Lydiah Igweh is the Director of Enterprise Support at Oxford Brookes University. With over 17 years of C-level Business Development, Marketing and Strategy experience, Igweh specializes in innovation, entrepreneurship, organizational change, leadership and digital transformation. She’s committed to championing women in business and advancing race equality. Lydiah enjoys writing, mentoring future young leaders with EY Foundation, public speaking and presenting.
There is no denying that in comparison to men, women face significant workplace discrimination. But Black women face a very different challenge and additional discrimination.
Black women in the UK share a unique experience in the workplace and as business owners because of their struggles – rooted in systemic sexism and racism – often resulting in a lack of equal opportunities, a sense of belonging, and a lack of funding options.
To get a better idea of what these women face as they get their businesses and careers off the ground and what support is needed so they can reach their full potential, I interviewed Hannah Awonuga, the Founder of Rarity London career development services.
Hannah is a female corporate coach who dedicates her time to supporting and developing female professionals trying to excel in their careers and business.
Hannah has delivered empowerment workshops and keynote addresses and sat on many panel discussions, discussing Diversity and Inclusion, social mobility, race and ethnicity, and gender equality. She is a Global Diversity and Inclusion Vice President within the financial service industry.
She has been working in banking since she was 17 years old, and for the past 14 years has spent time in the Retail bank, business and corporate bank before transitioning into HR in 2019. Hannah has recently been appointed as a foundation school governor at her local Catholic secondary school and has recently joined the National black governor's network board as a trustee.
What inspired you to launch Rarity London?
I decided to launch Rarity London because I identified a knowledge gap in women understanding how to excel and progress in their careers.
You’ve been able to launch Rarity London whilst having a very demanding job. What help have you been offered by others which allowed you to thrive?
One of the critical elements to Rarity London’s success has been my network; it has been amazing to connect and work with some fantastic entrepreneurs and career women committed to gender equality and career advancement. I had realised that to thrive and grow, you need to have the right people around you who can offer support, resources and guidance when required.
The way you have progressed throughout your career is inspiring for all, especially women. What advice would you give to the aspiring next generation of women who want to achieve their goals in life?
Thank you so much for your kind words. My advice to the next generation has remained the same for many years.
Be intentional – take time to understand what you want, what you enjoy and what you are good at and then, go for it!
Connect and grow your network. Surround yourself with different people at various stages of their careers and lives so you can have the ability to tap into their knowledge and experience. Lastly, get a mentor and a sponsor – similar to the last piece of advice, having a mentor to support and guide you on your career journey is essential.
Finding a sponsor is a bit trickier but is vital to the development of your career. Before you attempt to find a sponsor, you need to strategically think about where you want your career to go; what is your 18-month career goal? Once you know this, then your quest for a sponsor who is in that space can begin. Your sponsor should be someone who can identify new opportunities for you, open doors and use their network to support your career; this can only happen if you organically build the relationship over some time.
The British Business Bank revealed that 37% of black female business owners and 36% of female business owners from Asian and other ethnic minority backgrounds made no profit last year. What needs to change to help decrease the percentage?
Due to my experience in D&I, unfortunately, this is a very familiar narrative; More effective business development support is required for women of colour to help them grow and scale up their business.
Currently, less than 1% of black women receive venture capital for their companies and get very little sponsorship or mentorship from large corporate investors. Yet, Black women are among the fastest-growing entrepreneurs. Still, with 80% of most companies failing in the first year, the lack of business support and funding available to Black women and women of colour has a significant impact on their ability to scale up and grow. We are not starting on a level playing field.
Forbes has released data showing that Black-owned businesses have grown by 50%, significantly faster than any other minority-owned business. From your experience of launching a business, why do you believe Black women-owned businesses are growing so much faster?
I believe this is related to the workplace’s lack of opportunity and progression, forcing Black women to take their careers into their own hands and build their careers themselves through business. The McKinsey report recently revealed that the FTSE 350 had achieved its goal of 30% women on boards, but when you look deeper into that statistics, how many of them are black and ethnically diverse women? The lack of recognition and progression in the public and private sector is forcing women of colour out of the employment world and into entrepreneurship. Another aspect, in my view, is that we know all industries are on a journey with D&I. So, we see a rapid increase in Black-owned businesses solving social problems of exclusion for the Black community. For example, in hair and beauty, skincare, food, we see more black female founders starting up businesses to help support the community.
Black female entrepreneurs get a paltry 0.2 per cent of total venture capital funding. Do you think educating funders on intersectionality can help grow funds for black female-led businesses?
The venture capital space is, more than ever, focused on creating better opportunities for women. Far too often, however, Black women are not considered in the development of these opportunities. Investors need to understand the layers and multiple facets that make up our identity as Black women. With the rapid rise in black female entrepreneurs, more focus needs to be directed to this demographic to allow women of colour to thrive in business truly.
You are a successful black woman. Do you believe discrimination in the workplace has given you an extra drive and motivation to succeed?
One of the main challenges I faced when I was developing in my career was that I did not see women who looked like me in senior positions. This is why representation is important; I never saw black women in senior leadership positions across the industry. In my earlier career days, this had a significant impact on my confidence and ambitions because I felt like if I didn’t see it, I couldn’t become it. Over the years, that has changed and now is the driving force for my success. The lack of representation and discrimination has driven me to be more ambitious and focused on excelling in my business and career.