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Women and minority owned business

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There is always a story behind the story. For instance, many people celebrate the impressive volume of Black women launching and running businesses. Black women are the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S., launching and running 2.7 million businesses. JPMorgan Chase found that “[t]he number of businesses owned by Black women grew 50% from 2014 to 2019, representing the highest growth rate of any female demographic. Black females accounted for 42% of all women who opened a new business during that time and represented 36% of all Black employers.”

While this is commendable, there is a seldom discussed reason so many Black women have turned to entrepreneurship. While Black women have a drive that is often unparalleled, Black women left and are leaving workplaces in record numbers due to racism, sexism, and an inability to bridge pay disparities between white men and white women. And no workplace is immune to racism, sexism, misogynoir, or pay disparities. Even in workplaces that one would consider to be safe and supportive – such organizations actively resisting injustice – many Black women can still recount being undermined, underpaid, marginalized and mistreated. When one expects to be safe but is instead harmed, the pain can feel like betrayal.

This situation has caused many Black women to leave the workforce or launch their own businesses. A November 2022 study, “State of Inequity: Building a Brighter Future for BIPOC at Work,” from Hue and the Harris Poll found that 200,000 Black and Latina women had recently left the workforce. Although many employers promised to do better following nationwide protests after the fatal police killing of George Floyd, many workers of color say employers have failed to deliver. The report notes, “Compared to White men, BIPOC women report 1.5 to two times as often that their employers have not addressed fair advancement and promotion opportunities, ensuring gender diverse leadership, retaining Employees of Color, and promoting Employees of Color. Unequal pay also remains an issue. Alarmingly, work environment gaps between the two groups that had narrowed last year have widened this year.”

It’s important to note that Black women don’t leave bad jobs; but rather bad bosses. And Black women are leaving workplaces due to leadership’s poor management. Others are leaving after years of feeling a mismatch of personal values or feeling their work is unappreciated and undervalued. Almost every Black woman I know can recount doing stellar work only to have it minimized or stolen by colleagues at work.

What’s more, many of the Black women I know who have received promotions or been brought in to run organizations report feeling duped professionally; they were brought in to an organization without hiring managers being transparent about budgetary or other challenges within the organization; or they were expected to do the emotional labor of turning an organization around only to have it taken from them once the organization achieved success. It doesn’t matter the industry, far too many Black women can share horror stories – steeped in misogynoir, racism, sexism and homophobia – at work.

The persistent environments Black women navigate at work that require us to explain our tone, our passion, our ambition, or the optics of our work are exhausting. That emotional labor is not isolated to a single organization, sector, geography, etc. Every Black woman I know can recount a similar story. No one wants to work within systems where they are undervalued and underpaid, especially Black women.

Therefore, I am not surprised that close to 1 million Black women have left the labor force in the last several years. The reality is that work and workplaces have historically been designed for and by men.

For some Black women, entrepreneurship has meant liberation. For Black women balancing raising families and wanting to make an impact on their communities, entrepreneurship has meant increased opportunity, flexibility and freedom.

Black women yearn for the ability to make our own decisions and have ownership of our time and energy. What all of us must remember, however, is that when Black women decide or are forced into making alternative career decisions, that leaves significant gaps in the workforce and the larger economy. It is in our society’s collective best interest to ensure all workplaces are safe, supportive and welcoming to all employees, including Black women.

But we also cannot be lulled into a false sense of confidence that entrepreneurship without the broader work of racial equity will solve all challenges. The path to liberation through entrepreneurship is still strewn with barriers for Black women. We must ensure greater access to capital, resources to scale our businesses, mentors, and advisors, expanded networks, etc. That includes creating opportunities for Black women as board members.

Black women have always delivered for our country, economy, workplaces, communities and families. It is time our country – including our workplaces – deliver for us, and not just because all people deserve a fair shot at success, but because Black women have proven that if you invest in us, we will invest in others.

Certainly, there is no single solution or company that can eliminate the disparities between women and men. Instead, our workplaces need seismic shifts in policy, structures and society – shifts that specifically see and center Black women. Companies should not assume what Black women need; they should engage with us to co-create self-determinate solutions. In other words, ask Black women what we need, and be prepared to offer it.

Kerry Mitchell Brown, PH.D., is the Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations and Senior Strategic Advisor at Race Forward.


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