This is a guest post by Natalie Madeira Cofield
Amidst the women entrepreneurial and ‘lean in’ movements brought to the forefront most prominently bySheryl Sandberg, there has been a shortage of perspectives on the difficulties of minority women who have few people and very little financially to ‘lean on.’ The reality is–similar to the women’s suffrage movement, which for the most part excluded minority women–middle-to-upper class educated white women have driven much of the recent conversation.
In personal diatribes what is discussed is the internal debate between the nanny and quality time with children and starting a business or staying home, all of which are exorbitant luxuries to many minority women who have found themselves once again lost in the dialogue.
Katherine Weymouth –albeit a multi-millionaire heiress to the recently soldWashington Post, who too is removed from the actual plight of minority women–at least attempted to touch upon this concept in her Post op ed.
While minority and lesser-off white women remained just a stanza in the broader ‘lean in’ discussion, the reality is that Hispanic and African American women will play vital roles in the final frontier of the women’s empowerment movement: entrepreneurialism and economic freedom.
Fastest Growing Entrepreneurial Segments
According to a report by the Center for Women’s Business Research, Hispanic and African American women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial segments in the country growing at rates of 133.3% and 191.4% respectively from 1997 to 2007. Combined they represent more than two million of the roughly eight million women-owned businesses in the country and more than $14 billion in gross receipts. Further, African American and Hispanic women are three to five times more likely to start a business than their white counterparts.
For most minority women, the problem isn’t entrepreneurial appetite or the often-preached go-getter mentality; it’s sufficient financial and social capital resources to ‘lean on’.
Seed Capital and the Single Income Household
The impact of single parent households is a significant impediment to many aspiring entrepreneurial women of color. Particularly germane, but not exclusive to African American women is the fact that more than half will likely be unmarried and raising children in a single family home. This is due largely to the considerably lower-than-average African American marriage rate, roughly 40%.
This is evidenced by a report from the Center for Community Economic Development which found that the median net-worth for single white women was $41,500 compared to $100 and $120 for African American and Hispanic women, respectively.
These single-parent income households place women at considerable disadvantage as they have sizably less income and even fewer diversified assets to leverage as collateral for capital and initial seed capital investments.
Lack of Vital Social Capital
Lack of social capital and societal familiarity is another hurdle many lower income and minority women struggle to overcome.
Minorities and women in general often find difficulty with connecting and developing meaningful cross-cultural, cross-economic, cross-gender relationships within the fraternal and highly homogenous business world. This lack of access to ‘social’ capital poses significant issues with raising actual capital and other necessary support to be successful in business.
While minority women have historically adapted to societal changes, comfort and access to the realities of the white-male dominated business world remains a challenge. In contrast, for many upper-class white women who are already entrenched in social elements of this world, the chances of connecting with a high net-worth wife, or the husband himself, as a potential angel investor is considerably higher.
In moving forward with arguably the largest women’s movement in recent history, professional women must adopt the same policies and practices of inclusivity across the racial and socio-economic stratum increasingly demanded from males regarding gender.
For women of color, increased participation with women’s associations, collectives and trade groups can greatly increase cross-cultural social capital and relationships. Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women, Walker’s Legacy (a business collective for women of color that I founded in 2009) and a localWomen’s Chamber of Commerce are just a few great places to get started.
Both elements must be encouraged and practiced to ensure adequate support for and inclusion of enterprising women of color.
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