A collage of stacks of money and three Black women's arms raising their fists

Women & Money

These Women of Color Are Reinventing Work

Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native women are the fastest growing segment of the American workforce—and they are changing a system that has continually failed them.

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This is the third installment of DAME’s ongoing series, “Women & Money.” Read the full series here.

Women of color have always been essential to the current economy and are now leading it in a whole new direction. With systematic barriers impacting the way that women of color earn for survival, they are now taking matters into their own hands to make the economy work in their favor. From teaching each other financial literacy skills to career development practice, these women have led the charge in creating the spaces necessary to make sure that women of color get a boost in economic justice.

A study by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that Black women continue to be the most college-educated group, with many of them attaining specific degrees in business. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that Latinx and Asian women will be the larger part of the workforce by 2026. Yet, women of color are still underpaid with Native and Latinx women making the least compared to white men. According to the Center for American Progress, Black and Latinx women make up most of the women of color in low-wage jobs.

When it comes to executive and high-level leadership positions, women of color lag behind with the least amount of occupation. According to the Center for American Progress, there are only two women of color who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Women of color only occupy 4.7 percent of executive or senior level positions in S&P 500 companies. It’s no wonder that they are using their creative power to create new doors for themselves and other women of color coming in behind them.

These specific women are creating pathways in their own fields to change this. In the United States, 5.4 million businesses have been started and are owned by women of color. Those businesses employ 3.1 million people and generate $361 billion every year. Many of the obstacles that these women face is access to funds and resources. A large majority of women-owned businesses are focused in the service industry. Yet, a lot of the capital goes to science and tech ventures. This does not include the racial and gender discrimination that comes with starting a business in a white, cisgendered, male-dominated economy. Filling the gaps that were placed for them to fail, these women have started incubators and organizations to help women of color to financially succeed. They know that by getting more women of color into positions of economic power, they are changing the economy for the better—for everyone.

Gloria L. Blackwell
Senior VP of Fellowships and Programs, American Association of University Women

Blackwell is dedicated to ending the gender and racial pay gap for women of color, one paycheck at a time. According to a 2017 study conducted by the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, Black women make just 60 percent of white men’s salaries while Latinx women make 53 percent. These percentages have dropped from the previous year. (In 2016, Black women made 62 percent of white men’s salaries while Latinx women made 54 percent.) Blackwell hosts workshops that teach women of color how to negotiate for more money in their salary from strategies on raising the conversation to preparation tactics. By coaching women of color to speak up about the money they deserve to get paid, Blackwell is getting women to place a high amount of the value of their work. For example, Blackwell’s salary negotiation workshops teach women how to deflect questions about salary history and expectations, a tactic used by employers to offer less money to female prospects. Salary negotiation workshops like these also teach women how to gather research for a set minimum salary by asking their peers and talking to co-workers. From the research AAUW has conducted, they found that women are now engaging in more salary transparency with 27 percent of women 50 years and older and 35 percent of millienial women sharing their salaries with co-workers. The goal for Blackwell is to train millions of women of color and end the gender and racial wage gap by 2030.

Kathryn Finney

Founder and CEO, digitalundivided

After the success of building her blog turned media company The Budget Fashionista, Finney went to a tech incubator in New York City to pitch a new business that needed funding. Immediately, she saw that she was one of three women in attendance and the only woman of color in the room. Devastated by the lack of diversity at the table, Finney pitched to a room filled with white male investors for the funding of a beauty product subscription box company for Black women since Black women spend the most money on beauty products. However, the investors turned down her idea because they didn’t see interest in something catering to Black women.

Finney decided to sell The Budget Fashionista and use the money to help other women of color get in the room by taking ownership of their economic future. She founded digitalundivided to help Black and Latinx tech founders prosper in their startup businesses. The company started conducting research through its #ProjectDiane (named after civil rights leader Diane Nash) in 2016 to find out where Black-led startups were lacking in the success of their businesses. Finney and the team surveyed more than 8,000 startups in the United States and saw that Black-led startups didn’t receive as much venture funding as other startups. After the company’s research found that only 11 Black women had each raised more than $1 million for their startups, Finney created an incubator to teach women of color how to launch, fund, and build their businesses so that they can have economic ownership in the startup economy. Using evidence-based research from #ProjectDiane, digitalundivided was able to base their incubator model on three key areas of startup success: customer development, product development, and company development. Since then, digitalundivided has helped more than 2,000 women grow their startups and raised over $25 million in investments for their businesses.

Kalika Davis, Kim Gleason, Jaime Gloshay, Alicia Ortega, Stephine Poston, Vanessa Roanhorse, Jaclyn Roessel 
Co-Founders, Native Women Lead

The first time these entrepreneurs met was at a panel discussion for fellow Native businesswomen. To their surprise, no one showed up. The lack of attendance at the panel inspired these women to create a space where Native business leaders could build connection with each other and help each other get to the top. To get more Native women to own businesses, they believe that tapping into their network of Native businesswomen is the best way to increase business ownership. They pulled their own money together and launched their first Native Women’s Business Summit in 2018 which sold out to over 200 women and became the largest event for Native women entrepreneurs ever.  The Native Women’s Business Summit, which provides full-service childcare for attendees, trains Native women on creating business plans, gaining funding, and best practices on pitching investors. Native Women Lead has also partnered with Harvard University’s Native American program to build a mentorship program after attendees of their business summit expressed the need for business mentors. The organization helps Native businesswomen reshape their generational wealth in an economy  that doesn’t often see them or let them in. Two-thirds of Native women in the United States are the primary breadwinners in their families. With Native women furthering their entrepreneurial skills and connecting with other Native businesswomen, Native Women Lead is teaching Native women to establish an ecosystem that prioritizes family centered wealth in a new way.

Owner-Workers of Si Se Puede Cleaning Co-op

According to a 2012 study by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, 95 percent of domestic workers are women; 54 percent of them are women of color; 46 percent of them are also immigrants. This worker cooperative business has become a symbol of the progressive economy with its worker ownership and popularity ever since its founding 14 members started the cleaning service. The company consists of migrant women of color who live in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and provide cleaning services all over New York City. Because of its cooperative business model, all of the women are paid a fair living wage and own a piece of the business. Since its founding in 2006, the business now has more than 100 members and is the third largest cooperative business in the country. A member can make up to $115 to $340 depending on the size of the unit cleaned, keep 100 percent of the amount paid, and only pay 10 to 15 percent of their earnings as co-op dues for operation and marketing costs. The worker-owners make more than $20 an hour, beating the average amount of $12.30 per hour paid to other cleaners. The success of Si Se Puede has sparked a change in more women investing in co-ops and owning their economic power. Si Se Puede’s successful contribution to the new economy influenced the New York City Council to double its allocation of funds for economic growth in 2016 and now awards up to $2.9 million to back worker cooperatives and co-op incubators.

Zahara Green and Erin Angelle Ketti
Co-Founders, TRANScending Barriers Atlanta

Trans folks have been pushed out of jobs and experience extreme barriers to employment. According to Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, trans people experience unemployment three times higher than the national average. Of those with jobs, 15 percent of trans folks make less than $10,000 per year. The barriers become tougher for formerly incarcerated trans folks. Green and Ketti created the nonprofit, TRANScending Barriers, that provides support and community for trans folks. Their re-entry transitional assistance program is now helping 16 currently and formerly incarcerated trans folks secure employment to earn money while readjusting to society. Their services include helping with legal name changes on IDs, job interview training, and offering temporary housing. Given that 21 percent of trans women have been incarcerated in their lifetime, Green and Ketti are restoring their right to a job while changing the workplace to include more trans people.

The new economy is changing to meet the demands of women of color who want to participate and own their stake in the system. Where there wasn’t a space before, these women created the businesses and organizations needed to make room. From cooperative structures to salary bumps, these women have crafted a new economy that includes women in the process and pushes for their economic ownership. There is still a lot that needs to be done on a systematic level to make sure that women of color and other marginalized identities are getting the access to jobs, income, and wealth that they deserve. But as more women such as these build ecosystems to pull other women up with them, and give them the tools to succeed, a different future is in sight.

This is the second in our ongoing series, “Women & Money.” If you missed it, check out the first piece, which explored the critical question, “Can women ever build their own wealth?”

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