Categories
Transformative Ideas

Progress or pinkwashing: Who benefits from digital women-focused capital funds?

(Photo by Vanessa Lee / Unsplash)

Along with crowdfunding, biometric cash assistance, cryptocurrencies, and mobile wallets, another growing digitally enabled source of capital is women-focused capital funds (WFCFs). These funds target women-owned, women-led enterprises, femme and non-binary entrepreneurs, and aim to level the access-to-capital playing field.

That’s the good news. However, a newly released study in Small Business Economics on WFCFs suggests feminist investors, policymakers, and entrepreneurs need to be asking more questions before resting their feminist boots. Professors Barbara Orser of Telfer School of Management at University of Ottawa, Susan Coleman of Hartford University, and doctoral student Yanhong Li recently examined the market positioning of 27 funds in the US and Canada. “We were curious to learn if women-centric investment pools, such as WFCFs, aim to alter exchange processes to support justice and gender equality. At the end of the day, we found that the majority of funds focus on fixing women. Few seek to address structural or institutional impediments,” said Orser. “The bottom line is that among the funds that we examined, only a minority sought to counter structural barriers associated with women entrepreneurs’ access to capital. Most were positioned to facilitate individual wealth creation.”

The study found that this kind of pinkwashing is most likely when funds are created as add-ons to mainstream programs and services, rather than as a central element of the organization’s mission of supporting women and non-binary femmes. In addition, few of the funds displayed third-party assessment or an audit of the fund. Opaque accountability and an absence of independent evaluations were common. This means we cannot always be sure that the funds set to advance women-owned and led ventures actually get to them.

According to the researchers, most WFCFs fall short of supporting a feminist agenda to address institutional and market barriers. The team concludes that, depending on the investment, some WFCFs challenge while some simply perpetuate bias and reinforce structural constraints that impede women entrepreneurs by not actually changing investment due diligence and approval orthodoxies. 

The study offers feminist investors insights to consider before assuming that all funds serve an inclusive economic agenda. This study also alerts LiisBeth readers that there are an increasing number of differentiated WFCFs, so it is wise to shop around—and keep your feminist boots walking.

To download the study (for free), click here.


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Have you had an experience trying to secure funding for women-focused capital funds? Were you successful? Rejected? Tell us your story! (We’ll keep it confidential.)


Related Reading

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/11/22/righting-who-writes-code/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/04/26/where-are-the-women-in-canadas-women-in-tech-venture-fund/

Categories
Our Voices

Feminism: A Key Idea for Business and Society

CV Harquail’s new book is a must read.

The opportunity to review CV Harquail’s new book was not one that I was about to take on lightly. I waited. I was not about to let distractions of an academic semester interfere with this anticipated good read. My hunch was that this was a book that I would appreciate more with time to reflect on the lessons learned. Feminism: A Key Idea for Business and Society was worth the wait.

In the quiet of a lakeside cottage, I began to read. Then I began to write. My copy is now littered with notations, highlighted sentences and questions that I will savour in hindsight. Like a timestamp of feminist endurance, the last time that I marked a document this same way was when I digested the 1988 Proceedings of Canada’s first “Women in Management” conference. Once again, there was much to absorb!

Acknowledging unrecognized feminist thought leaders and contemporary writers, this book offers readers a compendium of well-researched topics and convincing arguments about why feminism, equality, and capitalism must be companions:

“Once you learn to look at the business world through a feminist lens, everything you think you should do and that you might do to grow your people and your business will change. You’ll never be able to un-see oppression, and you’ll never again be able to accept the status quo as ‘good enough,’ much less as ‘good,’ period. You’ll no longer feel tempted to sit back and let others take up the challenge of advocating for justice, or leave it to others to envision and lead us towards a future where everyone flourishes.”

Harquail’s labour of love has moved feminism from the dimly lit sidelines of management theory to the centre of leadership practice. How far we have travelled. I could not help but reflect on being told during my doctoral studies, “It’s fine to focus on women entrepreneurs, but feminism has no place in management research.”

CV Harquail on What Makes a Business Feminist at the EFFs, 2018

 

LiisBeth readers may be surprised to learn the degree to which feminism, feminist theory, and feminists impact our lives. While acknowledging that unconscious biases are ever present, Harquail led me through different perspectives that seek to “un-see” oppression, shining spotlights on alternative feminist perspectives and explaining what feminism has done and can do for business. I felt that her ideas respect the unrecognized contributions of countless feminists who work, every day, for equality within large and small organizations. And like a well-trained scholar, Harquail took care to honour feminist thought leaders and researchers who paved the way for many contemporary management practices.

Unearned privilege, earned expertise, flourishing, kyriarchy, and her five principles of feminism (equality, agency, whole humanness, interdependence, and generativity) are explained—ideas that strengthen management, entrepreneurship, and the care economy. I thought that each was brought into perspective through multiple truths, feminist standpoints, and contradictions.

This left me pondering about how I can better reflect feminist values in my own work, and how entrepreneurship research still has much to do to lift up the voices of the marginalized.

This book will be of interest to all aspiring business and entrepreneurship students, executive teams, and changemakers. An opinionated book that is jam-packed with practical ideas about why feminism needs to be taken seriously by the business world, you’ll learn about different perspectives that will help you to position your own thinking in the workplace. Collectively, the conversation about feminism and business has moved to a higher level. This includes a leap closer to understanding how businesses can better balance profit-seeking behaviour with equality and justice for all.

Harquail invites readers to walk beside her as she explains foundational and emerging concepts of contemporary feminism. By the end of the book, I felt a renewed sense of confidence about my understanding of the tenets of feminist leadership.

This primer on feminist leadership provides food for thought by a master chef. As a white, privileged scholar, consultant, and mother who has written about entrepreneurial feminism, gender, and management for over 30 years, I consider this work among my best management reads to date. Thank you CV Harquail!

About the reviewer: Dr. Barbara Orser is the Co-author, Feminine Capital. Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs (Stanford University Press, 2015 with Catherine Elliott), and a full/Deloitte Professor, Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, Canada.


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Related Reading

https://www.liisbeth.com/2017/08/17/uber-feminist-enterprise/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2018/03/15/another-brick-in-the-wall/

 

Categories
Our Voices Transformative Ideas

What the EFF? Top Six Takeaways from the 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum

Left to Right: Chanèle McFarlane (Do Well Dress Well), Karin Percil, (Sisterhood), Rachel Kelly (Make Lemonade) and Amanda Laird (Heavy Flow Podcast)

On December 2 and 3, LiisBeth co-sponsored the second Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum (EFF) in downtown Toronto. The annual entrepreneurship conference brought together the growing community of feminist entrepreneurs to learn and share experiences around feminist business practice.

This year, the message was clear: connect and take action.

Taking action at the EFF

 

We’ll post a full roundup next year but here is a list of six action items to consider incorporating into your 2019 resolutions.

1. Type “Indigenomics” into a document. When the red squiggly line appears indicating a spell-check error, right-click then press “add word,” because the relatively new term is picking up speed in Canada’s lexicon. “When you talk about water and trees you talk about resources. When we talk about water and trees we talk about relatives.” – Carol Anne Hilton, Indigenomics By Design: The Rise of Indigenous Economic Empowerment.

2. Visit Kelly Diels for feminist marketing tools, tips, and resources. If you missed her at the EFF 2018, you missed out, but fear not. Diels offers workshops and coaching sessions where you can develop (among other things) a social media strategy and system based on her Little Birds and Layer Cakes, Social Media Workbook.  “If you hate marketing, it means you have a sense of justice.” – Kelly Diels, Feminist Marketing for an Emerging, More Inclusive Economy.

3. Build our communities. CV Harquail reminds us that we can build our collective path to the entrepreneurial feminist future by standing on and grounding ourselves in each other’s work. Every presenter, facilitator, and participant is doing work that we can build on — so let’s follow each other on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, refer to each other’s work, and celebrate our growing community. View the full list of presenters here.

4, Unplug and Read (okay two actions) Sarah Selecky’s new novel: Radiant Shimmering Light. It’s the holidays so not everything has to be about work. However, you may find your own takeaways in Selecky’s novel about female friendship, business, and online marketing that skillfully balances satire, humour, and truth. Selecky also credits Kelly Diels in her acknowledgments as the person who coined the term Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and met Diels at the EFF, so maybe it is about networking.

5.  Decolonize your mind: Decolonization work begins with taking the time to critically examine how colonization has influenced your personal world view and sense of self. Sit down. Make a list. Check it twice. Then consider re-embracing cultural practices, thinking, beliefs, and values that are a part of who you are and where you came from, but were systemically dissed by the dominant culture. “If we want diversity and inclusion, we have to decolonize design so that the practice itself stops traumatizing our diverse students and professors.” – Dr. Dori Tunstall, Whiteness without White Supremacy: Generating New Models of Whiteness

6. Sign up for LiisBeth’s newsletter here and receive rants, downloadables, recommended readings, profiles, feminist freebies! and stay informed about LiFE (LiisBeth’s Incubator for Feminist Entrepreneurship)–a membership only feminist business practice “school” and learning commons.

In addition to the action items above, what else did EFF participants get from the conference? The five most meaningful leaves on the wall of inspiration sum it up best:

  • We all have something of value to offer
  • Nothing grows without sharing
  • Connected
  • Who knows what will happen!
  • #rise

Rooted in values that take good care of people and planet, feminist entrepreneurs are building justice into products and services, operating models, and relationships. In the process, we are building collective power to change the economy.

Join us.

Categories
Systems

Feds Drop $9 Million Into Women’s Entre-preneurship

Day two of the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum 2018 in Toronto

The federal government has awarded Ryerson University $9 million over three years to fund a Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) to advance research into women’s entrepreneurship with the goal of increasing participation of women in the economy.

Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, who worked in the President’s Office at Ryerson University before becoming a Member of Parliament in the Liberal government, made the announcement this morning, saying WEKH will equip governments and the private sector “with the necessary information to better understand and assist women entrepreneurs in their efforts to start up, scale up and access new markets.”

Currently, only 16 percent of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are women owned. By many estimates, advancing gender equality has the potential to add $150 billion to the Canadian economy by 2026. WEKH is expected to be a one-stop source of knowledge, data and best practices to help governments, organizations and the private sector develop better policies and strategies to grow women’s entrepreneurship.

Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO and a partner in WEKH, hopes the investment will unleash the potential of women’s entrepreneurship. “We have an excellent business case in the women’s entrepreneurship area to show how investing in women will grow the Canadian economy. It’s very exciting to see that a university will take this information and upload research that will power better government policy.” She adds that “Ryerson has been a leading driver of entrepreneurship, innovation and education across the country.”

The Ryerson-led consortium was chosen over one competing bid led by University of Ottawa, which included some of Canada’s top thought leaders in the area of women’s entrepreneurship, notably Barbara Orser, a professor at University of Ottawa and co-author of Feminine Capital: Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs; Jennifer Jennings, Associate Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise at University of Alberta’s School of Business; Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto; Sandra Altner, CEO of the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada; and the MaRS Institute, an innovation hub that helps entrepreneurs launch and grow ventures.

The Ryerson consortium includes eight regional hubs and universities, ten partners and 37 supporters.

The federal government has not lacked for reports making the case that supporting women’s entrepreneurship will strengthen the Canadian economy – more than 30 in the past 30 years, many industry sponsored. The central question now is will this direct federal government investment in university-led research produce relevant policy action and real results?

Says Barbara Orser, who coined the term Entrepreneurial Feminism, “It’s a unique opportunity to ensure a feminist and women-focussed perspective is shared and that only research of the highest quality is profiled. If not, there’s a risk of replicating the stereotypes and mythology of women’s entrepreneurship. Every incubator and accelerator and academic engaged in entrepreneurship should be speed dialled into this new source of information.”

Ryerson University’s Wendy Cukier, the Founder and Director of the Diversity Institute at the Ted Rogers School of Management, says they were thrilled to win the bid. “We don’t see this as an opportunity to do research. We see this as an opportunity to drive change, and the diversity institute has a strong track record in terms of using evidence and research to make things happen. We have pulled together a good network of partners including universities who will be able to grow and sustain (WEKH) beyond the initial funding.” She says that Ryerson will reach out to work with partners beyond the consortium. “The whole point is to aggregate research and information available. The whole point is to map and grow the entire ecosystem.”

Kelly Diels, a Vancouver-based feminist marketing consultant and writer, hopes there is a channel that loops the research hub back to women entrepreneurs so they can turn it into useful information with tools to use in their businesses. That way, “it’s not a report disappears into the ether or was a big project that didn’t actually move back to the people who need it.”

Jena Cameron, Manager of Women Entrepreneurship Policy at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, says both applications were very strong and equally evaluated against the assessment grid that included things such as partnerships and sustainability. A lot of information on women’s entrepreneurship already exists, says Cameron, so a big part of the plan is to “package information (it) in a way that it becomes accessible to women business support organizations and women entrepreneurs themselves. Go through it and distil nuggets down into practical things that the ecosystem can use.”

Our initial take at LiisBeth? What, another study? This data better lead to change. It will benefit women entrepreneurs if the Ryerson-led consortium reaches out to the other side to tap into Canada’s leading feminist enterprise research and thinkers. Create an open door policy that lets everyone in so everyone can win, including community-based women’s entrepreneurship organizations and feminist entrepreneurs who are often off the mainstream radar.


https://www.liisbeth.com/2018/10/17/how-to-unlock-billions-of-unrealized-growth-led-by-entrepreneurial-women/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2018/10/19/minister-mary-ng-to-announce-a-new-20m-women-entrepreneurs-fund-today/