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A Better Way to Be Better

Moving beyond either/or. Sarah Kaplan, Author, The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation

Businesses operating within the framework of 21st century capitalism can and must be a force for good, says Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) and professor of strategic management at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

“Big companies are the ones who have either created or perpetuated many of the pressing social and environmental issues we face today,” she says. “If we are to see significant change, we need them on board.”

Yet, despite more than a decade of amped up efforts on corporate social responsibility (CSR), the impact has been negligible. And evidence shows Canadian public and large corporations, in particular, are lagging behind those in other countries in the CSR area.

In her new book,The 360° Corporation, Kaplan says it’s because they have been going about it the wrong way. We spoke to Kaplan, to find out what they missed.


LiisBeth: You’re best known for your work on innovation and how gender impacts the economy. Why a book on corporate social responsibility?

Sarah Kaplan: This is a project I’ve been working on since before I founded the Institute for Gender and the Economy. The timing happens to be pretty good. A few weeks ago, the Business Roundtable (an association of CEOs from leading US companies) announced that they were going to prioritize creating value for all stakeholders versus just focusing on shareholder returns. Women, gender minorities, LGBTQ+ are increasingly viewed as important stakeholder categories that many corporations are paying attention to.

What is the book about?

(Getting) business leaders to think about social and environmental challenges as central to their business as opposed to it being seen as an add on, something they do off to one side of their desk. It’s time to get past the “CSR candy sprinkled on top.”

And how do we do that?

Think differently about what to do when investor and stakeholder interests don’t easily align. Often when faced with this situation, decision makers default to constructing a business case to figure out a win-win solution to break trade-offs. You get this. I get that. We all get something. Not what we wanted. But it’s as good as it gets.

This can work, but what happens when investors and stakeholders find themselves not just miles, but worlds apart?

In those cases, win-win just isn’t possible. At least not right away. Even attempts to innovate with known variables may not lead to the breakthrough required.

In this case, I encourage companies to hold and value this seemingly intractable tension as a one-of-a-kind transformation opportunity. The idea is to get decision makers to start thinking about the challenge as they would a research and development opportunity. They need to ask what kind of productive experiments could be designed, in concert with stakeholders, over time, to develop something that could not have even been previously imagined. I am asking companies to think of social responsibility and social innovation like any other disruptive R&D project—one that requires long-term uncertain investments with unsure but potentially magnificent payoffs.

That sounds great for companies with deep pockets. What about startups? Smaller enterprises?

A great example of a small company that has successfully integrated social change is McCarthy Uniforms. They figured out how to leverage a social issue—gender equality—as a business transformation opportunity, in fact, as their turnaround strategy.

McCarthy sells uniforms and, like other companies in that space, only sold uniforms that fit a man’s body. By paying attention to a growing conversation around gender equity, they noticed that lots of women wear uniforms. Due to lack of options, women were being forced to wear men’s uniforms that did not fit well. Not only was it uncomfortable, this also often created safety issues. So, they added “female fit” lines of products. And they started creating a social responsibility report, which included gender equity information. They applied this knowledge when they were bidding with school districts and other people needing uniforms. They’re winning their bids because they are including that kind of information.

Embracing stakeholders and seeing them as essential to your day-to-day business and engaging with stakeholders can actually help you find sources of differentiation and benefits that you hadn’t even anticipated.

What role do activists play in motivating companies to take social and environmental issues seriously?

Well, there’s a couple of ways that activists are really, really important to this equation. The first is they can increase the pain for corporations. When Greenpeace started blocking the ships that were carrying drilling equipment up to the Arctic, the visibility really increased public relations and logistics costs. When Shell abandoned their Arctic drilling activities, they said, “Well, it didn’t have anything to do with the activism. It had to do with the cost benefit. But, of course the activism was shaping the cost benefit.

I have talked to sustainability people in various companies who say, “Don’t tell my boss this, but I actually appreciate the activists because they help me make my case inside the company.” Activism can play that role.

The second role that activists can play is to work to get on the inside, and take a seat at the table in those decision-making meetings. Take ACT UP, which I talk about in my book. Their protests got them a seat at the table where researchers were deciding on drug testing protocols for AIDS drug testing. The activists come with a different point of view, different experience, different knowledge.  In this case, activists were able to help the re searchers understand the most effective ways to do the trials and get the trials to be fair, more just, more accessible.

That said, there is a big tension between being in the conversation and being seen as selling out. It’s a very difficult tension to manage. I think it mirrors the same tension that the corporates have when they’re actually paying attention to the stakeholders (“But you’re hurting the bottom line.”) I think the activists should more often see themselves as potential players at the table in this conversation. And in turn, corporations need to be open to, and invite in challenging, uncomfortable and diverse points of view.

What was your biggest “aha”?

I came across some really interesting research that suggests that people who rely on the business case are precisely the people least likely to act when a business case is made to them, because in order to act on these things, there has to be a certain level of moral outrage.

The business case actually mitigates against moral outrage.

What the business case does is justify the existing status quo. It leads to complacency as opposed to outrage. We need business leaders to think about how we can change the status quo versus perpetuate it. The point is not to make the business case. The point is to find new ways to do this work. If you start with the business case, you’re only going to get incremental solutions. That was the biggest aha for me. The business case is getting in the way of action—not to mention innovation and transformation.

What’s happening with the Institute for Gender and the Economy this year?

When it comes to working to achieve positive social change for gender equality, the biggest barrier is that people don’t know what to do and how to do it. So, to help people figure out the “how,” we are launching a series of case studies that are specific examples of what companies have done, which offer new models and templates. The second thing we’re doing is developing a Gender Analytics training program. We will be running prototypes early in the new year and hope to have the program available in the fall of 2020.

Sarah, thank you for all your amazing work to advance gender equity not only in Canada but globally.

Thanks so much for the interview!


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Don’t miss this

You can catch Sarah Kaplan speaking about her new book on Thursday, September 26, 5:00 to 7:00 PM at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. Register for the event here.


Additional reading

To find out how Canadian CEOs compare to their US counterparts when it comes to enacting corporate social responsibility, read Kaplan’s op-ed in The Globe and Mail, published on September 16.

Plus, go back and read our 2016 conversation with Sarah Kaplan:

https://www.liisbeth.com/2016/09/12/conversation-gender-capitalism-expert-sarah-kaplan/

 

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LIISBETH DISPATCH #51

Photo by Drop the Label Movement on Unsplash

PK’S VIEWPOINT

It’s April 2019. How difficult is it to launch and grow an innovative an independent journalistic media enterprise? Especially since the industry appears to be collapsing around us. What unique barriers do women-led media entrepreneurs face?

Three years ago, with the support of a few advisors and friends, I launched LiisBeth. We became increasingly concerned about the significant and persistent gender, diversity, and inclusion issues in the growing entrepreneurship and innovation economy. We saw that no one was dedicated to interrogating these issues from a feminist point of view. We ignored the fact that media enterprises were folding all around us. In the Canadian news media space alone, over 260 outlets have closed in the last 10 years.

The fact that there are fewer journalists today than ever before didn’t give us pause. Since 2011, for every job lost in journalism there have been 17 jobs added in public relations and advertising (-1,230 vs. +21,320). We tenaciously believe the fourth estate—versus spin doctoring—remains important to any functioning democracy, and that storytelling can transform lives, society, and the course of history. We persist despite the odds. We pivot and iterate. That’s what entrepreneurs do. 

So, what’s it like to grow a media enterprise? Two quick answers come to mind.

It’s beyond hard. Investors love media tech platforms. But are wary about investing in journalistic content. Even fewer want to spend money investing in feminist-informed editorial programs that might upset the status quo. Or unnerve friends in positions of power who helped them get to where they are. Fear of reprisals for truths told are a real concern for many. Society also doesn’t like to hear from women who think. Feminist writer Rebecca Solnit says: “Who is heard and who is not defines the status quo. Those who embody it [the status quo], often at the cost of extraordinary silences with themselves, move to the centre; those who embody what is not heard, or what violates those who rise on silence, are cast out.” What she is telling women media entrepreneurs is this: Starting a fashion blog or parenting media property would be far less risky. And likely more successful in attracting readers and growth bucks.

Barriers? Plenty. Starting with having an opinion, and a vagina—especially a mature one. Women publishers in search of truth, with iron stomachs and interrogative skills, scare people. Women over 50, like myself, are ineligible for the vast majority of publicly funded entrepreneur support programs which generally favour youth. As if that demographic, lovely and challenged as it is (I have an 18-year-old), is the only one capable of innovating and in need of income. We end up bootstrapping and growing our ventures one subscription at a time, feeling very much alone.

We need more women-led news media entrepreneurs than ever before. If what we want is a more inclusive society—and democracy—we need women of colour, Indigenous women, feminists, and LGBTQ media enterprise founders in this space.

How will we get there?

(Read more)

THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH

Photo: msichana.com

DO YOU KNOW WHO MAKES YOUR CLOTHES?

Would you pay more for a special piece of clothing if you knew where it came from? If you knew the women who made it? If you knew where the fabric was sourced?

Msichana gives you those answers. We spoke to Lorna Mutegyeki, the fashion designer and entrepreneur who runs Msichana out of Edmonton, Alberta.

Read what she has to say about funding a business, wanting to quit, and why she keeps going here.

WHAT WE DID ON INTERNATIONAL TRANS DAY OF VISIBILITY (MARCH 31)

Human Rights Commission (HRC) advocates tracked at least 26 deaths in 2018 of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence. The report goes on to say: “While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.”

HRC founded International Trans Day of Visibility in March 2009, and it’s been gaining momentum ever since.

This year, LiisBeth participanted in a related with two amazing entrepreneurs, Jack Jackson and Deb Klein who launched their new global photography project, “Don’t You Want Me” which showcases the beauty and resilience of LGBTQ people with their rescue dogs.

Find out more about the project, power of love, and the experience here.

LIISBETH FIELD NOTES

Photo: msichana.com

FEMINIST FREEBIE

Be one of the first fifteen people to leave a comment on the Msichana story at LiisBeth.com  (scroll to the bottom of the piece) and receive a discount code for free shipping, or if you already qualify for free shipping, a special gift with purchase. Check out #accentsbymsichana which includes belts, scarves, jewelry, and know you are supporting ethical fashion. 

The Alinker – a vehicle for social change

IS WHAT THEY TOLD YOU ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP STILL RELEVANT?

What kind of person—and entrepreneur—will flourish in a future that has not yet been invented? And what if the language for who you are and what you do doesn’t exist yet?

This is the question inventor and gender-queer entrepreneur BE (barbara) Alinker asked the audience during a talk delivered during Interntional Women’s Day weekend 2019 at SheEO’s RadGen event.

The answer? Don’t let the fact that there is no language for what you are and do undermine your confidence. Learn how to be what BE calls a multi-specialist.

In a world that prizes entrepreneurial norms, the multi-specialist entrepreneur, a hyper-adaptable person who learns new skills extremely fast often feels like a “queerdo”. They are misunderstood. And worse, marginalized by investors who have a template in their minds regarding what a “safe bet” entrepreneur or entrepreneurial process looks like. Today, that typically means male and following 1990’s Silicon Valley dogma.

Alinker, who has been a coffin builder in Kenya, a bassoon player for a rebel dyke band, a production manager for a $17M glass art project for an airport in Doha, Quatar, a wordwork restoration architechted in Saudi Arabia, and now the inventor of a mobility device tells the audience that multi-specialists are seriously upsetting to most people, especially status-quo bound institutions and investors.

Her message? Don’t worry.  

In an era marked by tectonic plate level social transformations driven by crumbling capitalism, climate change and weaponized AI,  Alinker is convinced that the multi-specialist dreamer who quickly masters a range of  skills, often self-taught, acts authentically according to their visions and values, and trusts in the power of on the ground communities, will ultimately be best equipt to truly innovate, thrive–and succeed.

Alinker, says “I can’t tell you the number of times that people told me: “You are all over the place”, “You have no focus”, “You are scared of committment”, “Why do you run away?”, “You never finish anything”, “You are a scatterbrain”, “Messed up”, “Chaotic”, “Crazy.”

But in Alinker’s view, that is exactly what a person capable of flourishing in these times looks like.

LAST MONTH’S FEMINIST FREEBIE WINNERS!

Thank you for your comments on our recent story When Aunt Flo Becomes CEO, a profile of the author of Heavy Flow.

Abigail Slater and Kasey Dunn will be receiving signed copies of Amanda Laird’s new book. Congratulations!

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[VIDEO] A glimpse of the premiere of the interactive installation HANDSHACK at the Remai Modern, Saskatoon, SK, January 2019.

REACH OUT, TOUCH ME

In a world of instant communication, our first contact with people is often through the Internet, phone, text, e-mail. All day we touch screens and punch plastic and metal buttons. Our over-usage of electronics minimizes human contact in our day-to-day lives.

Enter, HANDSHACK. An interactive installation part of The Hands On Project created by feminist artist-preneur Marites Carino.

The installation invites strangers to get to know each other through a tactile conversation. Unable to hear one another, participants wear headphones and are guided in this silent interaction. Their interaction, projected through a live feed, takes an accepted form of first contact, the handshake, and twists it into an unexpected choreography.

“By entering this realm where visual perceptions are no longer at the forefront, perspectives shift,” says Carino, based out of Montreal, Quebec. “We see beyond the ways we differentiate ourselves and end up connecting through our commonalities.”

In the era of #MeToo, and Build the Wall, HANDSHACK offers a safe playground for consensual touch and human connection. After the curtain call, participants think they have encountered another, but in fact, they have confronted themselves.

This sensorial experience has been awarded an artistic residency and production grant and will be remounted in Montreal on May 11th, 2019 at the Oboro gallery during the Accès Asie Festival.

Dr. Wendy Cukier / Photo credit: theEYEOPENER

WENDY CUKIER TALKS WOMEN’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP

In December 2018, Ryerson University’s Diveresity Institute received $8.62M+ to create a Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH). Spearheaded by Ryerson Univiersity’s Diversity Institute and its founder, Dr. Wendy Cukier, the WEKH will include eight hubs across the country, with Ryerson and OCAD sharing the Toronto region. The WEKH will serve as a network of researchers, universities, business organizations, incubators, and community groups who will address the needs of women entrepreneurs. Over 37 organizations are officially part of the Hub’s partnership network.

LiisBeth talked to Cukier when the announcement was made in December 2018 during the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum.

We caught up with Cukier again last month at a #IWD2019 Business, Government, Services and You event in Toronto where she shared her views on how best to unleash the potential of women entrepreneurs across the country. 

Cukier noted women’s chronic under representation in publicaly supported incubators, accelerator and government entrepreneurship programs as an important barrier. She also questioned the veracity of creating a “separate lane” for women entrepreneurs, suggesting this may create more harm than good.

Alternatively Cukier sees a world where entrepreneurs of all genders and backgrounds can “on ramp” onto a different, more inclusive kind of twelve-lane versus two-lane innovation highway. A highway to economic heaven that will be more drivable for a much wider variety of entrepreneurs and approaches to venture building—versus just those in noisy muscle cars or Teslas. Cukier argued in her talk that part of the reason for the current bottleneck is the fact that we define entrepreneurship too narrowly. “If you broaden the definition of entrepreneurship to include social change and activism, suddenly the women appear.” She adds: “Women are doing what the guys are doing—just in different sectors.”

To hear the full one hour talk, plus see the accompanying slides, click here.  [NOTE: The link is valid for one year. You will see a note pop up saying there is no content to view. Click play and it will start. Unfortunately, all presentations are included in the one recording. Wendy’s presentation begins at time stamp 1 hr 40 mins 30 secs]

WHY HAVE WE NOT MADE MORE PROGRESS?

Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) on using research to CHANGE THE CONVERSATION on gender equality

Photo : Paulina O’Kieffe-Antony, Arts educator, artist and consultant, TORONTO

BREATH OF FRESH AIR

Paulina O’Kieffe-Anthony is an award winning Toronto writer, performer, producer, arts educator, community advocate and member of the League of Canadian Poets.

O’Kieffe-Antony delivered a wicked, inspired spoken word poem performance during How She Hustle’s International Women’s Day Event in March 2019. How She Hustles is a Toronto-based network diverse women’s entrepreneurship network.

We are delighted to share it with you here. O’Kieffe-Antony is also a contributor to a Canadian chapbook called “Feminism: Revolutionize—Revisit, Revise, Revolutionize: A Two_Part History which can be found here.

HOTEL OPERATIONS FROM A FEMINIST POV + EXCLUSIVE DOWNLOADABLES!

Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel operates within a feminist, anti-oppressive framework where everyone feels welcome and at home. And its owner and staff can tell you creating a framework like this is not easy. It takes effort and commitment to implement policies on a consistent basis.

If we are going to change the world, we need all start ups and growing small enterprises—not just large progressive corporations—to think about incorporating anti-oppression policies into their own employee and partner conduct guides and handbooks.

Not sure what an anti-oppression company framework might look like?

Good news. The Gladstone has generously agreed to make available their vision statement here and anti-oppressive policy framework here. Check it out. And tell us what you think by reading our original article and adding your comments below the piece.

LIISBETH STORY VOTE

NEW! ANSWER FROM OUR LATEST POLL:

Last month we asked readers which story we should publish next. We received only a handful of responses. But hey, our view is it takes time for readers to get to know how this works—and that voting does work.

The winning pitch from last month is: A story on the legacy left behind following the Wakefield, UK miners’ strike which was famously supported by gay and lesbian organizations—and serves as an example of an intersectional movement long before the word was coined. Readers are wondering what is Wakefield is like now? Did activism have a lasting impact? We will be contacting the journalist shortly!

UPDATE FROM OUR LAST POLL: 
Portrait of former Swedish Feminist Initiative Party Leader, Gudrun Schyman, will be published in May. Stay tuned. You vote. We listen.

WHAT WE’RE READING

In their new, long-awaited collection of essays, Lambda Literary Award-winning writer and longtime disability justice activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the politics and realities of disability justice, a movement that centres the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, Black, and brown people, with knowledge and gifts for all.

Bringing their survival skills and knowledge from years of cultural and activist work, Piepzna-Samarasinha explores everything from the economics of queer femme emotional labour, to suicide in queer and trans communities, to the nitty-gritty of touring as a sick and disabled queer artist of colour.

Care Work is a mapping of access as radical love, a celebration of the work that sick and disabled queer/people of colour are doing to find each other and to build power and community, and a toolkit for everyone who wants to build radically resilient, sustainable communities of liberation where no one is left behind. Powerful and passionate, Care Work is a crucial and necessary call to arms. – Arsenal Pulp Press

Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission–they’re sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post their work online–poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial microaggressions she experiences–and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by trolls. When things escalate in real life, the principal shuts the club down. Not willing to be silenced, Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices–and those of other young women–to be heard.

In Watch Us Rise, these two dynamic, creative young women stand up and speak out in a novel that features their compelling art and poetry along with powerful personal journeys that will inspire readers and budding poets, feminists, and activists.

“This intersectional, layered novel…it covers a wide breadth of topics-institutionalized racism, how we undermine young women, feminism in the modern age-with a clear message: Girls are going to come out on top.” –  Marie Claire

AND FINALLY . . . IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!

  • From the Vaults episode “Turning Points” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) features Sarah Mclachlan, host of the 2019 Juno Awards and creator of Lilith Fair, an all female music festival that began in 1997, and shifted the perception of what it meant for women in the music industry. Fun fact: Lilith, in Hebrew mythology, represents Adam’s first wife who refused to lie beneath him so he threw her out. [Geoblocked in Canada]
  • An expert discussion on “What could a feminist city look like?” took place at the Rotman School of Management on March 27th. The talk was moderated by moderated by Sarah Kaplan, Director and Professor – Institute for Gender and the Economy at Rotman. Check out global feminist city guides from Lagos to San Diego, here.
  • An estimated 40.3 million people are currently living as slaves–more than at any other time in history.Why Slavery? is a series of ground-breaking documentary films investigating why slavery remains so endemic in the 21st Century. The Passionate Eye will broadcast two films in the series, Maid in Hell and North Korea’s Secret Slaves. [Geoblocked in Canada]

That’s newsletter #51!

If you found value in what you read here or in the original articles on our website, we hope you will consider donating one time or becoming a monthly subscriber for as little as $3/month.

Feminist media matters. We believe storytelling and journalism can change the world.

Demonstrating growth in paid readerships is not just about the money—it also helps us secure sponsorships and grants—it serves as proof positive that readers value what we do.

To donate one time or become a donor subscriber, click here.

Next newsletter will come out early May! We will publish the exact date closer to May on Twitter so you don’t miss it! 

Peace out,

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Dispatch #22

instead-of-either-%2fopr-i-discovered-a-whole-world-of-and-goriia-steinem-my-life-on-he-road

VIEWPOINT

Last week, The Economist released “The World in 2017“, its annual collection of opinionated predictions for the year ahead. This 31st edition advertised forecasts from some personalities of note, including Justin Trudeau and member of the Russian female protest group Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina. It also includes predictions from George Clooney. (Oooh la la! I hoped his prediction came with a photo!)

In last year’s edition, The Economist predicted that 2016 would “be summed up in three words: woes, women and wins”. The woes referred to the worsening situation in Syria. The wins noted were sports and tech-related. And, the part about women referred to the impact of women coming into powerful roles for the first time, like Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House (the 2016 cover featuring future world leaders didn’t even include Donald Trump-they assumed she would win), Janet Yellen’s work at the Federal Reserve, and how Angela Merkel will respond to the migrant crisis.

Turns out they were not entirely wrong in their prognostications -except for the Hillary Clinton part. Looking back, the 2016 edition was also light on predictions regarding the future for 50% of the planet’s population, women and girls. In fact only one out of the 100+ predictions that related to the role and state of women and girls on the planet; ­A piece on the importance of educating girls. In the world’s poorest countries, still, only 20 percent of girls complete Grade 8 education.

The 2017 edition, however, is markedly different. First, it includes not one but seven predictions out of 100+ that speak to the fight for gender equality, including one with the actual word “feminism” in the title. And second, the predictions related to the advancement of women this time are more about broad social shifts, versus an emphasis on a handful of individual women-in-power ‘firsts’.

Social and culture gender-related predictions noted include the increasing acceptance of a fluid approach to gender, the rise of “nuanced feminism”, 2017 as a breakthrough year for women in the boardroom due to quotas and public opinion, and the advent of “marketplace diversity and inclusion”. Andi Zeisler describes in We Were Feminists Once how companies have increasingly used feminism in their advertising to sell us stuff while their overall company leadership and policies continue to show they are at their core, un-feminist, or worse, unwoke”. In a similar way, this same trend is being seen across other areas of diversity and inclusion.

Out of the seven predictions related to gender equality, a piece worthy of both further note and criticism is “A Feminism for All” by millennial writer Louise O’Neill (also the author of Asking for It, a novel examining gender and sexism). First, it’s great to see feminism included in the predictions at all. And we agree with O’Neill when she writes feminism today is for “women of all races and religions, it’s for transgender people, it’s for men, it’s for straight, gay people and everyone in between.” We also agree with O’Neill’s idea of “nuanced” feminism, which says feminist issues are complex and not given to simple answers. However, with her emphasis on how individuals embrace feminism today,  O’Neill misses the opportunity to underscore that feminism is not just a mindset; it’s also about actively working for change, and in particular, systems change. We found that oversight disappointing.

If feminism is about working for deep-seated social change, then it will require much more than a countable increase in the number of “woke” fan girls (or fan guys, and everyone in between) posting selfies of their feminist selves. I guess one could argue that this is at least a start, but for feminism to truly matter, it will eventually need people who are prepared to really dig in, unlearn media’s skewed representation of feminism, relearn the movements’ real history and roots (including it’s issues i.e. white feminism), read everything they can about feminist thought leadership today, and engage meaningfully in efforts to power system and institutional change.

But then again, posting a selfie is easier.

Overall, as a long-time Economist reader, I was pleased to see these topics make the 2017 prediction list. And I hope the curators are as close to right about their forecast as they were with their 2016 list.

As for George Clooney, sadly, there was only a small illustration of his head beside the article, mostly written by someone else.


dimnple

THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH

This week, we interview Dimple Mukherjee, founder of Whole Self Consulting, an advocate for the benefit of women-only spaces, and creator of the Bindi Parlour experience.  The Bindi Parlour is described as a “girls night out at home”, an idea we thought was timely given the approaching holiday season.

We loved Dimple’s very personal, and grassroots story about how she came to entrepreneurship. We hope you do as well. You can find the article here.


eileen-scully-founder%2frising-tide-curator-52feminists-com-1

52FEMINISTS

Sometimes you just gotta love Twitter.  For without it, I would not have been introduced to so many fabulous feminist entrepreneurs over the past few months who by chance, saw our feed and decided to reach out because of common ground.

Who is this fab woman? Meet Eileen Scully, an accomplished woman in tech, founder of The Rising Tides, a diversity and inclusion consultancy based in Connecticut, and creator of a fabulous sideline website called 52feminists.com.

The website profiles at present, 52 feminists and the list is growing.  I asked Scully why she started this initiative. Scully explained in an emailed response that “In July 2016, it began to feel as though so much of the progress we had made towards advancing the rights of women were slipping away. Every day I work with businesses helping them achieve gender parity, but I needed an outlet for the social and political aspects of women’s equality. 52feminists is a platform to expand the definition of what is a feminist, through the stories of ordinary people. Each week features a different feminist on each of our feeds, and to our subscriber base.”

To check it out, visit 52feminists.com and submit your profile! You can also join her twitter feed @52feminists.


equality

DO QUOTAS HELP OR HINDER?

Check out Sarah Kaplan’s (Director, Institute for Gender & the Economy, Rotman School of Management) timely new research brief “The Debate About Quotas” where she explores both sides of the gender diversity quota debate.  The brief notes that “Policy makers and organizations have been working toward achieving gender diversity for many decades, but progress has been slow and is perhaps even stagnating.”

Are quotas the answer? Learn about the pros and cons here.


THE CANADIAN WOMEN’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON

It was freezing cold Toronto’s City Hall on Wednesday, December 11, but we showed up anyway.  The occasion? A photo shoot arranged by Toronto march organizer Marissa McTasney (Founder of Moxie Trades).  The purpose was to join other communities around the world doing the same–showing support for the Women’s March on Washington event planned for Sunday, January 21st, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th POTUS (President of the United States). To see similar photos from around the world, use #whyimarch. You can also watch “Why I March” declarations here.

To check out the Metro News article on the gathering, click here. Yes, and by the way, NONE of us are soccer moms (they are making a correction).

The January 21st event promises to be a historical event by all accounts. All across Canada, and around the world, women (and men) are preparing to participate in the march as a show of solidarity for diversity, equality, and inclusion. To find out about a march near you, visit http://canadianwomenmarch.ca/local-marches/.  To get a seat on one of the buses departing from Toronto for Washington, visit http://canadianwomenmarch.ca. Tickets are $150.00 per person.


sophia-robot-2MEET SOPHIA

LiisBethian Vicki Saunders (Founder, SheEO) sent us a link to this incredible article titled “Selfless Devotion” by Janna Avner on why engineers are giving robots “feminine” personalities. And what this says about how femininity is perceived in our society.

Janna Avner is a creative technologist living in Los Angeles who recently co-created Femmebit, a yearly digital new media festival celebrating women artists. Janna graduated from Yale in 2012, and is currently a gallery director who curates shows, exhibits paintings, and writes as much as time permits.

In the article Avner provides us with insight in the humanoid development space.

Avner writes “Sophia,” created by Hanson Robotics, is one of the several fair-skinned cis-appearing female prototypes on the company’s official website. She possesses uncannily human facial expressions, but though she may look capable of understanding, her cognitive abilities are still limited.”

Further on, Avner also notes “Looking at female humanoid robots shows me what the market has wanted of me, what traits code me as profitably feminine. Like a Turing Test in reverse, the female bot personality becomes the measure of living women. Is my personality sufficiently hemmed to theirs? This test might indicate my future economic success, which will be based on such simple soft skills as properly recognizing and reacting to facial expressions and demonstrating the basic hospitality skills of getting along with any sort of person.”

Believe me; it’s worth the time read.  Thanks, Vicki!


CAN’T MISS EVENTS
  • Does your plan for 2017 include launching a social enterprise? The Community Innovation Lab has just launched their 2017 Social Enterprise Accelerator program. This early stage, co-ed incubation and training program will run from February 2017 to June 2017 and aims to support and enrich the learning experiences of social entrepreneurs in Durham Region, Northumberland, and the Kawarthas.  Learn more here. And to apply click here. Only 25 spaces are available.
  • Women on the Move presents “Entrepreneurship on a Shoestring: Where to Spend your Marketing Dollars, Wednesday, January 11, 2017 from 1:00-2:30pm.  Register here.
  • The Institute for Gender & the Economy presents Sallie Krawcheck, Co-Founder and CEO, Ellevest Digital Investment Platform; Chair, Ellevate Network; former CEO of Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management; former CFO, Citigroup; Author, January 12, 5pm-6pm, Desautels Hall (Second Floor, South Building) | map Rotman School of Management, U of Toronto, 105 St George Street.  Tickets are $36 and include a copy of Sallie’s book “Own It: The Power of Women At Work“.
  • Feminist Art Conference (FAC) is a hidden gem of an event. This year it will be from Jan. 10 to Jan. 21, 2017. Tickets are free but space is limited. Register here. Note:  LiisBeth is also moderating a panel on Gender & Entrepreneurship
  • If you want something to look forward to in the New Year after the mad rush of celebrations and resolutions, consider joining Dimple Mukerjee’s 10 Day Morning Rituals Challenge in February 2017. It’s quite the ride, and there’s absolutely no right or wrong way to do it. You’ll connect with other like-minded people, and maybe even plant another seed for your wellness, just waiting to sprout and grow. Click on the link above to get a heads up when it gets closer.

 


That’s it for the December newsletter. And we are also taking a short break from our publishing schedule so all can enjoy the holidays.

We will resume our newsletter and monthly publishing schedule on January 17th, 2017. What’s ahead? We kick things off with a inspiring article by Margaret Webb about a group of “Bold Betties”  in Colorado, a rousing video interview with Dr. Patricia Green (Paul T. Babson Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies and Academic Director Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and 10,000 Women) on feminist entrepreneurship, followed by an interview with Dr. Candida Brush (Babson professor of entrepreneurship and Vice Provost of Global Entrepreneurial Leadership) about the need for more relevant curriculum for women entrepreneurs.  In January, we also feature Katelyn Bourgoin, founder of a very cool online network of female entrepreneurs called Vendeve.  And of course, there will be much more.

In case you feel like a LiisBeth fix during our break, and in case you missed them the first time around, we recommend checking out our 2016 most-read articles (according to Google) by category:

Service articles:
1. Invasion of the Brain Pickers: 9 Ways to Deal with Requests for Free Advice, by Rona Maynard
2. How to Embed Feminist Values In Your Company, by Valerie Hussey
3. Why We Need Diverse Approaches to Start Up Incubation, by Priya Ramanujam
4. Bridge Over Tricky Waters: Love, Business and Good Governance, by Sue Nador

Activism:
1. When Those Who Lead Fall Behind, by Petra Kassun-Mutch
2. Who Erased Claudia Hepburn, by Petra Kassun-Mutch
3. Entrepreneurs by Choice; Activists by Necessity, by Cynthia MacDonald

And finally, for most read profile, check out  All Jacked Up, by Margaret Webb.

All in all, we published 55 original articles in 2016 plus 22 newsletters.

Regardless of web statistics, we are super proud of the work created by all contributors, illustrators, and freelance editors.  Big hugs to each and all. We will see more of their work along with the introduction of new contributors in 2017.

If you have not subscribed to LiisBeth, but have valued our work, please help us continue by signing up as a paid subscriber here.

In the meantime, dear readers, subscribers and LiisBeth website visitors, have a terrific holiday season.

See you again on January 17th. And as always, if you have comments, thoughts, story ideas or tips to share, please send them our way to publisher@liisbeth.com.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

liisbeth-publisher-sig

Categories
Our Voices

A Salon Of Our Own: And Here’s What Happened

couch-at-abby-small

LiisBeth, the shit-kicking feminist entrepreneurship zine you’re reading right now, held its first-ever consciousness raising–style salon a few weeks back. It felt like the heady old days of feminism. It felt like the thrilling future of feminism.

The evening gathering took place in the living room of LiisBeth board advisor Abby Slater—businesswoman, impact investor, social-enterprise champion—and featured two leading feminist thinkers and changemakers: Andi Zeisler, author of the brilliant We Were Feminists Once, and Sarah Kaplan, gender capitalism expert and director of the brand new excellently named Institute for Gender + the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Oh, and let’s mention a third: Petra Kassun-Mutch, the instigator of the salon, founder of LiisBeth and spirit incarnate of the zine’s namesake, Stieg Larsson’s Stieg Larsson‘s Lisbeth Salander, a fictional, dragon-tattooed, streetwise avenger, champion of the underserved, unheard, and overlooked. Or in Petra’s world, women entrepreneurs.

Thirty-five members of the LiisBeth community congregated, including executives, writers, artists, activists, non-profit leaders, startup founders, and students. There were deep pockets, shallow pockets, pockets of colour, pockets of queerness, pockets of supermoms who have done it all, women at the start and end of careers, and every gradation in between.

It seemed absolutely right, the very randomness of ourselves gathered for a necessary conversation: assessing the state of feminism in this age of individualism.

Or as Zeisler might put it: How do we rescue feminism from the clutches of capitalist neoliberalism, which would divide our collective action for change and reduce feminism to a brand to sell us stuff?

Or as Kaplan might put it: Rather than stand on the sidelines of capitalism, how do we create true systemic change rather than being co-opted to fit in “nicey nice” with the status quo of inequality?

Kassun-Mutch was pressed with questions: Has feminism stalled out? With so much inequality still—we have not come nearly far enough, baby—how do we get back on track? Given that we have to swim in this system, how do we leverage the tools of business to change the system? While being sensitive to intersections of feminism—and the room was a sampling of that—how do we work together, support each other, be good allies rather than be divided by our differences?

How do we get back to collective action to change a system that so often diminishes women?

The conversation stirred up anger (as it should), plenty of laughter (as a gathering of women usually does), and a strong desire to connect between the generations and intersections and fault lines of business and non-profit. It also reinvigorated a passion and excitement for the hard work of making shit happen. Plenty of ideas flowed from the evening, which we’ll be following up in LiisBeth stories for months to come.

The next evening, LiisBeth gave us another peak into the future of feminism as the media sponsor for Zeisler’s talk at the Rotman School of Management, organized by Kaplan. Astonishingly, while Zeisler has spoken about feminism at campuses across North America, this was her first-ever invitation to speak at a business school. No doubt that has something to do with her attack on corporate capitalism for hijacking and neutering the feminist agenda, to render it into a pinked commodity.

The room was packed with young female MBA students whom Zeisler gave plenty to think about. I spoke to quite a few after the talk. Many identified as feminists, and now they were questioning what they were learning in business school. One wondered aloud, “Am I being trained to merely sell stuff to women? To exploit women, to increase profits, reduce costs, for my own advancement?”

Heading into the lecture, I introduced myself to an older executive who told me she works in finance. Given the subject of the talk, I asked what challenges she’s faced working in such a male-dominated industry. She shrugged, almost dumbfounded by my question. “You know, with sexism,” I nudged.

“None,” she said.

After the lecture, she rushed up to me, mouth agape at her apparent amnesia. “When I started my career, I was forced to share an office with a co-worker who was stalking me. I had a different approach to sales; I took time to get to know my clients rather than closing the deal on the first meeting. I was outselling my male colleagues and they couldn’t stand it. And even though I was making the company tons of money, the male executives kept pressuring me to change my sales strategy.”

And this is what she did: she left and started her own company. Things clearly went swimmingly ever since.

She admitted that she had completely forgotten that the harassment she endured was the very reason she went to work for herself.

The three MBA students I chatted with didn’t see any immediate exit strategy from the trenches. They truly worried about being co-opted by toiling in the muck of those trenches. Would they end up working for corporations that exploit women, systematically pay them less, and block opportunities?

And then their conversation drifted to asking themselves this question:

How could they work in the system while changing the system to make it more equitable?

Between them, they could check the boxes of a multitude of intersections: race, working class, immigrant, refugee, gender queer. Even though women now constitute 30 per cent of students at Rotman business school, they still feel like a maligned minority. They told me that just going to school requires enduring an onslaught of microaggressions: male students ignoring them in study groups and talking over them in class; male profs using gendered case studies (i.e. all men) and sexist language; male executive MBA students heading to strip clubs for bro-bonding after weekend classes. They don’t see that scenario changing once they start their careers, not with men still dominating business leadership and business values.

“Feminism shouldn’t be an optional lecture,” one tells me. “Feminism should be on every course curriculum in business school.”

That’s one solution. And they came to another, as they circled back to why they had chosen to do an MBA in the first place.

One had graduated from gender studies, sharpened her teeth on the critiques of capitalism, and went to work in social services and non-profits to create change. But the more she saw how corporations exploited women through their supply chains, the more she realized how hard it would be to create true change from the sidelines. “We need activism all throughout industries and in different positions in society. I wanted to become someone in business who could make change. We have to have women in business who are feminists and activists. Change won’t happen unless we have people on the inside who care about doing the right thing and can convince others to do the right thing.”

Personally, I came away from the two events chuffed by the future of feminism, and we’ll be tracking it right here in the digital pages of LiisBeth. Stay tuned for that—and for more hell-raising salons too.

 

Related Readings and Audio Interviews

Categories
Our Voices

A Salon Of Our Own: And Here's What Happened

couch-at-abby-small
LiisBeth, the shit-kicking feminist entrepreneurship zine you’re reading right now, held its first-ever consciousness raising–style salon a few weeks back. It felt like the heady old days of feminism. It felt like the thrilling future of feminism.
The evening gathering took place in the living room of LiisBeth board advisor Abby Slater—businesswoman, impact investor, social-enterprise champion—and featured two leading feminist thinkers and changemakers: Andi Zeisler, author of the brilliant We Were Feminists Once, and Sarah Kaplan, gender capitalism expert and director of the brand new excellently named Institute for Gender + the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Oh, and let’s mention a third: Petra Kassun-Mutch, the instigator of the salon, founder of LiisBeth and spirit incarnate of the zine’s namesake, Stieg Larsson’s Stieg Larsson‘s Lisbeth Salander, a fictional, dragon-tattooed, streetwise avenger, champion of the underserved, unheard, and overlooked. Or in Petra’s world, women entrepreneurs.
Thirty-five members of the LiisBeth community congregated, including executives, writers, artists, activists, non-profit leaders, startup founders, and students. There were deep pockets, shallow pockets, pockets of colour, pockets of queerness, pockets of supermoms who have done it all, women at the start and end of careers, and every gradation in between.
It seemed absolutely right, the very randomness of ourselves gathered for a necessary conversation: assessing the state of feminism in this age of individualism.
Or as Zeisler might put it: How do we rescue feminism from the clutches of capitalist neoliberalism, which would divide our collective action for change and reduce feminism to a brand to sell us stuff?
Or as Kaplan might put it: Rather than stand on the sidelines of capitalism, how do we create true systemic change rather than being co-opted to fit in “nicey nice” with the status quo of inequality?
Kassun-Mutch was pressed with questions: Has feminism stalled out? With so much inequality still—we have not come nearly far enough, baby—how do we get back on track? Given that we have to swim in this system, how do we leverage the tools of business to change the system? While being sensitive to intersections of feminism—and the room was a sampling of that—how do we work together, support each other, be good allies rather than be divided by our differences?
How do we get back to collective action to change a system that so often diminishes women?
The conversation stirred up anger (as it should), plenty of laughter (as a gathering of women usually does), and a strong desire to connect between the generations and intersections and fault lines of business and non-profit. It also reinvigorated a passion and excitement for the hard work of making shit happen. Plenty of ideas flowed from the evening, which we’ll be following up in LiisBeth stories for months to come.
The next evening, LiisBeth gave us another peak into the future of feminism as the media sponsor for Zeisler’s talk at the Rotman School of Management, organized by Kaplan. Astonishingly, while Zeisler has spoken about feminism at campuses across North America, this was her first-ever invitation to speak at a business school. No doubt that has something to do with her attack on corporate capitalism for hijacking and neutering the feminist agenda, to render it into a pinked commodity.
The room was packed with young female MBA students whom Zeisler gave plenty to think about. I spoke to quite a few after the talk. Many identified as feminists, and now they were questioning what they were learning in business school. One wondered aloud, “Am I being trained to merely sell stuff to women? To exploit women, to increase profits, reduce costs, for my own advancement?”
Heading into the lecture, I introduced myself to an older executive who told me she works in finance. Given the subject of the talk, I asked what challenges she’s faced working in such a male-dominated industry. She shrugged, almost dumbfounded by my question. “You know, with sexism,” I nudged.
“None,” she said.
After the lecture, she rushed up to me, mouth agape at her apparent amnesia. “When I started my career, I was forced to share an office with a co-worker who was stalking me. I had a different approach to sales; I took time to get to know my clients rather than closing the deal on the first meeting. I was outselling my male colleagues and they couldn’t stand it. And even though I was making the company tons of money, the male executives kept pressuring me to change my sales strategy.”
And this is what she did: she left and started her own company. Things clearly went swimmingly ever since.
She admitted that she had completely forgotten that the harassment she endured was the very reason she went to work for herself.
The three MBA students I chatted with didn’t see any immediate exit strategy from the trenches. They truly worried about being co-opted by toiling in the muck of those trenches. Would they end up working for corporations that exploit women, systematically pay them less, and block opportunities?
And then their conversation drifted to asking themselves this question:
How could they work in the system while changing the system to make it more equitable?
Between them, they could check the boxes of a multitude of intersections: race, working class, immigrant, refugee, gender queer. Even though women now constitute 30 per cent of students at Rotman business school, they still feel like a maligned minority. They told me that just going to school requires enduring an onslaught of microaggressions: male students ignoring them in study groups and talking over them in class; male profs using gendered case studies (i.e. all men) and sexist language; male executive MBA students heading to strip clubs for bro-bonding after weekend classes. They don’t see that scenario changing once they start their careers, not with men still dominating business leadership and business values.
“Feminism shouldn’t be an optional lecture,” one tells me. “Feminism should be on every course curriculum in business school.”
That’s one solution. And they came to another, as they circled back to why they had chosen to do an MBA in the first place.
One had graduated from gender studies, sharpened her teeth on the critiques of capitalism, and went to work in social services and non-profits to create change. But the more she saw how corporations exploited women through their supply chains, the more she realized how hard it would be to create true change from the sidelines. “We need activism all throughout industries and in different positions in society. I wanted to become someone in business who could make change. We have to have women in business who are feminists and activists. Change won’t happen unless we have people on the inside who care about doing the right thing and can convince others to do the right thing.”
Personally, I came away from the two events chuffed by the future of feminism, and we’ll be tracking it right here in the digital pages of LiisBeth. Stay tuned for that—and for more hell-raising salons too.
 
Related Readings and Audio Interviews

Categories
Activism & Action Our Voices

A Conversation with Gender Capitalism Expert Sarah Kaplan

Sarah Kaplan, co-author of “The Rise of Gender Capitalism,” is the Director of the new Institute for Gender + the Economy at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. She spoke at LiisBeth’s first-ever salon (Sold out) along with We Were Feminists Once author Andi Zeisler. LiisBeth was the media sponsor for Zeisler’s talk at the Rotman School on Sept 21, 2016.

LiisBeth: How did you come to feminism?

Sarah Kaplan: I am a woman living in this world and you can’t step out the door without experiencing the ways in which white male privilege exists. I was always the person raising the issue and trying to make sure things were more egalitarian. At some point, I decided I had to start doing this as my primary work and that’s when I started focusing my research work at the university on the role that gender dynamics play in the economy.

LiisBeth: Can you point to a specific moment when you realized you needed to make it your central focus?

SK: There’s a moment every single day. Let’s start with Donald Trump saying that Clinton doesn’t look presidential. What does it mean to look presidential? Apparently, it means you can’t look like a woman. There are 500 of those things every day and it just accumulates and it just accumulated for me.

LiisBeth: Why is the Rotman Institute for Gender & the Economy necessary?

There is already a lot of research being done on this intersection between gender and economy in the business world and nonprofit organizations. But we have less rigorous academic research in the business school community. There’s a real need for business schools to bring the scholarly rigor to these questions, to explore not just the correlations, but also the causal relationships, the underlying mechanisms, and the ways that we can make progress. Because despite all of these reports saying that gender equality would be better for the economy, we can’t make much progress in practice, and the question is, why?

LiisBeth: What do you hope to achieve at the Institute?

SK: This is not just a research institute to focus on women’s leadership, although that is certainly an important issue. It is much more focused on gender dynamics. We are very interested in considering not just questions about women but the interactions between men and women and people of all different genders in our society and looking at those questions at the level of the economy and business as well the individual. A lot of the research that has happened in business schools so far has really been focused on that individual, pointing out that women need to negotiate differently than men and things like that. I’m not very interested in telling women how they can improve themselves to fit into the existing system. I’m much more interested in doing research into understanding how the system can be changed to accommodate a wider variety of people.

LiisBeth: Why do you think that gender equality is good for business or, to push it further, many studies show that female leadership is good for business, that female-led companies outperform others?

SK: We are in a situation where, somehow, it has become necessary to say, not just that it’s the right thing to do to give people equal opportunities, but you have to prove that having women in leadership is better than having men in leadership. We have somehow gotten to the point where we assume patriarchy and male dominance is the norm and that we have to measure everything against that. We don’t see firms being asked to justify why they have men in leadership. But we somehow have to justify why there should be women in leadership, we have to “make the business case.” While we have some evidence from consulting firms that there’s a correlation between women in leadership and firm performance, actually the scholarly research suggests that it may just be the same. It should be enough to say that men and women perform the same on average, so why should we be discriminating against women? One of the questions that I am tackling in my own research is our obsession with the business case. Some people will say we need the business case in order to get change. But we’ve got ourselves caught in a tricky situation – a “business case” means that the only way we get change is if women are better. Why should we have a different bar for performance for women than we do for men? I keep saying, look, even if women aren’t better, at a minimum, they are the same in their performance, and if that is the case, why should we systematically discriminate in our systems and procedures against women? I don’t understand this obsession with having to make the business case that women are superior.

LiisBeth: I’d like to go back to talking about why women are superior. Just kidding. Why not focus on diversity rather than gender?

SK: There’s scholarly research coming out that shows when organizations speak broadly about diversity they are actually less effective in achieving diversity goals, because it’s so broad, suddenly everything and everyone is diverse. Oh, I have a different undergrad degree than you, I’m diverse. I think we have an issue — women are 50 percent of the population and the fact that there are so few represented in organizational leadership and that there are so many barriers to achieving promotions or equal pay, there is a lot of value to just focus on that so that you can make targeted interventions. There are incredibly important intersections (we will be looking at). The dynamics that face a white straight woman are very different than the dynamics that are faced, say, by a black gay man. We should definitely be paying attention to all the different intersections and not assume this is a problem of discrimination faced by elite white women. What about working-class Latinas? What about working-class white women? What about African American men?

LiisBeth: Do you believe that paying attention to women will help us pay attention to other intersections of diversity?

SK: I want to talk less about women and more about gender and gender dynamics and that means paying attention to men as much as paying attention to women. One of the things I’ve become convinced of, if we don’t change our notions of masculinity we are never going to be able to change society because men are constrained into those roles as well. So I don’t want to just focus on women. While I am focused on gender dynamics, I also want to understand that the intersections between race and ethnicity and sexual orientation and all of those diversities. Part of the goal of the institute is to stay away from this obsessive focus on women. We don’t even have women in the title of the institute. We really believe if we focus on women, we’ll get stuck back in a conversation about how to how to fix women when what we really want to do is fix gender dynamics and we want to fix society and fix structural issues.

LiisBeth: After reading “The Rise of Gender Capitalism,” it made me want to stock my portfolio with nothing but gender-inclusive companies. Would that be a good idea?

SK: Do you mean a good idea from the standpoint of financial performance?

LiisBeth: Sure.

The jury is out on about whether it’s “superior performance,” but what we do know that at a minimum it’s not worse performance than other similar types of portfolios. So, if you want the same performance as other portfolios but you want to make sure you aren’t investing in companies that are discriminatory, then it’s a brilliant thing to do.

LiisBeth: How do you sell gender capitalism to feminists who may have been anti-capitalism, anti-investing, anti-business?

SK: So the capitalist system is an incredibly powerful tool for social change. But as soon as you engage with the system, you risk being coopted to the point where feminism becomes just another marketing tool and that’s very tricky and we don’t have an answer for it yet. You look at a company like Dove, which has a marketing campaign about every woman’s body being beautiful. That’s great and a lot of people have hailed that as a great step forward for women and other people say, yeah, but Dove is still trying to sell products that people use to make themselves beautiful. So maybe you’re being coopted. So I think the way to talk to people in the women’s liberation movement who may have seen business and investment as the enemy is to say, yes, it can be. So you have to have those honest conversations but you have to have to be in the conversation. You can’t avoid the conversation. It’s like during the peak of the AIDS crisis, when we still didn’t have many good treatments. And ACT UP was a grassroots organization that was very focused on treatment and getting drugs developed for treatment. They were very much a protest movement but at the same time they realized they had to get to sit at the table with the pharmaceutical companies to talk about research priorities and the only way to do that was to get super educated about the science and then go to these tables and say, no, this what we know and this is what we should do. And where ACT UP had its greatest success was in coupling the incredible protest they did to raise awareness with the engagement in the conversation, the willingness to sit down and try to change the priorities. I think it’s the coupling of those two things that can make progress. I’ve learned a lot from what ACT UP did to think about what we might do about engaging when we start talking about gender.

LiisBeth: Do you think that women who have had some success in business are sufficiently feminist? Are they keen to apply a gender lens or are they a little too co-opted by the current system?

SK: I don’t want it to be that women have to be sufficiently feminist. We all have to be feminist. Why aren’t we asking, are men sufficiently feminist? If women rise up, they rise up in whatever way can. Right now the system is a patriarchy so women are going to rise up benefitting from the values of patriarchy. They are not going to be suddenly feminist in a world that isn’t. So I think it’s unfair to expect that women should be more feminist than men.

LiisBeth: So how are men reacting to this gender lens theory of capitalism?

SK: There’s a big spectrum. There’s a percent of men who are all on board and have maybe experienced a moment of radical empathy, so they actually know how to think differently about this, how to question their own privilege. There is a percent on the other end of the spectrum who think this is BS and aren’t interested in changing because they’re not interested in giving up any of the benefits of that come with the privilege they’ve experienced. And there’s a big bunch of men in the middle who get it or don’t get it or kinda get it and think it’s probably a good idea but don’t really know what to do and don’t have this as a priority. Yeah sure, totally for it and it’s a good thing to do but it’s not on their top 10 list of what they’re going to spend time on. And it’s the same thing for women. We can’t have different expectations for women than we do for men. But we need to convert more men. At Rotman, we now have a men’s ally group that is focused on men having those moments of radical empathy so they can become true champions and not just indifferent actors in the middle of the process.

LiisBeth: We could talk for hours. But is there anything I haven’t asked that you think is critical to get across?

SK: We need to find a way to get gender to intersect with business, the economy and finance and that’s not a straightforward process. It’s not just about making a business case. We need to figure a way to engage that doesn’t involve coopting and that’s the experiment we’re running right now and hopefully we’re going to make progress.


Next Up: LiisBeth talks to Bitch media co-founder Andi Zeisler, author of We Were Feminists Once, who will speak at the LiisBeth salon and Rotman School on Wednesday September 21, 2016, marking the Gender and the Economy Institute’s inaugural speaking event. 

Details below (for tickets click here).

Gender and the Economy Experts Speaker Series @ Rotman

5:00 PM – 6:45 PM

Andi Zeisler, Co-Founder and Creative/Editorial Director, Bitch Media Nonprofit Feminist Media Organization; Author, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl ®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement (PublicAffairs, 2016) on “From Riot Grrrl to Marketplace Feminism: Selling – and Selling Out – Feminism”.

Tickets are $34.99 and includes a copy of the book. A reception follows.

Related Reading

Gender Lens Investing

The Rise of Gender Capitalism by Sarah Kaplan and Jackie Vandenburg