On November 3, 2022, the Equal Futures Network in partnership with the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC), hosted an interactive incubator discussion examining the key challenges facing women, gender-diverse, Indigenous and racialized communities when it comes to advancing economic justice. This was the first Equal Futures Network incubator session dedicated to examining the intersection of economic equity and gender equality in Canada. A total of 35 participants attended the session and engaged in the Q&A session. Participants heard insights from the CanWCC, Moms at Work, Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network, the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) and the National Collective of Women in Business (NCWIB) who shared their perspectives and insights about the issues, challenges and obstacles that create barriers towards achieving economic justice from their lived and professional experiences.
Following this in-depth discussion, participants were encouraged to share their thoughts and experiences. This open dialogue was also an opportunity for participants to develop ideas into partnerships. Advancing economic equity will require a substantive shift from the status quo by addressing systemic and structural challenges with women, two-spirit, gender-diverse, LGBTQ+ and IBPOC communities leading the way and in solidarity with each other.
Here is what we heard:
Why Economic Equity Matters
Around the world, women, in all of their diversity, perform the most underappreciated work, earn less than cis-gender men and do more unpaid and care work. As a result, they are bearing the brunt of the widening wealth gap. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented economic crisis which has hit the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized communities the hardest.
Economic equity matters because women, racialized (Indigenous, Black and people of colour (IBPOC)) and 2SLGBTQ+ communities are the most at risk to experiencing the effects of a global recession and these communities are already at a place of disadvantage due to existing systemic barriers to equitable participation in the global economy. At a systemic level, social, political and institutional norms have created structures that support unequal policies, legislation and economic tactics that at best are exclusionary, and at their worst, purposefully perpetuating harm and create barriers for equity deserving and marginalized groups.
Barriers to Achieving Economic Equity
Youth voices are missing from economic decision-making spaces
Youth are almost entirely left out of the conversation around economic equity. As a result, youth do not see a role for them reflected in the in the work being undertaken to advance economic equity. This work can be inaccessible for youth as it is discussed in technical language that is disconnected from individual lived experiences which further isolates and disengages youth from the process. In order to engage youth, they need to be talked to in accessible and relatable language that is grounded in shared experiences. This will build youth capacity to express their needs and shift the power dynamics so that their voices are heard and involved in decision-making. To see substantive change, we need to create an empowered generation of youth who are aware and understand how economic inequities impact individuals and their communities.
Individual Economic Empowerment
In the push for advancing economic equity, the role of the individual is too often left out of the conversation as the focus is placed on the systemic level. We need to shift focus to the economic education and empowerment of individuals. Current systems underestimate the decision-making power that is held in the hands of the average person – for context in 2021, small businesses made up 98.1% of all employer business in Canada – this is where change is going to come from. Widespread access to economic education and advocacy is the path towards equitable solutions that shift the narrative, change minds and equalize the balance of power.
Gatekeeping and industry siloes in the economic ecosystem continue to not only hold back individuals, but also our collective advancements for economic equity. For example, in advocacy spaces economic discussions are inaccessible. Economic equity is talked about in overly technical language, this creates an exclusionary environment that gatekeeps people with different lived experiences and backgrounds from accessing these spaces.
Indigenous, Black and Racialized Erasure
Indigenous, Black and other marginalized communities experience significant erasure, silence and barriers within the economic ecosystem. For example, there is a hundred billion dollar Indigenous economy that is being underserved by mainstream financial institutions because they are considered too high risk for investment. These economic policies further reflect ongoing colonial legacies in Canada and demonstrate the multitude of systemic barriers that IBPOC communities face when it comes to advancing their own economic capabilities.
Supporting economic development within Indigenous communities across Canada is a core part of NACCA’s mandate. Over the course of the pandemic. NACCA was able to provide over 1000 business loans of over 100 million dollars in total value and created 3800 full time jobs. This investment in Indigenous communities not only contributes to Canada’s overall GDP but creates a deep and meaningful social impact that drives community wellbeing and closes the dignity gap that many Indigenous and underserved groups face across Canada.
Steps for advancing economic equity in Canada (and around the world)
Collaboration and Partnerships
Equity work must be done across the board and apply an intersectional lens by focusing on empowering individuals, building partnerships and inclusive spaces. When applying an intersectional lens, we must ask ourselves how to incorporate reconciliation and decolonization into our work. Progress is prevented by division, which is very prevalent in the not-for-profit sector as the system is set up to be inherently adversarial, especially when it comes to acquiring limited funding and resources. For example, a lack of sustainable and long term funding, strict eligibility criteria within the grant model (i.e. needing charitable status to have access to certain grants) and competition for minimal funding dollars pits organizations against one another and breeds a system of insecurity.
Additionally, the constraints of grants around certain advocacy pieces means that you may not have the ability or freedom to speak/be an advocate for change as your financial security is bound within the constraints laid out in your funding agreement. All of this hinders progress and creates a system of competition that at the end of the day takes away from the work of the movement. We need to work as a collective to figure out ways to operate outside of these systems, to decolonize the spaces where we operate and create partnerships that are supportive and allow for collaboration as we will only see progress through collaboration and coordination. Coming together as an economic equity movement to build understanding and consensus on the issues that are impacting our communities will facilitate change at the individual, organizational and systemic levels and empower grassroots communities and movements.
Pay equity is a powerful symbol of economic equity and a tangible step forward to rally around. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to close the wage gap. Women’s labour continues to be undervalued. Additionally, globally, legislation and policies are still being created that are directly biased towards men and create situations where women, on average, are always going to be poorer than men. The wage gap is even larger when you consider intersecting identities like race, ability and sexuality and they are at a heightened risk of experiencing the negative effects of a global recession. Achieving pay equity would be a major step forward towards overall economic equity.
Post-pandemic recovery and progress
COVID-19 further exacerbated the economic challenges faced by women, racialized and gender-diverse people in Canada. Over the last two years, there has been a lot of discussion about what is needed in Canada’s post-pandemic recovery. Inequities were brought to the forefront of these discussions and showed us just how much work still needs to be done in order to achieve gender equality in Canada and around the world. Now is the time to think outside of the box and find innovative solutions while amplifying the voices of equity-deserving groups. There is a willingness from decision-makers for community engagement and community driven solutions to economic inequities Through partnerships and collaboration, we can create collective understanding and consensus by bringing people with different perspectives and lived experiences together to address key issues and advance them at all levels.
How do you do things differently?
With Lucky Ones, we prioritize people over schedules, over getting the best shot, over everything. For me, it’s about making sure that everyone working on a project with us is treated with equity and respect. I want to make sure that everyone can sit comfortably in their own values.
My company is small – it’s mostly just me until we’re ready to go to camera and ready to get on set. Staying small allows me the flexibility to make sure that people who are joining the team know what they’re in for. Letting people fully consent to what they are signing up for is so important to me.
I try to be as transparent as possible by sharing the scenes we’re going to shoot, the interview questions, the schedule for the project, the breakdown of where the money is going. We can all take care of each other if we know where things are going if we know schedules well in advance.
This transparency is integral to our culture at Lucky Ones. I want people to be able to come to me with any questions or comments. I want them to know I’m not running the show, I’m just guiding. What we’re doing is a team sport and I’m just shaping the pathway. From there, I encourage everyone’s input.
What are the challenges you’ve experienced in this industry?
It’s still very male-centric. There is a huge barrier to entry to secure bigger commercial clients. If you want to work on a big commercial or TV show, you’re going to run up against clients who want a guarantee of who’s going to be on set. Pitching the fact that we are a people-first production company can hurt us in a lot of ways because these clients want a super tight turnaround, they’re reluctant to take a chance on a crew they haven’t worked with before, especially when the people you work with aren’t the people you typically see on set.
That’s the issue right now. We’ll put the representation on screen but when you go behind the scenes, it’s still very much status quo.
I read your equity and inclusion statement, and appreciated the recognition of representation both in front and behind the camera. Can you speak a little bit more to the importance of that?
I personally identify as being on the margins and so I know what it’s like to exist in environments where you’re not considered. For example, if you’re shooting a documentary and filming outside, most production companies would say that you need to hire people who are physically fit, or a Director of Photography who can lift 50 lbs. For me, you want to make concessions for people who are really good at their job. You want to give people opportunities to be good at their job.
If a good camera person can’t carry heavy equipment because they have a disability or are immune-compromised – especially now that we have COVID, many people have lower lung capacity – let’s just hire someone who can carry that stuff.
It’s important to me to hire neurodivergent people, to hire people who have disabilities – people who have great skills but are otherwise overlooked. Lucky Ones never wants to put the schedule ahead of people. We want to hire people who might not otherwise have this opportunity to flourish.
You identify as ‘being on the margins,’ can you share your social location and how that has informed your commitment to equity and inclusion?
I’m neurodivergent. I have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). I also exist in a fat body.
I started my career in the music industry, I also do photography. These are industries that are super adverse to fat people enjoying anything. This is where I’m coming from. I’m used to being the person who is not necessarily considered for a lot of opportunities, like being a camera person or taking part in projects where there is a lot of travel involved. I want people to know that regardless of what other barriers they may have faced in other companies, that won’t be an issue with Lucky Ones. We can make it work.
What does the future look like for Lucky Ones?
We want to move into additional language markets like French and Korean. I’ve always had an interest in language learning. I grew up in French immersion and in high school, I learned Spanish and still carry that. For the last five years, I’ve been learning Korean and for me, it just adds to the richness of the stories I can tell.
To be able to communicate directly, even if just a little bit, can put people at ease. It also allows me to hire people from different countries and integrate them into the production of the project without having them feel othered. I would love to be able to travel and tell as many stories in as many languages as possible.
At a time when we are inundated with headlines about ‘The Great Resignation,’ ‘Quiet Quitting’, burnout, and the push for unionization, it’s rare and refreshing to meet business leaders who are prioritizing the needs and well-being of their staff. Leading with care and transparency is a much needed and radical rebuilding of the systems that no longer serve us.
Cass Rudolph’s model at Lucky Ones is one I hope we see much more of in the years to come.
Publishers Note: Lucky Ones participated in the Fifth Wave Initiative, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media and commerce sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to a minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse level.