Elevating Black Voices
At the 2022 DuSable Conference, three alumni spoke about the challenges facing Black professionals and the approaches they take in tackling them.
- September 06, 2022
For Adrienne Edwards, ’18, increasing representation of minorities in the business world starts with career education.
“The way to get more people into operations is to make sure that everyone has exposure to careers in operations,” said Edwards, vice president of operations for the edible arts company Fancy Sprinkles in Pacoima, California. “That exposure can happen at the business school level; it can happen at the undergrad level; but really understanding the field is the key.”
Elizabeth “Liz” Abunaw, ’14, said it’s important for Black entrepreneurs to build businesses that can create structural capital for the Black community to control. But she also warned that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone.
“Entrepreneurship is overglamorized, and people do not understand what they are getting into,” said Abunaw, founder of Forty Acres Fresh Market, a startup grocer that brings fresh produce to neglected neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side. “It’s not fun. Your life is not your own. Also, you will be poor for a very long time.”
She had several words of advice for aspiring Black entrepreneurs: “Use the Booth network. Make all the money you possibly can. Save, save, save some more. Then you save some more on top of that. And then when an opportunity for entrepreneurship comes, you will be ready.”
Kwaku Frimpong, ’21, associate marketing manager for Gatorade brand strategy at PepsiCo, spoke more broadly about career paths in his field. While a marketing student at Chicago Booth, he said he was “a minority within a minority,” acknowledging that the field doesn’t typically attract many professionals of color. But when people ask him about marketing careers, he tries to dispel the misconception that marketing isn’t as serious or demanding as other roles.
“Regardless of what industry you go into, you’re going to grind,” he said. “You’ve graduated from the No. 1 business school in the world, so regardless of where you go, there’s going to be a set of expectations that come with that.”
“So often, especially if they’re not Black, people feel very comfortable doubting you and doubting your ability. So when you manage while Black, you have to be a little bit patient. If I hire someone and then they start doubting me, we have to course correct.”
The Fine Line between Confidence and Humility
A healthy dose of self-awareness and humility can help professionals build a positive image within their companies. As Abunaw put it, “Know you don’t know everything, but also be tactful and be strategic in how you ask for help, because it’s going to influence how people see you and the reputation you get within the company.”
Frimpong added that it’s important to remain open to feedback as well as praise.
“I entered the workforce knowing that I’m not an expert in everything, and I think that has served me well,” he said. “I don’t mind asking questions. I don’t mind asking my managers for feedback. What can I do to make sure I get the answers that I need to continue to push things forward? That’s how success continues.”
Organized by the African American MBA Association with support from UChicago administration, the DuSable Conference is one of Booth’s longest-running student-led conferences. It brings together alumni, students, faculty, and community leaders for networking opportunities and discussions about racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. This year’s conference, the first to take place in person since 2019, featured discussions on lifting up Black leadership, creating inclusive environments, and empowering generational transformation.
Explore key takeaways from this year’s plenary session, featuring TransUnion’s Steve Chaouki, ’98, and Booth’s Angela Pace-Moody, AB ’97: Bringing All Voices to the Table.
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