On this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2018, I want to offer a historical tribute and a personal reflection on the accomplishments of the civil rights movement as it relates to economic empowerment and women entrepreneurship.
For my historical tribute, let's go down memory lane.....
During the 1960's, Dr. King along with other champions of civil rights movement (many of which included unsung women activists and organizers) fought for equal rights and protection from discrimination for all United States citizens. Among the accomplishments of this movement was the passage of civil rights legislation. I share two examples. As a first example, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires employers to pay equally for equal work regardless of whether employees are male or female. As a second example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color sex, religion, or national origin in the use or access of public places of accommodation such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, and public transportation. In summary, these civil rights protections enabled broader civic participation, increased social mobility, and improved workforce opportunities for women in general as well those who are racial and ethnic minorities.
While the practice of these protections has and still faces challenges, women in general today have better access to goods and services, better representation in civic and political arenas, and more opportunities for personal economic development. If we look at these protections as a foundation for supporting women empowerment, how have they helped and supported them as entrepreneurs? To answer this question, I now look at the status of women entrepreneurship in the United States.
According to a 2015 National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) report, there are over 9.4 million women-owned businesses in the United States, 2.9 million of which are owned by women of color. In essence, with the backing of legislative protection banning discriminatory access to goods and services (i.e., the Civil Rights Act of 1964), this statistic suggests that women are not simply participating as consumers in the United States economy but they are also contributing to its economic growth by producing goods and services to the tune of nearly $2.9 trillion. Of note, some of this standing for women as entrepreneurs may be attributed to the passage of legislation such as the Equal Credit Act of 1974 which allowed women to secure credit for their businesses in their own name (before this Act, women had to have a husband or father co-sign for credit cards or loans). When we look at workforce opportunities for women, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 facilitated changes in improving pay for women. However, gender pay gaps still persist. Regarding federal policies, women rights advocates have recognized the importance of the economic impact women entrepreneurs and have called for Congress to pass federal tax cuts to help them invest back into their businesses and employees. Lastly, on the political front, a growing number women entrepreneurs are running for political office with objectives such as fighting for business- friendly policies and harassment-free business environments. In summary, for those women who have reached a ceiling in earnings for their occupation, have struggled with gender pay gaps in their industry, or had to leave the workforce for personal reasons, the good news is that personal economic empowerment through entrepreneurship is economically viable and attainable.
In closing, the catalyst for women to improve their personal economic situations as well as have a voice in matters that effect the economic well-being of their businesses has its roots in the accomplishments of the civil rights movement. Subsequent actions by federal legislation, advocacy, and civic participation has further spurred momentum for women entrepreneurs. In short, now is an exciting time for women entrepreneurs! As an African-American woman and entrepreneur, I deeply appreciate that I can go to a cafe, grab coffee, and attend to my business on my laptop with the expectation that I will not face segregation and discrimination. I am empowered by the past and looking forward to my future of economic freedom, flexibility, and success through entrepreneurship!
If you are a woman who is an entrepreneur or dreaming about entrepreneurship, what is empowering you? Share with me Twitter!
Happy MLK Day!
Yvette M. Williams, Ph.D. is a freelance writer for hire. Her company, The Esteemed Scribe,LLC provides expertise in copy-editing, copy-writing, proofreading, and blogging. Yvette specializes in helping women entrepreneurs 40+ write informative, creative, and inspirational copy that expresses their unique voice and propels their business forward.