Overcoming Bias: A Discussion with Interise Instructor Dr. Channelle James


Business & Strategic Assessment: Setting The Stage For Growth, the first module of Interise’s award-winning curriculum, the StreetWise ‘MBA’, – – small businesses identify and set strategic goals needed to grow their business over the next three years. They also assess their own leadership styles and form CEO Mentoring Groups with whom they will collaborate throughout the program—and beyond.  This combination not only holds them accountable to themselves but also to others helping to accelerate the behavior changes needed to grow and scale their companies.

Scale to Excel, a program run by the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, recently completed Module 1 under the instruction of Dr. Channelle James, and a recurring theme that emerged is how minority- and women-owned businesses can and should deal with both conscious and unconscious bias. 

As Dr. James said, “During our module on Business Strategy some of our participants started to reflect on the role that bias played in decisions about their business.  The entrepreneurs stressed that sometimes even when they put their “best business forward”, they might be unfairly judged or ignored because they are minority-owned businesses.”

The sad but all too true reality is that minority and women-owned businesses still face:

  • A lack of diverse consumer participation because of misconceptions of the quality or value offered by the business.
  • Fewer opportunities for investment from funders who would otherwise invest in similar majority owned businesses.
  • People undervaluing their competency as venture founders and leaders, regardless of experience and ventures/personal development investments.
  • An inability to make relationships in important networks that will help grow business opportunities due to systemic disadvantages that have transcended generations. 

“The bias against minority-owned businesses, although hard to face, is something women and minority business enterprises (MWBE’s)  must consider when thinking about the life-cycle of their business.” Said James. Just like they plan for every other element of the venture, minority owned businesses must maintain a current strategy to combat bias. This plan may include:

  • Maintaining or advancing their competitive advantage by refusing to rest on stale business models.
  • Identifying and maintaining relationships with legal, financial, marketing and technology advisors who are available when unexpected situations arise.
  • Working to develop community relationships that can provide positive support during hard times.  
  • Developing authentic relationships with your customer base so the good reputation of your company precedes you. 
  • Including a growth segment in the plan that considers in advance alternate paths to success when other opportunities are lost. In other words…Never put all your eggs in one basket.

With that said, the cohort recognized that more often than not, MWBE leaders successfully implement innovative strategies and goals to deal with and overcome the consistent roadblocks they face. For example, throughout the pandemic – which disproportionately affected people of color – MWBE’s were able to make crucial pivots that allowed their businesses to stay afloat. Dr. James cited a Mckinsey and Company report published in 2020 which found that, 

“According to our recent poll of more than 1,000 small businesses nationwide, more than 40% of minority-owned small businesses have added new services to support their communities and employees, compared with 27% of all respondents. A majority of minority entrepreneurs are optimistic about economic recovery. In general: 56% of minority small-business owners reported that they were optimistic about post-COVID-19 economic conditions, compared with 49% of all respondents.” 

The Scale to Excel group reasoned that the best way for their businesses to survive is to work on strategies that would give them the tools to overcome biases in the marketplace and ultimately build successful enterprises. The takeaway was that biases will always exist but having the knowledge to implement a productive growth and business strategy is the most effective way to overcome them. That is why a program like Interise/Scale to Excel is so critical. The program provides a framework that allows the entrepreneurs to build effective strategies in a marketplace that has historically never been on their side and teaches them the tools they need to succeed.

About Dr. Channelle James:

Dr. James is a faculty member in the Bryan School of Business and Economics at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also is the President and Executive Director of Community Ventures Inc. a non profit startup focused on creating social good in the City of Greensboro through entrepreneurship and social innovation. She publishes articles and book chapters based on her research in sustainable/social entrepreneurship, diversity, and community support of entrepreneurship for vulnerable communities.