On the value and power of engaging with women of colour in business

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Nova Scotia is becoming increasingly diverse and it is critical that we recognize all aspects of our society and value what each segment has to offer in support of our economic growth and development.

 

One group within the business community that is consistently overlooked are Women of Colour. Few references are made to our contribution to the province as business owners. This article is in reference to those women who self-identify as Women of Colour and are non-white.

 

Cynthia Dorrington is the first woman of African descent to be appointed as Chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, a 200-year-old institution. Male dominated, the oldest business association in North America. 

 

In Canada, there are 950,000 self-employed women business owners and 16 per cent are micro-enterprises of 1 - 4 people. There are no readily available statistics for women of colour  entrepreneurs or small business owners (Centre for Women's Foundation). 

 

However, Women of Colour are making a significant contribution to our ever-growing economy in various sectors and industries but are often not recognized because they are not members of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce or the Centre for Women in Business. The primary reason is that many would say those organizations were not welcoming or inclusive. It has to be noted that there have been recent changes which bodes well for the future.

 

In 2012, I founded the Black and Immigrant Women's Network at the behest of other women, and I have been privileged to engage with many who are business owners or have a small business in addition to their professional career. 

 

The little-known fact is that Women of Colour have always been industrious, owning their small home-based businesses, selling their products in their community and earning an income for themselves, to supplement their income or to gain independence and to raise their families. 

Women of Colour have always used their skills, talents, intellect, creativity and innovativeness for the advancement of themselves, their families and communities. 

 

However, Women of Colour often face insurmountable barriers and are not adequately represented in business for a variety of reasons. Consciously or unconsciously, systemic discrimination has been the major reason why they have been held back.

 

Today, in Nova Scotia, the landscape is changing because more Women of Colour are choosing to take risks by engaging in various business sectors (construction, technology, export and import, publications, accounting, education, catering, pharmacy, online products, quantity surveying, hair salons, dry cleaning, management consultancy, automotive industry, catering, medical and legal professions, are just a few to mention), and owning shopfront businesses. Some of these businesses have been in existence for over 30 years.

 

Some of the challenges include finding appropriate funding sources to start their business, trusting mentors, building the right networks and contacts, knowing where to go to get information and advice, understanding procurement, access to contracts, finding the market, research, how to bid for contracts etc. Understanding the competition and how to use one's competitive advantage to find your own unique selling proposition.

 

The good news is that we are a growing network, who are not only providing for ourselves and our families but have international business connections and are employing men and women in other countries. Those who have online businesses are selling their products to a global market We are finding new market places, ways to collaborate, build allies, and aligning ourselves with people who are like-minded.

 

We need to surround ourselves with women from all industries, all colours, and together lift our collective horizons for our mutual benefit. 

 

Authored by Ann Divine, CEO Ashanti Leadership & PDS