8 Black Women Inspiring Greatness in Business

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As a self-taught female business owner, I’ve had to learn my way to success. I didn’t go to business school or anything like that. I educated myself by reading books, studying other successful women, and learning from mentors and coaches I’ve met and hired along the way.

While I’ve learned from women of many backgrounds, nationalities, and races, in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share some wisdom and inspiration I’ve gathered from successful Black women.


1Oprah

I would rank Oprah as the Queen of all successful women — period. I grew up listening to snippets of The Oprah Winfrey Show while my parents watched (yes, even my dad loved Oprah!). Her books were on our shelves, as well as many she recommended.

I still enjoyed watching The Oprah Winfrey Show as an adult and cried during the entire last episode. I was so inspired by her story of growth and transformation. She was born into a life of poverty and abuse, and ended up becoming a global powerhouse brand.

Not only is Oprah wildly successful, but she has helped to launch the careers of many other talented people. She also created a charitable foundation that provides education and meals to those who need it most.

I learned from Oprah that anything’s possible. We aren’t a product of our circumstances, and believing in yourself can lead to amazing things.

2Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers is a businesswoman I only recently discovered. She’s the author of We Should All Be Millionaires and owner of a group coaching and mentorship program that helps women scale their businesses. I enjoyed her book and found it to be motivating.

Unlike Oprah, Rachel was born into a loving family. Sadly, her dad died when she and her sister were very young. This caused a lot of financial and emotional stress in her family. She somehow made her way through law school and became a lawyer, which is remarkable, but not the reason I love her.

As a female Black lawyer, Rachel was not treated with respect at her job. She was both overworked and underpaid. So, she took the plunge and started her own law practice, which quickly became a million-dollar enterprise.

From Rachel, I learned to think bigger. I already own a business (for the flexibility and freedom it gives me), but I had to ask myself — after reading her book — if I was playing too small.

3Beyoncé

Another powerhouse brand, Beyoncé has inspired an entire generation of girls and women to be a survivor, rock it out as a single lady, and embrace their curvy bodies through her songs. But, did you know she’s a savvy businesswoman as well?

Beyoncé owns an entertainment company that serves as an umbrella for her music, movies, videos, and fashion. She has various endorsement deals and partnerships with other brands. 

I see her as smart, hardworking, and confident in her skin.

4Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker is known as the first self-made female millionaire in America. I first learned about her from the Netflix film Self Made starring Octavia Spencer. Another rags-to-riches story, this woman was a force to be reckoned with, facing every obstacle you can imagine.

She was born in 1867, a time when being a woman in business was very difficult — even more so for a woman of color. But she saw a need in her community, and she filled it. She refused to let anything stop her from growing her business and wealth. She also helped other women empower themselves through employment, paying a fair wage and teaching them how to run their own businesses.

I loved watching this movie about Ms. Walker’s life, and I’m so glad to see more stories of Black women being told in this way.

5Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is The Bomb. I basically want to be her when I grow up. In case you’re not a TV and film nerd like me, Shonda is a television producer best known for creating Grey’s Anatomy. Her most recent project, Bridgerton, caused quite a stir amongst period drama fans like myself.

So what makes Shonda different from any other TV writer and producer, aside from being an amazing storyteller? She boldly goes where no producers or writers have gone before. 

When I started watching Grey’s Anatomy, I noticed right away that there was a more racially diverse cast than other television shows. Most series in the past had a token Black guy or an Asian girl here and there. And they were rarely cast as the main character. 

In Grey’s Anatomy, many of the main characters are Black women in positions of power. She takes it a step further in Bridgerton, where an imagined past in 1800s London includes Black people amongst the nobility and high social circles.

Shonda’s work has opened doors for more diversity and representation in the television industry. As life tends to follow art, I hope it’s opening doors of opportunity for people of color in all walks of life.

6Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson was a mathematician for NASA, whose complex calculations were critical to the success of America’s first crewed spaceflights. She helped pioneer the use of computers to perform mathematical tasks and was one of the first African American women to work as a NASA scientist.

Katherine’s story was portrayed in a book and movie called Hidden Figures, and I was so inspired by her perseverance in a work environment that was completely unwelcoming to women. There wasn’t even a women’s restroom in the building where she worked. Her work spoke for her, and she was often the only person who could solve the most complex problems. Katherine shattered the notion that women couldn’t excel in science and technology.

7Virginia Walden Ford

Another inspiring woman I learned about from film is Virginia Walden Ford. “Miss Virginia” is a leading advocate for parent empowerment. She’s spent a lifetime working to inspire lawmakers, filmmakers, and change-makers to increase educational opportunities for all American children.

Virginia was a struggling single mom from a low income neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Her smart and artistic son, and most of the kids in the public school system, were destined for a life of drug dealing and poverty that was perpetuated by corrupt political leaders. Virginia fought to create a scholarship program so at-risk kids like her son could attend private schools.

8Nina Cherie

Nina is a local businesswoman I first met at a women's networking event. During her introduction, she mentioned she attended a fashion design school, which we had in common. There’s not much of a high fashion scene going on in Spokane, Washington, so I sought her out to chat about it.

I found out Nina worked as a Technical Designer for the Michael Kors label before moving to Spokane.

I thought Nina was brave for attempting to stay in a smaller inland city to use her fashion degree. She had dreams of opening a boutique bridalwear shop, and guess what? She did. Her custom-made gowns are incredible, and her business is thriving. Brides travel from all over the region for her services. There’s simply no one else offering the caliber of service she provides. 

Why am I telling you this story of a small business owner who isn’t a celebrity or massive brand? Because the most inspiring Black female business owners are right in our own cities. They’re working hard, pioneering changes, supporting their families, and making their dreams come true. Support them.

Tags: Black History Month, Women in Business

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Tanya Goodall Smith

Tanya Goodall Smith, founder of WorkStory Creative, helps micro businesses expand their influence with strategic visual storytelling. See Full Bio

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