An educator, facilitator, entrepreneur, coach, and public speaker, Shakenna Williams ’94 also is a proud Babson College alumna. Currently, executive director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL), Williams returned to Babson as the deputy academic director for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program from June 2015 through November 2018, and later served as director of global initiatives for CWEL. Working at Bay Path College, the University of Massachusetts, and American International College, she has a true appreciation for higher education. Williams also earned three degrees spanning three decades, graduating from Babson in 1994, Oklahoma City University with a master’s degree in 2001, and Capella University with a doctorate in 2015.
Working in a variety of roles at Babson, how have you adapted and adjust in your daily work?
“I returned to Babson after I obtained my doctorate. I’m a proud 1994 graduate of Babson. Working at Babson in different roles the last five years, I have learned to adapt to the growing needs of incorporating technology into the learning experience. Working in the pandemic, I had to adjust to managing a fully remote team, work-life balance, and creating a virtual social life.”
Part of your work is exploring new opportunities that build on CWEL assets to advance women-led entrepreneurship worldwide. What are some of those initiatives?
“The new initiatives that were created under CWEL are the WIN Growth Lab, Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, CWEL webinar series, and two customized Women of Color partnership programs launching this spring.”
What do you attribute the rise of women in leadership positions to?
“I attribute the rise and growth in women in leadership positions to the tireless work and advocacy of individuals and organizations whose mission is to break down barriers and create opportunities for all women. Great work has been accomplished, but we must continue to empower all women to succeed by providing access to resources, mentoring, coaching, education, and networking.”
CWEL created the Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (BWEL) program. Why was there a need for this program and how has it benefited minority women?
“There’s a popular saying: ‘An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.’ To which, Dell Gines adds, ‘But, for Black women entrepreneurs, they do it with only a toothpick and a napkin.’
“The growth of entrepreneurship in the U.S. has declined over the past five years, while Black women are starting businesses at the fastest rate than any racial group. Since 2019, the number of firms owned by African American women has grown by 164%. However, the number of new job creation and revenue was the lowest amount of all women-owned businesses. Yet, despite the hustle, minority women are being shut out when it comes to access to capital, entrepreneurship education, business coaches, and mentors. We face biases in the business world. There is a lack of representation in various funding outlets and expansive networking challenges.
“The mission for Babson’s Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program is to be a resource partner for Black women entrepreneurial leaders to eradicate the cycle of challenges Black women face with starting, growing, and sustaining their businesses by providing opportunity participants to engage with an inspiring community and a rigorous, experiential process that catalyzes innovative thinking and enables them to successfully scale and transform businesses. This program will include high-level coaching and business growth strategies to assist their businesses to perform successfully in current and future marketplaces.”
What are your primary responsibilities leading the WIN Lab operations, and what is your involvement level with the Diana International Research Institute?
“The key priority in my role is to expand women’s entrepreneurship globally for Babson and collaborate with other organizations with common goals to support the growth of female founders. The CWEL, WIN Global, and the Diana International Research Institute bring together researchers, educators, investors, policymakers, women entrepreneurs, and other disrupters who are dedicated to advancing women’s entrepreneurship. We work collaboratively to tackle the unique challenges that female founders face with starting, growing, scaling, and sustaining their businesses.”
Two More for Shakenna Williams
What does Babson mean to you?
“As an alumni, staff person, and entrepreneur, Babson means the collaboration of diverse ideas, best practices, and resources to advance the growth of entrepreneurial leaders globally.”
Right now, what are you …
- Reading? Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- Watching? “Bridgerton”
- Listening to? “The Dave Ramsey Show”
- Doing in your free time? Cooking and painting
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