Ann Divine CEO, Ashanti Leadership & PDS
Nova Scotia is becoming increasingly diverse, and that is something to celebrate. Our community is beginning to recognize the underrepresented groups and understand the value each segment has to offer in support of our province’s economic growth and development.
With all the great work being done to advance our minority groups, there is still room for improvement. Women of colour in Halifax have been contributing significantly to our economy for years, but they are rarely in the spotlight. Like other entrepreneurs, they find their niche, they hone their craft and they work hard. It’s time to take the diversity and inclusion conversation and turn it into more opportunities for women of colour in business.
Cynthia Dorrington, a successful international businesswoman and a champion of her community, is the first woman of African descent to be appointed as Chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, a 200-year-old institution. Cynthia is only the fourth woman to hold the position of Chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and comes to the chamber after a distinguished career that includes Chairing the Black Business Initiative for a number of years and most recently being appointed a Nova Scotia Human Rights Commissioner.
“During my time in the Nova Scotia business environment, I have seen increasingly diverse entrepreneurial talent in our region thanks to more opportunities for underrepresented groups,” says Cynthia Dorrington, Chair of the Halifax Chamber Board and President of Vale and Associates Human Resource Management. “But we still have work to do.”
In Canada, there are 950,000 self-employed women business owners and 16 per cent are micro-enterprises of 1 — 4 people. It is difficult to find statistics on women of colour entrepreneurs or small business owners (Centre for Women’s Foundation). Despite a lack of reporting, we know women of colour are making a significant contribution to our ever-growing economy in various sectors and industries.
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 facts are 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. A great example of this most recently given nationwide acclaim is Viola Desmond on our Canadian $10 bill.
However, we 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 obstruction.
Today in Nova Scotia, the landscape is changing as we take entrepreneurial risks by engaging in various business sectors previously unoccupied by women of colour (including: technology, export and import, publications, accounting, education, catering, pharmacy, online products, quantity surveying, hair salons, dry cleaning, management consultancy, automotive industry, fashion, medical and legal professions, and many others).
Some of the challenges they’re facing ring true for all entrepreneurs, including finding appropriate funding sources to start their business, building mentoring relationships, approaching the right networks and contacts, understanding procurement, access to contracts, research, and how to bid for contracts.
As entrepreneurs, we have to understand the competition and how to use one’s competitive advantage to find your own unique selling proposition. There’s an added barrier for these women, however, due in part to biases, a limited network and less perceived opportunities.
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 marketplaces and ways to collaborate, building allies, and aligning ourselves with like-minded people.
We need to surround ourselves with women from all industries, all colours, and together lift our collective horizons for our mutual benefit.
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