International Women’s Day is an opportunity to honour those who paved the way before us and to look towards the road ahead. To spotlight this meaningful day, we asked female entrepreneurs from across Canada to tell us what International Women’s Day means to them. We also asked them to help us understand what it feels like to be a woman in business and to share the names of other women who helped them achieve their success.

Teara Fraser, Owner of Iskwew Air and Liberty Wilderness Lodge

“On March 8, 1910 Raymonde de Laroche of France became the world’s first woman to earn a pilot’s license,” says Teara Fraser, Owner of Iskwew Air and Liberty Wilderness Lodge. “International Women’s Day is a reminder of the remarkable women who triumphed in the face of egregious gender bias [but] it is also a reminder of how far we still have to go.”

She continues on to say that in Canada, only 2.3% of licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers are women and it is estimated that less than 0.5% are Black, Indigenous, or Women of Colour. “I love being an entrepreneur, except for when I’m frustrated or exhausted,” she says. “Companies founded solely by women receive less than 3 per cent of all venture capital investments, in all sectors. In my own realm, fewer than 3 per cent of airline CEOs are women.” Fraser believes that together we can reimagine and rebuild an airline industry that centres equity and sustainability.

Hayley Elsaesser, designer and owner of Hayley Elsaesser


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“International Women’s Day holds profound significance for me as a woman, especially in the fashion scene,” says Elsaesser. “It is a day of reflection and celebration.” As a woman, Elsaesser says she has felt societal pressure to be a certain size and fit a certain beauty standard–something that resonates with many women. It’s also something Elsaesser has fought hard to address through her business approach. She also says that despite the fashion industry being a women-dominated space, the reality is, it’s largely run by men. A trend she believes is only worsening over time as large fashion houses hire more and more male leads.

“It has been a challenge at times to be taken as seriously as my male counterparts,” she says. “But you know what? That challenge just pushes me to work even harder, and achieve more than I could have dreamed of.”

“I owe a big thank you to so many amazing women who’ve played a crucial role in getting me where I am today,” she says. “At the top of the list is my mom, a real powerhouse. She navigated single motherhood for years, showcasing unwavering strength. She introduced me to the world of sewing as a teenager, setting the stage for my journey into fashion. She instilled in me the belief that there are no boundaries for what a woman can achieve.”

Hun Young Lee, Hannah Kim, Rebekah Ma and Joanna Lee, Ai Toronto Seoul Founders


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For the mother-daughter team behind accessories brand ai Toronto, being women in the business space has been challenging, but they’re extremely grateful for the supportive community they have been a part of. “IWD to us symbolizes a day of celebrating all women’s successes,” the team wrote over email. “Though there are barriers, through empowering and encouraging each other we are able to face challenges together which comforts us.”

Hun and her three daughters—Hannah, Rebekah and Joanna—shout out two women who helped them get to where they are now, including makeup artist and creator Veronica Chu. “We were first introduced to her through a Hudson’s Bay Campaign, and the rest is history! She is like a sister to us and as a fellow Asian creator, she inspires us through her creativity and styling.”

Jeanne Becker has also been a huge inspiration for the family. “When we started our business in 2018, we met Jeanne through Today’s Shopping Choice (TSC). We still get butterflies when she styles our pieces and supports our brand.”

Mixalhítsa7 Alison Pascal, Curator at Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre

“International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate all of the work of our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters and daughters,” says Alison Pascal, Curator at Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.

“Our work has been marginalized, our Indigenous women have been systematically devalued and sometimes thrown away with the trash. International Women’s Day is a chance to show the variety of work we’re doing so young women know what they can do, and what they can aspire to.” 

As a woman in business, Pascal finds herself working with a lot of strong male figures “full of confidence and a legacy of leadership” which she says is a constant barrier to telling authentic Lil’wat stories. But she says that she knows she can rely on her experience with strong Indigenous women to keep her on her path.

“I would love to thank my mom, Chuli Nora Pascal, for continuously pushing me to be the best version of myself,” she says. “I also want to thank all of the Indigenous women who survived the Indian Residential School System, we’re here because you survived. We thrive because of your strength!”

Eva Hartling, Founder of the The Brand is Female


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“At The Brand is Female, IWD is just a regular day because we support and amplify female leadership all year round,” says Eva Hartling,  podcast host and founder of a brand development, marketing and communications strategy incubator. “However, it’s important to leverage the occasion to call for more gender equity,” she says.

“The business world is still male-dominated,” she says. “We issued a report with Randstad Canada where we pointed out that women still earn 89 cents for every dollar men earn for similar work, and a staggering 65 per cent feel they lack the same opportunities as their male counterparts.”

The only way forward, she says, is to address these disparities and demand a complete revamp of corporate culture which requires “supportive work environments that offer mentorship, training, and development opportunities to empower women to ascend into leadership positions.”

She shouts out Isabelle Hudon, the first female President of BDC, who she says has been a huge influence throughout her career. “While I never worked directly for her, she always proved that women could dare [to] take leadership jobs that the world didn’t expect them to be qualified for. Isabelle took risks and was always outspoken about the need for equity in the workplace. She pushed boundaries and is now in charge of leading BDC’s strategy to support women entrepreneurs better, with actual capital and support to back up the nice intention.”

And while Hartling believes there is still a long way to go when it comes to equity, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate this year, including the success of the Barbie movie, the establishment of the Professional Women’s Hockey League and France’s decision to put the right to abortion into their constitution.

Erin Brillon, Co-Owner of Totem Design House

“I come from a matrilineal culture where women in leadership was the norm pre-contact,” says Erin Brillon, co-owner of the Indigenous lifestyle brand Totem Design House. “But throughout history, since the first fur traders were crossing our waters it was the women who did the trading and the men did not want to trade with the headstrong Haida women. As Indigenous women we have a long way to go in terms of being equal to the status quo. I dream that we can and will create a world where every woman can thrive, 100 per cent free from discrimination and oppression.”

Brillon says that, for her, IWD is a reminder that while women have come a long way, we still have a long ways to go to continue breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes “so that the next generation will eventually get the respect we all deserve.”

Brillon is also a descendant of a trailblazing woman of the 70s and 80s in Vancouver whose name is still widely known today.

“My Auntie Blanche MacDonald was a powerhouse Metis business woman making her mark in the Vancouver business scene with her Fashion, Makeup and Esthetics School and Talent Agency,” she recalls. “People that know her legacy are largely unaware that she was Indigenous and all the barriers she had to fight against to become such a revered business woman. She overcame poverty, critical illness, racism, and succeeded in spite of it all. I saw that when you have a vision for something beyond your reach, and are willing to dedicate yourself to it 100 per cent, women can move mountains.”

Amber Hsu, founder of Barebone Jewellery

“To me, IWD is a day to celebrate all women. All mothers, all daughters, all loving women, all hard working women, all women who live passionately and strive to achieve life goals, and all women who never stop learning and becoming the best version of themselves,” says Amber Hsu, founder of Barebone Jewellery.

Hsu feels empowered and motivated whenever she meets like-minded women in the business space and says that collaborating with female-owned brands that strongly believe in supporting one another rather than competing is what makes us thrive. “We are a community, and among us, we create opportunities ourselves and we grow together,” she says.

“I am so grateful for the women who have been helping Barebone grow. A big shout out to my mom who has been my biggest support as always, and the amazing women who gave me opportunities to work with them.”