Black Women Are the Group Most Likely to Start a Business, But Do We Reap the Rewards?

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Black women are the demographic group most likely to start a business in the United States. But we manage an outsize contribution to entrepreneurship and innovation without the kind of financial backing afforded to entrepreneurs of other races.

Walker's Legacy, a global collective for emerging and existing women of color in business and entrepreneurship, explored the current state of Black female entrepreneurship in a new study, Black Women Entrepreneurs:  Past and Present Conditions of Black Women's Business Ownership, commissioned by the US Small Business Administration.

We talked to the organization's Founder and CEO, Natalie Cofield, about their findings and what the future holds for Black women looking to strike out on their own.

How did you conduct the study?

To inform the development of this report, three events were organized. Each event included a panel discussion that offered an opportunity for successful Black women business owners and other experts in the field to discuss issues pertaining to Black women and business ownership.

Each event also allotted a portion of the time for roundtable discussions and breakout sessions.The first event, conducted by Walker’s Legacy in Washington, DC, allowed the team to develop a preliminary understanding of the issues. Subsequent events were held in Houston, TX and New York, NY. All locations were strategically chosen based on data that identify the key markets in which there are significant numbers of Black women-owned businesses.

Approximately 40 to 50 participants attended each event. During the events, the participants convened in small groups of eight to ten women to engage in open dialogues about the pressing issues for Black women entrepreneurs. These conversations were held to allow participants to freely express their opinions, concerns, recommendations and more. Some of the key themes of interest included:

  • Motivations for starting one’s own business
  • Mentors and networks
  • Access to capital and resources
  • Challenges to starting and maintaining one’s own business.

Each group was informally guided by a facilitator who was chosen through an application process and selected based on their relevant expertise and experience. Facilitators participated in a pre-event call to discuss the methodology, their role, and useful facilitation skills. Notes from the conversations were captured on flip chart paper.

This can also be found on page 30-31 of the report.

Were there any findings that surprised you?

Some key findings that surprised me were that:

Nearly 60% of all Black businesses are either owned or started by Black women, making us the largest female segment for any group of entrepreneurs in the United States;”

Black have historically and present day participated in the labor force more than any other group of women in the United States according to the department of labor;

Black women's entrepreneurship motivations are deeply rooted in communities and their well-being, we found that these motivations serve as a precursor to "Social Entrepreneurship.” Social entrepreneurship has community and its core, and is the foundation of many businesses;

And lastly, an interesting finding is that Black women's advanced education has not shown evidence of leading to advanced income for the population as a whole. We are still making roughly 60 cents to the dollar for white men, despite being the most educated segment in our ethnic group
How would you describe the current outlook for Black women entrepreneurs?

The growth of Black female-led businesses continues to soar and with that, the possibility for success is increased with each new company that is established. Black women play - and have played - a vital role in our entrepreneurial landscape in the U.S. Despite our lower than average investment, employment and income numbers, black women continue to remain steadfast to creating possibilities for professionals.

With this report, we’re proud to continue to champion the agenda of understanding, empowering and supporting black women business owners by raising this critical dialogue nationally.

Read the full report here.