As The Network Journal began the vetting for its 13th annual list of “25 Influential Black Women in Business,” I received a here’s-how-I’m-doing email from former TNJ Assistant Editor Inés Bebea in Paris. Born in Spain and a resident of New York since she was a teenager, Inés just completed postgraduate journalism studies at the Sorbonne through the City University of New York and hopes to break into the field there. Her email set me thinking about Black women entrepreneurs in Europe and about the group from Britain that TNJ hosted for one day a few years ago.
History was made in July 2004 when Black business and professional women from Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, Canada and the United States descended on Paris for the first Global Congress of Black Women Leaders. The brainchild of the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners and participation by groups such as Zwarte Zaken Vrouwen Nederland, a business group for Black women in the Netherlands, the congress sought to “evaluate the direct and indirect, recognized and unrecognized, qualitative and quantitative value of Black women in the world’s business and political affairs and see how their contribution is essential to the achievement of an overall more sustainable environment.” One of the founders of the British-based federation is Guyanese-born Yvonne Thompson, Britain’s first Black woman to become a self-made millionaire in the media industry.
The British say that women in the United States are twice as likely to be entrepreneurially active as their own women. In 2009, only 15 percent of Britain’s businesses were majority-owned by women compared to nearly 30 percent in the United States. Black women in Britain outperform every other ethnic group in entrepreneurial activity. Just 3.6 percent of Britain’s white females are entrepreneurially active, compared to 10.2 percent of women of mixed ethnicity; 10.5 percent of Black women of Caribbean origin and 29.9 percent of women who identify themselves as “other Black,” which includes women from Africa. Moreover, the gender gap among Black businessowners in Britain is virtually nonexistent. Black women in Britain, says Women Entrepreneurs UK, a provider of funding, loans and other resources for women businessowners, “are making the most of what they have got and giving their entrepreneurial skills a big positive push.” Earnings tell the same story. In 2008, Women Entrepreneurs says, Black women’s earnings surged past those of white women to about £462 (about U.S.$731) a week, against £436 for white women. Just a year earlier, Black women were earning about 7 percent less than white women.
Women Entrepreneurs says starting a business in Britain is much more possible for Black women today than before. Credit goes, of course, to advocacy groups and women-friendly programs and services. Not to be discounted is the role of the Internet in creating work-at-home mothers, most of whom employ other women to look after their domestic needs while they grow online businesses such as “hobby” websites to sell and teach stuff, direct selling for commissions, skill-related services, conducting surveys for various companies and performing technical jobs such as medical transcription and financial accounting. Social networking allows these entrepreneurs to stay connected with and learn from one another. The anonymity of online enterprise may be particularly appealing to Black women, 80 percent of whom — well above other ethnic groups — say ethnicity strongly impacts business.
Across the Pond, too, the race monster
doesn’t sleep for business.