Popular narratives about immigrant women in Canada don’t always portray them as being self-assured, ambitious, and entrepreneurial. The participants of the Her Own Boss! project subvert these expectations and show how immigrant women are all of these things and more.
Her Own Boss! is a national initiative that seeks to empower immigrant women across Canada as they work towards starting their own businesses. In Vancouver, this idea manifests itself in several workshops that teach women both professional tools and personal skills that will enable them to succeed. Topics like financial literacy, social media engagement, and boundary-setting in the workplace are all expanded upon by female presenters that engage with the women. If one were to sit in on one of these workshops, they would witness the wit, intelligence and proactiveness of the participants as they ask questions, share their experiences, and support one another.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with two such participants, two women that were practical, reflective and honest about their ambitions and inhibitions. Mona, a South Asian woman that immigrated to Canada in 2015, always had dreams of starting a business. She was not able to act on these dreams right away, as she was juggling a divorce and raising her young son. However, as she grew more comfortable in single motherhood, she decided to take the opportunity with Her Own Boss! when it presented itself. For Mona, she finds that above all else, Her Own Boss! is a support system. Fellow participants constantly encourage the idea of not having to be perfect and there is genuine camaraderie that exists amongst the women. The workshop presenters not only provide the participants with knowledge, but also give them motivation. Through this layered support system, Mona feels safe and confident in asking questions and prioritizing her needs as an entrepreneur. She has also learned that the first person that she has to be comfortable with and make happy is herself. As she explores more of this self-confidence, her business plans to start an organic Ayurvedic skincare line become clearer as well.
While Mona has an idea that she is morphing into something tangible as time goes on, Joanne is a participant that is taking a different approach. She has thought about business opportunities in the areas of drycleaning, care services, and beauty products. However, at the end of the day, she wants to spend some time observing the market and determining what the best product or service would be to introduce as an entrepreneur.
In fact, this attitude to learning is precisely what drew Joanne to the Her Own Boss! Program. She felt that if she wanted to be successful with her future business, it was imperative for her to get educated and gain knowledge about the Canadian market. Although this may feel like a natural first step to some, a lot of immigrant entrepreneurs do not have the time or resources to devote themselves to learning about a market before diving into it. This was the case for Joanne as well. When she came to Canada in 2015 as a foreign worker, she did not have a lot of time to consider entrepreneurship. Instead, she spent 24 months working non-stop so that she could meet the requirements to become a permanent resident.
Now that she has had some time to settle down, she has dedicated herself to learning. According to Joanne, every Her Own Boss! workshop is impactful in its own way. The workshops allow her to recognize her strengths, her weaknesses, her options, and which ideas she sees most potential in as an individual and as an entrepreneur. However, the greatest thing that Her Own Boss! offers is a clear sense of direction. As she describes it, it can be difficult to determine the dos and don’ts of starting a business in a new country, and the program enables her to make some important and insightful connections with others in relevant fields.
Mona and Joanne are just two participants of many that are taking part in the Her Own Boss! project, but both of their experiences speak to the diverse stories of immigrant women that are trying to create something for themselves, by themselves.
Sana Fatima is a research volunteer with the Her Own Boss! program. She graduated from the Sociology program at UBC, and now spends her time working with Vancouver organizations that seek to empower members of different marginalized communities.