I wrote a few years ago about what we are missing when we don’t harness the talents of Black women. In that post, I talk about the technological innovations showcased in Black Panther.  The tech in the movie highlights the great things that would be possible if Black thinkers and leaders had equitable access to opportunities. 

 It is beyond frustrating that the answer to that question is still the stuff of science fiction. 

Taking Flight

I thought of that post when I listened to this interview with Aireka Harvell on Felena Hanson’s Flight Club Podcast. Felena is the Founder of Hera Hub, a women focused co-working space.  During COVID, Hera Hub has become a nationwide community. On her Flight Club podcast Felena explores not only what people do in their businesses, but how they got to the place where they take flight and launch their businesses. 

 Aireka’s story really stuck with me because she was at a corporate job before starting her company. Her former employer made it clear that they were unable to harness her talents in a way that would work for her. Still, it took years for her to finally make the leap.  Now she has a technology company, Nodat, that helps local businesses target more customers on their mobile devices and promote quick sales to thousands of customers locally.

Her journey resonated with me because I had just talked to several other successful business owners who had to get laid off, or demoted, before they made the decision to start their own businesses. I started wondering why many of us need permission, or in fact, rejection from our workplaces before setting out for greatness.

Why wait?

It is scary to break your addiction to a paycheck.  At the same time, when we start relying on ourselves, we thrive. The organizations and institutions we participate in are not equipped to make the most of our talents.

I know several women who started companies as a last resort. That’s why it’s so important that companies seek out diverse suppliers. Their company cultures don’t allow for the kind of innovation and thought leadership that these women bring.  It’s not until they come with CEO after their name that people take notice and can finally say, “You know, I think we could really use that solution.”

What do we miss when people don’t love their work?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that just affects women. I was in another zoom with multi-million dollar CEOs. They are, not coincidentally, very concerned with creating a culture that engages their employees. There I learned that disengagement at work has reached historic levels.  Data from Gallup shows that it’s not just COVID or typical business disruptions that affect this trend.  In June, during and after the social justice protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd, the diversity and inclusion challenges that many organizations faced led to higher levels of disengagement.

 The systematic disengagement of all workers, especially millennials, women, and people of color, makes it difficult to come up with the solutions the future will require.

What can we gain?

Companies are getting wise to this. Apple is launching an accelerator for Black and Brown businesses.  Retailers across the country have committed to allotting 15% of shelf space to Black owned businesses. Major financial institutions are committing funds to Black owned banks. And Fortune 500 companies are leveraging supplier diversity programs for big economic upsides.

It’s great to see energy behind underestimated founders, I love seeing economic power supporting the creators of the next great idea. After listening to the podcast, I reached out to Aireka to hear more about her company. Then I introduced her to the organizations in Nashville that will help her take advantage of supplier diversity programs.

 I just wonder how much time, money, and innovation we’ve lost by not harnessing the power of these great ideas sooner.