When Black Womxn Leave, Money Follows

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It all started with Michaela Coel turning down a million dollar Netflix deal. The British born Black actress chose mental health and creative control over money. “It wasn’t just a check, I needed to know what was behind the check and exactly how things were operating.” 

When Coel asked for a producer’s credit for I May Destroy You—a deeply intimate project Coel wrote, produced and starred in—the streaming service balked. Kadiff Kirwan, Coel’s co-star on Chewing Gum and longtime friend, said it best: “It’s like she built this house and gave the keys to someone, and they locked her out of different rooms in her own house, which is absolute bullshit.”

Coel wasn’t having it. “I began to enjoy realizing that they thought I was…just going to take it, then being like ‘Surprise bitches, I’m not taking it.’ And then actually I was really empowered… I will be left homeless and poor, and I will say no to this.” She wasn’t the first Black womxn to opt out of a toxic situation, despite strong financial incentives to endure continued abuse, and she certainly won’t be the last. But her bold move and subsequent success was the canary in the coal mine for what was to come.

Black womxn are tired: Tired of being the most educated and yet underpaid group in America and Tired of the Black Superwoman Schema that expects us to save and serve everyone else and keep the leftovers for ourselves. Black womxn are done trying to dismantle the master’s house, now we’re just leaving.

 

(Peace of) Mind over Money

Since Coel’s announcement, the news cycle has been inundated with Black womxn opting out of toxic environments. Whether they are business leaders like Cynthia Perry (formerly of Salesforce), athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, or academics like Nikole Hannah Jones, they are all sending the same message: put some respect on my name, or I’m out.

After a highly public and contested offer of tenure from her alma mater, University of North Carolina, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones declined the too little, too late offer: “I do not want to win someone else’s game. It is not my job to heal this university… For too long… the burden of working for racial justice is laid on the very people bearing the brunt of the injustice, and not the powerful people who maintain it. I say to you: I refuse.”

Cynthia Perry resigned from her position as design research senior manager at Salesforce because she felt constantly “gaslit, manipulated, bullied, neglected, and mostly unsupported.” 

She goes on to say: “Salesforce, for me, is not a safe place to come to work… It’s not a place where I can be my full self. It’s not a place where I have been invested in. It’s not a place full of opportunity. It’s not a place of Equality for All. It’s not a place where well-being matters.” According to her LinkedIn, Perry is now “taking time to rest and be.”

Workplace harassment and bullying is not confined to the C-Suite. According to a study done at Morgan State University, 68% of Black womxn report experiencing workplace bullying. Bullying, racial trauma, and the Black Superwoman Schema often lead to burnout, making it particularly important for Black womxn to pay attention to selfcare. 

Tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open to “exercise self-care and preservation of [her] mental health,” reminding the world that “athletes are humans.” Simone Biles echoed Osaka when she took a step back from the 2021 Olympics. “We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we’re human, too… so, we have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

While Osaka, Biles, Perry, and Hannah-Jones are all famous Black womxn at the top of their fields and therefore in a position to turn down opportunities, celebrities aren’t the only ones opting out. According to the Time’s Up Foundation, “One in five Black women has turned down a higher-paying job because the environment was too racist or sexist.”

Workplaces with toxic cultures are not only less likely to attract Black womxn, they are also less likely to retain them. A CTI study found that one in three Black professionals plan to leave their jobs and start a business within the next two years. Unsurprisingly, Black womxn lead the pack. 

 

Good for us, Bad for Business

Since 2007, the amount of Black womxn who have left their job to start a business has grown by 164%, citing issues like the glass ceiling, gender wage gap, and lack of representation as their primary reasons for walking away. By failing to recruit and retain Black womxn, companies are leaving money on the table. 

Why Diversity Matters, a market insight study done by McKinsey & Company, diverse companies average 19% higher revenue than their monolithic counterparts. The benefits of diversity are even more marked when we look at how racial and gender diversity impacts the long term value of a company. Gender diverse executive teams created 27% more long term value for their companies. Racially diverse teams boasted a 33% increase in long-term value when compared to their more homogenous peers.

Making more money and creating more value are just two of many ways companies’ bottom lines are being impacted by Black womxn. Over the past five years, 60% of employers have faced a discrimination lawsuit, with the EEOC collecting an average of just over 400 million in claims each year. This amount doesn’t include any non disclosed payouts or settlements companies have made.

Insurers are taking note of these costs as well. In May of this year, the International Standards Organization released ISO 30415: Human resource management — Diversity and inclusion. The standard “presents fundamental prerequisites for D&I, associated accountabilities and responsibilities, recommended actions, suggested measures and potential outcomes.” Ignoring the ISO could come with a hefty price hike in insurance rates for large corporations and local governments. 

Higher insurance rates, lower revenue, and less long-term value are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true cost of dissing and dismissing Black womxn.

 

Where The Money Reside

According to ratings conglomerate Neilsen’s, Black womxn not only have significant buying power (controlling more than half of Black America’s estimated $1.5 trillion), we also have a strong impact on virtually every market. We use more social media than any other group. We are most likely to use social media to express positive or negative opinions about a brand. We are trendsetters who pay attention to not only what a brand sells, but what they stand for.

TV shows with Black characters and storylines draw significant white audiences. TV shows with large Black audiences quickly become mainstream and have an increased chance of being nominated for an award. Hip-hop, once seen as a fad, is now the most consumed genre of music in the United States. According to Neilsens, “African American influence on mainstream American popular culture… is so pervasive that the two are often indistinguishable.”

We keep the lights on in churches, with Black womxn giving 25% more of our incomes to religious institutions. We keep the ethnic haircare market afloat, accounting for nearly 86% of Ethnic Hair & Beauty Aid sales. In fact, Black spending percentages are disproportionate to the Black population in the following categories: shelf stable juices and drinks, detergents, bottled water, frozen unprepared meat and seafood, refrigerated juices and drinks, personal soap and bath needs, spices seasonings and extracts, household cleaners, shortening and oil, insecticides and repellents, women’s fragrances, cookware, gum, men’s toiletries, feminine hygiene, and charcoal, logs and accessories.

When you combine this information with the fact that 50% of Black womxn seek the advice of other Black womxn before making a purchase, It’s easy to see why Black womxn as a consumer market are a ball no one can afford to fumble.

 

We Gon’ Be Alright

According to Nielsen, minorities account for 92% of the US population growth in the past 15 years. We’re not going anywhere, and as our population continues to grow, so will our influence.

When Black women know our worth, the sky’s the limit when it comes to what we can accomplish. 

After saying adios to Netflix, Michaela Coel took her talent to HBO, where she turned trauma into what Vox called “one of the best shows of the year.” I May Destroy You was an instant hit for HBO and is currently streaming on Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and YouTube TV.

As the executive producer, Coel is now profiting from distribution across multiple streaming services. While Netflix execs are busy kicking themselves, Coel continues to ‘do bad all by herself’ with a 2021 estimated net worth of $2.5 million and counting.

After being courted by countless universities, Nikole Hannah-Jones accepted a tenured position as the Knight Chair of Journalism at Howard University. In the beginning of September, she launched the 1619 Freedom school, a free after school program teaching Black history to grade schoolers in the Waterloo School District of Des Moines, Iowa.

Osaka was fined $15,000 for missing a mandatory press conference during the French Open, and tournament heads of the Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the U.S. Open, and the French Open threatened to make an example of her by suspending her from future tournaments if she continued to set boundaries with the press.

Instead of folding to the pressure, the tennis phenom chose to walk away from a $45 million competition and hasn’t missed a beat since. Osaka is the highest paid female athlete in the world with a net worth of $25 million at the time of the French Open. Since then, she has more than doubled that figure through competitions and endorsements. “I purposefully chose brand partners that are liberal, empathetic and progressive,” Osaka told TIME magazine.

Simone Biles, who had an estimated net worth of $6 million in 2020, has reportedly increased it to at least $10 million, thanks to $5 million worth of brand endorsements from Athleta, SK-II, Visa, United Airlines, and Corepower Yoga, according to Forbes Magazine.

Black womxn are thriving, with or without the support of their industries. “We gon to be alright” in the immortal words of Kendrick Lamar,  but as we move towards an America that is increasingly diverse, the question is: Will you be alright without us?

 

Ajah Hales is a writer, race educator, and social thinker from East Cleveland, Ohio. When her mother asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, Ajah replied: “A dictator.” These days Ajah is more interested in changing the world than taking it over. You can find Ajah on Twitter @AjahsWrite, you can hire her through ajahhales.com.


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