Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. The annual recognition of the achievements of women is more than 100 years old and celebrated worldwide. With women taking power in a variety of arenas—from business to politics and even sports—the event has taken on new meaning, especially for women of color who have felt the vestiges of power try to keep them down.
This year’s campaign theme is #BalanceForBetter and speaks volumes to Black and Brown women and their efforts to gain power economically, socially, and politically.
The campaign includes these words: “A balanced world is a better world. Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”
Despite the current White House administration that has no women of color within its top ranks, coupled with an attitude that really doesn’t discourage discrimination, women of color are making great strides in a variety of key areas.
One of those areas of course is politics.
Record number of women office holders
The 2018 election saw a record number of women elected to office on a national scale as well as local. And these “freshmen” women aren’t just sitting on their laurels. They are voicing their opinions, such as Alexandria Corasco-Cortez (D-New York) taking on the commander in chief with a brand of rhetoric that is making people sit up and take notice.
California’s Kamala Harris is running for president and Stacey Abrams, a Black woman, represented the Democratic party to respond to President Trump’s State of the Union Address. These are examples of the way women of color are standing up and being heard on the political scene.
If 2018 was so-called the year of the woman, 2019 is the year she is standing up and taking control of her chosen profession, and for future generations as well.
At the top of the list has to be Oprah Winfrey, who, during her 25 years as host of her own (highly popular) talk show, was quietly building an empire around her that moved her into the elite class of billionaires. Her estimated net worth, in fact, stands at $2.9 billion.
Winfrey is indeed a rags-to-riches story, growing up economically challenged in Mississippi, then earning a degree and taking her brand of talk show to national fame and fortune. She’s also a celebrated actress, runs her own production company, has her own magazine, owns her own television network and owns part of Weight Watchers, with her share currently valued at $400 million. Despite a childhood that reportedly included abuse, she maintains a strong spirit of compassion and never stops inspiring others in actions and words.
Kamala Harris’ White House bid
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was one of the earliest to declare that she was running for President of the United States. Harris made a campaign stop in Iowa recently and just last weekend stopped in Las Vegas. Nevada is a key state for her early move toward the White House. In the last election, the state elected a Democratic governor and replaced a Republican senator with a Democratic woman.
Since the jump, Harris has been an outspoken opponent of President Donald Trump, but her rhetoric in not all anti-Trump. She says she is “for the people” and indeed her actions thus far have endorsed that stand. The 54-year-old African-American, who like former President Barack Obama is steeped in the law (she was California’s former attorney general and is a graduate of Howard University), has proposed legislation to provide a tax credit worth as much as $500 a month to families making less than $100,00 a year. Harris said passing that bill would be a priority in the process of eliminating corporate tax cuts to fund the bill. “Let’s make America work for working families,” she said to a cheering crowd.
Harris is no doubt a shining example of how powerful a Black woman can become in an arena once dominated by old White men. She is not alone. At 32, Lauren Underwood is the youngest Black woman ever elected into Congress. A registered nurse, the Democrat represents the 14th District in Illinois.
Blacks on Forbes billionaires list
As with Winfrey, many of the women in power via financial gains are diversified. Isabel Dos Santos, touted by Forbes magazine as a billionaire, has stakes in oil, telecommunications and banking, just to name a few. Forbes, which describes her as an “independent business woman and a private investor,” included the 45-year-old Angolan woman of color on its Top Billionaires List as well as its list of Powerful Women.
And Dos Santos stands as proof, that a woman can have it all; she is married with three children. Dos Santos has a bachelor’s degree from King’s College in London, England. She has built her empire over the years while maintaining a family.
Another African woman—Folorunsho Alakija—joins the ranks of billionaires and power brokers. She is worth an estimated $1.7 billion. The Nigerian is vice chair of Famfa Oil, which provides oil to Chevron, among other companies. She actually comes from fashion, however. Her customers included wives of major political figures in Africa. The 68-year-old is married with four children.
The number of Black women now in leadership roles in major sports is growing. Probably the most powerful woman in sports is Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), one of the most powerful and lucrative sports unions in the world.
Michele Roberts and the NBA
Roberts oversees about 350 NBA players representing more than $3 billion in salaries. She has a background as a trial lawyer with a reputation of being a winner. A graduate of UC Berkley, the 63-year-old is surrounded by men in her workplace, including LeBron James, Steph Curry and Carmelo Anthony, who all serve at the top of the organization with her. But their trust in her and her ability to fight for their rights is undeniable. In July 2018, Roberts was unanimously re-elected as executive director of the NBPA for another four years.
Who can talk successful Black women in sports without mentioning tennis star, mother, wife, activist and philanthropist Serena Williams? While she makes millions on the tennis court, she also gets major bucks from endorsements from companies such as Tide, Ralph Lauren and Wilson, as well as her own fashion line, EleVen.
Williams is a fascinating story. Her and her sister Venus once practiced on the tennis courts of Compton. Today, the married mother of one is worth an estimated $100 million, and works to be an inspiration to young girls of color everywhere. She is also a civil rights activist and is not afraid to speak out against racism and sexism.
Many in the fashion world recognized her as a renowned stylist and make up artist, but Pat McGrath took it another step further and launched her own line of makeup, with sales as of the end of 2018 at a billion dollars.
Black women like McGrath are becoming more and more common. According to Entrepreneur.com, Black women-owned businesses are the fastest growing economic force in the U.S. The number of new businesses owned by Black women has indeed spiked in the last two decades, says a report from the Federal Reserve Bank. According to the report from the national agency, 60 percent of all Black-owned businesses are owned by women.
Great strides in business world
A report released this year, “Black Women Business Startups,” illustrates the great strides Black women are making in this area of commerce. Visit www.kansascity.fed.org. This growing group of game changers is not without support. The National Minority Business Council Inc. offers support as well as an annual awards program that recognizes trailblazing women of color. This year’s awards program will be held in New York City on March 27. The organization’s website is at www.nmbc.org.
There can’t be a story about Black women in power without talking about Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox. Her story is amazing and inspiring. She grew up poor on the Lower East Side of New York City. Burns excelled in math in school, which got her a scholarship to a summer internship at Xerox. Burns worked her way through the ranks, eventually becoming CEO (in 2009) of the Fortune 500 company.
Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity has reported that women and minorities took up about 31 percent of the board seats of Fortune 500 companies in 2016, up from 26.7 percent in 2012.
According to various news sources, including Fortune magazine, these are just a few of the Black women poised to “take over” a major corporation:
• Ann-Marie Campbell, EVP Home Depot
• Rosalind Brewer, COO Starbucks
• Carla Harris, Vice Chair of Wealth Management Morgan Stanley
• Alicia Boler Davis, EVP General Motors
• Alanna Cotton, VP Samsung
• Andrea L. Taylor, Director of Community Affairs Microsoft
The bright spot of course is the continued rise in Black women starting their own businesses. “We’re just tired of playing other people’s games,” Brittney Packnett recently told Fortune. “And I don’t want to have to contort myself to fit your expectations, because ultimately that will make me less successful.”