They've Got the Power: Women Entrepreneurs Are a Powerful Economic Force, Having Grown Nearly 8 Million Strong in Numbers

By Brown, Carolyn M. | Black Enterprise, August 1996 | Go to article overview

They've Got the Power: Women Entrepreneurs Are a Powerful Economic Force, Having Grown Nearly 8 Million Strong in Numbers


Brown, Carolyn M., Black Enterprise


Women entrepreneurs are a powerful economic force, having grown to nearly 8 million strong in number

SEVEN YEARS AGO, BARBARA LANDERS BOWLES said good-bye to corporate America. The former vice president of investor relations at Kraft Foods had been harboring the desire to run an investment firm for years. From her homework, Bowles knew that starting such a venture would be capital-intensive. So, when Kraft was acquired by Philip Morris, she used her employee stock and stock options--over $100,000--to launch the Kenwood Group Inc., a Chicago-based registered investment advisory firm that manages pension, endowment and public funds.

Today, the seven-employee firm invests $200 million under management on behalf of such institutional investors and public funds as US West Inc., Quaker Oats, the city of Atlanta and the Chicago Transit Authority. The Kenwood Group also recently launched a growth and income mutual fund (the initial investment is $2,000).

"As black women continue to grow their businesses and turn profits, the old boy network will stand up and take notice," says the Nashville native, who holds a degree in mathematics from Fisk University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. According to Bowles, to stay competitive, women entrepreneurs will have to continue to satisfy niches that the big boys can't fill, and enter male bastions with the greatest growth potential, such as telecommunications, technology and finance.

Bowles is carrying on a tradition established centuries ago. Black women have always managed businesses. Some did it in the shadows of their more visible fathers, brothers or husbands. Others stepped to the fore when their mates died. Still others started their own enterprises. As far back as the turn of the century, Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker (d/b/a Madame C.J. Walker) transformed herself from a laundress to the first American self-made woman millionaire by marketing her hair straightening products.

It was inevitable that black women would become a force in the business community. After all, their entrepreneurial heritage includes scores of successful soul food kitchens, hairdressing salons and day care services.

In the past decade, armed with corporate experience--and some with an M.B.A. or J.D. to boot--African American women have entered the business arena ready to do battle with their male counterparts and even with the corporate giants where they had once worked. These adventurers are carving out new territory in the marketplace, providing an array of products or services--from computer software to temporary staffing.

Black women have long been community leaders. Now they are moving from being the emotional backbone of the country to becoming a greater economic force. By starting their own companies, black women are reinvesting money back into the African American community by creating jobs, providing much needed services or products and serving as role models of business success.

"We already know that when women thrive, families thrive," says Marilyn French Hubbard, president of the Detroit-based National Association of Black Women Entrepreneurs Inc. (NABWE).

In a society where sexism and racism are prevalent, particularly in business, many black women believe that the only way they will be paid their true worth is by starting their own firms. "Independence, competitive demands and corporate downsizing influence many of us to start our own firms," says Hubbard.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

Today, there are close to 8 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., which generate nearly $2.3 trillion in revenues. By the year 2000, half of all businesses will be owned by women, according to the National Foundation of Women Business Owners (NFWBO) in Silver Spring, Maryland. And African American, Asian and Latino women will make up the largest and fastest growing segment of the workforce.

It comes as no surprise that in this era of downsizing and outsourcing, women entrepreneurs have outpaced the overall growth of businesses by nearly two to one, increasing by 78% between 1987 and 1996, according to NFWBO. …

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