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Stop Overlooking Us! Understanding and Funding Businesses Owned by Women of Color

Why Are WOC Businesses Underfunded?

Takia Ross of Accessmatized joins me today as we talk about WHY women of color-owned businesses are so underfunded. Based on her observations, a lot of it stems from unconscious bias on one side and a lack of trust on the other side. I’m very happy to be able to publish this episode now, when a lot more people are paying attention.

Listen to the podcast episode here:

Ruthie: Today, Takia and I are going to talk about understanding and funding businesses owned by women of color. I want to know why you think WOC businesses are underfunded. Is that we’re seen as incompetent? Is it that maybe we’re not reaching for it often enough? I’m sure it’s probably more than one reason. 


Venture Capitalists Are Looking for People Like Them

Takia: No, I think it just depends on who you’re talking about. So if you’re talking about venture capital, where you have big VC companies, most of the time they’re funding business owners who look like them. That’s okay. To be totally honest, most VCs are owned by Caucasian men, so they’re looking for business owners that look like them. 

Cultural Knowledge Gaps Can Get in the Way

Another thing that we come in contact with is funders who don’t understand us as a culture. They don’t understand women of color and different ethnicities. We may make certain decisions based on our instincts. We can’t verbalize exactly what led us to that conclusion. 

Not Many Bankers Invested in Our Communities

And another thing is that we don’t have banking relationships. We might have a bank that we put our money in, but we don’t have a banker who’s fully invested in making sure that our business is growing. It’s on both ends; banking institutions are not making a concerted effort to work closely with women of color in neighborhoods that have people of color. 

But I’m also like, “I don’t know if I should trust you.” A lot of times we don’t ask. We don’t demand answers. I’m a buyer, so I’m not going to sell myself short. I know that I have something. And so I think that’s another component of it. 

What Can Investors Do to Understand Us Better?

Ruthie: Well, that actually ties into my next question because I have a business friend, Dr. AJ, who works with companies on diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

So I’m wondering what you think these investors and organizations can do to better understand the cultures that they’re probably not purposely not including. But we’re not included nonetheless. What do you think they could do to better understand us?

Create Safe Spaces to Have Hard Conversations

Takia: Firstly, make us feel safe. You have to garner some safe spaces to have some hard conversations. You have to be willing, and I think that’s hard. I sit on a lot of different boards, and I am fortunate to sit at a lot of different tables. One of them is letting people know that this is a safe space to share, and also take action. 

You’re coming into communities that have been marginalized, gentrified, kept from growing. You’re not interested in a lot of these communities. They’re told you want something from them. So a lot of times, they feel unsafe. 

For Understanding, Hit the Streets

Even having a conversation with you about what they need and how they’re going to grow is hard. That’s because they have no faith that you’re going to listen and make meaningful changes. If you really want to do business, then you have to come out of your corporate offices and penthouse suits and be where I am. 

I’m in Baltimore. I know you have listeners all around the world. But when I say you’re going to have to come down to where I am, you’re going to have to come down to South Baltimore, where the neighborhoods don’t look so pretty. 

You’re going to have to come and talk to me on the street corner because we’re there and we’ve been anchoring these neighborhoods for years. We have been the anchor institutions. We have been lifting up our community.

It may not be your definition of employment, but we have been employing people. But that young man that I get to cut my grass and I give him $25 makes him $25 richer than he was before. 

So until you’re able to come down out of the penthouse and have the conversation with me in a street corner in Baltimore City, then I don’t trust you. You’re not safe to me. 

Ruthie: That was beautiful and powerful. There’s a huge gap in understanding. On one side of that gap, there’s the people with the money. So if they’re looking to make meaningful change, then it sounds like one of the big things they’re going to have to change is their perspective from the penthouse to the Baltimore City streets. 

When Helping Our Communities Doesn’t Include Us

Takia: Yeah, definitely. I’m very passionate about this because we see it a lot in inner cities.

We especially see it in Baltimore City, where our neighborhoods are being pillaged. There was no help coming for many years, and then all of a sudden help showed up. But help doesn’t include our businesses. 

Takia Ross, Founder of Accessmatized

Help doesn’t include making sure that we can come back when you build up the pretty new houses or the pretty new storefront. We can’t afford that. So you’re going to say, “Yes, we’re going to come in and we’re going to revitalize. It’s going to be so amazing.”

But then when we do come back, the rent on that space is $6,000. I can’t afford that, and you know it. That’s a barrier that’s put up. And it happens over and over again. It perpetuates the narrative that you don’t care about me and or my people. 

So why, in turn, do you expect me to care about you? Why are you expecting us to ask you for something? We’re tired of begging for things that we’ve already worked for.

So that’s exactly what you’re seeing. Not only did I earn it, but I deserve it. I’m really passionate about this because I see it happening in our communities way too often. Colored communities are struggling, especially now. 

How Can Organizations That Care Help Us?

Ruthie: Obviously you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. There are going to be companies who are like, “No, we’re doing fine!” And they’re going to continue paying their lip service. 

But for those organizations that do care, what can we do to help them understand and help them make those inroads in terms of building trust in those communities? 

Takia: Two things: tell the truth and hold them accountable. When you’re afforded an opportunity to have a seat at the table, don’t sugar coat it. Don’t tell them what you think you want them to hear. Don’t tell them what we have been trained to tell them. And please don’t highlight the 0.2% of us that have made it out. 

Ruthie: That’s the worst! “Well, you know X, Y, Z, about you and you did fine.” That is the worst. 

Be Intentional With Your Truth

Takia: Yeah, tell us the truth. We have to be strategic. We have to be very intentional. So I intentionally put my business back in the community that I lived in, because I knew it was very important for people that are still there to know that it is absolutely possible. I was very intentional about that. I could have gone anywhere else, but I prefer to be here. 

So we have to tell the whole truth, and then I am going to hold you accountable for it. You said you were going to do X, Y, and Z, and now I’m going to hold you accountable for doing X, Y, and Z. So if you don’t do it, I’m gonna call you out on it. If you do it, I’m gonna congratulate you. Thank you so much for doing what you said you were going to do. 

But we can’t keep letting people break their promises and say, “I knew they weren’t going to do it.” No. I’m going to hold you accountable. You said you were going to do that. 

Ruthie: We have to commit to having these uncomfortable discussions. It’s uncomfortable on both ends, but you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

Change Starts with Discomfort

Takia: That’s the only constant though. Just think about it; when you lay down and go to sleep at night, you move when you become uncomfortable. 

Ruthie: Right. 

Takia: So move! I’m gonna call you out the same way you’re gonna call me out. The same way you’re going to call me out if I get a parking ticket, if my business is not in good standing, if I get arrested, etc. The same way you call me out if I don’t do what I say I’m going to do, I get to call you out when you don’t do what you said you were going to do. 

Ruthie: That’s a fact. I think as business owners, when we get the most uncomfortable is typically when we make the most progress. So as an entrepreneur, you just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you get too comfortable, it’s probably a sign you’ve slowed down.

Takia: Listen, if you get comfortable, you need to start looking around and asking questions. You need to say, “Wait a minute, something ain’t right.” 

So you gotta move. As soon as you get that level of comfort, it’s time to do something else. 

Ruthie: That’s so true!