Enterprising women: SVI Women Vancouver wrap-up

Junxion’s Hilary Mandel offers highlights and takeaways from this year’s SVI Women.

My mother was a 1960’s stay-at-home mom who, like many of her peers it seems, wasn’t terribly happy about her lot in life, even though she had the lawyer husband, the two kids, the three-bedroom two-bath suburban house, the Maytag washing machine… In other words, everything she was ever supposed to want. So why on earth was she unhappy?

I’m fairly certain that anyone who has heard of Betty Friedan can guess at the answer to that question.

A Half Century of Progress—Or Not?

For the first three days of May 2013, exactly 50 years after Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, was published, arguably setting off the “second wave” of feminism in the US, a hundred women gathered in Vancouver, BC, for Social Venture Institute Women, a conference designed for female business leaders committed to aligning their personal and organisational values.

We’ve come a long way, baby… or have we? What does the fact that we’re convening women-only business conferences in 2013 say about our society? From the outside, some might assume that these gatherings do nothing more than stoke the flames of the same struggles that our mothers and grandmothers, not to mention some of us, were fighting 40 and 50 years ago. In fairness, one does have to wonder, when North American women are still earning significantly lower wages overall than their male counterparts for the same jobs, how much progress women in business have made.

SVI Women’s organisers didn’t gloss over the work-related challenges that women tend to experience more than men. There was time built in before, during and after the formal programs for participants to consider and discuss how their own socialisation (vis-à-vis gender, culture, ethnicity, etc) has influenced their business practices.

Highlights and Takeaways

Primarily, however, SVI Women focused on providing the fundamental tools—and, just as importantly, the network—to continuously empower women, specifically those with mission-based businesses, to succeed in a traditionally male-dominated world.  Though there were many, following are just a few of the highlights and key takeaways from this year’s SVI Women—Vancouver.

Janie Hoffman’s “True Confessions.” Hoffman (right), the founder and CEO of Mamma Chia, embodies successful conscious capitalism as well as, if not better than, any other speaker I’ve seen in my ten-plus years in this field. A former meditation teacher turned superstar businesswoman, Hoffman has hit the jackpot with her flavoured, organic chia-based drinks and snacks (coming to Canada later this year).

Key takeaway: Sticking to your values pays off. Before her product had even hit the shelves, Hoffman committed to aligning her business with her values. Three years later, she’s giving the big boys a run for their money, competing with the likes of Coke and Pepsi in the natural beverage category.

Ratana and Jyoti Stephens keynote address. Having this mother-daughter team (right) share the ups and downs of starting and running family business was a real treat, especially when that company is a longstanding successful social venture like Nature’s Path. The mutual admiration these two women share is palpable, and their story inspiring, both personally and professionally.

Key takeaway: Profits are the red blood cells of business. No matter how important your social or environmental mission is, Ratana Stephens reminded her audience, you must understand the finances of your company, and your underlying priority must be profits. Other weighty sound bites from the elder Stephens included:

  • Create a business that you believe in and are passionate about.
  • Surround yourself with people you respect.
  • Don’t wallow in your mistakes.
  • Welcome advice from those you trust.
  • Do not compromise your beliefs. In the end, doing right by your team and your customers will lead you to success, even if it’s not a direct path.

The Rough Roads Panel: Learning From Failure. Terri Newell (Horizon Distributors), Nicole Bridger (Nicole Bridger), and Jane Cox (Cause & Affect) joined moderator Denise Taschereau (Fairware) (left) in a frank discussion of the upsides of dreams not always coming true, and how they’ve learned to move through challenging experiences and come out the better for it on the other side.

Key takeaway: It’s not personal… it’s business. Entrepreneurs by their nature are risk takers and are bound to lose their footing at times, but women stereotypically personalise their failures more than men. This panel reminded us that everyone makes mistakes, and the successful among us learn what they need to from those experiences and move on.

Morning session openers. The fact that I’ve been to four SVIs at Hollyhock might have something to do with my being a bit more comfortable shaking my groove thing at 9am on a weekday morning than, say, the gal who flew in from New York to go to this business conference. No matter… thanks to a full-on dance party led by Theresa “Tree” Walsh (myTREEHOUSEvision) the first morning (right), and standing sun salutations with Alex Mazerolle (Girlvana Yoga) the next, everyone got their circulation flowing and physically “came into the space.”

Key takeaway: It’s not just business… it’s personal. At the end of the day, it’s humans who make up your team and your stakeholders, and there’s nothing quite as equalising as movement. No one knew or cared about anyone’s title when we all took a breath in and exhaled together. It felt great to literally start the day on that grounded footing, as individuals and as a group.

Peer-to-Peer Circles. Toward the end of last day, participants were invited to join in one of a dozen or so small groups to seek advice and support on their own specific challenges within a particular subject area (operations, marketing, finance, etc). A subject expert facilitated each group, but it was the diversity of experience and outlooks from everyone present that made the circles most valuable.

Key takeaway: Use mentors strategically. This piece of advice came up several times in the conference (not just during the panel focused on mentorship), and the peer circles provided a way to put that into practice. If you’re seeking advice, rather than simply asking someone you admire to be your mentor, find people who you know have information you’re looking for, make sure you don’t take too much of their time, and be specific about how you’d like them to help you.

Bonus Takeaway: Read “Lean In.” The book on everyone’s lips at SVI Women wasn’t Betty Friedan’s, but Lean In, the controversial bestseller written by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg was quoted by participants and presenters so many times over the course of the two-and-a-half day conference, she should have taken a speaker’s fee.

From what I could see at SVI Women, women’s business networks are alive and well—and still relevant. There’s still a need for women to have these conversations with each other. Traditionally, men had their social clubs and their golf courses. These days, forums like these are our “club,” where we exchange information, offer support and create collegiality. And from where I’m standing, that can only be a good thing.


Photos by Hilary Mandel and Crystal Marie Sing Photography

Junxion is proud to be a sponsor of Hollyhock’s social change series, including SVI Women-Vancouver, Social Change Institute (June 5-9, 2013) and Social Venture Institute (September 18-22, 2013)

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