Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first self-made female millionaires in the U.S., paved the way for female African Americans in the business world. How does her legacy continue to empower and inspire African American women in business? Part 2 of 2.
*Images of Madam C.J. Walker provided by Madam Walker Family Archives/A’Lelia Bundles
See a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: 20,000 mini-entrepreneurs. 20,000 people of color, women of color, that were out in their communities, if you will, making money.
Cofield: That´s exactly right. And so, she realized that, they were entrepreneurs, they were entrepreneurs, they were women working for her. And so she started building them into these clubs. They were sales clubs. She was teaching women about business, she was teaching women about sales, she was teaching women about professionalism. And they actually ended up having a national conference for this. Walker´s Legacy Foundation is kind of picking up where that left off, I guess you could say. We have chapters across the United States. We actually represent a network of 20,000 women to this day.
Cofield: We´re in 20 cities across the nation and counting, and we are very proud to have A´Lelia Bundles, who is Madam C.J. Walker´s great-great granddaughters, as one of our board members for our foundation and advisory board members for Walker´s Legacy. So, to talk about Madam Walker is to talk about her as a businesswoman and a philanthropist, and not just to talk about her as a woman who created a new form of hair care product distribution. While she is a botanist, and a scientist in that regard, it´s important for us to also recognize her contributions to business.
Traynham: You know, Natalie, when you open up the newspaper, you hear about pay inequity between males and females. You open up the newspaper, you read about the stories about women having the same exact job as men, having the same exact qualifications as men, and that there´s a disparity there. That disparity is even more greater, if you will, when you factor in women of color. I suspect that this is part of your mission, in terms of bringing parity to the two genders, if you will, and also people of color?
Cofield: Absolutely. So, our mission for Walker´s Legacy Foundation is to economically empower women and to entrepreneurially inspire them in the way in which Madam C.J. Walker was doing, and I hope would be proud to see us doing today. Our goal in doing that is to teach women about what it takes to start a company, but also to educate them on where they stand economically. We recently just finished a report for the small business administration on black female entrepreneurship, and to the points that you´re making, one of the things that we saw was this. One — black women have historically participated in the labor force in the U.S. economy at a higher rate than any other ethnicity in the U.S. And also, with that participation, however, most of our engagement has been in lower-wage positions, and that has created almost a $133 weekly wage gap between African American women and their contemporaries in other ethnicities. However, 60% of black business, roughly 60% of black businesses, are started and created by black women. And this is the highest percentage for women in any ethnic group in the country. And so, to not talk about the role that black women play in entrepreneurship is to actually not be talking about the conversation of black entrepreneurship in present day.
Traynham: You know, and speaking of which, that´s a perfect segway to my last question, Natalie. And that is, let´s talk about today and let´s talk about tomorrow, in the context of, what is the next chapter for Madam Walker´s Legacy, candidly speaking? And what´s the next chapter for the foundation in terms of your work in 2017, and also for Black History Month?
Cofield: Absolutely. So, Madam Walker´s Legacy this is her 150th anniversary year, so this is a great year to be talking about Madam Walker. We´re also very proud that Madam Walker and Co. the company was actually acquired by Sundial brand. So it´s back on the shelves and can be purchased in Sephora, which is exciting. As far as Walker´s Legacy Foundation is concerned, one thing that people didn´t realize about Madam Walker was that she was a low-income single mother for a while. And so our foundation is working on building programming to support entrepreneurship and financial literacy for low-income single mothers as a pathway out of poverty for them. We also, through the foundation, are working with collegiate chapters and colleges and universities across the country to encourage and inspire entrepreneurship at an early age. And this is done in conjunction with all the other programming that we are doing to educate women, including our $5,000 pitch competition, and the building of communities for women across the nation, that we really hope will galvanize them and encourage them to pursue careers in business and beyond.
Traynham: And folks that are watching can get more information where?
Cofield: At www.walkerslegacy.org
Traynham: Natalie Cofield, thank you very much for joining us. Keep up the great work.
Cofield: Thank you.
Traynham: And thank you for joining us for this edition of “Comcast Newsmakers.”I’m Robert Traynham. Have a great day, everybody.We´ll see you next time.Bye bye.