Feminist waves over the past two hundred years have improved the rights of women and influenced the lives of other marginalized peoples, with slow, incremental steps towards a fully inclusive and equitable future. But that work is not done. Today, we look towards the next wave of intersectional feminism that consolidates past gains and addresses today’s unique challenges in the digital age.
Fifth Wave – Canada’s first feminist business accelerator for diverse women-owned/led digital media enterprises, and the brainchild of the women-led team at CFC Media Lab. This new initiative is addressing the setbacks that women entrepreneurs continue to face in the current business landscape. This initiative will help foster growth, fair profitability and sustainability for women-owned/led businesses in the digital media sector, a key inflection point for the future that impacts us all. For the business world, the notion of a feminist accelerator is a new one.
So, what is a feminist business accelerator, and why do we need one? In our experience running a traditional technology startup accelerator over the past eight years, we’ve seen firsthand several examples of women-owned businesses who do not ‘fit’ the traditional startup model and, therefore, aren’t able to access the types of networks and support programs that tech founders often benefit from. Even if these women run profitable content production studios or service-based businesses, they find themselves ineligible, disregarded or even ‘unwelcome’ as potential candidates in male dominated, fast-growth oriented accelerators. Women interested in succeeding in business by taking a different path need an enabling structure that is tailored to their needs, which is the goal of the Fifth Wave Initiative. In so doing, we intend to employ a range of feminist business practices and theories to change the process, as well as the outcome – with a mix of honesty, intentionality, expertise and common sense.
Our approach will be to question everything, underscore authenticity and encourage deep community engagement in order to strengthen not only the ecosystem around women-entrepreneurs, but also to find ways of practicing alternative, viable business growth options that better suit the individual needs of various participating founders. Empowering participants to think about ethics, unintended consequences and the broader impact of their choices creates conditions for positive systemic change to begin taking shape in the current business landscape.
So that’s our plan, but how do we get people to understand how our approach is different? We started by building our own community of diverse women entrepreneurs, mentors, experts, trailblazers, academics and program partners and
shared our concept with them. After that, our next step was clear: build a strong, social values-aligned mentor team. Luckily, we were already in great shape thanks to our existing IDEABOOST core mentors. Because we have invested heavily in mentorship at the CFC Media Lab, we followed our instinct to conduct a community session that included both our tried-and-tested mentors as well as some inspiring new mentor prospects.
The discussion at this community session was deeply insightful, revealing both positive and negative experiences that participants shared as both mentors and mentees. Patterns began to emerge from the personal stories shared during conversations led by two members of the Fifth Wave advisory committee: entrepreneur
Petra Kassun-Mutch and author/scholar CV Harquail. Harquil, a leading advocate of feminist business practices, set the tone in her introduction to, and exploration of, feminist mentorship values. With input from around the room, participants built a set of Fifth Wave Mentorship Values, the golden rules that will guide the way to meaningful and positive mentor-mentee interactions throughout the program. Here they are:
Our golden rules for mentorship
Nurture an ‘honesty over everything’ mentality and admit when something is outside of our domain of expertise.
Follow through and deliver on every promise we make to our mentees.
Exhibit selflessness with an aptitude for managing expectations and setting clear, healthy boundaries for a quality mentor-mentee experience.
Create conditions where people are empowered to think about the ethics, systems change, unintended consequences and broader impacts of their choices.
Share the belief that we learn and grow from others – novices and experts alike. Building bridges while we experiment/iterate as a community towards shared desired outcomes.
Consider the whole humanness of each individual – life stage, home and work life, ethnicity, lived experiences, other responsibilities, etc. and strive towards a collective equanimity.
A deep commitment to mentoring with purpose, with honesty and with intentionality in a radically open and constructive way. Offering clear and kind support, while resisting the impulse to be more positive than is warranted.
Fifth Wave’s Intention
And so, we begin to lay the groundwork for a program that is designed by and for women that speaks to the particular needs of these entrepreneurs as individuals. How value gets created and how success is defined varies from business owner to business owner. Our team of social values-aligned mentors, experts, entrepreneurs, academics and thought leaders have been assembled to deliver a highly bespoke process of setting up women entrepreneurs for long-term growth and sustainability, as well as to overcome the cultural barriers frequently embedded in legacy programs designed to support all (read: male) entrepreneurs. Not easy to do – but that’s the whole point.
So many brilliant businesswomen today are already building and growing their companies in many different industries. Will they get the support they need if they don’t aspire to be a unicorn, or if they’re not on a fast path to a 10x ROI? History tells us no. “Access to programs intended to help businesses have not been designed with women in mind. Women also face social barriers because many of them don’t have the same type of connections or networks that are important for success.” (MRU 2019
article). Unquestionably, one of the key obstacles for women launching businesses in Canada is securing the venture capital funding needed to scale, according to a PayPal Canada report.
The prevailing business mindset is ‘high growth at all costs,’ but what if those costs turn out to be too high? Or a delusion driven by the self-interest of investors? What if steady, slow growth offers a better path to profitability
and a healthier society? What if scaling can be achieved with positive social impact? What if people mattered just as much as profits? This is where feminist ideals of equity and fairness get woven into sound business growth strategies. This is Fifth Wave’s purpose as an initiative designed to help strengthen and inform the larger womens’ entrepreneurial ecosystem in Canada.
I’ll be charting our course through a series of blogposts called,
Riding the Fifth Wave over the next three years. In the spirit of radical openness, I will share insights, discoveries, wins and frustrations along with the full spectrum of twists and turns we experience on this collective journey.
Hang on for the ride.
Illustrations by Tiffany Chan
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