by Kristin Harper · 02 Sep 2020 · 3 min read
Thirty years on Wall Street has taught me a few things about being a woman in the business world that I'd like to share with the next generation of multicultural women who want to start and scale a business. In the early days of my career, I had my own personal missteps amidst numerous victories.
Women, LGBTQIA+, and people of color entrepreneurs, we've got news for you!
You have heard all of the statistics before. There are not enough women at the top, not as the CEO, not at the Board table, and not in the C-Suite. The glass ceiling sometimes seems like a concrete ceiling.
I've worked in Human Resources for nearly a decade, and throughout all my roles, I've passionately incorporated diversity initiatives to help make companies more inclusive. Recently, many businesses have made public pledges around diversity in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. Statements are one small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done.
Lately, brands have been bravely stepping up to take a stand against racial injustice and other societal ills affecting our world. Almost immediately after the murder of George Floyd, Nike came out with its "Don't Do It" ad. Walmart pledged $100 million for the creation of a center on racial equity. Ben & Jerry's rolled out a new flavor called "Justice Remixed." Pepsi / Quaker Foods has decided to drop its Aunt Jemima brand, whose identity is based on a racial stereotype, and Facebook has created "Lift Black Voices" to highlight stories from Black people and share educational resources.
My father's uncle invented the first fully mechanized sugarcane planter in Modeste, Louisiana, in 1964. He marketed the machine during the civil rights era, selling them for $6,000 and making a $1,000 profit. While he was eventually able to get a patent, he ended up losing about $11 million due to unauthorized copies of his machine. My father's family history is not in history books. It is pulled together from a line of oral history and newspaper clippings; stories that are untold, underappreciated, and buried deep beneath the whitewashed history learned from school books. And as a mixed-race woman, I feel deeply connected to these tragedies.
My mission as a founder has always been to add to the bottom line of people's businesses because at my company we know that's the only way for them to grow and scale as a business. I set out with a mission. I wanted to build something for the communities that are so often left out of mainstream "success" — immigrants, women, and other minorities.
When I started my business in 2014, I found myself wrestling with how to incorporate my philanthropic mindset with my business goals. In the traditional capitalist model, we're conditioned to produce something—whether it's a product, a service, or a platform—from concrete thoughts and actions. Once we've met quarterly and annual revenue goals, any extra time or money that we happen to have leftover can be donated to an organization for a gold star of participation. This typical model, which leaves philanthropy as an afterthought, has never been enough for me. In my personal life, I have always thought about treating people with kindness, respect, and empathy or about lending a hand when and where I can, so why are these values being overlooked in the business world? Or, even worse, why are they considered a weakness?
For the first time in my 25+ years of being a diversity and inclusion expert and consultant, companies are beginning to have conversations about equity in the workplace. Of course, most people understood fundamental equality. But it was difficult for leaders and HR managers to wrap their heads around diversity and inclusion in the early days.By the time I started my business in the '90s, schools and organizations had accepted and pushed forward the ideas pioneered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as he is widely accepted as a forefather of equality because of his legacy during the civil rights movement. I think it also helps that the American revolutionary forefathers had already put forth the notion that all men are created equal. However, they failed to demonstrate any real belief in their claims.