A model of self-confidence and social impact: conversation with Dorothy Rhau, CEO and founder, Audace au Féminin and Salon International de la Femme Noire
Born in Montreal and of Haitian descent, Dorothy rose to prominence as the first French-speaking black woman comedian in Quebec and Canada. Spokesperson for several major events such as Black History Month, Handicap International, and the Vues d’Afrique Festival, she received the Best Entertainer of the Year award at the Black Canadian Awards (2014). She made her mark as the producer of her one-woman show, Recto Verso, and opened for some of the most popular Quebec comedians.
Since the beginning of her career, Dorothy has worked to promote diversity. Today, she focuses on her social impact, as president of the non-profit organization Audace au Féminin, which offers solutions to stem systemic racism and the invisibility of black women in an inclusive and egalitarian approach and contributes to the emancipation and social and economic empowerment of black women by equipping them to develop their leadership. It is an inclusive women's movement that aims to highlight those who shine in the dark, and to raise awareness among various stakeholders and socio-economic actors of the importance of inclusion and integration of women from diverse backgrounds in Canada.
In December 2016, Dorothy assembled a team of remarkable women and created the Salon International de la Femme Noire (SIFN), a social entrepreneurship project. Since its first edition in 2018, the SIFN aims to position Montreal as the reference for black women around the world. Since then, more than 3,000 participants have taken part in person in the SIFN, of which The Scotiabank Women Initiative® is a proud partner.
For Black History Month and International Women's Day, Ana Marinescu, Senior Manager, The Scotiabank Women Initiative (Québec Region) gets to know this absolute force that is Dorothy Rhau.
What makes you proud? DR: Basically, my whole life. I am proud of myself and the woman I have become. Proud of the mother that I am, sometimes to my surprise. All of my decisions, choices and involvements throughout my life have brought me to where I am now, with the tools I have. I can't wait to see the mature woman I will become. And of course, I’m proud of Audace au Féminin.
How do you see the future? DR: I am very confident about the future. I find that my accomplishments have allowed me to age wisely and beautifully. The older I get, the younger I feel. But always with this tiny touch of madness that has remained active, thanks to the child that exists in me. This child allows me to marvel, to have less fear, to go for it without thinking about the consequences. This adventurous side is always and still in me.
What gives you confidence? DR: When I was barely 20, I was at a wedding reception. The music was upbeat, but there was no one on the dance floor. That's when my Aunt Marie said to me: "You know how to dance, you're well dressed and you're beautiful! Get up and go dancing!” Coming from my mother's older sister, one of my beauty icons, it felt as I had just received the royal seal allowing me to move forward with great self-esteem.
From this self-confidence, there is acceptance. I embrace my body, with its stretch marks, spots, curves. As I get older, I accept myself even more, and in everything. I can show dressed down and without makeup and feel so beautiful. I have no more pressure. I can find myself alone, as a black woman or alone, as a woman in a male environment, and navigate that very well. This shows. I show up with pride, as instilled by my mother and my aunts. This high self-esteem has become like a trademark, and I spread this wherever I am.
What makes you strong? DR: Dare I say it...yes, I'm going for it: God! Then there is my family including my husband and our children. My entourage, including my colleagues and carefully selected Audace au Féminin volunteers. And joy, really, is my life battery.
What particularly touches you and what message would you like to convey? DR: When I see the social impact of Audace au Féminin, that really touches me. To see black women who assert themselves, who occupy important positions, who are elected...to see women from the same family, but from several generations participate in the SIFN. In five years of existence and pushing our mission, we are beginning to see the results. We really touch people's lives! We have the chance to truly influence their trajectory. We play an “activator” role. It started with people from black communities, then later with our allies, our partners.
My message is simple: Do not be afraid, dare!
Tell us about the role played by Audace au Féminin and the SIFN. DR: When we started in 2016, we were one of the only organizations that only represented black women. Today, we see many all over Canada. People have made realizations. Organizations have blossomed. It was a purposeful choice for us to put “black women” in the title of the Salon International de la Femme Noire, which translated to International Fair of Black Women. A social innovation! This elicits several reactions. In the eyes of the general public and the media, we must always justify our raison d’être: “why not simply women, would it be well seen to say white woman?“ In black communities, we were told why not call it the Salon “of women from diversity or women of the world”. Our answer? First, it is a statement. Secondly, we reclaim our identity as black women that is too often invisible. And three, we are black women, with our unique realities. Let's be proud! In addition, the name of the organization and our flagship activity are in French, because we are proud Francophones who embrace bilingualism (English-French). All of our projects are done in both languages. The SIFN is more than an event, it is an inclusive movement.
We are raising awareness among the authorities and socio-economic players, but above all we are calling for real action. If you support any organization from black communities, really support it, not only for your image, but also to establish a culture of change within your own organization.
How does being a bank customer and benefiting from its support through The Scotiabank Women Initiative help you in fulfilling your mission and in your day-to-day work? DR: With Scotiabank by our side, Audace au Féminin is stronger. By partnering with us, Scotiabank becomes a major ally in our purpose, which is to counter the invisibility of Afro-descendant women. Scotiabank thus recognizes our existence and our contribution in Quebec and across Canada. It is a strong message that is being sent and a step towards an inclusive and egalitarian society.
The Scotiabank Women Initiative comes as a most valuable support. We know very well the reality of an NPO. Through Scotiabank, we have financial support for our mission and a greater outreach across Canada, but also support for all our women to whom we can offer meetings in a setting worthy of their vision. We provide privileged access to professional experts, who are there to help these women, to be the springboard to a leadership position, or to apply for funding. Together we are helping to straighten out the leadership posture of these black women. This is the result of the support we receive from Scotiabank.
Tomorrow, these black women whom you have helped to improve their economic conditions through our programs, they will buy their property, their business, with you. They will save for their children's education, with you. They are and will remain like me grateful to Scotiabank, which has been there from the start when they dared, and in their journey.
What do you think is the impact of the work we do together Women in Audacity, SIFN and The Scotiabank Women Initiative? DR: We are changing the socio-economic trajectory of black women. Women are the pillars of Afro-descendant families. This will change the profile of these families. By helping these women, we are helping the whole family. Thus, it is all black communities that benefit from it. With the support of The Scotiabank Women Initiative for Audace au Féminin projects, together we contribute to a more sustainable development of our communities.
Dorothy’s LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dorothyrhau
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