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Allied Arts & Media Our Voices

Women Entrepreneurs “Never Going Back”

Large white woman in reording studio singing into a mic with hands outstretched.
Singer/Songwriter Kritty Uranowski recording "Never Going Back" for International Women's Day, 2023. Click image to hear now!

LiisBeth Media has been a supporter of the women’s entrepreneur StrikeUP conference since the start. Why? Because we are both all about elevating the work of not only feminist founders but also women, queer, trans enterprise crafters everywhere. 

Our assignment from the Strike Up team? Come up with a creative way of both honouring International Women’s Day 2023 and encapsulating the year’s event; Over 4000 women across Canada and around the world participated. 

In the first year, 2021, we invited Katie Chappell, a graphic illustrator from the UK, to attend the event, summarize learnings in a graphic illustration, and also write about her experience. You can read about her takeaways here.

In 2022, we contracted Timaj Girard, a spoken word artist to attend and write plus perform a poem that captured the essence of the event for her. Her brilliant work can be found here

In 2023, in response to women’s rights rollbacks around the world, we wanted to send a message: We are never going back.  The medium? Music. 

We started looking for someone who embodied feminism, entrepreneurial spirit and the term “powerhouse” and found her!

Kritty Uranowski is an established feminist, experimental music performer, band leader and multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter who has also works with well-known bands like U.S. Girls, and Queen of Swords.  Uranowski works as a performance coach at Girls Rock Camp Toronto and Baby Pineapple Studio. Uranowski was also the producer of the 2018 Polaris Prize gala closing ceremony  She currently leads Lavender Bruisers, an experimental music project.  

Creating a song that celebrates the work and progress of women entrepreneurs was an opportunity Uranowski could not say no to. 

Learn more about Uranowski in the video interview below. 

pk mutch:  Kritty, what was your first thought when we invited you to consider the gig?

pk mutch: The current Canadian federal government has invested over $6B in levelling the playing field for women entrepreneurs since 2018 via the Women’s Entrepreneurship StrategyThe goal? To unleash $160B in untapped GDP growth over the next five years. The recently released State of Women’s Entrepreneurship Report 2023 notes that the number of incorporated, women majority-owned enterprises has increased from approx. 15% to 18% in 2023. What has been the felt impact of this initiative in your life as a musician entrepreneur?

pk mutch:  As a successful woman entrepreneur in a tough industry-music-What advice do you have for other women entrepreneurs especially those in the arts?

pk mutch: Thank you so very much Kritty! 

Kritty: My pleasure. 

pk mutch: Ok. Let’s listen to the final cut!

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Our Voices

Emphasizing Empathy Pays Off

Image of two women working on a computer with a colourful art background/collage style image.
Ruth Wylie (left) and Melanie Grad (right), cofounders, Perspective Squared.

When she was head of production at Variprix, Grad says she tried to lead with flexibility, because caregiving extends to many people.

“There was a man who lived in Newmarket (ON) who would drive downtown to Liberty Village everyday,” she says. “He had basketball with his boys twice a week and I said, ‘You better get your ass up there. Those are the important things.’

“Men and women – we all have other priorities. That opportunity really taught me that’s not something to compromise on when we’re running our business.”


Although they are at different places in their life, Grad says she’s learning a lot from Wylie, who, at 52, brings a “menopausal lens” to their partnership and business.


“For so long, for so many decades, no one spoke about it,” says Wylie. “Yes, you see women in later stages of their lives change their careers and do different things and that’s amazing. But how many of those women made those changes because they couldn’t navigate their current career path feeling the way they were feeling?”

“(Menopause) ebbs and flows – particularly (for me in) the last three months, I’m ebbing in the most challenging of ways. I adapt, sometimes daily, to my energy and focus levels, taking breaks and shifting tasks/priorities when possible,” she says. “ It most definitely makes me more aware of other people’s energy and trying to make a space for people to share feelings, ask for help, or to just be if that is what they need.”

Like the flexibility that Grad has sought out as a single parent, Wylie says she now finds herself adjusting her work schedule to prioritize her well-being as she goes through menopause.

“I grew up with the notion that to succeed you need to work harder and longer and keep your emotions in check. Success was intrinsically linked to performance, how much I did and how well it was received. I am working on reframing that notion, and today my success is more about being self-satisfied with the work I produce, how it is done and in the environment I help create for others to work within.”

The lack of these important conversations about their lived experiences have encouraged Grad and Wylie to open up space for more human conversations with their partners and colleagues. One area they strive to invest their time and energy in is through mentorship. As Wylie puts it, they, “want to make the time to be able to give back to the next generation of super producers and female entrepreneurs.”

“For example, we just wrapped up six days on set with a really lovely crew,” says Grad. “The conversation at the end was: we really loved working with you, but let’s have a coffee to talk about what you like to do so that we’re putting you in the right position next time. Just because you came on as an associate producer or camera assistant, we realize you have other skills and other interests. We can definitely put you in the same role the next time, but if we know what you like to do and we have opportunities to provide that, then let’s make that happen. Those conversations are important to us.”

“I feel very strongly about our efforts to create a business where we work collaboratively with others, creating a space that supports our team learning and growing and contributing to our shared success,” adds Wylie. “Growing the business and being profitable is unquestionably a goal, but the first priority is always the people and community we develop and grow the business with.”

Grad and Wylie emphasize the empathy and generosity that they aspire to bring to all aspects of their work. As Grad says, “It’s important for us to take what works and share it with other people. If you like our process, take it. If you like the way we structured our call sheets, take it. If you like the way we build, take it. Our success is not the ultimate goal. We want to see everybody’s success.

“Let’s all rise together. If we figured it out the hard way, take the easy way.”

Publishers Note: Perspective Squared 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

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Feminist Practices Our Voices

Unionizing Freelancers

Image of a woman, sitting in basement under construction holding a paint roller brush looking weary.

The number of freelancers is growing. But are freelance unions growing? If not, why not? And what would happen if freelance unions worked together?

Freelance writer Toni Main (not their real name) landed a new $6,000 gig. There was no formal contract–just a series of emails and mutual trust about what was expected, what they would deliver and how much they would make. Several months later, Main remained unpaid. As a last resort, they turned to the Canadian Freelance Union for help. 

“And that’s why we’re here, says” Nora Loreto, new President of the Canadian Freelance Union (CFU), a local of Unifor, founded in 2006 by the Communications, Energy, Paperworkers Union (CEP). “It’s also what I like most about what we do. When someone has a grievance, been harassed, or strung along by a contractor, we get involved. We use a variety of tactics to get justice for our members. And we have not failed yet.”

CFU, like other unions in the media and communication space also provide members with health care insurance options, training opportunities, contract negotiation support and press cards.

Yet, despite the benefits of joining a union and increased number of freelancers due to ongoing tsunami waves of layoffs in the media sector, including Postmedia’s recent move to cut 11 per cent of its editorial staff, CFU freelance union membership numbers (200) seem surprisingly low.

Loreto says part of the reason is that there many freelance media/communication professionals unions out there, like the Canadian Writer’s Union (1,600 members), The Canadian Freelance Guild (340 members), the  Communications Workers of Canada (6,000 members due largely to CBC worker memberships)  and CFU’s parent union, Unifor Media Council (8,000) to name a few.

Ultimately, this fragments both membership and power. There is also the out of pocket cost issue ($125-150 per year per union) and member churn; if someone gets a job, they leave.

Other reasons include the fact that the majority of Canada’s 2.8 million (15 per cent of the labour force) contractor workers and self-employed founders, are largely under informed about the existence and benefits of freelance unions and the value of collective bargaining.

However, Loreto is optimistic that will change.

Recently, Loreto co-organized a hybrid freelancer summit in Toronto at Metropolitan University. Approximately 20+ people representing a variety of organizations—or themselves—attended the event, which took place February 3. 

One of them was Chris Katsarov Luna, freelance photojournalist and founding member of the freelance union United Photojournalists of Canada. Luna says many photojournalists have recently found themselves pink-slipped due to tight budgets and then re-hired on contract terms, an arrangement that saves the company up to 25 per cent per person in staff costs. 

“Some (people) think freelancing is great, but most of us are not in the least bit interested in being self-employed and would prefer a regular, waged position with benefits,” says Luna. 

This includes soft benefits too, like corporate discounts for gym memberships, and other “soft” benefits not extended to contractors. 

Luna felt the freelance summit meeting was very productive and believes collaboration can power up and bring more negotiating power to their members.

Freelancers growing in number

Contract workers, solopreneurs and self-employed founders (freelancers) remain the fastest growing segment of the Canadian labour force. Surveys done by Statistics Canada shows the top reason for going freelance was freedom, followed by the inability to find suitable employment.  Women freelancers also cite escaping workplace discrimination, harassment and corporate glass cages as key reasons for exiting traditional employment. Although the number of people employed as freelancers dipped slightly in 2021Upwork, a U.S. based, global freelance platform with more than 14 million users, anticipates freelancers will represent over 50 per cent of the U.S. workforce in the U.S. by 2027. A 2023 study by MBO Partners, a U.S. based  independent worker management company,  shows the number of American freelancers increased by 26 per cent in 2022Experts predict similar growth trends in Canada, especially as companies begin to insist on a return to the office, a condition some workers now balk at.

The pay gap

Freelancing is tough for all, but especially women and other marginalized groups.

While income data varies by industry, age and province, the majority of freelancer workers are barely keeping their heads above water. In 2020, Canadian male freelancers earned on average $45,600, while women working in the same field made just  $34, 400–a 24 per cent gender-based wage gap. Thus, average freelancer incomes barely exceed Canada’s current poverty line ( $37, 542). When we further compare the gender pay gap in the freelance space to the waged employment space, recent OECD data shows the pay gap for women freelancers is a  whopping 40 percent higher than that experienced by women in the waged sector. The more intersectionalities you add in, the wider this income gap gets– available studies also show racialized people, single parents, and recent immigrants are over represented in the freelance and self-employment space, and even more likely to struggle financially than their white counterparts, and black freelancers often face discrimination in online hiring platforms.

Being a freelancer is clearly a tough hustle at the best of times, but with rampant inflation, no paid leave or access to subsidized health or dental plans, and chronically late pay cheques– studies show 29 per cent of freelance invoices are paid late– it’s getting harder and harder for freelancers to make ends meet. This is again, especially true if you’re a woman– while male freelancers are paid late 24 per cent of the time, female freelancers are waiting on a payment that’s “in the mail” 31 per cent of the time. 

Are Entrepreneurs Freelancers too?

Anyone who works independently, without a formal salary, according to Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) essentially self-employed aka a freelancer—and this includes consultants, contractors, and includes self-employed entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are commonly viewed as people building the next Facebook. But the fact is, 55 per cent of all incorporated businesses are enterprises with just 1-4 employees. micro enterprises–the vast majority of which solopreneur enterprises. However, a search of start-up and growth programs (such as Startup Canada and Futurpreneur) shows no mention of unions and how solopreneurs founders might benefit by joining. Instead, solopreneurs default lawyers to help with contract disputes or harassment claims.

Given that even a simple “cease and desist letter” or taking legal action to get paid can run into the thousands, many solopreneurs across industries increasingly realize they have a lot in common with freelancers when it comes to living with precarity, vulnerability and accessing basic worker rights. Nancy Wilson, founder and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, says their members, many of whom were hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, are increasingly looking to the government for answers to systemic self-employment related exploitation issues felt more acutely now than ever before.  

“Anyone fighting to change the system can learn a lot from the labour movement. We deliberately reached out to the Canadian Freelance Union and the Canadian Labour Congress to join our advocacy alliance for self-employed individuals,” Wilson says.

Image of women, men participating in International Women's Day rally in Toronto. Holding red and white signs. Reads Women will never be safe under capitalism.
International Women's Day March and Rally ,Toronto, 2023 |Photo by Greg English.


Loreto says the February Freelancer Summit meeting was the first in a series of meetings planned for cities across Canada over the next year.

We would like to have a national forum or roundtable for freelance advocacy groups—not creating a new organization—just bringing people together in the organizations they are already in,”Loreto says. 

“There is a growing realization that “Everything about the economy is networked, and if we want to build a new economy, then the networks that we build have to be different,” she adds.,

In the meantime, Loreto says contractors and solopreneurs would be wise to research and consider a union card.

“We can help make visible (the) invisible work and highlight the challenges we face to governments to ensure freelancers, the so-called ‘precariat’, are not left behind for long,”she says. 

For more information about upcoming meetings, visit All are welcome, and women solopreneurs and micro enterprise founders are encouraged to participate.

Publishers Note: This article was  cross-published by our partner,

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Our Voices

Finding Your Way Home

Head shot of a black woman with long black braids, wearing blue shirt.
Keda Edwards Pierre, Founder of True2Soul | Photo by David Leyes

As a child, Toronto-born Keda Edwards Pierre wanted to do something many intelligent, artistic kids dream of doing; create buildings.

“In elementary school, I wanted to be an architect. I was recognized to be very creative. My grandfather was an architect,” says Edwards Pierre. “Plus, lines and structure really attracted me.”

However, the universe had other plans. Instead, Edwards Pierre a childhood trauma survivor, navigated a career path that met her profound needs for safety, structure, answers, voice and ability to advocate for others.  That path would take her from student to frontline police officer, to community liaison officer and, finally, to entrepreneur –a journey which, for her, is ultimately “true to soul”.

“Bad things happened in my life. The impact showed up in a number of ways.

In Grade 10, my typically good grades suddenly started to plummet– I saw my dreams of architecture (school) go down the tubes,” Edwards Pierre explains. “I often found escape through arts. During this time, I increasingly turned my attention to theatre and drama and ended up getting a lead part in the school play.

Edwards Pierre says she was excited about new emerging theatrical success–until playing the lead part meant having to kiss a boy on stage– an idea that made her so ill and uneasy that she gave up theatre for a time. Panning around for a new direction–one that would allow her to feel more empowered – Edwards Pierre turned her attention to law, a career which matched her passion for “advocacy, helping people and argumentative nature”.

“I developed a keen interest in the justice system. It led me to take a paralegal course in college after high school,” says Edwards Pierre. “Then one day, my class visited a courthouse to observe court proceedings, after which two classmates and I met two off-duty court officers. We later hung out. One of them advised that police were hiring and suggested that I join as a better path to law school than the paralegal path.

“I did some research and realized he was right.”

Sold on the idea, Edwards Pierre applied for a job with Toronto police, a much bigger feat than such a short sentence implies. This was the 1990’s   a time when only 6% of Toronto Police were women, let alone women of colour like Edwards Pierre, and although some things have changed since then, even today policing in Canada is still overwhelmingly white male dominated.

“I had never seen a Black woman in uniform,” says Edwards Pierre. “Plus I was considered short, just five foot five (inches), but I applied and was accepted. There were approximately 150 Toronto recruits and approximately 20 were women. I was the only Black woman.”

Over the next 27 years, Edwards Pierre would go on to hold a variety of roles with the Toronto Police Service (TPS), including court officer, parking enforcement, and eventually, a first class police officer across the city, including 42 Division which serves Scarborough, a suburb on the edge of Toronto where 73% of the population are non-white and the majority of residents are newcomers.

Edwards Pierre at one point, went on maternity leave.

Around the same time, “After a nearly 10 years with TPS, I remembered my earlier law aspirations. I applied to the Weldon Law School at Dalhousie (University)–and got in!” says Edwards Pierre. “So, at 28, while on maternity leave, I packed up my still breast-feeding baby and went to Halifax to get my law degree.”

Turned out that being a single mother, alone in a city with no family, little money for food and with a baby who had health issues, and pursuing my law degree was too much. After one year, I packed up, returned to Toronto and my baby’s medical specialists. I completed first-year law remotely and returned from leave to police work.”

Perspectives on Police Work

As a child, Edwards Pierre says her interactions with police while growing up were not negative.

Once on the inside, however, Edwards Pierre saw things that deeply troubled her.

“I witnessed how trauma impacts human potential and can destroy lives,” she says. “I saw the institutional flaws and systemic challenges that prevent police from dealing with issues in helpful ways. ‘Bad cops’ remain protected and fly under the radar and ‘good cops’ get gutted, chewed up and spat out.”

“While on the job, various misogynistic and racist officers in the ranks, management and command kept me in hyper-vigilance mode for much of my career – so I was in constant fight or flight positioning. Sometimes I won the battles I fought – and sometimes I lost miserably.”

Edwards Pierre adds “The system is far, far from perfect–however, there are good things happening between the cracks. While working in 42 division, I saw myself as part of the community. I had a great partner who loved his job.” Edwards Pierre saw how deeply connected, community-supported policing and strong community ties resulted in positive outcomes.

Despite the growing societal concerns around racism and police violence, Edwards Pierre held on to the idea that the institution could change for the better and went on to become a Corporate Liaison Officer for three years with a focus on improving Black community-police relations. “I coordinated the first month-long Black History Month celebration while in that role. I consulted with and brought community organizations and institutions together from all over the city for the first time. I also coordinated the United Mothers Opposing Violence Everywhere (U.M.O.V.E), a nonprofit which advocated for stronger gun control after the 2005 “Summer of the Gun”.

Edwards Pierre was also a founding member of the TPS Black Internal Support Network.

“I believe I had a positive impact, but over time, I realized there was only so much I could do.”

Edwards Pierre retired in 2020.

“My experience in policing, good, bad and even the ugly. was part of my path. It opened my eyes and showed me what I needed to see,” she says. “It prepared me for what I believe is the work I am now called to do.

For so many years, I hid a scared girl behind a fierce advocate for others. It felt easier to scream for others than myself.”

Image of two black women and one grey haired woman of colour, standing, arms across each others shoulders in unity.
From Left to Right, Keda Edwards Pierre and supporters, Canadian actress Sylvia Osei and actress/singer, Tabby Johnson

Enter True2Soul

“Something like seventy percent of us have been traumatized in one way or another. There are up to 19 different recognized areas of trauma. So if we are looking at that, and looking at how messed up our systems are, we have a lot of people inside and outside institutions who have unresolved shit and therefore, can and do perpetrate harm. Through my own lived experience, I have learned people have to heal themselves before they can heal systems.

Today, I feel I am called to work with healing people”.

So, Edwards Pierre started a company.

True2Soul is a hybrid, digital platform-style enterprise that offers safe & inclusive workshops for Black women and gender diverse folks who have experienced sexual trauma. Clients are looking to heal, be part of a discrete, supportive community, and ultimately transform their lives, relationships and career prospects.

True2Soul also creates customized treatment plans, and curates a directory of trauma-informed and allied services—all reviewed, researched and vetted by Edwards Pierre and her small team.

Their signature 12-week Chrysalis Program which launches in May, is supported by a suite of Canadian and international program delivery collaborators.

“We offer a multidisciplinary, non-judgement-based approach” says Edwards Pierre, “but what really makes our work stand out is the fact that our program is informed by lived experience few other folks have.

I have had to learn how to cope and deal with my own complex trauma, and know the flaws of the system. My personal experience and what I have witnessed in policing-both on the street and within the institution–have provided me with a deep understanding of what’s lacking and even harmful for survivors in the way of support”.

Edwards Pierre adds “I have also been supporting sexual trauma survivors for years. I’ve trained as a certified holistic health and mindfulness specialist, life coach and trauma recovery coach. I am also an ordained Minister.

While Edwards Pierre is new to entrepreneurship and venture building, she is optimistic that with the help of programs like Fifth Wave, she will figure it out.

As we end the interview, Edwards Pierre takes a slow sip of her iced tea, puts down her cup, and rolls up her sleeves to reveal matching forearm-length tattoos on both arms.

“These tattoos remind me to be true to the essence of who we are. They anchor me when I feel offside.

The bottom line. I am committed to building out True2Soul. This is who I am. I know this is where I am supposed to be. There are just not a lot of therapists out there doing this work who have also been in policing. And I know the word “police” is a powerful trigger for many people.  But I also know that what I have learned, on the inside, in the streets, is unique, authentic, real and therefore, powerful.”

Publishers Note: True2Soul 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 to 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

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Feminist Practices Our Voices

Slaying Overwork and Overwhelm

Photo of middle aged woman with turquoise, mid lenght hair wearing a hat, riding a bike on a sunny day.
Jenn Hazel, founder of Curate Concierge. Photo by Emily Doukogiannis @emilydphotography

As an entrepreneur, what’s your time worth to you? 

Now, what’s having control of your time worth? 

For most people who own their own business–especially small businesses owned by women–the answer is a lot. Studies show small business owners regularly work more than 50 hours a week, with 68 percent of those hours spent just managing daily tasks, such as emails or phone calls, and only 31 percent of that time spent actively growing their business. Moreover, in a 2021 survey, 41 percent of small business entrepreneurs reported being called away to handle a work-related matter, even when they were actively trying to take a break.

These are the kinds of problems Toronto-based Jennifer Hazel of Curate Concierge has set out to solve. 

Essentially, Curate Concierge helps entrepreneurs design and implement tightly curated, streamlined, technology-enabled work flows so that founders spend more time on their business rather than in their business. 

“My services appeal especially to growing small businesses and entrepreneurs looking to scale their systems operations to fit the budget, the needs, and the projection of their own growth,” Hazel adds. “ Our solutions are also really customized, scalable and agile– ones that can adapt.”

Similar to the way a scientist needs carefully crafted, systematically controlled research practices in order to conduct a successful experiment and gather the most accurate and useful data, small businesses too, need efficient, personally tailored operational and data gathering  systems to be successful.

Everyone knows this. But there is seemingly never enough time. And few founders go into starting a business dreaming about building a starship enterprise style operating system or healthy approach to work. They figure out the importance later on. 

This is a story Hazel knows well.

After returning from a maternity leave, Hazel says she returned to a job in which her duties were so “dramatically altered that I couldn’t really work it anymore.” With her young daughter at home and dependent on her, Hazel, who had initially been studying to be a lawyer, found she had to “make a shift very quickly,” and went into a retraining program to be a paralegal. 

Why Entrepreneurship?

“It wasn’t like I chose to be an entrepreneur at that point,” says Hazel. “Paralegal seemed like a good middle ground and timing wise, it fit. I was relying on a childcare subsidy that I absolutely had to keep – but you absolutely have to be employed or in school or…you have to be working.”

When she finished the program, however, Hazel found herself in an awkward position–she couldn’t work as a paralegal yet, because she was waiting for her licensing to come through, but was severely over qualified to be an administrative assistant. Hazel began thinking about the practice management skills she had learned during her certification as a paralegal, and that’s when the idea of running her own business “started to gel.”

Taking the Busy out of Business

Entrepreneurs–particularly women and especially women with kids– come up against “structural barriers” within contemporary work culture that not only make it harder for them to succeed, but create an emotionally and professionally damaging environment. 

Hazel soon realized she had skills which could help other entrepreneurs not only build less “busy” time sucking businesses, but better lives., Hazel’s business, Curate Concierge started as a business admin company for “twenty bucks an hour, in between (her) daughter’s naps and after she went to bed.”

“I think I posted an ad or responded to an ad (for work) or something in a Facebook group for East End Toronto mom entrepreneurs,” she says. “These were all women with businesses who, a lot of them, were on maybe their second mat leave, or were in between jobs or had recently left their place of work because (the job) didn’t work for them–the hours didn’t work for them, or the work was not aligned (with what they needed). 

Despite the freedom on being an entrepreneur, “They (the women entrepreneurs) were burning the fuck right out because, I mean, insert any one of a million reasons why the traditional job market is hostile to women working parents– and, you know, add in any other intersectionalities on top of that–and you just start to find yourself lower and lower down in the economy.” 

From these experiences, Hazel conceived Curate Concierge–although it certainly wasn’t easy, she says, noting that in the beginning she was under charging for her services and over extending herself personally–things she seeks to help her clients overcome now. 

“It cost me in the beginning way, way more to offer my services than I ever made from it,” she says. “I started learning the lesson (that I) had to value my time–that came very very quickly.”

That lesson became even more important, she says, when she and her partner split, taking her from a dual income parent to a single one–an incident that helped guide her to incorporate feminist ideology into her business, albeit “by accident.”  

“That split came, and suddenly the stakes got so much higher–I had to support myself and two little kids by myself as a solo parent…Toronto is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I found myself tied here in a co-parenting relationship.”

Although this was difficult, Hazel says the split was ultimately good, because it allowed her to see herself and her work from new, feminist-oriented perspectives. 

“The imbalance (in my work life) started, really, when my children arrived–or, really, if we go back a little bit further than that, the fact that I got knocked up before I could even start my career,” she says. “This was where my life was at the time, and these were things that were not as smack-in-the-face prominent to me at the time, when you start to realize the gender imbalance in the home and in the workplace.” 

“The only reason my new business could take off,” Hazel adds with a laugh, speaking of the unpaid  domestic and emotional labour she juggled prior to her separation,  “is the fact that I wasn’t cleaning up after after a quote unquote  ‘third child’ in addition to my other two actual children.”

Beating Toxic Productivity Culture

The idea that you have to be constantly on and constantly available as a worker–or as a business owner–is a toxic one, says Hazel, and something she works hard to recondition both systems and her clients to fight against. One client, for example–a lawyer who was used to always being “on”–was getting ready to take a vacation for a week, and asked Hazel to watch her inbox for her, even though no one was in litigation and she didn’t really need someone to be paying attention to her emails–she was just so accustomed to being available that she assumed she had to be, even though it wasn’t necessary. 

“I said, ‘Okay, does the auto responder work on your email? Then why don’t you just turn it off, save yourself the money and enjoy your week at the cottage?” she says. “It was honestly so unheard of for her, and she wrote back to me in such shock at such a simple suggestion…those are really common stories that I get with clients.”

Hazel says helping her clients see and beat these toxic patterns is incredibly rewarding for her, especially when it leads to realizations for those clients about creating better and more balanced lives –and businesses for themselves.  

“This is exactly why I went into business for myself,” Hazel says.

Publishers Note: Curate Concierge 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

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Our Voices

Helping Leaders Flourish Through Mentorship

Image of white woman in her 50's with blonde/grey curly hair leaning against a wall
Christy Pettit, founder of Pollinate. Photo by Britney Townsend Photography.

Christy Pettit thinks of bees pollinating a field of flowers when she thinks about the name of her company. 

“Pollen does not rampantly go everywhere,” she explained during a Zoom call. “There’s a strategy.”

Launched in 2008, the Guelph, Ontario based Pollinate Networks doesn’t match bees and flowers but mentors and mentees. Its technology predicts a high degree of compatibility among people, and their online education resources ensure mentees and mentors get the most out of their time together.

Mentorship Benefits Employees and Enterprise Leaders

Pettit has experienced first-hand the difference mentorship can make. “[Mentors] have really enhanced my knowledge and saved me a ton of heartache by having the expertise at a moment when I needed it,” she said. An early mentor helped her appreciate how she could make a more positive impression when working with clients and executives. 

“It wasn’t clear to me how much my tone and demeanor and approach affected the whole soup,” Pettit said.

Pettit said it makes business sense for business leaders, founders and owners to invest in mentorship tools, as external market research has found significantly higher retention rates, productivity, and job satisfaction for those in mentoring programs compared to those who were not. After all, employees today are seeking more individualized attention and learning. 

Moreover, Pettit said the pandemic has heightened interest in mentorship programs, as the interpersonal moments mentorship provides are more valuable in hybrid and virtual work arrangements.

Proprietary Software Makes the Best Matches Possible

What sets Pollinate Networks apart from its competitors is the rigor of its matching algorithms, Pettit said. Although there are around 300 large companies globally which offer mentor-mentee matching services, the information Pollinate collects from mentors and mentees with its proprietary software predicts better matches than most. 

“It’s not just throwing people together and hoping that it works,” she said. 

Pollinate works by collecting a myriad of detailed information to help mentees find their ideal mentors. Mentees start by identifying their career goals and the skills they want to develop, which might include things like strategic thinking, business awareness, or stepping outside their comfort zone. Likewise, mentors provide information including their work history and expertise. Pollinate also assesses the collaboration styles of mentors and mentees to ensure interpersonal dynamics are positive and productive, and then determines matches based on what the algorithm determines is the best fit for their needs and personality.   

While being a mentor is often unpaid work, these mentors volunteer their time because they don’t want“ all the hard-won knowledge and experience they have to go to waste,” Pettit said. 

Mentoring Can Support Diversity Goals

While the company’s strong suit lies in the power of its matching algorithms, Pollinate also offers online educational videos intended to help mentors and mentees to get the most from their mentorships. Topics include things like the role of mentors and mentees, Socratic questioning, and overcoming unconscious bias. Pettit said everyone has unconscious bias, and helping mentors discover their own biases and expand their understanding of the role of privilege, concept of intersectionality, and value of lived experience makes them better mentors. 

Mentoring programs can also help women and other underrepresented groups by expanding their networks and gaining access to more experienced or senior people who can support their career growth. 

Pettit said there is a “legitimate hunger” in organizations to achieve greater diversity in leadership roles and other positions. 

“It’s not just political correctness anymore,” she said.

Doing it Right Takes Time

While many of the company’s clients are big companies like Manulife and BlackBerry, which license its software to benefit their own employees, Pollinate also works with not-for-profits and emerging companies to match mentors and mentees within a broader community. 

Pettit and the Pollinate team. Pictured left to right: Christy Pettit, CEO Renate Wiebe, Project Coordinator João Paulo Viel Vieira, Project Coordinator Amy Strachan, Executive Assistant, Richard Bain Photography

For example, Pollinate partners with the Guelph-Wellington Business Center to match local entrepreneurs with advisors who offer support around pandemic recovery, and Project Learning Tree uses Pollinate to help pair mentors with youth looking to pursue careers in forestry. The company’s platform is also matching entrepreneurs in the food and agriculture industry with mentors to explore ways to address rising food costs and global food supply chain issues.

With more and more enterprises and organizations embracing the possibilities of mentorship, Pettit said Pollinate is “growing at a good pace right now and moving our way up, revenue-wise.”

While the company’s eventual goal is to focus solely on mentorship, Pollinate’s mentorship-pairing services currently represent between 70 to 80 percent of its income. The remaining revenue comes from things like engagement surveys, professional services, and grants, which Pollinate uses to fund ongoing improvements to its mentorship software.

Developing an computer based intelligent algorithm like the one Pollinate uses takes time and money; while the company could have easily designed a more generic mentor-matching program much more quickly, Pollinate has benefitted from taking extra time to develop its unique algorithm for maximum compatibility. Pettit maintains that the power of their well-honed matching system makes mentorship more meaningful and improves outcomes for all involved.

“I wanted to do this the right way,” Pettit said.

Publishers Note: Pollinate 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

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