The Job Creators

Black women entrepreneurs start-up and move forward

Dr. Natasha Jones, social scientist, interviewed a woman about life in corporate America.

“I’m the African-American woman, the only one in the room. When I’m in business meetings and board room meetings, and unfortunately racism still exists… My last year there I experienced a lot of … very interesting things.”

She laughed at the memory.

“It took me to do some soul searching and to determine that I really needed to… go ahead and build my own company.”

According to the US Census, there are over two million Black-owned businesses in America, but this number doesn’t tell us how many of these are profitable. It doesn’t tell us how many fail within a year. Unprofitability and failure are the risks of all entrepreneurs, but this risk is not shared equally. In America, racism and sexism are systemic hindrances for Black women entrepreneurs who start-up a company and try to keep it going.

Dr. Jones wanted to know how Black women narrate the story of entrepreneurship from their perspective and how they view the present and future of race, gender, and business.

The Math

Dr. Jones interviewed a self-taught web designer. She explained to Dr. Jones the calculus of race and gender in a white male dominated society.

“Number one, I’m in a technology field that is dominated by white men. Not only am I already dealing in a society dominated by white men, I’m in an industry that’s dominated by white men.”

The equation is set with the parameter of a white dominated field within a white dominated society.

“So I have to do double just to stack up to the white women. Not even the white men, just the white women. I have to do double.”

If we understand her math so far, she has to be twice as good as the white women in her field. But it gets harder, because the field is actually dominated by white men.

“Even to come close to the white men I have to do quadruple because now I’m having to get past my race and my gender.”

The entrepreneur explains that she does not start on equal footing with the others in her field. She starts at least two spaces behind white women, and four spaces behind white men.

Noting the equation, and the inequality of it, she makes a calculated move: she markets herself as a minority business owner.

“That’s why in the business I’m in, I have to, in order to stay in business, have a target niche. My niche is to start up in the minority.”

She puts it another way: “There are thousands of other companies doing what I do but there aren’t thousands of black companies doing what I do.”

The Mindset

Black entrepreneurs must break through strong barriers. Racism, an unjust economy, and rampant disrespect toward women’s rights have long conspired against them. The entrepreneurs with whom Dr. Jones spoke experience the systemic threats to Black lives and livelihoods. They tend to speak of inequality as a problem of mentality — structures so nefarious that they block the mind.

“It’s a false mentality, but this is just a stigma,” an entrepreneur said. “Because of the way we were molded to think. It’s a curse that’s just perpetuating. It just needs to be broken. It’s broken by people active in integrity. People helping one another and being collaborative so that people can see a different mind-set.”

Systemic inequality limits what people perceive as possible.

“Whatever you decide to do, but business ownership is a valid option,” a creator of a venture capitalist firm said. “A lot of African Americans don’t look at it as a valid option. They think it’s a blueprint or a hustle, where it’s not valid. It’s not a way that they should make an income for your family.”

Prepare for Tomorrow

As they break through the barriers, they anticipate the future. Black entrepreneurs see tomorrow in their own families. One entrepreneur talked about being a role model for her daughter.

“She’s seven, and so what I try to do is model for her a story of just excellence …and then a standard of having a great work ethic.”

They also see their role as the new generation who lay the groundwork for future generations.

“We have to do it now to secure our future,” the venture capitalist said. “Just like those historically black colleges and the Divine Nine and all of that was started in the early 1900s. They have prepared us for now.”

“But now is a new era, where we have to prepare for tomorrow.”



This was written by Josh Dubrow based on Natasha N. Jones’ “Rhetorical narratives of black entrepreneurs: The business of race, agency, and cultural empowerment,” published in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication 31, no. 3 (2017): 319-349.

“I’m the African-American woman, the only one in the room…” p. 339.

The number of profitable Black-owned businesses is hard to know, as private businesses are not required to report profits. According to an article by Fairlie (2020), as of February 2020, seven percent of all active businesses were Black-owned, and 36 percent were women-owned. These numbers dropped slightly by June 2020, a few months into the pandemic: Robert Fairlie’s “The impact of COVID‐19 on small business owners: Evidence from the first three months after widespread social‐distancing restrictions.Journal of Economics & Management Strategy 29, no. 4 (2020): 727-740.

Dr. Jones spoke to 11 black entrepreneurs, ten of whom are women. She found them via Facebook and by recommendation. Most interviews were online. Dr. Jones anonymized the interviewees, and did not provide pseudonyms. Rather, she referred to them as Participant 1, Participant 2, and so on.

“Number one, I’m in a technology field that is dominated by white men…” p. 333.

“It’s a false mentality…” p. 343.

“Whatever you decide to do…” p. 331.

“She’s seven…”p. 338.

“We have to do it now to secure our future…” p. 338.

Since 1929, the Divine Nine has been the name for an umbrella organization of African American sororities and fraternities.

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