in entrepreneurship and the workplace. But these racial biases drive her to pursue her passion and purposes: “I cope with them by reminding myself that the challenges are not necessarily personal to me. It motivates me to keep pushing past whatever barrier that may arise.”
Luckily, Sophia and Janet felt fortunate that they have not run into many challenges related to race and ethnicity. They funded their own business and currently run a business that caters to the needs of the black community. “We attribute this stroke of luck to a few different reasons. First, we supplied our own seed money to start the business. Because we didn’t need to look to banks or other organizations to back our venture, we didn’t experience the potential biases that many Black people face when seeking a loan or funding. Secondly, our target market looks like us. We cater to a niche market that understands and relates to our background. “
Do you feel the pressure to embrace the dominant culture, which dictates how you act, talk, and present yourself?
I don’t want to sound cynical, but as a minority woman, I realized the pressure to embrace the “dominant culture” of North America once entering the workforce. It’s difficult for people who are not born and raised in Canada or the USA to mimic everything of their newly adopted culture. We look, act, and talk differently and are consequently identified as “outsiders”. One can assume how difficult it is for a black person to feel stereotyped and labeled based on their physical appearance and manner.
Imani believes as time goes on, the pressure to embrace a dominant culture diminishes. There was a time and place where she felt the obligation to fit in. “Living somewhere like Michigan, this was almost a requirement if I wanted to be heard in any capacity. Now that I live in Georgia it’s less pressure because there are more people who can relate to the barriers”.
How can society support your growth and success?
Women have the natural inclination to influence and change social standards. As mothers, habits we embrace will impact the behaviors of future generations. Hafez Ibrahim, a renowned Egyptian poet said “a mother is a school, enlighten her and she’ll enlighten a great nation”. We should take a stance on inclusiveness and practice it in our daily lives. One of the simplest ways to reinforce inclusive behavior is by shopping small businesses run by black women. Take the time to get to know brands and stores run by women of color and shop there. Be like Jackeline Kennedy whose wedding dress was designed and made by a black female designer, Ann Lowe.
Let’s see what Imani thinks: “If I could answer this question in simple terms, it would just be to recognize and accept that I can be just as talented or worthy as a person of any other race and gender.”
Sophia and Janet want us to shop Black-owned businesses because they are as good as any other business, not only because they’re Black-owned. And I agree with their sentiment. I recently tried hair products that traditionally tailor for black hair to solve my unmanageable curls and was pleased with the effectiveness of the products. For years, I overlooked these hair balms and opted for pricy brands to help manage curly frizzy hair. Wish I knew earlier!
“As it pertains to our own business’ growth and success, we would like to see naturally curly, kinky, and coily hair continue to infiltrate the mainstream as an accepted and beautiful choice for Black women. We’re looking forward to the day Black women can wear their natural hair as comfortably and confidently as any other accessory without second-glances, probing questions, or uneasy stares from others.”
What can everyone learn from black female entrepreneurs and professionals?
We’re familiar with the persona of influential black women in movies and music. Still, there’s more to being a black female entrepreneur or professional than what the hypermedia portrays them to be: dominant, fierce, and sexual. Outside the media, black female entrepreneurs carve their success narratives with resilience and courage. They overcome financial and social barriers and leverage their resources to build a future. When you meet and interact with black female entrepreneurs, you’ll recognize that there’s more to them than what meets the eye.
“There is an unmatched talent within our community. If the voices of Black female entrepreneurs and professionals were allowed to be a little louder or given a bigger platform, the world would be exposed to amazing things. I also think people could learn what it means to truly be resilient when looking at us. “ Imani Watson
To learn from black women, Janet and her sister-in-law Sophia maintained that black women are changing the face of business for the better and leading entrepreneurship. “We have a strong voice, compelling stories, innovative ideas, and a large presence. Many may underestimate the ability and prowess of Black women, but that would be a mistake. We are smart, capable, and determined.”
Black women are breaking the barriers that marginalized them and suppressed their career and business advancement. It’s time to note the efforts and acknowledge the mark they make on business and society. “And after years of repression and underrepresentation, we’re no longer looking for a seat at the table; we are making our own.” Sophia Murphy.
Originally published at https://ellemuse.com on February 17, 2021.