It’s February, and our focus shifts to celebrating Black History Month. Celebrating history is important, and acknowledging the contributions of Black heroes is critical to understanding the true story of America.
I love hearing about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but I’m equally interested in MAKING Black history and in honoring those who are working every day to expand the boundaries of the Black experience in America.
One group that is doing this, is the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the US: Black women. They are changing history by being courageous enough to take the leap into being a business owner. If we are committed to becoming allies and creating an equitable America, we can and should support them.
How can you help?
Buy from them. It sounds simple, but if we want these businesses to grow, we will patronize them. Unfortunately, this is going to take a little more research than we’re used to. These companies don’t always have the biggest marketing budgets. They don’t always have prime placement on the shelves. They don’t always come up on the first page of the Google results. Being an ally takes work.
Invest in them. Black women still receive less than 0.2 percent of all venture capital. These businesses tend to be grossly undercapitalized and I don’t have to tell you that an engine can’t run without fuel. Some of these businesses may not fit the typical investment mold. Their ownership structure and team makeup may not include a Stanford graduate. They may be a little older. They may live outside Silicon Valley, New York or Boston. Take the risk anyway. They have great ideas and the passion to execute them. You have to feed what you want to grow.
“You can’t just be an ally in thought. Step in with your deeds. It’s high time we made some new history.”
Mentor them. 95 percent of Black-owned companies are sole proprietorships. Many never grow beyond one employee. These women are working hard in their business, but they don’t always have what they need to grow. Partner with them. Bring them in as subcontractors. Share your business knowledge with them in a way that feeds their growth and stability.
Pay them fairly. If you paid the last guys that did a project for you $5,000, then don’t pay that Black woman $1,200. Even if she lowballs herself, have the integrity to pay her the market rate.
Amplify their voices. One of the biggest challenges Black women entrepreneurs face is being invisible to the larger business universe. How do you help?
· Follow them on social media. Retweet them. Quote them. Share their stories with your network.
· Feature them. Write about them. Highlight them on your podcast. Share the spotlight.
· Invite them to speak at your events and pay them to do so.
· Refer them. Your endorsement matters. People buy what they know or what their friends suggest. Suggest Black women owned businesses.
· Normalize them. Don’t just include them for the diversity panel or Black History Month. Weave them into the fabric of your businesses and your lives.
You can’t just be an ally in thought. Step in with your deeds. It’s high time we made some new history.
Denise Hamilton is founder and CEO of WatchHerWork, a digital media training platform closing the professional achievement gap for women.
This post was originally published on Alice.