by Cheryl Mayberry McKissack ’89,
President and CEO of Nia Enterprises LLC
The roles that minorities and women play in
American society have grown rapidly and are guaranteed to
become even more important. By 2050 minorities will comprise
50 percent of the U.S. population.¹
As a founder of two entrepreneurial ventures and someone with
an extensive corporate career, I have experienced the continuing
challenges facing minorities with regard to venture funding
and career advancement. Minorities often find themselves outside
the financing networks, just as they are frequently left out
of the networks that provide the best advancement opportunities.
In funding a new venture, many women or minority
entrepreneurs find personal funds to be limited because they
are first-generation entrepreneurs and capital accumulators.
They are forced to turn to outside funding to sustain and
grow their businesses. In venture funding and bank financing,
networking can play an important role in getting the first
meeting that can ultimately lead to financing.
A recent study by the Diana Project (Kauffman
Foundation) indicates that in 2002 only 4 percent to 9 percent
of venture funds were invested in women-owned businesses.²
However, several organizations attempt to provide a bridge
between woman or minority business owners and financing. In
2000, Springboard Enterprises launched a venture forum to
provide funding for women entrepreneurs. To date, the organization
has held 13 forums with presentations by 300 companies. These
firms have gone on to raise an additional $1 billion³
Springboard has teamed up with local organizations, such as
the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) in Chicago.
I presented at this venture forum, held at
the Kellogg School in 2001, when my company was selected as
one of 25 finalists out of more than 250 companies who applied.
This event introduced me to individuals with access to funding.
The competitive environment also provided me with an opportunity
to refine my business strategy to compete more effectively
for available funding.
Other organizations providing funding access
include The Northern Trust Vision Keepers forum for women
and Northern Trust’s Dream Makers forum. While these
organizations are taking steps to change the funding climate
for women and minorities, there is still much to be done to
bridge the gap.
A similar disconnect exists for minorities
and women in hiring and career development. A recent U.S.
Department of Labor report indicates that while minorities
make up 15.5 percent of the work force, they occupy only 6
percent of management positions. Women make up 37.9 percent
of the total work force, yet hold just 16.9 percent of management
Thus, it is crucial for women and minorities
to broaden their social networks. For example, in my last
two executive assignments and on one of the two corporate
boards on which I sit, references from white male professionals
were key to my placement.
What else can minorities and women do to
increase their funding or hiring chances?
Diversity can open up a larger talent pool
to prospective employees and provide a variety of perspectives
critical to the life of many businesses. We must continue
to nurture a level playing field so that our society benefits
from more diverse hiring and funding.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1989
2 “Women Still Being Shut Out
In Venture Funding” Finance & Commerce, April
U.S. Department of Labor