During her acceptance speech at last year’s Emmy Awards, Viola Davis – the first African American to ever win best lead actress in a drama – celebrated the moment not so much as one of personal accomplishment, but as an collective breakthrough for women of color in Hollywood. Chock full of praise for fellow black actors, actresses and writers, the speech quickly garnered praise from across the country and all corners of the Internet.
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Davis said in perhaps the most powerful moment of the speech.
It isn’t only Hollywood where minority women are breaking through, though. On Main Streets around the country, economists are seeing a similarly uplifting trend.
In fact, women of color are now the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, according to research by the National Women’s Business Council, which examined census data from 2007 to 2012. Over that period, the number of firms owned by black women surged by 67.5 percent, the council found, a growth rate topped only by female Hispanic entrepreneurs (up 87.5 percent). Meanwhile, the number of firms owned by Asian women shot up 44.3 percent.
Companies owned by white women ticked up, too, but at a much slower clip (10.1 percent). Overall, the rate of new business formation among women of all races now outpaces the rate of new business starts by men.
“It’s the perfect storm of opportunity,” NWBC President Carla Harris told members of the press when asked about the reason for the recent surge. She later added that “there cannot be a better time for women to start and to scale their businesses.”
Those new businesses mean new jobs, too. In 2007, businesses owned by females employed about 7.5 million people. Only five years later, that number has increased almost 20 percent, with nearly 9 million Americans working at women-owned firms.
Much of the expanded opportunity appears to be in the South, as states like Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida have all seen the number of women-led businesses grow by 40 percent or more since 2007, more than any other states in the country.
Just like in Hollywood, there’s still plenty of room for improvement in terms of gender and racial diversity on Main Street. While their ranks are growing quickly, the number of women-owned businesses still remains well below those owned by men, with nearly 55 percent American companies owned entirely by males.
That majority holds true for every ethnic group, save one — black women. Nearly six in ten companies owned by African Americans are now owned by women.