A feminist recovery

PhD student in the Alberta School of Business and Faculty of Native Studies advocates for Indigenous women across the country.

During Raylene Whitford’s first call in March 2021 with the 17 women involved on the then newly formed federal Task Force on Women in the Economy, all of them, including Whitford, admitted to experiencing some level of imposter syndrome.

These women are all accomplished in their fields. Whitford, ‘08 BCom, is a PhD student in the Faculty of Native Studies and the Alberta School of Business and is the founder and director of Canative Energy, a social enterprise that works with Indigenous communities to further their economic empowerment. Others are experts from diverse fields, including health, not-for-profit, labour and academia.

“The fact that all the women, including me, admitted that they didn’t feel like they deserved to be there — on a task force advancing women in the economy — was telling,” said Whitford, who brings a unique perspective to the committee as a Métis businesswoman, and the only member with an international background in finance and the only one from oil and gas.

“We come from a lot of various backgrounds, but we all have a shared objective: to advance and support women.”

Established in March 2021 — on International Women’s Day — the task force aims to advance gender equity and address systemic barriers and inequities faced by women, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With their own personal and professional experiences, along with extensive consultation and interviews with other experts across the country, the committee advises the government on a feminist, intersectional action plan that supports women’s employment. 

Their initial list of priorities was extensive — from women in entrepreneurship and leadership to minimum wage, social programs and childcare.

From the start, Whitford championed the establishment of an early childhood learning program for Indigenous children and more support for post-secondary training for Indigenous people – both of which have now received funding from the federal government.

“As one of three Indigenous women on the task force, I really wanted to be a voice for not only women in this country, but Indigenous women since I understand the issues that are faced at a community level,” she said.

Going forward, Whitford plans to advocate for more support for Indigenous entrepreneurs, who she said are often left to bootstrap their ventures because they either aren’t aware of the support available to them or it’s too difficult for them to apply.

“The pandemic has presented opportunities to first take a hard look at some of the issues that are important to women and were overlooked in the past, as well as opportunities to create change and more support,” said Whitford. 

A feminist recovery

Whitford admits that before she returned to Canada after living and working abroad in the United Kingdom, she never considered herself a feminist and recognizes that the term can be controversial and off-putting to many people. 

“When you say the word ‘feminist’, some people think you’re referring to burning bras and other unhelpful stereotypes,” said Whitford.

Yet according to Whitford, while there are many definitions of feminism, the idea of a feminist recovery coming out of the pandemic is simple: “It’s about addressing the disproportionate impacts of women caused by the COVID-19 recession and providing advice on advancing gender equality, including actions that address the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions and the gender wage gap and create equal access to employment and advancement opportunities.”

“I would encourage leaders — especially in the business community — to contemplate and explore the various definitions of feminism and the steps their organizations can take in the short- and long-term to address some of the gaps that exist,” said Whitford.

Raylene Whitford's Book Recommendations 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Robin Wall Kimmerer

She's Come Undone: Wally Lamb

Flowers for Algernon: Daniel Keyes

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