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Feminism: A Key Idea for Business and Society

CV Harquail’s new book is a must read.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Related Reading


Activism & Action

Solutionary Ideas from a Love-based Revolutionary

Rivera Sun, Author, The Dandelion Insurrection

This week, LiisBeth spoke with Rivera Sun, a change-maker, a cultural creative, protest novelist, pragmatic strategist and campaign designer for social change movements, and workshop leader at LiisBeth’s premier social innovation event of the year, the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum, held in Toronto on Dec 2/3.

LiisBeth: We are so excited about having you conduct one of your practical change making workshops at the upcoming Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum! It’s also your first time in Canada!

Rivera Sun: Occasionally I have fantasies about running away to Canada! But the reality is, as you know, Canada’s far from perfect. You’re working on lots of different issues too. For example, you have major environmental issues that you’re dealing with…. But one thing that I really thought a lot about in terms of speaking to Canadian women in business is…I’m not an expert on Canada’s political system. I get to talk about the thing I really love, which is how do we take action outside of the political system, right?

LiisBeth: Tell us a little about you and how you became an expert in non-violent activism?

Rivera Sun: I am a novelist and entrepreneur by trade and an activist by necessity. I grew up on an organic farm in Northern Maine. My undergrad is actually in dance and theatre. And I have a twin sister! Today, I continue to write and I teach strategy for nonviolent movements. The workshop enterprise emerged while I was on my book tour with my first novel, The Dandelion Insurrection. After my talks, people would ask me to do workshops on nonviolent struggle. So that’s how I started to actually teach this work and now it’s kind of taken off on its own, because people need the tools so much.

Rivera Sun and the first book in her trilogy, The Dandelion Insurrection

LiisBeth: Why this work?

Rivera Sun: I think we now all live in a time that requires us to all be engaged, in social economic, political, racial, sex, gender, justice (issues). All of it, like never before. But I was not always interested these issues. I spent a lot of my young adult life not so concerned with politics…I didn’t think anything I did would make a difference. It wasn’t until the Occupy Movement that I learned that there were a lot of ways to make a difference in the world. Occupy woke me up. After Occupy, I was getting involved in all sorts of activist campaigns. Like most people, I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I was also writing The Dandelion Insurrection, in which I posited a hidden corporate dictatorship. Once I had invented the problem, I really didn’t know how to get the characters out of that problem, so I Googled it. I asked, “How to bring down dictators non-violently.” I thought I’d get some insight from people who might have written about it in their books, like, Ursula Le Guin or Margaret Atwood. But it turns out, there were a lot of real people around the world who have been using nonviolent struggle very successfully for the past three decades, especially to solve their social-political problems, oust dictators, stop invasions, overturn occupations. I learned by reading history that people are actually more successful at driving social change with nonviolent action versus more violent approaches…. So I immersed myself in reading material…and gave myself a crash course in how to use nonviolent action effectively, strategically and kind of used my novel as my thesis study. How would I play this out with the characters in my book? How do you model it out? The novel did well, and soon after, my readers reached out and asked, “How do we make this book real?” So, I developed a set of tools based on what has, and has not worked historically, and began sharing these tools with others.

LiisBeth: Do politics and business mix?

Rivera Sun: I think it’s a great question and a question for anybody on the spectrum, whether you think that you’re working in the capitalist arena to do better ethical business, or whether you’re way out in the totally non-monetary end of enterprise and trade. There are intersections of enterprise and movements that we don’t usually see as enterprise-based activism. Consider co-ops, worker credit unions, and the work of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta who founded the United Farm Workers Union. Or Mahatma Gandhi’s constructive programs [carrying out struggle through community and self-improvement by building structures, systems, processes, and resources that are alternatives to oppression and promote self-sufficiency and unity in the resisting community]. Constructive programs were not thought of as businesses per se, but they had a significant economic impact. Two of his 17 constructive programs denied the British Empire an estimated 18% of their tax revenue, right? That’s a major economic impact that relates to the course of their struggle. So, when it comes to the intersection of business and social change, the very first thing that I think about is that business and politics have always been intertwined.

The question I think most entrepreneurs looking to drive social change struggle with is how to design products or services and operate our businesses in such a way that we can make sure they create the change we want yet are robust and financially sustainable enough to withstand the inevitable blowback of having a political position that is not popularly supported by the bulk of the people we may be wanting to have as customers or consumers, right?

LiisBeth: So true! So what are some of the things that people learn by taking your workshop?

Rivera Sun: Change doesn’t just happen through protest. It doesn’t just happen – for regular people anyway – through calling politicians or senators. And it doesn’t usually just happen through buying the right goods as individuals. It happens when we organize. It happens when we look at the whole system, identify what’s holding us back, and starts when we begin working with others — and connecting our enterprises and organizations in ways that leverage each other’s strengths to drive the desired change. We would never have gotten the Civil Rights Act of 1965 in the US without an enormous civil rights movement, 95% of which was organized and galvanized outside of the electoral system.
So if we’re looking at business changes, how do we drive industry standards? How do we make marketing campaigns that not just advance the justice work that we’re doing, but also support the justice work of many groups and movements. How do we help to crack the stranglehold of certain industries that are continuing injustice?
We’re going to learn pragmatic tools and strategies for making massive change from the vantage point of being in business.

LiisBeth: Very cool.

Rivera Sun: Because we need everybody. We need the scientists, we need the lawyers, we need the business leaders, we need the plucky little activist groups. We need the mass movements for change, we need the churches. And every single one of those groups has a different set of ways that they can leverage who they are and what they do, to maximum effectiveness.

Publisher’s note: For tickets to the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum, click here. Two day pass $299. One Day Pass: $160. Students with ID: $99


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