Business Column

Give women entrepreneurs a chance

/ The Daily Orange

The business field is often presented as a man’s world. But Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management is trying to change this misrepresentation with the Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship initiative.

Running through Oct. 29, WISE is hosting a conference in downtown Syracuse to support, empower and inform women who hope to make their mark in entrepreneurship. Initiatives like the WISE conference and Syracuse’s Minority Business Economic Empowerment Summit last month are critical in making women competitive in a field dominated by their more privileged counterparts. While business seminars can’t solve institutional discrimination overnight, they can, with support and solidarity, ensure that their applications are not buried in the pile.

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Colin Davy | Staff Photographer

Gwendolyn Webber-McLeod, who is the CEO of leadership and development company Gwen, Inc. and also a chair of WISE’s advisory board, said the best women entrepreneurs are those well-connected within their specific industry. This illustrates the importance of solidarity, and extending help and opportunities all to business people of all backgrounds.

“Every successful entrepreneur is successful because of the relationships she has. As women, we leverage collaboration,” said Webber-McLeod.

Speaking to her own goals of interconnectedness, Webber-McLeod said, “I seek out the best and brightest. I don’t care what their packaging is.”

Whether they head a tiny start-up or a large corporate firm, all employers and hiring officers should adopt Webber-McLeod’s attitude. Women, particularly women of color, don’t always have the financial resources or network to get ahead in this cutthroat field. And because of social positioning and employment discrimination, they often don’t get a second look.

With upcoming seminars on how to generate revenue, financial planning, building businesses and changing careers, WISE programing is an informative and engaging way to give women entrepreneurs a competitive edge when seeking jobs and connections. Even more importantly, the concept of giving women a chance should extend to mobility for employees within the companies themselves.

When women or other people with marginalized identities are hired, checking a box for “diversity” can unfortunately be a corporation’s sole concern.

Staggering statistics show that only 2.8 percent of top executives in the private sector are either Hispanic or black women, according to a 2016 study by the American Association of University Women.

Considering these women of color make up just 13.8 percent of private sector employees, this lack of representation is concerning. There’s no reason that any woman should not get the opportunity to rise up and actually sit in the executive chair when they have the qualifications.

While moves to increase the number of women at the table can be seen as advancing an agenda, companies should also see the value in being more open minded. Women and people of color should be seen as assets instead of liabilities. Expanding perspectives in a boardroom can only benefit a company and will give invaluable experiences to both parties: ones that will carry over far into the future.

As we examine the factors affecting prosperity for women entrepreneurs, it must never be forgotten that change is a team effort. Extending opportunities to women should be seen less as a diversity quota and more of a means to give agency to women. Throughout history, social change was not enacted without the work of the powerful majority advocating for the powerless minority.

One thing’s for sure: it is no longer a question of whether we can lead, but a question of how we will be given the opportunity to do so. And with some help and support, we will have our answer.

DeArbea Walker is a junior newspaper and online journalism and marketing dual major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at dbwalk01@syr.edu and followed on Twitter at @why_drb.

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