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Allied Arts & Media

Breaking Up With Patriarchy in Film and TV

A collage showing popcorn, a camera, film reel and three women, two brown and one white woman
Collage: Shreya Patel, Rabiya Mansoor, Window Dreams; Bonnie Anderson (top), Moxie Productions

British filmmaker Amma Asante once said: “Don’t take no as a full stop, treat it like a comma.” Three women indie filmmakers (Bonnie Anderson, Moxie Productions; Rabiya Mansoor and Shreya Patel, Window Dreams Productions) are doing just that. These filmmakers aren’t asking for a seat at patriarchy’s table. They’re building a better one on their own.

Film has always been a brutal industry for everyone but women bear a disproportionate brunt of the pain. A 2021 report by Women in View found women were afforded significantly fewer film contracts than men by two major funders and far less funding. BIPOC women fared the worst. A story in World Economic Forum in March reported that while the MeToo movement uncovered gender power dynamics in Hollywood, inequities behind the scenes garnered less attention: fewer than 20% of directors and writers of the 250 highest-grossing U.S. movies were women (according to a recent study). It isn’t lack of education that holds women back – a 2018 report found equal representation of women in higher education in film and television.

Indie Film Making: The Road to Freedom?

While building one’s own company doesn’t make systemic oppression and challenges vanish, the autonomy that comes with going indie provides film makers with the freedom to produce content that matters to them, their way, and in ways that aligned with their feminist ideals. Moxie Productions’ Anderson recalled an incident where a male actor ignored her – even though she was director and producer, and looked to her male Director of Photography instead. She hasn’t hired him again. For the keepers though, she provides a work experience “I wasn’t finding in other places.” She loves hearing how working on her set is fun. “I want everybody to have that feeling when they’re on set because that’s when you get the best work done.”

Photo of three people. A man, two women.
Left to Right: Jorge Molina. Andrea Grant and Bonnie Anderson of Moxie Productions. Photos by Denise Grant.

For the co-CEOS at Window Dreams (below), going indie means you can put people and relationships first. “If there is no friendship, this doesn’t exist, and it’s not fun anymore,” Patel said.” “You don’t have to be lonely at the top.” The system pits marginalized creatives and producers (they are both of South Asian descent) against one another. There is often only one ‘diversity’ seat at the table. “Our mindset has always been, well, we’ll just build our own table or we’ll just make the table bigger,” Mansoor said. “There could be seats for everyone.”

Anderson took the leap into independent film making after years of industry experience that included lighting designer, theater director, playwright and actor. Technology has helped get hers and other women’s derrieres in seats. When cameras and lighting got smaller, and editing apps became available (“Film is really all created in the editing room”) she realized: “I’m tired of waiting for other people and I want to just create things for a living.” She learned how to edit through YouTube videos and appointments at Apple Genuis (“They were great”) to make her first film ‘GPS Love’: “A man falls in love with his new GPS and finds himself.” 

Leveraging Technology, Global Networks and Diversity

Window Dreams has been busy during this pandemic. Learning to leverage new technology has helped. The Toronto-based Mansoor had wondered whether she would ever have the opportunity to be in a writers’ room with people from New York and Los Angeles. Then virtual meetings became the norm.  Their documentary, ‘Unity’ (logline: “Love spreads faster than a virus”), had over 100 cast from almost 70 countries. While Patel slept, videos arrived from different time zones for her to edit when she woke up. ‘Unity’ was the closing film at the Unified Filmmakers-Munich International Film Festival last year. Their music video, ‘Freedom Dance,’ with Bollywood and other celebrities was directed virtually by Patel. It went viral and was reported in Rolling Stones India. “I’m retiring,” Patel joked. (She is obviously decades away from retirement!)

Anderson said that if she could change one thing to support the advancement of women, she would appoint more of them “To be head of where the money is.” The Women in View’s On Screen Report found women give other women more breaks. They refer, for example, to the ‘showrunner and producer effect’. When women occupy these positions, their teams have far greater representation of women in creative roles like writers, directors and cinematographers. When women of colour are the producers, the playing field for other women of colour is significantly more level.

A study done earlier this year, Building Inclusive Networks in the Film and Television Industry, found BIPOC women and non-binary individuals viewed networking events as vital to gaining industry access. Yet, most participants felt ‘unwelcome’ at industry events. Lack of diversity, micro-aggressions and cliquishness were some of the reasons cited. Participants felt greater inclusivity in networking opportunities would lead to positive outcomes: better programming for more accurate reflection of current reality; greater authenticity in the stories; fewer stereotypical or sexualized portrayals of women; on-screen reflection of the diversity of Canadians.

Left to Right: Shreya Patel and Rabiya Mansoor, Window Dreams

Even for Patel, with her expansive global network and a gift for networking and connecting – “That’s where my forte is when it comes to business” – access remains a challenge. Though there’s no lack of funding opportunities, finding them is a problem. Peers are generally tight-lipped for fear of competition. Mansoor and Patel feel funders need to promote these opportunities better, while supporting applicants to ensure strong submissions. They found out about the Bell Fund Slate Development Program late but hustled to submit their application. They got funding for several projects including the comedy series Layla is Relevant (which they also star in) about “A former child star and current nobody” who moves back to Sarnia (Patel’s hometown) with her single mom and gamer cousin.

No Money? Carry On!

Lack of funding never stopped these women from pushing ahead on their dream projects. Anderson had pursued funding before Moxie Productions without much success. She realized: “I’m going to create a production company and make money from it. And from that money, I’ll be able to create my own personal work that I want to do.” She has a thriving business in educational videos (For the purpose of training doctors and other professionals) and actor and musician promotional reels. This allows her to take financial risks that help other women like her improv partner Kate Ashby. “I Just thought Kate needed her own television show,” Anderson said. Talk with Kate Ashby was a talk show with a twist where prominent guests like actor Susan Coyne decided on the next guest (only revealed to Kate on camera). A new season of SNAK (four-minute lively interviews with celebrities like Sandra Shamas, Jean Yoon, Peter Mansbridge) is launching. “This is something that is dear to my heart and we celebrate Canadian talent,” Anderson said.

The women at Window Dreams pursue stories about social justice knowing their payday may be far off. Years ago, while Patel was doing humanitarian work in India, she watched helplessly as poor children were waiting to be treated for terminal illnesses. She knew documentary filmmaking could shine a light on marginalized people and create change. Window Dreams’ Girl Up about human trafficking in Canada took years to develop without funding. A feature film about domestic human trafficking is in the works.

Emerging Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Policies are Helping

There is reason for aspiring women indie filmmakers to be optimistic. Commitments to gender parity by publicly-funded organizations such as CBC, Canadian Media Fund, and the CRTC have increased the number of women directors in film and television. Mountains still need to be moved to increase representation of BIPOC women and all women in key industry roles like cinematography. However, women in film are increasingly leveraging the power of trust, connection and collective action. They are also helping each other out. They are helping each other out. Organizations such as Women in Film and Television (WIFT), Fem Script Lab, and Women in the Director’s Chair (WIDC) offer development and networking to support women’s advancement in the industry.

Anderson, Mansoor and Patel participated in the Canadian Film Centre Media Lab’s Fifth Wave Initiative, a development program that integrates intersectional feminist ideals with entrepreneurship. For Anderson it was “mind blowing” to be connected with women who were rooting for her success. The enthusiasm of mentors and others to make connections to help their business thrive was invaluable.

What’s their advice to help the next generation of women? Anderson would like everyone to see business differently. “It’s not sales; it’s building relationships.” Mansoor would tell them to have “The confidence to run with an idea, knowing there are wins and losses”. “Don’t give up,” Patel would advise. “Entrepreneurship is a long road.”

We can all help make that road a little smoother.

TIFF (September 8 – 18) has a category of films ‘Directed by Women’. These films deserve our support.

Publishers Note: The FitIn is a part of the Fifth Wave, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally and content sponsor at the Lighthouse level. Applications for Cohort 5 are OPEN!

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Our Voices

No Person is Ever Just One Thing

image of a white woman in a black tank top. She has tatoos on her left arm and shoulder. Short hair.
LiisBeth contributor and author Lori Fox. Photo by Mark Kelly

If this book was a Venn diagram, the intersecting circles would represent the relationship between rage, compassion, and survival. Lori Fox has crammed a lot of life (and moving) experience in their thirty-something years on this planet. They are unique, as we all are, by default: “I’m a visibly queer and non-binary person who grew up in a time and place when that was even more dangerous than it is now, who has lived and worked in communities and settings where my queerness was often a threat to my safety. I should, statistically speaking, be dead. Probably more than once,” writes Fox.

Blunt and unapologetic, recurring themes and ideas are intertwined and interconnected throughout the book and include, but are not limited to, financial instability, mental health struggles, sexual assault, emotional and physical abuse, the unconditional love of pets, and the consequences of speaking truth to power.

This Has Always Been a War (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2022) is also about the duality and complexity of our human existence. One can be enemy, stranger and lover all at once. We can be both strong and vulnerable. Fear and courage often ride side by side in Fox’s camper truck or beat up cars. Shame snuggles up to pride and perseverance is the shadow side of surrender.

At times laugh out loud, at times jaw-droppingly shocking, Fox writes about the hard things. They write about the things we think we shouldn’t say. “It’s because I won’t nod, smile, and keep my fucking mouth shut.”

The writing is compelling and gripping. Every essay flows like a draft beer from a fresh keg in one of the many restaurants Fox worked in during their seventeen years in the service industry.

You’ll find descriptions like:

“Her making excuses, dodging responsibility, calling down some folksy morality or looking to a fucking magical dead-ass zombie carpenter to fix the things she, herself, refused to fix.” When Fox disclosed a sexual assault by a family member to their mother.

“This novel, like its narrator, needs to take itself firmly by the shoulders and pull its head out of its own ass, because pay the fuck attention.” From Fox’s take on Sophie McIntosh’s novel, Blue Ticket.

“It was partly furnished, and in the nightstand there was a bottle of KY Jelly and a pair of edible underpants with a bite taken out of the crotch.” Describing one of the numerous apartments they’ve lived in.

 If you are uncomfortable with hearing about poverty, hunger and abuse, you should read this book. If words like cunt, dick and mother-fucking asshole make you squirm, buy this book and challenge yourself to walk a mile (or thirty thousand) in Fox’s shoes -worn out flats or a pair of boots with a knife tucked into the side.

Because what does Fox want readers to do? Open their minds. Ask questions. Never assume.

Fox takes responsibility for their choices but argues that some choices are not available to many. The book peels back layers on topics that have shaped Fox’s shapeshifting existence to reveal the raw and tender truth of their lived experience. Here are a few excerpts that stood out.

ON JUSTICE

“We are not paid fairly for the things we make, yet things can be denied us or taken from us if we cannot pay for them. If we refuse to obey the rules of the people who have those things, we will be punished. If we refuse to be punished, we will be imprisoned or killed.

We are told, when these things happen, that this is justice…Serve us or starve. Work or be evicted. Obey us or live in misery. What part of that sounds like a choice?”

From This Has Always Been A War

Lori Fox, Author of This Has Always Been A War, is also a LiisBeth contributor.

ON DUALITY

“I think about that photo [a young man in a leather jacket, clean cut, smiling warmly, leaning up against the side of a black-and-chrome Harley Davidson motorcycle] a lot, about how there’s no one story, no one straight narrative that can be told about a person, no matter how much we would like there to be. Everyone you know, including yourself, is a shapeshifter, some of us more so than others. No person is ever just one thing.”

From Every Little Act of Cruelty.

ON LUCK

“Only a small part of my survival can be attributed to my own choices and skills; something I learned while I lived out in the bush is that sometimes good things happen to you, and sometimes bad things happen to you, but mostly, things just happen to you. You can be the fittest, most cautious, most competent bushperson around and still get mauled by a bear or drown in a river for no goddamn reason at all other than it’s just something that happens. You can prepare and do your best to avoid bad situations, but the amount of power you have to control your fate is limited. The bush—and the wider world—is amoral and impartial to both your success and your suffering. Some people find that hard to stomach, but I find it tremendously comforting. Often, things just are.”

From This Has Always Been A War

In short, we need more books like this.

We need to read the stories of despair and suicide attempts and crippling depression. We need to share our own stories of resilience and courage and survival. Because, as Fox puts it: “If things are the way they are because this is the only system we have, then we need a new fucking system.”

“It’s a system of learned helplessness. And it doesn’t have to be that way”, they write.

While the rants and tangents are on point with some laugh out loud metaphors, some trimming back to pieces where a point has already been made might allow the prose to pack more of a punch than it already does.


We recommend buying a copy of Fox’s book from your local indie feminist bookstore or via the publisher here

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Our Voices

FitIn’s Marathon to Investor Funding

An image of a white woman at a gym wearing a tshirt that reads "fit in".
Catherine Chan, founder, FitIn.io. Photo credit: Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real

The hashtags on FitIn founder Catherine Chan’s LinkedIn profile tell the story of the long hard road to investor funding: #breakthebias, #fundingforwomen, #economic inclusion. Her first foray into the school of hard knocks was at an investor boot camp. The male instructor insisted the stepping stone to investor money was raising money through family and friends first. “If your friends and your family aren’t willing to invest in you, investors consider it a red flag,” she said. Unfortunately, Chan didn’t know people with deep pockets like the male MBAs who tapped their old classmates and colleagues for cash. Although she was “fish-wife swearing” to herself about the injustice of it all, she found the experience invaluable. “I knew that my own money was going to have to last me a lot longer than everybody’s else’s.”

Despite the long hours devoted to FitIn and two external leadership-level roles, the 48-year-old founder and single parent looked surprisingly relaxed for a Friday afternoon. Appearing on Zoom in a leopard print top with chunky reading glasses resting casually on top of her head, her calmness spoke to the value proposition of her business. Chan had long suffered from depression and fitness changed her life. As she approached forty, she decided to train for a marathon. “By the end of it all, I was a whole new person,” she said. “The only thing that has ever given me peace is a workout. I wanted that for everybody else in the world.”

How Does FitIn Fit In?

FitIn is a shared economy platform connecting fitness and wellness providers with fitness and wellness enthusiasts who visit FitIn’s ‘marketplace’ where classes and events are aggregated. This one-stop shopping makes fitness and wellness more accessible, i.e., no more scouring the internet! Fit-preneurs (Chan’s name for her providers, typically independent personal trainers, wellness practitioners and smaller fitness studios) use FitIn to market their services and process customer payment at an affordable rate.

Screen shot of the Fitin.io website

Running the Investor Funding Marathon

Chan is reluctant to share negative experiences about what it’s like trying to raise funds as a female in a tech-enabled business without a male technical co-founder. She shared one story as an example. During her pitch to a group of angel investors, an older man told her: “There’s a David somewhere in that marble” and that she was “onto something.” But then asked the sort of question less often posed to male founders: “Aren’t you concerned that someone with more money is going to build the exact same thing as you but a lot faster and better?” She bit her tongue but wanted to say: “You know, you have the power to make that not happen.”

While Chan has not yet acquired venture capital or institutional funding, she did secure two angel investors at an Open People Network pitch event. And, a few friends and family are now investors too. Unfortunately, grants for her type of business are scarce. Chan said funders often think of fitness as just a fun thing people do on weekends. “They don’t get the impact it can have socially, and economically when you have a healthy population,” she said.

It should be just a matter of time before Chan raises the money needed to accelerate the growth of FitIn. After all, she has a unique offering. FitIn combines the best features of business unicorns Mindbody and ClassPass.com into one product. What’s more, FitIn is a social enterprise that supports—rather than exploits—gig economy workers. Chan plans to launch an affiliate shareholder program, which she said is “A virtuous cycle economy within the platform itself.”

Mentorship at the Heart of Success

Chan amassed skills for successful entrepreneurship even before realizing this was her dream. She obtained a graduate degree in classics in 1998 which has proved to be invaluable. Her degree integrated diverse disciplines from philosophy to politics to analyze the chain of events in a bygone era. “It’s that big picture mentality,” she said. This education also honed her presentation skills – key for pitching investors.

After graduation, Chan did reception and admin work before her upward trajectory began in sales and training at well-known corporations. Eventually, she grew weary of office politics and under-representation of woman at the top. After being let go from her last corporate role, she decided to pursue a business idea percolating for some time. She began searching ‘start-ups’ on Facebook.  Networking events at places like Startup TO and Startup Canada began to fill her feed. “I let the algorithm feed me all the information I needed,” she said. She immersed herself in the startup landscape like at that investor boot camp. FitIn was born.

Two years ago, Chan participated in Fifth Wave’s Connect Accelerator Program. Her mentor Val Fox was “absolutely amazing.” One piece of advice Fox offered was for Chan to seek freelance work rather than devote all her time and energy to FitIn. This has allowed Chan to keep a roof over her and her child’s head without the stress of cash flow, and grow FitIn on her own terms rather than accept funding with conditions that might be in opposition to her own feminist values.

Chan is paying the mentorship she received forward. “I don’t think I can ever pay back in my lifetime of helping people, but boy I’ll try,” she said. She was recently appointed as Entrepreneur in Residence at Fifth Wave, and also mentors women at Elizabeth Fry Society Toronto. Mentoring others has helped her grow as an entrepreneur. She recalled a saying about how people barely remember things told to them but remember things forever when they teach it to others.

The Funding Marathon Continues

FitIn is still in its early days. While most of her Fit-preneurs are in the GTA (where Chan lives) she has big plans.  “I would really love to create a virtual fitness tourism type of economy,” she said. This would involve getting fitness and wellness providers in rural communities onto her platform, giving them access to a wider audience.

“So, give me a million dollars and there is no way I am not expanding across Canada in a heartbeat, making sure we are supporting communities and accomplishing our mission of helping Canadians get healthier physically and mentally.”

If you would like to invest in FitIn, Catherine Chan can be contacted at catherine@canwcc.ca


Publishers Note: The FitIn is a part of the Fifth Wave, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally and content sponsor at the Lighthouse level. Applications for Cohort 5 will open this summer.

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Our Voices

RADICAL IS BEAUTIFUL

A beige collage that has text that reads "Every morning I wake up on the wrong side of capitalism" as graphiti text, and a Banksy image of a bar code on a cart pulled by a white tiger"
Banksy "Barcode Tiger" mashup collage--pk mutch

My entrepreneurship journey started as a teenager. I signed up for a local entrepreneurship education program where high school students could run a business with the help of business leaders from around the region. Turns out I was good at it… REALLY good at it. Several awards, scholarships and two national conferences later, I found myself at a crossroads. Should I study commerce in university? Yes and no – I have a Bachelor of Science in Language Honours degree. All is not lost.

After completing a post-graduate certificate in Human Resource Management, I went on to spend a decade working in HR for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. My interest in entrepreneurship never faded as I began to see how large businesses failed to honour human beings as mission critical to the success of any organization.

I began to wonder about what it is to run a business. I began to question what a business actually is versus commerce (The exchange of goods & services for money). The years I spent in the dank depths of capitalist endeavours made me realize I never want to be a part of such a venture – a venture where systemic oppression (namely capitalism & white supremacy) reigns supreme.  

I had the distinct opportunity to experience innumerable instances of anti-Black racism in my career. No matter how much work I accomplished, intellectual property I produced or technology I mastered faster than others, I was still a Black woman seen as slow, lazy and a threat to the established order. 

I also began to wonder about commerce… and how my enterprises can be commerce. As I worked to bring my own enterprises to life, I happened upon the concept of radical entrepreneurship. (Holla!)

Many books, journals and conversations later, I decided to define what radical entrepreneurship meant for me as a Black woman and a person of the global majority. Radical entrepreneurship happens when you start an enterprise that transcends racism, capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.  

It’s a return to commerce: the exchange of goods & services for money.  It’s treating people as equals, with respect, paying a thrive rate wage AND distributing wealth, educational opportunities, upward mobility influence and sharing connections (money is not the only kind of wealth), ensuring health, wellness, and not working people 16 hours a day (which people did). In short, commerce as community – a spiritual and activist endeavour undertaken to enjoy the process of work; trading (We love working at something as humans) while lifting up others in the process.

Radical entrepreneurship is having the courage to step outside societal norms to run your enterprise as you see fit. There are elements you will definitely need like good recordkeeping and an accounting/bookkeeping practice. However, the radical part means your enterprise is contributing to eradicating social injustice.

Capitalist business education will tell you that your business’s sole goal is to earn money for investors and to place profits over people. Radical entrepreneurship values people, their contributions and their livelihoods. 

Yet, I’m still a Black woman with light-skinned privilege in this dominant culture – a culture where awareness of anti-Black racism is now in the limelight and still somewhat of a trending hashtag.  Corporations are taking advantage of this golden-hued PR opportunity to allocate a teeny fraction of their sizable quarterly profits to Black entrepreneurship initiatives. Let’s not forget the countless mentorship opportunities that ultimately don’t cost anything but look good on paper.

The Black community is not a monolith but is widely perceived as one. I constantly see Black entrepreneurs who are regarded as (air quotes) successful by white capitalist standards put on display to say “Hey, we’re not racist… look at this cishet, neurotypical, able-bodied Black person who is now a millionaire.” 

To put it simply, not all skinfolk are kinfolk. 

Huge barriers to funding opportunities continue to exist within the Black diaspora.  There’s a significant divide and significant conservatism in the diaspora. Cishet neurotypical, able-bodied Black people who are willing to accept the crumbs of capitalism may indeed be successful in obtaining a few loonies but it’ll be nowhere near the resources available to their white counterparts.

Studies have been done about the hardships that Black female entrepreneurs face. The proposed solutions are literally steeped in capitalism & white supremacy. Black venture capitalists are still capitalists.  We also haven’t talked about the extraneous hoops Black women entrepreneurs have to go through to access the few funds (e.g. Being asked about your sexual orientation on a loan application which, last I checked, is a human rights issue) and even then no one seems to trust Black women with a significant amount of money…there are hair & nails to be done after all.

In navigating this world, I find myself having to explain myself constantly. I have an Honours Bachelor of Science in Language. I’m fluently bilingual in Canada’s official languages. I have worked in global head offices for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. Mastering new technologies is easy for me.  But all people see is Black… and immediately assume I’m not qualified enough, not skilled enough, not professional enough…the list goes on.  

Professionalism – for the record – is deeply rooted in white supremacy.

My mere existence is resistance in and of itself. When those days come where I wonder if my enterprises will actually thrive despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers that line my way forward, I have to remind myself that being a Black radical entrepreneur is more than a radical act. By choosing commerce over capitalism & white supremacy, I’m now actively creating change. I’m learning by doing. I’m gathering more knowledge and insight every day.

Dominant culture can keep their crumbs of capitalism. I won’t scale my enterprises in 3 months or less. I don’t exist to make money for those who’ll remove it from the economy at large and hoard it for their own purposes. I won’t pander to those who choose not to see my worth or genius in favour of my skin colour.  

Radical entrepreneurship is going to be the way forward for this Black entrepreneur. 

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Our Voices

STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD WITH WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS

Image of a brown woman wearing a hijab, standing, hands on a railing, wearing orange shirt. There are plants in the background. She is wearing pink eyeshadow.

“They tried so hard to bury us, they didn’t know that we were seeds”. With these words, Ojibwe founder of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics, Jenn Harper, set the tone for this year’s STRIKEUP event – a digital conference for women entrepreneurs.

Harper had me hooked. Her profound words during her remarkable opening address became the emotional backdrop of the entire event for me. She went on to share her personal journey of survival, healing from inter-generational trauma of residential schools and settler-colonialism, to eventually going on to run a successful beauty brand.

Based on my previous experiences at entrepreneurship events which centred on individualism, grit and glorified capitalism, arriving at STRIKEUP I had expected to gain business acumen. I wasn’t expecting to be quite this moved and motivated. This space felt different. This space gave space to stories that left my heart full, and my mind buzzing with ideas.

As a multi-passionate entrepreneur, I was eager to learn about ways to nurture the growth of my businesses ethically and sustainably in a pandemic market that seems to be changing at a mind-spinning pace.

Imge showing a zoom panels of speakers from the Strike Up event
Panel at STRIKEUP 2022 ‘Decision Points: Your Edge to Success’. Pictured from left to right, Suzie Yorke, Catherine Addai, Indira Moudi, Teara Fraser, Agatha Alstrom. This year's event featured 30 speakers. Over 4000 women from 25 countries participated.

Collective Care in Commerce 

Work-life balance was a theme that came up often in the success stories that the speakers shared.

STRIKEUP centered much of the conversation of success in business on inclusion and an ethos of self-care and community care.

In a fireside chat with Joanna Griffiths, she shared the importance of boundary setting to avoid taking on too much, reminding us that ‘no’ is a beautiful word. It was inspiring to hear from women who valued their reclaimed time -for how much more they were able to invest it back into themselves, their loved ones, and even their customers.

Catherine Addai, Founder of the clothing store Kaela Kay said it beautifully when sharing that her decision to focus only on her business instead of working multiple jobs was a risk, but one that allowed her time for herself, her family, and her mental health. Throughout the conversations, there was an important parallel drawn between our capacity to care for ourselves as entrepreneurs, and the possibility to also care for and nurture every aspect of our business and the stakeholders involved – from collaborators to customers.


An image of a muslim woman wearing a hijab speaking into a microphone. Text says Strike Up Something Beautiful by Timaj Garad
Want to hear something beautiful? Check out Timaj Garad's spoken word performance capturing her experience at StrikeUp 2022 here. For more of her work, click on the social media icons below.

The Futurepreneurs 

What I found most inspiring about STRIKEUP was the hope it instilled for the future of women’s growth in business.

In her talk about AI (artificial intelligence), adaptations and tech trends, Amber Mac debunked the idea of the doomsday scenario often depicted by the idea of AI and automation, highlighting our incredible ability to adapt to technology. She shone a light on technology’s ability to unite us by providing greater access to all, while also helping us prioritize our purpose and re-imagine work. Her focus was on ‘growing’ or ‘soft’ skills like critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence that push us forward and help us to continually adapt to a changing world.

Similarly, in her fireside chat, Griffiths says that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ‘Futureproofing’ – preparing your business for the future. Building a business that is future-ready is about truly listening to your customer’s needs and continually trying to understand and adapt to their wants and needs.

When it comes to future-focused thinking, businesses are shifting faster than ever. Social Media Strategist Alecia Bryan’s learning lab about simplifying operations was an insightful, deep-dive into automation tools and approaches that could support that shift. She reviewed e-commerce software that supports adaptive change such as optimized online stores, conversational commerce, and social media platform integration as key to a ‘digital first’ business approach.

My most meaningful takeaway from STRIKEUP was the validation that women business owners can successfully emerge into a lane of our own choosing, through a multitude of entry-points into entrepreneurship.

There is no specific roadmap, only a fine tuning of your internal compass, the right tools to stay on your path, and strong companions to help you find your way. Harper put it succinctly. “There really is no wrong decision if you learned something from it”.


a gray image featuring pictures of three women announcing Strike Up events now available on demand
STRIKE UP 2022 Talks Now Available on Demand

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Our Voices

The Politics and Practices of a Feminist Entrepreneur

Line of of illustrated men in suites with hedgehog in the line up looking fierce
Images by Grodno, Belarus and Christos Georghiou |Shutterstock| Mash up by pk mutch

I remember the sting felt while listening to speakers at a small business conference ten years ago. It was there that I sensed alienating and regressive elements about the small business space. Table talk centered to the political right, and sometimes far right of center. I sensed contradictions between the values speakers espoused and their operating practices. For example, firms that showcased donations to local food banks while paying temp workers $14.00 per hour to minimize labour costs. It became evident who in the room had power through voice and who did not. This moment has not left me. Further forays into small business spaces have reinforced my initial impressions.

Small business communities are not, of course, homogeneous. In my experience, the pulsing heart remains male-dominated, conservative, and increasingly populist. When it comes to advocating for justice, diversity and inclusion, its leaders are more likely to push for initiatives that put money in owner pockets without consideration how they might affect a wider group of others.

Given the size and power of the small business community, those of us working for change should be concerned. Social change makers cannot ignore Canada’s small business community. From 1.2 million incorporated, for-profit enterprises in Canada: only 380 (.0003%) are ‘Business for Good’ BCorps. 

Business as a force for good?

It’s 2022. The world is on fire. I am getting impatient. Being a conformer in business is not enough. If we want a better world, we need progressive small business owners to put their weight behind advocacy and organizations working for social and economic justice. 

History has shown that for-profit founders can be powerful allies to movements for justice. In the 18th century, small business traders and merchants helped peasants and serfs accelerate change from feudalism to capitalism. Dutch bankers risked their lives by leveraging their wealth to resist the Nazis in the early 1940s. We can look to the founding of women-owned credit unions in the 1970s. Today, small business owners have been successful in fighting interest rate hikes and landing COVID-related recovery measures. Small business advocates are powerful when they want to be. The community knows how to organize and have impact, when its interests are perceived to be at risk.

If today’s economic system that shapes our lives is hurting most of us, doesn’t it make sense for small business owners to challenge capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy and other forms of oppression?

In Canada, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 97.9% of all incorporated companies. 53.8% are companies with 1 to 4 employees – including the founder – employing 67.7% or 7.7 million Canadians. These businesses generate 37.5% of private sector GDP. Women-majority owned businesses represents only 16% of incorporated SMEs, and another 13% are equally owned by men and women.

Clearly, the small business part of our economy is big, influential, and while women are making progress, still mostly male-led.  

The small business entity is unique from it’s large, often publicly traded, hired CEO-led counterparts in that these founders have considerable freedom to choose and operationalize their politics and values. They can also pivot and implement changes quickly. Given this freedom, and the weight and size of the Canadian small business community in aggregate, it has the power to change — everything. Instead, it primarily chooses to work at maintaining and perpetuating the status quo.

This set me on a journey. 

Are there others looking to re-imagine the role of small enterprise in these times of growing, grotesque inequality? Are there other founders interested in leveraging their passion for innovation, fairness, inclusion, resilience building and enterprise crafting to help dismantle rather than protect capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy and white supremacy?

Intersectional feminist Entrepreneurship – a porchlight in the storm

Turns out there was.

However, finding the feminist entrepreneurship community was a bit like finding a stick insect in a forest. They were there, but they’re hard to find. This required patience and persistence.

But find them I did.

The feminist enterprise community is an informal, intergenerational, diverse, international group of brave pioneers who are scattered across the world. The composition includes feminist thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, writers, artists, academics, activists, corporate ex-pats, and dreamers. Today, they are my core community of practice-as-a-feminist entrepreneurs.

Our conversations and debates cracked me  open and let the light in. Online meet-ups and in-person conferences, and ongoing debates provide nourishment, support, teaching and provocation Through these experiences, I have emerged from beneath a heavy blanket of no longer relevant beliefs, values and teachings, including those espoused in my MBA courses—accumulated and internalized as unassailable truths gathered over the decades.

Come Sit At Our Table

Today I am a proud and vocal feminist entrepreneur. I do business very, very differently because of what I have learned.

I dream of a day when saying ‘We are a feminist business’, tells people what the enterprise stands for. But first, we need more people to understand what feminist founders believe and what feminist enterprise community is about.

So, draw up a chair, and let me share what I have learned from my teachers:

  1. It’s not new. Feminist enterprise crafting goes back to long before suffragette days. There have always been folks who align their enterprise skills and ability to marshal resources with social movements.
  2. Intersectionality rules: Feminist entrepreneurship as a field and practice are predicated on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality which reoriented today’s feminist work to focus on ending all oppressions because they are all ultimately linked.
  3. Not only women: The feminist enterprise movement includes all people, trans, queer and those who experience gender-based oppression.
  4. How to tap bountiful alternative resources: Most feminist enterprises are bootstrapped. Why? Founder independence and progressive politics turn off many investors and corporations. By necessity, founders work to grow and sustain their enterprises by working like individual hydrae in nature’s underground mycelial networks—adapting, collaborating, sending and receiving and sharing, so each has what they need and so that the whole is ultimately stronger.
  5. Deep learning and questioning: The feminist entrepreneurship community demands deep study beyond topics like mastering social media. To unearth viable, innovative alternatives, we dig into radical and subversive ideas for insight. We examine the thought leadership of Karl Marx, adrienne maree brown, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kate Raeworth, Alicia Garza, Vandana Shiva, Nick Srnicek, CV Harquail,  Dr. Barbara Orser, Tim Jackson–not just Lean Startup by Al Reiss. We co-create, elevate radical, alternative ideas for leading, designing, growing enterprises that are missed in mainstream entrepreneurship education and support programs.
  6. It’s about the how: Feminist entrepreneurs prioritize how versus why and what of enterprise work. We think about how systems of oppression work, are embedded and perpetuated in how they operate. We work to liberate or disassociate our venture practices from these systems.
  7. The personal and organizational is political: Feminist entrepreneurs are fiercely, transparently political, and careful about who gets our time, attention and money. We march. We write to our elected officials. We don’t do business with founders who are trans-exclusionary, businesses who fund alt-right or anti-choice organizations.
  8. Non-extractive: We see ourselves as accountable, stewards of resources not masters of extraction.
  9. Solidarity: We support indie feminist activists, feminist media and feminist organizations including nonprofits, collectives, and non-registered grassroots initiatives. We see the feminist economy as one big sisterhood, undivided by legal formation choices.
  10. We have fun. This is a love centered, loyal, joyous, complex community that is re-learning what it means to build post capitalist enterprises.

This all said, we are not yet organized as a strong political voice. But we are working on it. It is critical that we do this work to sustain our collective voices, have resources to be allies, and mobilize this small business body politic.

Workshop at the 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum. Over 200 attendees participated.

Growing the new, inside the old

The feminist entrepreneur’s movement remains an outlier. It’s not an idea. It’s a practice. 

It is ignored by labour, the left, and side-eyed by some who see feminist entrepreneurs as neoliberal lipstick capitalists.  Mainstream entrepreneurship and small business people think we burn bras for a living.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we are to build a post 20th century capitalist world in which all can thrive, we need activists and movements to take a closer look at the small business space as an ally and to find ways to mobilize individual change makers within it.

We need entrepreneurship educators and training institutions to overhaul programming—which emphasize enterprise skills and knowledge developed in the 1990s.

Just imagine if all SMEs were a force behind transforming capitalism towards a healthier, fairer, market-based system that operates in anti-oppressive, non-extractive, human-centered ways of strengthening community! 

Imagine if they are not. 

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