By Powerbitches founder & CEO, Rachel Hills
Last Monday night, Powerbitches brought together 40 NYC-based feminist business owners, nonprofit leaders, and artists to talk about how they were using their work to help bring about a more gender-equitable world.
It was our biggest event yet, and my co-facilitator Lex Schroeder of Feminists At Work and I were blown away by the power, enthusiasm, and collective intelligence in the room.
I'm still processing the conversation and where we want to take it next, but wanted to share with you six takeaways from our discussion.
1. Terms like “feminist entrepreneurship,” “entrepreneurial feminism,” and “feminist business” might be new to the NYC business scene, but there are A LOT of people doing work that falls under that banner. We identified more than 140 people in NYC creating feminist-informed businesses, products, and organizations in the field mapping we did to curate this event, and we’re sure there are many more we didn’t uncover. There is also an existing community of people in the US and internationally working on defining what a feminist business is, like the team behind the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum in Toronto, which inspired our event, and Jennifer Armbrust of Sister.is.
2. Our community - and the values that drive it - is different to the women’s leadership or women in business communities. Yes, we want women in positions of power, and we’re excited by women-led businesses. But most of all, we’re excited by people (of all genders) who are using their businesses to drive feminist social, cultural, and political change, and who are using their power as leaders to shift the way that businesses and organizations work.
3. Intersectionality matters. If you’re creating a product or service that is designed to improve the lives of “women,” are you taking into account the needs brown women? Trans women? Disabled women? Working class women? Are their voices being heard? Who holds positions of leadership in your organization? As one attendee put it, we need to make sure diversity is “the first lens we look through, rather than last.” And while most of the people in room on Monday identified as women, feminist entrepreneurs can also be nonbinary people, trans men - or cis men who are creating projects that transform gender roles and expectations for other men.
4. We are broad tent, but one that is driven by a sense of shared purpose and values. Some of our participants on Monday night ran for-profit enterprises. Others ran nonprofits. Some were solopreneurs. Others managed large teams. Some believed that feminism and capitalism were inherently incompatible. Others wanted to make bank. We came from industries as varied as tech, fashion, media, politics, events, and consulting, and tackled issues ranging from wage equality, to reproductive rights, to sexual health, to violence against women. But what united us was a desire to use our work for a social purpose, and the responsibility to fund the things we’re creating: whether through philanthropy, VC investment, crowdfunding, or something else.
5. Some of us are trying to remake capitalism, and that’s a tall order when you’re a start-up or solopreneur. We’re working to build businesses and organizations that pay employees fairly, that have diverse and equitable leadership structures, that operate with radical generosity, and that economically value women’s work - and we’re looking to do that within businesses and organizations that are often underfunded and don’t adequately value our own work. (Which is one reason Powerbitches is working on an event on focused on funding and investment for the second half of 2019.)
6. So let’s be compassionate to ourselves. In an effort to create a better world, feminists can fall into the trap of turning our ideals into a series of impossible standards that we flagellate ourselves and others for not living up to. As the feminist business movement grows in New York City and elsewhere, it’s essential that we combine our call to do better with compassion for ourselves and others - as Ngoc Loan Tran of Black Girl Dangerous puts it, calling each other in instead of out.
Want to learn more about feminist entrepreneurship and the people leading this conversation? My Monday night co-facilitator Lex Schroeder has created a fantastic resource list of books, tools, and websites to help deepen your knowledge. Click here to download it.