The Pressure of Performing

As CEO of G(irls)20, Heather Barnabe’s career has been built around improving the livelihoods of women and girls, both at home in Canada and around the world. With over a decade of experience in the not-for-profit sector, Heather knows what it means to manage complex, multi-country interventions.


By Heather Barnabe, CEO, G(irls)20




“On rit pour ne pas pleurer” was the refrain commonly used by my high school French teacher. We laugh to not cry. He’d typically deploy it when his students flubbed the French language and being the terrible French student that I was, I was often on the receiving end of that phrase. He would take a deep breath, close his eyes and, whisper “Barnabe, on rit pour ne pas pleurer.” And then he’d laugh, correct me and move on. I watched him do this for years with his students and did not appreciate the importance of what his phrase meant until recently, when I needed to deploy it regularly. 

I have had the privilege to lead G(irls)20 since June of 2017. G(irls)20 is a non-profit organization that focuses on leadership development in young women to change the status quo and help cultivate the next generation of female leaders. Each year, ahead of the G20 leaders’ meetings, we host a global summit and invite young female delegates from around the world to participate in workshops and meaningful discussions surrounding women’s rights and global issues. The delegates work together to create a communiqué that incorporates a female youth perspective on the topics of the summit. The communiqué is then presented to the G20. The delegates also create a post-summit initiative that helps change their communities. It’s an incredible job and I feel lucky to do but, like any great opportunity, the pressure to execute is anxiety-inducing. 

In May, we hosted our 10th annual summit in Japan. For a number of reasons outside of our control, G(irls)20 had to prepare our Summit in a very short timeframe, operating in overdrive to pull everything together and implement an impactful event. 


Having a strategy to tackle workload-related anxiety is necessary to succeed in our high-performing professional environments. With a dash of humour added, you will be able to navigate just about anything.


At G(irls)20, we struggle over the decision about who we choose for our programs, because, simply put, the world is full of dedicated, talented young women, deserving of opportunities. In the lead up to Summit, there was a week where our keynote speaker had pulled out, one of our delegates was declined a visa, and another delegate called me up distressed as she was potentially unable to attend. Layered with numerous other issues that arose, the pressure of implementing a global summit with what felt like a lack of human capital, resources and time was already keeping me up at night. That day, anxiety kicked in and felt overwhelming. And I’m not alone — a recent Ipsos Reid poll found almost half of Canadians find the workplace the most stressful part of their life. Of those Canadians, half indicate workload is the biggest cause. 

So how do we navigate workplace anxiety caused by pressure and workload? I try to reframe the anxiety and follow these steps: 

  1. Take stock. Write down the details of the issue, list out the possible next steps, outcomes, and associated pros and cons.
  2. Reach out. Who in your network can help with this issue?
  3. Take action. You have to make a decision, so once you have run through steps 1 -3, be decisive and move forward.
  4. Prepare. What possible outcomes did you determine in step 1? Prepare for those outcomes with mitigating strategies.
  5. Step back. In looking at the bigger picture, is this issue truly significant or are there other factors influencing your anxiety?  
  6. Move on. I did not appreciate that for my French teacher, that refrain of ‘on rit pour ne pas pleurer’ was his gentle way of reminding himself of seeing the bigger picture and then moving on. Yes, his students were incorrectly conjugating a French verb, but they were still learning French, a language he adored. It’s good to be reminded that the best plans go awry in our professional lives —but we can stay the course. 

That particular day, I found comfort in his phrase and laughed at the absurdity of the multitude of issues coming at once. And then we did what we needed to — the G(irls)20 team kicked into action, going through the steps, and ultimately executing a notable global summit for young female leaders. Having a strategy to tackle workload-related anxiety is necessary to succeed in our high-performing professional environments. With a dash of humour added, you will be able to navigate just about anything.

How Shannon Kot fast-tracked her path to partner at Deloitte

A co-op placement while earning a math and computer science degree introduced Shannon Kot to the consulting world. A few years later, at the urging of her mentor, she chose to complement her skills with an MBA from Smith School of Business. In just seven years, Shannon had made partner at Deloitte — a feat she attributes not only to the knowledge she gained, but also to the leadership skills and confidence earned along the way.


By Hailey Eisen




Shannon Kot’s career path has taken her from an undergraduate degree in computer science, in 2008, to becoming a partner at Deloitte this past summer. Looking back, she attributes much of her success to mentors who helped her along the way.

The first was her mom. As Shannon explains: “[My mother] had been a computer science major in the 1980s, and I watched her career — from working in IT for an oil company, to working for the province of British Columbia in IT services, and finally to being named deputy minister in 2017.” (Shannon’s mom is Jill Kot, deputy minister at B.C.’s Ministry of Citizens’ Services.)

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Shannon took a computer science class in her first year at university. To her surprise, she loved it, and by her second year had started a co-op math and computer science degree. “I would say most of the professors knew my name,” Shannon recalls. “Perhaps that’s because I was really keen — but I also happened to be one of the few girls in the program.”

She did her final co-op placement at Deloitte in Toronto. There, she decided to pursue a career in consulting. She leapt at the chance to join Deloitte’s Technology Strategy and Architectures practice in Ottawa — a city, she notes, that is more comparable in size to her hometown of Victoria than Toronto.

It was in Ottawa where Shannon met her next mentor, Nousha Ram. Nousha would come to have an immeasurable impact on her career. “Within Deloitte, everyone is assigned a coach, and I was lucky to have Nousha, who provided a great deal of support and guidance,” Shannon recalls.

Critically, Nousha looked at Shannon’s background in computer science and technology and suggested that what Shannon needed was a stronger understanding of business. “She gave me a swift kick and said, ‘If you’re going to go back to school, now is the time.’ ”

Knowing she had Deloitte’s support, Shannon began to search for an MBA program that would be a good fit and allow her to get the most out of her investment. “I started applying to a few schools. But after visiting Queen’s and meeting the Smith administrative team, sitting in on classes and connecting with other students, I realized it was a perfect program for me. I didn’t bother finishing any of the other applications.”


“Looking back, I realize that the impact she had on me as a person and a professional was phenomenal. When you’re lucky enough to find a coach, or mentor, or sponsor who thinks you can take on the world — it’s a beautiful gift.”


Going back to school gave Shannon the opportunity to develop her business knowledge and leadership skills. “It was also an opportunity to step back and look at who I was as a professional, who I wanted to be as a leader and coach, and how to develop the confidence required to get to where I wanted to be professionally.”

At Smith, Shannon had the opportunity to work with people from a variety of backgrounds, including a number of mentors and coaches. And she garnered the skills and confidence to coach others on her team. “I learned to provide candid feedback when necessary, something I had always struggled with,” she recalls.

Here, a fellow student and member of her team was especially helpful. “He had been a high school teacher prior to doing his MBA, and was far more experienced navigating conflict and confrontation than I was,” she says. “These skills came naturally to him, so he would coach me on how to handle different situations, which helped me as a leader a great deal.”

Shannon says the MBA program and the year away from work did wonders for her confidence. It helped her solidify plans to return to Deloitte upon graduation, in 2012, and to work toward making partner.

Now that she’s achieved that goal, Shannon is happy to enjoy the moment — at least for the time being. “When I made partner, I felt very proud that I had reached something I knew I wanted to achieve. I also felt, and still feel, a great responsibility to those who helped me get here. I want to make Nousha proud and I’m eager to help develop the next generation of leaders.”

Her advice for others is simple. “The earlier you can start to know yourself better, the better off you’ll be,” she says. “Begin by asking yourself questions, such as: Do you understand the value you can contribute? Do you understand your own values? Finding clarity in those areas helps improve decision making and helps you solidify your ‘North Star.’ ”

Sadly, Shanon’s mentor at Deloitte, Nousha, passed away a few years ago. Says Shannon, “Looking back, I realize that the impact she had on me as a person and a professional was phenomenal. When you’re lucky enough to find a coach, or mentor, or sponsor who thinks you can take on the world — it’s a beautiful gift.”


MBA students at Smith School of Business build their leadership capacities through the school’s innovative team-based learning model and are supported by dedicated team, life, and executive coaches. Learn more here.


Meet Carol Deacon: A Chief Operating Officer in the automotive industry

Carol Deacon began her career sourcing automotive parts in Detroit. After earning an MBA from INSEAD, she worked with several large retailers and consumer brands on growth strategies, innovation, and turn-around plans, before returning to the automotive world with a role at Canadian Tire. During her six years at the company, she led the turnaround strategy for the tires category, helped to revamp the company’s store-level automotive operations, and established new loyalty and eCommerce programs. Carol decided to shift gears after having her third child, and, after an extended leave, is now back in automotive as Chief Operating Officer at Pfaff Automotive Partners.





My first job ever was… at the age of 13, working at a Hallmark store. It was the first of many part-time jobs I had while in school — almost all of them within the retail sector. I think this is where my passion for customer service and retail first started.

I first became interested in cars… because of the men in my life — my father always took pride in his cars, my husband loves being on the racetrack, and my son has grown an impressive collection of Hot Wheels. Without a doubt, over the course of my career, I’ve significantly deepened my automotive knowledge, and the industry continues to fascinate me.

I decided on a career in the automotive industry because… coming out of university, my first job was at a consulting firm; I was focused on building a strong foundation in business. I was assigned to the automotive parts sector, and while it may not have been my first choice in consulting engagements, sourcing parts gave me a window into a large, vibrant, and very complex industry where I could apply my talents. 

My favourite thing about my current role… is that it allows me to bring all of my knowledge and talents to the table, from automotive as well as retail and management consulting. We’re focused on leading change in the automotive retail sector, which comes with some huge challenges, but also some great opportunities.

My proudest accomplishment is… personally, raising three loving, independent, and fun children. Professionally, I’m proud of the digital Canadian Tire Money program. Canadian Tire Money is a Canadian institution and an iconic loyalty program; digitizing it came with numerous challenges, but it was an honour to work on the program and launch it successfully.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… sleep! Unfortunately, that’s the one thing that is sacrificed with an exciting career and a busy family of five.


“Be ready for change.”


My best advice to people starting out in the automotive industry is… be ready for change. The automotive retail industry in on the cusp of disruption. It is one of the last sectors that has been influenced by digital and consumer trends. What’s interesting about this is that the industry now needs and wants people from outside of the industry to bring their experience, perspective, and knowledge to selling and servicing cars. This can be seen not just in new kinds of roles — dedicated inventory and pricing analysts, data scientists, IT professionals, to name a few — but even in the ways that existing roles have evolved. Because of a new sales model we’ve created (we call it our future retail model), some of our best-performing salespeople have little or no previous sales experience — the best salespeople are no longer master negotiators, but they’re intensely focused on understanding customers’ needs, and on following a defined process. There have never been more opportunities in our sector, and it’s one that wants and needs new blood.

I surprise people when I tell them… I once cleaned offices and bathrooms at Union Station in Toronto. It was a summer job while in university, and definitely one of my most memorable. While not the most glamorous, it helped teach me the value of hard work, and I met some of the most incredible people. 

My boldest move to date was… taking on my current role at Pfaff. After working at large companies such as Canadian Tire, many in my circle wondered why I was drawn to a smaller company in what has been a traditional sector. What distinguished Pfaff was its genuine commitment to customers and finding ways to serve them better — something that aligned perfectly with both my own philosophy and my career path.

My biggest setback was… right out of my MBA, I was determined to get a managerial job within the retail industry. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that many retailers still valued experience over education, and my resume wasn’t quite there yet. I had to explore other paths.

I overcame it by… taking a job in management consulting at McKinsey & Company. While I had intended to stay only a couple of years and gain some retail experience, I ended up staying for five years. I developed skills and knowledge that continue to be valuable as a retail and automotive leader today. 

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my career is… it is a journey, not a race. Sometimes the best roles are unexpected but are the most exciting and rewarding. Be willing to challenge yourself, and go outside your comfort zone sometimes. 

The future excites me because… the next five years in the automotive industry will likely bring more change than the last 50. Between the changes in technology in the cars, the way customers’ behaviours are evolving, and the way all of us are going to have to adapt, it’s an exciting time to be in the business. 

How Dream Maker Inc is making entrepreneurship more inclusive

Isaac Olowolafe Jr., President of Dream Maker Inc, a Toronto-based asset management firm, started his entrepreneurial journey at just 22 years old. Now at 36, he credits the support of his parents, wife and his community for his success — and he’s paying it forward, with venture capital investments and philanthropic support guided by a diversity and inclusion mandate.


by Hailey Eisen






At 36 years old, Isaac Olowolafe Jr. has experienced great success in business at the helm of Dream Maker Corp., a diversified asset management company with divisions in real estate, development, property management, and insurance. He’s also contributed greatly as a philanthropist and is an active champion of diversity and inclusion. Isaac, however, won’t take personal credit for any of it — attributing all of his success, instead, to his upbringing and the unwavering support of his family and community.

“My parents moved our family to Canada from Nigeria when I was 4,” he recalls, “and I grew up in a rough area of Toronto.” When Isaac was 15 his family moved again, this time to Woodbridge, a large suburban community north of the city.

“Being one of the only black students in a primarily Italian community was certainly a culture shock,” Isaac recalls. And, while he recognized that he was outside of his comfort zone, he realized he had a choice to make — focus on the negative and sulk in the corner for the rest of high school, or make the most of it.

Being optimistic by nature, Isaac chose the latter path and quickly found inclusion into his new community through sports. “There are certain things that make people colour blind and one of them is sports,” he says. “It’s a great equalizer.” So, Isaac joined the soccer team and learned to play Bocce Ball. He made friends and focused on all the positive things his new community had to offer — including a strong work ethic and business sense.

“I was exposed to a lot of the businesses built out of Woodbridge, such as real estate, development, and construction,” Isaac says. “And, my dad was also a real estate broker, so I was exposed to real estate not only from my environment, but also from watching my dad. I saw real estate as a tool to create generational wealth, not only to take care of your family but also to build up a community.”

At just 22 years old, and in his second year at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, he launched Dream Maker Corp. — then, just a real estate investment company. Eight years, and a lot of hard work later, he added real estate development to his growing company. His first project was a $40 million mixed-use condo development across from Yorkdale Mall. “I wasn’t a typical developer, and many lenders said ‘no’ right away,” he recalls. Throughout the project, he faced many roadblocks — but he also received much support. In the 16 years since he set out as an entrepreneur, Isaac’s business has grown substantially. He’s remained committed to his roots, however, crediting his connections and contacts with opening doors and helping him overcome roadblocks.

With a realization that the technology ecosystem is what continues to drive the real estate and development sectors, Isaac became interested in providing support and funding to tech entrepreneurs — especially those from diverse backgrounds. He launched Dream Maker Ventures Inc. (DMV), the investment arm of Dream Maker Corp., to fund early-stage startups in this space.


“Nothing good comes easy, regardless of you being a woman, or from the black community, or from any type of diverse group, with enough hard work, you can crack through and achieve your goals.


As a venture capitalist, he believes that those companies that work with Dream Maker Ventures are innately open to different viewpoints — and he brings that to the table, no matter who he’s working with. “We work with the companies we fund to bring a diverse perspective to hiring and product development, among other things,” he says.

Their latest initiative takes this a step further. Through the recently-launched “Diversity Fund,” Dream Maker Ventures will make early-stage, seed, and Series A investments in tech companies with founding teams inclusive of persons of colour, women, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, and indigenous entrepreneurs.

Isaac’s goal through this fund is to help change the narrative around entrepreneurship. It also makes good business sense, he says. “Statistics show that diversity not only creates a more positive work environment, but can also help companies build better products overall.”

As a philanthropist, Isaac has, for the most part, focused his efforts on inclusion in the startup space also. Through the Dream Legacy Foundation, Isaac’s philanthropic arm, he gives back to the community by supporting programs and initiatives that help entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities, and provides access to key resources that are critical to long-term success. This essentially creates a pipeline of diverse entrepreneurs within the ecosystem that are suitable for future investment by Dream Maker Ventures and other venture capitalists. Such programs include the DMZ Black Innovation Fellowship, based out of Ryerson University; Fierce Founders, a bootcamp program for female entrepreneurs; and Access to Success, which supports future business leaders with disabilities, among others.

“The challenge most entrepreneurs of any diverse group face, is access,” Isaac says. “Access to mentorship, funding, and resources.” The access he was given when he was starting out is what he hopes to provide for others. The Black Innovation Fellowship, for example, is the first fellowship program in Canada to provide startups led by Black entrepreneurs with mentorship, events, industry connections, capital, and an alumni network to support growth.

“This is a five-year initiative, and I hope that in five years there’s no need for a program like this — that it will be normal to go into any incubator and see black-led, female-led, and other diverse population-led startups,” Isaac says.

In the future Isaac envisions, his daughters, now 4, 6, and 9, won’t face challenges specifically because of their gender or race. For now, however, he’s focused on teaching them about the value of hard work. “Nothing good comes easy,” he says. “Regardless of you being a woman, or from the black community, or from any type of diverse group, with enough hard work, you can crack through and achieve your goals.”


What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.