Toronto is often celebrated for its cultural diversity — but that fact doesn’t always translate into equal opportunities for its citizens.
That’s what Emily Mills (journalism ’05) realized more than a decade ago as she built her communications career. At the time, she worked in media relations at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), which helps immigrants succeed in the local labour market. Mills, an African-Canadian, attended professional development and networking events, and noticed very few presenters were Black and racialized women.
“I found that I wasn’t reflected in a lot of those spaces, there were not many women who looked like me at the podium,” Mills says.
At the time, Mills was actively working to raise TRIEC’s profile, and drew on her journalism and public relations training from Ryerson University to secure media sponsorships, generate press coverage and produce corporate videos. She also knew many other women of Caribbean, African, South Asian and other minority backgrounds striving to make something of themselves. What would it take, she wondered, for more of them to get ahead?
In May of 2010, Mills invited some culturally diverse women she knew for brunch to share career challenges and strategies. Through word of mouth, the number of participants grew to 50, and everyone loved the concept of professional networking for women of colour. Seeing she could meet a pressing career development need for women like her, Mills started How She Hustles.
A few times a year, Mills, with the support of freelance staff, has not only organized brunches but also panel discussions, meetups, and pop-up shops for women-led start-ups. Last year, she launched a full-day conference sponsored by CIBC, for diverse women who are early-stage small business owners.
“We provide a place where Black and Brown women don’t feel marginalized and can address the unique career issues they face,” Mills says.
Until recently, How She Hustles has been, well, a side hustle for Mills as she further built her career. Until last February, she worked for almost eight years in communications at CBC Toronto. In 2017, she was able to combine both worlds by creating HERstory in Black, a photo series of 150 inspiring local Black women that she successfully pitched to the CBC. The series was turned into a one-hour documentary and interactive website, and earned the prestigious CBC President’s Award.
“The HERstory in Black project continues to inspire so many – especially women spanning different backgrounds and ages. I hope it encourages us all to see, hear and amplify the lived experiences of Black Canadian women all year round, not just during Black History Month,” says Mills, who will be hosting Ryerson’s Viola Desmond Awards on March 4.
Eight years since that first brunch, How She Hustles has held 19 events, and reaches 10,000 on social media. Mills has become recognized as champion of local racialized women, and last year, earned a spot on the 2018 list of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and was featured in the book 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women. She is now focusing on turning How She Hustles into a viable enterprise.
“There’s a real appetite now to diversify the entrepreneurial landscape,” Mills says. “A community and platform where diverse women can learn, share and connect is key to more of us becoming leaders.”