Putting the Spotlight on Role Models for Women Entrepreneurs

~4 minutes
Group of diverse young women surrounding an older woman demonstrating something on a laptop

Recently, I had a conversation with a collaborator about the spotlights we regularly do on women entrepreneurs in Eastern Ontario. They were challenging me about putting too much light on women business owners, without charging them for the privilege of being showcased by our organization. Wasn’t that a lost opportunity to “monetize” our activities as a social enterprise?

In an environment where it is hard to secure funding to help women entrepreneurs, it’s tempting to charge a fee, or even ask for a donation these spotlights. But that’s not what Business Sisters is about. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing shameful about monetizing. A lot of the work we do is encourage entrepreneurs to set appropriate revenue structures that value their products and services! Creating revenue streams is essential to the work we do in our organization, and we’re working on finding new ways. But charging for spotlights isn’t going to be one of them.

The real reason why we do spotlights is to promote role modeling. You see, only 18% of Canadian businesses are owned by women. In the media, the faces and descriptions of entrepreneurship are dominated by men (anyone else sick and tired of hearing about Elon Musk? 🙄). That’s why many women business owners don’t identify with what is generally portrayed as “entrepreneurship” – white, male, high-tech, urban.

By putting the spotlight on a variety of rural women entrepreneurs, I believe we normalize entrepreneurship for women in rural areas.

However slowly, things are changing! At the Prescott-Russell Community Development Corporation’s Gala of Excellence last fall, organizer Karianne Simard confirmed they had witnessed an uptick in the number of women nominees. “Exceptionally this year, at the 15th edition, many women entrepreneurs distinguished themselves through their determination, passion, perseverance and resilience, taking home no less than 10 of the 16 business categories.” See all the winners here.

From some of the research I’ve done on women entrepreneurship, I found that role models often aren’t celebrities. We may admire Oprah Winfrey, Arlene, Dickinson (Dragon’s Den), or Joanna Griffiths (Founder and CEO of Canadian underwear phenom company Knixwear). But it’s not usually those big names who inspire us on a day-to-day basis. Women tend to favor more relatable role models. People who are in the same industry, but possibly more advanced in business. A woman who owns a successful flower shop told me in our area told me her role model was another flower shop owner in Ottawa. It could be entrepreneurs in other sectors, who look, and sound like them. This is especially important for racialized women and anyone in a minority setting. And they don’t always have to be women either; lots of women look up to male role models. But the power of similarity in identity is a powerful factor.

The rural part is also important, because so much emphasis is put on urban businesses. That’s why we celebrate the rural women in our area have won recognition over urban-based businesses like;

- Danika Bourgeois and Brigitte Lavergne, Ahoy in Casselman (RGA, Small Business of the Year 2022)

- Chantale and Nathalie Deslauriers, Académie Shanthaly in Embrun (RGA Start-Up of the Year 2023)

- Amanda Haley, The Glengarry Market, in Alexandria (New Business of the Year 2022, Cornwall & Area Chamber of Commerce, 2023).  

Celebrating women when they win such prizes is vital because it normalizes owning a business and being successful!

By getting to know more women entrepreneurs, and featuring them in our social media feeds, I believe Business Sisters is performing a public service. It goes to the very hard of our social mission to help our rural communities thrive.

So, who are your role models in business? How do they inspire you? Drop us a comment below!

Doreen Ashton Wagner
Doreen Ashton Wagner
Founder | Fondatrice

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