4 Minority Business Leaders Share How To Overcome Disparities
The disparities women and minority entrepreneurs face are real, but they are surmountable. Here’s how four successful business leaders have overcome them.
The roster of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls includes more women and minority candidates than ever before, and the electorate in the Democratic presidential primary has also grown more diverse.
The lack of women and minority presidential candidates in the past reflected the unlevel playing field for women and minority entrepreneurs as well. But similar to the way the country has witnessed a wave of women and minority individuals on the campaign trail, we’ve also seen an increase in women and minorities tackling entrepreneurship.
In fact, the number of minority-owned businesses grew by 79% over the course of a decade (from 2007 to 2017). And the number of women-owned businesses has increased almost 3,000% since 1972, according to a report American Express released last year. That’s not to say, however, that it’s smooth sailing for women and minority entrepreneurs today.
So how are minority business leaders jumping over the hurdles they encounter on their way to success? I connected with a few women and minority business leaders to learn about progress they’ve seen and what techniques have worked for them.
1. Kim Lawton, Founder and CEO of Enthuse Marketing Group
As the leader of a marketing agency, Kim Lawton has witnessed agencies slowly progress when it comes to diversity. “While more women and minorities are being hired into leadership positions and C-suite roles, they still only represent a small percent of the industry as a whole,” she says. And as she sees it, considering that women drive 80 percent of consumer purchasing, it’s a disservice to consumers to leave all of the decisions solely to white, male executives.
To change this, Lawton emphasizes the importance of female entrepreneurs networking to connect with mentors: “Find a mentor and build a strong network of other women who you can turn to for advice,” she advises. Mentorship is vital for any entrepreneur, but minority entrepreneurs don’t always have the option of learning from a mentor who is a minority or female. Fortunately, there are a growing number of women-led or minority-focused networking organizations in a range of industries. Lawton says her company, which is 100% women-owned, has seen success in using its Enthuse Foundation to invest in female entrepreneurs, providing education resources and mentorship.
Lastly, it’s crucial for women and minorities to value themselves. “Don’t listen to those voices in your head that tell you that you’re not good enough!” Lawton declares. I’ve learned that it’s essential to know your value, project confidence, do your homework, be present, contribute and — most of all — don’t be afraid to take calculated risks.”
2. Danny Martin, Cofounder and Executive Director, Geekletes
Danny Martin’s organization, Geekletes, is part of the esports industry, which has seen a surge in women and minority players. On the management side of the esports industry, though, Martin says boosting inclusion has taken work. “I’ve witnessed my fair share of diversity woes and triumphs within the workplace, from working at a venture-backed tech startup in San Francisco as the only African American employee to founding an esports organization that’s built on a foundation of diversity and inclusion,” he notes.
The most significant challenge Martin has encountered and observed is that someone’s socioeconomic status will impact how much time it takes to acquire the capital needed to get a business off the ground. “It was imperative to sustain patience while being resourceful enough to extend the company’s runway,” he says. For his esports organization, that meant nurturing community growth rather than waiting on venture capital backing.
But overcoming that obstacle doesn’t mean Martin is brimming with self-confidence as a minority business leader. He still wonders whether he should be at the table with people from higher socioeconomic classes, adding that “I’ve learned the key to resolving this feeling is by backing confidence with knowledge, experience and data.”
3. Terence Jackson, Founder and Managing Partner, Jackson Consulting Group, LLC
Terence Jackson observes that while many minority leaders have excelled in corporate settings, the transition to entrepreneurship may force them to come face-to-face with implicit bias, which prevents them from flourishing and securing the same kinds of contracts their non-minority counterparts do.
In his role, Jackson has had to overcome perceptions about minority executive coaches and consultants. He notes that he works with businesses whose leaders are seeking to overcome biased perceptions about women and minorities, yet he and his colleagues are often subjected to the assumptions they were hired to eradicate. While an executive coach is considered a knowledge worker, minorities are often viewed differently and assumed to be unable to deliver. “No one has a monopoly on knowledge, and perceptions in this area must be transformed. Thought leaders come in all forms, shapes, sizes and ethnicities,” Jackson says.
At the end of the day, he believes that boosting your knowledge of your industry is key to overcoming this barrier. “Knowledge is the only instrument of productivity that is not negatively impacted by the law of diminishing returns,” Jackson argues. “Given the global demographic trend, the business case for doing business with minority businesses is clear and will be vital to a growing global economy.”
4. Kelsey Ramsden, President, Belvedere Place Development
The civil construction and real estate development industries are notorious for being male-dominated fields. That’s why Kelsey Ramsden knew she would have to highlight her awards and raise her profile if she wanted to show women that they could join her in construction. As a result, she’s developed an ecosystem that connects women in engineering and construction.
True, she has received recognition for her abilities and growth, but that wasn’t always the case. Ramsden has been asked to get coffee for the executives she was meeting with in the boardroom, and she wasn’t always taken seriously when it came to finances — especially when her son was on her hip. “I always remind myself that results can’t be denied and that every man has a mother, sister, wife or daughter. They’re not against women; they just haven’t seen many in this arena, so show them what you can do,” Ramsden says.
Ramsden doesn’t believe the conversation around inclusion is about race versus race or gender versus gender: “I believe that people don’t intend on keeping others down, they simply intend on keeping themselves up.” For instance, she points out that some see it as acceptable to have women’s groups but frown on having men’s groups. With that thought in mind, she wants to see conversations shift to simply talking openly about the perspectives each person brings: “Fundamentally, the greater the diversity of perspectives, the better the outcome. You can’t get new solutions using old thinking, and certainly, new solutions are what drives everything forward.”
It may not be the rough-and-tumble of the presidential campaign trail, but the challenge of being a woman or minority entrepreneur is something these four business leaders live every day. The life of a woman or a minority entrepreneur is not without its problems, but the more of them we have, the better our products and services will be.
This article originally appeared here.