Chase Mentors on a Mission to help Minority Women Entrepreneurs

Starting a business can be intimidating and lonely for many.

If you’re a woman of color, it can often be even more difficult.

JPMorgan Chase recognized the struggle and launched one last year new business banking program developed to promote minority entrepreneurship.

For Women’s History Month, we sat down with Washington DC-based Chase Senior Business Consultants Darla Harris and Kristina Sicard. Both women have paved the way in the banking industry to help others rise to the top. Now they spend their time helping female entrepreneurs navigate the business world.

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darla harris

Harris has over 43 years of financial services experience.

She started working at a bank while pursuing a liberal arts degree in television and film. After graduating, she worked part-time at a radio station

When it got too hectic to manage her banking and radio jobs, she went into banking because the pay was higher and she felt it would give her a better living.

“I do not regret it. I’m not looking back,” Harris said of her decision to leave a career in radio behind.

Her banking career started as an accountant and then moved into customer service. She also worked in new clients and as a branch manager at various institutions.

At one point she was an investment sales associate and her manager was put on four months’ leave. None of the employees held a brokerage license, but they still had to fill out the manager. In those few months, Darla tripled her sales, leading to someone asking if she wanted to pursue her real estate license. After hundreds of hours of study, not only was she the only woman with a realtor’s license in the office, she was the first black woman.

“I’ve had people look at me and say, ‘Congratulations, you opened the door for {future black woman}.’

It’s important to remember that people are watching you in your career. If you work hard, you will be rewarded with opportunities,” Harris said.

Kristina Sicard

Sicard started her career in the finance industry at a payroll company. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, a colleague recommended that she apply to Chase. She started in a Manhattan Chase branch as a small business specialist and then moved into private client banking. When a commercial banking account manager position opened up at a corporate headquarters branch, many thought it would not be a good fit and narrowed their application down to good interviewing experience.

However, Sicard believed she could handle the job and her determination and confidence paid off when the hiring manager offered her the position.

“I want to burst into tears because he really took a risk and gave me an opportunity to launch my career,” said Sicard. Over time, Sicard became a standout performer and a national achiever at Chase. “Once I got this job, I realized I could be myself in spaces and acknowledge who I am. Confidence comes with time, but don’t be afraid to keep going and understanding your worth.”

Mentoring for minority women

Harris and Sicard understand that being a founder and CEO can be a lonely journey, and women need a safe and comfortable place to talk about their challenges. It is precisely this atmosphere that they convey in their new roles as Senior Business Consultants.

Harris spoke of a mentee who has been renting condos for 15 years. This business owner was previously afraid to buy the building because she feared she didn’t have the money or a loan might be turned down. After a financial review, Harris realized that the money this mentee paid to rent the building could have gotten her two or three condos. Harris then helped the woman put together a buy and sell package.

“The fear of being turned down for a loan is something that many black women have, but the number of black women who can get loans has changed. The numbers are going in the right direction, but we still have work to do,” Harris said.

When Sicard and Harris meet with their small business owners, it is their job to provide the mentees with all the resources and opportunities to help them achieve their goals. The biggest problems are usually accessing capital and building a team of advisors.

“I give {business owners} real feedback on what they are doing and what they could improve. This role is my mission and my passion. I want every person and woman of color to be successful,” Sicard said.

Both women agreed that entrepreneurs need to believe in themselves to be successful.

“You are your biggest critic and your biggest supporter. You can’t let other people’s definitions define who you are and what you can and can achieve,” Sicard said. “The only thing standing between you and your goals is the person in the mirror.”

Harris added it’s important to find someone who is where you want to be and seek advice.

“Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Sometimes you might fail, but you have to get out of your comfort zone to get to the next step.”

For more information on the Chase Business Banking mentoring program, visit https://www.chase.com/business/minority-businesses

BRAND CONTENT SPONSORED BY JPMorgan Chase

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