For Real: Strategies for Women of Color Entrepreneurs To Succeed

With the increase of women of color entrepreneurs and executives, strategies can help to achieve maximum success. If only life was like it appears on TV.Cookie Lyon, played by Taraji P. Henson, is the co-founder of the fictional Empire Entertainment and the roar behind Lyon Dynasty. Anika Calhoun, played by Grace Gealey, is the head of A & R at Empire Entertainment. Pop icon Mariah Carey will also be featured with the regular cast of characters in the upcoming season three of the wildly popular, award-winning TV series, “Empire.”While the slick glitter and glam of the FOX network show is indeed satisfying, the reality for black women and all women of color in business is decidedly less camera-ready. While the numbers of women entrepreneurs of color are increasing, the challenges remain as well.[bctt tweet=“While the numbers of women entrepreneurs of color are increasing, the challenges remain as well.” username=“takeleadwomen”]According to Fortune, “The Kauffman Foundation’s annual startup activity index found that about 40 percent of new small businesses today are started by minorities, nearly twice the percentage compared to 20 years ago.”The state of women of color in the workplace is changing, but not without obstacles. “Many female entrepreneurs say they face biases because of their race or gender, including difficulty in networking, securing financing and bringing in partners,” writes Rosalie Chan in TIME. “Among the biggest challenges: They’re often alone in a male-dominated world. Jazmin Truesdale, who started Aza Entertainment in 2013 and officially launched it this year, said she is frequently the only woman of color in business meetings.“Chan continues, “Yes, more women of color are starting businesses, thanks to rising levels of education and work experience. But there were very few businesses owned by women of color to start with. And the businesses tend to be small, averaging less than $70,000 per year in revenue, often in the retail or service industry, researchers said. Meanwhile, many of the nearly 3 million women of color who have started companies since the recession did so because they, like many other Americans, weren’t able to find jobs elsewhere.“Nely Galan, who was the featured guest at Take The Lead’s Virtual Happy Hour in August, defied the odds in the 90s, according to Chan. Her company “Galán Entertainment, incorporated in 1994, went on to produce 700 episodes of original programming.” She adds, “As a Cuban immigrant, Galán later decided she wanted to offer support for other Latina entrepreneurs. Five years ago, she founded The Adelante Movement, which provides tools, training and events for Latina women who want to start their own businesses.““According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of minority- and women-owned businesses is on the rise,” Cher Murphy writes in Ground Report. There are now nearly 10 million women-owned firms in the country, which is a 2 million firm increase in the last five years. With minority-owned businesses also on the rise, they now make up over 8 percent of the firms in the country. What many people don’t realize is that for a minority- and women-owned business to succeed, they have to overcome some common challenges.”What kinds of specific challenges are faced by multicultural women in business?According to Murphy, these challenges include overcoming stereotypes others may carry; an aversion to self-promotion; balancing work/life needs and obligations; being taken seriously and feeling a sense of belonging.Murphy writes: “’The most important thing that minority-women owned firms need to remember is that they can make it past these hurdles, and they will love it on the other side,’ added Tina Aldatz, co-founder and chief executive officer of Savvy Travelers. ‘The hard work is worth it, so don’t ever give up. The country needs more of us, so stand strong and carry on.’”In its recent annual research, “Best Companies for Multicultural Women,” Working Mother lists the 100 top firms  from Accenture to WalMart, noting their outreach, programs and work culture that is supportive of multicultural women.Working Mother also asked multicultural women leaders about misperceptions in the workplace that can hinder advancement. Rhonda Robinson, director of Healthcare Management Shared Services at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey told Working Mother: “The misconception that I face most is the thought that black women are passive, that we don’t have the desire to excel or succeed in our careers. You’re taught to humble your- self and be respectful and reverent. You bring that to work, and your expectation is people will recognize that you’re doing your job. I may have missed opportunities because I didn’t raise my hand and say, ‘I’d really like to be part of this project’ or ‘I think this would be a fantastic role for me.‘”Multicultural women claim felling understood and having a sense of belonging is key to success in an enterprise or organization. Fostering a sense of belonging is important not just for the entrepreneur, but also for an entire team. Feeling as if each team member belongs is critical to a team’s success, and the success of the start-up or even a legacy organization.[bctt tweet=“Multicultural women claim having a sense of belonging is key to success in an enterprise.” username=“takeleadwomen”]Pat Wadors, senior vice president of global talent organization at LinkedIn, writes in Harvard Business Review. This is where many organizations fail in their initiatives of diversity and inclusion.“One of the most compelling pieces of research says that we are genetically wired to belong. Our brains are hardwired to motivate us toward connection and belonging — it’s how we survive and thrive,” Wadors writes. “In fact, recent research in neuroscience has indicated that social needs are managed by the same neural networks as primary survival needs such as food and water. And findings show that belonging and attachment to a group of coworkers is a better motivator for some employees than money.”Wadors outlines strategies to foster a sense of belonging for all employees:

  • Make introductions. The word our really adds the feeling of being on a team.
  • Ask. Start with a simple, genuine question: “How do you feel? How are you today?” Then listen.
  • Solicit input in meetings. Ask their opinion, and follow up with questions so they truly felt heard.
  • Delegate. When you as a manager “give” an agenda item to someone on your team, it conveys real ownership, trust, and an opportunity for impact.
  • Pay attention. Be fully “present” for conversations with colleagues
  • Share stories. An important part of creating a sense of belonging is sharing our stories. We can learn from each other.

Several of these tips align with the 9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead.That sense of not belonging may also contribute to a pattern of stasis—or staying in the same position without moving up the ladder. The first tool is “Know your history.” Rule No. 3 is “Use what you’ve got.” The ninth tool is “Tell your story.”What do the numbers show?According to a recent study conducted by The Executive Leadership Council, “The new findings show that while nearly 27 percent of Black women executives received promotions or advanced their positions in the same or a different company during the period, more than 50 percent stayed in the same or similar position, made lateral moves in the same or different company, or lost ground through diminished roles or transitioning out of the corporate workplace entirely,” writes Safon Floyd in Black Enterprise.“’It is clear that black women executives must start early in their careers, in the first 5 – 7 years, to develop strategic multiple relationships with the people who can support and advance their careers,’ said Pamela Carlton, president of Springboard (Partners in Cross Cultural Leadership) and Co-Founder of The Everest Project.”Floyd quotes Carlton: “The most successful black women executives take risks and have the opportunity for big roles early in their careers, allowing them to build the long runway of leadership experiences all executives need, build alliances and create a track record of success.”The group outlined four areas of opportunity for women of color to succeed: alignment of values; agility and repurpose; sponsor relationships and relationship-building.“These four areas of focus could create a roadmap leading to an increase in the representation of black women executives in corporate C-Suites and on boards,” Floyd writes.“Sponsorship and relationship-building as politics both speak to the importance of black women executives  building and nurturing a network of allies, in addition to sponsors, in a very competitive environment where everyone performs at a high level, demonstrates agility and an alignment with the values and mission of the enterprise, and is willing to take risks with so-called ‘glass cliff’ assignments.”We don’t need to look to television or the movies for role models, as real life offers many examples of multicultural women who have achieved greatness and enormous success as leaders. But we do need to heed the particular interests and factors that will help all women succeed as leaders.The challenges for women of color in any industry are not new. The new film, “Hidden Figures,” showcases the innovation and daring of women of color working in top positions of engineering at NASA in the 1960s. Taraji P. Henson is again in the lead, this time as Katherine Johnson, a brilliant mathematician who helps launch the American space program.As one of the characters in the movie explains, “Every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line. Every time.”