Essay Exit Plan: How Racialized and Gendered Organizations Lead Black Women to Entrepreneurship
Asheli S. Atkins
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Black women have faced racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the workplace for years, leading more and more Black women to exit the workplace to start their own businesses. Although Black women entrepreneurs may have more autonomy than in the traditional workplace, they still face racist barriers that hurt the growth and sustainability of their businesses.

Through a review of the literature and interviews with 33 Black women entrepreneurs, Asheli Atkins explores the racialized and gendered nature of the workplace, Black women’s exit from the workplace and their decision to become entrepreneurs, and their strategies for navigating racism and sexism as business owners.

Atkins finds that Black women in the workplace must constantly manage their emotions in the face of discrimination, microaggressions, prejudice, and racism, and are limited in their ability to respond. They are also not compensated fairly for their work within the organization. These issues are what lead them to leave the workplace and start their own business. Many of the Black women entrepreneurs interviewed remained at their jobs and used their pay to fund the overhead costs of their new business; many stay in the same industry they were in to use their insider knowledge, skills, and connections to build their businesses. Although they still face racism and sexism in these industries as entrepreneurs, they have more autonomy to navigate these barriers. These entrepreneurs used their knowledge of power dynamics within racialized and gendered organizations and their industry to construct strategies to use these dynamics to their advantage.

Based on the author’s findings, there needs to be a system of reporting that provides transparency, accountability, and protection to support Black women and protect them from discrimination in the workplace. This reporting system would (1) require an annual reporting system for organizations with employees in the US that helps enforce the implementation of policies, (2) hold organizations accountable for their treatment of Black women, and (3) be transparent about the effectiveness of policies. These reports from organizations would be accessible to the public, especially as it relates to equal pay, resolution of workplace discrimination, diversity in upper-level positions, and diversity in recruitment and retention.

Research Areas Economic mobility and inequality Race and equity Workforce
Tags Women and girls Race, gender, class, and ethnicity Racial wealth gap Black/African American communities Economic well-being Worker voice, representation, and power Job markets and labor force Job opportunities Workplace and industry studies Employment discrimination Structural racism
Policy Centers Office of Race and Equity Research
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis
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