Darla Harris (left) and Kristina Sicard (right), Chase Business Banking, VP, Senior Business Consultants in the Chase Skyland Community Center Branch. Harris and Sicard serve as mentors to women entrepreneurs.

Starting a business can be intimidating and lonely for many.

If you’re a woman of color, it can often be even more challenging.

JPMorgan Chase recognized the struggle and last year launched a new Business Banking program designed to help advance minority entrepreneurship.

For Women’s History Month, we sat down with Chase Senior Business Consultants Darla Harris and Kristina Sicard based in Washington D.C. Both women have paved the way in the banking industry to make the ascension to the top easier for others. Now, they spend their time assisting women entrepreneurs navigating their way in the business world.

Getting Started

Darla Harris

Harris has more than 43 years in financial services.

She began working at a bank while obtaining a liberal arts degree in television and film. After graduation she also worked part-time at a radio station

When it became too hectic to manage her banking and radio jobs, she went with banking because the pay was higher, and she felt as if it would provide her a better living.

“I don’t regret it. I do not look back,” Harris said of her decision to walk away from a career in radio.

Her banking career began as a bookkeeper and then she moved to customer service.  She also worked in new accounts and as a branch manager position at various institutions.

At one point she was an investment sales associate and her manager went on leave for four months. None of the associates had a brokerage license, but they still needed to fill in with the manager out. During those few months Darla tripled her sales numbers, which prompted someone to ask if she wanted to go for her brokerage license. After hundreds of hours studying, she became not just the only woman with a brokerage license in the office, but the first Black woman.

“I had people looking at me saying, ‘Congratulations, you opened the door for {future Black woman}.’

It’s important to remember people are watching you in your career. If you work hard, you’ll be rewarded with opportunities,” Harris said.

Kristina Sicard

Sicard began her career in the financial industry working for a payroll company. When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, a colleague recommended she apply to Chase.  She started in a Manhattan Chase branch as a small business specialist and then moved on to private client banking.  When a position became available at a corporate headquarters branch for a business banking relationship manager, many didn’t think she would be a good fit and reduced her applying to good interviewing experience.

However, Sicard believed she could handle the job, and her determination and confidence paid off when the hiring manager offered her the position.

“It makes me want to tear up because he really took a chance and gave me the opportunity to get my career started,” Sicard said. In due time, Sicard went on to become an outstanding performer and a Chase national achiever. “Getting that job made me realize that I could be myself in rooms and acknowledge who I am. Confidence comes in time, but don’t be afraid to push on and understand your worth.”

Mentoring Minority Women

Harris and Sicard understand being a founder and a CEO can be a lonely road, and women need a safe space where they feel comfortable speaking about their challenges. This is exactly the type of atmosphere each of them provides in their new roles as Senior Business Consultants.  

Harris spoke of a mentee who had been leasing condo space for 15 years. This business owner was previously afraid to try and buy the building for fear she didn’t have the money, or might be turned down for a loan. After a financial audit, Harris realized the money this mentee was paying to lease the building could have provided her two or three condos. That’s when Harris assisted the woman with getting a purchase and sales package together.

“Fear of being rejected for a loan is something many Black woman have, but there has been a shift in the number of Black women being able to secure loans. The numbers are going in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Harris said.

When Sicard and Harris meet with their small business owners, it’s their job to provide the mentees with all of the resources and opportunities to help them reach their goals.  The biggest issues are usually access to capital and building a team of advisors.

“I give {the business owners} real feedback in terms of what they are doing and what they could improve upon. This role is my mission and my passion. I want to see every person, and every woman of color be successful,” said Sicard.

Both women agreed that entrepreneurs have to believe in themselves to be successful.

“You are your biggest critic and your biggest supporter. You can’t let other people’s definitions define who you are and what you are able to achieve and obtain,” Sicard said.  “The only thing that stands between you and your goals is the person in the mirror.”

Harris added, it’s important to find someone who is where you want to be and seek advice.

“Don’t be afraid to take a chance on yourself. Sometimes you may fail, but you have to get out of your comfort zone in order to get to the next step.”

For more information on the Chase Business Banking mentorship program visit https://www.chase.com/business/minority-businesses

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