ABOVE PHOTO: Kisha Gulley appears with her sons Sebastian, 2, left, and Santana, 5, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021 in Phoenix. Gulley is an Instagram influencer and blogger who generates income from her content. (AP Photo/Matt York)
By Astrid Galvan
PHOENIX — Kisha Gulley was once kicked out of a Facebook group for mothers with autistic children after a contentious debate she felt was racial. Over and over, she clashed with the white-dominated groups she’d sought out for support as a new mom.
So, Gulley, who is Afro Latina, started her own parenting blog and social media accounts. It’s now a source of income for her.
The multibillion-dollar world of sleep training guides, toddler activity ideas, breastfeeding tips and all things parenting has traditionally been overwhelmingly white. Parenting book jackets feature mostly white faces. The so-called mom influencers that brands choose to advertise their products have, until recently, also been mostly white.
This has left a hole for women of color — especially new moms — who struggle to find culturally relevant parenting advice and products.
Increasingly, they’re taking matters into their own hands.
“If I can’t find it, that’s when we have to start creating that for ourselves. I knew I couldn’t be the only person that had these questions,” said Gulley, who lives in Phoenix.
When she learned her firstborn son was autistic, Gulley dove deeply into research, digging for any resources that might help her family. And even though there was a lot of information out there, there were small but significant questions that many experts couldn’t answer.
How, for example, could she comb through her son’s thickly textured hair without triggering his sensory issues? What’s a good sunscreen to use on dark skin that doesn’t leave white residue?
It was a frustrating time for her that climaxed in the Facebook group when she felt that several white women were dismissive and rude to a Black mom who had sought advice about how to talk to her family about her child’s autism diagnosis. The women didn’t grasp that in some communities of color, older generations can be apprehensive about autism and tend to think issues come down to behavior and discipline. Gulley defended the mom and was kicked out of the group.
She grew her own social media presence soon after, and now makes a living from it, earning more now than she did in her 15 years as a flight attendant, she said.
For Stacey Ferguson, the need for diverse parenting voices has been top of mind for many years. She struggled to find online forums and communities that resonated with her experiences as a Black mother.
Ferguson, a lawyer by training who is now a business owner, founded Blogalicious, an organization and annual conference that helped women of color monetize and grow their blogs, 12 years ago.
The first Blogalicious conference drew 177 people; by the time Ferguson decided to shut them down in 2017, 500 people attended each year.
“There really was like this feeling of magic in the room. And what we were really surprised about was that a lot of brands were really interested to come and meet our community,” Ferguson said.
Over the years, mommy bloggers have evolved into Instagram influencers. Carefully curated images accompany posts with tips on how to get a baby to sleep or teach them to feed themselves. Often, influencers advertise products they say moms might find helpful.
The trend was started mostly by white women and the brands that sought them out. Ferguson says the landscape is much more diverse now, and brands are more intentional about reaching a diverse range of parents.
But a problem persists. Marketing budgets are much more limited for multicultural targets than for general advertising, Ferguson said. Traditionally, white women have been paid to market to general audiences. That means a white mom could earn much more money marketing to an audience of all ethnicities and races than a woman who markets specifically to, say, Latina moms.
“It’s still that archaic way of looking at marketing,” Ferguson said. “The brands and the agencies that understand (the need to diversify) are making progress. The issue is that there’s still so many that are behind.”
There’s no consensus on just how much brands and companies spend on advertising or sponsoring through mom influencers, but several marketing experts said it’s in the billions each year.
Brands are just now catching up to the Latino and Black American markets, said Larry Chiagouris, a professor of marketing at Lubin School of Business at Pace University.
Chiagouris said the parenting influencer world has been dominated by white women because they’ve been the majority in the past, but that he’s increasingly seeing Latinas, Black and Asian American women joining the sphere.
“It’s like a chicken and an egg situation. Marketers want to spend money on Latino influencers, but you have to find them. There’s not as many as you might think,” Chiagouris said.
Jacqueline Hernandez Lewis of Long Island, New York, began blogging nine years ago as a law student and military wife seeking a community.
After she became a mom, Hernandez Lewis, 33, wanted to find a space where Latinas and other moms of color felt empowered. When she went back to work after her first child, she struggled to adapt and wanted to find a way to spend more time at home while still earning income. She now has three little ones.
Hernandez Lewis earned $25 from her first sponsored post. Now, she earns anywhere between $700 to $3,000 per post, while also working full time.
Her recent Instagram posts feature ads for a line of Spanish-language books being republished by Disney Books; for a popular brand of baby wipes; and for Poise, which makes pads that postpartum women can use.
For Hernandez Lewis, it’s important that women of color have an online community and are represented, but it’s just as crucial that they reap the rewards of their buying power.
“We deserve to be represented on the business side. There’s brands that haven’t been as inclusive as I’d hoped, but a lot of brands are shifting and becoming more inclusive,” Hernandez Lewis said.