Every February, we have the opportunity to celebrate Black History Month, which is a time to recognize African Americans’ achievements and the central role they’ve played in U.S. history. Black History Month was originally introduced in 1915, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized it with a proclamation to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
To honor this commemorative month and celebration, we spoke with 18 women leaders and entrepreneurs within the Dreamers & Doers collective to get a glimpse into how their heritage has impacted their professional journeys. Their insights shed light on the triumphs and struggles that may be present for women of color who are currently making bold business moves in today’s society.
Among the exciting highs and discouraging lows, our hope is that you are able to recognize a theme of pride and joy from the following reflections – pride for a heritage that reveres resilience and joy for a future of trailblazing women of color who are at the forefront of change and innovation.
Digital Marketing Consultant at BDY CONSULT, a marketing agency providing small businesses and badass brands with creative and efficient marketing services.
My story: One of the leading principles of my business is “Each one, teach one,” an African American proverb that enslaved people used to live by. It was the duty of every enslaved person who knew how to read and write to teach one other person. I named my sought-after newsletter after this principle because small businesses struggle with marketing. Yet, with one newsletter at a time we provide people from historically disadvantaged communities information that transforms their business and their lives!
My advice: Do not underestimate the power of expertise and experience as an entrepreneur. You are worthy of the best opportunities, so don’t let imposter syndrome keep you from giving the world your gifts!
Founder and CEO of Ethintegrity LLC, a consulting firm empowering forward-thinking organizations and professionals to solve complex ethics and compliance and DEI problems.
My story: It is a basic human need to want to belong. I found that I consistently tried to assimilate into boxes that I thought would help my career. What became obvious was that these key performance indicators were ever-moving and I had to contort myself more than my non-Black colleagues by modulating my tone of voice so as not to be seen as an “angry Black woman” or pressing my hair and changing my style of dress so that I fit into the European standard of beauty. It was exhausting both mentally and physically. When I started my own company, I initially kept that way of thinking—trying to fit into the corporate ideal. But as I grew more confident in my business and started to realize the superpowers that I brought to this industry, I embraced my unique, diverse identity. This pivot has created a meaningful impact on my work as I’m able to disrupt spaces from a place of knowledge and power.
My advice: Take time to get to know who you are. Corporations and society like to tell us who we should be, and sometimes we conform for so long that we don’t know who we are anymore. Take a step back and figure out what makes you happy—when do you feel authentically you? Then embrace that as a superpower. Use your uniqueness to connect with, embrace, and disrupt spaces to create equitable and inclusive services and products.
Stephanie Danielle Alexander
Founder and CEO of Stand Out Break In LLC, teaching ambitious professionals how to stand out and break into a career in pharmaceutical sales.
My story: During my time in corporate as a Black woman in Big Pharma, I was always the youngest person on the leadership team, and often one of the few Black women in the room. I remember when I got my first management role, I was often met with looks of slight surprise, both internally and externally at the fact that I was the boss. These experiences allowed me to see how people behaved before they knew who I was. Most meaningfully, these experiences have helped me in my role as a mentor, founder, and career coach because when I work with my clients, who are mostly Black women, I’m able to help them anticipate those reactions, and teach them what they need to do to blow those limiting perceptions out of the water.
My advice: Don’t be afraid to be authentically you. When you stifle your opinions, you’re stifling your voice, and you’ve not only done yourself a disservice, but you could also be letting someone down who looks to you as an example.
Founder and CEO of OTITỌ Executive Leadership Coaching, helping leaders manage their energy for a direct business impact.
My story: Practically, my heritage is expressed in everything that we do. For starters, it is at the root of our company values. More intrinsically, it directly impacts me as a business leader every single day because, simply speaking, it is a fundamental part of who I am. I see it as a core part of what makes me successful, in the same way that my experience as a McKinsey consultant, my ever-changing childhood as an Air Force kid, and my deep passion for helping people transform how they lead feeds in. It is a part of what makes me a unique leader, with a unique perspective and value, that I believe puts me in a league on my own—not in competition with anyone else, but authentically partnering with my clients to deliver what only I can.
My advice: Recognise the realities of the world, but don’t let it be a barrier that you unconsciously put up for yourself. You have a choice in how you respond, who you work with, and how you showcase your value. If you walk into a room believing you are at a disadvantage, you will be. Remember: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”
Founder and Lead Strategist at Jamila Studio, a boutique consulting firm supporting creative women of color entrepreneurs and small business owners.
My story: I am proud to say that I now get to show up as myself in all my work. It has taken a mixture of shifting jobs, carving out time to do things independently, and consistently checking in with myself to find the spaces and rhythm that genuinely work for me. I don’t take for granted how special it is to be able to share those strategies with other women of color.
My advice: Finding community among women of color is so essential. There are many times when I am the only person who looks like me in a meeting or at an event. But I carry the spirit and the voices of the community I have built with me, and that gives me confidence.
Founder of Whyzze, an award-winning strategy agency that provides step-by-step organizational development roadmaps to startups and companies.
My story: Growing up in a head-just-above-water middle class family, I was taught to pursue my personal and professional interests. There were no limitations placed on me based on my gender, ethnicity, or background. This freedom gave me the confidence to become an entrepreneur working with some of the top brands in the world, an all-star mentor, an entrepreneur in residence for Techstars, one of the top accelerators in the world, and a business reality show host with Mailchimp and Scout Productions, creators of the new Queer Eye.
My advice: Focus on providing measurable results and outcomes. When you are able to demonstrably show that your product or service has quantitative value, not only will you be in high demand, you’ll also be able to garner trust, brand awareness, and product-market fit much more easily.
Founder of Pluvrichor Studio, a sustainability advisory and impact brand strategy studio fostering creative approaches to environmental, social, and corporate governance strategy.
My story: My heritage has impacted me as an entrepreneur running a Black woman-led sustainability practice. The most meaningful work I’ve done has been with strategic partnerships and connecting like-minded businesses that need each other to reach impactful goals, like clothing recycling. One of my proudest moments was completing a strategy for a social impact focused healthcare company addressing BIPOC experiences in medical spaces. I loved it!
My advice: Do your due diligence in regards to your work but also be kind to yourself. Do not be afraid to walk away from opportunities if they do not resonate with you or bring you joy. You should love what you do.
Co-Founder and COO of Thermaband, a health-tech company that provides thermal comfort through a temperature regulating bracelet and connected companion app.
My story: My heritage has impacted my business through instilling a source of strength and invincibility, which came after learning about my ancestral history through the lens of my grandmother. In the 1950s, my great-great grandfather, William Chester Ruth, who was born to a slave, had been granted more than 50 patents for inventions such as a baler feeder, a cinder spreader, and a farm elevator. This realization has provided the fuel and tenacity to continue pushing in my own founder’s journey—because he could, I can. Despite the bleak statistics around founders of color raising funding, my co-founder/mother and I have joined the list of Black women who have raised over $1 million in venture capital funding, and we continue to overcome structural barriers through channeling the strength of my great-great grandfather.
My advice: Continue challenging imposter syndrome daily, surround yourself with other glass-ceiling breakers, and delve into your ancestral history and its application to your current reality.
Founder and Executive Coach at The Good Success Network, a global management consulting and executive coaching firm.
My story: I’ve recently noticed that I mention the fact that I am a Black woman in most articles that I interview for, if not all of them. That is because I am proud of who I am and I realize that who I am, the diversity and richness of my culture, beliefs, and thoughts that I bring to the table, makes the work I do for my clients much more impactful. I am most proud of being able to connect with people across the globe from various backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life to help them to grow and thrive.
My advice: Partner with companies and clients where you are truly valued, seen, and heard. Being one of the few Black women or women in color in your respective spaces can already present its own challenges. Being in healthy, inclusive, and supportive environments wherever possible can provide a much needed and refreshing balance.
Antoinette Alexander Adefela
Founder and CEO of Exp.Design LLC, a creative learning agency that partners with training teams to design and develop performance-driven learning solutions.
My story: I’ve had amazing clients and joined great leadership programs, but one of my proudest moments is when I overcame the negative voice in my head to push through no matter what. It was that moment when I was on the brink of applying for a job and putting my dream on hold, while knowing my business had not reached its full potential. I decided to try another strategy, talk to a coach, connect with fellow entrepreneurs, and not give up no matter what. When I released that stress and fear, opportunities came, discovery calls were booked, and more connections were made that reinforced why I had to keep going.
My advice: Surround yourself with a solid support system that includes Facebook and LinkedIn groups for Black women leaders in your industry, sign up for therapy to talk through your thoughts, and work with an experienced business coach or advisor to talk through your business decisions. Join leadership development programs that cover all areas of your business with entrepreneurs who will hold you accountable. Connect with someone who has a similar journey and can help you along your way.
CEO of GT Consulting, a boutique marketing and design firm for health, wellness, beauty, and pet brands.
My story: Growing up, I had internalized the weight of cultural messaging about women’s roles and financial insecurity, and I struggled to unlearn it. When I first started, my self-doubts and feelings of worthlessness led me to lowball my offers. Over time, I stopped entangling my pricing with my self-worth and charged the value my offerings bring to my clients. This shift in mindset has inspired countless other women to do the same, and I’m proud of that.
My advice: Keep the emotional side of money management in check as you develop your pricing strategies. Other people’s money is none of your business.
Founder of The New Quo, a consultancy that creates transformational learning and consulting experiences to help company leaders disrupt automatic thinking patterns.
My story: My family was part of the Great Migration of Black Americans from the Southern region of the U.S. and migrated from Memphis, Tennessee, to Utah in the 1950s and 1960s. I grew up in Utah, and my childhood of being a minority religiously, politically, and racially taught me how powerful stories can be in influencing beliefs, behaviors, policies, and how we treat one another. It inspired the work I do now, using story as a tool for radical behavior change and new goals and norms within organizations and communities.
My advice: We’re taught as leaders to chase infinite growth and expansion but that isn’t a good goal; regenerative impact is. I encourage you to create your own self-sustaining definition of success. Questions to ask yourself: Are you measuring and valuing how well your employees feel empowered to make decisions, feel respected, and feel treated fairly? Do you understand the environmental impacts of your business decisions and how you can reduce harm in your production processes? Are your everyday actions in alignment with your core values? Those are far more interesting and impactful things to strive for in your business than profit.
CEO of PositiveHire, connecting Black, Latina, and Indigenous women who are experienced scientists, engineers, and technology professionals to management roles.
My story: My rural small town South Carolina roots have directly impacted me as a business leader and entrepreneur in many ways. Growing up, I was within walking distance to two HBCUs, which normalized college education for Black people as well as successful small business owners, Civil Rights activists, and more. I was aware of the lack of representation and opportunities for Black women and other underrepresented women in STEM, which was further solidified during my engineering career. As a result, I decided to take matters into my own hands and founded PositiveHire, a company that aims to reduce the number of Black, Latina, and Indigenous women leaving their STEM careers by providing management roles in inclusive workplaces.
My advice: Rest. It’s imperative to take time for yourself. Consider buying back time with grocery and meal delivery services and in-home service providers. Making time for yourself provides you the ability to work at your level of excellence.
Director, Global Sourcing Activation at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, seeking to positively impact human health through innovation.
My story: Being a Black woman has shaped my choice to work in corporate and in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Like many people, I am demanding change. I want to see more women in the corporate C-suite and serving on boards, more women of color celebrated for their business ideas, and more funding going to women and communities of color. I’d like to do my part in closing the wealth and health gap. The proudest moments of my journey include mentoring and developing rising talent. Toni Morrison stated it best, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
My advice: Rest along the journey – rest, after all, is still a form of resistance.
Founder of Hire Breakthrough, helping founders find diverse, qualified talent without wasting thousands of dollars.
My story: The most important part of my upbringing was seeing my parents immigrate here and start their own entrepreneurial journey. They always shared the importance of creating a business around your passions and how doing so unlocks your true purpose in life. My parents were educated and seeing their constant drive always empowered me and my entrepreneurial spirit. The proudest moment in my journey is when I left my corporate job to start my business while pregnant. It was exciting and scary, but it got me to where I am now.
My advice: As a woman of color, we can be forced to navigate uncomfortable situations, so it is essential to always know your worth and remain confident despite the hard times.
Founder of BAUCE Magazine, a lifestyle site for self-made women of color that creates content to help women from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve financial success.
My story: As a Black woman in America, especially as a daughter of Nigerian immigrants, I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon or a lot of money. I watched my parents struggle to afford us a life that did not exist in the war-torn country they had migrated from. It was through this journey of struggle and watching how my counterparts gained access to career opportunities that Black women were often overlooked for that BAUCE Magazine was born. I wanted to create a digital resource that would help more Black women gain access to insights, tools, and the network that could help them learn how to navigate the world and propel them toward being a self-made success. I am proud of how BAUCE Magazine has been able to inspire and impact women of color. Since its inception, we have hosted co-working events that led to job opportunities, provided grants to rising Black female entrepreneurs, and shared actionable tips on how to make it from some of the nation’s most successful Black female millionaires.
My advice: Seek out a mentor who can help you learn how to navigate opportunities and conversations that could take you to the next level. Being self-made still requires the support of a village that believes in you to make it to the top!
CEO of Caire Beauty, creating dermatologist-recommended, clean, clinically-verified, vegan skincare for grownup women.
My story: My father was African-American and my mother’s a fourth generation American Chinese from Hawaii. They met in New York City in graduate school. They believed, above all else, in the idea of the next generation being better than the last and wholeheartedly opened their doors, and pocketbooks, when they could. My parents’ heritages were very different, but both encouraged me to take my ideas and make my own money; whether it was while I was in the fifth grade selling sandwiches at school, or designing and selling jewelry after I got my MBA to help pay off my student loans. They were there guiding, smiling, and buying. These nuggets of support and encouragement gave me the confidence to go for it to build Caire Beauty in my 50s.
My advice: Today I am a woman in a strong and loving marriage, with a successful, motivating career. I’ve lived a life of being bullied both through personal and corporate/entrepreneurial experiences. I’ve grown stronger over the years and have much more grit now that I am a founder of a company, so when I come across betrayers—and there are betrayers out there, although none as deliberately destructive as from my youth—I am confident that I can reach into the goodness that thrives in me, I can have a deep and encouraging chat with God, and I can find trust, generosity, and empathy among my friends and family. I know how to elicit expert coaches to guide me, and I can rely on the acceptance and support of my partner.
Founder and CEO of Adventurely, a travel club for digital nomads and remote workers.
My story: One of my proudest moments was receiving a financial investment last year as one of 50 Black owned startups selected for the 2022 Google For Startups Black Founders Fund 3. It was extremely validating to get Google’s support for the work we do at Adventurely, helping customers have amazing workcation/digital nomad experiences in inspiring destinations around the world. The Google funding allowed us to scale our service offerings and team, and opened the door for Adventurely’s services to be offered in several employee benefit programs for companies that permit full or partial remote work.
My advice: Be persistent and don’t be afraid to take risks.
All individuals featured in this article are members of Dreamers & Doers, an award-winning community that amplifies extraordinary women leaders and entrepreneurs by raising their profile through PR opportunities, forging authentic connections, and curating high-impact resources. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and get involved here.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.