If you’re a Black woman entrepreneur, then you may already know that you are part of the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. As a matter of fact, businesses owned by African-American women have grown by 322% since 1997, according to Fortune magazine. Overall, African-American women are in control of 14% of all companies owned by women in the country, for an astounding total of 1.3 million businesses.
Due to the lack of fair pay, as well as the absence of fair promotion and family-friendly policies in corporate America, especially for African-American women, women-owned firms have been multiplying. So have been the numerous challenges faced by Black female entrepreneurs like yourself as you set up and grow your business. These include lack of available business loans, scarce startup capital, limited resources, not to mention the gender and racial discrimination at play, particularly in more male-dominated sectors such as technology and finance.
Despite this strong legacy, you may still face a host of challenges and obstacles as an African-American woman entrepreneur. While some of these may be subtle in nature, they are still very real and may affect you at different stages of your business implementation and growth. As a Black woman entrepreneur, I have faced these and was initially intimidated by them. However, with time and experience, I have learned to identify, recognize and respond with a different mindset as well as new and innovative ways of working.
Some of these challenges do include, but are not limited to:
1. Business world biases
You know the strong feeling of “not being part of the group” you may experience as you enter a room filled with fellow entrepreneurs, who just don’t happen to look like you? Many, if not most, women of color entrepreneurs have, and still are, experiencing the same phenomenon on an almost daily basis. This is also known as the double bias in the business world, due to both race and gender, which in turn creates difficulties when it comes to networking, obtaining funding, and reaching out to potential partners.
As a result, many African-American women entrepreneurs fear appearing too aggressive or defying social expectations. In mostly male-dominated industries, it can be a struggle to gain respect or consideration. In addition, their ideas are often dismissed, which keeps these women from reaching their full potential in their businesses.
As you grow more aware of these biases, it’s all the more important to keep motivated and determined to face them head-on. While the reality may not always be pleasant, it’s only by addressing it that you can start changing the face of entrepreneurship for African-American women, women of color, and women in general. A particularly effective way to address these biases may also be to create networks and opportunities catering to women of color, so as to raise awareness of the issues faced by Black women entrepreneurs.
2. Lack of representation
You may also have noticed that you are one of the only, or the only African-American female entrepreneur, represented in your industry. Very often, women of color like yourself are the only ones to appear in certain industry business meetings. Like yourself, these women are often striving alone in fields dominated by men. As such, they are often talked down to and have to constantly prove their worth, qualifications and determination.
This is especially relevant and critical if you happen to just be starting out or making your leap into entrepreneurship. It can be easy to find this lack of representation and diversity intimidating and discouraging, to the point of driving you, and so many other Black women entrepreneurs, away from business altogether.
While lack of representation and diversity may be crippling in business, you can still rise above it by being an example in your community and network. By embodying what it means to be a Black woman entrepreneur, you can also help bridge the representation gap for African-American women entrepreneurs.
3. Networking Challenges
As Ellevate Network’s founder Sallie Krawcheck puts it so well: “Networking is the #1 unwritten rule of business”. It’s also an area which leaves many women, especially women of color, out of its beneficial realm of opportunities. As entrepreneurs especially, it’s crucial to make the right connections and build mutually beneficial professional relationships.
However, many, if not most business networking events, do not necessarily cater to women of color, especially African-American women entrepreneurs. As a result, you may not be able to make the right connections, establish proper relationships and build powerful associations. It can all seem like a good ol’ boys’ club that just doesn’t allow women of color in. It’s precisely the lack of access to these networks, as well as not having the right tools and resources to navigate them, that ends up preventing perfectly viable businesses from surviving and thriving.
As a Black woman entrepreneur, investing in networking is a priority. Make it a habit to attend at least one networking event a month, and to nurture your network as much as possible. It can be as easy as making an inventory of all the networking events in your vicinity as related to your industry or business and committing to participate in one, or some of them. It is also a matter of disciplining yourself to follow up with new contacts after each networking event and keeping in touch with these contacts on a frequent basis.
4. Lack of mentorship
Mentorship is a valuable resource that benefits many entrepreneurs and their businesses, especially in the early stages. It’s especially crucial for women entrepreneurs, and even more so for Black women entrepreneurs, who face disproportionately high odds when it comes to entrepreneurial success.
Unfortunately, there are fewer mentorship opportunities available to women entrepreneurs in general. According to Inc., forty-eight percent of female entrepreneurs sorely lack mentors and advisers. For women of color, the gap is even wider as a result of bias and limited networking opportunities.
This is where women -focused networks such as Ellevate Network, and Black Women’s Collective, or events like the WIN conference, as well as events targeting Black women can make all the difference when you join them. Proactively identifying and seeking potential mentors is also a powerful way to receive the leadership you need to be more effective and successful in your business.
In addition, you can also serve as mentors for other Black women entrepreneurs so as to provide them with additional help and guidance. The most important thing to remember as you achieve milestones in your business is to always keep the door open for the next woman of color behind you.
5. Lack of access to capital and funding
According to this recent study by Fundera, “women entrepreneurs get offered smaller loans across every product, from the same groups”. Female entrepreneurs seeking venture capital do not seem to fare any better. Research confirms that investors actually prefer entrepreneurial pitches by attractive men.
For minority women, the chances of getting traditional sources of funding such as loans can be slim to none, due to both conscious and unconscious bias. As a matter of fact, according to the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), small business owners of color are more likely to be denied credit than other small business owners. They also tend to pay higher interest rates than non-minority owned businesses. As a result, fewer women of color entrepreneurs seek to apply for loans.
Faced with the lack of access to capital and funding, it can be easy to throw in the towel and give up. However, this challenge is also a great incentive for you to look into setting up capital and funding vehicles that cater to all women, including Black women entrepreneurs. There are enough African-American women entrepreneurs out there who can join forces and innovate with new sources of funding. As a consumer and a voter, you may also consider making decisions that positively impact the distribution of capital and funding to women of color.
6. Lack to support within our families and communities
Getting support within from families and communities can be troublesome. In addition to the likelihood of minimal available family financial resources, access, and inheritances, often times family members don’t understand entrepreneurship, prefer the predictability of a bi-weekly paycheck (no matter the size) or don’t trust a fledgling entrepreneurs’ capabilities. While these concerns are understandable, it can make the journey a little rockier.Finally, there is sometimes that distrust in doing business with one another, believing that the quality of their products or services will be substandard. One great avenue for finding great talent is on such freelance sites like Upwork, where you get the opportunity to interview and vet small Black-owned business owners, review their profiles and freelance history, as well as test skills and performance with smaller jobs before you fully commit. “Pretty much my entire phenomenal team came from Upwork…and I gladly refer them to my fellow entrepreneurs,” shares My Amazing LYFE course creator and chief catalyst, Maria Dowd.
Overall, as an African-American woman entrepreneur, you will face many obstacles and challenges when it comes to being successful in business. From harsh biases in the business world to lack of representation, minimal access to capital and funding, to networking and mentoring challenges, the scale is very often not tipped in your favor. These can be intimidating, discouraging, and may make you want to give up on your entrepreneurial dreams. Many women of color have unfortunately watched their businesses fail or simply walked away from them as a result of these.
However, instead of considering these as insurmountable, you can use them as powerful incentives to keep building up your business, as you create and leverage innovative channels of networks, communication, and investment in your business.
Maria Dowd’s deepest, most electrifying passion is to energize and equip women—especially women of color—with tools and strategies to take bolder stands for the quality of their lives.
As a dynamic motivational speaker and impassioned catalyst for women’s empowerment, Maria taps into her own personal missteps and wake-up calls to inspire women to be more courageous, wise, and enterprising—to design an amazing life built upon uncompromising values, enduring passions, their true genius and expertise, and with crystal clear visions of what they want and deserve. Maria’s My Amazing LYFE brand of empowerment programs experientially and holistically deliver this promise, along with a community of highly engaged mentors and action partners to ensure the activation of its participants’ dreams and aspirations.
Maria discovered her vocation in the 1990s, with the founding and production of African American Women on Tour (AAWOT), an empowerment conference she toured with for 13 years that garnered the support of such mega-corporations as Bank of America, Chrysler, JC Penney, ExxonMobil, and Kellogg. AAWOT profoundly touched the lives of over 29,000 women worldwide by embracing, fueling, and celebrating their strengths, endurance, and brilliance. Maria later became a successful network marketing consultant, representing a line of botanical body care products. She trained and mentored a team of over 1,100 consultants committed to uplifting their economic well-being and sharpening their leadership skills while promoting self-care and healthy living.
Maria has authored three inspirational books: Journey to Empowerment, Journey into my Brother’s Soul, and Journey to a Blissful Life, which was featured in Essence magazine as one of the best books on personal renewal. Maria is also a contributing author of Delayed But Not Denied Book II and the upcoming Book III.
Her life took a dramatic turn after a divorce in 2012, which served as a “lightbulb” moment, for Maria, like so many women, had fallen into the trappings of financial and toxic emotional co-dependency. Determined to never find herself in such a vulnerable position again, Maria created a holistic life map to help her through the journey of expanded self-awareness, course corrections, and remarkable levels of clarity and traction.
Eager to share with other women possibly going through—or healing from—similar experiences, Maria posted a snapshot of her map on social media and received overwhelming responses. This was her cue to launch the My Amazing LYFE Map Course, an interactive holistic life planning system that includes coursework, personality assessments, action partnering, community support, vision boarding, and more to help women (and men!) powerfully navigate and activate transformative life goals. Participants are challenged to create a soul-stirring, whole-life blueprint with action steps that promote greater inner peace, physical well-being, prosperity, more harmonious personal and professional relationships, and uncompromising optimism and happiness.