If you look at Dr. Roshawnna Novellus’s resume on paper, she seems like she’s done far more than any one woman can muster: she has a Doctorate in Systems Engineering and finance (not to mention a Master’s in IT and Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering), has her own business that supports female entrepreneurs, and is an author. But if you speak to her in person about her experiences, well, her passion and expertise go deeper than you can imagine.
If there’s one thing we’re all benefitting from right now, it’s hearing from other people’s perspectives—and we spoke with Dr. Novellus not only about her career journey and company, but about her take on the protesting and demands for justice happening around the country through the eyes of a Black, female CEO. Her words and insight are not only inspiring, but provide a viewpoint that needs to be heard.
Name: Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, CEO and Founder of EnrichHER
Current location: Atlanta, GA
Education: Doctorate in Systems Engineering and Finance, George Washington University; Masters in IT and Systems Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Bachelors in Computer Engineering and Business Management Economics, UC Santa Cruz
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
When I was 15, I taught middle schoolers paleontology in San Diego, at the Elementary Institute of Science. I had to go on fossil recovery expeditions and catalog bones. The job was through an internship at the Natural History Museum, and I was one of two students selected to represent the Institute at the Museum.
Tell us a little bit about your career journey—did you always know you wanted to do work in finance?
My mother took me to local investment meetings as a teen because it was important to her that I controlled my own financial power. When I was in junior high, I made $40 a day selling candy to students at my school. I’ve always wanted to set my own goals and not follow others, and that early experience taught me something important about supply and demand and deepened my interest in finance.
What made you decide to start your business, EnrichHER?
The biggest challenge that women face is raising capital, which is why I started EnrichHER. Every time I can help a women-led business succeed, I believe that I’m fulfilling my purpose. I believe that providing capital for women-led businesses provides economic empowerment, inclusive economic growth, and overall gender equality. As the number of sustainable women-led businesses increases, society as a whole will benefit from inclusive job growth, as well as products and services that better reflect the input of women. Once women have a larger role in the economies of our communities, we will be able to build a society that is more reflective of our needs, desires, and aspirations.
My mother took me to local investment meetings as a teen because it was important to her that I controlled my own financial power.
What challenges would you say you had building a business not only as a woman, but a Black woman?
Funding equity does not exist for women-led businesses. Even women-led ventures that obtain a lot of traction, win competitions, and/or successfully raise capital, still face more challenges than their male counterparts. Lack of access to financial assets continues to impede gender equality. You also have to consider the intersectionality of being a Black woman. As a Black woman I have to face both race and gender inequality; this is why I have become such a strong advocate for equality. I believe in economic empowerment and inclusive economic growth.
What is the most common obstacle you see Black, female entrepreneurs have that other demographics do not?
Historically, women have faced a profound lack of support in business financing. National statistics have said that women get approved for business loans at rates about 20 percent lower than the same rates for men. Additionally, predatory lending agencies have a history of targeting Black women, which is why it’s so important to be knowledgeable about multiple methods of business financing. That’s one of the things we cover in EnrichHER’s Business Financing Masterclass, and it’s very important information.
As a Black woman I have to face both race and gender inequality; this is why I have become such a strong advocate for equality. I believe in economic empowerment and inclusive economic growth.
We’ve all seen what’s going on in Minneapolis and across the country. What’s your take on it as a Black woman CEO, and what advice would you give to small businesses?
As a Black woman who started a company that strives for economic justice for women, I’m reinvigorated. My ‘why’ continues to be necessary. We cannot give up the fight. We owe it to our communities; we owe it to our ancestors; we owe it to our children; and we owe it to ourselves. I strongly believe that in order for society to change, access to resources must change. Diversification of business ownership is part of the solution. Business owners are the brokers of goods into the community, and they influence politics and legislation. The pandemic in itself is supposed to put 42 percent of all businesses owned by Black people in the U.S. out of business, so supporting those businesses is an important way to ensure that our culture is not left further behind.
We cannot give up the fight. We owe it to our communities; we owe it to our ancestors; we owe it to our children; and we owe it to ourselves.
What has it been like witnessing the protesting across the country as a Black woman? What would you say to the people who claim they don’t understand it?
I live a little less than two miles from the protests that occurred over the weekend in Atlanta. I noticed the increased police presence in my neighborhood, as well as the evidence of the cleanup happening the next day. After the first evening of protests, I decided to talk to the women working in security and concierge positions to better understand how they were navigating the difficult situation. These women were afraid, but had to take care of their families, so they had to come to work.
This narrative has continued to be true throughout time. Time and time again, women have had to suck it up and bottle up our pain, bottle up our hurts, bottle up the weight that exists on our shoulders, all to make sure our communities stay intact. We do it by focusing on our love for others, and often overlook our own needs. Black feminist Audre Lorde famously said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” She meant that Black women must replenish themselves because they spend so much energy caring for their communities in the face of oppression. One way I care for myself is focusing on my self care routine every morning and evening.
Time and time again, women have had to suck it up and bottle up our pain, bottle up our hurts, bottle up the weight that exists on our shoulders, all to make sure our communities stay intact.
What is one thing you’d want to tell the non-Black women reading this article?
Center Black women’s voices as much as you can, and when they tell you they have experienced oppression, believe them. Do not minimize or invalidate their lived experiences.
If you could tell your 22-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
When you get negativity from other people, it has nothing to do with you. It’s about them and the place they’re coming from. Don’t let that affect your picture of yourself.