What issues do Black women business leaders face that others do not? Marjorie Perry, founder and CEO of MZM Construction, just chuckles at the question.
“How many can I give you?” she asks.
Then she begins.
“It’s immediate bias,” she said. “Immediate.
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“If I’m going for a very large contract, the moment I show up, the moment I walk in the room, there’s bias against me. I don’t even have to open my mouth. It’s assumed I can’t do the job. It’s assumed I don’t have money. It’s assumed they shouldn’t even consider me.
“‘Why are you here?’ is the question they are asking me, without asking me.”
It doesn’t get easier from there, Perry said.
“Once that perception is set, then you have to go to the next level of barriers of entry — to prove to them they’re wrong and that you can do the job,” she said. “And, then, the sabotage begins.”
Perry, whose firm has been a part of some of the biggest jobs in North Jersey — such as the building of MetLife Stadium — said fighting this fight gets old.
Sometimes, Perry said, she’ll pull an end-around.
“I send in my white male project managers instead,” she said.
ROI-NJ asked a number of Black female leaders for their thoughts on this question: Tell us something you face in the business world that others do not?
Many acknowledged the difficult challenges they face, but did not want to answer. It would be a sign of weakness — or whining — they said. But two key leaders offered their thoughts:
Leslie Anderson, CEO of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority:
“The perception/misperception that being a strong leader shows you to be aggressive and angry, when, in fact, you are demonstrating your commitment and dedication to your cause. I am a passionate advocate for people to have adequate housing, access to food or health care and feel safe in their neighborhood. While not unique, it is a consistent challenge facing Black women in the workspace.”
Adenah Bayoh, founder of Adenah Bayoh & Cos.:
“Black women entrepreneurs have become the fastest-growing group of business owners despite having little to no support from financial institutions. We are often forced to rely on self-funding to launch or scale our businesses because of a lack of access to funding. It has become increasingly difficult to scale up our businesses without digging very deep into our own pockets or accepting very predatory loans, and the pandemic only highlighted that fact even more.”