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During Women’s History Month, Let’s Celebrate the Pioneering Women Among Us

This post is written by Vernita Naylor, founder and owner of Jabez Enterprise Group in Oakland, Calif. She is also the author of Get the Cheese, Avoid the Traps: An Interactive Guide to Government Contracting.  

Pioneers live among us. We pass them daily, unknowingly. Other times we are the trail blazers, and we don’t even realize it until we reflect on our lives and the things we overcame to get where we are today. I am a pioneer because I am among the first generation of unmarried women who had guaranteed access to oral contraceptives. I’m grateful for that, because I owe the success of my small business—in part—to birth control. 

I started taking birth control pills in 1981 when I was 17 years old. This would not have been possible just a few years earlier, before the U.S. Supreme Court said all Americans had the right to access contraceptives regardless of their marital status. Had this not been the case, my life and livelihood may have turned out very differently. 

I am the founder and owner of Jabez Enterprise Group in Oakland, Calif. My integrated business resource company provides education and support services to business owners, non-profit organizations and buying agencies. I’ve been in business for more than 10 years now, but when I started my firm I felt like I was under a magnifying glass. And as a woman of color, it seemed like the odds of my company getting off the ground were stacked against me because minority women face even more barriers to business success like inadequate capital, lack of workplace development training and fewer angel investors. 

While minority entrepreneurship is on the rise, a number of factors are slowing that growth. For instance, a Small Business Administration (SBA) study concluded the major constraint limiting the growth, expansion, and wealth creation of small firms—especially women- and minority-owned businesses—is inadequate capital. According to the Minority Business Development Agency, minority-owned firms are three times more likely to be denied loans than non-minority firms. Sadly, the problem is getting worse. According to the People for Change Coalition, African-American businesses received just 2.3 percent of SBA loans in 2013, down from 11 percent in 2008. 

These problems are too much for many women entrepreneurs of color to overcome. Since I was able to control the growth of my family on my terms, however, I at least had greater flexibility to invest my own time and money in my business. This was critical because I am a solo entrepreneur. Without a co-owner or employees, there is no one to hand work off to if I’m not available. What’s more, like most entrepreneurs my business finances are tied to my personal finances, meaning the expense of a new child could take resources away from my company at a time when I might not have cash to spare.

Contraceptives also helped me stay healthy so I could focus on my business. Without birth control pills, I would have been at risk for an anemic disorder and experienced tiredness, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and continually being and feeling cold. Had I suffered from these symptoms regularly, my business clearly would have suffered. 

I wouldn’t be in business today if I didn’t have access to birth control, and I’m not alone. A new scientific opinion poll conducted on behalf of Small Business Majority found 65 percent of African-American and 64 percent of Latina small business owners say access to birth control, and the freedom to decide if and when to have children, has impacted their bottom lines as a business owner. This would not have been possible without the trailblazers who were willing to stand up for women’s rights. 

During Women’s History Month, we should take time to remember the many women who did something significant first, no matter the size of their accomplishment. Who knows, one of those pioneers might be you. 

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