When we talk about how to advance inclusivity and diversity, we often default to identifying new ways of including those typically excluded to enter the dominant group’s tent. As colleague Dr. Barb Orser would say, this is known as the “Add X (insert your word here____________ i.e., women, LGBTQIA2S, people of colour, newcomers, etc.) and stir approach to diversity and inclusion.”
Given mounting evidence that decades-plus worth of “Add X and Stir” efforts are yielding disappointing results and, in some spaces, even creating rifts, we need to start thinking differently.
If we really want to see a world that has successfully addressed all 17 of the the United Nation’s 2030 sustainable development goals we are going to have to do a lot more than advance a Nike-esque “Just Do It” empowerment mindsets for women. We have to re-imagine fundamental, meta-level social operating systems–like neoliberal capitalism itself.
This is where the feminist economy and its protagonist–the feminist entrepreneur, or NEW breed of womxn entrepreneur–the #feministboss-comes in.
What is the Feminist Economy?
The feminist economy is a kaleidoscope of startup and established organizations and enterprises that live and innovate at the intersection between feminism, social justice, and business.
It’s not all about bookstores or zine publishers anymore, either.
It cuts across sectors and is comprised of fearless startup founders, enterprise owners, non-profit leaders, plus collective, association, activist and cooperative directors of all genders who collaborate and expressly launch gendered products and/or services that challenge norms and advance both gender and social justice. But much more importantly, this community of relatable radicals think about business as a canvas for finding ways to challenge and reshape norms, indicate resistance, and create alternative interpretations of what is possible in our world.
Introducing the #Feministboss
For feminist entrepreneurs and innovators, #movethedial style reform efforts and #girlboss empowerment narratives, while helpful in building personal confidence and advancing gender equity to a point, simply don’t go far enough. Nope. This community gets what humanism actually means, and leverage their individual privilege (if they have it), passions and business acumen to fight for deep systems change that brings an end to gender-based oppression.
This #feministboss pluralistic, global community doesn’t just tinker or wear cool feminist t-shirts.
These mavericks show up and take risks politically, mine 200 years of feminist scholarship, conscientiously tackle emerging theories, and study social movements and activist organizations (In addition to feminism, think Idle No More, Slow Food and the Arab Spring) for insights they can leverage in the context of building a model, social justice values-led enterprise.
Because feminist enterprises exist on the fringe, often without venture funding, corporate or establishment ties, they have the latitude to push the boundaries—with both hands.
Sure. They might have also read Lean Startup by Eric Ries. But they are more likely to have found a more values-aligned path by reading Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy or Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World when thinking about startup design, finance, and strategy.
They also routinely draw on feminist community of practice to learn what’s working–and not working when it comes to next gen inclusive operational practice and governance ideas. They engage with feminist media to share insights and findings—because there is no feminist executive program (yet!). Their companies create economic value—but also serve as social justice labs. They work hard and take on additional risk in order to put into practice feminist values, futures, scholarship, and best practices in an economy that continues to reward in outsized ways kyriarchal compliance (patriarchy + intersectionality = kyriarchy).
According to our most recent LiisBeth survey, the majority of feminist founders and business owners connect with the visionary definition of feminism articulated by feminist writer, bell hooks. It’s based on love for all humanity and the planet.
So where am I going with all this? As argued so well by Dr. Dori Tunstall, OCAD University’s Dean of the Faculty of Design (the first Black dean of a design school in North America), during her keynote at the 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum,diversity and inclusion practices, as we know them today, are not only not enough—her story shows us how many of these efforts are unnecessarily colonial, primitive and fragile.
On this day, International Women’s Day, I invite you to consider the feminist economy, your own relationship with feminism, and how to liberate and put into practice 200 years of theoretical development in business.
We are not getting to where many people of all genders feel we need to be on this issue.
Part of the answer is in being bolder. We need new stocky, radical ideas. We can find them by engaging the leaders and innovators in the feminist economy.
Perhaps it’s finally time to make feminism a “safe word” in the world of business and innovation. Instead of marginalizing its scholars and its practitioners, it might be finally time to name, fame, and embrace the movement’s wisdom.