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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Filippouli

Barriers for BIPOC Women in Business

The term BIPOC has been coined to acknowledge the unique injustices and hardships that are faced by Black and Indigenous peoples within the term “people of colour”.

Living in the West comes with many great opportunities. For many women, these opportunities have led them to business. However, while there has been much advancement of these opportunities, access for women is still not equal to men. For many BIPOC women, there are a multitude of systemic barriers which may prevent them from, or make it exceptionally difficult to find success in the business world.

One such barrier is access to housing and living conditions. Research shows that the rates at which people of colour live in poverty or in poor living conditions, is higher than their Caucasian counterparts. According to the Canadian Poverty Institute, Indigenous communities face the highest poverty rates, with approximately 25 per cent living in poverty. Astonishingly, 40 per cent of all Canadian children living in poverty are Indigenous.

The Canadian Poverty Institute also reports that women are more likely to be poorer than men, on average making less than them. The report also noted that 21 per cent of single mother families live on a low income, and racialized communities are twice as likely to live in poverty than non-racialized communities. These reports point to a systemic issue that, in many ways, places BIPOC women at a financial disadvantage.

Sexism is another huge obstacle that women face in the business world. Often, they are not taken as seriously as their male counterparts and are under-represented in leadership roles across many businesses. According to a 2019 Statistics Canada report, women make between 69 cents and 89 cents for every dollar that a man makes — and even less for BIPOC women, LGBTQ2S++, disabled and newcomer women.

Additionally, women who have children are often not hired or are overlooked for promotions as they are seen as “risky employees,” compared to men with children. These gender biases place women at a severe disadvantage when they enter the business world, making it even more difficult for them to climb the corporate ladder.

One way we could help resolve this issue is by creating more entrepreneurial opportunities for BIPOC women, as well as more opportunities for business growth and advancement. This means creating opportunities for them where they do not already exist, whether by consciously hiring more BIPOC women, or by promoting businesses owned by them. This is why I founded the Athena40 initiative, to encourage and strengthen female leadership by giving women the opportunity to be recognized for their work on a global platform.

We can see how this has worked through the detailed letter Dame Stephanie Shirley wrote to English mathematician, Ada Lovelace, in my book From Women to the World. Dame Shirley wrote about how she created a company “for women, of women” as a way of going around the issue of gender inequality in the workforce. Despite facing many obstacles and harsh criticisms, she was able to lead her company into a big success, even helping make 70 staff members into millionaires. Shirley wrote about how she witnessed sexism against women in the workforce and decided to create her own solution, by founding her own company and hiring only women, giving them jobs and a chance to grow in the workforce and in life.

We can also see this through the tireless work of Kerin John, the founder and creator of Black Owned Toronto, a website and social media account which spotlights local black-owned businesses. Her website is one of a few that spotlights and gives a platform to Black businesses and creators, in order to promote success with Black entrepreneurs. These platforms give Black people the opportunity to grow their businesses by working together with these websites, and with other creators and entrepreneurs, for exposure and to expand their reach.

Another change we should be pushing for is more government and public programs (whether local, provincial or national) to help with funding and growth of BIPOC businesses across the country. The Indigenous Business initiative, for example, was set up by the Canadian government as part of its COVID-19 relief initiative. Its intended purpose is to support small and medium Indigenous-owned businesses through the pandemic. Initiatives like this can help to alleviate at least some of the financial barriers that BIPOC face in business.

Supporting BIPOC community members is essential to building a better community. For too long, BIPOC women have faced too many barriers in the working world, from financial hardships to gender bias and racism. As a community, it is our moral duty to show strong support for them in whatever ways we can - big or small. This can include buying from women-owned businesses, sharing their posts on our social media platforms, or even pushing for more government and public program initiatives.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link — in order to strengthen the chain, we must strengthen and support every part of our community.

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