Fearless In Her Fight For Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Business

Ayana Parsons is an award-winning inclusive leadership expert, serial entrepreneur, and investor dedicated to advancing global change. With over two decades of experience in the supplier diversity and diversity, equity and inclusion space, she has held influential roles at organizations like the World Economic Forum, Korn Ferry and Procter & Gamble.

Parsons is the co-founder of Yardstick Management, one of the nation’s top management consulting firms. In recent years, she co-founded the Fearless Fund, a venture capital firm that has provided over $30 million in funding to women-led enterprises run by women of color. The more than 41 businesses the Fearless Fund has supported include popular brands like Hairbrella and The Lip Bar.

Committed to the idea of economic freedom for all, Parsons’ core mission is to empower individuals and businesses to reach their full potential. She envisions a world where everyone has equal opportunities to excel and is dedicated to helping marginalized individuals improve their quality of life through business ownership.

Parsons talked with Tammy Martin, business diversity program director at Burns & McDonnell, for Together By Design, sharing her insights on entrepreneurship, wealth building, and diversity, equity, and inclusion in the business world.


Tammy Martin: Ayana, what was your motivation for beginning the Fearless Fund?

Ayana Parsons: As an entrepreneur myself, my husband and I started our own management consulting firm 12 years ago. It’s called Yardstick Management. We grew and scaled that company, and let me tell you, when we first started the company, we had challenges securing a business loan. We bootstrapped that company and I’m so glad that we did and didn’t go the venture route, which is probably ironic now as a venture capitalist. But it really helped us grow very sustainably. I saw firsthand the challenges that women of color face securing access to capital.

TM: You have 41 women-led businesses in your portfolio. Tell us more about that.

AP: These women are incredible. Many of them have bootstrapped their way to seven-figure businesses, even by the time that we see them. But listen, that’s not the story of most small businesses and entrepreneurs. And so that is why we do a lot of education. We have an annual venture capital summit in Atlanta, where women come literally from all over the world, including as far as Australia, to get education, mentorship and knowledge so they can grow and scale their businesses.

TM: What has your investment to date been with the 41 women-led businesses?

AP: We’ve invested more than $30 million in investment capital, which is a great number. But let me tell you, when you look at the macro landscape of venture capital, these are pennies. We’re actually considered a microfund. In 2022, more than $288 billion was deployed in venture capital seed money to help entrepreneurs start their businesses. Of that, 0.39% went to women of color — the same women of color who represent more than 20% of the population. This is my why.

TM: One of our company principles is what we do matters. Tell us what matters to you.

AP: What matters to me is that everyone in this country gets a fair shot. It shouldn’t be that this reality of achieving the American dream and being able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and create a better life for your family and for your community is for the chosen few. That should be something available for those who work hard, who put in the work and believe. And it’s not. So, this notion of equity is what drives me. I want to see a world that’s a rich mosaic of diverse backgrounds, races and ethnicities — where more Americans are economically free. They are free to create businesses, sustain businesses, drive positive change, and impact their communities and the broader world.

TM: I can see your passion, and the fact you’re working with 41 women-led businesses, that just still amazes me. You’re doing a great job.

AP: Business has the ability to affect so much positive change in the world, and to be able to play even a small role in helping to support, encourage and scale more small businesses and grow them hopefully into Fortune 1000 companies — that is what fires me up.

TM: Can you pass along one piece of advice to women of color and women in business?

AP: One piece of advice that I would give women of color entrepreneurs and truly any entrepreneur is do it. Do the thing. Because so often we have these lofty dreams, and we think: Those are pipe dreams that could never happen. And we don’t take the steps forward toward our dreams. It’s about putting in the work. We can’t have dreams if they don’t line up with actions. You have got to keep moving forward and pursue those dreams. So that’s what I would say. And know that you are going to face so many challenges and obstacles along the way, but that is part of your story. That is part of your experience, and only you can do the thing that the world needs you to do.


This post is part of Together By Design, a quarterly business diversity newsletter published by Burns & McDonnell to advance a community of inclusion. This newsletter features stories of great opportunity, leaders who bring out the best in others, innovative approaches, and diverse perspectives that shape the business community and the world at large.

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