As a nation that prides itself on the acceptance of individuality and the contributions made by its diverse population, the observance of March as Womens History Month gives us a special occasion to honor the trailblazing contributions that women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made to the growth and strength of this country. At The Network Journal, we once again observe our tradition of honoring 25 black women entrepreneurs and professionals whose responsibilities and achievements have placed them in that special category we call "influential."
The women we celebrate this year represent the gamut of professions and industry sectors from education, community development, major league sports, and retail, to financial services, transportation, engineering, and manufacturing. Their influence extends not only to their businesses and workplaces but also to their families and the communities in which they live. Chosen for their success, their commitment to excellence, and their contributions to the black community, they are women with an extra dose of creativity, imagination, drive, and gumption.
"It was my work that got me here," says Elza Dinwiddie-Boyd, Dean of the School of New Resources at the College of New Rochelle, N.Y., and a 2003 honoree. "I m a black woman. I will work twice as hard. I will be twice as good. And just doing that has pushed me past my potential."
As a magazine serving black professionals and entrepreneurs, The Network Journal is keenly aware of the ballooning population of women business owners. We devoted an entire chapter to this phenomenon in our newly released 2003 Entrepreneurs Resource Guide. African-American women have a higher propensity for entrepreneurship than white or Hispanic women. Almost four out of every 10 black-owned businesses are owned by women. Thats the highest percentage of any other minority race or ethnic group. The female ownership rate was about a third in the other minority categories.
In no way do these impressive numbers mean that black women have an easier time starting and sustaining a business.
"[Because I am] a black woman the banks were not willing to lend me a dime. So I started with my own $5,000," recalls Jacqueline W. Sales, Founder and President of HAZMED, an environmental engineering and information technology firm in Lanham, Md. "A bit later, when I needed more money, I applied for a household finance loan, saying I needed the money for a vacation. I had $10,000 the next day. It seemed easier for them to relate to the vacation story than to understand a black woman needing money for her business."
Black women entrepreneurs today are a non-negotiable presence among America s 9.1 million women who own businesses, America s women-owned businesses employ more than 27.5 million people and contribute nearly $4 trillion in sales annually to the U.S. economy.
It is with great pride that, for the fifth consecutive year, we celebrate the excellence of another "25 Influential Black Women in Business."
By Aziz Gueye Adetimirin