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Our Voices

How to Be in the Right (Authentic) Relationship With Entrepreneurship

Image Source: Unicorn Booty (Image updated June 30, 2020)

Yesterday, I found myself evaluating progress for my enterprise like one might size up a beautiful, complicated lover—four years on. In the cold month of love (February), I decided it was time to reflect and ask myself—with naked honesty—if I was in the right relationship with my enterprise.

As with interpersonal relationships, these feelings are difficult to judge, especially when we are constantly bombarded with Hallmark messaging about what a good relationship is supposed to look like. Compared to prevailing cultural narratives of what is “normal” or “promising,” my enterprise might suddenly look like shit—when it might actually be pretty okay!

So it’s wise, before jumping to conclusions, to reflect on how mainstream cultural discourses shape our expectations. What fictions about the crucible of entrepreneurship do we cling to when assessing the progress of our enterprises and our own work as entrepreneurs? What stories would better serve?

When I asked myself this, these are the 12 narratives I came up with (you might want to buckle up for this ride, it’s going to be rough before it gets better).

Check your delusions: Entrepreneurship is often marketed to womxn as the ultimate path to finding real purpose, happiness, and freedom from patriarchy! It’s a way to have a career and reduce your stress as (still) the family’s primary giver. It’s an opportunity to live the laptop life on a beach, score a better income, and say “fuck you” to the glass ceiling and rancid workplace environment. That Company of One simplicity, control over your time and wealth, is the ultimate entrepreneurial fantasy but only if you aim to scale up to the moon.

No wonder 85 percent of Canadian womxn surveyed (the majority who work for wages at present) indicate they are interested in starting a business. Some believe this is something to celebrate. I see it as a cry for help, the result of continued gender-based oppression.

While prevailing narratives sell entrepreneurship as liberation, the reality is this: as an entrepreneur, you have chosen to join the growing precariously employed segment of the labour force. Other “precariats” include the Foodora delivery rider (who makes $4.50 per order plus $1 per kilometre) as well as that new freelance consultant next door fighting for the next short-term contract. The lack of income predictability, the exploitation (like clients who take 90 to 120 days to pay), the lack of benefits, and reduced access to credit (even a car loan requires proof of stable income) is what binds this growing segment of the labour market.  Next time you take a Lyft ride, consider sharing a fist bump with the driver—because you are now sisters in arms.

How do you strategize for life as a precariat? Plan to live like you are broke every day. Launch your business with a DYI ethic. If you are selling a product, be prepared to love attending pop-up markets. If you are banking on shelf space at Shopper’s Drug Mart, get ready to forego owning your own home—or heating it. In other words, if you choose to enter the precarious workforce, be prepared for the precarity.

Know that narratives about progress fly ahead of reality: Manage your expectations accordingly. Remember that back in the ’60s, womxn looking for independence by securing a job were given a lot of advice on how to succeed. Well-meaning male “supporters” told us what to wear, where to smoke, how to fit in, when to talk, and when to shut up. Oh, and douche before going to the office. Also, smile! Back then, getting pregnant was still a fireable offence!

Have times changed? Based on the way people talk about diversity, inclusion, and gender parity, you might believe so. Yet the entrepreneurs I talk to daily say otherwise. Advisers still tell womxn entrepreneurs how to dress to win, talk, and pitch ourselves in a system that still sees us as fundamentally inadequate. And it’s still on us to figure out how to succeed as a primary caregiver and run a business. The majority of incubators and accelerator environments remain male-dominated and ineffective at dealing with gender oppression in their programming or cultures. It seems the startup world wants us to be seen at conferences and events (we need womxn in our photos!), but not heard (don’t be difficult!). You can’t get fired for being pregnant anymore but try raising a round of investment while pregnant. Try taking maternity leave or getting maternity benefits as an entrepreneur. Those costs have been completely downloaded on womxn entrepreneurs and their families.

It’s not exactly a Mad Men world anymore. Yet, we are still waging the same old battle with patriarchy. Fair access to capital is still far from our reach. While the wage gap for womxn earners has narrowed to 13.3 percent below men, womxn entrepreneurs earn a whopping 58 percent less than their male counterparts.

This maddening fact remains: the rules of entrepreneurship are still largely designed to enable privileged men—and a handful of equally privileged womxn who are held up as proof that all womxn have been invited to play. Things have to change. Because only then will womxn entrepreneurs, especially those who lean towards doing business differently, truly flourish. So, if you are struggling, keep in mind that being in business with patriarchal rules stacked against you deserves a checkmark.

Entrepreneurship is not a form of motherhood: If you think of your business as your baby, stop. Starting an enterprise is more like entering a serious adult polyamorous relationship. You read that right. You are bringing a new relationship into your life, creating a “three-way” if you already have a significant other. If your partner also has an enterprise, consider it a “four-way.” And beware. A startup can feel like a new lover—exciting, fresh and, well, newbut it will make your relationship with an existing mate significantly more complex. Simple rules don’t work. Work-life balance advice? Not applicable (as if it ever was). Successful polyamorous relationships require a lot of communication, negotiation, and understanding. They need to serve all participants, though not all needs can be served at the same time. Polyamorous—like monogamous relationships—have a high failure rate. Be prepared. Learn from experts. Think ahead. If things have changed and you need to let go of your business, think of it as a relationship that no longer serves you and has to end—versus the loss of a “child” that you created.

Remember, entrepreneurship can be a powerful revolutionary force: To be in business is not just to be a spoke in the nation’s economic wheel but to engage politically in ways a regular job rarely requires of us. As entrepreneurs, we can and must use our voices. This is one of the best and most undersold benefits of entrepreneurship—and critical, with social and climate justice in peril. We don’t have to invent a new biodegradable plastic to drive change. How we do business creates change. We can use our privilege, power, policies, and practices as entrepreneurs to help restore the environment, advance inclusivity, and reduce inequality. And push for policies that address issues related to precarious employment. And, we don’t have to drive for deep change in isolation. We can form groups and collectives or join existing organizations like the new feisty new Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce who make it their business to advocate for collective change. For those who say business and politics don’t mix, all businesses are political. Chick-fil-A sells chicken and homophobia. Patagonia sells outdoor gear and environmental justice. What kind of history is your business making? As protest novelist, activist, and this month’s Feminist in Residence Rivera Sun points out, “Even the choice to be apolitical is really just a vote for the status quo.”

Be open to transformation and outcomes you can’t control: No need to go to an ashram for three months. Your enterprise will make it very clear who you are and what’s important in life. Being a founder has consequences we can’t anticipate. Our personal transformation may, in fact, be the only real reward of the journey. Value it. It won’t buy the groceries. But it can provide the fertile ground for the next journey.

Self-care is important—but community care is vital too: If you have a venture, like it or not, you are in a community with others. It’s important to understand and get to know that community. Map out your enterprise’s ecosystem of support, which includes your neighbours, complimentary enterprises, suppliers, workers, bloggers in your field, policymakers, academic institutions, etc. No one builds or runs a business alone. Practice community care in ways that strengthens and builds resilience in your enterprise’s ecosystem. The odds of sustainability, resilience, and success will increase. Consider creating a Community Care Code of Practice.

Invest in intellectual development. Stretch your thinking: Develop an interdisciplinary personal development practice directed towards creating a future horizon of radical possibility. Prioritize events that offer well-facilitated consciousness-raising conversations or learnaries that provide the opportunity to learn deeply. Design and run operational experiments. Or support experiments created by others that you believe in.

Set emotional boundaries: Your enterprise is not your life’s work. Becoming who you want to be is. Check in with yourself. If your enterprise is helping you to become the person you want to be, terrific. If not, time for a rethink.

Measure what truly matters: Our GDP metrics mindset leads us to undervalue much of what we accomplish. Our businesses are more than profit/loss statements. Every business is a community that did not exist before. You created that! Create your own mini “impact report” each year to help you truly assess the quality and impact of that work. CV Harquail, author of Feminism: A New Idea for Business, suggests asking yourself, “Who benefits, who is harmed, and who is left out?”

See marketplace feminism for what it is: For example, those flashy ads by pro “woman entrepreneur” banks who suggest getting a loan is easy as asking for a glass of city water? It’s not. So don’t be hard on yourself if the answer is no. Look to alternatives like crowdfunding or womxn-led/operated venture fund pools.

You are human, not an algorithm: You cannot create the vast reservoir of will and energy that is purported to succeed as an entrepreneur simply by eating better, meditating more, exercising more, and being more. You are enough. And you are doing enough.

Don’t blame or shame the victim: As womxn, we endure a lot of debilitating gaslighting and demeaning, sexist behaviour in incubator/accelerator spaces. We need to shout out these stories if we want to drive change. Support womxn who call out unacceptable bias in the ecosystem. Don’t slam or isolate victims or truth-tellers as “difficult” or “losers.” Because, then, we all lose. Add your voice to calls for change. The time for an entrepreneurial version of #MeToo has come. How about #entrepreneurialAF?

And, so, am I still in love with my enterprise?  If these narratives sum up the real reality, are we doing OK?

After all that reflection, I took another look at where we are at with LiisBeth Media.

My enterprise has the power to hurt me deeply, on many levels. And, lord knows, I have been catastrophically hurt before. What person in a serious relationship hasn’t?

But, at least for now, based on a having crafted a more realistic outlook, I feel more gratitude than concern. Yes, we’ve endured harsh realities but the journey has yielded unexpected gifts. We are doing okay.

By aligning my thinking with reality versus Hallmark card or vested interest messaging about what it means to be an entrepreneur, I feel that I am now closer to being in right relationship (authentic and real) with entrepreneurship—eyes wide open—struggling with the right questions, with the right enterprise.

What more could a gal ask for?


Related Readings

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/06/25/gaslighting-the-silent-killer-of-womens-startups/

Categories
Activism & Action Feminist Practices

Brewing Up A Revolution

 

Annabel Kalmar, Founder, Tea Rebellion,  Photo by PC Foo

Annabel Kalmar learned first-hand how hard it is for farmers to earn fair prices for their products. As a student of agriculture economics in the late 1990s, she harvested coffee in the fields of the Dominican Republic, interviewing farmers along the way. The experience sparked a passion for changemaking.

“I wanted to help farmers get access to a different way to market,” explains the German-born entrepreneur, who went on to work in microfinance with the World Bank, earn an MBA at the London School of Business, and work in the UK as a business strategist.

Recently, she pivoted to entrepreneurship as a means for changemaking. After moving to Toronto with her husband and three children in 2017, Kalmar launched Tea Rebellion. Her idea—two decades in the steeping—is to disrupt the way tea is traditionally marketed, traded, and consumed. By buying and selling single-source, direct-trade tea, her company creates economic opportunities for several female-led farms in developing countries, takes an active role in community building, and supports organic farming methods.

But Kalmar’s ambitions aren’t just altruistic. She grew up in Germany drinking loose-leaf black tea, but what she tasted of London tea culture failed to impress.

“I was always disappointed with what was in front of me,” says Kalmar, explaining that mass-produced teas are typically blended from multiple sources, then finely ground and packaged in bags. What ends up in the cup, she contends, is undrinkable without sugar and milk.

As a student of agriculture economics, Kalmar had seen how new trade models transformed chocolate, coffee, and wine. Educated consumers came to appreciate—and pay more for—flavours associated with particular regions, ensuring that growers of those premium products are fairly compensated.

“A lot of people learn about wine, but they know nothing about tea,” says Kalmar. “I wanted to bring that knowledge and appreciation of the origins to more tea drinkers.”

With Tea Rebellion, she intends to shake up the status quo. “I’m not just selling tea.”

Instead of participating in the commodity markets in tea-growing countries—many with roots in colonialism—Kalmar initially sought out fair-trade certified suppliers. Since her World Bank days, she knew the certification system could improve working conditions on farms by setting standards for fair pay and ethical treatment of producers. She reached out to Fair Trade Canada and began contacting farmers.

To her surprise, farmers were not saying, “Oh great, let’s do fair trade,” remembers Kalmar. “The farms I talked to said it’s too difficult. It creates additional costs. There is too much bureaucracy.”

Rather, the farmers—even some fair-trade certified producers—pointed to direct trade as a preferred alternative.

Both fair trade and direct trade have their places, according to Kalmar. They may create similar results in some cases, but they start with different goals.

Fair trade aims to improve the lives of farmers by setting ethical and environmental standards and creating transparency. Certification establishes minimum prices to ensure farmers are paid fairly. Incidentally, fair-trade standards may also improve the quality of the end product.

Tracey Mahr, tea lover and fellow traveler to Kanchanjangha, Dunbar Kumari, founding mother of the tea cooperative, and Annabel Kalmar, founder of Tea Rebellion /Photo by Nichsal Banskota

 

The goal of direct trade is to bring premium products to market. This model allows farmers to differentiate their products and charge prices that are typically higher than the minimums set in fair-trade systems. Higher prices will almost certainly improve the lives of farmers.

Kalmar dug into the research and discovered that many consumers are confused by a recent proliferation of certifications, which influenced her decision to change her strategy to direct trade.

Tea Rebellion now buys from six farms around the world: Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Nepal, Kenya, and Malawi. That allows Tea Rebellion to work with smaller, socially minded farms—not just those that are scaled to afford a fair-trade certification process.

The direct relationship means there is no middleman; Kalmar can visit frequently to influence the end product and the social impact of the farm.

In Nepal, Kalmar helped raise CAD$10,000 to build a primary school for the children of workers living on the tea farm. The school will save some 30 children from walking several hours over rough terrain to attend school, which improves attendance and frees parents to work consistently.

In Malawi, Kalmar chose to buy from a farm that provides health care infrastructure for the community surrounding the farm. In Japan, where chemical farming methods have historically been the norm, Tea Rebellion works with a pioneer of organic farming.

In three of the six farms she buys from, Kalmar has formed close partnerships with women in leadership positions, strengthening their positions in what has been a male-dominated business. She didn’t initially set out to work with female-led farms, but she found that in developing countries where language or gender created barriers, she was able to form better relationships with farms where women led.

For example, in Taiwan, Kalmar works with Ai Fang, one of two daughters involved at Jhentea, a family-owned farming operation. Ai Fang has worked in the family business since the age of 18, learning the art and science of tea growing, processing, packaging, and brewing from her mother.

Kuei Fang and Annabel Kalmar, Yilan Country, Photo by Ai Fang

According to Jhentea’s website, the company was founded by a man in the early 19th century, but a marital split in the mid-20th century left a woman in charge. She was the first female tea master in the region, and ever since the farm has been passed down to female family members. Ai Fang’s daughter, Valencia, who is now learning about tea, represents the next generation.

In Shizuoka, Japan, the Kinezuka family operates NaturaliTea, a cooperative of farmers. Though the farm’s formal leaders are men, Kalmar formed a direct business relationship with one of male founder’s two daughters, including Tamiko Kinezuka, who manages the farm’s tea processing and is responsible for quality control. That relationship has been beneficial to her career.

“In Japan, the tea industry is still overwhelmingly controlled by older men at all levels, from the farms to the markets,” Kinzuka explains. “Some of this is changing as younger generations take over, but the shift is very slow. Working with someone like Annabel allows us to demonstrate the unique contributions that we can make, and prove our commitment to rejuvenating a stagnating industry.”

Kalmar loves to share the stories of growers she works with, shining a spotlight on tea producers through Tea Rebellion’s packaging, website, and social media. When tea drinkers know more about growers, growing methods, and the country of origin, they can learn to appreciate the difference between the chocolatey undertone of a black tea from the high mountains of Nepal, and the bright and floral flavour of a black tea grown in Taiwan. Says Kalmar, “I want to help people develop their palates.”

By telling the tale behind each tea, Tea Rebellion also shares power with farmers. They can then develop recognizable brands, creating a rationale for higher prices, which injects more money and investment into their communities.

Kalmar has a vision that would connect tea growers and tea drinkers, as well as put Tea Rebellion on the tips of tongues everywhere. She would like to rival a global brand like Twinings as the “go-to” for tea drinkers, and source tea in many more tea-growing countries.

For now, Kalmar is bootstrapping her business growth, investing her own funds, working from home, and depending on interns to lend a hand. Her website lists 24 types of tea (you can order direct) and she sells to some 25 retailers, most of them in Toronto. Prices are similar to other premium brands, though competing North American labels such as Tease and David’s Tea don’t promise single-sourced products.

Kalmar’s goals include hiring a team and marketing her brand at tea festivals and conferences around the world. That will require a significant investment, and she’s gearing up to present her idea to investors.

But the ultimate goal is to build prosperous tea farms. “If I can build a sustainable business with Tea Rebellion, I can support these farms for the next 10, 20, 30 years,” she says. “And that’s really what I want.”


LiisBeth is women-owned/led. We support womxn founders, advocate for diversity, inclusion and economic inclusion, plus encourage emerging writers. Was this article of value to you? Consider helping us publisher more! [direct-stripe value=”ds1554685140411″]


 

 

This article was sponsored by Startup Here Toronto.


Related Reading

https://www.liisbeth.com/2016/12/07/black-foodie-turns-table/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/04/30/butchers-bakers-changemakers-the-nightwood-society/

Categories
Our Voices Transformative Ideas

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

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

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

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

Taking action at the EFF

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join us.

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Sample Newsletter

LIISBETH DISPATCH #44

Image by Alexey Kuzma
VIEWPOINT

STARTUP INCUBATORS ARE FAILING WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS-SO LET’S FIX IT.

In my line of work as a program consultant, I am often hired to help startup incubators and innovation spaces rethink how they attract and more importantly, retain more women entrepreneurs; In Canada at least, their public funding support is increasingly dependent on doing so.

Turns out, marketing only to women, tossing in a few pink bean bag chairs, and offering free tampons and perfumes in newly labelled gender-neutral washrooms doesn’t cut it. Neither does creating women-only startup programs embedded in co-ed spaces with programs that reinforces the patriarchal status quo. They sound good at first, but soon after the program starts, women entrepreneurs end up feeling ghettoized and stigmatized.

They end up frustrated. They leave. And they don’t come back.

Today, only 16% of incorporated enterprises in Canada are women-led and women majority owned. Reports show that participation in co-ed incubator spaces runs between 5 and 30% on average. Yet women start businesses at a rate of 20-30% higher than men. Studies showed that in spite of the extra baggage, women-majority owned businesses out-perform their male counterparts on several metrics.The fact is, ineffective programs for female founders is costing Canada alone billions of dollars of lost economic opportunity.

What economy can afford that?

Many people leading co-ed entrepreneurship and innovation incubators acknowledge the still growing body of research that confirms again and again that women face additional barriers as entrepreneurs thanks to gender-bias in our financial systems, sexism, and the realities of biology in an economy designed to privilege people who can delegate caregiving and don’t need time off after physically growing and finally squeezing a new eight to ten pound human out of their bodies–not to mention then feeding them exclusively via your boobs for months after.

In fact, the people running incubators witness examples of the many barriers first hand. They have VIP seats in the stadium when it comes to observing how women experience and must navigate entrepreneurship differently to succeed. They also see how women of colour, indigenous women, newcomers, and those working two jobs to make ends meet. They experience additional challenges.

So why are they having so much trouble figuring out how to help women founders, and their enterprises, flourish?

The answer is in knowing “how to get through a gateless gate“.

This article could help get you started. 


THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH

Woman Is Wolf to Woman

From a psychological and philosophical perspective, mental health counsellor, Maria Basualdo discusses the critical need for women to unite and work together. “…activism is the only way women can bring about transformation in ourselves, not just socially and politically, but by refusing to be wolf to women in our mundane realities.

Sounds like an obvious idea. But why doesn’t it happen?


Ria Lupton (middle), LiisBeth Contributor and friends at Montreal Startupfest 2018

Montreal Startup Fest 2018

New Contributor Ria Lupton got an “inclusion” ticket to Startupfest 2018 in Montreal last month. So we asked her to writing a story about her experience as a participant in a program dedicated to “…connecting entrepreneurs from diverse communities to equal opportunities.”

Ultimately, we wanted to know if to find out if things had improved since we last wrote about this tech-fest now in its seventh year.


https://youtu.be/MTaTnyN5vxU

Fallen Men of Thrones

I knew that billionaire motivational speaker Tony Robbins and I were not aligned in many of our beliefs about how the world worked. But he sure knew how to whip up mass hysteria.

In the video above, you will notice that his euphoric fans represent a diverse, mostly-male-but-good-helping-of-female crowd looking to be primarily…reassured. They are told that if they work hard, remain disciplined, clean, goal-focused, and believe in themselves, the world is theirs to exploit—despite the various systemic oppressions they face.  Blaming something other than yourself for your state in life is not part of Robbins’ creed. “Just Say Yes! And presto, you are halfway there!”

Come on. Who doesn’t love a message like that?

But then came Robbins’ #metoo moment where he showed incredible ignorance about the powers that shape the lives of women in the workplace. He apologized. But that wasn’t enough for Kelly Diels.

Kelly Diels, feminist marketing consultant

This is Diels, a feminist marketing expert, who is writing a new book about the female empowerment brand says “…when our most cherished self-help leaders, spiritual teachers, coaches and empowers-of-women are waving the same flag as an MRA, let us agree it is a red one.”

In her free-online-chapter of her upcoming book, Diels critically interrogates the female empowerment brand and highlights the dark role that motivational speakers—mostly male but also many female—play in advancing this dangerous opioid-like narrative.

If you are attending a conference with a motivational speaker as a keynote in the next few weeks, you might want to read this before you go.


LIISBETH FIELD NOTES

Don’t You Want Me

global photography project showcasing the beauty and resilience of disenfranchised LGBTQ people with their rescued dogs. The coupling of compelling and personal images with accompanying narratives and a celebratory flair, the aim is to show that individuals of all stripes have the shared ability to transform their lives when they are given love and the question of ‘who rescued who’ becomes universal, no matter how you identify.

The project kicks off soon and is currently seeking subjects in Toronto, Brighton UK, and NYC. To participate get in touch here.


Feminist Economics Yoga in Thunder Bay

Cassie Thornton isn’t a healer, she’s just really angry. She is also an artist, an activist, and a kundalini yoga instructor who lives and works between Thunder Bay, Berlin, and Oakland.

In short, Feminist Economics Yoga is combining feminized practices and values like care, health and reproduction with a challenging but accessible yoga practice that focuses on breath and movement. It is designed to heal the nervous system, spine and brain—all areas affected by the experience and challenges of living, breathing, and working in today’s world.

Practicing feminist economics yoga is a way to remind yourself to check in with what you’re experiencing and see what parts you might want to break up with.” – Cassie Thornton, Feminist Economist

You can help fund production of a new series of yoga video tutorials that aim to help heal our social and economic wounds and move forward collectively by visiting Cassie’s Kickstarter campaign: Let’s Break Up w/ Capitalism!

She is planning a Feminist Economics Yoga workshop is in Thunder Bay later this fall. For more info go to: www.secretchakra.net


Aspen Ideas Festival 2018

Is the Backlash back?

From the Aspen Ideas Festival…Good Feminist, Bad Feminist — Who Gets to Decide?

The beauty of feminism is that it’s always growing and changing and that we allow space for it.” – Tarana Burke, Founder of #Metoo Movement

If you have an hour on your hands, take the time to watch this panel talk. It will change your perspective. The star of the show in our view was Brittney Cooper, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University.  She is also the co-founder of the edgy and widely read Crunk Feminist Collective blog. Her new book, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower is available now!

Hang on to your hat for this one. [90 minutes]


Joyce Lee, Founder, herPossibility

Summer Camp for Little Girls with Big Dreams

Joyce Lee is the founder of herPossibility, a summer camp for girls ages 8 to 14 that focuses on empowering youth to be confident and creative leaders.

The camp will have hands on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities to help girls develop their empathy and growth mindset, generate creative ideas, and build self-confidence in group settings.

This year we’re supporting a group of refugee girls that are new from Syria. And seeing them be able to speak their truth and be themselves is wonderful,” says Lee who encountered a lot of tech bias when she attended the University of Waterloo. “I was always that shy girl in the corner and having that experience really made me want to do something about it.”

Camp runs August 13 – 17th, 2018 at Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre in Toronto.


You gotta give Svetlana Ratnikova (pictured here hugging the woman in the foreground), founder of Toronto’s Immmigrant Women in Business network a bow.  She knows how to energize a group-in a whole hearted and dare we say, uniquely Russian way!  LiisBeth attended their last event. The quality of the talks were high. And you have to love the fact that the event was opened up with a toast to the opportunity to be in Canada.  If you are a entrepreneur looking to experience global feminism in one room, we highly recommend you give them a try.


WHAT WE’RE READING 
Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky

Sarah Selecky thanks Kelly Diels in the acknowledgements of her debut novel, Radiant Shimmering Light. “Diels coined the term “Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand” and confronts the subject deftly on her website,” says Selecky. The same could be said of Selecky. The novel is bursting with sparkle and satire, earnestness and colour. The story follows Lilian Quick, a struggling pet-portrait artist who reconnects with her estranged cousin, Eleven Novak, who runs a hugely successful women’s empowerment program called Ascendancy.

Through sharp insight and detailed, entertaining prose, Selecky examines the interconnectedness of art, commerce, and entrepreneurship in a timely resurgence of online feminism.

How We Get Free, edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

The Combahee River Collective Statement was written in April, 1977 but is as relevant today as it was then. It has been referred to as “among the most compelling documents produced by black feminists”. This is one of intersectional feminism’s foundational texts.

The Statement itself has four separate chapters: The Genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism; What We Believe; Problems in Organizing Black Feminist; and Black Feminist Issues and Projects. The published book adds on to this; It includes interviews with original members of the collective.

The writing is eloguent, inspiring and clear as glass. Anyone looking for a good example of a manifesto–or deepen their understanding of intersectional feminism– need look no further.


AND FINALLY…IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!
  • CIX is seeking female entrepreneurs!
    Canada’s highly curated startup investment conference is looking for more submissions to the Top 20 program from female entrepreneurs across Canada as applications in the demographic are low. The summit runs October 22-23rd in Toronto. Apply here.
  • The Honourable Bardish Chagger, P.C., M.P., Minister of Small Business and Tourism announced the launch of an $8.6 millioncompetitive process to create a Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub to accelerate the accumulation and dissemination of data, knowledge, and best practices regarding women entrepreneurs. Read the news release or find out about the application process here.
  • LiisBeth Founding Publisher Petra Kassun-Mutch will be speaking about feminist business practice at the upcoming MJBizConINT’L  Women in Cannabis Wednesday, August 15th at George Brown. MJBizConINt’L attracts more than 2,000 attendees and 125+ exhibitors from around the world will meet to discuss the role of the cannabis global marketplace.
  • NEW! The Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa released a report about benchmarking small and medium enterprises as suppliers to the Canadian government. The report provides new insights about gender of ownership, innovation, international trade, and firm performance.

CAN’T MISS EVENTS

Fall is coming! And oh la la! The list of events worth putting on your learning journey calendar is getting longer:

UN Women – Metro NY Chapter: Summer Info Session in NYC
Join the Metro NY Chapter of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women for our semi-annual info session. Learn about their all-volunteer organization and network with other like-minded gender equality warriors! Refreshments will be provided.
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018
6:30 – 8:30 PM
WeWork
300 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016
USA
Cost: Suggested donation: $10
RSVP here.

Networking and Inspirational Leadership Event
A new IWB (Immigrant Women in Business) Chapter in Bradford is hosting an exclusive, private gathering. IWB welcomes all, and is especially important place for immigrants. (All genders welcome). Saturday, August 25th, 2018
4:00 – 8:00 PM
CU Optical
157 Holland St E #4
Bradford, ONTARIO
Cost: FREE
Register here.

Venus Fest: A Canadian Music Festival Celebrating Feminism in the Arts
September 20–22nd, 2018
Opera House
735 Queen Street West
Toronto, ONTARIO
Cost: $77 for a three-day pass.
Get tickets here.

Anti-Oppression for Artists + Cultural Producers
This workshop for artists explores the language, theories and practices of anti-oppression in depth. Participants will have access to a plethora of digital and print resources to continue their learning journey beyond the scope of the session. Wednesday, September 26th, 2018
6:00 – 9:00 PM
Wychwood Barns Park
B Current Space
76 Wychwood Avenue
Toronto, ONTARIO M6G 2X7
Cost: PWYC – $55
Register here.

B-Corp Champions Retreat in New Orleans
The annual gathering of mission-driven leaders of the B Corp community focused on collective action and continuous improvement. Open to all employees of Certified B Corps, Impact management partners, nonprofits and academics, and other members of the ‘B Economy’.
September 25 – 27th, 2018
New Orleans, Louisiana
USA
Cost: $400 – $1095 + fees
Register here.

Power the Economy: Growing Women Owned Businesses in Canada
WEConnect International in Canada will host its signature annual event, Power the Economy, for women-owned businesses, multinational corporations, senior government officials, and partner organizations supporting the growth of women’s entrepreneurship across Canada.
October 26th, 2018
Beanfield Centre
105 Princes’ Blvd
Toronto, ONTARIO
Cost: $199
Register here.

The 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum
November 10 and 11, 2018
The Gladstone Hotel
1214 Queen Street West
Toronto, ONTARIO
SAVE THE DATE!
Ticket information coming soon.


That brings us to the end of our August newsletter. The next newsletter is scheduled for September 2018. 

We are looking for speaker and workshop proposals for the second annual Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum planned for November, 2018. For guidelines, visit the website.

And just one last reminder. If you are considering a way to support feminist entrepreneurs, or help connect women-led initiatives and communities, look no further than cbecoming a subscriber to LiisBeth! We humbly remind you that subscriptionsare $3/month, $7/month or $10/month.

We are now on Patreon!

Funds go directly towards paying writers, editors, proofreaders, photo permission fees, and illustrators. Building a more just future requires time, love—and financial support.

Enjoy August.  Summers are so short!

Categories
Body, Mind & Pleasure

The Clarifying and Emancipating Power of Erotica Enterprise

 

Eden Baylee takes a coffee break in her sunny kitchen one recent morning in Toronto’s Little Italy. The diminutive 52-year-old recalls in a soft voice, “I grew up in a conservative, working-class Chinese home, the daughter of immigrants. The message was, ‘Make money, make money, make money,’ so I chose banking.”

After graduating from the University of Toronto, Baylee worked in the banking industry. Decades later, she became a prolific indie author of erotica, flash fiction, and mystery. Baylee’s revitalized career may not be quite what her parents had in mind as a way of making money, but it combines a life-long passion for erotica (she secretly devoured Story of O at age 11, misreading “orgasm” as “organism”) with an equally strong passion for writing. Plus, she enjoys the creative license to weave tales that portray mature, sexually empowered female protagonists and having agency over business decisions, which is not typical of her working life at a bank.

Baylee’s path from banking to feminist entrepreneur took some twists and turns. First, she had to overcome breast cancer and the fear of leaving a secure career behind.

The Path Back to Writing

In 1999, 10 years into her banking career, Baylee defied parental expectations and moved to New York City to become a writer. But in the following months at the age of 34, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She returned to Canada for treatment and, unable to work, had to borrow heavily from her brother as she underwent chemotherapy. Looking back on her exit strategy, she laughs now. “Gee, I didn’t plan this very well.”

Baylee put her writing career on hold again and returned to her banking job to pay off her debts. She was quickly promoted to lead project teams. In this role, she felt a huge responsibility to see those projects successfully through to completion as one project morphed into the next. She often worked past midnight. “If someone on my team was lax, I added their work to my plate. As the lead, I felt any failure would be mine,” she says. Her intent had been to stay at the bank for only two years while she saved enough to quit, but she found herself in the same position 10 years later. “Banking had invaded my life.”

Baylee’s path back to a writing career was made more complicated due to the fear that she would get sick again if she left banking. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t have any benefits and would be broke,” she says. Her husband, who sensed her growing unhappiness as she came home in tears many nights, insisted they confront her fears objectively. “The bank was chopping jobs right, left, and centre. It wasn’t as secure a job as it used to be.” They didn’t have children or dependents, nor an extravagant lifestyle. “I also realized that maybe security or amassing more chachkas isn’t really what I am after. Having dinner with my husband, and spending time with people we care about is what matters. If I have my health and am comfortable, I am happy.”

Finally, at 45, Baylee left banking in 2010 to pursue her dream. “I laid out a five-year financial plan knowing that writing is precarious,” she says. She prepared for the worst-case scenario such as needing expensive drugs again. “I was brought up to save and had saved a lot before I left the bank.”

Applying Corporate Discipline to a Creative Métier

Having worked as a senior project lead at a bank where she solved new challenges all the time, Baylee approaches her writing career as a business. She instills a corporate discipline to her routine, rising at 7 a.m. to meditate for an hour to “set a calm tone to write.” She writes 2,000 words a day, standing up at her kitchen counter, but considers herself a slow worker. “I have a bad habit of editing as I go rather than doing a clean sweep at the end.” Like her banking days, she often works past midnight.

Baylee’s first “coming out” was a self-published anthology of erotica, Fall into Winter, with tales of daring ménage à trois and seduction in New York, Canada, Thailand, and Austria. Her stories often riff off her own extensive global travels, which began with a trip to Asia after university. Her novella, The Lottery, was influenced by her real-life friendships with Thai sex workers in Bangkok’s Red Light district. This experience challenged her own privileged Western assumption that Asian women were doing demeaning work for the enjoyment of predatory men. Like many of Baylee’s stories,The Lottery shows how sexual submission and sexual power can co-exist even though it’s often a tricky feminist dilemma. In this story, the Western woman gradually realizes the power her demure, young, Thai friend has over men. “She can basically get a man to do what she wants, and yet, never has to be heavy-handed in her demands,” says Baylee.

Prior to self-publishing, Baylee had sent her anthology to several publishers including Harlequin without success. “It may have been too sexy for them because they didn’t have an erotica category at that time,” Baylee says. But in the back of her mind, she always knew that self-publishing was the better route. “I was a control freak so I didn’t want publishers to dictate my writing or give up rights or royalties.”

Baylee’s “slow” but steady approach has now resulted in 16 titles, some sold separately, some as anthologies. Her first 15 stories were novellas, but in 2014 she released Stranger at Sunset, her first of an anticipated trilogy of full-length mystery novels. “Erotica tends to be novella length, only 25,000 words, which makes it hard to weave an intricate story or develop your characters,” she says. Stranger at Sunset was her entrée into a larger, more expansive writing canvas. Even though her writing has evolved to a more mainstream genre, Baylee says, “There will always be erotica elements in my work.”

Perhaps the most successful way Baylee markets herself is by supporting other writers. She has published close to 300 interviews with other indie authors, which she promotes on her blog and other social media. In turn, she has been the subject of several dozen interviews. “It’s not about, ‘I help you, you help me,’” she insists. She has great interest in learning from other writers about their craft. “Writing is solitary so I had to develop a network because you don’t get out there to meet people,” she says.

Many online professional connections have blossomed into real face-to-face friendships. While many female erotica writers network primarily within their genre, Baylee purposefully built connections with both male and female authors of crime, horror, and literary fiction. She also follows many male poets and is very influenced by the poems of Charles Bukowski, the contemporary novelist, poet, and short story writer who Time called “a laureate of American lowlife.” “He is so sensual and lyrical. That’s how I wanted my writing to be.” Her strategy has resulted in a large male following, unusual for the erotica genre that has produced books like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Baylee now has an enviable social media reach: 29,000+ Twitter followers, 32,000+ blog subscribers. But she has stopped putting effort into amassing a larger following. “I was more engaged when I had 5,000 Twitter followers,” she says. She realized that having more followers doesn’t sell more books. “Engagement makes the difference.” She spends a few hours on social media every morning. “I equate these touch points to how I walked by people’s desks in the morning to ask about their projects or their families. You have to show your face so people remember you,” she says.

Baylee gets close to 500 e-mails a day and spends a lot of time writing personal e-mails and direct responses on Facebook. “That is much more important than retweeting tweets. It takes a lot of effort but in the long run it’s a better strategy. People like a personal touch. As a writer, I can’t ignore that,” says Baylee. Naturally, some followers think her works of fiction are autobiographical and she receives more than her fair share of direct messages from “stalker” men wanting a sexual conversation. “If people envision me in the role of a dominatrix, there is not much I can do to control it.”

Baylee distributes her novellas and books on many platforms including Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, Apple iTunes, and Kobo, where she retains over 70% of the revenue (traditional publishing offers only a fraction of this). On a daily basis, she averages 70 to 80 downloads. She uses one of her earlier short stories, “Seeking Sexy Sadie” as a loss leader, which gets up to 150 downloads a day. Baylee also uses ad campaigns, which generates 2,000 downloads during their duration. “This will usually have a halo effect for my other book sales for a few weeks afterward.”

A Non-Apologetic Feminist

While Baylee refers to herself as a feminist, she doesn’t write with a political agenda, even if it’s about the emancipation of women in a post-Hillary political climate. “I write as an entertainer. I don’t have an agenda of any kind other than to write a good story, good fiction,” she says.

The femme fatale character in Stranger at Sunset, a respected New York psychiatrist named Dr. Kate Hampton, is typical of Baylee’s strong, mature, female protagonists, which are sometimes composites of the go-getter women she met at the bank. “Many erotica writers write about 20-something, model-type, beautiful, cut-out people, which is how people think of sex. I couldn’t have written what I write now in my 20s. I didn’t have the experience or sexual maturity,” says Baylee.

Adding to that experience is Baylee’s time as a judge at the annual Feminist Porn Awards (rebranded in 2017 as the Toronto International Porn Festival) for more than five years. As a writer, her involvement in these porn festivals has helped broaden her knowledge of different communities and their sexual expression. Her first exposure to transgender people was through her involvement with the porn festival. Now, she has gotten to know transgender producers and actors personally so she feels she is less likely to resort to unhelpful stereotypes if she writes about a transgender character. “I think it’s important to know somebody first-hand if you are going to get a story right, no matter how small a role they play in your story,” she says.

Baylee acknowledges that some feminists are not comfortable with her characters, seeing them as victims who give away their power. Her novella Act Three has a controversial scene where Stella, a divorcee pushing 40 who desires sexual exploration after ending a traditional, sexually unfulfilling marriage, is forced into sexual submission by two men as a result of an earlier admission to her lover that this was a fantasy of hers. Baylee attended a book club meeting with a dozen young, bright, professional women and was surprised how unanimously they enjoyed Act Three. This led to a conversation about fear, sexual arousal, and how writers push the envelope of what is erotic.

Baylee is unapologetic about writing scenes that may be perceived as politically incorrect. Her work is fiction, after all, and what she finds erotic is out of her control. “I think a lot of people feel that if we have sexual fantasies where we enjoy being submissive that we will be submissive in our day-to-day lives. That’s not true necessarily,” she says.

Baylee doesn’t buy that fantasies have to fit into a socially acceptable box, and admits she has her own fantasies of being dominated by men. “It does not make me weak, passive, or against feminism. My erotic imagination and life should not have to conform to my real life, which is built around a specific set of social and moral values. The two lives never have to meet,” she says.

Baylee is set to release the two remaining full-length books in her mystery trilogy later this year and her mind keeps spinning with new ideas. Unlike some of her former banker colleagues who are counting down the days to retirement, Baylee plans to keep going forever. “Retirement isn’t part of my vocabulary. It seems like a dated concept. Retire from what? Retire from life? You need to subject yourself to new ideas and environments. You have to be constantly interested and interesting. This is what keeps us vibrant and energetic.”

Additional Reading

I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde (2011)

Why Erotica Needs Feminism: A 127 Page Thesis in 3 Pages by Ella Dawson

Categories
Our Voices

How to Pitch to Boys With Money

VC Fest, which takes place four times a year in the heart of Manhattan’s Tech Hub near Google’s office, is, to say the least, a very big deal. The fest invites hot young entrepreneurs to venues such as City Winery to pitch to venture capitalists looking to fund new businesses or provide second-round funding to young companies that are hitting their growth targets. Business owners must take to the stage with headset, microphone, slides, lights, and in no more than 12 minutes, they must present a business idea and make a big ask for big money to secure the future of their enterprise. Big deal, indeed.

The audience is usually comprised of boys with money. That’s the VC crowd for you; only about four percent of women are in VC financing. At City Winery, for example, 120 men with money sat in judgment of the pitches, which can ratchet up the nerves of female presenters.

Yellow Bird Health, an incubator for startups, takes an active role in supporting and prepping young entrepreneurs to take the stage in front of the VC men. But the Yellow Bird team is all male. Most of the entrepreneurs going to them for preparation are male. The male entrepreneurs who present to the “boys” may already feel a kinship with the audience. After all, they look the same. They dress the same.

But what happens when Robin Hyde, a female entrepreneur with a brilliant new business called Health Jump, comes to Yellow Bird for support? Their all-male team is not quite sure how to coach her, even though they think they can. She’s certainly smart enough to know that when she takes the stage, she’s not in familiar territory and it may even be unfriendly territory. Understandably, that makes her nervous. Her knees feel like they might buckle. Also, she’s not so comfortable using a headset, slides, and lights. Given that I have expertise as a conference producer and presentation coach, she called me for help.

I met Robin at our studio and watched her deliver her Health Jump pitch. As soon as I heard her, I knew we had to put some “female” language back into her male-edited script. But as Robin rehearsed again, I detected a fear that was not about her script or her ask. It wasn’t about the lights, or the headset either. It actually wasn’t even about her opening line and assuring she had it down cold. She was unsure if her company would appeal to “the boys.”

She also didn’t know what to wear on stage. She didn’t know how to be memorable without being provocative. And she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to fend off any disruptive Q/A from the boys who wanted to challenge her business plan.

I was not about to let Robin’s fears derail her. This is what I told her.

Hey Robin, you’re a really smart girl. In fact, smart enough to create and develop a very cool company called Health Jump. You’re also a very experienced manager who spent six years running a huge division with a well-known pharmaceutical company and juggled more responsibilities than most. Getting on the City Winery stage is just one more exciting business challenge that has nothing to do with gender, yours or that of your audience. So focus on strategy and how you can tackle the challenge.

Here’s your game plan:

Reset Your Mindset: With a strong sound idea for a company, one that can scale and be a good investment, you should proudly take it to the stage. Anyone who doesn’t “get it” is stupid. Or arrogant. If it’s really an exciting idea that changes lives or people’s health, not only will it thrill the audience, but there’s a chance some will fight over funding you. What’s your mindset? “They’re sure lucky I’m giving them a chance to get in on this investment at such an early stage.”

Think Performance: When you appear on stage, remember it’s a performance. Always. No second-guessing on this. Make sure you’ve checked out the staging ahead of time. Ask for what you need to make you comfortable, whether that be a chair to sit on or a podium to stand. Or whatever. Ask for a quick tech run so that you know the backstage crew won’t let you down. And understand that what you wear is about enhancing your performance and not about being a woman. Don’t confuse the two. If you are Health Jump, maybe you should appear in workout garb, whether that be spandex or boxing clothes. If an outfit or a hot look “plays the boys” a little, that’s their issue. You are delivering a brand impression, and what you choose to wear should enhance that brand. It’s not really about you, personally. What’s your thinking? “My outfit gives me the power to sell this business idea.”

Control the Experience: Selling a business idea and asking for money requires grabbing the attention of the investor. Being memorable can require delivering the unexpected or being offbeat, so long as you control the experience. The best example of this comes from a well-known female business owner who, many years ago, was trying to launch a very sexy lingerie company. (Not divulging the name!) Some of her featured items were rather “naughty” or suggestive. She had to figure out how to grab attention—and funding—from the “boys” in the room and be remembered as a presenter of a serious business opportunity. But at the same time, she had to make sure they didn’t “diss” her or laugh her out of the room. What was her strategy? Before the VC presentation, she put a pair of red lace panties on each seat. No one forgot her. Or her business.

If you’ve done your prep work and you believe in your business idea, then you can ignore, or even laugh at, a question that’s meant to challenge your confidence or insult you. Anyone who tries to be disruptive or pushy basically enjoys hearing his own voice. And you surely don’t want him as an investor. Some VCs find power and pleasure in asking questions that show how smart they are. Let them! If the question is truly smart, your job is to learn from it. If it’s not in your wheelhouse, say so. If the men intimidate you, then you may not be ready to present. Rethink your timing. What’s your mindset? “I need smart partners and investors who want this business to succeed. I’ll be ready to show them how.”