By: Ashley Andrews
SOUTH FLORIDA – Dr. Jacqueline Lyttle embodies the definition of a woman trailblazer! The first black female engineering graduate from the United States Coast Guard Academy, Jacqueline has made monumental accomplishments in her career in engineering, music management and entrepreneurship.
For those that don’t know, what do you do and how did you get started?
I am a civil/architectural engineer by trade. My passion however is for entrepreneurship. Since I was 12 years old or so, I have been leading teams in various after-school activities and selling food items from my parents’ home. My husband and I own and run four companies. Our first company is, Tarakon Records which my husband Kevin is signed to. Another is my engineering company, Imara Engineering.
Additionally, in 2012, I recognized the need to open a babysitting service in malls and “KidsVille” was born. KidsVille is a thoughtfully designed indoor kids-watch space for children. It is a comfortable, clean, eco-friendly environment for children to play while their parents shop, dine or watch a movie in the mall’s complex. There is always someone on site who is DCF certified. Our space is kept sparkling clean with all-natural products to keep germs at bay. The media lounge (TV room, Game station, Computer Station), reading area, activities tables, ball pit and other floor activities will keep the children happy and safe. Juice and snack machines are also on site for kids whose parents authorize a snack during their stay).
We also own a restaurant called “Chill’n” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Lastly, we are involved in real estate and other business investments in multiple countries
There are not many female engineers in the engineering field. What do you bring to the field being a Caribbean woman that isn’t offered by your male counterparts?
I think women are just as capable as men are. I do think, however, that many women start from a position of disadvantage and that this disadvantage starts in our homes and communities. Boys are typically encouraged to explore and experiment with technology and science while girls tend to be encouraged to explore the “softer” side of things. Men weren’t born knowing how to change car tires, fix gadgets, repair household items, and build outdoor storage etc. They are allowed to mess around, try things, and most importantly were encouraged to. The difference is that I was fortunately raised by a man who taught me everything he taught my brother to do. That made a lot of difference especially in the confidence department. Confidence accounts for a great deal in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Women tend to be more meticulous and can multi-task better. Those traits along with the same self-confidence and knowledge as men make me a better candidate in my opinion. Caribbean women continue to be a force to be reckoned with and being raised by a Caribbean woman to become a Caribbean woman, added another layer of self-awareness to my package.
What obstacles have you had to overcome being a female business owner?
Being a female engineer prepared me well for business ownership. Both areas are top heavy with males. I have had to learn to navigate the sea of males and be heard, be effective and be a successful leader.
Which aspect of St. Vincent culture do you love the most, and how do you incorporate it in your business?
Every single experience I had growing up in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has prepared me to arrive here and now. Vincentians are an expressive people. They are hard to please and in some ways throw tact out the window very quickly. Lol.
Although frustrating and unwelcomed when you are going through it, it pushed me to work harder, cross my Ts and dotted my Is and in the long run prepared me better. That said, we are some of the warmest most charming people in the world and my clients express their appreciation for those traits I possess. I know without a doubt that those traits are inherited from this wonderful culture.
What advice would you give aspiring female entrepreneurs looking to break the glass ceiling?
I did not consider a glass ceiling when I did everything in my life that I was called a pioneer for. I was the first Vincentian accepted at a military academy, the first black female engineering graduate from the US Coast Guard Academy among others. Your thoughts inspire your feelings and actions and I focus on visualizing the end result. I don’t ponder the process too much. I just do! Women are built to lead. I know this and I believe this. Most married women who run their households know this. We just have to accept this and execute. There is not one job/career I can think of that I can say a woman cannot do.