The experience of being a minority owned business.
I participated in a wonderful panel discussion this morning. In that discussion, where the general topic was leadership and particularly female leadership, at some point we came to talk about how minority-owned businesses are being looked upon.
This is, of course, in the context of women and particularly women-owned businesses since there are few highly successful women-owned businesses. By that I mean those that are consistently on the front page of magazines claiming visibility. This lack of visibility or even lack of existence (depending on your view) seems to be translated in some arenas as less reliable. The categories looked upon are number of employees, number of clients, testimonials, number of contracts, etc. , which in turn is often interpreted as “less experienced” and “less qualified.” All that comes into play when women-owned businesses apply for a contract or submit a proposal to a large corporation, where then they are often being considered less attractive due to the socially conventional fear that they are not able to provide all needed services. Of course, we know that this is completely untrue.
It is all so fascinating that due to the fact that there is “minority-owned business” label people often consider these businesses as being in need of additional or extra help. In some ways this is, indeed, true given that the playing field is uneven for minorities given the lack of access and acceptance. (Recall the “Affirmative Action” policies that ended up in quotas and then where challenged in particular in universities as discriminating again Caucasian males). This uneven field, simply means that is more difficult compete with large businesses that have for years had had access, visibility, had been funded and at the helm of which are highly visible males. Whenever there is an uneven playing field a “hand up” may seem appropriate and may be appropriate, even though it simultaneously can create an almost opposite effect.
Being in need of a little extra push or a little extra consideration doesn’t mean that the capabilities of such a minority-owned business or less, though. All that means is that thus far they have not been treated equally. In different context this can be considered a civil rights issue, should you want to take it that far.
You see, I admit that I have had long-term internal battles whether or not to apply for women-owned status for my business. To me every business needs to be considered based on its qualifications and delivery. Every person needs to be considered based on his/her qualifications, potential, and abilities. The key here is “potential” – an area that falls more into the realm of Emotional intelligence or soft skills and yet, one that can make all the different when hiring someone or allocating a contract.
On the other hand, as mentioned above, at times it is helpful to receive a little extra consideration based on the overwhelming majority of non-minority-owned businesses that historically have received much more funding and support by society at large. Therefore, I am now in the process of requesting such a label. I am still internally torn about it yet it may just allow me to help those companies and entities I can with my expertise in leadership and teambuilding training, in intercultural communication and culture change and thus have the impact needed in today’s world.
At the same time, I wish we could just move forward and look at people as people and companies as companies based on their qualifications and most importantly potential. If you have never had the opportunity to show you, how can you compete or collaborate?
And that, after all, is the big question we face.
That after all, is the reason why there are programs that require a certain amount of minority-owned business to be part of contracts received. Yet, that also means, added stigma in many ways.
Just like when a woman even in 2021 enters a boardroom she still faces a subconscious question – expressed in a look or the avoidance thereof – by some of the people in the room which is: are you a secretary or are you actually supposed to be here?
Consider, the fact that some men simply will not talk to a woman in a meeting if there another man is present, regardless of what her position might be. Consider the fact that the other man in the room may be very much in alignment with equality, understands the potential and capabilities of the woman, and yet – he does not really notice this behavior towards her.
That is all social conditioning; all set in the subconscious mind we need to awaken to even the playing field.
The example of the woman is exactly what many minority-owned businesses face. It is that stigma, the question of “did you deserve the contract or did you get it because you are minority?” There is a lot more social education needed to allow us to eliminate all these labels, all these categories since there remains a big question mark regarding their true purpose. It’s time to revolutionize the business labels!