By Powerbitches founder & CEO, Rachel Hills
When I first learned about the concept of feminist entrepreneurship in the fall of 2017, I felt electrified, both as a journalist and a small business owner.
My friend and colleague Lex Schroeder was co-producing an event in Toronto called the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum, a coming together of business owners, theorists, social enterprise folks, and funders of all genders to talk about how to use business to create a more equitable world.
My inner journalist was excited by the potential to deepen the public conversation about women and entrepreneurship. In the previous few years, “entrepreneur” had become a kind of proxy for “empowered woman,” through cultural phenomena like Lean In and #GirlBoss, a trend I had covered for The Daily Beast in 2014. As a long time freelancer, I understood well the sense of exhilaration and autonomy that could come from charting your own course. All the same, the notion that “woman in charge” = “feminist” ipso facto felt hollow to me.
“Feminist entrepreneurship felt like a call to do better …to incorporate our feminist principles into our businesses, nonprofits, and other projects.”
From a business perspective, I had spent most of 2017 working on an off-Broadway play based on my 2015 book The Sex Myth, with a view to creating infrastructure to spread the project as an activist and social change tool. It was a project that involved raising money, developing and pricing products, and managing (and paying) a team of 14 people… all while being heavily pregnant and later caring for a newborn baby. The idea of creating feminist products and services that could be sustained by commerce rather than philanthropy or unpaid volunteers was - and still is - deeply interesting to me.
But feminist entrepreneurship - or entrepreneurial feminism, a term coined by Canadian professor Barbara Orser - asked for something more than what I’d already been thinking about. It wasn’t just about what we were creating. It was about how we were creating it.
Feminist entrepreneurship felt like a call to do better: both in the sense of having a more substantive public conversation about what it meant to run a feminist business, and in the challenge it presented to all of us to incorporate our feminist principles into our businesses, nonprofits, and other projects.
All of this is to say that I’m thrilled to be hosting a Powerbitches roundtable on Feminist Entrepreneurship in New York alongside Lex at Luminary on May 13.
We will be bringing together a curated group of 20-30 diverse founders and other feminist leaders to learn more about what feminist business practice looks like, the different ways it’s being applied in business in New York and elsewhere, and to learn from and connect with people who share our values. All participants will be given the chance to shape the discussion, and share their ideas, questions, challenges, and success stories. This interactive discussion will be the heart of the event.
Is this event for you?
For the purposes of this event, we’re looking at the category of “entrepreneur” fairly broadly. Some of the people we’re inviting to the event have venture capital backing, others are running nonprofits or solopreneuring their own startups. Others still are feminist artists or journalists
“We will be bringing together a curated group of 20-30 diverse founders … to learn from and connect with people who share our values.”
We’re looking for a diversity in the way feminism is incorporated into participants’ businesses as well.
You don’t necessarily need to be creating a product or service that is explicitly designed to improve gender equality to qualify as a feminist entrepreneur. Instead, you might exercise your feminist principles in your business practice: from who you hire, to how you market, to the way you design your work.
Nor does feminist entrepreneurship have to be “crunchy.” The decision by Rent The Runway and The Wing - two very “shiny” (and very profitable) New York companies - to give their hourly workers medical benefits, parental leave, and stock options last year is an example of feminist entrepreneurship in action.
Want to be part of the conversation? Apply to join us here.
Ultimately, when it comes to this subject, I’m still learning. And my sense is that the experts are, too. The standard way of operating a business is so unequal, so unfeminist, that the question of how to do it better - and the best way to do it better - is very much up for debate. It requires all of our creativity. All of our innovation. And all of our collaboration and collective brain power.
If you’re interested in learning more about feminist entrepreneurship, I’ve included a short list of resources for your information below:
Feminine Capital by Barbara Orser (book)
Feminists At Work
Design anthropologist Dori Tunstall on decolonizing design
The Oxford Handbook for Diversity in Organizations
How to Start a Feminist Restaurant (zine)
The Powerbitches roundtable on feminist entrepreneurship will be hosted at Luminary NYC on Monday May 13. Click here to learn more or to apply to join us.