The majority of employees wish their company would do more to increase diversity in the workplace, yet a whopping 41% of managers say they are "too busy" to make it a priority. Tired of the lack of representation in corporate America, some women aren't waiting for change—they're making it.
"I think one reason that many black women seek out entrepreneurship today is that there's a sense of wanting to live life differently [than their parents]," says Morgan Wider, founder of Wider Style. She certainly isn't alone. In fact, African American women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the nation, increasing 322% since 1997. Ahead, we spoke to four trailblazing women to find out why they started their own company and their advice for other budding entrepreneurs.
Founder of OnPurpose Movement and International Day of Purpose and certified professional development coach
"In my career, I had been coaching managers and helping businesses understand how to recruit, promote, and retain talent. I recognized that there were very few black women with my background. Many of my friends encouraged me to start my business because they were always asking for my advice for résumés, interviews, and other job-related questions. It started as a side hustle, it kept growing, and suddenly I was like, wait a minute. I am making more money than I was at my other job!
"I see it all the time that black women are recognizing 'I'm not being celebrated here; I know I have a skill set; I know I have something that I can offer the world—I'm going to create it.' Businesses that have a diversity of thought, gender, and racial experiences will always outpace [other] organizations that only allow one type of person to make decisions in a team. My advice for burgeoning entrepreneurs is that you can't be your best self by yourself. Never be too proud to ask for help. There are so many resources around you. Take stock of your resources—your mentors, sponsors, advocates, books—and think carefully about how you can utilize them. You're not alone."
CEO and founder of Jet Black, a boutique travel firm focusing on the African diaspora
"I realized I had a viable business idea when I worked for my first client who was a friend of mine. I knew he was engaged, and I said to him, 'You should go to Africa for your honeymoon.' He asked me to plan it, and I did. I hadn't had the idea for Jet Black yet and realized that I could make this into something. We've sold out many group trips since then to places like Haiti and Cuba. [Now], I hold 45-minute talks about traveling and living your best life on my personal Instagram account. Lots of people come to listen and also buy my merchandise there—that's a big milestone for me.
"When I was working in corporate America, I was often the only person of color in the room, but I never felt like I had limited opportunities. Nevertheless, I wanted to be in a more diverse environment. At the end of the day, no matter what company you work in, the marketplace is diverse because it reflects real life. To enjoy success, you need to have different opinions representing different people. Putting one person on a team doesn't make it diverse. Think about, for example, with the tone-deaf Pepsi commercial—a lot of people were wondering, Why wasn't there a person of color that spoke up? However, as one black person, you feel so much pressure, but if it's a team, then there's more confidence standing up for something.
"To start a business, my best piece of advice is to have a co-founder. Having someone who is capable and willing to work as hard as you is so helpful."
Founder of Wider Style, a personal shopping and image consulting firm
"Growing up, my mom and I always went shopping. I didn't do Little League—I did TJ Maxx. When I worked in corporate merchandising and retail, there was always something missing. I came across this idea that I could shop for a living and got trained to be an image consultant. It started as a hobby, but my corporate career took off. However, as I grew as a person, I couldn't stay in that same environment, so I went back to the business I had started. I just loved showing women their beauty and their worth.
"One of the most meaningful milestones in my career has been being a part of the TEDx experience in Atlanta this past September. It allowed me to broadcast my sermon on why it's so important to invest in yourself. A lot of women feel the need to choose between being pretty and being smart, and those two aren't mutually exclusive. I worked at four different corporate retailers before I launched my business, and for most of my career, I was one of one or two faces of color in merchandising that actually got to be a decision maker. There's a sense that you don't always want to have to fight to have a sense of belonging.
"I think one reason that many black women today seek out entrepreneurship is that there's a sense of wanting to live life differently. Our parents came from the school of thought that you go to college, get a good career, and then become an executive to build a type of security that black families never had before. I wanted to incorporate my spirituality and whole sense of being into my business. When it comes to starting a business, don't let the unknown scare you! Your experience is your mindset—entrepreneurship is all about how you think about it. Sometimes you have go about something unknown and take action."
Interior designer and TV personality
"I always knew I wanted to run my own business. When I was working in corporate America in PR, I started my design blog as a hobby. I took on side hustle projects, and I knew that was the direction I wanted to go into. I have a fashion-forward point of view in design, and I'm known for the way I use color. I was on a show on the Oprah Winfrey Network for three seasons called Home Made Simple, where I helped deserving families do budget-friendly, one-room makeovers. My second year on the show, we won an Emmy!
"The impetus for pursuing entrepreneurship is different for every person. I launched my business based on passion rather than lack of opportunity, although I definitely was aware of certain levels of inequity in corporate America. You need diverse perspectives to produce great results and speak to everyone, not just one point of view. For venture-backed businesses, women-led businesses tend to produce better results—in fact, female-led companies outperform male-led companies by 63% in terms of return to investors.
"For someone who wants to launch a business, I would say you need to have a really good business acumen. You need to learn the ins and outs of profitability and margins, and how you are pricing your services. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if the economics behind your business doesn't make sense, you won't have that much financial success. It's important to have a great financial framework behind your business."