Why I am advocating for Black women in business

Female African American banker dressed in elegant black suit folding hands and looking on side standing against office building, dress code

Article by Shari Leigh, Founder at Black Business Network

The past two years brought about dramatic change for us all – the pandemic, economic downturn and murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor saw the Black community thrust into the spotlight.

Although emotions were running high, it brought about an opportunity for collaboration to address the longstanding grievances of Black entrepreneurs, provide much needed understanding and guidance to strongly intentioned allies; and to work together to finally produce tangible actions & resources.

As the founder of Black Business Network, I am committed to supporting and uplifting our community by creating safe spaces to grow, learn and share their real unapologetic thoughts. I found that there was much more work to be done to uplift Black entrepreneurs but no real resources, evidence or money to investigate and resolve this. I started Black Business Network (BBN) with a deep passion to see change in the community. With 10 years plus experience in the field, I still knew that as a woman in business this wouldn’t be easy, and that openly advocating for only the Black business community would be even harder.

I have long felt the impact of not only being Black in business; but being Black and a Woman; and wondered if my experience was felt in silo. Having experienced being overlooked and spoken down to when approaching my business bank for advice and guidance; incorrectly addressed as a “girl”; and being turned away and made to feel stupid for not immediately understanding the guidelines around funding. Our “Black. British. In Business and Proud” research report reveals that less than half (43%) of the 800+ Black business owners that took part trust banks to have their best interests in mind; and even less (27%) trust the National Government.

Additionally, Black British women were 16% more likely than Black British male entrepreneurs to want support with financial skills and cash flow management. There was consensus amongst women that a barrier was a lack of confidence in knowing how to access financing, particularly amongst younger women – meaning many female business owners are more likely than men to turn to their community for business support (45% of women vs only 26% of men). These statistics reflect my experiences that led to my decision to personally fund and bootstrap my finances to grow and get my business off the ground.

Through the work we do at BBN with entrepreneurs and founders in our community, this will not come as the most surprising news. Like many others, the history of these banks, and stories of outright disrespect received by family members during their own encounters left me feeling insecure about what my interaction with financial institutions would be when starting my business. Only for the insecurities to be reflected back to me in my actual experience while on my journey.

But as a community member it’s important to remember, that although this may be nothing new to Black entrepreneurs, research, accountability, and action is integral to taking these conversations out of our homes and placed in front of those that are responsible for removing those barriers on our journey to growth and success as a community. Black. British. In Business & Proud is the first step in unifying our efforts to remove these challenges and scepticism between future and current Black entrepreneurs, financial institutions, and the national government. The report, commissioned by a financial institution, Lloyds Bank, is a significant step in working together and supporting Black business owners, by tackling the challenges around poor trust levels, understanding, visibility and funding, change can happen.

Throughout my journey, the main thing I have learned is to stay committed to your authentic vision and dedicated in your pursuit of that as this will set you apart; but be flexible enough to learn and adapt. My willingness to build open relationships with other entrepreneurs like myself helped to instill the confidence needed to push forward in a world that often painted me as everything but a business leader. As a Black entrepreneur, the idea of trust in financial institutions and wider society may still be difficult but look to your community for support networks like ours, and mentors that look like you; they will help you to develop the unshakeable belief in self needed to survive. Then use that belief to stay open, aware and authentic for opportunities with the right allies to shape your growth.

Shari LeighAbout the author

Shari is the founder of Black Business Network. Black Business Network, launched in September 2018, is a corporate event and media company, designed to strengthen business connections and knowledge in the black community. Interacting with professionals, entrepreneurs and graduates through community events, workshops, seminars and conferences. Black Business Network was created to address the disparity in the availability of tools, knowledge and strategic development required to progress Black SME’s in the UK. 

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