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EPISODE 1
Envisioning a Feminist Economy with CV Harquail

CV Harquail (she/elle) researches, teaches and consults about applying feminist principles to business. She’s the author of “Feminism: A Key Idea for Business and Society” and the creator of the Feminist Business Model Canvas, which brings together Lean Startup tools and feminist values. 

Website | LinkedIn

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CV Harquail (she/elle) researches, teaches and consults about applying feminist principles to business. She’s the author of “Feminism: A Key Idea for Business and Society” and the creator of the Feminist Business Model Canvas, which brings together Lean Startup tools and feminist values. 

Website | LinkedIn

Discussed this episode:

  • CV’s relationship with the word feminist 
  • Why feminism must be “collective, inclusive, and transformational”
  • Balancing giving people space for exploration with offering wisdom
  • How business and feminism intersected on CV’s professional journey
  • The fundamental differences between feminism and capitalism
  • Why “beating them at their own game” won’t work
  • What’s different when a business is feminist (what they do and don’t do)
  • Why “feminist approaches to business are profoundly creative”
  • Big and small ways to put feminist values into action as a business owner
  • Entrepreneurship can change “business as usual”
  • Extractive profit vs. generative profit (ie, why not all profit is bad)
  • It’s never too late to make your business more feminist
  • The system is designed to make it hard to connect with other feminists
  • CV’s theory of change (or how CV puts feminism into practice in her own business)

Resources mentioned:

FULL GUEST READING LIST FOR SEASON 1

Learn more about accountability coaching with host Becky Mollenkamp at https://beckymollenkamp.com

Becky Mollenkamp:

All right, so tell me first about your relationship with the word feminist because I think everyone has their own relationship and understanding of what feminist means.

CV Harquail:

Well, I wore my special feminist t-shirt just for you today because I am one of those people who embraces the term feminist. I celebrate the term feminist. I defend the term feminist. I advocate the term all the time to the point where, don’t laugh, my license plate on my car says feminist. Now, that was a gift from my husband. It was a surprise. But still I drive around, having to drive appropriately, because I have the word feminist on my car. 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I love that. And what does it mean to you? Like, how would you define feminism for yourself or the way you sort of look at feminism?

CV Harquail:

Yeah, because I am a scholar and a writer and a long time feminist, I think I have a pretty complicated description or definition of what feminism is. And when I explain it to people, I always start with this hook from Bell Hooks, who describes feminism as a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. And then I expand it by talking about it as a movement for all people because I think a lot of people assume feminism is just for women or certain women. And then I also talk about it as a movement that addresses all forms of oppression and therefore embraces all different kinds of advocacy. Because if you understand, first of all, that none of us is free until everyone is free, we have to work on all different kinds of or all…but also, there’s a lot of feminist influence in a lot of other initiatives. And so if I just think about feminism as being about gender-based or sex-based issues, that’s just not enough. It’s too reductive.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I like that your definition or view of it seems complicated or sounds like it might be complicated. I think if your definition isn’t complicated, then I don’t know if it is comprehensive enough.

CV Harquail:

Yeah, I think about that a lot because one of the things I argue for all feminist businesses and feminist business people is that they put their definition of feminism kind of out there for people so that we can understand where they’re coming from and so that we know what to expect of them. And so I always have in each of my workshops a description of what I call collective, inclusive, that’s the conversation that I’m pulling from. There are some conversations that aren’t collective, I don’t usually pull from them. There are some that aren’t inclusive, I’m like, that’s not even feminist. And there’s some that aren’t transformational. And I usually look at those as being kind of like baby feminism, because a lot of people think about feminism as just like getting women in there, which is like, you know, not a bad thing to do, but absolutely not enough, often a distraction, definitely a compromise. And compromise is never the goal. The compromise is only like a step towards it. So I find that I’m constantly as part of my advocacy, helping people understand feminism as I see it. And I think that that’s also useful because one of the things I’ve started asking people, and this was actually, I was thinking about this after our earlier conversation. I’m going to start asking people where they learned about feminism and what they know about feminism because a lot of times I think they haven’t learned much and don’t know much. Or they’ve learned it from places that they don’t give much credence to because for whatever reason they’re not like they think well I didn’t take a women’s studies class so what do I know except if they talked with their mom or their friends for a long time they might have learned something so I ask that question a lot now too, not only what is feminism to you, but where did that definition come from?

Becky Mollenkamp:

Yeah, I love that. Because, well, I shared with you that on my website, I just have been starting to share where I’ve been learning about all sorts of things, right? About all the aspects of intersectional feminism, all the intersections of those things. And I think it’s helpful to know where people are getting their education, who they’re learning from, because I think that starts to paint, I feel like it starts to paint a bit of a picture of what a person’s feminism is. But also, I shared with you, that I, while I’ve done a lot of work, I feel like I’ve done a lot of learning and unlearning. I still sort of feel, I don’t know that I would say I feel like a baby feminist, but maybe like a teenage feminist, although I am certainly not a teenager by years. Even though I did take, you know, gender studies in college, but it was at a much different time, you know, the 90s to date myself that I think would look very different than what it would look like today. But, you know, I still don’t feel like I’m a feminist scholar by any means or expert at all. I want to also just like welcome in. I like that you said, maybe it’s not transformational, but it’s that starting point and we all have to start somewhere. And so I think it’s important to let sort of everyone under the umbrella, if as long as you’re committed to the same sort of ideals. And so before we get into it, cause I really want to talk to you mostly about business stuff, cause you’re the expert on that, but how do you approach that when you’re working with people where they’re on that different place in that journey? And there are those folks who are early in the journey. There are those baby feminists just maybe are committed to the idea of I want a more equitable world, but haven’t done as much of like the learning. When they come, I’m sure you have some of those folks that show up in your trainings and things. So how do you work when you’re when you’re working across that spectrum of learning?

CV Harquail:

Well, I will say that most of the people that connect with me or that want to learn with me or that I want to learn with already believe in feminism. So they already have some kind of connection to or they’re already on their personal journey. So there’s that group. And then there’s this other group that often end up in my talks. And there are people that are kind of apprehensive. I call them the “I’m not a feminist but…” and it’s like the people who don’t want to embrace the word feminism or who are holding on to what I would argue are outdated or very narrow understandings of what feminism is. And the way that I try to approach both of those groups is first of all by being really forthcoming about where I’m coming from. And that does two things. One of the things that it does is it gives people like this whole foundation So it may be that they’re Lean In feminists and the transformational part is like an aha to them. Or maybe they are feminists who only think about sex and gender and the idea of multiple axes of oppression as an aha to them. Or they’re women that are really thinking just about themselves and they don’t understand feminism as a collective struggle. That’s an aha. So sometimes I feel like sharing more information gives people like a purchase, like a finger hold as they’re kind of climbing up So there’s that. And then the other thing that I do in telling people what my feminism is, is to the degree that I can, dispel their presumptions or their stereotype about what a woman like me, a woman who looks like me, is supposed to think about feminism. I find that I have to do a lot of disarming because I’m a white, cis, hetero woman, and I drive a Volvo with, you know, a PhD. People like to put me, you know, I read as a person who fits many categories of privilege. So it’s easy for people to assume that I don’t know or that I don’t think about my own position in the world. So I try to offer that as enough information that people are like, oh, so she doesn’t think that way, maybe then she thinks this way. So there’s that part. And then the other thing that I do is I try to have at the ready, some succinct and fairly comprehensive explanations about different elements of feminism so that when people ask questions, I have something to offer them. I don’t always have like an answer to somebody’s question, but I always have another question that they could be asking that moves them further down the pike. And I really, I think I try to wait for people to ask questions themselves. rather than come to them and say, mm, yeah, you’re wrong about that. Like, didn’t you know that, you know, I usually wait for the you’re wrong about that or didn’t you know till I’m totally exasperated.

Becky Mollenkamp:

On the asking questions, I can vouch for that because in our last conversation, I kind of get to know each other a little better conversation before this one. You turned it around on me a lot, which was great. You were asking me a lot of questions. And I love when people are asking me questions about these issues to help me think about something in a different way, or just even if it’s just sort of, I don’t have the answer either, I’m just curious. Like, let’s ponder this thing together. I love that. And I love what you just said about the not coming at people with the didn’t you know, experienced that, you know, and I think, you know, as white women acknowledging that that’s where we’re coming from, that sometimes there is that feeling of like, I didn’t. And then I think that when somebody comes at you with that, didn’t you know, or anything that feels a bit shamey, you immediately seize up and then you don’t want to participate anymore. And I, well, I fully understand it. Like I can understand how exasperating it has to be for people, especially who are not, don’t have the privilege that I have as a white person to, to have to position or feel like they’re in this position of educating and re-educating and at some point saying like, how do you not already know this? So I fully honor that. And I do know how it can feel where it can shut down conversation and not invite in more exploration. So it’s nice that you aren’t doing that.

CV Harquail:

There’s also actually like there’s a feminist pedagogical reason or a feminist pedagogical approach to that conversation with a person about their feminism. And understanding and wisdom are things we earn. They’re not things we’re told. They’re not things we imbibe. So people have to grapple with and grok their own questions in order to get at a deep understanding of something and that requires a different process that requires something more connected, something more relational, something more it inquiry-focused, and so telling people is really not part of that strategy. And I struggle with this a lot because as a retired professor, I’ve been taught not only to be an expert but also to, you know, have a lot of knowledge that I’m supposed to like lay out for people. And so there’s a very delicate place when you are an expert in anything and also a feminist because you need to give people space to deal with their own questions and move forward with their own questions, but also at the same time not give up on your own wisdom or your own hard-earned information or knowledge or data or whatever it might It’s very easy for people when they challenge authority to dismiss all kinds of authority and not realize that there are some kinds of authority that are totally legitimate. And having a certain expertise or a certain skill is a legitimate foundation for having authority in certain situations.

Becky Mollenkamp:

You have a PhD in business, is that right?

CV Harquail:

I do, my PhD is in leadership and organizational change. So I got my PhD in a business school, in the business school at the University of Michigan. 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And it’s not a feminist business school, I am sure.

CV Harquail:

None of them are. 

Becky Mollenkamp:

So how do those things like intersect for you? Business and feminism and how did you, I don’t know where the PhD fell on your own journey with feminism and all of that, so like, I would just like to know a little more about that part of how you wove those together or how they came together for you.

CV Harquail:

When I think about my story, sometimes I laugh because I veered off the plan, but also the plan like held up. So roll back to when I’m in college in the very early 80s, I’m at a women’s college and I’m very involved in the peace and social change movement. And I’m also involved in the radio station. And the radio station is a classic fuck up where nobody does the jobs that needs to be done because they want to do the fun parts, and I end up being the Chief Operating Officer of the business school, I mean of the radio station, while I’m taking a class on peace and social change. I have this idea of why don’t I use these principles about peace and social change and collective movement together to try to reorganize the radio station. That was really interesting, but that combination of things kind of drove my idea that the organizations that we create, whether they are committees to get something done, whether they’re businesses or whether they’re schools, they all can be done in ways that reflect our values and our politics, and they don’t have to be done in ways that just reinforce or reproduce the status quo. And so my general idea when I was in college was that I was going to graduate from college and I was going to go work in sales and marketing figure out how to convince people of my ideas. Like I literally wanted to learn how to sell people on my ideas. And then I was going to go to business school to get an MBA so that I had the business credentials, and then I was going to start a feminist business and change the world. Like that was my fucking plan in 1983. So it was pretty wild. And I started off on my plan and in a nutshell, I went into sales and marketing and I got hooked into a movement within Procter & Gamble that was called the High Commitment Work Systems Movement. And it was a way to change the operation of organizations to build commitment and build teamwork and share responsibility. It was like a very feminist kind of thing but hidden inside a business structure. So I went off to work in a soap manufacturing plant. I worked in a soap manufacturing plant for three years as a line manager in the Ivory soap packing department and also as an organization development manager at the same time. And I tried to make change in the soap plant. And about two years into it, I thought, oh my, what the fuck? First of all, they’re not paying me enough for this. Second of all, this is going to take forever. I think I will go off to graduate school and get a PhD in this stuff and then people will pay me a lot of money and they’ll take me seriously. Because at the time I was 26 or 27. Then I went off to business school at the University of Michigan, and yeah that was where that was where I started to try to weave things together conceptually or theoretically because I went to the business school explicitly saying I want to research how to make organizations more just. I want to research how to make organizations less oppressive. I want to research and understand race, class and gender in business. And you know, they thought that was fun, you know, patted me on the head, but you know, whatever. And at the same time, I also took some classes and started working on a master’s certificate. There wasn’t even a master’s degree in women’s studies at the time. And so while I was in business school, I was one foot in the business school and one foot in women’s studies. So in women’s studies, I was teaching about race, class and gender. And in the business school, I was trying to understand how organizations could grapple with those issues and change, but also do that in a way where they kept working as organizations. Because I’m a real believer in the idea that we get change, change happens by working together. And so when we focus on doing something, that makes us put our principles into practice and figure things out. Mary Parker Follett, who is a very early management thinker and one of the people who I go back to when I think about feminist perspectives on organizations, she was very well known for talking about the context of the work and she would say let the work drive what happens next. And that idea has always been very powerful to me because we have to get work done anyway and if we change how we get the work done then we change the world that we’re in. And that seems like a whole lot more powerful to me than talking about like, how are we going to get change? Well, we get changed through the things that we are already doing together. 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Let’s talk about capitalism because you do come from both of these sort of worlds. And I know often my experience has been in the feminist circles, a lot of talk about anti-capitalism, right? And just some of the inherent dangers and problems with capitalism as it relates to the idea of more equity and things being more just in the world. So how do you walk that line? Do you think there is a way for capitalism and feminism to ethically coexist? Or do you, although you have a business degree, are you really thinking less about capitalism, more about like how feminism and business work together outside of capitalism?

CV Harquail:

Let me just say that first of all, if you get down to the roots of what capitalism is and is about and what capitalism prioritizes, and you compare that to the roots of what feminism is and isn’t about and what feminism prioritizes, they’re fundamentally opposed and they can’t be reconciled. There’s no such thing as feminist capitalism. There just isn’t. That doesn’t mean that feminists don’t exist and aren’t powerful within the capitalist structure, but it does mean that fundamentally there’s never going to be a resolution. There’s always going to be tension, resistance, and an opportunity for one to get the other to change. And so that’s what we’re always working with. How do we get feminism to get capitalism to change? So there’s that part. Capitalism is of those words, one of those concepts that has the same issues that feminism does, which is that a lot of people think they know what capitalism is, and they aren’t very well versed in different critiques of capitalism. And depending on the critique of capitalism that you have, your feminism will fit differently on it. But a lot of people just know that there’s something about the way that our economy works and the way that our economy drives our social structure and our interpersonal relationships, we just know that it’s wrong. Like we get that it’s wrong, we get that capitalism is wrong. Just the same way that we understand that feminism is liberatory. Do we know all the pieces of that? Not necessarily. Do we get the gist of the argument? Absolutely. So when I think about capitalism and feminist anti-capitalism, I think like when I try to figure out how do people do business in a feminist way inside a capitalist system? I focus on two things. One is an understanding of what capitalism is at its worst. And at its worst, capitalism is exploitative and it is extractive. It’s designed to take advantage of us and to take value from us to the benefit of some other people who aren’t us usually. And that’s how it works. And there is no denying that that’s how capitalism works because it’s designed that way. So anything that we do as business people that counters the exploitation element or that counters the extraction element is an improvement. It is feminist. It is a better way of doing things. I also think a lot about the difference between capitalism and commerce. There’s always been commerce. There’s always been markets. There’s always been people making things and exchanging things so that we distribute the resources around that we need. And so I think that when we focus on how do we make things, how do we bring things to others, and how do we exchange with others in ways that aren’t exploitative and aren’t extractive, any time we make a difference in those things we’re winning. So can there be feminist businesses? Absolutely. Can there be a feminist approach to commerce? Absolutely. Does feminism fit in capitalism? Not really, but we can operate under the radar a lot. And we can avoid, you know, you can’t step outside of capitalism because that’s like stepping outside of an environment with oxygen and hydrogen. I mean, we can’t do that, but we can live differently in it and we can resist it and we can propose different ways of working in it. 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Often I see people who are trying to win… They see their idea of liberation as being, I’ll just win at the system as it’s set up. So if instead of it all being white men that are benefiting, it’s other folks that are benefiting, then that is liberation. And I have always felt a little uncomfortable when I’m in spaces where that feels sort of like the idea that’s being touted is like, let’s beat them at their game. When I really feel like what’s exciting to me is how do we change the game, how we rewrite that. And there’s always an and, right? It’s not an either or, but an and, and we’re not getting rid of capitalism tomorrow. We live in the systems we live in, the same way that sadly, you know, patriarchy isn’t going to go away tomorrow. Racism doesn’t go away tomorrow. All these things, this exists. And how do we make change within that instead of saying, well, I’m just going to try to beat them at the same game. I’m just curious what, like if, what that brings up for you, this idea of not beating them at their game, but changing the game.

 CV Harquail:

I’ve never been able to come up with a really good analogy for this to explain how it works to me or explain how I see it to other people. But I feel like beating them at their own game kind of takes us kind of up a little and then off into a cul-de-sac where we just kind of get wrapped up around the game as it’s designed. And it is important for women and females and all people of color and anyone who’s been marginalized, it’s important for all of us to have good jobs and to make living and life-sustaining wages and to have products and services that, I mean, we need to make changes in the current system so that we all can survive. And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have like, well, there are reasons why, but basically the idea of there being more equity within the sick system is like not bad, but it only takes you so far and it often takes you off course. One of the things that I worry happens when people talk about things like, you know, we all should be millionaires because the idea is we’re all gonna be millionaires and then we’re gonna be these beneficent philanthropic capitalists and we’re gonna help create wealth for other people, you know, we’re create jobs for other people. You know, not so bad, except that those jobs that you’re still creating for other people can be exploitative and your whole business model can still be extractive. And it’s really hard, I think, not only for people to make changes in that system when they’re at the top of it, but also people forget that they were once radical change enthusiasts and then they make their million or their second million or their third million and then they’re like, what? And I have this I’ve had this ongoing argument with a friend of mine who says she wants she wants all women to make a shit ton of money and then go and use that shit ton of money like to do important and good things. And there’s no reason why women, more women and other people, shouldn’t have money and power. But the real issue is that money shouldn’t be the source of our power. Money shouldn’t be the defining thing that makes us influential or makes us important or makes us safe. And we have to challenge that logic at the same time as we’re trying to build businesses that generate life-sustaining jobs and right livelihoods for people.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I mean, that just feels good when you say money shouldn’t be the source of our power. That feels like it was like wash, let that wash over you. It washes over me in like a way that feels right. Because I see that too. Who am I to begrudge anyone, especially anyone with a marginalized identity from wanting to have more wealth win for generations that’s been denied, right? Like I get it. I so get it. And yet I have seen where that money corrupts. The greed begins to consume. Like you start out saying, no, no, no. And it’s because I want to redistribute that wealth and I want to lift others up and all of this, and then yet you start to see in practice as the wealth starts to happen, it’s all of a sudden, let me build this McMansion and let me, I’m amassing stuff. And then I’m paying people in the Philippines $5 an hour because hey, it’s a lot of money for them. And suddenly you’re like, ooh, that doesn’t feel right. And yet you know this person’s heart was about, ‘I want to make this money because I can make a difference in the world,’ and yet the money begins to corrupt. But then what does it look like? What does it look like to do it differently? What is your vision? I know that you have the Feminist Business Model Canvas, and it’s about foundationally setting your business up in a more feminist way. I’m curious though, what is the aim? Like, what do you see a feminist economy or feminist businesses what’s different than that approach we’re talking about?

CV Harquail:

People can make good livings running feminist businesses. You probably wouldn’t become a millionaire for a whole lot of reasons, but you ought to be able to sustain yourself and your family with the wages and the profit that you generate in a feminist business. So that’s like my first main thesis. And some people would say that that’s not possible, but I do think that it is possible. But when I think about feminist businesses, I think of them as in some ways being designed not to do things. So being designed not to be exploitative, not to be extractive, not to reinforce oppressive power relationships to keep the status quo in place. So they don’t do those things. On the flip side, what they do are they are centered around a set of feminist values and principles about how people and the Earth ought to be treated, how people want to experience the world, about what kinds of needs and desires we should be prioritizing and meeting with our products. So a whole, like every part of a business or a revenue model is different when you think of it from a feminist perspective. So, in the Feminist Business Model Canvas, that’s a tool that’s designed to help people figure out the different components of a revenue-generating engine, which every business is a revenue-generating engine. It’s supposed to generate money so that we can pay people for the work we do, so that we can support the business so we can make stuff that people need, and what that’s the kind of the whole point about it. So when we go through the Feminist Business Model Canvas there’s a process for going through it and the process is feminist but the actual things that you do are ask yourself at each point in the design of your business, how do your feminist values inform how you make this decision? So you think first about your collective gifts, you and the people that you’re working with, what do you to offer what matters to you. And then you figure out, this is going to sound boring, but you basically figure out who the people are you want to serve and what the connection is between the gifts you have and how you want to serve others. That connection, the frisson between those two things, is what helps you generate your distinctive business idea or your distinctive offering. And so the interaction between your gifts, the needs that you’re able to understand and the product that you create is how you actually make change in the world. So in a Feminist Business Model, you not only think about the customers, yourselves and the product, but you also think about things like how you’re going to interact with your customers and suppliers because those relationships should also be mutually reinforcing and not extractive and not exploitative. Then you also think about the ways in which your product is going to have an impact not only on the people who buy it, but on the world around it. So how do you have a product that does more than just the job? How do you have a product that has meaning, that has beauty, um, that’s inspiring and how do you use the elements of that product to, you know, make a difference in the world? And then the other things that the Feminist Business Model Canvas asks people to do that are pretty critical are thinking about their cost structure and every business thinks about its cost structure because you have to know how much it’s going to cost you to do the stuff you want to do so that you can figure out how you’re going to generate revenue, right? But in the Feminist Business Model Canvas we think about a lot of different costs that other business model tools have you ignore. So one of them is the cost of environmental externalities, but the really important one is the cost to you and your teammates and your stakeholders of doing this work. And so often there’s an emotional cost, there’s a relationship cost, you might feel ostracized for the work. One of the things we’ve seen in feminist businesses in history is this extreme burnout from all of the extra work that it takes to do this. So you have to know what those costs are. But then on the flip side, you also have to know what the revenues are, what’s the stuff that you’re generating that’s coming into your business to offset those costs. So in the Feminist Business Model Canvas, you think not only about the different kinds of ways that you can sell the stuff you’re making, but also different ways that you can keep track of and bring in some of the other positive things that you’re doing with your business so that you personally can benefit from them. The other thing that the Feminist Business Model Canvas does that’s always been kind of encouraging to me when I hear about it is that people tell me that it’s the first tool that they’ve used that’s helped them feel seen and validated and that has told that the way that they’re approaching their business, the way that they’re approaching their customers, the way that they’re thinking about their products, the stuff that they’re keeping track of is important. And not that it’s correct, but it’s very validating to have someone say, hey, you know what? That actually matters. That focus on mutuality matters. And so that’s really kind of exciting. In some ways, I imagined the tool would be a way to bring entrepreneurship to feminists. To help feminists do a better job of establishing their businesses. I hadn’t realized how affirming it would be to people who are already making businesses, to people who are already struggling with how do I do it differently? I know that way isn’t right for me. How do I do it differently? And just that they could like see that it made sense and that they weren’t nuts. Because there’s a whole lot of business conversations, especially in entrepreneurship, that does two things. It either is silent about your values, which kind of makes you quietly wonder if you’re crazy, or it tells you you’re fucking wrong. Which, you know, you’re wrong to want to pay people in your business a living wage? You’re wrong to not want to outsource to the Philippines? You’re wrong to worry about product quality? You’re wrong to stop, to not focus on 10x growth and to just grow in a more organic way? No, you’re not wrong. But conventional business models, conventional entrepreneurship, the conventional MBA will all tell you that that’s irrelevant, it’s a distraction, they’ll pat you on the head about it, or they’ll be so silent that you wonder like, what’s wrong that nobody else?

Becky Mollenkamp:

Or what I see a lot in the ‘girl boss’ kind of space, which is not, I think, what we’re talking about here when we think about it, like feminism, right? But this sort of girl empowerment space that there’s is so prevalent now is I see a lot of lip service to values. Lots of people talking about how they are values-driven or they work with heart-led entrepreneurs and these things, but there’s no actual walk behind the talk.

CV Harquail:

There is walk behind the talk. It’s just that when you ask them what their values are, they’re not feminist values. Like, you can be values led if your value is to generate wealth for yourself and others without thinking about the way that that, where that wealth is coming from.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I see people though also that are heart-centered and these kinds of things that I think they would think, or that would least communicate, that I have more progressive and people-first kind of values, but in the actual practice of what they’re doing, either in the way they deliver their services or the way they’re running their business, it maybe it’s really not all that values-driven. The values are more of this thing that I post so that I sound good and I look like I care, but do I really? And what I loved, what I hear you saying, you said something about often feminist or a lot of business things are about what you aren’t or a lot of feminist things are like what I’m not right. I’m not this, I’m not that, and that you’re all of what I’m hearing from this approach is about it being expansive about what is, what’s possible, what you want. And that’s been a thing we talked about this last time we talked to you and I can’t remember exactly the words you use but it really put a label on what I’ve been experiencing and being called in about by younger feminists, which is always great and I love that, I do realize that a lot of my approach to things has been, and I’ve come to realize I think it’s about safety and about past hurts, right? So I can feel myself brace, and then sort of be like, well, I don’t want this, and I don’t want that, and it doesn’t look like this. And having this encouragement to say, but what do you want? What’s possible? Like, let’s expand on the vision. And that’s what I’m hearing from that. And that does feel different. And I can also see whether it’d be so validating for people that are really wanting to do something differently and have the mold of what they’ve been told is like ‘allowed’ or ‘good’ or ‘responsible’ or ‘smart’ in business. And to finally hear like, you mean it’s okay for me to say that I can also consider the emotional costs of my work? That’s never been something that would be recognized. It just feels very expansive. Is that sort of what you think is a bit of the difference between these two, like the traditional model in this?

 CV Harquail:

Well, yes, absolutely. I think that feminist approaches to business are profoundly creative because we don’t have the technology, but we do have the values, we do have the vision, we do have the internal understanding and the collective understanding of what we might like, and then when we work with each other to actually get stuff done in the business, we take those values and the things that have to happen, and this is the beauty of focusing on work and focusing on business, and you have to find ways to make those kind of abstract values real in the work that you do. And so it can be things like, ‘we value the whole humanness of the people in our company,’ so when somebody has a personal tragedy, we create space for them and we respond to them in a way that in a conventional business we might just ignore them. Or when we want to focus on our products encouraging agency, which is something beyond control, it’s like the ability to not be oppressed, it’s the ability to create your own experience. We think about how can this product be used in a way that expresses who a person is, not just like does the job? And all of those are, like I think that that is really exciting. We don’t know what, like we have ideas about what a feminist economy would be like. We have ideas about what a feminist business might be like, but it’s still like this big vision and there’s a huge road between that big vision and the stuff we can do now. But if you’re creative, and generative, if you’re looking for new ways of combining things. You figure out different steps and you get closer every time.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I love all of that and one of the things that I begin have been thinking more and more about, like I’m right now a solopreneur. I have aspirations to grow my business beyond needing only my help, but needing additional help, and some of the things that have gotten me excited in ways I never had, and I think it’s because of what you’re talking about. Like when I’ve explored business in the past, I think I was doing it so through this lens of capitalism because again, these are the waters we swim in. I was a fish in the water and that’s all I knew, right? But as I’ve allowed my vision to expand and opening and learning so much, I finally started to say, I have a reason to want to grow my business. And the ways that I think in the past, I just couldn’t get excited about ‘building an empire,’ right? And hitting 7 and 8 figures, like that as a goal in and of itself was not motivating. But when I’ve begun to explore, what can I do with my business that would be different? What would it look like to run a business that feels more exciting and, and, you know, giving, I started thinking about I want to bring on coaches under me or that work with me. I even want to try and work on dismantling my thoughts around hierarchy and business, but other coaches to work with me. And I want to be able to pay them to rest for the reasons that you talked about. Coaching is draining. It’s really emotionally draining. It’s rewarding, but it’s also there is a cost beyond my hourly rate. It is draining to hold space and to listen and ask really thoughtful questions and be a mirror for someone. That’s, that can be draining. I want to be able to pay coaches to rest, to have that, that downtime ‘count’ as their productive time, right? Because it is. I also really want to explore profit-sharing models that are more generous than here’s like $500 a thing of the year. What does it look like to really think about that wealth not just being my wealth, but truly redistributing it in a way that makes an impact on one person, not just in wealth redistribution through charitable giving, but if I could bring on coaches for whom me sharing profits makes a difference. So those are the things that for me feel really exciting. And I’m curious, one, if those feel like feminist sort of things in practice, and maybe just other things that you’ve seen, because you mentioned a couple, but other things you’ve seen that have anyone doing that feel like, even if we can’t quite pin down yet what a feminist economy is but what are the things that it looks like in action. Because it’s one thing to talk about putting these ideas down in a business plan or a business model. And I think that’s a beautiful, helpful place to start. But then what does it look like to really walk the talk?

CV Harquail:

Let me step back to that example that you gave about how you would like to be able to pay the coaches who work with you, you’d like to be able to pay them to have some rest time and to have some downtime. And I think that the inclination, the impulse underneath that, which is you want people to feel compensated for the work that they’re doing, and you want people to have the space to relax and refresh and just enjoy life, both of those impulses make a lot of sense to me. There is, however, in that idea, the same idea as every other social enterprise, which is we’re gonna make money and then we’re gonna pay money to account for the harm we’ve done. And so not that we don’t want to get paid for the work that we do, but it might also be helpful to think about how do you structure your work so that the coaches don’t get so burnt out? How do you structure your meetings with coaches and with each other so that people don’t get so burnt out? How do you change the coaching process so that it’s not as extractive to a coach and so that there’s a different exchange between the coach and the client so that it’s not so draining? So those things in addition to this understanding that you want to pay people well enough that they can have you know that they don’t have to work 60 hours a week that they can have you know work 35 hours a week and still you know fund their livelihood needs. It’s both of those things. So that would be one place where I’d say oh your direction is great and now think more expansively because you can, you know, I don’t want to say skin the cat, that’s such a bad, there are many paths to one goal, right? There are many things that you can do to get that overall goal of having coaches who feel sustained by their work, not drained by their work, happy to be doing their work, and powerful in their work. So, and that can happen through a lot of other things in addition to generating enough revenue. One of the things that’s great about, there are two things that I think are always more than one there are two things that are really great about being an entrepreneur and for me working with entrepreneurs. One of them is that entrepreneurs get to start a new thing. I tried for many years to work on feminism at work, women being feminists in their workplace and trying to make a difference through the way they behaved at work and it was just crushing. And I started to think that maybe that really wasn’t a fruitful way to get momentum and that instead working with entrepreneurs is because as entrepreneurs we’re building businesses to do new things anyway, right? You’re building it to do some kind of product or some kind of service anyway, so why not also build it to be transformational? You’re doing the work anyway so you might as well go all in and be innovative in every dimension. So that’s one reason why I love entrepreneurs. The other thing is that not everybody has the energy or the skill to build a business. Not everybody has the energy or skill to bring other people together and to help work with them to set up a system that works well for everybody. And that’s what entrepreneurs do. They build enterprises. And so you as an entrepreneur are bringing a different and important skill set to that question of, how do coaches get together and create a center of coaching energy that’s really fruitful for their clients and for them? So I think that, I heard you catch yourself when you talked about having people work under you, right? I get that. We don’t want to have power over those people, but we do wanna understand that not everybody wants to build the business or run the business but they do want to be in the business and be in a business that’s different. So it’s okay if you have activities and roles and a position and maybe even get paid a little bit more to do a certain set of things than what other people do, right? We can have different activities, we can have different payment structures, we can have different kinds of authority in one area or another. The question is always, are we doing it in a way that’s not exploitative? Are we doing it in a way that’s not extractive? Are we challenging the power dynamics all the time? And are we clear about who’s getting what from this and are we all okay with it? And having those conversations as we build relationships, whether they’re people who come work for us and then we pay them, or they’re people we connect with on a contract basis or that we buy and sell to, whoever we are working with we can have these same conversations about those relationships. The more we have those conversations, the more anti-oppressive and the more feminist our business can be. And even simple little tweaks can make a profound difference in the day-to-day experience of doing that work.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Yeah, I think one of the things I’ve noticed as I have more conversations with feminists who are running businesses and trying to figure all of these things out is that sometimes you can start to go really far down the other extreme of things of where you start to think, you start to feel badly for making money, right? Or for any you start to go too far down that road. And so I appreciate you saying you can still make money and good money and you can still tend to your needs and all of that. It doesn’t have to be just about, because when you talk about extraction, I think sometimes it becomes extracting from yourself, right, that now you’re becoming exploitative of yourself.

CV Harquail:

Absolutely. The whole dynamic about the self-exploitation of entrepreneurs in general, but many entrepreneurs just think they’re going to get paid out at the end. But feminist entrepreneurs in particular, like there are a whole lot of reasons why feminist entrepreneurs and social justice oriented entrepreneurs usually take a bite out of themselves before they take a bite out of somebody else. But that also makes me think about something that I wanted to mention that’s really important from a business perspective. It is possible to have a feminist business that generates some good cash, that makes some good money. And it’s possible, like when people think about capitalism, they usually think profit bad, purpose good. There is such a thing as profit that is good, or profit that’s not exploitative. I like to make a distinction between extractive profit and generative profit. An extractive profit is the money that you make because you’re taking a little bit from them and a little bit from them, and you’re overcharging here and underpaying there, and you’re pulling it all together, and voila, you’ve got profit. You can also make profit from not only managing your business effectively, but also creating something that’s so good that people want it and will pay for it, and you’re not asking them to pay through the nose for what you have. And one of the things that kind of the best way to think about generative profit is to think about the money that people can make through creative products. So the money that you can make by writing a great book or the money that you can make by writing a beautiful song that people love so much that they’ll pay for it. And that stuff doesn’t have to take, you don’t have to take money, take value out of people when you sell those sorts of products. Whereas when you sell other kinds of products, it’s a little harder to. I don’t know how to explain it, but all this to say, there are ways that we can make stuff that do not harm, that do not extract, that do not exploit, and that instead liberate, inspire, delight, soothe, all these sorts of things, and people will pay for that. Many people can pay for that. And it’s okay to generate revenue from that to sustain your enterprise and the people that you work with. Because that’s the kind of commerce, that’s the kind of production process, that’s the kind of product, that’s the kind of customer service, that’s the kind of work organization that we think of when we think of enterprises that are doing things in a just way, but also like a fun and creative way.

Becky Mollenkamp:

You talked about existing businesses too, because I’m thinking sometimes when you think of these business models or canvases, you’re thinking structurally, foundationally about a business from the ground up. If you’re not starting at ground level, is it too late to switch? So if you’re somebody who’s like, I haven’t begun to explore those things but I’m already running a business that’s, you know, been around for years or already has a team or already is generating quite a bit of revenue. Can you still revisit this and can you begin to change and shift into this kind of a model?

 CV Harquail:

Yes, I think you absolutely can for two reasons. One is that you’ve probably already been kind of going there or wanting to go there because it’s not like you woke up yesterday and decided you wanted to fight oppression. You’ve been harboring these desires and this interest for a long time. And you just probably, you know, it hasn’t found its way out. It hasn’t been invited into your way of doing business. So yes. And then the other thing too is absolutely you can, organizations grow, companies grow, and we usually think of companies as growing in terms of their revenue or the number of customers they have or the number of people they employ. Yes, those are models of growth, but there are other models of growth that have to do with being savvier, being wiser, being more intentional, letting go of shit that doesn’t matter. So there are ways that we grow that have nothing to do with those numbers, your business is doing that. So why not look at that growth more deliberately with more of an invitation to focus it on, to bring your values into it and explore your values in it. And the only caveat that I have about that is if you’re working with more than one person, which you are, is we all are because no one has a business all by herself. You have to find ways to invite other people into it. So they may not have the same voting rights as you, or they may not have the same final authority as you, but you want to invite other people into it because part of this is bringing other people along on the journey. It’s not only that you can’t do the journey yourself, but also if you’re an entrepreneur and if you are a builder of things, part of your responsibility is to bring other people along into it because you don’t want to coerce them into what you’re building. And that’s where the kind of the leadership element of entrepreneurship comes in.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And we can talk a lot about all of that stuff. I think I want to explore at some point in this series of interviews a lot more about community because you said that it’s collective and I think community is just so important for so many reasons. Part of it is because change, like you said, the kind of change that we’re looking to make doesn’t happen isolated with individuals. It’s gonna take a collective movement to do that. And also I think trying to do business differently, trying to show up in this way that is so different and so more expansive, I think, in a lot of ways can also be hard. And trying to do that alone is really isolating. And like you said, you can start to feel like you’re getting all this messaging about how you’re doing it all wrong. And community can be helpful in validation. But as I have learned, community is difficult, trying to find communities that are out there when you’re showing up with through this lens is really challenging. I type if you type feminist anything into Google, it thinks you mean woman. Google seems to think feminist and woman are synonyms, which I think most of us know not is not true. And so trying to find those spaces that feel, I don’t want to use the word safe because that’s fraught with issues, but that feel like where you will feel validated and seen and held and understood. That can be really challenging. So I want to explore that more. But I’m curious what your feelings are about that.

 CV Harquail:

I think it helps to know that the system is designed to make it hard, if not impossible, for you to find other people and connect with other people in a generative and mutually supportive way. Because everything you’ve been taught as a business person has been around developing yourself, honing your own vision, and whether it’s been labeled or not this way, taking advantage of other people. Getting people to submit to what you want, getting people to follow you rather than to participate in setting the direction with you. And also just the general challenges of life, it’s really, really hard to not only find other people who share your values but also to connect with them consistently. We don’t have a lot of the interpersonal skills we need to manage the real conflicts that come up when we have kind of different interests, but aligned values. There’s so much that invades against community-supported business, community-supported social justice. I think it just helps to know that it’s been designed to, things have been designed to keep us, I mean, that’s what oppression is, right? It’s designed to keep us apart. And particularly in our business culture, in late-stage capitalism if you want to call it that, on Turtle Island, if you think about just the geographic perspective. It’s all designed to focus on the individual and enhance the individual and tell you that collecting together and caring about others is not business savvy.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Such a good reminder. And one that I apply in so many other parts of my life, but for some reason really hadn’t here. That reminder that when things feel difficult, it’s often because they are, by design. You know, it’s anything that’s going, anything that could lead to the dismantling of systems, the systems are gonna make sure that they make it as challenging as possible so that that doesn’t happen. And I think about that a lot of times with internal work, too, and all of these things that make that challenging, you know, and all of the blame and shame that comes at us all the time that shuts that down so that we don’t, we don’t make change that could make bigger change, right? And so it’s important to remember that no wonder it’s hard to find because it’s meant to be hard to find. And I can’t be surprised at all that Mr. Google is participating in that problem. So thank you for that reminder. I want to finish up our last part of this talking a little bit about your business and what you’re doing. I think you’re a business of one as well, if I’m not mistaken, as far as like, team, not that you don’t have community. So what do you do? And I think you even said something like, well, my business is only kind of a business or something. And I don’t think that’s true. But what are you doing in your own business that feels like the ways that you’re showing up differently, or trying to do this differently on the small scale? Because I think a lot of the lot of people, I hope who listen to this are also small-scale owners as well, like small-scale business owners as well, they have a small business. And I want to be able to show like, even at this level, hopefully there are things we can do that make it look different.

CV Harquail:

Well, what I’m doing in my business, what I’m doing in my work, is I’m always trying to put words around, and create frameworks around, the things that I’m coming to understand because I believe that my understanding can help other people understand and changing their understanding helps change their behavior. That’s kind of my theory of change. My theory of change is if I can help you think differently about something, you’re going to act differently and those different actions are going to change the world. Basically what my business is is kind of trying to find that connection between the ideas that I’m seeing and their usefulness for other people. So for example, the last several months I’ve been focused on feminist business history, partially because nobody seems to know that feminist businesses ever existed in the past, much less now. And also because there’s finally enough information about feminist businesses of yore that you can actually look at it across different industries. I’ve been thinking a lot about how can I take what I know about feminist business as a concept, how can I connect it with what I’m seeing here in these histories? What is it telling me that I already knew? What’s validating, and also what is it telling me that I haven’t thought about or that I thought about differently? I can think about it now and then how can my sharing that information with people make a difference in their work? A very simple one that’s kind of literally on my mind today is in our most recent feminist business history conversation I was talking about some things that were really obvious then that we don’t talk about now. And one of the very obvious things was the extreme burnout that these women experienced, even the ones in businesses that are still alive today, extreme burnout. And I’ve been trying to understand what that burnout is from, how it’s different from conventional burnout, and what to do about that. And so that’s made me think about a lot of things, two things, always more than one. One is what we understand about how activists burn out. So there’s a concept of activism burnout and what’s that about? But also I know because I’m an organization scholar that there are kinds of work that we do in feminist businesses that don’t get seen, they don’t get named, and they don’t get supported or compensated. So there are these kinds of invisible work that have to do with promoting the politics, learning about the politics, putting the politics into the activity. And that’s the stuff that’s generating the extreme burnout, historically and now. So the more I start to understand what that is, the more I can turn around and say, here’s the concept, here’s where it’s coming from, here’s what we don’t see, here’s how we can see it, here’s how we can talk to each other about it, here’s how we can support it, and here’s how we can decide whether we want to keep doing it or not, so that we right-size our efforts. Stuff like that I think is really fun. So I’m trying to do that. But in general, what I’m trying to do is take all of these things that I have thought about or know about and put them into workshops that people can come and take for 2 or 3 hours, usually just one-off workshops or one-time workshops. And they can come and talk, you know, I give a workshop on it and they can work on it and they can meet other women who are kind of in the entrepreneurial feminist community. And that’s basically what I’m doing. And in the back of my mind, I’m also thinking about how do I, so, you know, I wrote a book on feminism in business, and it wasn’t the book I thought I was gonna write or that I initially wanted to write. I wanted to write a book about feminism, business, now, forward. And I ended up having to write a book about what is feminism? How does feminism challenge what we think about business? How does feminism challenge and change the conversations we seem to have all the time in organizations? And that was all really important stuff, hadn’t been written before, no book about it before, but it was the bridge to the work that I wanted to do and wanna do now. So I’m thinking a lot about what that next book would be and how do I take all of the pieces of information, like I have a million PDFs on my blog that you can download that talk about like, how do you define a feminist business? What’s a feminist product? Or why use the word feminism? And there are all these pieces, so I wanna figure out how to bring them all together in a book. Not that I expect anyone’s actually gonna like, go buy a book on feminist business, but you know.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Well, I hope they will because I hope that means people also will listen to a podcast about feminist business. And I think they will. And I definitely would recommend going to check out CV’s website because there is a ton of, there are so many great things that are that you just make available to people that aren’t even behind a paywall, you know, in addition to some of the things that you do charge for. So people should definitely go check that out. I was going to ask, what are you thinking about next? But you sort of answered it sounds like the next is like feminism business now and forward and I’m excited to hear where that goes. And what educator, what book, what podcast, what other resource, whatever has been either the most transformative for you that people might be interested in or just what you’re currently like listening to, reading, thinking about.

CV Harquail:

Right now, I’ve been reading a lot of feminist business histories, but also I’ve been reading a lot about Indigeneity and decolonization because that was a commitment that I made a few years ago. I’ve been reading a lot about Native American history here in the United States as well as like some contemporary indigenous philosophers. That’s kind of one thing that I have been working on. And then another thing that I have been thinking on is Black feminist futures and Black feminist futurism because that’s a very creative way of thinking about what might be coming down the pike. And looping that into issues of like feminist abolitionism as a movement that I think fits very outside feminist business, but it’s really fruitful. There’s a lot of good stuff going on there. But when I think about like the people who are influencing me, I am really lucky a nice group of feminist entrepreneurs in the Feminist Enterprise Commons, which is a group that my friend Petra Kassun Mutch organizes on Mighty Networks, and we have a bi-weekly kind of consciousness raising conversation that we call the Wyatt. So I have that. Then I spend a lot of time reading and talking to Kelly Diels, who’s a friend of mine, and we have regular conversations where we each throw out the difficult thing that we’re thinking about and we try to work it out in our conversation. And I love reading Kelly’s work, especially over time, because I’ve known her for some time. And I can see the ideas growing in complexity and power. And I love how her mind works. So I spend a lot of time paying attention to Kelly. Then there’s another woman whose work I really love. Her name is Kimberly George, and she has a feminism school. And she is first and foremost, I think a philosopher and a historian of ideas. And so she teaches a lot of really challenging classes on feminist intellectual history and feminist intellectual experience. And she’s just got it going on. And I love her work.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And the last thing before we go, our time is ending, but I want to make a little donation to organizations that are doing really cool stuff for each of these episodes based on what you love. So what’s an organization that you give to or that you find really powerful that’s doing really great work in the world that I can send a little thank you to?

CV Harquail:

Well, there’s a group in the South Side of Chicago, it’s based in the South Side of Chicago called the BYP 100, and it’s the Black Youth Project 100. And it was started back when, yeah, I think when Michael Brown was murdered. But anyway, it’s about developing leadership, political leadership among Black youth nationally. of the organizations that I support and then in a related vein a little more radical is one called Assata’s Daughters. So it’s named after Asata Shakur who was Tupac’s aunt and a totally radical woman, also in Chicago and that organization focuses on nurturing young black women in their radical leadership.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Well, I’m excited because I’m hoping this question and this small act of service I hope to do will also tell people about organizations that they don’t know about, that they’ve not heard of and invite people to explore. Because I’m going to include all that information in the show notes so you can go check out both the organizations you mentioned and also a give little something their way. And I really encourage readers or listeners if or readers, if you look at the transcript. But if anyone got any value out of this conversation, feel like they’re walking away, having learned something that one way to sort of pay for that, to say thanks for that, is to give a little donation to one of these or both of these organizations that you mentioned.

CV Harquail:

We really do want to recirculate gifts. The gifts that we have, we want to put them out in the world. And the gifts that we can see in others, we want to acknowledge and amplify. And we want to circle that around so that they get where they need to be.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Especially those of us who have more unearned privilege. One way to spend that is to give back in these ways. So thank you so much for doing this, CV, it’s awesome and I really appreciate our conversations.

CV Harquail:

Yeah, I’ve had so much fun talking with you. So I’m, you know, I’ll look forward to the next conversation. And I’m excited to hear the conversations that you have with all of the folks that you have on the podcast, because I like I’m, I’m intrigued by the general concept. And I know that, you know, you are thoughtful and ask good questions. So I want to see what comes up. I want to hear what comes up. So yay, get going.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I’m excited too and you have the distinction of being my first interview that I’ve completed and you may well be the first that I release as well. And so thank you for helping me kick this off. I really appreciate it. And I will include information about you and where everyone can learn about you and go get a lot of those free things that are on your website, or sign up for something that is not free. And so thank you so much. I appreciate it.

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