DEI collective helps companies uncover their barriers to diversity and helps them identify plans to attract and keep more diverse talent. There is no educational track that leads you to work in the diversity inclusion space, outside of maybe Human Resources. My path evolved naturally from having the lived experience, of being a black woman in traditionally male, white work environments. From 2012 to 2017, I moved from job to job. I was so unhappy at all of these places. I was in some instances treated like the help. I felt isolated and I did not get it. I kept asking myself ‘what is it that I am doing wrong?’
I remember going to a meetup at one of the companies I worked for. There were about 250 people from the staff and there were only two women of colour, including myself. The loneliness and isolation in the workplace was only magnified by the police brutality in America. I remember coming to work one day, after a verdict came out and it was all I was thinking about. My coworkers just went about their day and no one talked about it. That was a turning point for me. I took a leap of faith and used everything that I'd learned from an operations standpoint running an agency to setting up my own company. Fundraising as a black woman is brutal especially since we often do not have the built in networks that so many of our male and/or white peers have. People don’t get that.
In entrepreneurship, everybody always talks about the highs. No one talks about the lows and I've always wanted to be very real on my entrepreneurial journey. There are hard times. I am going through that right now and I sometimes have to take babysitting jobs. But overall, I feel grateful to get to do the work that I'm doing. I am grateful to get to live in a city like New York with all of its flaws. I feel really proud. I do things to help others and I prioritize taking care of myself. And so in all of that, I feel happy and that's for me a big achievement because it was definitely not always that way. My three words: optimistic, people centric and inspired.
Flytechnista is an online portal, which helps to connect women and girls to curated education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities in tech. I started coding 20 years ago. I taught myself how to code because I wanted to put my art online. For the past 15 years I have been in technical positions and as I continued to progress into senior positions I just didn’t see women and people of colour. I also got tired of being asked to carry out some kind of diversity initiative for the companies I worked for. I was not there to be a diversity whisperer. I wanted to do something I was passionate about and mentorship is one of those things. That’s essentially how the idea came about for my company.
New York is such a diverse place in general. But I would say that I've noticed as I've continued to climb in my entrepreneurial journey on this side that the circles have changed dramatically. I'm invited to numerous things and I look around and I don't see other women of colour. So whenever I'm invited back, I bring others with me. I think it creates more spaces for us. I also have not seen any woman of colour who have raised USD 1 million successfully on the panels I am invited to. I've completed four major accelerator programmes and placed top in pitching competitions but still did not get funding. So that tends to be the narrative for women. Years ago I read this article that said most women's dreams die in the parking lot of a bank because they can't get funding. Even non-traditional banks.
In five generations on both sides of my family, no one has ever been to college before me. After me, different family members were able to go to college and I think it is because they saw someone they knew do it. I am really proud of that. I am also extremely proud to have been invited to the White House 3 times in one year and I have recently completed a fellowship for a cross-cultural entrepreneurship and leadership at Windsor Castle in the UK. I never thought that someone from where I came from would be invited to the White House or Windsor Castle. That’s amazing. Everything I have today comes from networks and so my advice to others is to build your network but also make sure you build it with people who don't look like you and support the people who do look like you. My three words: creative, free, joyful.
Lisa Owusu-Charlton & Lola
My brand Charlton and Lola is fine jewellery crafted in New York City's Diamond District and embodies the celebration of life's precious moments. I used to work as a lawyer but I was dissatisfied. I did not feel it was my calling. I gave my notice in 2010, left and went back to my parents’ hometown in Ghana. I got some beads and wanted to learn how to make them but I felt it was not for me. Nevertheless, I somehow felt drawn to the art of handcrafting jewellery and decided to take classes. I made one ring and that was the beginning. For the next five years I took classes and kept working as a contracted lawyer. In 2015 I was told of a studio in the Diamond district that was available for rent and this is where I find myself today.
I am the only black woman in production in the diamond district area and that’s really an accomplishment. I respect New York and the diamond district for the fact that if people see that you can give them money or create wealth for them, they couldn't care less what you look like. So that works great for me. I get respected around here. I would not say I have not had business opportunities because I am a black woman and I am grateful for that.
I realised that one of the things that caused me constant fear was this idea of perfection. What do I mean? Well I had a very linear path where you went to school, you studied everything. I got the A's, I got the honours and I got the job. But I am in a space now where it's not about those merits and values that determine your success. My success now is due to the return to my faith in my Lord Jesus Christ. My faith in God has removed the burden of perfection off me, which allows me to make better decisions. No one is a successful business person in my industry without leaning on their faith which is completely counter to the modern perspective I received from being intellectual. My three words: faithful, determined and dreamer.
Tani Chamber-Tani Chambers LLC
I have been an entrepreneur for over 20 years. I started in marketing and advertising in New York City. After 9/11, the company I worked for lost most of its clients and it was really hard. I decided to leave my job to pursue entrepreneurship in event planning and experiential marketing. I left my job without a plan, any mentorship, any support. I did not know better. It was hard. I eventually started a venture that was very successful. Women were coming to me to seek advice. I built that business from multiple six figures. I was happy, but I also understood that I was there 12 hours a day. It's not something I wanted to do. I wanted to travel and be flexible. I left that alone and I started consulting and coaching women full time.
I believe black women are truly unicorns. If you back them, give them some capital and give them some support, they will build multimillion-dollar businesses because we know how to do a lot with a little. We are used to it. I think one of the traits of being a black woman and entrepreneur in New York is survival. With gentrification comes great things like co-working spaces and more resources and more groups you can tap into. But then it comes with rent increases. I have to take care of my family but I also need to join this co-working space that is $650 a month that allows me to tap into a community that I don’t have because I couldn't go to an ivy league school such as Harvard. I believe that life, business and spirit are all connected. If your spiritual house is out of order, your life will be out of order, if your life is out of order, so will your business.
A child should never have to go out of their home for a role model. The role model should be in your home. And so everything I do is for my daughter, my immediate community. Even though she is 23 now, she is an adult, she is watching, she is always watching and I have proof of that. She has started her own business and I am extremely proud of her. What keeps me going is my mission to help other black women be that role model at home. My three words: brilliant, (unfortunately) honest and determined.
I am the CEO of DFlash, a high impact experience communications agency and I am also the host of the Reset podcast. I always wanted to be a lawyer but failed the LSATs twice and resulted in my law school applications not going through. I worked in an office for three years, got my MBA and then worked my way in advertising. However as many black women may have experienced, I hit not the glass but the “concrete ceiling” a couple of different times. After a few cycles of this, I decided to try something else and ended in event organising.
I have made many mistakes along the way and have been castigated for my mistakes. In entrepreneurship, people treat you differently because you're a black woman. There is an expectation of you being perfect and if you do make a mistake, they are 10 times harder on you then with somebody else who's done way worse than what you did. I can’t even complain about it, if not I am automatically construed as the angry black woman.
I think in addition to more black activists, we need more black capitalists and that's where I am going. I want as much money as humanly possible, build an empire and help many people as I can along the way especially women of colour. I try very hard whenever we produce our events to make sure that I go out to my network of black women first. I am a firm believer in karma, I always have a smile on my face and I like to think of my entrepreneurship as a beautiful struggle. My three words: resilient, funny and chill.