Activism & Action Allied Arts & Media

The New Measure of a Womxn: Wielding Power

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash


Yesterday, while at a local theatre, I waited in line for the gender-segregated washrooms. As usual, the queue for the women’s went straight out the door and halfway down the hallway, while the men’s looked almost empty.

Most of us have grumbled about this poor architectural planning, but after spending this past week with Lauren McKeon’s No More Nice Girls: Gender, Power, And Why It’s Time to Stop Playing by the Rules, I labelled the problem differently: this is yet another example of how the world is designed for cis men.

No More Nice Girls, Lauren McKeon. Released March 2020 by Anansi Press

No More Nice Girls is a well-researched and infuriating (in all the right ways) book about power and how women’s and non-binary people’s power is routinely undermined. It’s packed with statistics on how marginalized people are taught to shoehorn themselves into a system intentionally designed not to fit. With an intersectional lens, the author lays out the way power inequities play out in politics, the economy, law, media, science, technology, city planning, and other areas.

McKeon challenges the myth that more women need to just work harder (and be “nice” while doing so) to reach for the top of existing power structures. Here’s one of the shocking statistics: when women CEOs do manage to reach the top, they earn $0.68 to every dollar their male colleagues make.

She also takes on the #GirlBoss trend, which encourages women to contort and bend instead of working to change the system. “They must be a boss, but not bossy; authentic, but Insta-trendy; real, but not harsh; beautiful, but effortless; killin’ it, but not thirsty; busy, but glowing with Goop-ified self-care; vulnerable, but just the right amount; tough, but just the right amount; confident, but not extra; warm, but not weak; decisive, but not rude; your bitch, but not bitchy.”

What interested me most about No More Nice Girls were the examples of how power might be reimagined and redefined, and how this power can lead to social equity.

For example, what if we viewed power as breaking silence and healing from trauma? Citing Tarana Burke, #MeToo’s founder: “What we’re doing with #MeToo is building something that doesn’t exist. Literally. It’s an international survivor-led and survivor-focused social justice movement.”

Power can also look like projects that intentionally decentre cis men and focus on the needs of women and non-binary people. McKeon offers anecdotes about the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and the co-working space The Wing, all of which were created to be safe spaces and “where men no longer write the rules.”

But feminism is a work in progress, and McKeon raises essential questions about who gets included and excluded in these spaces, urging feminists to challenge their intersectional praxis: “In many ways, the women-only movement has mirrored the challenges of feminism itself: the centering of biological definitions at the expense of transgender women; the exclusion of Indigenous women and women of colour from its most visible and influential positions; claims of battling tokenism while institutionalizing that same philosophy in its own histories and organizations.”

Another chapter is devoted to the power of feminist entrepreneurship, such as Ali Ogden’s Bon Temps Tea Company, which gives micro-grants to women to encourage and support their feminist work, and Taran and Bunny Ghatrora’s Blume, a chemical-free period-product subscription box that includes politicized information about menstruation. These and other examples spotlight ways in which “a feminist-first enterprise that’s built with sincerity can phenomenally change the economic landscape.” They can create kinder workplace cultures that value mentorship, collaboration, staff wellness, and are trauma-informed. Among other things, they can include breastfeeding rooms, child care, and be more intentional in their hiring practices.

McKeon ends with reflections on Women Deliver, a global feminist conference that took place in Vancouver in 2019. Moderators closed main-stage panels with a question about how speakers would use their power. McKeon optimistically writes, “This question was a way of reminding everyone there that they did have power, now, even if it didn’t always feel like it—even if their power didn’t look anything like traditional power…. All of it put a drop more power into this new bucket. It evened things out. It remade the world.”

No More Nice Girls made me ponder the ways I use my power. I’m an author working within a publishing industry context that is still racist, sexist, ableist, and heterosexist. I do my best to mentor, share space (and when appropriate, make way for others), amplify the work of marginalized writers, collaborate to create opportunities, and push from the outside to help steer the slowly moving literary ship in the right direction. It’s easy to grow cynical, to question whether these efforts drive real change, or are just drops in a bucket. But McKeon’s optimism made me reconsider the power of this work. Could it remake the world?

I know that it’s possible to design washrooms to be accessible, safe, inviting, and not segregated by gender. It’s possible because people have done the advocacy and work to design them. Now it’s time to use our power to disrupt oppressive systems and create a world that includes all of us.

Farzana Doctor is the author of four novels, including the forthcoming Seven (Dundurn, August 2020).

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Activism & Action Our Voices

Trans Rights Are All Rights

Photo by Kamil Karamali / Global News/ Protesters gathering outside a Toronto Public Library which hosted Meghan Murphy’s talk.

There has been heated debate in recent weeks—in the media, in university and college classrooms, around dinner tables—about whether or not the Toronto Public Library should have permitted Meghan Murphy to speak at one of its locations. For those who have not been following this story, Murphy is the founder of Feminist Current, a self-labelled radical feminist website and podcast, and an outspoken opponent of trans rights legislation.

Trans rights activists, organizations, and individuals protested her appearance at the publicly funded venue in October. Supporters of the event claimed opponents were denying Murphy’s right to freedom of speech—and the right of those who wanted to hear what she had to say. Impassioned debates ensued about whether what Murphy says and writes constitutes hate speech, as defined by Canada’s Criminal Code, or discrimination, as prohibited by the Canadian Human Rights Act (and similar provincial/territorial human rights codes).

It is time to put this divisive issue behind us and understand and accept that trans rights are human rights, as demonstrators outside the Toronto library declared. The law in Canada has recognized this; now individuals need to get on board before any more harm is done.

The law is clear: Both the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) and the Criminal Code (CC) were amended in 2017 to address gender identity issues. “Gender identity and expression” are now prohibited grounds for discrimination in the CHRA. In section 318 of the CC, the definition of an “identifiable group” includes “gender identity and expression” against whom hate speech (the public communication of statements that “wilfully promote hatred against identifiable groups”) is illegal.

I am a 65-year-old feminist lawyer, a cis-woman who uses female pronouns, and have been a women’s rights activist, focused in particular on the issue of violence against women, for decades. During that time, I have seen how the issue of trans rights has torn the women’s movement apart, causing deep and long-lasting harm, first and most importantly, to trans women but, ultimately, to the equality and safety of all women.

Initially, I understood the reluctance to broaden our understanding of gender identity and expression. After all, women had fought for decades to have the public, police, courts, and governments acknowledge that male violence against women is a reality. Finding political support for services for women dealing with that violence—shelters and rape crisis centres in particular—as well as for much-needed legal reforms was (and continues to be) a battle.

What would happen to the small victories the feminist movement had achieved if we starting including transgender people? How would we analyze and understand what we had been describing as male violence against women if we acknowledged that gender was not immutable or restricted to a male/female binary construct? How would self-expression of gender impact women’s safety and access to women-only spaces? What would happen to women’s public washrooms?

Just 30 years ago, the violence against women movement struggled with another group of women whose experience of patriarchal violence did not fit our tidy analysis of violence against women: lesbians. Would an admission of woman-on-woman abuse throw our analysis out the window? Surely, including lesbians in our social justice mission would jeopardize our credibility with the systems we fought hard with to gain legitimacy. What if a lesbian staying in a shelter came on to a straight resident? What if straight residents felt threatened or uncomfortable around lesbian residents?

Those fears proved to have little or no substance. Our understanding of intimate violence grew to incorporate the reality of abuse within lesbian relationships. Services expanded to meet the needs of women fleeing same-sex violence. In today’s world, those questions sound offensive.

We should remember this when we think about the inclusion of trans women and non-binary folks in our understanding of gender-based violence.

Thanks to the courage and dedication of trans activists with the patience to teach and lead, and the openness of third-wave feminists (and many older, like me!) to listen and learn, we have made some progress.

Our definition of women has broadened to include anyone who self-identifies as a woman. Our understanding of violence against women has expanded to include violence directed at those with a broad range of gender identities and expressions. Most women’s shelters and rape crisis centres serve all those who identify as women, and they have developed policies, procedures, and training to ensure they deliver those services in a positive and supportive manner.

Yet, our learning must continue. Murphy shows us that. She focuses (regressively, I would argue) on a couple of key themes: That to expand a definition of “woman” beyond biology to include transgender will undo decades of work by feminists to advance women’s equality and address violence against women—and will make gendered spaces unsafe for women.

I challenge those themes, based on my experience working in the feminist movement.

I have not seen the loss of a single woman’s right as the result of including trans folk in our work or our understanding of who is a woman. What I have seen is a steady erosion of women’s rights in this country because of government action and inaction. Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision not to implement a gender-based violence plan, for example, had nothing to do with trans rights and everything to do with misogyny.

Personally, I have never felt unsafe in spaces that now include self-identified women. I use gender-inclusive washrooms, where they exist, without concern for my safety. Unlike my trans sisters, I can also use a women’s washroom without fear of being called out for being in the wrong place. In shelters and rape crisis centres, I work comfortably alongside and on behalf of self-identified women as well as cis-women.

It is trans and non-binary folks who feel and often are unsafe: When they are out on the streets in our communities; when they use a public washroom; when they seek medical services; when they board an airplane or cross the border.

Murphy claims that the trans rights movement is a threat to women’s equality and safety; in reality, it is Murphy who poses a threat to feminism and women’s equality through her hate-filled, exclusionary speech.

Her public commentary that gender is an immutable biological fact may be the most offensive of all. To claim that a transwoman is simply a man who wants to do things that are considered female (and vice versa for transmen) is so facile a denial of reality it is difficult to know how to respond. There is no reputable science to support her assertions, and her repeated statements to this end cause deep pain and harm to the trans and non-binary people in our communities.

What, then, are we to do about the problem of Meghan Murphy? That is not easy to answer. In thinking about whether to write this article, I wondered if it might be better to remain silent. Would I draw more attention to Murphy’s hateful views by critiquing them? Where do her public pronouncements fit on the spectrum of free speech/hate speech? Are her ideas simply ones many of us don’t agree with? Or are those ideas so harmful she should be required to keep them to herself? Should public venues such as libraries allow her to speak in their spaces? Or does allowing her that platform infringe on the rights of trans folks?

Ultimately, I decided that what Murphy says and writes cannot sit in the public arena without being critiqued. And that it is important for cis-women who have been part of the feminist movement to be among those critiquing. I certainly don’t want her claims to be a feminist go unchallenged.

My own belief, as a cis-woman feminist, is that Murphy’s opinions are hate-filled and hateful. Her denial of the reality of transgender identities—and the way she expresses that denial—causes what must be unbelievable pain for those whose gender identity or expression is trans or non-binary. Her opinions encourage fear among those who believe them. Fear is only a step away from hatred, and hatred only a step away from violence. I would happily never read or listen to anything she has to say again. And I don’t think she should be invited into public spaces; to give a platform to her opinions invalidates the experiences of trans people.

My belief, as a lawyer, is that her words offend both the Canadian Human Rights Code and the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code. Someone could bring a complaint against Murphy under the CHRC or go the police with evidence to support criminal charges being laid. Such action would be entirely justified and we would need to support it, both individually and collectively.

But, I also think it is important that we not be limited by legal responses to transphobia. The criminal law is a blunt instrument at best. It does not foster dialogue, which is surely what is needed here. The adversarial atmosphere of a courtroom makes it difficult for people to admit to wrongdoing and change their position. Criminal proceedings often do harm even when they mean to do good.

I suggest we consider a restorative justice approach to ending transphobia, an approach that would allow us to repair the harm done while also educating ourselves as to how we can progress to building communities that are transphobia-free. And a future in which people of all gender identities and expressions can participate fully and safely without fear of exclusion. After all, shouldn’t that be our ultimate goal?

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Feminist Practices

Forging a Path of Her Own

Christina Stembel, Founder of Farmgirl Flowers


Christina Stembel had a business idea: Bring beautiful, handmade floral arrangements to people who wanted a higher quality than supermarket bouquets and more personal than a floral distribution company. With $50,000 of her own money, she made Farmgirl Flowers happen.

“I used to get dejected about the fact that I couldn’t raise capital as a sole female founder without a pedigree,” says Stembel, who keeps a spreadsheet of the 101 investors and venture capital firms that have turned her down. “But I realized it was just my ego. There’s a myth that if you don’t get VC funding, you can’t be successful, but we’ve grown to $30 million in annual revenue with 50 percent or more growth year over year.”

Though Stembel has had to manage the growth of her San Francisco-based company carefully, funding it with her own savings and the company’s profits has meant that every choice about its growth has been hers to make. “I get to make decisions based on what’s right, not just what’s going to look good to investors,” she says. “My goal is to create a company that I would want to personally buy from, sell to, and work at.”

And that’s what she’s doing: She pays vendors on time, instead of asking for a 90-day payment term, so that the farmers who supply her flowers can pay their own bills; she waited until she could offer her staff of 150 employees full medical benefits and 401ks with a company match before drawing a salary; and she’s created hiring guidelines that don’t require employees to have a degree (high school nor college) or a home address.

Stembel’s story is a typical one for women entrepreneurs. A new study called “Beyond the Bucks”—sponsored by Bank of America and authored by Lakshmi Balachandra, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College and former associate at a venture capital firm—looks at why VC funders aren’t investing in women-led startups and how women manage to succeed despite that. The study tackled this disparity: Women own 39 percent of all privately held firms in the US, yet received only 2.2 percent of the $130 billion in venture capital invested in 2018. The situation is slightly better for women owning or leading startups in Canada; they received a measly seven percent of all venture capital.

The study interviewed 30 women entrepreneurs across North America who have achieved annual revenue of more than $5 million. That’s the rubber-meets-the-road spot, according to the study, where “revenue naturally plateaus and the toughest test comes.” All participants in this study soared past that mark; their companies boast average revenues of $43 million. The study’s goals were simple: understand the difficulties faced by women entrepreneurs in the male-dominated world of startups and identify the strategies women use to overcome those obstacles. Without an injection of VC cash, many of the women in the study found a different and perhaps more satisfying path to success through organic growth, which allowed them to explicitly consider the needs and well-being of their employees and communities—factors that male-driven companies tend to consider as second-tier metrics.

The study found that women entrepreneurs faced three major systematic roadblocks to success.

The first we know all too well: network exclusion. That’s the classic “It’s who you know, not what you know” world, otherwise known as the “boys’ club” where deals happen, usually in places men like to socialize, such as the golf course or over drinks.

The second is less well known but no less harmful: market misperceptions. That refers to the double disenfranchising of women founders. Investors discredit their ideas and leadership simply because they are women. Then investors fail to take women-led startups seriously due to gendered assumptions about the markets women entrepreneurs serve. Business guys call it the “the mommy market,” their blatant sexism blinding them to the fact that women drive some 80 percent of consumer spending. That’s a mother load of a market that women entrepreneurs are clearly positioned to tap into. Take for instance Spanx founder Sara Blakely, who had difficulty attracting investors for what would become a multi-billion-dollar business.

But it’s not just VC funders overlooking—or, more to the point, not seeing—women entrepreneurs. Balachandra points to the Forbes Most Innovative Leaders of 2019 list as an example. Out of 100 featured leaders, only one woman made that list. “How did they come up with the list?” she asks, laughing. “It’s written by two white men. [They] started with Fortune 500 companies, of which less than 10 percent are run by women. And at some point, the publisher, who is also a white man, saw the list and said, ‘Yep, this is who we want to highlight.’” In other words, their starting point to defining innovation left out half the population.

And that underlines the third major roadblock women founders face, which is the hardest to overcome: managing expansion with underfunding. Even women entrepreneurs who successfully hurdle over the first two roadblocks to launch a viable business still find themselves systematically locked out of the traditional venture capital system, according to Balachandra.

So how does a superheroine entrepreneur grow her company by leaps and bounds without the extension ladder of VC capital? Without outside investment to catapult strategy and development, women founders often bootstrap their firms, using their own personal savings to launch their enterprises. Then they pour business profits into growing their companies and sales organically.

While hugely difficult, following that strategy has a considerable upside for feminist founders. Through organic growth, founders can maintain ownership and control of their companies and embrace slow expansion, investing more consciously in human capital along the way. For the study, Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, co-founder and CEO of Her Campus Media, explained the approach her company took and how it worked well for her. “There were some years where we didn’t grow as much as we would’ve liked, but at the same time, we also were profitable for 10 consecutive years. We’ve never had to lay anyone off,” said Kaplan Lewis.

For all the benefits, that strategy rarely earns the industry respect that hyper-growth (grow big, sell fast) “unicorns” command, even though companies that grow organically, by definition, produce actual profits and have proven value in the marketplace, unlike investor favourites like WeWork or Amazon, who have enjoyed VC investment while operating in the red for years. Balachandra blames that credibility gap on our fixation with a “traditionally masculine way of thinking.” And there’s a big downside to that, as it “leads us to overvalue these unicorns or venture-backed startups because they were the ones who could get the support of these big investors, who are 94 percent men.”

Balachandra says the metrics that male-dominated VC firms use to target investments are heavily weighted towards financial performance and overlook other indicators of company performance and value such as employee retention, stakeholder satisfaction, and environmental impact. While women-led firms often perform well on the latter, their businesses often get passed over for initial investments that can spur rapid growth. And that won’t change, Balachandra says, until we have more women in decision-making roles.

So What’s A Women Entrepreneur to Do?

It will take time to infiltrate the masthead of business magazines and knock the sexism out of male VC investors; in the meantime, women entrepreneurs have found other options to grow their businesses.

If they can’t bootstrap a startup with personal savings, they can pursue debt, though that’s not without big downsides; while it does allow a founder to keep control of her company, debt can be expensive to service. And also difficult to even get if you are a woman. Balachandra explains that women founders often face that “having the right connections” roadblock, especially if their company doesn’t have sufficient assets to secure the amount of money that they need. Said Stembel: “I can’t get a bank loan because [Farmgirl Flowers doesn’t] pattern-match what banks are looking for.” She cites a lack of personal assets and big advance purchase orders (“Our orders come in within a week of when they’re delivered”). While government-sponsored lending programs exist, such as the Small Business Administration in the US, their interest rates are not cheap.

Women can also fund growth by trying to negotiate lines of credit with suppliers, though they often crash into roadblock one again: the boys’ club. “Women we talked to for the study told us that they found that people weren’t willing to extend those lines of credit to a woman or to someone they were less familiar with,” says Balachandra.

Another option for women leading startups is to find individual investors, sometimes called angel investors, but again, angel investors are more often men (77 percent), and male angel investors have considerable more wealth to invest (cutting checks 41 percent greater than their women counterparts, according to a 2017 study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania). And roadblocks one through three suggest those deep-pocketed male angel investors are more likely to invest in male-led enterprises.

But men–and women—who avoid investing in women’s startups are missing out not only on the chance to back powerful, industry-shaping startups but to potentially get big returns on their investment. Take Aden & Anais. When Raegan Moya-Jones couldn’t attract traditional investors for her new baby product company, she was forced to build the business on her own. Now, she is able to reap all the financial benefits, telling the study she “ended up a very successful entrepreneur…[after] build[ing] a business from scratch that now generates over $100 million in annual revenue.”

Where there is considerable will, women entrepreneurs often find a way to succeed, as Stembel, Kaplan Lewis, Moya-Jones, and the 27 other women interviewed for the study show. But their paths were considerably more difficult as systemic, sexist obstacles slowed or blocked their progress and those of many others.

Interestingly, when women entrepreneurs do make it, against all the odds, they tend to pay it forward to the people and communities that made their success possible. According to the Wharton study, women who have made enough money to become investors themselves consider a founders’ gender to be seven times more important than men do. And women investors place more than twice as much importance on social impact as men do.

We think that means investing in female-led startups helps women make the world a better place. Double win.

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Body, Mind & Pleasure Our Voices

She Scores!

Kristi Herold . Founder and CEO, Toronto Sport & Social Club

During a recent Sunday evening at a school gym in Toronto, the Ninja Monkeys, a co-ed floor hockey team comprised of five women and seven men who have played together for nearly a decade, nailed their competition to the wall. Then they headed to a nearby bar to celebrate their 13–9 win with a round of drinks.

Team captain Tammy Symes, a 39-year-old recreational athlete, loves to play sports so much she signs up for two softball teams and two floor hockey teams each year, sometimes adding in ultimate frisbee or soccer for an extra dose of fun. “I’ve made so many friends, it’s unbelievable,” said Symes. She also gets to flex her leadership skills, serving as captain for most of the teams she plays on.

Supporting all that healthy fun and personal growth is a unique business model. Kristi Herold founded the Toronto Sport & Social Club in 1996. She had competed on rowing and ski teams at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., but when she graduated and moved to Toronto, she fell into an accessibility gap in recreational sports—especially for women.

“I thought maybe I could play soccer. But at the time, the only soccer I could find for women was highly competitive,” said Herold during a recent interview at the company’s Toronto office. “I couldn’t play at that level.” Yet she also couldn’t imagine her post-university life without sports. “If you go and play after work, you’re going home happier, you get a little sweaty, you’ve had some laughs on the field. You’re going to be less stressed, and your health is going to be better.”

Herold, who ran two small businesses while completing her commerce degree, seized on the gap in recreational sport for adults as an opportunity to launch her own company. “I realized I had to go out and do something on my own,” said Herold, who sports an athletic build, wild curls, and a ready smile. “I’d heard about these clubs in the US and I thought, well, I’ll give it a try.”

That was back in the analogue days, so Herold called up friends and friends of friends to see if they might be interested in playing on a co-ed sports team in a downtown location. She explained her idea as “intramurals for people who aren’t in university anymore.” By targeting recent graduates who faced the same lack of sporting options she encountered, Herold managed to sign up 52 co-ed teams that first season to play soccer, ultimate frisbee, flag football, basketball, and beach volleyball.

She charged $350 per team for the season, signed Spalding and Wilson as equipment sponsors, and launched a sporting enterprise that, 23 years later, has 130,000 annual participants playing about 30 sports. It employs some 50 full-time and 250 part-time staff, has expanded to eight Canadian cities, and can boast of being one of the largest sports and social clubs in North America.

Even in her first year running the future sports empire, Herold knew she was on to a good thing. “I was out at games every night…and showing up at sponsor bars afterward to make sure everyone had a good time.”

The concept is relatively simple. Players pay to play for a season that runs about 12 weeks. They can join either as an individual or a group can sign up as a team. Sport & Social Club handles all the organizing: matching individuals with a team, providing equipment, setting rules, creating a schedule, renting venues, tracking standings, and arranging social gatherings.

There are single-sex, co-ed and open leagues. The goal is to make it welcoming to anyone, regardless of skill or experience, with an emphasis on fun and making friends. On co-ed teams, there must be a minimum number of both men and women in play at all times. As Symes said, “If you join, you get played, and you have a good time.”

Said Herold: “I wanted to show it was possible to start something that everyone can play.”

When her business proved to have legs that first year, she formed a 50/50 partnership with her boyfriend, Rolston Miller. He had recently retired as a semi-pro cyclist and was looking for flexible work. As the company had no money for stamps, his first task was to deliver printed flyers that promoted seasonal registration. He did that, of course, by bike.

The two married later that year. Miller focused on building a digital platform for the company that would eventually become the foundation for internal and external communications. Herold led the business as CEO. “We were really hustling,” said Herold. “We grew by word of mouth, didn’t spend much on marketing.”

One of the club’s earliest hires was Rob Davies, an operations whiz. In 2007, Herold and Miller invited Davies to buy into the company, which is now run by the three partners, with Herold as CEO, Davies as president, and Miller as director of marketing.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Herold and Miller were struggling to manage a growing family with three young children. They found ways to distribute the workload at home according to practicality, rather than gender expectations. Still, Herold often felt overwhelmed. She’d grown up in Sudbury; her father was an entrepreneur and her mother stayed at home. “I grew up wanting to be both of them, which was challenging,” said Herold. “I felt I was failing, both as an entrepreneur and a parent.”

That crisis led Herold to take bold action. In 2005, she decided to step away from the business for 16 weeks of the year. She did that for several years. It wasn’t easy, but it seemed possible, Herold said, because of her innate leadership style, which she described as “bottom up.”

“I like to think of me as the base of a tree. I’m here to support. I say, tell me what I can do so you can go and do your work. It’s not me, standing on top, talking down.”

She and Miller divorced in 2012 but they’ve maintained their business relationship.

Now, after a decade of focusing on family while Herold placed the business in a slow-growth mode, she’s back in her CEO chair full-time. And she has a new goal of getting one million people off the couch, which means leading the company into an era of ambitious expansion.

Over the past two years, Sport & Social Group has expanded into new markets by buying up clubs that were already operating in Ontario and Michigan. Leaning on the parent company’s infrastructure and its custom digital platform, the newly acquired clubs can sign up and retain more members than they had previously. More acquisitions are in the works.

In the #MeToo era, ambitious growth in the sport industry comes with a responsibility to create a safe place for women. Herold aims to create gender balance—in the workplace and at play. Currently, about 40 percent of the club’s staff is female. And about 45 percent of its membership is female. Herold celebrates those stats in the male-dominated sporting industry.

So far, the company has not faced harassment issues, but Herold wanted to be ahead of the issue and hired an old friend from Queen’s University, Bay Ryley, to deliver online training for employees, teaching them how to identify and report harassment.

Sport & Social Group’s also developed gender policies that are trans-inclusive. Such measures are particularly important in co-ed sport, with teams required to have a minimum number of both genders in play at all times. For example, on the soccer field, two of six players must be women and two must be men. The other two can be any gender.

To register in single-sex or co-ed leagues, players can self-identify as either male or female at registration. Those who don’t identify a gender when they register are welcome to play, though their teams may not count them as either men or women to meet gender requirements. In open leagues, there are no gender requirements.

Within Herold’s expansion plans is a mission to improve access to sport for children. The company has started a foundation called Keep Playing Kids and aims to connect adult mentors—including Sport & Social members—with kids who need sport support. “We know that if you play when you’re younger, you develop a love for it, and you’re more likely to play as an adult,” says Herold. “We want everyone to keep playing.”

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Allied Arts & Media

Moving Pictures: What We Learned from Women Filmmakers at TIFF 2019

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) on the red carpet in at TIFF 2019 in Toronto. Photo by Frazer Harrison

Last year, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and its counterparts in Cannes and Venice committed to achieving gender parity in film selections by 2020, signing the historic 5050×2020 agreement. With the Share Her Journey fundraising campaign, TIFF created the Micki Moore Residency (for female screenwriters), the inaugural TIFF Talent Accelerator (for female directors, producers, and writers), and achieved gender parity in both the TIFF Filmmaker Lab and TIFF’s programming team.

Despite those initiatives, the total number of female-fronted films barely nudged up from 35 to 37 percent at TIFF, a fact lamented by TIFF’s own co-head, Joana Vicente. In 2019, Venice selected only two films by female directors for its 21-film competition while Cannes selected four out of 19. Unlike Vicente, the heads of Cannes and Venice argued that redressing exclusion by quotas alone could dilute quality.

Women directors enjoyed the last laugh at that, with Manele Labidi’s Arab Blues winning Venice’s audience choice award, and Mati Diop taking the Grand Prix at Cannes for her film Atlantics, while also making history as the first Black woman director to compete at Cannes.

Here at LiisBeth, we wondered what happens when women get the opportunity to direct the storytelling? Do film plots, points of view, and ideas shift? And what might feminist entrepreneurs directing enterprises of their own take away from these narratives?

Five Films, Five Takeaways

At TIFF 2019, many international films made by women rejected facile notions of “girl power” or “leaning in” in favour of more dissonant, challenging plots. Take this cross-section of five films, which unsettle assumptions about who women are, what we can achieve, and what our models for work can be.

Arab Blues: Things Rarely Go According to Plan

I can see why French-Tunisian director Manele Labidi’s bittersweet comedy won the audience choice award at Venice. It was my favourite, too.

The film follows young, intrepid Selma (Golshifteh Farahani), who studied in Paris for 10 years, as she returns to her hometown in Tunis to start her own psychotherapy practice for locals, post-revolution.

Challenges abound. The labyrinthine licensing bureaucracy forces Selma to work around the law. Locals are amused or irritated by her services. Yet her sessions soon become truly rewarding moments in the film. They not only reveal the limits of Selma’s tacit mentor, Freud (whose portrait hangs on her office wall), but also how she is an outsider in her own hometown.

Ultimately, Selma’s status as an outsider helps her forge her own path and build a more culturally nuanced “talking cure.” Starting from a vague desire to “help,” Selma learns why she really chose this path, which deepens both her practice and her clients’ lives.

The takeaway: Entrepreneurs know that the best laid (business) plans can fall apart fast. Many opportunities must be seen—and seized—on the fly. Only much later can we see why we started.

How to Build a Girl: Success at Your Own Expense Equals Failure

Courtesy of Protagonist Pictures

Coky Giedroyc’s UK film brings to life Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel. Working-class ’90s teenager Johanna (a dynamite Beanie Feldstein) morphs into “Dolly Wilde,” a mean-spirited music journalist alter ego. Her scathing review of Queen, for example, bears the withering headline, “Bohemian Crapsody.”

Discussions of entrepreneurship often emphasize the value of failure. How to Build a Girl, however, reveals that failing can be a lot harder for a working-class girl stuck among posh bros. For Johanna, there’s no safety net if she doesn’t win, yet dudes set the terms for that “win.”

The more Johanna becomes Dolly, and the more men reward her, the more we see all the problems of her “success.” That makes for a refreshing feminist rebuke: Don’t mistake sexist cynicism for intelligence, let alone success.

No spoilers, but this well-written script will have women, especially those who’ve had to play “one of the guys,” cheering on nerdy, smart-girl Johanna long past the closing credits.

The takeaway: Trying to become someone you’re not isn’t worth it—even if all signs point to a win.

 Harriet: Don’t Lead Later, Lead Now

After directing the haunting Eve’s Bayou in 1997, Kasi Lemmons joined a coterie of Black American filmmakers who seemed on the cusp of transforming the film industry. Sadly that did not materialize thanks to persistent Hollywood racism.

Lemmons’ latest, Harriet, suggests a new day. It’s a suspenseful biopic of Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and then returned to lead others to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Indeed, Harriet begs the question of why it took so long for the story of this amazing woman to reach the big screen.

Played with verve and grit by Cynthia Erivo, the diminutive Harriet displays a fierce will to eliminate slavery. Underestimated, even by herself at first, she begins in fear-driven flight, and then buoyed by faith and success, dives undaunted into leadership.

Harriet illustrates and intertwines three layers of Black female leadership—Harriet Tubman, Erivo in an Oscar-worthy performance, and Lemmons as auteur. For all three, defeat should have been inevitable, but they persevered.

The takeaway (in Harriet’s words): “I’ve come this far on my own, so don’t you dare tell me what I can’t do.”

Atlantics: Communities, Not Individuals, Generate Heroism

For those in social justice–driven enterprises, it’s hard to keep fighting the good fight, day after day. Directed by Mati Diop, this Senegalese-French-Belgian co-production, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, is both ghost story and love story, a poetic, magical take on how we can keep on pressing on—if we don’t try to go it alone.

Atlantics opens with several men demanding, but not receiving, unpaid wages for their work on a half-finished high-rise in Dakar. From there, we see the relentless, sun-bleached ocean. Crashing waves foreshadow how the men will soon be doomed refugees, a juxtaposition that drives two star-crossed lovers apart.

Or do they part? Atlantics dives into magical realism to suggest that unresolved historical trauma will have the last say. Mourning women left behind start to embody the men’s ghosts—and demand retribution. Eschewing realism, Atlantics offers a powerful, poignant parable.

The takeaway: By acting as a community, substantive social change can unfold.

Three Summers: Adversity Can Reveal Surprising Allies

We don’t always know who our allies are until push comes to shove, and those who show up may not be whom we expect.

This Brazilian-French film, directed by Sandra Kogut, offers a canny exploration of class struggle. The legendary Regina Casé plays Madá, the lead housekeeper at a wealthy resort in Rio de Janeiro. Over three summers, we see how her boss’s white-collar crimes affect but do not defeat Madá.

Based on the real-life Operation Car Wash investigation in Rio, Three Summers isn’t interested in rich criminals. They’re more sad sacks than masterminds. Instead, the film spends time with the staff, mostly women led by Madá. They are as pragmatic and resourceful as they are funny and kind, even when caught in the crossfire.

Madá transitions from identifying with her employers to supporting her coworkers and strikes up a friendship with her ex-boss’s elderly father, Lira. He’s abandoned—like the staff—and considered useless by his own self-absorbed family. Three Summers builds a plucky collective of who’s left behind, and how they survive this failed (last?) resort.

The takeaway: Allies take surprising forms. We need to stay connected to those who show up for the hard work, for these allies will prove far more valuable in the end.

That’s a wrap! If you attended TIFF, what films made you leave the theatre inspired and ready to act?

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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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