Women of color emerge as new face of small business

Maya Breuer started her business eight years ago because she says she wanted to make a living doing something personally meaningful.

She had worked as assistant director of Rhode Island’s equal employment opportunity commission and then as an EEOC officer for several corporations. At the same time she  also practiced and taught yoga. But after nearly a decade as a state and then corporate employee, Breuer realized she wanted to do more than just teach yoga on the side. She started Santosha Yoga in 2001 to certify people as yoga teachers.

“I had a vision that yoga was going to grow in terms of a business,” Breuer told Diverse. “I knew I didn’t just want to teach classes, this gave me an opportunity to use my skills as both a teacher and mentor. I was interested to take all I knew to another level. I think also I wanted to be able to reach more people of color and train them to teach yoga.”

Breuer represents a new and growing wave of business owners. Today 26 percent of all women business owners are women of color, up from 20 percent just a few years ago, according to a new study released last week by the Center for Women’s Business Research.  

Despite little institutional support, women of color entrepreneurs are still finding ways to run successful businesses. Firms owned by women of color are growing three times faster than all U.S. firms, the study found.

Minority women’s rapid business growth is part of a trend that started in the 1990s, says Gwen Martin, director of research at the Center for Women’s Business Research.

“There’s a couple of things going on. The demographic change in the country has had an impact,” according to Martin. “I think there are more opportunities available for women for starting their own businesses, which often provides them with things they can’t get in other environments. If you have your own business you have more control over how things are done and what it is that you do.”

Education also plays a role, experts say.

“If you look at educational statistics you see lots of women of color are at a critical point in education. There’s more educated women of color, they’ve been successful in a variety of areas so what you see now is a move into building their own businesses,” says Martin, who adds that some women of color start their own businesses when they reach a glass-ceiling in corporate environments.

Among women of color, Latinas own the most businesses, an estimated 747,108 firms, according to the study. However, companies started by Asian American women are outpacing all other firms in terms of growth in numbers, employment and revenue, the study shows. Businesses owned by Black women make up the second largest number of companies, but the study shows this demographic is also losing ground when compared to other women business owners of color.

“I think the Latina movement has been impressive and that’s been relatively quick,” Martin says. “On a down note what’s distressing among African American women is that they really are behind on the size of businesses compared to other women of color. They have smaller businesses, fewer employees and lower revenues.”

Dr. Laquita Blockson studies Black women entrepreneurs and doesn’t disagree. But she says regardless of race, the majority of small businesses have 15 or fewer employees and many are sole-proprietorships or partnerships.

“We have a number of African-American women we interviewed who have multimillion dollar firms. Some employ 100 people,” says Blockson, an assistant professor of business ethics and entrepreneurship at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

“They want to grow their firms but don’t want to compromise the reason they founded them – to be able to serve as a role model for their communities, maintain a work-life balance with their families, and pursue an avenue that allows them to express their passion,” Blockson adds.

It wasn’t always easy for Breuer, who says the first four years of her yoga business were tough, especially since yoga was much less popular than it is today.

“Just getting my name out and finding work was hard – like any new business you just have to get known,” recalls Breuer. 

Breuer eventually learned ways to better market her business, including making optimal use of word of mouth. “Marketing, workshops, putting up a website, and many other things allowed me to get my name out,” she says.

 “No one should try to start their own business unless they have a lot of energy and a lot of passion. That’s what keeps me going,” says Breuer. “I really enjoy teaching yoga and training others to teach it.”

Though there are increasing numbers of minority women starting their own businesses, institutional support is still lacking, Blockson says. “Very few if any systemic outreach or curricular programs exist that speak to women of color entrepreneurship and we’re trying to change that,” adds Blockson, who teaches women of color how to grow their businesses.

Some colleges and universities work in collaboration with small business centers, Blockson says. “But most of these centers provide more general resources and don’t speak specifically to women or minorities or minority women,” she continues. “The only distinctions you may see that speak to minority women is if the small business center is in a community that represents that population.”

Breuer says she wishes she had known about small business centers and other avenues for support when she began her business. “If I started over I would have availed myself of those places for support as well as retired executive groups and business bureaus that offer services too,” she says. “I would have used those earlier. I would say to anyone starting out – join professional organizations, get certified in what you’re doing and network like crazy.”

Firms owned by women of color are growing three times faster than all U.S. firms

GROUP

COMPANIES OWNED

EMPLOYEES

REVENUE

 

Latinas

747,108

430,000

$62 billion

 

African-American

734,664

281,055

$32 billion

Asian-American

627,837

898,240

$128 billion

                                                                  

                  

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series. To read the first installment on how minorities have higher rates of entrepreneurship than Whites, click here.

 

 

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