Today we’re talking about finding your tribe, especially as a black business woman, or a woman of color. This month we’ve been talking through networking strategies and ways to connect with people, whether online or in person. There are so many mediums that we can use now to have that human connection happen.
And I wanted to share with you one of my own personal frustrations around making connection. It has to do with the way that we experience life, right? As you know, I’m a black business woman, and I tend to gravitate towards marginalized communities. Because I feel like we have a lot in common in that space. We can understand each other’s struggles and we are also dealing with privilege in our work and in our business in a very different way.
Is Leaning In Enough for Women of Color?
When I created the She Runs It Community for entrepreneurial women of color, I wanted to make sure that this is a space where you could speak freely.
I want to talk about those challenges without having to defend why those challenges exist, or if those challenges exist.
I recently read an article (I think in either HBR or Forbes) about Sheryl Sandberg’s book. And those of you who are familiar with Sheryl Sandberg – she has written a couple of books now. Her first one was called Lean In. She talks about her struggles getting back into the workforce after the sudden death of her husband. She talks about how overnight she became a single mother and what that struggle was like for her. And how all of a sudden she had to make these very hard choices about her career or her family and what that meant for her as a woman.
And of course her discovery in that book was to lean in. She had to really own her authority and all of this great stuff. When the book first came out, I loved it. I loved how it was really right on point talking about the experience of all women in corporate juggling the family-work continuum.
Pushing Back on Leaning In
But then as time went on, some prominent women of color have been pushing back on the book’s message. And I think some of the most prominent pushback comes from Michelle Obama, our former first lady who says, “Yeah, lean in, that stuff doesn’t work”. She uses much more colorful language, here’s a clip for you. We need to acknowledge that for a black business woman, and for women of color, these spaces are harder than they are for our white counterparts.
So for Sheryl Sandberg, a white woman with a lot of money, to talk about the challenges of corporate, and all she has to do is to lean in. That’s not really advice that’s going to hold up for a black business woman who is coming from a much, much different economic background most of the time. And of course we can dig into that a little bit more.
This is not about race and class, but if you’ve read anything about anything about the history of people of color, of immigrants in this country, then you know that we have not been given a fair shake when it comes to economic access. I’m talking about access to owning property, access to capital, a lot of things of that nature. So, Sheryl Sandberg’s idea of leaning in and that makes it all better doesn’t really hold up for women of color. And it especially doesn’t hold up for entrepreneurs of color.
The Unique Struggles of Entrepreneurial Women of Color
1. Finding the Spaces, Tools and Resources to help us Scale
So what I’m currently struggling with is finding spaces that acknowledge entrepreneurs of color and providing tools and resources to help us scale. Now of course, you know, I’m an executive business coach. I really tend to focus on small business owners, usually women who are in the very early stages of starting a business. So I focus on women who have one foot in the full-time job space and the other foot out here making money and trying to grow a business.
When I think of who I want to learn and grow from, I’m looking for women who are out here in these streets. Running a business on your own, able to make a living wage, but now you’re ready to scale. Now you’re ready to hire staff. You’re ready to put systems in place so that you can manage your business instead of working in your business.
2. Finding Spaces Created by other Entrepreneurial Women of Color
I think it’s really important that we also have tribes that other women of color facilitate. To help us grow and tackle some of the challenges that are not the same as white women of privilege. And when I say privilege, now I’m talking about economic privilege, access to capital.
So I’ve been digging around, I’ve been looking for just this type of venue. I’ve been asking people, “Hey, do you know of a black business women’s retreat that is really focused on strategy?” I want to spend two, three days with my email off, not having to put the kids to bed, or massage a man’s ego. I just want to really focus on my strategic plan for the next three years. And when you ask that question what you get back is white women in pink aprons sipping cocktails in Nashville. Which, okay, you know, if that’s what’s available in the marketplace, but that’s not what I’m looking for. And that’s because I’m me, right? I’m a woman of color doing this thing.
3. Getting to the Next Level of Strategic Planning (without having to explain why)
I want to make sure if I go to an overnight retreat, that I don’t have to explain why I’m wrapping my hair at night. That I don’t have to explain who Mediocre Matt is. I want to be in a space where I don’t have to explain why creating wealth is so ingrained in the legacy I want for my family. Why is that important to me? These are things that I don’t want to explain because I really want to work on my strategic plan. I want to get to the next level without having to defend and educate someone about everywhere that I’ve been so far. When we create these spaces dedicated for women of color and marginalized groups, it’s not that we’re trying to be exclusive. It’s really that we are trying to pull ourselves up “from our bootstraps”.
Here’s one Recommendation for Finding your Tribe:
We are doing our best to find those communities where we can start from today. Instead of 30, 40, 50, 200 years ago, to create the lives, the legacies, and the businesses that we want. Now, one tremendous resource that someone recommended to me was Rosetta Thurman. She is the owner, innovator, CEO, mentor, and coach behind the Happy Black Woman brand. And she is someone I am going to be following. I have requested to join her private Facebook tribe. I’m going to see if some of her events could really add value for me and my business, as a woman of color entrepreneur.
Do you have Additional Resources?
If you have additional resources for spaces dedicated towards women of color entrepreneurs and their growth, especially when they’re out of the startup phase, and really in the growth phase, which is where I am right now in my business, I would love to hear from you.
Please drop your comments, share the love, and know that it comes from a place of intentional and concerted growth. That’s it for now. I hope that drops some clarity on why spaces for marginalized groups are so important. And of course, if you have questions, let me know!