On Breaking Glass Ceilings for Black Female Founders

By Monique Rodriguez
Founder & CEO, Mielle Organics

I’m honored to receive the Personal Care Products Council’s Madam C.J. Walker Award for Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Madam C.J. Walker has an incredible legacy – not only was she a trailblazer and one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history, she also empowered women. She not only provided women confidence through her products, but she also provided economic opportunities. She created jobs that helped thousands of women of color achieve financial independence. As a woman founder, who also started a hair care brand from my kitchen, it brings me great joy knowing that the historic achievements we’ve accomplished with Mielle Organics will continue to open the door for more African American women to do the same.

Growing up as a little girl with curly-beautiful hair, I was obsessed with all things beauty and hair care, and I knew my passion was in the beauty industry. Although my mother pushed me to a seemingly more stable career as I became a nurse, I never felt truly fulfilled.

In 2014, after a devastating personal loss, I turned to social media as a creative outlet to express myself and talk about my passion, which was haircare. I made my own concoctions and documented the process on social media, and I quickly found a vibrant community of African American women who, like me, were longing for products that enabled their natural texture and curls to thrive. When I saw how engaged and inspired my social media followers were during my healthy hair journey – commenting on the look and texture, and asking about the concoctions I was making at home and if they could buy it – I had the lightbulb moment to create Mielle Organics.

Through hard work and with the support of an incredible team around me, we’ve since built Mielle into one of the fastest growing Black-owned hair care companies in the U.S. I am so proud of what we have accomplished in 10 years. However, the work is not done. I know I have a bigger purpose, in addition to Mielle, to serve our community and our youth. I am often included amongst a rare group of Black entrepreneurs who have achieved “unicorn” status – that needs to change. According to a 2022 report from digitalundivided, only about 350 Latina and Black women received sufficient startup funding – this is not nearly enough, when there are so many amazing young women of color with big dreams and determination, who need resources and the support of investors to bring their businesses to life.

When we joined P&G Beauty in 2023, it was such an exciting moment. It’s always been our vision to be a global brand and give even more consumers access to Mielle. Through our partnerships with Berkshire Partners and acquisition by P&G, we’re able to accomplish that and much more.

While it raised concerns in our community, I also want to help educate my community on why these partnerships are important; there aren’t many examples of Black-owned companies negotiating a successful exit. The P&G partnership allows us to do more for the community that serves us, and I can assure you that the heart and soul of our company remains the same. At Mielle, we want to show that it is possible to get acquired, and stay true to our brand and our audience. But we must first have a seat at the table to have a voice. As part of the deal with P&G, we were also able to establish Mielle Cares – the non-profit arm of our company – with a $10M donation that was matched by P&G. Mielle Cares is committed to championing the mental health and well-being of pre-teens and teenagers by nurturing a positive and resilient mindset, allowing us to give back by helping the next generation.

I’ve drawn inspiration from Madam Walker’s determination and tenacity in knocking down barriers as a strong, Black female entrepreneur – she never let a “no” stop her, and she overcame the odds. It is in this spirit of Madam Walker that we need to work together to break glass ceilings, and change the trajectory for Black female entrepreneurs and business leaders.