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Is it Safe for Black Women CEOs to Work in Public?

I went back and forth on whether I wanted to write this article but it was on my heart for days and so I figured why not. A few weeks ago I shared that I would be "working in public" as I build this modern accounting firm. I like to say I'm ripping off the SAAS model and as such I wanted to do so while sharing the process. I wanted to openly share my goals, lessons, and anything else I felt would help someone on their journey. Recently, I was discouraged to continue as I stood by and watched folks on the internet berate and spread misinformation about another black woman CEO.

Cliff notes: The Honey Pot was recently in "hot water" for a change made to the ingredients of one of their products. This change caused people to assume that the CEO had sold the Company. This led to many calling her a sell out and posting hateful messages to her directly and her company page. The truth is that some of the ingredients did change. Should there have been an announcement of sort to customers? Absolutely! Does that make hateful speech ok? Absolutely not!

How many times has your order been wrong? How many times have you been followed in a store because of how you look? How many times have you been profiled for looking/dressing a certain way? Did you ever respond with: see this is why I don't support white owned businesses?" I think not. The truth of the matter is you see spending your dollars with a black owned business as "support" but you spend elsewhere freely without a second thought. That in itself is an issue. When black women choose to build in public it's because we want you to have a say. We want to bring you along on the journey and to get your feedback. What we often get in return is your "support" until you get pissed off. You can absolutely be upset with a brand without being mean and hateful.

I'd also like to dispel this notion of when you sell your business, you become a sell out. Most founders get into business with a plan on how they want to eventually exit. It is not every founder's dream to run a business forever or to keep the business in the family. There's nothing wrong with that. If you're going to root for a brand, understand that what you want for them and what they want for themselves may be different and that's okay.

This brings me to working in public and whether it's safe. I was on Instagram stories and Sevetri Wilson was sharing her thoughts about the debacle and someone responded with "this is why I discourage black women from working in public." That comment knocked the wind out of me a bit because I felt that on a deep level. You may be wondering why some founders stay behind the scenes and prefer not to do interviews or show their face and its for reasons like this. Once you let people in just a little bit, there's this sense of entitlement and as a black woman we tend to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. So not only are you running this business and trying to do right by your clients/customers but then you're also carrying the weight of the opinions and comments of those who are watching you work in public. To top it off this energy isn't giving to male (especially white male) CEOs.

While so many people were giving their opinions, I stumbled on a shared post from a white male CEO who was cursing at his customers because they were "complaining" about changes made to his software. Were there comments of people threatening to take their business elsewhere? Was there public outrage? I'll let you answer that.

As a black woman, we have it hard enough with being overlooked, underfunded, and overly scrutinized. Do yourself and us favor, don't add to the negativity. Extend grace when a mistake is made. Pray for that black woman and hope that she gets it right the next time. Most importantly, remember that building a business is hard work. We're dealing with supply chain issues, the great resignation, lack of funding, etc. while still doing the best we can. If you want black women CEOs to continue to build in public, check yourself and your actions the next time something like this happens.

Honorable Mentions

Necole Kane's Thread on black founders who've had successful exits. Some have even gone on to create resources and give money to other black owned businesses.

A Black Female Chemist's Thread explaining the actual change in The Honey Pot's ingredients


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