by Sherri Kolade
The fields of tech, law, construction and that of certain business sectors are in dire need of Black women who naturally always up the ante wherever they go.
However, there is still a lot to be desired. Between Black women leaving the workforce in high numbers (according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) to still being underpaid; there are many gaps in varying workforce sectors that need to be addressed.
According to Health Affairs, while many workforce segments have low percentages of Black women working, in the healthcare field, it’s oversaturated with this demographic group, more than any other population segment.
The health care industry employs more than one in five Black women in the labor force (23 percent); of this group, Black women are most likely to work in the long-term care industry (37 percent) and in positions requiring a license as a practical nurse or assistant (42 percent). Research establishes a connection between Black women’s status in the labor force and the racial and sexist historical legacies that go back to the partition of domestic work and care work during enslavement.
The Center for American Progress, a neutral, independent think tank, said that while Black women have entered more diversified areas over time, they have also experienced significant occupational segregation, which keeps them concentrated in positions with poor compensation and no mobility.
Black women frequently experience opposition since they are not seen as conforming to the traditional, largely male norm of success, even after moving into jobs traditionally occupied by men or white workers and climbing the professional ladder into managerial or leadership roles, according to American Progress. This constrained perspective reinforces a myth that restricts Black women’s employment opportunities and puts obstacles in the way of their future professional success.
Cherri Harris, president and CEO of Swint Logistics Group, Inc., told the Michigan Chronicle that at her Detroit-based company she began her uncommon career choice by starting as a truck driver.
Harris said that her company has branched out from trucking to add commercial construction, training, consulting and specialty services like asphalt paving and underground camera operations for mainline sewers.
She is proud that her company is an award-winning (minority certified woman-owned firm) and has numerous certifications through Wayne County and federally, among others coming down the line.
“These certifications are extremely beneficial. Our Wayne County certification has paved the way for us to be able to bid,” she said.
Harris said that for other Black women interested in the trucking industry like she was, or other career paths, it is always a good idea to build relationships with people in these industries.
“Having a great reputation is more valuable than money. The relationships that you build in business will help you to expand your business, meet new people, learn new things and make some money along the way,” she said. “Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to me to be responsive, to be productive and, most importantly, to be accountable. I highly recommend that any Black female in the trucking industry have a mentor. Your mentor should be someone that is very successful in the industry and willing to reach back and lend a hand to help you be a better business owner.”
Starting in this industry for Black women is becoming more and more of a commonplace event even though, according to https://www.11alive.com/, 94 percent of truckers are men.
The trucking industry workforce is getting a batch of new coworkers nationwide, especially Black women who are looking toward this as a viable career path.
In some instances, truck drivers are “aging out.” Black women are engulfed by the over 3 million truckers who operate 18-wheelers and large dump trucks, and there are plenty of these drivers to go around.
Harris added that having a seat at the table to her means being “prepared to sit at that table.”
“You have to earn that seat at the table. It is very important to get to the table and it comes with a lot of work and determination,” she said, adding that her company is currently at the table with Barton Malow, Wayne County and Bedrock for one of the biggest contracts in the company’s history. “It takes a lot of work, time and money.”
Harris said she does it all for her daughter as a single mother.
“I’ve been a single mother from day one,” she said, adding that this field helped her to learn something new and take a risk, which she encourages others to do. “Think outside the box. Go to an industry that’s less thought of because everybody isn’t flocked into that.”
Asia Hamilton, artist-photographer, founder and chief curator at Norwest Gallery of Art, agrees.
Hamilton, also a Detroit Entertainment Commissioner representing District 1, told the Michigan Chronicle that while her field as an art curator is dominated by women, it is not necessarily full of women of color, and that in the photography industry it is the complete opposite.
“[It is] primarily a white male-dominated industry as a commercial industry,” she said, adding that it’s seemingly “two strikes against her.” “Just kind of going through the channel you know, as a freelance photographer, I definitely had to create my own way. And women have to create their own way. They might not have gotten those big commercial gigs that most [white] men would get but we made a way out of what we could.”
She said nevertheless that mentorship with other like-minded individuals goes a long way in making connections, friendships and more.
“[With] camaraderie, it definitely, you know, you get opportunities … if you need to buy ammo or equipment or whatever you need to buy to get your career [in order],” Hamilton said.
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