A Vivid Spectrum of Success: Minority women business owners

It’s a woman’s world — and a diverse and colorful one at that. Economically vibrant and increasingly influential, minority women business owners are continuing to change the landscape of the business world.

Businesses owned by women of color are a significant economic force. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research’s findings on the impact of race and gender on the growth of businesses owned by women, 1.9 million U.S. firms are majority-owned (51 percent or more) by women of color. Minority women-owned companies were the fastest-growing group among all companies from 2002 to 2008.

Getting Started

“When I got started in the business world, I knew two things about myself,” says Alicia Arenas, founder and CEO of Sanera, The People Development Company. “I wanted to own my own business, and I wanted to help people.”

The Hispanic business owner started her climb to success at the age of 7 in her mother’s kitchen, where she sold her homemade Christmas ornaments.

“It started as a creative way to make money but became a financial necessity,” Arenas says. “Learning the importance of hard work at a young age helped me find my passion and my entrepreneurial spirit.”

From her mother’s kitchen, through 15 years in corporate human resources to being founder and CEO of her own consulting, coaching and branding firm, Arenas has learned to adapt to change. One company she was with was bought and sold five times, resulting in five different management styles, five different sets of planning and strategic processes and five different workplace engagement settings.

“Although it was painful at times, each experience has been invaluable,” Arenas says. “By working in human resources and closely with the executives, I saw a lot of actions and decisions that my co-workers didn’t. Seeing the impact that all the executives and their individual management styles had on the productivity of the company and the employees enabled me to see the right and the wrong ways corporations can create and grow their profitability.”

Not all entrepreneurs wanted to end up business owners, however.

“I like to describe myself as a domestic engineer and an entrepreneur,” says Margaret Anaglia, owner and president of Al’s Gourmet Nuts. “My background is as an economic development manager at the City of San Antonio working with both large and small businesses. It was like private and public sector experience with a twinge of entrepreneurial work.”

After being approached several times by family and friends to start her own business, the African-American entrepreneur finally gave in. From selling hammocks, garden decor and Mexican art at weekend festivals, she and her husband realized they knew of a product that already had a loyal following and widespread appeal — gourmet candied pecans.

The couple befriended the original nut maker, an executive chef, and when the chef retired, he offered the couple an irresistible deal. “What we purchased was a recipe and equipment,” Anaglia says. “All we had to start from was a basic candy-glazing recipe and a 50-year-old German roaster.”

Balancing Multiple Roles

The struggle to balance the various roles of a woman entrepreneur is just one of the many issues affecting women business owners, especially minority business owners, according to the same Center for Women’s Business Research report.

Even though women owned 10.1 million companies with 13 million employees and $1.9 trillion in sales in 2008, they continue to work to dispel the myths surrounding the way women run businesses. Two myths noted in the study were that women tend to run businesses based on emotions and constant employee morale “checkups” and that being a woman business owner can result in a double bottom line when it comes to working to give back to the community and working to earn profits for the company.

“We are in an era with social media, where women can thrive,” Arenas says. “We need to be emotional. When clients don’t get the service they deserve, we need to get mad. We need to be upset that someone in our company failed them.”

“Why wouldn’t you want to run your business on emotions and employee morale checkups?” asks Anaglia. “You don’t want constant chaos or to work in a company where you always have to watch your back. That kind of atmosphere only builds a negative working environment.”

The research also found that being a business owner who is a woman of color might create a challenge to balance the expectations and demands of running a business while being part of a diverse culture.

Moving The Business Forward

Both Arenas and Anaglia agreed that although women have made incredible advancements in the business world, there is a lot more progress that can be made.

“I think it is time for women to stop seeing our gender and our ethnicity as a liability,” Arenas says. “We need to take that power and use it as something hugely influential, an asset, to making our business into everything it can be. We need to stop labeling ourselves because we are giving permission to everyone else in the world to label us as well.”

Between 2002 and 2008, the number of businesses owned by women of color increased by 32 percent, their revenues by a dramatic 48 percent and their employment by 27 percent, according to the study. Their impact on the economy is indisputable.

“As women, especially of color, you have to work harder,” Anaglia says. “You have to do more. I have been working hard all my life, so if the door is a little bit harder, then I’m going to be ready for it. I have a philosophy: I was born a woman, and I was born black. Those are two things I can’t change about myself, and I don’t want to.”

Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards

Join NAWBO San Antonio for a special event on Wednesday, March 10, when the organization hosts its annual Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards at the Omni Hotel. The event will feature Nina Vaca, CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources and a director with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In 2009 she was named one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in America by Latino Leaders magazine. For more information and to register to attend the event, visit nawbosa.org.

NAWBO Upcoming Events

Tuesday, Jan. 5: Cocktail Connection, 5:30-7 pm, Coco Restaurant
Wednesday, Jan. 13: Lunch Connection, 11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. at Swede’s
Friday, Jan. 15: Trade Show, 7:30-11 a.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 2: Cocktail Connection, 5:30-7 p.m. at Coco Restaurant
Wednesday, Feb. 10: Lunch Connection, 11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. at Swede’s
Tuesday, Feb. 16: An Income of Her Own® Conference
Friday, Feb. 19: Lunch Meeting, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Oak Hills Country Club
(Topic is Disaster Planning)

For more information and to register for events, visit nawbosa.org.

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