Women of Influence http://www.womenofinfluence.ca Tue, 16 Jul 2019 01:47:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 Where is the number one city in the world to be a woman entrepreneur in 2019? http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/07/15/where-is-the-number-one-city-in-the-world-to-be-a-woman-entrepreneur-in-2019/ Mon, 15 Jul 2019 06:32:56 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202364

We are currently in Singapore attending the 10th annual Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit, a three-day event dedicated to analyzing, celebrating and improving women’s entrepreneurship around the globe. This year the summit has brought together over 150 women founders, CEOs, dignitaries, professionals and Dell Leaders to explore the theme ‘Share. Inspire. Transform.’ Today, Dell has released their 2019 Women Entrepreneur Cities (WE Cities) Index, ranking 50 global cities on their ability to foster growth for women entrepreneurs. Let’s take a look at what the index means and why it’s important for the global conversation around women’s entrepreneurship and broader workplace advancement.


By Ony Anukem




Globally, the conversation around women’s entrepreneurship is still heavily centred around opportunity creation in order to enable more women to join the entrepreneurial ranks. While this is important, once women have successfully started a business, there comes a time when they need to shift their focus to scale.

The Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) was born from a desire to create, support and nurture a community of High-Potential Women Entrepreneurs (HPWEs), while providing them with access to technology, networks and capital. By Dell’s definition, HPWEs are women entrepreneurs who are scaling and growing existing businesses with the potential to break through the $1 million (USD) mark in annual revenue. These women are at the heart of everything that DWEN does — they are committed to adding value to their members personally, professionally, and in business.

“When we invest in women, we invest in the future; communities prosper, economies thrive and the next generation leads with purpose,” says Karen Quintos (pictured above), EVP and chief customer officer at Dell Technologies.  

In partnership with IHS Markit, Dell launched the WE Cities Index in 2017 to benchmark and rate cities on their ability to attract and support HPWEs. The index analyzes and compares 50 cities on the impact of local policies, programs and characteristics in addition to national laws and customs to help improve support for women entrepreneurs and the overall economy. Two years later, they’ve re-ranked those cities to measure their progress and the new findings indicate positive change in all markets and a promising race to the top. Karen Campbell, Consulting Associate Director of IHS Markit explains “the 2019 Dell WE Cities report is unique from other bodies of research in that it not only ranks 50 global cities on their ability to foster women entrepreneurs, it shows how the cities have improved from their 2017 benchmark.”

The index assesses five key characteristics: Capital, Technology, Talent, Culture and Markets. These pillars are organized into two groups — operating environment and enabling environment. The overall rating is based on 71 indicators; 45 of which have a gender-based component. Individual indicators were weighted based on four criteria: relevance, quality of underlying data, uniqueness in the index and gender component.


“When we invest in women, we invest in the future; communities prosper, economies thrive and the next generation leads with purpose.” 


It’s reassuring to see that all 50 cities listed in the index have made progress since 2017, indicating that the women’s entrepreneurship landscape is heading in the right direction. “Technology is helping to drive this progress as a gender-neutral enabler,” says Amit Midha, president of Asia Pacific & Japan, Global Digital Cities at Dell Technologies, “help[ing to] create a level playing field.”

In the top 10 cities overall, six are in the US, three are in Europe, and one (Toronto, where we are headquartered) is in Canada. Quite unsurprisingly, the tech hub of the world, the San Francisco Bay Area, took the number one spot after being number two in 2017. “This year we can see some patterns emerging,” Karen Campbell says. “Ranked cities have collectively made the most improvement in the Capital and Culture pillars, which shows the importance of measuring not just the operating environment but also enabling environment for women entrepreneurs.”

One key reason that the San Francisco Bay Area was able to overtake New York for the number one spot this year is because the Bay Area is one of the best places for women to gain access to capital. Additionally, in the area of Culture, the city moved up from 6th to 2nd — helped by the fact that women role models in the Bay Area are more visible than ever, and there are multiple initiatives that are actually taking action and achieving results to create, sustain and scale women-founded and women-led businesses.  


“By arming city leaders and policymakers with actionable, data-driven research on the landscape for women entrepreneurs, we can collectively accelerate the success of women-owned businesses removing financial, cultural and political barriers.”


While it’s good to see that every city has made progress, we cannot afford to become complacent — there is still a lot of room for development. Out of a total of 100 possible points, the Bay Area only scored 63.7 points. “This data-driven approach shows where women entrepreneurs still face barriers in scaling their business,” states Karen Campbell. “It also validates the need for this kind of research and outreach to policymakers to improve the prospects for women founders.”  

 If we want to see big changes for women-owned businesses across the board, with cities hitting the 80+ point mark on the indices in the next few years, then we need buy-in at the international, national and local levels. Based on the findings and comparison between the 2017-2019 indices, Dell has developed a set of WE Cities Policy Recommendations focused on three areas, including:

  1. Access to and the development of financial and human capital.
  2. Private and public sectors role in increasing access to local and global networks and markets.
  3. How government and business leaders can help women entrepreneurs thrive in the changing face of technology.

It’s not enough to set a goal without assessing the current situation and incrementally measuring performance to make sure things are on track. Karen Quintos believes that “by arming city leaders and policymakers with actionable, data-driven research on the landscape for women entrepreneurs, we can collectively accelerate the success of women-owned businesses removing financial, cultural and political barriers.” Hopefully, this index will encourage cities to maintain and improve their rankings, and inspire other cities that aren’t currently featured to get on the list. 


Want to dig in deeper into the 2019 WE Cities Index or learn more about the work of Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network? You can find everything you need to know here.


Meet Maddy Falle: Producer behind the viral short film turned web series Gay Mean Girls http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/07/13/meet-maddy-falle-producer-behind-the-viral-short-film-turned-web-series-gay-mean-girls/ Sat, 13 Jul 2019 17:51:08 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202353

Pride month might be over but LGBT+ visibility is needed all year round. Meet LGBT Ally Maddy Falle, producer and the Development Manager at Gearshift Films, before taking on this role she worked on television shows like Hockey Wives, NHL Revealed, and Workin’ Moms. In 2015 she was a producer on the viral short film Gay Mean Girls, that earned over 3.5 million hits on YouTube. After the success of the film, they went on to launch a queer coming-of-age web series bearing the same name.





My first job was… Managing the pet’s corner booth at African Lion Safari. 

My proudest accomplishment is… Probably finishing Gay Mean Girls and delivering it when we said we would! 

My boldest move to date was… Thinking I belong anywhere near a column called ‘meet a role model’

I would tell my 16-year-old self …  To start channelling all that frenetic energy into more productive things so you’re not in as much trouble at age 15. 

If I had five extra hours a day I would spend it… Can I break it up? I would work for 2, read for one, workout for one and spend one with my sisters. 

My greatest advice from a mentor was… That when it comes to Producing a lot can happen in a 12 hour day so not to panic and you’re going to have bigger issues come your way so appreciate the ones you have now. 


“I let personal things affect professional ones sometimes and I need to work on that.”


My biggest setback was… I don’t have a biggest but I think I let personal things affect professional ones sometimes and I need to work on that. 

I overcame it by… Setting boundaries and being careful with who I hire. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be…  The example of consistent work ethic that I was raised around. 

My favourite thing about our new series Gay Mean Girls is … That it is trying to say something in addition to being entertaining; there is a purpose to the project and supporting a creator who has something to say is all I seek to do as a Producer. 

The future excites me because… I don’t know what is going to happen and I’m okay with that.



How Maryann Turcke went from civil engineer to a top job in the NFL http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/07/09/how-maryann-turcke-went-from-civil-engineer-to-a-top-job-in-the-nfl/ Tue, 09 Jul 2019 16:00:52 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202244 Maryann Turcke knows that her collection of career job titles seems out of the ordinary. But in the details, her path becomes clear. During her career, Maryann has moved up, down, sideways and even made a right turn, with an MBA from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, to get to her current job as chief operating officer of the NFL. Here, she shares how she did it, and her best advice for those wanting to follow in her footsteps.


By Hailey Eisen



In what may seem like an unusual career trajectory, Maryann Turcke began as a civil engineer in Kingston, Ontario — working in bridge design and construction — and ended up, three decades later, the highest-ranking woman in the National Football League.

Her path has taken her up, sideways, and even down as she’s moved into different roles and industries, both creating her own opportunities and fearlessly taking on those presented to her. It’s a strategy she recommends to the women she mentors, as well as to her own two daughters.

“My advice to women is always the same,” she says. “In order to distinguish yourself from others, it’s important to be brave enough to try things outside of where you’re traditionally comfortable.”

Maryann’s first move out of her comfort zone came in 1996, the first year Smith offered a 12-month MBA program for those working in science and technology. She had already earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering and had been working in the field for five years. She’d also had her first daughter and was looking to make a career change. Maryann decided that earning her MBA was the perfect way to get started.

Looking back, it was exactly the opportunity she needed to make a right-angle turn out of engineering and into business. After earning her MBA, she worked in management consulting, then in technology, and eventually as a freelance consultant — which gave her more time at home with her two daughters. It’s a time that she remembers fondly.

“Some of the best advice I was ever given was to make sure, during your career, that you take time to enjoy life outside of work — to fight for it if you have to.”

Returning to the corporate world, Maryann was hired by Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), and after three years was given a major promotion. “This was another pivotal time in my career as the CEO moved me from a VP to an EVP — skipping the SVP step — which was never done. He put a lot of faith in me — giving me a massive team of 12,000 guys and trucks.”

Her next move, however, was unconventional. Maryann was approached by Bell’s CEO with another offer, this time to join Bell Media.


“Some of the best advice I was ever given was to make sure, during your career, that you take time to enjoy life outside of work — to fight for it if you have to.”


“I ended up working for a peer of mine, which was a big risk for me career-wise. It was a sideways, downward kind of move, and I struggled with that decision,” she explains. But Maryann emphasizes that taking such a risk and learning something new can’t hurt your career, “I knew it would be fun and I’d learn a lot.” She eventually became the president of Bell Media, putting her on the radar in the sports and entertainment industry.

She sat on the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (owner of hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and basketball’s Toronto Raptors) and dealt with the NFL (Bell was the football league’s broadcasting partner in Canada). That eventually helped her land a job with the NFL as president, NFL Network, Digital Media, IT and Films, based in Los Angeles.

It was another new industry, and the job came with certain challenges. “I had an accelerated learning curve when it came to understanding the cultural importance of the brand and football itself here in the United States,” she says.

What she didn’t find, however, was a male-dominated workplace. The NFL is committed to diversity and equality, she says. “I’ve actually never worked with more women in my career as I do now at the NFL.”

Now in her third year with the NFL, she is the chief operating officer, working out of the league’s head office in New York City. Maryann holds a great deal of power within the organization — a privilege she doesn’t take lightly. She’s committed to elevating and enhancing the portfolios of emerging executives as the NFL works toward a commissioner succession plan.

She also recently took on the role of chair of the advisory board of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. Maryann says Queen’s runs through her blood: Her father was the university’s head of civil engineering; it’s where she earned her undergraduate degree and MBA, and both her daughters studied at Smith.

“Watching the school evolve over time has been really satisfying,” she says. “Especially when it comes to data and innovation — this is a really important time and I’m pleased to be part of it.”

Today, Maryann is able to reflect on her career with pride and gratitude. “It may seem like an odd path,” she says, “but looking back on how it all unfolded, it totally makes sense now.”


Smith School of Business has helped countless business leaders make their own right-angle career turns. Learn more about Smith’s suite of MBA programs here.


Meet Daphne De Groot: a woman on a mission to revolutionize the real estate market http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/07/08/meet-daphne-de-groot-a-woman-on-a-mission-to-revolutionize-the-real-estate-market/ Mon, 08 Jul 2019 04:15:43 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202272

An entrepreneur at heart, Daphne De Groot was driven to create an alternative to Toronto’s outdated real estate model. Today, Daphne is the CEO of Justo — a new type of real estate brokerage. She is responsible for bringing this client-centric real estate brokerage to fruition and providing strategic oversight across the organization. Determined to bring fairness to the marketplace, she successfully developed a profitable solution for both buyers and sellers.





My first job was… as a veterinary assistant. I love animals and actually studied marine biology at university!

My proudest accomplishment is… My friends and family. I’m lucky; not everyone gets along with their families, but mine is very close-knit. I’ve also managed to maintain amazing friendships throughout my entire life, and I’m really proud of that. 

My boldest move to date was… Starting my company, Justo. There is a lot of competition in the Canadian real estate industry, and a lot of very deeply rooted norms, and we’re trying to change the way things are done. Disruption takes guts!

The idea for Justo came about… because my own experience trying to buy a home in Toronto was terrible. I felt like my agent only cared about his commission, and not what I needed from him. Buying or selling a home is a huge process, and it can be stressful and challenging. I started Justo so we could give our customers a great, positive, and helpful experience. 

The real estate industry keeps me excited because… it is everywhere and it touches so many different aspects of life. It incorporates aesthetics and design, culture… It’s also all about people – what they want, what they need – and helping them find a place to call home.


“Pay attention to the details. If you pay attention to the details, life becomes more interesting and more satisfying.” 


It’s also a business that will never disappear because everything relates to real estate. Someone needs a place to live. Someone opens a business and needs a place to work. Someone launches an e-commerce business and needs storage. No matter what the need, people will always need places to exist, making real estate the most long term positive business cycle. That’s what makes it so fascinating. It’s like a living organism that is constantly evolving, and it differs in every country, or city,  neighbourhood.

My greatest advice from a mentor was… Pay attention to the details. If you pay attention to the details, life becomes more interesting and more satisfying. 

My biggest setback was… due to a lack of balance. If you are too extreme, you’ll fall off of your path. It’s important to be determined and focused but to balance that out with what you enjoy.

I overcame it by… falling. And picking myself back up again. And learning from the experience.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… understanding that you can be a good business person and still be a good person.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I have a degree in marine biology.

I stay inspired by… other entrepreneurs, who take on the challenge and fear of failure, determination and grit and all the hard work and details that need to be noticed to make something work. When you’re on the outside, you’re not aware of how much thought, time and patience is needed to create something.

The future excites me because…Justo is my baby, and watching the business grow is like watching my baby grow up. Like I would for a baby, I have dreams for Justo, what it will become and how it will evolve. It gives me great pride and joy.

My next step is… I’m not thinking about what’s next, yet. I’m still in the middle of this current step, which is growing Justo and being part of a trend that is fundamentally changing the way real estate is done.

Good Question: My mentor told me that I need to put more effort on critical mandates. Was it a criticism of my work? What am I missing? http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/06/24/good-question-my-mentor-told-me-that-i-need-to-put-more-effort-on-critical-mandates-was-it-a-criticism-of-my-work-what-am-i-missing/ Tue, 25 Jun 2019 00:19:27 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202196 Q:

“My mentor told me that if I want to move up, I need to start putting more effort on critical mandates. I feel like everything I do is stuff that has to get done — so I’m not sure what to do with this advice. Was it a criticism of my work? What am I missing?



Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.



I often coach my clients on how to productively handle negative feedback — but I actually don’t think this is what your mentor is offering. Focusing on critical mandates is key for advancement, and the first step is understanding what this means. It’s not about getting through your task list — everything might have to be done, but not everything is critical — it’s about putting more energy towards what will have a big impact. Here are three easy steps to do it: 


  1. Figure out what are your critical mandates. 

    Can you quickly list the three most important things your company needs you to deliver on? Just because a task is urgent (someone in shipping needs a signature for a package) doesn’t make it important (delivering a presentation to align peers on a critical business objective).

  2. Colour code your calendar. 

    If you have three critical mandates, begin to colour code what mandate you are working on at each point in the day. A lot of people feel this sounds too tactical, but ironically, the moment you see where your daytime hours are being spent, it gets very easy to see what is keeping you away from your most important work. I challenge you to try this out for four weeks and then review your history to see what stands out to you. 

  3. Ask for support. 

    As you start to re-prioritize your time to focus on the most important mandates, some other things are going to naturally get less attention. As this is a growth opportunity for you, you may need to reach out to your boss to explain how you’re prioritizing critical mandates, and ask for support. She might need to delegate time intensive, low priority work to someone else, or even advise that certain tasks be set to the back burner until more critical initiatives are complete.


To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.


Meet Caroline Drees: Global Editor, Editorial Learning and Culture at Reuters http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/06/24/meet-caroline-drees-global-editor-editorial-learning-and-culture-at-reuters/ Mon, 24 Jun 2019 05:31:42 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202189

Caroline Drees is a passionate proponent of diversity and inclusion, and has spent much of her career working to support underrepresented groups, close gender gaps and promote equality in the workplace. The Global Editor, Editorial Learning and Culture, at the global news organization Reuters, her remit includes diversity and inclusion, training, talent and career development for Reuters’ more than 2,500 staff members. Caroline has enjoyed a truly global career, working as a reporter, editor, manager and executive across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, in Europe and in the United States. Before moving to Washington in 2013, Caroline was Reuters’ managing editor and then general manager for the Middle East and Africa, including during the Arab Spring. A native speaker of English and German, Caroline also speaks Arabic and French.




My first job was… do babysitting and dog-sitting count? My first “real” paid job was a 1991 summer internship with French news service AFP’s Middle East headquarters in Cyprus, when I was sent to Lebanon to cover the release of Western hostages just a few months after its 15-year civil war ended. What an incredible introduction to international journalism!

My proudest accomplishment is… helping set up Iraq’s first independent news agency after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Working in a war zone with journalists who had never worked in a country with a free press — training them and their managers how to operate a truly independent news organization — was incredibly rewarding, and their dedication to pursuing the truth under the most adverse conditions was inspiring.

My boldest move to date was… starting to flirt long-distance with a colleague I really liked 10 years ago; we’ve been a couple for almost a decade now and live together in our Washington, DC home with our three dogs.

A defining moment in my career as a reporter was… meeting with the father of one of our journalists who had been killed doing his job. Our colleague had only been 22 when he died. His father gave me a photo of his son to make sure I’d never forget him. It’s stood on my desk ever since, and I think about him every day.

This moment reinforced my deep respect for the bravery of journalists doing the important work of reporting the truth and bringing greater transparency to our world. It also reminded me once again how fragile life is, and how important it is to live each day as fully as you can.

Speaking four languages has had an impact on my life… because it’s allowed me to see the world through a multicultural lens. It’s given me opportunities such as seeing from the frontlines in the Middle East how differently the Iraq war was seen in the region, compared to the United States. I’ve been able to interview Saudi businesswomen and stateless “Bedoons”, and everyone from far-right extremists in Austria to francophone peacekeepers in Africa. I think this multicultural lens has also helped me see my own country in a more nuanced way and allowed me to approach challenges and opportunities with eyes wide open.

The most fulfilling thing about the work I do is… working with people. It may sound cheesy, but I love the energy of working with people, feeding off each other, learning from each other. I love mentoring more junior colleagues and designing and implementing programs to support diverse talent. Call me crazy, but I also love running complex projects, juggling multiple things at once and bringing them to a productive, sustainable conclusion. Throw in time pressure and I’m happy as a clam. One of the most rewarding projects I worked on recently involved interviewing about 70 per cent of our staff – more than 1,700 people – face-to-face, all over the world, to find out what was making their work harder than it needed to be, then suggesting and implementing solutions.


“It’s normal to question whether you’re up to the task in the workplace sometimes, especially when you’re planning your next move. But the key thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and the only way you’ll know how far you can go is by stretching yourself.”


The most challenging thing about my work is… ensuring I handle crises and challenges coolly and calmly, keeping emotions in check, even when stress levels are enormous and lives are sometimes at risk.

I would tell my 21-year-old self don’t sweat the small stuff, trust your gut and live your values. The rest will fall into place.

I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion because… simply put: businesses and society are better off with diversity. I have seen first-hand how the absence of D+I leads to alienation, disenfranchisement and inequality as well as a lack of innovation, creativity, productivity and business success. It’s also a really exciting field, with new research from economists, social scientists and others leading to a greater understanding of the ways we can embed D&I into business, with tools such as people analytics and behavioural design.

A world where we have achieved diversity and inclusion looks like this… it’s a world where everyone feels equally welcomed, involved, appreciated and productive; a world where diversity is woven into the fabric of each business, not tacked on like an afterthought; it’s a world where different people, voices, ideas and views are empowered, shared, heard, discussed and incorporated into what we do. Where businesses tap into the entire talent pool at all levels as a matter of course, and as a result, economies and societies thrive.

My greatest advice from a mentor was… that it’s normal to question whether you’re up to the task in the workplace sometimes, especially when you’re planning your next move. But the key thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and the only way you’ll know how far you can go is by stretching yourself.

My biggest setback was… I’ve been astonishingly fortunate to experience very few major setbacks. There were disappointments, sure. But nothing I felt was a major roadblock, derailer or fateful development that altered my life. Disappointments included many jobs I applied for and didn’t get over the years. But in each case, something else came along that I actually loved more!

I overcame it by… not dwelling on it. By trying to get my mind off things that got me down. Singing lessons turned out to be an amazing way to get into a good mood.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the support of family and friends.

The future excites me because… I am at a stage in my life where I feel there are so many opportunities, and there are so many new fields of work opening up. The world is becoming more inclusive despite continued setbacks, and I have the chance to work with dynamic, energetic, new generations that expect diversity and inclusion to be part and parcel of life and work. We have our work cut out for us. And that’s great!


How Latha Sukumar turned a small non-profit translation service into a national success — giving people in need a voice http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/06/18/how-latha-sukumar-turned-a-small-non-profit-translation-service-into-a-national-success-giving-people-in-need-a-voice/ Tue, 18 Jun 2019 13:29:36 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202147

Latha Sukumar was working as a lawyer when a personal experience led her down a new career path. She’s now the Executive Director of MCIS Language Services, a non-profit social enterprise offering translation, interpretation, and consulting to over 800 organizations across Canada — but it wasn’t always such a success. Latha shares how she came into her role and grew the business, with a mission of giving more people a voice.




By Karen van Kampen


As a summer law student working at the Crown’s office, Latha Sukumar witnessed a trial that would have a deep, lasting impact on her life. A man was charged with sexually assaulting an Iraqi woman at a church picnic. It was a difficult and emotional case, says Latha, with the Arabic speaking woman unable to tell her story.

“I felt totally helpless because I didn’t speak her language,” says Latha. “It became evident that these kinds of cases cannot be properly prosecuted if women don’t have a voice. That became a crusade for me.”

As Executive Director of MCIS Language Solutions — a non-profit social enterprise that specializes in translation, interpretation, and consulting — Latha works tirelessly to give people a voice by removing language barriers. In recognition of this unwavering vision, in 2018 she was presented with the RBC Social Change Award. It’s given to the leader of an organization dedicated to social change, that’s championing philanthropy and volunteerism in Canada.

Latha’s fight for social change began when she was a young girl growing up in India, listening to stories of oppression from her mother’s village. Stories of marital rape and widows working as menials in their own homes. Despite being very smart, her mother had to quit school when she reached puberty, forbidden to attend a mixed school with boys.

Along with her two sisters, she “grew up with the idea that women are subject to all these injustices and we have to stand up for the rights of women,” says Latha, adding that her mother “raised us to be women who were fearless.”

In 1987, at the age of 25, Latha immigrated to Canada with her husband and one-year-old daughter. “I had to go through a whole process of transforming myself,” she says. Latha cut her long hair, removed her nose ring, and began wearing Western skirts and pants.

A year later, Latha began a Master’s in Women’s Studies. “When I came here, I had to find my voice,” she says. “I had the freedom, I sensed, to be able to speak my mind, but it took a while to gain the confidence to believe that I had something important to say.”

Latha continued her studies at Osgoode Hall Law School, where she learned a more evidence-based way of thinking. “If I did not go to law school, I would have a much more rosy-eyed view,” she says. “Now I’m more practical.”

In 1996, Latha was appointed Executive Director at the non-profit Multilingual Community Interpreter Services (MCIS). “It was serendipitous,” she says. “It felt like my cause had found me.” At the time, MCIS had a staff of two-and-a-half, including Latha, operating out of a small warehouse in Scarborough. They relied solely on year-to-year government funding, which was unsustainable.


“When I came here, I had to find my voice. I had the freedom, I sensed, to be able to speak my mind, but it took a while to gain the confidence to believe that I had something important to say.”


In 2004, Latha set out to grow the organization, a feat she says she completely underestimated. “I thought as a lawyer, I had all the competence to do things,” she says. “I was so wrong.” Latha discovered that being an entrepreneur entailed reading financial statements, building streamlined operations, collecting and reading data, predicting and planning.

That year, MCIS partnered with Rotman School of Management, offering students experience at a not-for-profit. In exchange, Latha says the MBA interns shared knowledge of operations, upgrading technology, standard operating procedures, and marketing. MCIS continued the summer program for the next six years. “It was incredible learning,” she says.

As your business grows, it’s important to constantly educate yourself, to stay on top of changes within your industry, and “to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in many different ways,” says Latha. “That’s hard sometimes because you feel challenged.”

It’s also important to delegate responsibility and not “get bogged down with busy work,” she adds. “The more you grow, the more strategic you have to become. It’s important to look beyond the present and keep calibrating your company’s weaknesses, strengths and opportunities to grow to the next level.”

To stand out in the crowded space of language services, MCIS increased its training programs to ramp up capacity quickly, hired bilingual staff and ensured people had the proper security clearance. This enabled MCIS to compete for federal government contracts, and in 2015, MCIS won the contract to provide interpreter services for Syrian refugees immigrating to Canada. When the first plane landed, Latha says they were ready, deploying hundreds of Arabic speaking interpreters who also spoke English and French to work with government authorities in both Montreal and Toronto.

Today, MCIS has more than 6,000 interpreters and translators who speak more than 300 languages collectively and serve more than 800 organizations across Canada. While it hasn’t always been easy, Latha tells herself, “every day incrementally,” focusing on how she is able to make a difference in people’s lives.

Latha reflects on a woman who refused to speak for three months. Every day, an MCIS interpreter would visit the woman in a shelter, yet the woman remained silent. Then one day the woman found the courage and trust to tell her story of abuse. The case went to superior court and her husband was convicted.  

“We know that we made a difference in that woman’s life,” says Latha. “Those are the stories that keep you going every day.”



Women of Influence Evening Series – Lifestyle Panel http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/06/17/women-of-influence-evening-series-lifestyle-panel/ Mon, 17 Jun 2019 14:37:05 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202086 On June 13, 2019 we welcomed to the stage 3 leading entrepreneurs who have built some of Canada’s biggest lifestyle brands. Thank you to our panellists Lexi Miles, Roxy Earle and Hana James for sharing their key insights into the life of an entrepreneur, and thank you to Cisco and BDC for being the Presenting Sponsors of this inspiring evening. 

Lessons Learned: How a senior executive is redefining “having it all” by making peace with compromise http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/06/17/lessons-learned-how-a-senior-executive-is-redefining-having-it-all-by-making-peace-with-compromise/ Mon, 17 Jun 2019 14:14:28 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202148

The topic of “having it all” can quickly spark debate — not only about whether or not it’s possible but also about the unrealistic expectations just discussing this goal can impose on women. But, whether we talk about it or not, many of us are still experiencing the struggle of balancing work and life. Shemina Jiwani, a tech executive and mother of two, has found her own approach to having it all, centred around compromise. These are the lessons she’s learned.




By Shemina Jiwani


Can a woman have it all? I grapple with this question all the time, as I attempt to find balance in my own life between being a mother to two young children and a Chief Operating Officer for a FinTech company. I believe the answer first lies in how you define “having it all” and being realistic about it. I believe that I can have it all, with one caveat: having it all comes only when we are able to make peace with the trade-offs and compromises necessary to do so.


We Need Female Executives

There are countless studies which find direct correlations between a company’s profitability and the presence of women in executive and senior leadership positions, most notably McKinsey & Company’s “Women in the Workplace 2018” report. Clearly, we as women are doing our part.

Women are earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, we are asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rate as men, and we are staying in the overall workforce at the same rate as men.  So why do women represent only 15% of executive or senior management positions?

Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to stand on equal ground.   


Eliminating Unconscious Bias

I recently took a business trip to London, England for four days, leaving my husband to care for our four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son solo. I was flying with a male colleague whose kids are the same age. I jokingly asked him if he was in trouble for leaving, as I had multiple friends, colleagues, and even my own mother tell me I shouldn’t be leaving my children. He was surprised. He replied the only opinion he was given on his trip was a pub recommendation.

Both men and women can harbour unconscious biases when hiring and evaluating for the promotion of women. Often these biases focus on women’s motherhood or even potential motherhood.  For instance, it may be assumed that a woman between the ages of 20 and 40 will inevitably take maternity leave, or if she is a mother that she will prioritize family before career. Yet, even hard-working women who try to prioritize their careers will still be subject to judgements about being a bad mom or working too hard.  It’s a frustrating catch-22, and it is a bias because these assumptions are not commonly made for men of the same age group.

The antidote to unconscious bias may very well be empathy. Start a dialogue by sharing your experiences with your colleagues; you may help them see things from a different perspective.


Find a Work-Life Balance

It was very difficult for me to find balance; I couldn’t unshackle myself from my own guilt and the opinions of others, even if it meant sacrificing my own happiness. This is not sustainable. Flexibility, boundaries, and self-care are essential to “having it all.”


Here are some good places to start:

  • Ask for what you want: I was lucky enough to adopt my son from Morocco, which meant living there for six months. Before, I would have assumed taking maternity leave was my only option. Instead, I worked remotely and didn’t lose any momentum in my career progression. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.


  • Establish rules of engagement: Set boundaries for yourself and others that help you be more present. For example, I leave the office at 4 PM every day, and I don’t check my phone again until the kids are asleep at 7:30 PM. For you, it might mean working from home more often, establishing flex-time, or setting a monthly travel-limit.


  • Find a support system: Maybe we can have it all, but we can’t always do it all. It’s also important to remember that raising kids is not only a mom’s job. I have an amazing husband who shares the load with me. Single moms may need to consider amending co-parenting plans, enlisting the help of family, or even hiring childcare. Every family is different but remember you don’t need to do it alone.


  • Ditch the guilt: Inevitably, you’ll miss something: a recital, a game, a meeting, a deadline… accept it and move on. Own your choices and mistakes: you’re a human being. Guilt is not productive, nor is placing too much stock in the opinions or judgements of others.  


  • Find a Tribe: With so few women in upper management, it can get lonely. I was lucky enough to find a group of like-minded women from an accelerator program called Rise Up. I now have a network of 35 women that can truly relate to me, empower me, and help me stay on track.


You probably can’t be an effective CEO and a PTA president, but you can have it all as long as you are at peace with the compromises you need to make to do so.   


Shemina Jiwani is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at AscendantFX, a technology-based payment provider. Shemina is an experienced strategic leader with a focus on aligning people with technology. Shemina is an inaugural member of Money 20/20’s Rise Up Program, a global accelerator program for women in finance and technology. Follow her on Twitter @sheminajiwani


5 ways to know if your website is good enough http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2019/06/17/5-ways-to-know-if-your-website-is-good-enough/ Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:12:04 +0000 http://www.womenofinfluence.ca/?p=202064

You’ve accomplished the first step: you have a website for your business. But is it good enough? Answering these five simple questions can help you determine if your online presence is building your business — or holding it back. 





How important is your website?

It’s a key part of the relationship between you and your customers. Research by CIRA found that 63 per cent of consumers believe a website makes a business seem more credible, and 26 per cent simply don’t trust businesses without one. Even if you have a bricks-and-mortar presence, 76 per cent of Canadians will research their purchases online before going to a store to buy it — but that doesn’t mean any web presence will do.

Anna Walkowiak, Business Model Innovation Lead at BDC’s Advisory Services, explains that in today’s market having a bad website can do more damage to your brand than having no website at all. “There are companies that actually function successfully without a website and they do everything manually, the channels are very much direct. It’s not ideal in 2019, but having a bad website can actually jeopardize the scalability of the whole business.”

With your website potentially playing such a critical role in success, the next question is obvious: is yours good enough? Fortunately, you don’t have to be a web expert to find out. There are online tools that can help, or simply ask yourself the following questions to get a good sense of where you might need improvement.


1) Are you presenting your brand effectively?

Any individual, whether or not they have interacted with your brand before, should be able to go to your site and understand why your business exists, what sets you apart from the competition, and how you meet their needs as a customer. Your voice and visual branding should also be clear and consistent.

If you don’t feel these elements come across strongly on your site, look for places to make adjustments. And if you are struggling to explain why customers should do business with you, first focus on building a strategic marketing plan to help develop your brand and position your company. Anna suggests asking yourself these five questions before developing your website “Who is your specific target customer? What are the clear benefits of your business to the customer? How can you make your messaging customer-centred and inclusive? What is your unique selling point? What is your strong call-to-action to the customer going to be?”

2) Can your customers find you?

You’ve heard the saying, if you build it, they will come. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in the digital age. Anna recommends making “your website part of your wider business strategy,” in order to make it as easy as possible to find your business.  

Google is responsible for over 92 per cent of searches, so your first check should be how you rank when you look up keywords relevant to your business. If you are appearing a few pages in, there are some organic (unpaid) techniques you can use to improve your standing — and most are related to having a good website. Unique and quality content, faster page loads, backlinks (websites linking to yours), and secure pages can all help. You can also consider paid search advertising to get your result to the top of the first page. A Google Ads campaign is easy to set up, but can be a challenge to execute effectively — so you may also want to get expert guidance.

Lastly, don’t forget the other channels that can feed into your site, from social media to local review sites (like Yelp and Foursquare). If you aren’t using these tools, you are making it harder for potential customers to find you. However, like a bad website, poor social media messaging can be harmful to your brand.

“Your messaging needs to be carefully crafted,” says Anna. Also, you need to give some thought as to what social media channels are appropriate for your business. “For example, if you are a business-to-business service, you don’t necessarily have to be on Instagram but you need to be present on LinkedIn.”


“With your website potentially playing such a critical role in success, the next question is obvious: is yours good enough?”


3) Can your customers find what they are looking for?

Think about your customer’s experience when they visit your site. The more scrolling and clicking that’s required to find important information or purchase a product, the more opportunity there is for a customer to drop off before reaching that goal.

“Your website should be clearly addressed to your target customer with a value proposition that gives clear benefits for your customer,” says Anna. “How is it useful? What is the specific end result customer can get?”  

You should also think about the questions your customers ask you most often. Are the answers easy to find on your site? Can they easily contact you if needed? Can they find your business location? Can they make a purchase or sign up for your newsletter without having to dig around? If you answered no to any of these, it’s time to make some changes.

Consider how easy it is to navigate your site, how clearly information is presented, and how visually appealing it is. Competitive sites can be useful for comparison, but keep in mind that consumer expectations are set by their entire online experience, not just sites in your industry.

4) Are you learning about your customers?

You already know that understanding your customer is key to success. If you aren’t using the data from your site and social media channels, you’re missing out on an important opportunity to get to know them better.

Google Analytics is a great tool for digging into your site stats. Look at where visitors are coming from, how they navigate your site, what content they read, and at what point they exit. There’s also demographic information, like age, and you can compare subgroups, like new versus returning visitors. All social media platforms include their own analytics tools as well, where you can see what content gets the most engagement, and learn more about your audience.

You can use all this information (and much more) to fine-tune your efforts, not only to serve your current customers better but also to target new ones.

5) Are you mobile-friendly?

If you’re feeling good about how your website looks on your laptop, have you tried navigating through it on your mobile phone? Anna says “clarity and simplicity are key,” and be sure to go deeper than the homepage. Follow the common path of a customer, whether that’s reading content, making a purchase, filling out a form, or watching a video.

Having a site that works optimally on any device is key — considering 72 per cent of Canadians access the internet through a mobile device. And since search engines will rank a site higher if it has a mobile version, this will also impact your ability to attract potential customers.


If you’re checking all the boxes, congratulations! If you have work to do, don’t worry — the great thing about your online presence is that it can always be improved.



For a clear look at how your website is performing — and tips on how to improve it — check out BDC’s Website Assessment Tool. Simply enter your URL, and in 90 seconds you’ll have access to a free report looking at how your site stacks up on several indicators.