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Detroit Free Press
October 2004

Female  Minorities in Business: Getting assistance key to progress

Detroit, MI (October 5, 2004) While black women have made strides as corporate executives, for individual business owners, there's more ground to cover, according to a group of entrepreneurs who gathered in Detroit on Monday.

In its first major event since the late 1990s, the Detroit-based National Association of Black Women Entrepreneurs told more than 300 local businesswomen at Detroit's Cobo Center that technology and mentoring are essential to grow a business. The group dates to 1978, but had been dormant in recent years.

"Women have raised their expectations and are no longer afraid to take the leap," said Janice Bryant Howroyd, president and CEO of Torrance, Calif.-based Act-1 Group, a personnel service that ranked as the third-largest black-owned business in the country, with more than $500 million in sales in 2003, according to Black Enterprise magazine.

"The exciting thing is that we're watching now more and more women growing businesses that are growing faster," Bryant Howroyd said.

The difference today compared to 10 or 20 years ago, she said, is that women have more visible role models.

"They can see it today, just as in athletics or science, when someone breaks a barrier or raises a bar," she said during the luncheon.

But women represent only a few businesses among the largest black-owned companies nationally and regionally.

To change that, more corporations will need to communicate with minority businesses, said Marilyn French Hubbard, founder of the National Association of Black Women Entrepreneurs and corporate vice president of the Henry Ford Health System.

"It's going to take more organizations to make a commitment to doing business with the people who buy their services," she said. "They've got to create programs and open doors."

She added that companies shouldn't look at employing minority-owned firms as charitable, "but as the right thing to do."

To win supply contracts, businesses owned by black women need to take better advantage of technology, Bryant Howroyd said.

Entrepreneurs also need to network and find mentors, she said.

That has been a problem for Saundra Petties, 31, who started the Detroit business training firm Corporate Polishing Services two years ago.

Petties, who is trying to expand her business beyond her six current clients, said she has realized "it's not about what you know, it's about who you know."

Finding established black business owners who want to guide entrepreneurs such as Petties has been tough, which is why Bryant Howroyd volunteered her brother -- and mentor -- Carlton Bryant to help the Detroit resident.

Bryant is Act-1's executive vice president.

Mentors and guidance aside, the hurdles that have challenged black women in business remain.

"Quite frankly, you have the benefit or the problem of being both female and African American," said Kathie Dones-Carson, CEO of the Detroit Black Chamber of Commerce.

"If you get past one, you still have another barrier to deal with."

Those barriers pop up from time to time for Nicole Carswell, who owns Universal General Contractors Inc., a Troy firm specializing in restoring fire and water damage. Carswell suspects her race and gender have something to do with the price hikes that new subcontractors have tried to slip by her.

"Sometimes men try to challenge me to see if I know what I'm talking about," she said.

But those are the types of challenges that minority female business owners need to overcome, Bryant Howroyd told the group during a luncheon sponsored by the Henry Ford Health System.

"The biggest power racism had in my life was the power I gave to it." Ditto for sexism, she said.

The best solution, she said: "Know your business."

Press Contact:
Chuck Pearson
ACT•1 Group
Director of Marketing
(310) 750-3400


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