Black women say goodbye to work and hello to their own businesses | Business

KKnown as “The Cookie Lady” around Washington DC, Lacey Fisher is famous for her British and German inspired liquor confections. Fisher started Cookie Lane during the 2008 economic crisis, after being laid off from four different jobs as a mortgage checker.

“I used up my six months of savings and the rent was due,” says Fisher.

Eventually, Fisher returned to her full-time job, but continued to work on her fledgling cookie empire “part-time,” baking her popular Southern Gentleman Pecans and Alcoholic Chocolate, New York Oatmeal, and Big Daddy Chocolate Chip. . She decided to focus solely on Cookie Lane after a work commute turned into a five-hour nightmare while her three-month-old baby was home. And in November 2020, the cookie lady quit her day job.

Fisher is just one of many black women who have left the workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic. In May 2020, the Working Mother Research Institute reported that 52% of black women plan to leave their businesses in two years.

A major issue is compensation. A 2021 survey found that, on average, black women are paid 37% less than white men and 50% of black women and Latinas struggle to afford basic expenses on less than $300 savings, and that’s with a job. In the same survey, women of color described the pandemic as devastating to their finances. Compared to white men, black women are almost twice as likely to say they were laid off, furloughed, or had their hours or pay cut because of the pandemic. Nicki Tucker, director of social media and editor of the State of Black Women in Corporate America report at, says financial barriers combined with hostile work environments are the catalyst that pushes black women to leave corporate America and start their own business.

“Our research shows that black women are more likely to face many micro-aggressions, especially disrespectful and other comments about their identity or appearance and less likely to be promoted to this critical first stage of employment status. entry to the manager, which is what we call the broken rung,” says Tucker. “Five to 10 years ago black women wanted a seat at the table and now black women are building that table.”

I’m going To do this myself

Black women have a long history of entrepreneurship, Tucker says. Tucker, who comes from a family of black women who own businesses, says Covid-19 is forcing the world to view black women as entrepreneurial. Women of color make up just 39% of women in the United States, but make up 89% of new women-owned businesses. Within this demographic, Black women lead with 42% of new women-owned businesses, followed by Latina women at 31%.

If courage is the number one indicator of success, then black women are the perfect prototype. Like Fisher, most black women fund their businesses with personal savings and side jobs. These intrepid business owners learn skills along the way and incorporate innovative solutions to their unique challenges. For example, Fisher has supported his business by leveraging social media and tapping into his real estate network by offering freebies to their clients. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it took hold in local Virginia farmers’ markets and expanded into higher-income cities.

“We offered free delivery within 20 miles if they ordered $15 worth of cookies. We’ve also created virtual kitchen spaces by partnering with restaurants so customers can collect their cookies,” says Fisher. “I didn’t feel comfortable raising our prices 30% to accommodate Uber Eats or Grubhub, so I hired 1,099 workers [independent contractors] for delivery services, marked cookies and paid workers out of pocket.

Cookie Lane survived the 2008 economic crisis and the pandemic while generating profits. However, Fisher’s biggest hurdles have been accessing finance and scaling her business to meet growing demand.

Organizations like Walker’s Legacy Foundation in Washington DC are one of many nonprofits springing up to provide a support system for women like Fisher. About 90% of Walker’s Legacy Foundation stakeholders are black women who participate in various business accelerators that provide additional skills and support to women entrepreneurs of color, says Ayris Scales, executive director of Walker’s Legacy.

“Very often, black women are entrepreneurs out of necessity. Interestingly, black women really step up at this point, especially in this time of economic uncertainty, because we’ve always had to navigate economic uncertainty,” Scales says.

Black women were the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs before Covid, but Scales says the pandemic has seen side hustles become the main source of income. These businesses typically have a low barrier to entry and high growth potential, such as health and beauty, public relations and communications, home health aides, child care, culinary arts, and IT .

Walker’s Legacy recently completed its Covid-19 impact study and found that nearly 80% of women surveyed are also caregivers. The majority of respondents are also the sole providers in their households and take care of nieces, nephews and parents. Having the role of primary caregiver while working in a toxic or thwarted job environment has forced many black women to reassess the meaning of job security.

“We now have women saying if I can do this for Tom, Dick and Harry, then I can take a chance and do it myself,” Scale says. “So we’re seeing more women saying I want to choose a different path and a different lifestyle that’s more authentic to where I feel like I should be.”

Provide a Support system

It’s an exciting time, says Scales, who is passionate about making sure black women business owners are “capital ready.” Black women have the skills, but many don’t go through the process of developing a business plan or understand the multiple sources of income.

“We’re saying you already have the skills, you’re already running the business, and we want to help you put some formality into it,” Scales says. “So when it’s time to scale, navigate the next pandemic, or when you’re ready to have the conversation with a financial institution, you understand what you need to access capital.”

Black women business owners have struggled with the false perception that they are unbankable and high risk. Many say investors have a set of criteria that are not culturally sensitive to black women entrepreneurs.

Scales says black women are no more at risk than a white counterpart who gets funding with just an idea. “We come in after running a business for five years and show them that we’ve stayed afloat with little to no support and are making money…so how can we be high risk?”

When evaluating black-led businesses, traditional financial institutions compare them to someone with 10 times the budget or a much bigger team, says Roshawnna Novellus, founder of fintech company EnrichHER based in Atlanta. Novellus, who holds a PhD in systems engineering with a minor in finance, pivoted from her career in the financial industry to launch EnrichHER, a platform that connects income-generating businesses run by women and people of color with diverse funding sources. The company lends up to $250,000 to small businesses and serves an 80% black population. Novellus says it’s critical to establish guidelines that are culturally aligned with black women.

“We have algorithms based on reducing the bias inherent in financial institutions. We build algorithms that rely on the skill set, excellence and courage that we exemplify and that are strongly correlated to the success of our business,” says Novellus.

EnrichHER also offers educational programs for entrepreneurs to support black women as they “try something new.” Novellus says that for many black women, owning a business is attractive and while small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, black women are poised to become major contributors to economic growth. For women like Fisher, owning a business is about having the courage to thrive, not just about surviving.

“I’m a hustler,” says Fisher. “I’m going to hustle just as hard for myself as anyone else. The problem is that I was building someone else’s dream rather than building my own dream. What matters is grabbing the dream you have and setting that dream on fire.

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