In a city like Toronto where there is no shortage of fun things to do in the evening, it’s hard to imagine anyone would want to spend three hours in a spartan meeting room, volunteering to help two feminist entrepreneurs identify and pin the geolocation of more than 10,000 women-led and majority women–owned enterprises in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
But people did sign up—and they showed up. City of Women founders Mellisa Shaddick and Christine Gresham are working to create the first online, mobile-friendly feminist enterprise city map in Canada. They kicked off the workathon with a short introduction of the project, some instructions and, with bowls of Jujubes for fuel, the volunteers got to work.
Each volunteer chose a neighbourhood they lived in or were familiar with, then checked businesses listed on Business Improvement Association (BIA) sites (there are 21 BIAs in Toronto) to identify potential enterprises, and researched each company to determine which were women-led or majority women–owned. So far, City of Women have verified and mapped more than 95 enterprises. An additional 200 enterprises self-identified and registered through their website, which will then get verified before being added to the map.
Shaddick and Gresham went to university together but didn’t reconnect until a few years ago when Shaddick returned from a seven-year stint in Australia. Their entrepreneurial “click” came after they were frustrated over how difficult it was to find a woman-identified bike mechanic for an event they were holding. Says Shaddick, “There had to be a better way for people to source products and services made by companies run by and owned by women.” Once she read Rebecca Solnit’s October 2016 New Yorker article titled “City of Women”, the solution became obvious to her.
The City of Women Initiative
In that poignant article, Solnit, who has also published several books and urban atlases, calls out the gendered nomenclature of our cities where the vast majority of our streets, subway stations, buildings, and parks are named after prominent men. She writes, “I can’t imagine how I might have conceived of myself and my possibilities if, in my formative years, I had moved through a city where most things were named after women and many or most of the monuments were of powerful, successful, honoured women. “
To address the “manscape,” Solnit created the first “City of Women” map, which alters the existing New York City subway map and makes visible the history and contributions of women who shaped New York by renaming the subway stations after them.
While they loved Solnit’s concept, Shaddick and Gresham decided to take a different approach. Shaddick explains: “The Solnit approach is wonderful and heartwarming and contemporary and impeccable. For us, it is much more of an artistic statement, and we are not artists! We are time-poor feminists who are interested in creating something that we can use in our daily lives—to locate, support, connect and hopefully inspire women-identified, small-business owners.”
Though Shaddick and Gresham are passionate about the idea, they are also realistic about the time it will take to complete the project. “It’s a lot of work, and we can’t do it alone,” says Shaddick.
A Tightly Curated List
Before they add an enterprise on the map with a custom pin and a link to its website, the group verifies that the company meets the criteria of having women-led, majority-women ownership. They usually do this with a phone call. Says Gresham, “So often, we assume an enterprise is owned by a woman because she seems to be the face of the business. But often we find the enterprise is 100% or majority-owned by a male, typically a boyfriend, husband, or sometimes even a father.”
A New Zealand study titled “Critical Yet Invisible: The ‘Good Wife’ in the New Zealand small firm”, authored by Claire Massey at Massey University, found that of the 250 firms surveyed, a surprising number of women played lead roles in small enterprises that were entirely or majority-owned by significant others, leaving the women’s contributions unacknowledged legally or in research about entrepreneurs.
Abigail Slater, a volunteer in Toronto, says that’s exactly why City of Women’s entrepreneurial mapping research is so important. “Not only will it make it easier for enterprises looking to advance women entrepreneurs by genderizing their procurement policy, it also gives visibility to the issue of ownership. Too many women play lead roles in startups or small and medium enterprises and are CEOs, COOs, or co-founders in name only. They have no ownership stake, which means their contributions are both at risk should the relationship dissolve, and their contributions to the entrepreneurial economy goes uncounted.”
Interested in Helping Out?
The next City of Women mapping event is Wednesday, September 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Centre for Social Innovation at 215 Spadina Ave. To register, click here.
If you run a feminist enterprise and would like to get pinned, register your business for inclusion on the map by clicking here.