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Queen Latifah: From Hip-Hop Legend to Small Business Supporter



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Gene Marks (00:19):

Hey everybody, it's Gene Marks and welcome to another episode of the Paychex THRIVE podcast. My special guest is Queen Latifah, talking a lot about women in the workplace, and women business owners. So, let's get right to the conversation. Thank you very much for joining us. I really do appreciate it. I didn't know whether to call you Queen. I was going to call you Robyn, but-

Queen Latifah (00:40):

It all works.

Gene Marks (00:41):

Yeah, it all does. Farah said Queen is good, and that's what we'll stick to. So listen, so we'll get into this conversation very, very quickly. I would like to hear about your relationship with Lenovo, and I also, Queen, I'd like to talk a little bit about the book that you wrote, "Put On Your Crown", because this podcast goes out to small business owners, about 700,000 small business owners who are part of the Paychex community., half of them are women-owned businesses. And I'm really hoping to get some of your insights and some of your thoughts on women entrepreneurship, and things to keep in mind, and really based on the book that you wrote, and I hope that that's okay.

Queen Latifah (01:21):


Gene Marks (01:22):

But let's first talk about Lenovo and your "Evolve Small" campaign involvement. Tell us a little bit about that, please.

Queen Latifah (01:33):

Well, Evolve Small is basically a campaign that promotes small businesses, which are the backbone of our country. Really the backbone of the world, if you think about it. I mean, it's what connects our communities. It's what people get to know each other by. It keeps us through the ups and downs. And so it was something that I thought would be great to be a part of, especially since Lenovo was creating something that would promote women ownership, promote ownership by people of color, and some support. So, not just talking about it, but really supporting, giving some financial support, some mentorship, some tech, which of course we know can help advance a business and make it run a lot smoother. And really just having the community involved, making people more aware of that business. So, as the owner of a small business, someone who started in small business as a youngster with Flavor Unit Management and Flavor Unit Entertainment, I was 19 years old when my partner and I started our company.


Queen Latifah (02:48):

And we know the ups and downs of owning a small business and trying to push through the tough times and knowing we have a dream that we can make real. We just need to make it happen and we need some support in doing it sometimes. So, something like this is just a great thing. And if anything, it was just really hard. We had all of our contestants or our business owners create a Shark Tank-like video for 30-seconds and tell us why it should be their business. And the hard part is choosing any one business because they are all so many great businesses, and with so much great business potential. And so, it was tricky to do. But the great thing is that this campaign continues. And so, if someone goes to, they can continue to get all the information and see who won, and how it all happened, and what the mentorship was like, and hopefully glean a lot of inspiration to continue with their businesses.

Gene Marks (03:51):

Great stuff. Well, great. It's a great campaign to be involved in, and I'm sure many people are very grateful for your involvement in it. Let's talk about women small business owners. I'm going to lay on some data for you right now. This comes from the US Census Bureau, okay? There are 30 million small businesses in this country. About 30% of them, 10 million of them, are owned by women. And women's revenue, the revenues in these businesses have gone up by almost 52% over the past six years, which is really amazing.


Gene Marks (04:23):

But there is some bad news here. Since 2016, startups that have been founded by women have received only 4.4% of venture capital backing. Only four. The rest goes to men. But I do have some good news. The U.S. Census Bureau does report that 79% of the women that they surveyed do say that The Equalizer is their favorite show. And I'm just kidding. The Census Bureau did not do that. Let's go back to the 4.4% of venture capital financing. It's unbelievable that with all the women owned businesses that are out there, it is amazing that 96% of the funding is still going to men. Now, you wrote a book back in 2010, and Queen, I'm going to make you feel old. It's 13 years ago, if you can believe that.

Queen Latifah (05:11):

Yes, thanks.

Gene Marks (05:13:

It's crazy though, how time flies, but okay, so it's called Put On Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom. You give a bunch of advice for women, including navigating a male-dominated industry. So, here's your chance. I'd love to give you the floor. We got about 10 minutes. You've got potentially hundreds of thousands of women-owned business owners and entrepreneurs that are listening. Give us some advice to what you have learned for somebody that wants to start, or even a female that's running a small business.

Queen Latifah (05:44):

Wow, that's a mouthful.

Gene Marks (05:46):

It is.

Queen Latifah (05:47):

First of all, you take me back 13 years, but then you don't give me any of my own quotes to help me out. I mean, see, this is what women are playing against. Despite those numbers, we are not to give up. I'm always been a champion for women. I was raised by a woman who was a champion for women, and by men who were champions for women. So, it's hard for me to not see it any other way, I mean for me to see it any other way other than none of your numbers are surprising me. If anything, they're unfortunate, because we have always been coming through. We've always been showing up. We've created so many different ideas. Even when the bubble burst back then, and the real estate market fell out, it was women who decided, "You know what? I've been wanting to start this business. I wanted to change my path anyway. I'm going to take a chance." And there were something like 2 million businesses created by women who helped us get out of that situation.


Queen Latifah (07:05):

But you did not see that reflected in how we were supported, and you still don't see it reflected in those numbers. And the problem with that, I think, is the fact, number one, that there's not enough women in places of positions of power when it comes to that, who can see the potential. There's definitely not enough media coverage for women. There's not enough women behind the cameras. We have several initiatives going on, and there's several different groups of things that I support to try to change that balance. And I do it every day on my own show by making sure that there are women employed in places that they should be. Not just because they're women, but because they're capable, and they need a shot at that job. So, wherever we can support one another is where we need to do it, and we have to fight for each other just like I do sometimes.


Queen Latifah (08:04):

So, if there's a boys club, if there is a boys club, then we have to support each other in the same sorts of ways. But I feel like we should just never give up. And we have to carry so many things. Sometimes we're often carrying the family at the same time as running the business. We're asked to wear so many hats. And so, I commend any woman who's out there running a business on their own, doing all those things at the same time. But I would say continue to do it, because you're destined to do it. This is your greatness. And we can't survive without this. I don't care what the numbers say. I don't care how much venture capitalists support us or not. We cannot make it without these women-owned businesses. We can't make it without what women contribute.


Queen Latifah (08:49):

We are really the ones who are like, I don't want to toot our own horns, but women run the world. Whether you want to give us the credit or not, this world would not run without us. It literally wouldn't live without us, let alone run without us. So, I think we just have to support each other. Whenever there's an opportunity for us to take a break and take care of ourselves, we should. Because we work so hard, so hard, so hard, and we don't even, to get deep into it, we don't even have heart attacks in the same way. We die from stress-related things quite often.


Queen Latifah (09:32):

And we don't feel those things, the typical thing you see on TV where a guy grabs his arm. Women don't even have heart attack symptoms in the same way. It may be in the neck, it may be in the shoulders, it's other places. So, we literally have to stop, despite how hard we're working, and just take care of ourselves. Go to the doctor, keep your yearly appointments. Wherever you can take a bath or get a massage, get one. Wherever you can do some deep breathing, stop, do it. It has to be that basic, that somewhere in the middle of all that hard work and all that we're striving to achieve, which is worth it, that we still have to stop for one moment and just take care of ourselves.

Gene Marks (10:19):

Queen, I've got to-

Queen Latifah (10:20):

It's a lot on our shoulders.

Gene Marks (10:21):

It is a lot. Now, you write in your book, and again, this book was written between... It was before all the Me Too explosion happened, so it was in advance of that. You write about overcoming self-doubt and insecurity. You grew up in Newark in an industry of music, rap, hip hop that was completely dominated by men, as you know. And yet you did it because you overcame certain obstacles, you overcame self-doubt, you overcame your insecurity. So give me some thoughts on that. There's a lot of reason for women to doubt themselves or feel insecure when they're going out looking for financing or running a business. How did you overcome that stuff?

Queen Latifah (11:09):

Part of it was God. Part of it was me. And part of it was the fact that there are women there. Everything you've mentioned, it may have been dominated by men on appearance, but there were women every step of the way in my career, and in my entire life. So there were women in hip-hop. Sylvia Robinson is literally responsible for hip-hop becoming mainstream. So, with Sugar Hill Records, a woman, who had the biggest records in hip-hop at the time, that would never have... This would've never been a mainstream form of music had it not been for her. I was signed by Monica Lynch at Tommy Boy Records. It was owned by Tom Silverman, but the Vice President was Monica Lynch, who supported me all through my career, and even into when I decided to make jazz music. So, there's also these allies that we have.


Queen Latifah (12:06):

I was discovered by a guy named Dante Ross who took me to Monica. So, there are women all scattered throughout and inside of many organizations and many places that don't quite get the props that they should, they don't quite get the... you don't see them the way you should see them, but they're critical to who we are and to who I am. The show that I do right now has women producers, executive producers. The person who created the show with us, the head of NBC Universal, Pearlena Igbokwe, is a woman. So there are women who are supporting women who are also supporting other women who are looking at young women and saying, "You can do it." So we also have to be allies to one another and support each other through that. But there are times when we won't have support from anyone.


Queen Latifah (13:07):

And that's when you have to encourage yourself. And that's when you have to seek out, specifically seek out things that are positive influences on you. So for me, it might be some quotes. Maybe I look for something from Maya Angelou that gives me some positivity, or maybe I look for some little mantra that I keep, or maybe it's a picture of my mother and I can hear her words. Or maybe it's my dad saying, "Dana, you can do it, Dana. You got it."


Queen Latifah (13:38):

Whatever that is for you. Whatever that little piece of positive, and maybe it's your children, maybe it's that inspiration, maybe it's I'm going to do it for them. Or maybe it's your grandmother or your grandfather or someone in your family that didn't have an opportunity like that. Whatever that little thing is that gets you through the moment. Because they're often not very long periods of time, but they're powerful periods of self-doubt. They might be, for me, could have been 30 seconds. 30 seconds of pure doubt, fear, loathing, darkness. In that moment, I just had to ride the storm out and then find the light, something that was positive that I could put just the word love, just me having to say in the mirror, "I love you, I love you, I love you. You are loved. You are loved." Whatever it is, whatever you have to do to get through those moments. And I'm sure that's not just a woman thing.

Gene Marks (14:44):

I was just going to say it's actually advice for men as well. And it's great advice.

Queen Latifah (14:47):

Yeah, it's a human thing. And we also have to raise our boys in the same way. We also have to raise our young men in the same way to really understand that we can all do the same things. And there's a bunch of things that it's okay if we don't do the same, but we should support each other either way.

Gene Marks (15:08):

One final question, and then I will let you go. And boy, I wish I had more time, because this is really great and fascinating stuff. One of the things that men don't have to deal with that women deal with all the time, I just wrote a piece for the Philadelphia Enquirer about resources for women in Philadelphia. I can't tell you how many women I spoke to told me that as a woman business owner, or even a woman manager, how often they're put in awkward situations with men, particularly with their body image as well. They're looked at, like what they're wearing, or whether or not they have makeup on. And they get comments on that, which men just don't get comments on that. You do write about that in your book as well. And just some final thoughts about body image for women in 2023. Do you feel that it's still a significant issue? And what advice do you have for women managers and leaders and business owners to deal with these problems that still exist with body image?

Queen Latifah (16:04):

Well, you are really going to make me go back and reread this whole book.

Gene Marks (16:08):

I know. Well, you don't have to repeat what you had in the book because it's been a while. So, things change.

Queen Latifah (16:13):

No, it's interesting because sometimes I have to live in the moment, and I would also advise women to live in the moment. But I have to live in the moment, and I probably should share that, because when I look at my schedule, it is so heavy. It can be so heavy that it will overwhelm me. And I know many women feel the same way when they look at their schedules, and what they have to do, and how much they have to do that next day. But often, sometimes we just need to stop and just live in the moment. I stay and focus on whatever I have to do that day. I know I have to do that stuff tomorrow, next week, but I need to focus on today. I need to be right here, right now. Because if I'm there, it is going to feel like I'm carrying a house. And I can't carry a house.


Queen Latifah (17:01):

As far as body image, boy, what a challenging, difficult subject. Because we have been objectified for so long, in so many ways, and we continue to be, that it can be very, very difficult. And there are so many people who have, men who have blind spots. I don't know how they can. It's so simple, some of it. But they have blind spots, and they've allowed each other to have these blind spots for so long. They supported the bad behavior, each other's bad behavior, for so long that it's ridiculous. And so, everybody is going to have to pay, because no one made someone pay back in the day. And that's how I see it now. It's like, oh, some people feel like, oh, everybody's getting taken down. Well, had you only stopped and stood up back then, then maybe everybody wouldn't have to get knocked off the chessboard at this point. But you didn't.


Queen Latifah (18:03):

You didn't do anything then, and so now you all are paying the price for what didn't happen that should have happened. So, it's still an unfortunate thing, because we have a patriarchal society that marginalizes women in a lot of ways. Women need to be running things. Let women run things a little bit, and you'll see the difference. You'll see the sensitivity, you'll see where something you said... And if you have women friends, allow them to talk to you. Let them tell you where you went wrong, so that you don't make the mistake again. I don't think that we should be judged on how we look. I remember when they talked about, and this is not to lean on any particular party or get political, but I remember watching a debate with George Bush years ago, and I think Kerry, and after the debate, I think it was obvious who won the debate technically. But when they spoke to the audience, it was all about what he was wearing and how good he looked and how nice he sounded. And it had nothing to do with substance.


Queen Latifah (19:13):

And I've seen the same things today. So, with women, it's not about the substance, it's all like it's been with Hillary Clinton, it was the same thing. How's she going to look, how she dresses. Is she not... This is ridiculous. In the meantime, we're missing out on jewels. And this is not about the politicians. This is literally about jewels. There are smart, capable women in every area, from a football field, to a boardroom, to a classroom, who should be recognized. And if that's all that you can see, then you're going to miss it. And this, too, venture capitalism. Hello, Mellody Hobson, Ariel Investments, let's go. You know what I mean? There are queens at the top of this thing, and there are many who are up and coming. And I meet so many smart young girls, young women who have fearlessness.


Queen Latifah (20:15):

So, we have to try to maintain our courage, our fearlessness. We have to push through the ignorance of what men put on us. And not only men, but other women, unfortunately, sometimes. So, we have to push through all that, and remember who we are. Feel the feelings. Go through what you have to go through, but don't ever forget who you are. So, you need to move past that. And when it can be corrected, you need to check it and correct it and remove it. It's time to clean up some of these wounds and let them heal. And the only way we're going to do that is to really get that bandaid off. Let's get some air in it. Let's get some medicine on it. Let's get it healing. But we can't act like it's not happening. So, it's obviously reflected in the fact that it's still not equal pay for equal work. And I mean, that should be simple.

Gene Marks (21:11):

Sure, sure.

Queen Latifah (21:11):

I work as hard as you do. I do exactly what you do, maybe even better. And I make less money. There's a problem there. Why don't we see that there's a problem there, and make it equitable? So, clearly things are slanted against us, and we keep having to push back further and further. And fortunately, we are capable, and we keep doing it. We keep making it, we keep striving. But when it comes to just getting loans, just getting the basic things to make it happen. We've shown how capable we are, but we're still not respected in that way. And we have to fight for this respect. And we cannot give up. We just can't, because the world can't run without us. And that's just the reality. The world will not make it without women, period.

Gene Marks (22:03):

I agree. Yeah. All I know is I threw out that venture capital funding number and it just set you off.

Queen Latifah (22:09):

Well, because it pisses me off, to be honest with you.

Gene Marks (22:11):

I know, I know.

Queen Latifah (22:14):

Because I know a lot of people, a lot of venture capitalists, and I know a lot of people who play with a lot of money. And I know a lot of things that are happening. And it's like, listen, you know, can't just play with all this kind of money. You can't just play with everyone's money like it's your money. It's not your money. And at the end of the day, there are a lot of women whose money you have, and they deserve to have their dollars respected. The fact that women are overwhelmingly the people who run the household, but we are less than 10% of the media. We shoot less than 10% of the commercials that are out there selling all the products that we have to go out and buy to run our household.


Queen Latifah (22:57):

And black women are less than 4%. Like these numbers, there's more numbers that we can show. But for me, I don't just take those numbers and say, "Oh well." I take those numbers and get really angry. You know what I mean? But I take that anger and then I channel it into something positive that can be done, like this Lenovo Evolve Small campaign, because I know that there are women out there that if they could just connect with this, if they could get more promotion, if they could get some financial help, they can make it happen for themselves. They don't need me. They are going to make it happen. And the community is going to support them, because they do already. They come out and they patronize these businesses, and they get to know people by name. And I want to see these businesses grow.


Queen Latifah (23:47):

So, I know that it can happen. We just have to continue to work at it, and come at it from different angles, and come at it together. But believe me, the business community knows. They're aware of it. Those in marketing, they're aware of it, and they're doing what they can to change it, but it's going to take some time. This didn't start in one day, and it surely won't change in a day, but people are aware of it. The business community is definitely aware of it. They know the numbers just like you do. But old habits die hard, and people want to hold on to the same old things, and it's just not going to work. And you want to give your daughter a better world than you have.

Gene Marks (24:29):

It's funny that you say that. And I don't want to sound naive, but I have kids in their twenties and I have a daughter as well, and I do see things getting better for females and for minorities, but we still have a long, long way to go. And it's people like yourself that are getting the word out there and creating that awareness, I think is contributing significantly to that change. So, thank you.

Queen Latifah (24:54):

Well, I think it's people like you as well, you know? It's you supporting your daughters. And the more that guys have daughters, that cracks me up with some certain guys that are like, "What did I do to have four daughters?" And I'm like, you're just the person. You're just the father to have four daughters, because you are going to make sure that they have every opportunity.

Gene Marks (25:10):

They do.

Queen Latifah (25:10):

Because you're going to get so mad when you see that your smart daughter, capable daughter, does not have... She just hit a glass ceiling. Oh, yeah. Well, that was there already. You just didn't notice it before. But now you see it, so now you can do something about it. So, that's how that goes, hopefully.

Gene Marks (25:28):

Yeah, I know we're pressed for time, so I got to wrap this up, and I feel bad. And I have to tell you, my daughter, she goes jogging. I live in Philly, and you'd be surprised at how many times she tells me the remarks she gets from men on that. Things that just men don't even understand that women have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. But Queen, again, we're running out of time here, and I have so many more questions to ask you, and you're very inspirational. I want to say thank you for joining me and spending the time. Thanks for the contribution to the Lenovo Evolve Small Business Campaign or small campaign. It's Thanks for writing the book. It's called Put On Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom. And thanks for The Equalizer. It is a freaking awesome show. I watch it every week. We have a whole other conversation we could have about that, Robin, but I'll leave you go. So thank you so much for joining, and I want to wish you the best of luck going forward.

Queen Latifah (26:20):

Oh, thank you so much. What a great pleasure. Have a great one.

Gene Marks (26:23):

You too. Take care.


Gene Marks (26:24):

Do you have a topic or a guest that you would like to hear on THRIVE? Please let us know. Visit and send us your ideas or matters of interest. Also, if your business is looking to simplify your HR, payroll, benefits, or insurance services, see how Paychex can help. Visit the resource hub at That's W-O-R-X. Paychex can help manage those complexities while you focus on all the ways you want your business to thrive. I'm your host, Gene Marks, and thanks for joining us. Till next time, take care.