Comment: Black women and the concrete ceiling

The investment world can be an unwelcoming space for black female business owners. Nicole Crentsil says that the solution is a combination of education, support networks and funding.

Nicole Crentsil is the CEO of Black Girl Festival, a platform dedicated to black women, girls and non-binary people.

Over the past 10 years, a total of 10 black female entrepreneurs have received venture capital investment, according to the not-for-profit community interest company Extend Ventures. That’s 0.2% of total investments. 

It’s easy to blame the pipeline and suggest there just aren’t enough black female founders out there. But female founders are overflowing – if anything, the pipeline is blocked. 

Right now, the word on the street is ‘inclusivity’. Perhaps because of Black Lives Matter protests, we’re seeing new programmes, funds and initiatives designed to invest in under-represented founders. But this is just cosmetic. 

When I became an angel investor for Ada Ventures last year, I remember feeling excited to read pitch decks and connect with founders, eager to close the year having made my first investment. Instead, I spent a large part of my first few weeks hosting free workshops to explain the world of venture capital to black women who didn’t know anything about it. Some lacked confidence, others didn’t know about alternative routes for financing and many didn’t have access to the right networks. It was clear from the offset that there was a knowledge gap. 

Remember the glass ceiling? While glass is tough, you can shatter it. You can see through it to the level above; if you can see it, you can achieve it. But black women live with a concrete ceiling – one that’s impossible to see through or break down by yourself. 

We need less box-ticking and more intersectionality. Siloing identities to gender, race and disability means we ignore the overlapping systemic challenges without addressing them at the core. For example, instead of a programme for women and a separate one for black founders, how about a programme for black female founders? 

We also need to increase access to capital, networks and relatable role models. What about the myriad founders who aren’t building venture-backable businesses? How do we support them to grow really great businesses that go on to become incredibly successful? 

For too long the industry has hidden behind buzzwords, panels and endless office hours. If we want the next decade to look nothing like the last, we need to create tangible solutions and actively make the changes we want to see. 

At Black Girl Festival, we’re on a mission to create a more inclusive ecosystem by diversifying and disrupting the pipeline. Black women face multi-dimensional challenges like access to mentors, and confidence and community building, so we aim to equip ambitious founders with the tools for success. 

In March, we ended Women’s History Month by launching a survey to better understand what the community of black female founders needed. And we produced an all-day virtual summit full of talks, workshops and inspiring conversations by smart business leaders from all industries. Across the board, it’s time for less talk and more action.

This article was first published in Courier issue 41, June/July 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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