By Dr. Nika White
President and CEO, Nika White Consulting, Best Selling Author of “The Intentional Inclusionist®” and “Next-Level Inclusionist: Transform Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Success”
With every new year, we bring new resolutions and goals into our lives, our communities, and our businesses.
Even as my resolutions evolve with each year, my goal is always to work diligently towards Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in organizations and businesses.
For 2020, I am proud to announce another step towards this goal as I have been selected to serve as one of the newest National City Directors for Walker’s Legacy for Greenville, SC!
For a quick background, Walker’s Legacy is a global platform for professional and entrepreneurial multicultural women. It’s named in honor of Madam C. J. Walker— the first self-made female millionaire in US history, who was also an African American woman. Her story is truly incredible. Make sure to check out the new Netflix series about her coming out in March!
I am excited to begin this journey with 9 other dynamic trailblazing women! I’m also grateful to implement the Walker’s Legacy mission in my local community and aid in furthering the Walker’s Legacy mission through impactful programming, organizational collaboration, and partnerships.
Being in this world of DEI and thinking of all Madam CJ Walker’s achieved through adversity, I wanted to kick off the year by reflecting on the challenges that minority, under-represented, and female entrepreneurs face as they pursue their goals.
1. The Perception of Being Superhuman
As an African American woman, something that is not often talked about is the notion of having to be “superhuman” as a career professional and entrepreneur.
For example, there are often mistakes and trials that happen in the growth trajectory of trying to get to the next level of a career. Failures. Setbacks. Business problems. Monetary issues. Oftentimes with minorities, people aren’t quite as forgiving when mistakes are being made.
On the other hand, with populations who are not part of the minority population, mistakes are more celebrated and seen as “taking risks” or “being bold”. With minorities, this can bring up judgment and negative views towards failure. For us, everything has to be perfect.
This notion of being “superhuman” is where the minority career professional and entrepreneur has to have a perfect resume, massive achievements, and zero mistakes in order to accomplish the same success, accolades, or public appeal as an entrepreneur from the privileged group.
The risk factor here is that this keeps the minority business professionals (such as women of color) from really feeling as though they can try different things that can lead to promotions, advancement, and opportunities. This can lead to them being guarded in their efforts and contributions.
And many times, when people are looking for new projects or hire prospects – the decision-makers are looking for those risk-takers and “bold” movers.
I hope in the future, we can encourage a culture where minority talent can be viewed and perceived at the same level as others and not need to be “superhuman”— so they can be bolder, take more risks, and process the journey of entrepreneurship and career growth in a more equitable way.
Code-switching is a hot topic in the DEI world and something that minority career professionals and entrepreneurs face often—usually daily.
According to the BBC, code-switching is when “a person in a minority group tones down some of the most obvious elements that associates them with their community in order to fit into a more mainstream group.”
In reference to people of color in a business setting, Harvard Business Review shares, it’s when someone is, “embracing the dominant culture or vernacular among certain groups (like co-workers, for example) and switching to a more authentic self when around friends and family.”
Code-switching happens often in the workplace. Someone may feel they have no one to confide in or speak authentically to. They may change their speech patterns and vernacular, how they reference things in their personal life, and their general attitude and mannerisms. It can feel like constant acting and performing.
Many women of color experience this and see it as not being able to be authentic to who they are. Code-switching is often a survival mechanism. It’s a way not to be judged, outcasted, or chastised in community or at work.
My previous article “Masking In The Workplace and Why It Can Be Detrimental to D&I” also talks about “covering” which is in the same circle as “code switching”. This shares how people change or “cover” their authentic self when they show up to work and can therefore not operate at their maximum, authentic self. This is detrimental for the individual and detrimental for the business or organization.
We need to bring clarity and awareness to managers, supervisors, and leaders in regards to code-switching and authentic communication. When people can stop code switching and covering who they truly are, they can show up as their most effective, productive, and authentic selves.
3. Barriers to Entry
Being a minority entrepreneur comes with inherent barriers to entry that create roadblocks and boundaries towards success.
These include barriers to networks, resources, and mentors and lack of access to capital, key resources and stakeholders, and more.
For example, capital is one of the larger barriers to entry. Take a look at a couple of these powerful statistics.
- “A 2014 Babson College report found that less than 3 percent of venture-capital-funded companies had female CEOs.” per Business News Daily.
- “Statistics compiled from CB Insights reports by Project Diane indicate that between 2012-2014, startups led by African-American women comprised less than 0.2% of all the venture deals in that time period.” (Fast Company)
Lack of access to mentorship is another enormous hurdle. In the dominant narrative of white-male representation of success, an entrepreneur or business owner can find so many examples of mentors and “success stories” of people who look, act, and talk just like them. But in many cases, for minority and women entrepreneurs, it can be very hard to find a mentor who “looks” like you.
- “Almost half-of female founders (48 percent) cite a lack of available mentors or advisers as holding them back,” according to Inc Magazine.
On the other side of the spectrum, when a minority person does achieve success, they may feel isolated, alone, or like a fraud since there’s less representation at the top. This can lead to feelings of “imposter syndrome”.
Imposter syndrome is “the belief that one is inadequate, a failure, or a fraud despite proof of success,” per this great Fast Company article on women entrepreneurs.
Because of these hurdles and challenges, these minority business owners are often working *in* their business as a “tactician” since they don’t have as much access to those assets that make business growth and navigation evitable.
When you are in that “working in the business” position, it can be hard for you to grow or succeed in the marketplace. You’re just too close to your work and too busy doing the work rather than getting to strategic planning opportunities that fall to the wayside.
If we can lower these barriers to entry and decrease resistance towards success, it will offer better and smoother opportunities and pathways towards success.
A book which is a fantastic resource for women of color to learn strategies and tips for breaking through these boundaries and moving up is, “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table by Minda Harts.
4. The Issue of Intersectionality
Diversity is an expansive and complex topic. An important element of it is that there’s not just one dimension of diversity that defines someone’s identity. There are multiple layers that interweave with each other.
You can be an entrepreneur who is identified as a woman of color—but there are many other elements of disparity. Being of a different race is one, but then there is gender identity, sexual identity, age, income and wealth, your location, your educational level, and so many other attributes where identity intersects.
These layers of intersectionality can add up and create more of an oppressive situation, which is why we must do this work of DEI to create space for authenticity and pathways towards success.
To create a future with better models, we must critically examine why there’s not more representation and intersectionality in these leadership roles.
How Can We Support These Challenges?
The way to help solve these challenges is to first bring awareness and discussion, then most importantly, provide support and take action.
Outside of the challenges listed, many of us, even minorities ourselves, have some sort of privilege. Whether it’s the color of our skin, the town we live in, our status and position in a business, or our income—we can use that privilege as a resource for others.
I love the sentiments in this Harvard Business Review article:
“Ordinary privilege is actually an opportunity. Research repeatedly confirms that those with ordinary privilege have the power to speak up on behalf of those without it, and have particularly effective influence when they do.
For so many of us looking for an opportunity to fight bigotry and bias in the workplace or in our broader culture, we may be missing the opportunity staring back at us in the mirror: using the ordinary nature of who we are as a source of extraordinary power.”
No matter your type of privilege, there is massive value in being a resource and champion in order to directly support underserved and minority communities — whether it’s through mentorship or coaching, creating public discussions on understanding their lived experiences, expanding and offering out networks, and building relationships with people of color.
We must get out of our bubbles and expand our networks.
Make sure to check my blog from last year on “7 Ways Leadership Can Support D&I Initiatives”.
I saw a meme recently that said something along the lines of “Don’t tell me every day that you support me, but then pass up every opportunity to support me.”
Let’s actually use any privilege we have to support those with less privilege than us.
MOVING INTO 2020
As I move into 2020, and step into my role as National City Director for Walker’s Legacy for Greenville, SC, I continue to fight for, educate, and work on the issues and challenges that women, minorities, and under-served populations face in their journeys of entrepreneurship and business.
My work in DEI over the past years has led me to create and address so many opportunities in my local geography and led to this opportunity with Walker’s Legacy.
This role will be a type of mentoring experience for the women who need a level of support and who want to connect with other women around this whole sense of women supporting each other and creating this sense of community – in a real environment so they don’t have to mask/cover.
To learn more about Walker’s Legacy and my role or to share strategies, support, and education, please click here.
Wishing you a wonderful 2020.