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African-American Women Entrepreneurs Weigh in On US Election

  • Aru Pande

Anne Segal remembers driving past the for-sale sign outside an ice cream shop in Laurel, Maryland, and telling her husband she wanted to try her hand at running it herself.

“As a woman, who would have thought? I come from Africa. I wouldn’t have thought I would start a business in America,” Segal said as she opens her Sweets and Treats Creamery on this sunny morning.

The last year has not been without its challenges for Segal, who left Uganda 25 years ago to start a new life in the United States.

After leaving a corporate job to focus on family - Segal is the mother of a young daughter - she used her family’s savings to get the year-old ice cream shop off the ground.

“It’s so easy for a man to go to the bank and they give him a loan. Me, a woman: 'What do you do?' 'Oh, I am a housewife.' ‘Oh, yeah, really?’ Nobody’s going to give you a loan,” Segal said.

She is not alone.

Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, says the challenges of being a female business owner are reflected in the statistics.

While women own 36 percent of all U.S. companies, they generate only 4 percent of all U.S. annual revenues.

A 2015 chamber report named “Wake Up Call” found 70 percent of women-owned firms have less than $25,000 in revenues annually. Only 1.7 percent have revenues over $1 million, and just 10 percent have paid employees.

“We have been undervalued for decades now, the fact that we still don’t have fair pay. We have to leave corporate America to start our own businesses to maybe get fair pay and a family-friendly work environment, and still struggle when we have gotten into the marketplace,” Dorfman said during an interview at the chamber’s headquarters in Washington.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally in Seattle, Washington, March 22, 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally in Seattle, Washington, March 22, 2016.

Voting for Clinton

On who might best address the struggle, Dorfman says Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wins her organization's endorsement.

“She is committed to making sure that small businesses have access to capital and access to markets and is very interested in the access to affordable health care,” the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce CEO said.

If the U.S. presidential campaign were to come down to Republican Donald Trump versus Democrat Hillary Clinton, 60 percent of American women polled in a recent CNN survey said they would cast their ballots for Clinton.

Bukie Opanuga, a Clinton supporter, is paying close attention to women’s workplace issues during this presidential campaign.

“We women do have the power and the ability to drive the conversation in that direction because these are issues that matter to us,” Opanuga said.

The Nigerian-American used high-interest credit cards to grow her Atlanta-based web design firm and has seen firsthand the struggles many women face.

“Some people don’t necessary want to go the entrepreneur route, but they are having to essentially come out of the workplace and become 1099 workers [self-employed] because they are having to choose between a paycheck or being able to take care of a sick child at home. These are some of the issues I am going to be paying attention to – and a lot of women should be paying to,” Opanuga said.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally April 6, 2016, in Bethpage, New York.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally April 6, 2016, in Bethpage, New York.

Voting for Trump

Back in Maryland, Anne Segal is paying close attention to the economy as she works to make her shop profitable.

Though she voted for Barack Obama, she says she is disappointed with Democrats and is now looking in a different direction.

“This time I am going to [vote] for someone who has created a job, who is Trump. He has created a job. He is employing people. When it comes to the economy, at least he knows better than the other guys running around telling us what to do.”

Regardless of whom they support, both Segal and Opanuga say American women should ensure their voices are heard come November.

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