Introducing the Top 25 Women of Influence 2017



Meet Canada’s most accomplished female role models.


It has been two years since we last published our Top 25 Women of Influence list. We’re excited to be bringing it back — not only because of the Canadian women who deserve to be honoured for their achievements and impact over the past year, but also because of the importance of sharing their inspiring stories, which serve as proof to all women of what is possible.

The role models we have selected represent a variety of sectors, career stages, and contributions to women’s advancement. There are entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, media and entertainment personalities, and trailblazers from the non-profit and public sector. Their unique accomplishments are impossible to compare against each other, which is why the Top 25 is now designed as a celebration rather than a ranking — there are notably no numbers next to the names on the pages that follow.

What do they have in common? They are all women of influence, who have left their mark over the past year. Some have reached impressive heights in their career, breaking through barriers to become visible examples of what women are capable of. Others are focused on supporting women and girls through their initiatives, both at a community level, and on the world stage. Many are giving a voice to the challenges women face in their life and careers, helping to initiate important conversations that can lead to lasting change.

It was a challenge narrowing down the list to just 25, and there are certainly many deserving women that we were not able to include. To our Top 25 Women of Influence, and the unofficial women of influence having an impact across country, we thank you.


Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 2017 list.




Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Katherine Hay



Katherine Hay

Current: President & CEO, Women’s College Hospital Foundation

Designated: President and CEO of Kids Help Phone

For three years, Kathy Hay lead the team responsible for generating the majority of funding for Women’s College Hospital (WCH) in Toronto. Funds that not only enable WCH to deliver excellent care, but also to conduct groundbreaking research that impacts the health and treatment of women across Canada. Early in the 2017 — largely in thanks to the efforts of Kathy — WCH announced that philanthropist Peter Gilgan and the Canadian Cancer Society would be providing a collaborative $12 million gift to establish The Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, which will further research, education, and innovation in the field. The vision Kathy has helped to realize: to empower patients and their families by transforming care for women’s cancers nationwide. She will continue her exceptional leadership work as President of CEO of the national charity Kids Help Phone in October of 2017, but her legacy with Women’s College Hospital will not soon be forgotten.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Sara Austin



Sara Austin

Founder of Children First Canada, CEO of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre

With over 20 years of leadership experience in the non-profit sector, Sara Austin has already helped change the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children through global advocacy, public policy efforts, and philanthropic campaigns. In November of 2016, she shifted the focus homeward with the launch of her own non-profit, Children First Canada. While most Canadians don’t perceive our country as having a problem, statistics show one in five children are living in poverty, one in three Canadians have experienced some form of child abuse, and one in five kids have considered suicide. In September of 2017, Sara transitioned from CEO to lead director of the board at Children First Canada in order to take on a new position as CEO of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre. As a member of the Board, Sara will provide strategic leadership direction and continue to guide the charity she founded in mobilizing public awareness, driving the federal government towards action, and making Canada the best place for a kid to grow up.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Jennifer Keesmaat



Jennifer Keesmaat

Former City of Toronto Chief Planner

While Jennifer Keesmaat has chosen to step down from her position as City of Toronto Chief Planner effective September 2017, she spent her time in the role proving herself to be anything but a typical bureaucrat. Lured from a successful entrepreneurial planning venture (her role as Chief Planner came with a 40% pay cut), she has a blog and a sizeable Twitter following that she diligently updates with news and personal opinions. She was less concerned with politics than with sticking to her planning ideals: advocating for liveable density, high walkability, improved transit options, affordable housing, and plenty of green space. In 2017, dozens of large-scale projects were underway that followed her vision, including Bloor’s bike lanes, a transit- and pedestrian-friendly redesign of King St., and plans for the massive Rail Deck Park. Jennifer did not just picture a brighter future for North America’s fourth largest city — she helped get it done.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Shahrzad Rafati



Shahrzad Rafati

Founder and CEO of BroadbandTV Corp

Shahrzad Rafati founded BroadbandTV in 2005. The Vancouver-based digital media and technology company now operates the largest multi-platform network in the world — with 30 billion monthly video views from its thousands of network partners. They pioneered both the technology and business model that enabled big entertainment entities, like the NBA, to profit from rather than persecute unauthorized video content being uploaded by fans. In January, the European media conglomerate that owns a majority of BroadbandTV’s stock announced it was up for sale, with an expected price tag in the range of $1 billion. For Shahrzad, the company’s largest minority shareholder, it could lead to quite the payday.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Sarain Fox



Sarain Fox

Actor & Activist

Sarain Fox has worked in film as an actor, had a successful career as a professional dancer, and modelled in her spare time — but it is her activism that makes her unique. Of Anishinabe lineage, she has long been a passionate spokesperson for her community north of Toronto. In 2017, her circle of influence expanded greatly when she landed the host role for the documentary series RISE, which premiered on Viceland in January. The series followed Sarain as she traveled to indigenous communities across the Americas to meet the individuals and groups working to protect their homelands. It gave a voice to a marginalized people, and a platform for Sarain — who hopes that her own visibility and success can open new doors and opportunities for Aboriginal youths.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Sukhinder Singh Cassidy



Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

Founder, theBoardlist and Founder & Chairman, Joyus

Since moving to Silicon Valley twenty years ago, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy has founded two companies, headed up Google’s Asia Pacific and Latin American operations, taken on the CEO role at multiple organizations, served on several boards, and become an angel investor. She’s been recognized on many other lists over the past decade, notably the Top 100 People in the Valley by Business Insider (2012, 2016), a “Woman to Watch” by Forbes (2014), Fortune (2008) and Ad Age (2010), and one of the Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company (2017). What earned her a spot on our Top 25? Launching theBoardlist in Canada in April. The online talent marketplace enables qualified female candidates to be endorsed and discovered, connecting board-ready women leaders with opportunities to serve on private and public company boards. It is a tool addressing a very real issue; not only are women grossly underrepresented at the board level in both the U.S. (where she originally launched theBoardlist) and Canada, but, according to a recent study, the reason cited by most male board members for the lack of gender parity is a lack of qualified female candidates to fill positions. Thanks to Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, that problem (or should we say, excuse) has a simple solution.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Gigi Gorgeous



Gigi Gorgeous

Transgender Activist, Actress, Model, & Social Media Influencer

Between YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, Giselle Loren Lazzarato — known online as Gigi Gorgeous — has a social media following surpassing five million. The Toronto-based icon first came out as transgender in a YouTube video in December 13, after having already achieved a degree of vlogger fame as the openly gay Gregory Gorgeous. Her transition was chronicled online for her fans, and in January, her story made it to the big screen, with the documentary film This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous. Directed by two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Koppl, the biopic premiered at the Sundance Film Festival — but you can now watch it, fittingly, on YouTube.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Samantha Bee



Samantha Bee

Host, Full Frontal

When Toronto-native Samantha Bee’s news satire show, Full Frontal, premiered in February of 2016, a lot of the buzz surrounding it was focused on the fact that she was the only woman in late night. Now in its second season, the conversation has shifted to the quality of the content — which Samantha is admittedly grateful for. That content is dominated by passionate take-downs of President Trump and his policies (often with a creative slew of insults), and comprehensive coverage of stories traditionally seen as women’s issues, presented in a way that can make her entire audience, male and female, constructively angry.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Mary Ann Turcke



Mary Ann Turcke

President, Digital media and NFL Network at the National Football League

An engineer by trade, Mary Ann Turcke began her career as a district manager for the Ministry of Transportation in her hometown of Kingston, Ontario. A move to Toronto and a series of management positions in the private sector followed, until she joined Bell Canada in 2005. While there, Mary Ann took on executive positions in customer experience, operations, and sales before being named president of Bell Media in 2015. Less than two years later, in a move many weren’t expecting, it was announced that she would be taking over the role of president of digital media and the NFL Network at the National Football League. The career shift represents not only an international relocation (from Toronto to Los Angeles), but a top-tier position at an organization largely recognized as being male-driven. With responsibilities including leading the operations of the NFL Network, as well as overseeing NFL-owned and operated media assets such as NFL Films, NFL Digital and, we’re interested to see the impact a woman at the helm can have on the league’s often beleaguered reputation.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Maayan Ziv



Maayan Ziv

Photographer and Accessibility Activist

Growing up with spinal muscular atrophy, Maayan Ziv knows firsthand the frustration and challenges that a lack of accessibility can cause. So in 2015, she created the AccessNow app to help solve the problem. It uses crowdsourcing to pin the accessibility status of locations on an interactive map, enabling users to search for specific places or browse what’s nearby, as well as add information and ratings to listings. In the summer of 2017 — having already reached over 10,000 pins in 31 countries — AccessNow partnered with Icon Wheelchairs and Google to map the 85-kilometre Pan Am Path, enhancing access to outdoor spaces for people of all abilities.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Jen Agg



Jen Agg


Jen Agg officially became a star on the Toronto restaurant scene with the opening of The Black Hoof in 2008. She’s now the owner of three more popular locales in the city, including Cocktail Bar, Rhum Corner, and her latest, Grey Gardens, as well as Montréal’s Agrikol restaurant. This level of success is not a common feat for a woman in the industry — a fact that Jen is well aware of, and highly vocal about. Already prolific on social media with her opinions on the industry’s treatment of women, in May she published her first memoir, the aptly named I Hear She’s a Real Bitch. It comically chronicles her life, from childhood to her professional career, and includes the steps she has taken to create an equitable work environment at her own establishments. In an industry where women need an advocate, Jen has gladly taken on the role.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Robyn Doolittle



Robyn Doolittle

Investigative Reporter

Robyn Doolittle first rose to journalistic fame at the Toronto Star, when she helped bring the Rob Ford crack-cocaine scandal to light. That big break in her career led to a rushed book deal and the Canadian bestseller, Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story. Shortly after its release, she moved to The Globe and Mail as an investigative reporter, continuing with the Rob Ford beat in her early days, and reporting on smaller-scale scandals. And then on February 3, 2017, her Unfounded series debuted on the front page. The name comes from the term used for sexual assault cases that are dismissed because investigators determined that no crime occurred. During the 20-month-long investigation that Robin led, The Globe and Mail gathered data from more than 870 police jurisdictions, accounting for 92 per cent of the country’s population. It was revealed that police close about one in five sexual assault cases as “unfounded” — and they are not reported to Statistics Canada, giving a false impression of the extent of the problem. The investigation also uncovered serious flaws in how cases are handled. The result of Robin’s work? Several police forces committed to reviewing their unfounded cases, Statistics Canada announced it would resume tracking them, politicians promised to allocate more funding to these crimes — and a national conversation about sexual assault began.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.



Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Marie-Claude Bibeau



Marie-Claude Bibeau

Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

The federal government launched Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy in June, outlining a bold and focused vision that would begin to position Canada as a leader on gender equality in its aid programming. Spearheaded by the Honorable Marie-Claude Bibeau, she’s still working hard around the Cabinet table to increase the funds allocated to it. And as the Trump administration slashes foreign aid, she’s also putting pressure on her American counterpart, particularly their cuts to family planning and abortion — an area that Bibeau has, sometimes controversially, not shied away from defending.



Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.