Narratives – What’s Disadvantaged?

What is disadvantaged? There is no single answer, but a simple description might be “a systematic or systemic barrier to opportunity”. To become SBA 8(a) program certified, the business owner must write a narrative describing the disadvantages or discrimination experienced. It can be intimidating to revisit and write about victimization. And, in this narrative, you must write about your personal experience and how these incidents have had a negative impact on your ability to achieve expected outcomes. This can include educational, financial, racial, gender, geographical and employment related events throughout your life. And, you may be able to use publicly available demographic or statistical information to establish a pattern of discrimination in your field of expertise.

When writing your narrative the first step is a generic statement. “I perceive I have experienced professional rejection for reasons of “… ethnic origin, disability, residence, gender, race, education, or “Other, describe”. Then, you will need to write about specific instances of bias against you and how this bias has had a negative impact on your ability to enter into or advance in business.

The narrative writing exercise can be made easier by breaking it down into manageable topics such as: access to education or capital; discrimination in the work place, educational institution or by lenders; physical ability challenges; or, societal expectations.  This post will concentrate on the challenges of physical disabilities and experiences in education or mentoring.

Physical challenges, or having a disability, may be the easiest to address. Not because the challenge of overcoming physical limitations is easy but because these challenges are often visible and fairly easy to document. Physically speaking, those of us who are handicapped face bias because we’re taken less seriously than those who appear whole. For example, I am never without my cane. You’ll observe I’m at the back of the pack in any walking excursion. I can’t golf; not just because I can’t keep up with the caddie, but because structurally I can only hit the ball with a wicked left spin. So when it comes to the proverbial deal on the golf course (or tennis/basketball courts) I can’t physically participate. And, my physicians are happy to document the problem, hence my handicapped parking placard. None of my SDWBE certifications are based on my physical disabilities, but this is an example of how one might approach limitations on potential opportunities due to physical challenges.

As for education, think about these issues and whether systemic bias interfered with you regarding:

  • Admissions criteria for college or advanced training;
  • Membership in school clubs, fraternities or professional organizations;
  • Educational honors or recognition;
  • Scholarships or financial support;
  • Harassment in the education institutions;
  • Social pressures that discouraged you from seeking higher education or training; or
  • Access to mentoring, on-the-job training, apprenticeships.

Gender discrimination in schools is usually based on cultural assumptions that males and females are skilled in opposite areas of academics, for example home economics vs. shop. Racial discrimination in education is generally based on similar cultural assumptions about which group traditionally excels at a particular skill.  Pennsylvania provides detailed definitions of illegal discrimination in its educational institutions.  They include classmates harassment or bullying; teacher requests for sexual favors in return for grades or repeated sexual comments to the student; or, classmates repeatedly making sexual comments.

Once you have identified a particular pattern in your educational experience, you’ll have to write about how those experiences affected you in business.  Being discouraged by family on a four year degree was a hindrance to me when I tried for a corporate job in human resources  — no college degree, no second interview. 

Now ask yourself: What’s my story?

Next time, we’ll look at professional experience, access to capital and how statistics or demographics could be used in your narrative.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Robertson on October 16, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks