Emily Mills says she was looking for a peer-community of diverse women leading on their own terms when she founded How She Hustles in 2010.

“When we hosted our first event, the issues of equity, diversity and inclusion weren’t top priority in the world the way they are now,” Mills says. “That’s why so many diverse women joined us in person to feel reflected and included — they also wanted to feel informed and part of a community.”

Roundtable with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

How She Hustles Founder Emily Mills (centre) meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Now, more than a decade later, the pandemic has expanded How She Hustles’ reach, gaining attention from organizations looking to engage Black and BIPOC women around the topics of work and entrepreneurship. Over the past two years, Mills’ company has been hired numerous times to amplify the stories of 

diverse women through digital storytelling and speaking engagements.

“The pandemic has taken its toll on all of us but indeed, I’ve personally seen the disproportionate impact on women — especially Black women who are raising families while pursuing entrepreneurship,” Mills says. “Black women in my circles experienced a new level of trauma and stress over the last two years with multiple ‘pandemics’ happening at the same time ­— including a health crisis, changing educational models and anti-Black racism.”

Mills, who is Waterloo’s keynote speaker for its International Women’s Day event on Tuesday, March 8, says that while she has no magic wand when it comes to solving pay equity, workplace advancement and inclusive policies to level the playing field for women and Black women in Canada, organizations must stop asking for free labour in the form of speaking, informal consulting and community convening.

Emile Mills with Michelle Obama

How She Hustles Founder Emily Mills (left) with First Lady Michelle Obama (2018)

“The pandemic has highlighted the great work being done around equity, diversity and inclusion, but also how much further we need to go. We have to be mindful not to create further disparity for women of colour who are professionals in this area,” Mills says. “For example, there may be some BIPOC women asked to do this work with no additional compensation. We can’t afford to keep piling it on for women of colour. We must keep intersectionality top of mind and we need to pay for this labour if we truly value it.” 

The future of women in a post-pandemic world

For Mills, International Women’s Day in 2022 highlights unique themes different than the ones that came before COVID-19. It’s about looking back and learning from the women who came before us and reanalyzing our roles to recreate a world where equity for women is a reality.

“Specifically, as a Black Canadian woman, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to seek out lesser-known historical figures and everyday ‘sheroes’ who may have been overlooked or undervalued,” Mills says. “When we apply an intersectional lens to International Women’s Day, it’s easy to see how many stories of impact and inspiration we have yet to celebrate widely.”

During Waterloo’s virtual International Women’s Day event, Mills will be joined by other community leaders, including:

  • Nada Basir, professor at the Conrad School of Business and Entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Engineering. Basir’s research examines how gender inequalities emerge, their impact, and the role of entrepreneurs in bringing about social change.
  • Carla Fehr, professor in Waterloo’s Gender and Social Justice program within the Faculty of Arts. Dehr’s work explores the values, practices and structures that constitute workplace culture.
  • Ellen MacEachen, professor with the School of Public Health Sciences in the Faculty of Health. MacEachen examines how the design and performance of work and health systems can be improved and adapted to our fast changing economic, social and technological environments.

How She Hustles Startup and Slay event

How She Hustles “Startup and Slay” Event (2018)

When asked what silver-lining working women can look forward to as the world continues to tackle COVID-19 and bear the brunt of juggling many responsibilities, Mills says that she hopes women can give themselves permission to reframe everything.

“By reframing the way we see the world as individuals and collectively, we’ll be able to rethink how to have more healthy, equitable and sustainable lives. We must give ourselves permission to reframe everything to create more harmony, purpose and balance,” Mills says. “I think we’ve learned that so many of us were functioning on the edge — a tipping point that couldn’t and didn’t last. What’s next is how we build back better.”

To learn more about How She Hustles, follow Mills’ efforts on Twitter or Instagram  and sign-up for the newsletter.