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  Cheryl Mayberry McKissack '89
Cheryl Mayberry McKissack ’89
PRACTICE: Funding and hiring for women and minorities: the challenges of access and inclusion 

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 positions.4

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?

1. Align your business objectives with the right funding or expertise in your field.
2. Approach individuals with personal knowledge of your skills to assist with introductions to right funding sources or mentors for hiring/career development.
3. Leverage professional organizations such as WBDC to prepare to present or interview for funding or hiring opportunities.

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.

1 The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1989

2 “Women Still Being Shut Out In Venture Funding” Finance & Commerce, April 10, 2004


4 U.S. Department of Labor

In addition to her role at Nia Enterprises, a research and marketing services firm, Cheryl Mayberry McKissack is co-editor of The Nia Guide for Black Women: Achieving Career Success On Your Terms.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University