Disruptive Women: A Women’s History Month Exclusive

By Dr. Joy Martinez, Contributing Carolinian Columnist

To disrupt is to interrupt, to upset, and unsettle. In business, disruption describes a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established industry leaders.

Disruptive entrepreneurs begin this process by identifying and serving overlooked segments, introducing a new client base into an established industry. Rather than occurring as a fixed point, disruption refers to the evolution of a service over time, over a path that leads the company and new consumers from the fringe to the mainstream.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, The Carolinian highlights three women who are deliberately, strategically, and progressively disrupting their industries. Patrina King, Karima Mariama-Arthur, and Kathey Porter are using their success to unlock doors of opportunity in arenas traditionally resistant to change and historically inaccessible.

Patrina King: CEO of Golf Women Mean Business, Author of 9 Holes 9 Goals, A Beginner’s Guide to Doing Business on the Course.

Patrina King’s father began teaching her to play golf when she was 5. Two years later, 7-year-old Patrina was playing the game competitively. In our interview, she explains how she deliberately set out to change the course landscape and to teach accomplished women to use golf as a tool for building strategic business relationships.

Q: Golf is often referred to as ‘‘new’’ to black America, a ‘‘white man’s’’ game, or for the wealthy? How do you respond to these stereotypes?

Patrina: Representation matters in all that we do as a human race. It is no secret in our culture and to the golf industry that black people are largely underrepresented. The underrepresentation is just one of the reasons these stereotypes exist.

Not long ago blacks were not allowed on most golf courses. My dad, who is not yet 70 years old, integrated the local golf course where I was raised. When Tiger Woods entered the golf scene, competing at the highest level, the sport became more acceptable to blacks. So, golf being ‘‘’new’ to black America is not totally wrong.

As for golf being for the wealthy, the dress code and associated fees created an illusion that golf is for the wealthy. However, it’s just a matter of priorities. We pay for what we want to pay for.

Q: You’re doing more than teaching golf. You are bringing in new consumers and spilling the secrets of business golf. Did you deliberately seek to disrupt the industry?

Patrina: Yes, I totally meant to be disruptive! It was for the greater good of both the sport and the players. The sport is not going to survive on competition alone.

Despite what most non-golfers believe, there is so much more to golf than playing well. It’s about partnerships. My philosophy is that business golf should be included in a corporate plan. To encourage that addition, I knew I had to divulge tightly held secrets.

Q: We know there are cultural and economic benefits when adding women to business relationships and to the boardroom. Why should men want women on the golf course?

Patrina: In certain golf tournaments, men want women on the course because we are given advantages at the tee box (insert laugh). Women can tee off closer to the hole. In team play, if a woman can drive the ball just as far as the men, the entire team benefits.

Golf creates a natural environment for individuals to get to know one another beyond the business card. We learn to relate to one another through a true and valid business or consumer lens unclouded by pre-conceived notions. Women provide a different problem-solving perspective and a complete game of golf is all problem solving. As in the boardroom, women represent the view that the men so often miss.

Karima Mariama-Arthur: CEO of WordSmithRapport, Author of Poised for Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond. Karima is an internationally recognized expert in cutting-edge adult education and complex consulting. Her training philosophy and methodology is sought after by Fortune 500 companies and she has presented on every continent around the globe.

Q: What provoked you, a successful corporate attorney, to transition into an industry dominated by men?

Karima: You’re referring to professional development? That’s a great question. My goal in practicing law was to make an appreciable difference in the lives of my clients using the law as the primary catalyst. I found that even in doing good work, I wasn’t really making the impact I knew was possible. I also wasn’t very happy with the “protracted rigor” of the law, especially after starting a family.

After soul searching I thought, “What if I could accelerate potential for seasoned and emerging leaders at a high level? And, what if I could do it by incorporating this incredible wheelhouse that I’ve amassed?” Rather than abandon my unique skill set, experience and education, I decided to leverage it. Thankfully, it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Q: The language, instruction, and processes you developed aren’t neatly defined by one leadership school of thought. We’re you attempting to disrupt thought leadership?

Karima: Not exactly. I did, however, want to introduce the idea of leadership as a process of self-mastery, as well as the foundation for serving others. I did not want to merely present an over-clichéd, tautological reference book. I decided to use principles as the basis for illuminating the substance and strategies associated with effective leadership.

The book makes clear that leadership is a complex skill set that can be learned and practiced over time by virtually anyone with the desire to master it. It also asserts that ‘‘Great Man Theory of Leadership’’—a flawed 19th century idea—was debunked long ago.

My approach is pragmatic in that it helps to position the reader-practioner for excellence and uncommon success by engaging the continuous and consummate call to action to simply, “get poised” and “do.”

Q: Do you believe it’s necessary for women to be disruptive or innovative to be heard in your industry?

Karima: Not everyone will be a “disruptor.” Not everyone needs to be one, either. There’s plenty of important work to be done by leaders at every level, of every capacity, and of every gender across industries the world over.

Kathey Porter, President of Porter Brown Associates, LLC., Founder/President of BusinessFAB Enterprises, Author, 50 Billion Dollar Boss.

Kathey’s expertise in training historically underutilized companies to seek out and successfully win contracts is award-winning. She was nominated by the Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council as the Advocate of the Year. She is also a NAACP Image Award Nominee.

Q: You strategically connect small, minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses to contract opportunities. This certainly disrupts a pattern of history. How do you accomplish it?

Kathey: I advocate for businesses to have an opportunity but also to constantly reevaluate any restrictive policies that present unnecessary barriers for opportunities. Often I am the only woman or person of color in the room or at the table, sometimes for construction projects, which can still be a very male-dominated field.

This can be disruptive in itself but I am clear on my purpose and mission. I attribute my success to experience as adjunct business instructor. I use my teaching instincts to instruct and persuade why a historically underutilized firm should be given an opportunity rather than constantly beat the drum for diversity and inclusion, which tends to get old and is not sustainable when you are truly looking to “disrupt” a culture that can be resistant to change.

Q: How do women entrepreneurs present themselves as qualified to win contracts that historically haven’t been awarded to minority women?

Kathey: Typically, a vendor is considered qualified if they have past performance and/or personal experience that demonstrate that they can perform the job or provide the service. It is definitely best to start off with small contracts and build up to larger contracts.

There are several reasons why women have a difficult time. While they tend to be very good with the soft skills, they do not always leverage that strength. Three things that come to mind are not sufficiently knowing their ask, articulating a clear vision for their business and finding the right mentor relationship to help them get there.

I advise firms to have several mentors, including a technical mentor that can help you build expertise. I have had great success with placing women-owned businesses into programs and connecting them with the right mentor for their needs. They were able to build rapport, and translate the relationship into future opportunities.

Q: Your book presents successful stories of female disruptors across industries. Do you believe it’s necessary for women to be disruptive or innovative to be heard?

Kathey: Yes, my book tells stories that don’t often get told in mainstream media. The women profiled were absolutely disruptive in their respective industries and innovative in the way that the found a way to make their dream a reality.

These traits could be the difference in being wildly or moderately successful. Yet, you should not be disruptive and innovative just for the sake of it. This must be a part of your organization’s core make up and strategic plan or it is not sustainable and it will not feel authentic.

Disruption and innovation is not an one-off occurrence. Everyone has to buy in and it has to be reflected in everything that they do. The risk is great but the reward is even greater. Not everybody is built for that.

So, how are these women “built?” Each shared what qualities they have that contribute to their success.

Q: Would you share a few qualities that make it possible for you to serve your industry as a disruptor?

Patrina: Knowledge, patience, and realism. I have an expert level of knowledge on both the competitive and business side of golf. I am genuinely interested in making a way for more professionals, especially women, to play golf for business. I also understand the need to be comfortable and understand processes when stepping into the unfamiliar.

So, I take the time to ensure they are educated enough to go, make mistakes, but keep wanting to go back and not give up. I’m realistic enough to know that taking a golf lesson alone is not the answer to getting people engaged in the game.

Karima: Three personal characteristics that consistently serve me well include integrity, grit and an above-average work ethic.

Integrity because a leader must make the conscientious choice to do what’s right, especially when no one’s looking. Grit because dark days are sure to come and test one’s mettle, and an above-average work ethic because laziness never landed a person in a corner office.

Kathey: A genuine passion for what I do and wanting to see businesses WIN!! I love catching up with businesses and hearing that they won a project. My industry annually awards the top 100 businesses, and this year the two top businesses were minority-owned businesses that had participated in my program. It was really great to see them being recognized for their accomplishments, but also gratifying to hear the firms themselves recognize how my efforts played a role in their success.

The second characteristic is a thick skin. No one likes to hear no, but when you are orchestrating organizational change, you have you focus on the long term goal. Sometimes that requires getting small wins to demonstrate a record of success.