Views From the Glass Cliff: The Power of Entrepreneurship
by Kristine Baffo
Indulge me for a second. What if I told you there is another glass phenomenon that women as well as minorities are facing? Yes, another version of the glass ceiling, the elevator, or any other variation that indicates disparities exist in these group. I don’t know if I am more intrigued by the fact that we haven’t run out of glass items to highlight or the fact that we are still looking to highlight these disparities in the first place. Either way, I was somewhere in between disbelief and stoicism when I learned about the glass cliff.
What is the glass cliff and why is this important?
The glass cliff is the concept that women and minorities are more likely placed in positions of power during times of crisis. How have researchers defined crisis? Often crisis is used to describe some form of financial downturn in a company, public relations nightmare or both. The glass cliff concept holds true in multiple disciplines such as business, education and politics. If you are beginning to shift in your seat out of unease or continue to rack your brain to find the underlying problem, let me help you address the elephant in the room.
Approximately 40% of MBA graduates are women, but only 5% of these individuals are CEOs in fortune 500 companies. As of October 2017, there were only 4 black CEOs of fortune 500 companies, with expectation of the number decreasing to 3 in 2018. And let’s not forget that women and minorities, can also be women and minorities at the same time, also knowns as intersectionalities. If you are unnerved by the information above, you are probably wondering the same thing I was when I first found out: Are we giving women and minorities the right tools to succeed in high performing positions? My immediate reaction was “No.” Certainly, there is more to be done, but I’m afraid the answer isn’t that easy. What has been made clear is that there is a greater need for inclusion for those individuals that strive to work within this system. However, there is also need for entrepreneurs that will serve as disruptor.
To explore the pathways of entrepreneurship, I had the opportunity to interview Chisa Egbelu the Chief Operating Officer of PeduL, an online platform where students raise money for college through crowdfunding. Chisa was graciously able to provide insight into his journey as an entrepreneur.
Kristine: Why entrepreneurship?
Chisa: It’s not something that I looked to do growing up. Growing up I saw more of the hardships of entrepreneurship than the benefits. My mom was an entrepreneur that worked on section 8 homes (low income housing). I spent a lot of time working in low income areas and indulging in the lifestyle of figuring our neighborhood politics and safety. I always admired my mom’s pursuit, ability, and determination but I thought that is not something that I could do.
As cliché as that sounds, I did want to make a grand impact on individuals, focus on something that I have a vision on, that could be executed, and build a team around that vision. Who better than yourself to get the job done? I wanted to make an impact in a positive manner and That’s what drove me to the field itself.
Kristine: What key skills do you believe an entrepreneur needs?
Chisa: A skill that an entrepreneur needs is resilience. You never know what you will get out of this business. The only way you can know is by doing it. An open mind is next. You really need to able to take critique and advice, the whole concept of having two ears and one mouth is important. A lot of people like talking so being willing to listen is vital. Lastly, the most important thing is building a team that will be able to execute.
Kristine: Can anyone be an entrepreneur?
Chisa: Yeah, I think anyone can be an entrepreneur. Every single aspect of this world can be turned into a business or could use a business mindset…from furniture to art to curriculum to fundraising education. People have different skill sets and passions. We need those different skill sets for innovation to happen. With this being said, people may find that they are not built for entrepreneurship. Not everyone needs to be a CEO and that’s good because we need other members of the team. Not everyone is a great entrepreneur, some people are great intrapreneurs and improve organization from the inside. You can always go back to something that is more comfortable.
Kristine: What are some of the considerations?
Chisa: As any athlete can relate that every aspect of the training will be fun. I love playing the game, but not every aspect of the game are you completely happy to do. Sometimes you train really hard and you lose. Overall, it is extremely fun and the loses all make-up for the negatives.
Kristine: Do you have any tips for young entrepreneurs?
Chisa: The history of business is about creating relationship and leveraging those relations. We live in a country where most of white people’s friends are white, and most of black people’s friends are black, and so on. We live in a siloed world, unless you live in an urban area. When you look at that scenario and reflect that into the business world, it is natural that people will always take referrals over qualified candidates. It is going to be more difficult to be a person of color or women or women of color, to get the relationship that it takes to get to the next level. These relationships won’t fall in your lap, you have to be very intention about making these connections.
Kristine: How do we build those relationship?
Chisa: This is something I am in the process of navigating myself. Being intentional about who you are meeting and when you are meeting them is a start. It is my duty as COO, along with my CEO and other founder to frame. We start by seeking these relationship that can be relevant to us or vice versa. We try to put ourselves in the best place to have the most chances to interact with individuals that can change things for us. We want to be part of a larger community and we can’t wait for community to look like us, so we have to begin building bridges. The other tips that I have include: setting up meeting, getting beyond 15-minute calls, taking critique and knowing when you need to get the upper hand or when people are taking advantage of this
Kristine: What benefits does it have for minorities and women?
Chisa: There are people who want to help you because who you are. It feels different when you are at a black event and the purpose of the event is specifically to uplift black people. I can speak to this but I assume the same is for women and the LGBTQ community.
So what now?
I will be very frank, I am hoping that this post will help at least spark interest, specifically in minorities and women to consider entrepreneurship. I am by no means attempting to glamourize or trivialize the amount of work required to be successful or trivialize other forms of prejudices that entrepreneurs may face as they build their brand. I am not suggesting that this is the solution to difficulties that women and minorities may face as they try to advance into more senior level positions because there is a need for women and minorities on both fronts (intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs) to strengthen representation. I am saying that this is an alternative and an option to control where they fall into that narrative.