Marsha Guerrier has hit the sweet spot with her virtual network for businesswomen of color. Aptly named, HerSuiteSpot seeks to propel its members toward financial success by empowering them as entrepreneurs and leaders, breaking down negative money beliefs, and replacing those beliefs with a true sense of worth. And it’s working — according to the network, members have increased their revenue by an average of 30 percent.
In the U.S. and Canada, women held less than a quarter of the top executive positions in 2021. That number dropped to a mere 4 percent for women of color. While parity appeared to be nearer for women in general when it comes to lower management, only 12 percent of those positions were retained by women of color. Further, women of color consistently report being undervalued and overburdened at work.
It is this type of corporate culture that inspires Guerrier to help women who look like her find ways around those barriers. She began with the Women on the Rise Conference in 2014, which blossomed into what is now HerSuiteSpot. She told TriplePundit that she saw the need for the network while working for a startup where she and the few other women employed there were being taken advantage of for their knowledge and expertise without any real acknowledgment or gratitude for their work. When the women got together and compared experiences, it became clear that none of them were receiving bonuses, regardless of their contributions. Instead, the men were keeping all of the profits for themselves.
Guerrier explained that executive management seemed to see her, the only Black person at the company, and the few Asian women working there as a way to tick off their diversity markers without utilizing the women to their full potential in the proper positions with the commensurate pay. The disappointment in her voice was palatable as she described the situation, “I’m a woman and I’m a Black person, and I filled those boxes,” she told us.
With the original conference, Guerrier’s goal was to provide an opportunity for women of color to come together and access resources that would help them deal with the marginalization they experience in the workplace and go beyond the hobby state with their own side hustles. Since then, she has expanded into HerSuiteSpot with a huge network that serves as a support group and mastermind. There is a toolkit for business planning and goal setting. There is a video library. There is consulting, coaching, and a career center where corporate sponsors can list jobs, and there is an app to support all of it. There is even capital in the form of monthly $500 HerRise MicroGrants and a virtual pitchfest for entrepreneurs from New York state on March 31 with a $5,000 grant up for grabs.
Capital is an integral part of turning a side hustle into a startup. Yet HerSuiteSpot’s website cites less than 1 percent of venture capital going to Black and Latina women. Guerrier pointed out that while venture capitalists do prefer to invest in people who look like them, it goes beyond gatekeeping. These investors falsely assume that entrepreneurs of color aren’t interested in providing goods or services for a larger market, so when they do invest in Black and Latina-owned businesses, it is largely in the form of hair and beauty products.
With the grants, Guerrier says, “We try to look beyond the average things that they think a woman of color would do,” and strike a balance between products and services. This month the grant will go to an entrepreneur upcycling plastics. Last month it went to a faith-based nanny matching service.
According to HerSuiteSpot, 65 percent of women of color have side hustles, but this isn’t anything new. Guerrier explained that Black women have always had some kind of monetization outside of work — whether it was babysitting, hair-braiding, making skin and hair products, etc. — the language just wasn’t there to describe it as such. The goal with side hustles now is, as she puts it: “We want women to realize it can become bigger than their salary.”
Turning a side hustle into a startup can be intimidating for anyone, even more so for women of color who have been raised without wealth or resources. In addition, Guerrier explains that many are held back by a fear of failure, along with a mindset of scarcity, and the idea that they should be grateful for what they have and not go after more. This is why HerSuiteSpot focuses on mindset as the first of its Four Pillars (the other three are money, marketing and media).
This mindset work is constant and relies on affirmations and reminding. Members are tasked with being fair and kind to themselves while celebrating their wins — something most women struggle with. Guerrier shared one of her tricks with TriplePundit and, without giving away the secret, it sounds like a magical way to borrow the confidence of those who somehow always seem to manage to fail upward.
She also has invaluable advice for parents raising girls of color — “It starts at home.” She encourages parents to actively build confidence in their daughters and expose them to new experiences and non-traditional fields. They need to see success and leadership and be exposed to high-level executives who look like them. HerSuiteSpot will help bring this advice to fruition for 25 girls aged 14 to 18 this summer with the HerRise STEM Squad.
In a corporate culture that continues to favor white males at the expense of women of color, HerSuiteSpot steps in to fill a void and provide a medium through which these women can collaborate and network to further their careers and turn their side hustles into startups.
Image credit: Ono Kosuki via Pexels
Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.