Connie Lo is a recipient of a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award category. With a life-long passion for entrepreneurship and natural beauty, Connie is the co-founder of Three Ships, a vegan skincare line based in Toronto.
My first job ever was… a café barista at the age of 13.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I didn’t want to feel like just a number in a large organization, and really wanted to see the direct impact of my actions on the world.
My proudest accomplishment is… surprising my mom for Mother’s Day this year during the COVID-19 lockdown with an at-home high tea, complete with pastries and desserts from her favourite spots across Toronto. Seeing her so incredibly happy and surprised is one of my proudest moments as a daughter.
My biggest setback was… imposter syndrome. I lived in constant fear that people would one day “figure out” that I was a total fraud, or that I wasn’t capable of running my own business.
I overcame it by… documenting every day what I did and how my actions contributed to our company’s success. By tying my effort directly to Three Ships’ growth, I was able to see that our success didn’t come down to luck or good fortune, but rather my hard work, intelligence, and resourcefulness.
If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m a huge wellness, fitness, and productivity junkie! I can spend hours procrastinating and researching healthy recipes, smoothie concoctions, workouts, and productivity hacks!
My best advice for small business owners is… you don’t need a lot of funding or any connections to build a company. We only had $4,000 in savings with absolutely no connections in the beauty or manufacturing space. With hustle and grit, we bootstrapped our business to where it is today!
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… creating a scheduled ‘end time’ to your work day. I probably achieve this 50% of the time! It’s hard when you love what you do but it’s so important to give yourself a break.
When starting my business, I wish I knew… to focus on staying in my lane, especially in the beginning days. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other brands that are farther along or have hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch their business. Focus on your mission and your company, and be proud of what you are accomplishing.
The future excites me because… we are at the cusp of huge growth at Three Ships. We’ve really hit our stride and I am so excited to share all the things we’ve been working on with the world!
Success to me means…living in alignment with your purpose, doing something that brings you and others joy, and being kind to everyone you meet.
Laura Burget is the recipient of a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award category. As a life-long supporter of businesses with high ethical standards, her journey into entrepreneurship began at the ripe age of 9 when she sold handmade crafts and jewelry at her elementary school to raise money for endangered animals. Now, as the co-founder of Three Ships, she develops natural and effective alternatives to every-day beauty products.
My first job ever was… as a lifeguard at the local YMCA.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I love the creativity, excitement and risk that comes along with being an entrepreneur. I thrive in fast-paced environments and get bored really easily. Being an entrepreneur means that no day is ever the same!
My proudest accomplishment is… launching Three Ships with just $4,000 and zero connections. At the time, it was all that we had to work with and so we didn’t see this as making us an underdog. Looking back though, I realize how uncommon it is to build a 7 figure business from nothing, and I’m extremely proud of the brand we’ve built and the impact that we have had in just 3 short years.
My biggest setback was… failing a semester in second year university and having to repeat it. In order to stay in the program I was in, you had to maintain an average of 60% and I just barely missed this.
I overcame it by… realizing that I was hugely over-extended. I was running two companies, leading several clubs and managing a full engineering course load at the same time. It was way too much for me to manage and my grades ended up suffering. I came back and focused on consistently doing my work each day, allowing me to double my grade in several classes. I went from being in the bottom 10% my class to being in the top 10%.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson – everyone is capable of greatness. My outcome in what I take on in life is based on the sustained effort that I put in. My 3rd and 4th year marks were stellar and I definitely learned how to better balance work and social life. In the end, I’m grateful for this experience as I learned so much from it and it’s made me a more self-assured, balanced person.
If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I can solve a Rubrik’s cube in under a minute.
My best advice for small business owners is… surround yourself with great partners and advocates of you and your business. These connections will serve you far more than you could imagine and will help to keep you sane.
The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…
Don’t compare yourself and where you are to others and where they are! So much easier said than done. Especially in business, no team or company ever has things as “under control” or “figured out” as you think.
When starting my business, I wish I knew… more about how the venture capital space worked. Being properly funded is so important for all start-ups and it’s a space that we had to learn from scratch. Knowing more about how to raise money and structure a round would have saved us a lot of time.
The future excites me because… we’re only just getting started with our mission at Three Ships! The world is so connected now that I truly believe that there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.
Success to me means…knowing that even if you were to die tomorrow, you would have lived your life without regrets. No “shoulds”, “coulds” or “woulds”. We only have one life!
Laurie Mayhas been in the film business for over twenty years. She is currently the Co-Founder and Co-President of Elevation Pictures, one of the largest independent distribution companies in Canada with award-winning titles such as The Imitation Game, ROOM, and Moonlight. She is also an Executive Producer on the recently released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. Prior to Elevation, Laurie served as Executive Vice President of Entertainment One and Alliance Films and was Co-President and Co-Founder of Maple Pictures where she was involved in many notable releases including Academy Award winners Crash, TheHurt Locker, and The Cove.
Laurie began her career in film as the Senior Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Lionsgate, where she also sat on the board of directors from 2005-2010. She received her law degree from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, practiced corporate and entertainment law at Oslers, and was an adjunct professor of Entertainment and Sports Law at Western Law School. She has also acted as a mentor for Women in Film & Television and in 2010 was the recipient of the WIFT Outstanding Achievement Award for her accomplishments in the Canadian film industry. In 2017, Laurie became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We spoke with Laurie about her career journey, releasing films during a pandemic, and her advice for women who want to follow in her footsteps.
You have a very impressive and diverse background in film, from legal affairs to being an Executive Producer on the newly released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. What drew you to film and what do you enjoy most about the industry?
I love the creative energy of the film industry. Early in law school I got interested in entertainment law, which was a great path into the film business. I worked on corporate, production and distribution work at Lionsgate, and transitioned that into a more business role running Maple Pictures (the Canadian arm of Lionsgate), which sold to Alliance Films, then Alliance Films sold to Entertainment One, and we launched Elevation which has become the largest independent English distributor in Canada. What I especially love about film is the passion for storytelling, from working with writers and directors, producers, sales agents, and talent; this is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together.
Having worked in the film industry for over 20 years, is there a specific project or accomplishment you are most proud of?
There have been so many projects that I am proud of, at Elevation winning the TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards for our films The Imitation Game, and ROOM, and Academy Award Best Picture wins including for our film Moonlight, highlighted that we were succeeding in what we set out to do, which is bring elevated content for audiences. On a personal level, my greatest accomplishment in the industry was becoming a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2017.
Film is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together.
Elevation Pictures debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, and since then, has had many major achievements including multiple Academy wins and two TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards. What inspired you to launch Elevation Pictures and what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your journey?
There was a lot of consolidation in the Canadian film industry, so there was an opportunity to create a new Canadian distributor, to focus on a slate of “elevated content”, supporting Canadian filmmakers, and working with international partners to bring the best independent films to audiences. There have been many valuable lessons, but the most valuable one is it’s all about teamwork. We have an amazing dedicated team at Elevation, from my Co-President Noah Segal who spearheaded our production arm, producing amazing films like The Nest in theatres this Friday, and French Exit which is closing night at the New York Film Festival, to everyone who works at Elevation, who share the passion for film and drive to succeed.
Elevation Pictures had a number of titles at TIFF 2020 including one of this year’s most anticipated films, Ammonite. How did you prepare for this year’s festival season in comparison to previous years?
We are very proud to have three films at TIFF, two prominent distribution titles: Ammonite starring Kate Winslet (who won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Saorise Ronan to be distributed by Neon, and The Father starring Sir Anthony Hopkins (who also won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Olivia Colman to be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which both launched into the start of awards season. We also had one of the buzziest sales titles, I Care A Lot, directed by J. Blakeson and starring Rosamund Pike (who is a TIFF Ambassador) and Peter Dinkledge, which got an amazing reception and stellar reviews. The planning was a little different, more focused on the new screening plan including digital screenings, and how to engage audiences without the buzz of red carpets and big events, but overall I think TIFF did a great job and we are very pleased with how all the films played.
The film industry is traditionally a very male-dominated industry. What advice would you give to other women interested in pursuing a career in film?
Yes, the industry has been traditionally very male dominated, but I was always inspired by the strong female role models in the industry, from Sherry Lansing who ran Paramount Pictures to Phllis Yaffe at Alliance Films. The industry has been shifting towards inclusivity and diversity, including making room for women in front of and behind the camera, as evidenced by the TIFF initiative, Share Her Journey. Women have a strong role to play, so go network, find a mentor, find your passion, and go for it. Everyone has obstacles along the way, it’s about muscling through them and learning from them that makes you stronger, so you can make a positive contribution and hopefully inspire others along the way.
I am privileged to be a mom of three and the CEO of Thunderbird Entertainment, a multifaceted entertainment company that employs over 1,000 animators, creators, directors, crew members, and more across Canada and the US. At Thunderbird, our focus is on creating meaningful, diverse, and world-changing content that helps shift the status quo and places the spotlight on stories that might otherwise remain untold. And, in an unprecedented time in history where people are consuming more content than ever, it has become even more important to create and tell stories that uplift and authentically represent visible minority groups and strong, fearless women.
I love stories, and the immense impact they can have. Stories have the power to influence and can be used as a force of good to share experiences, broaden perspectives, and inspire change.
At Thunderbird, we produce stories that have the potential to change and impact our world. I’m fortunate to work alongside people who collectively believe that authenticity is a critical element in storytelling. Authenticity matters on so many levels. Simu Liu of Kim’s Convenience, tells the story of how growing up he could be any superhero that wore a mask – and didn’t directly show his face. Why? Because before he was cast as Marvel’s superhero, Shang-Chi, there wasn’t any Asian superheroes.
Making diversity a non-negotiable aspect of our business makes complete and total sense.
Aside from prioritizing authenticity being the right approach, it is also good for business. According to The Ticket to Inclusion, an analysis of the top 1,200 films released from 2007-2018 found that films led or co-led by people of color generally net more revenue than those with white leads/co-leads. The bottom line? Diversity sells.
As an advocate for women in the workplace, a champion for underrepresented voices, and someone with a deep-rooted passion for people, making diversity a non-negotiable aspect of our business makes complete and total sense. But, it’s easier said than done. Yes, we are committed to diversity, and not just in a token form. Instead, we are committed to making our content as authentically, and with as much intentionality as possible. This includes everything from the early stages of development and research (for Season One of Molly of Denali, over 60 Alaska Native actors, writers, advisors, producers and musicians were involved across the production!), to the final casting and acting process (in our commitment to authentic representation, we cast and recast the lead character’s role in Hello Ninja in order to find the right fit: a pre-teen Japanese-American voice actor to play Wesley), to the make-up of our 1,000+ employees (our kids and family division is 40% female, 50% male, and 10% gender fluid).
The power and privilege that comes with creating and telling a good story simply cannot be understated. Stories can help us see a situation from a different perspective, and even shift our core beliefs.
So how do we ensure we are creating and telling stories that are a force for good and that not only entertains, but also empowers and inspires? Here are four practical takeaways that serve as key principles in my own life, that help guide me in my own journey as a mother and a leader on a mission of doing what I can to make the world a better place, and that I hope will help you, too:
Have an attitude of gratitude and good things will come your way.
I say this to my kids all the time. Who you surround yourself with is who you are, and you are personally accountable for everyone in your circle. For me, kindness and integrity are non-negotiable and I surround myself with people who align with these values. Telling stories of diversity and inclusivity are what matters at Thunderbird, which is why we have intentionally built a culture of people who align with this mission.
If you can see it, you can be it.
I was fortunate to have strong role models in both my parents. They empowered me to not only seek out the career I have today, but also to keep pushing myself to grow and achieve new milestones throughout the years. My parents taught that “you get what you put in” and I put this into practice in whatever I am doing. More importantly, they led by doing. My father was a CEO and my mother was a Clinical Research Director. As a result, I witnessed leadership. I also witnessed firsthand that details matter, and they often make the difference. From this, I adopted the “if you can see it, you can be it” mentality — and this bodes well for where my career has taken me — and my leadership role at Thunderbird. I want my children to know that they can earn a seat at the table through hard work and resilience, and have worked hard to demonstrate to them that a woman doesn’t have to choose between having a career and family. I also intentionally surround myself with other strong female leaders who are intelligent, capable, and inspire me every day to keep growing and learning as my career continues to evolve.
‘If you can see it, you can be it’ relates to what we see on the screen as well. Our industry is fortunate because it can make changes in real time through the stories we tell, and characters we cast. At Thunderbird, we strive to challenge stereotypes and to tell stories with diverse and authentic characters that serve as inspiring role models for the next generation of leaders, regardless of their background. This includes strong girls like Molly of Denali, a 10-year-old Athabascan girl that uplifts the diverse and traditional values of Alaska Native people in mainstream media by debunking stereotypes about their beautiful culture. This also includes characters like Japanese-American Wesley from Hello Ninja, the Asian-led cast of Kim’s Convenience, and Twin-Spirited Massey Whiteknife of Queen of the Oil Patch, an Aboriginal businessman in Northern Alberta’s oil sands by day and Iceis Rain, a free-spirited female recording artist by night.
You can’t truly relate and connect to a story if the story is never about you, and never an accurate portrayal of who you are and where you come from. People need to see themselves reflected in the media they consume in order to believe their stories matter and to achieve their goals, whatever they may be.
Your voice and influence matters.
As the CEO of a content creation company, I have a desire to change the lens through which we tackle representation and diversity, but also a social obligation to shift the paradigm. At Thunderbird, this means honouring the untold stories of underrepresented groups and telling them authentically and with intentionality. It means ‘walking the talk’ and using our platform as content creators to amplify the voices of those that have been historically untold by mainstream media.
I hope to set an example of strong female leadership for not just my own children, but children everywhere: to show them that the voices and stories of every child, regardless of their race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and/or other differences, deserve to be heard. Molly of Denali may be the first nationally distributed children’s series in the United States to feature an Indigenous lead character, but she certainly won’t be the last.
People are always more important than the bottom line.
My passion for people is what led me to where I am today. Putting people first is what cultivates a happy workplace, it’s what draws the best talent to our company, and it’s what ultimately builds the billion-dollar company. The power of genuinely caring for people coupled with a ‘yes’ attitude is what I firmly believe is a recipe for success. I feel a deep sense of obligation to everyone on my team and their families, and it’s what drives me to show up every day and to do my best, and I will always strive to create a culture where my people are above the bottom line.
It’s up to us to change the narrative surrounding diversity and inclusivity. The more we all do our part to raise up new, diverse voices, the more amazing, inspiring, impactful stories will be told. People from all cultural backgrounds deserve to be seen and stories like Simu Liu’s and Massey Whiteknife’s not only deserve to be told, but enrich our communities when they are.
About Jennifer Twiner-McCarron
Jennifer Twiner-McCarron is the CEO of Vancouver-based Thunderbird Entertainment Group , a global multiplatform entertainment company creating award-winning programming for the world’s leading digital platforms and broadcasters. Jennifer is also an award-winning producer, and has led production on multiple popular titles including the Emmy-winning Beat Bugs for Netflix, Cupcake & Dino for eOne and 101 Dalmatian Street for Disney+.
After 26 years on Bay Street, Rosemarie Wilson (nee Neale) co-founded Neale’s Sweet N Nice ice cream with her nephews in 2013 — reviving her father’s brand that originated in 1940s Trinidad and Tobago. One of 12 children, Rosemarie took it upon herself to learn the trade and help her father Charles run his small business, selling ice cream through neighbourhoods of southern Trinidad by bicycle. Now VP of Production and Operations, Rosemarie continues to create recipes with tropical fruit to bring the Caribbean tastes to the Canadian market.
My first job ever was… a teacher at a private Christian High School in Trinidad for about seven years.
The best thing about what I do is… that I am my own boss, and I make ice cream for a living! I can explore my creativity and do something I am passionate about.
My favourite flavour that we sell is… Coconut Frozen dessert (ice cream). This is our signature flavour and what my father started his business in Trinidad with in the 1940s. It lets me reminisce about growing up back home.
My proudest accomplishment is… reviving our Trinidadian family legacy here in Canada.
My boldest move to date was… retiring from a job after 25 years and dedicating myself to working full-time to launch Neale’s Sweet N Nice in Canada and compete with well-known brands in the market.
I surprise people when I tell them… this is not just a story, I live this. I am the 10th of 12 children. What I learned from my father is expressed in the flavours I create.
My best advice from a mentor was… “Follow your dream to achieve your goal.” This may be a very lonely path, but if you’re going to make it, the motivation and strength will come from within.
I would tell my 21-year old self… You will make some incredible strides and achieve great heights some day.
My biggest setback was… in the mid-80’s— his is when our lives took a change in Trinidad. We were going through an economic downturn, and I had already stopped working to stay at home and look after my five children. Then my husband was laid off from work, and then my father passed away on Mother’s Day, 1988.
I overcame it by… moving my family to Canada to pursue a fresh start and create a new opportunity for us all. I stepped out of my comfort zone and moved into what was unfamiliar territory. To this day I take my experiences with me and continue to work on stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing change.
One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… to let people in so they can get to know the real me. I have a lot to offer!
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how important family is to me and that I am very involved in our church— I play the organ and direct the choir. Music is a passion for me—in fact, everyone in our very large family is either connected to music or sports and we always sing when we get together. One of my nephews was Haydain Neale of Jacksoul, another Joseph Neale, lung cancer survivor & advocate, singer & songwriter. Other relatives involved in sports have played for the Hamilton TiCats, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Edmonton Oilers, the WNBA or Team Canada for Women’s Basketball.
Eno Eka is a recipient of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award. She is the Founder and CEO of Eny Consulting — a boutique consulting company — where she provides coaching and professional development services to help immigrants kick-start their careers in Canada.
My first job ever was… an accounting intern after high school.
I decided to be an entrepreneur… because I always had that entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to own my business. I was the president of the Junior Achievement Club in my high school and we had to start several businesses as projects, and I enjoyed it. I then went on to start my little bookstore business at the age of 15, reselling my old books to my classmates.
My proudest accomplishment is… winning the Women of Inspiration Award for Mentorship in 2019 after 18 months of relocation to Canada.
My boldest move to date was… moving to Canada all by myself!
I surprise people when I tell them that… I have no family in Canada, have lived here for just 2 years now and I am under 30.
I knew it was time to launch my business when I… was approached with an opportunity and had to render my services as a business and not an employee.
My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to just start, take imperfect actions because done is better than perfect.
My best advice from a mentor was… to focus on impact and the income will follow.
When the going gets tough, I tell myself… nothing good comes easy and I do the work no matter how I feel.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… sleep in for another hour!!!
I stay inspired by… my mother, my mentors and the amazing students I get to coach in my programs.
The future excites me because… I know it is just the beginning— I am on a global mission to educate people all over the world.
My next step is… to expand my business into new countries and keep learning from the best business mentors globally
For Farah Mohamed, storytelling is a fundamental part of the human experience. “Stories help us understand, have compassion and see somebody else’s side; if we don’t share those stories all we will ever be faced with are facts and figures,” she says. “Sometimes I think that we’re in such a huge rush that we forget that everyone has their own story; everyone has their own path — no two people have experienced the same things and maybe that’s the most powerful way to learn, by learning other people’s stories.”
Globally recognized Canadian social entrepreneur, Farah has an impressive professional story. In 2009, she founded G(irls)20, an organization cultivating a new generation of leaders through education, entrepreneurship and global experiences — while working with G20 leaders to keep their commitment to create 100 million new jobs for women by 2025. Starting in 2017, she served two years as CEO of Malala Fund working alongside Malala Yousafzai, whose survival of an attempted assassination by the Taliban in 2012 for trying to go to school has blossomed into a global advocacy campaign for girls’ education. Now back in Toronto, Farah is Senior Vice President of the Toronto Board of Trade.
Recognized for her service to Canada, she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She has also been recognized for her work to empower girls and women as a Top 25 Women of Influence recipient, plus BBC Top 100 Women, SALT 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World, and an EY Nominee for Social Entrepreneur of the Year and Diversity 50.
While her professional accomplishments and extensive list of awards are enough to leave most in awe, Farah’s success story is multifaceted. Born in Uganda, her family moved to Canada in 1972 to seek refuge when she was two years old, after Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Indian Ugandans. Resultantly, political justice and human rights issues have been the key themes in Farah’s life since her family moved to Canada. “It was part of my DNA,” she says. “I was raised by two people who got the short end of the stick when they had to leave their own country, but never let that pull them back. It gave them an appreciation for the fact that they then ended up in a country that was welcoming and provided opportunities that were safe and secure.”
Farah also credits her parents for teaching her the importance of charity and giving back to the community “from a young age, my sister and I were volunteering. My parents were like, ‘you can’t sit around the house and watch TV,’” she laughs. “I actually followed my sister’s footsteps and we used to volunteer at a nursing home. The reason she chose a nursing home was because we didn’t have grandparents around us and it was just a place that you could go and give comfort to someone and it didn’t matter what language you spoke or how old you were — these were people who wanted connection.”
We forget that everyone has their own story; everyone has their own path — no two people have experienced the same things and maybe that’s the most powerful way to learn, by learning other people’s stories.
Growing up Farah never pictured herself working in the nonprofit sector. “I always thought that I was going to be a lawyer — that I would go into criminal law, but I fell in love with politics at university,” she says. Before becoming the social entrepreneur she is today, Farah made her name working closely with some of Canada’s most senior politicians. She credits her success to Former Burlington MP Paddy Torsney, who gave her that first start in politics. “Paddy has been a real connector for me and not even just a mentor — she’s part of my family now,” she explains.
In 1993, Farah volunteered on Paddy’s campaign, which she went on to win. “It’s not just crazy that she won, it’s crazy that she was young and she won in a very conservative majority. She was a liberal, and it’s even crazier that a year later, she offered me a job and I moved to Parliament Hill. It is because of Paddy that I worked in politics for ten years. If she had not taken that chance on me, I certainly would not be sitting here having this conversation with you,” she says.
“I think the combination of my schooling together with my upbringing and then seeing politics work first-hand, put me on that path to social profit and social justice,” Farah explains. In 2009, Farah founded G(irls)20. “When I launched it, I had certainly hoped it would have an impact, but I definitely admit that I am really excited about just how it’s taken off,” Farah says.
After founding G(irls)20 and serving as the CEO for eight years, in 2017 Farah stepped down to take a new role as the CEO of Malala Fund. “For me, I felt that I had done everything I could to bring G(irls)20 to the point it was and that it needed new leadership and new energy and new thinking,” says Farah, reflecting on her decision. “It’s never easy to leave something but when you are going to leave, if you leave it in strong hands with a very strong foundation then it’s not hard to step away from it.”
Becoming CEO at Malala Fund brought about a lot of change for Farah — a larger team working in multiple locations and time zones, a new area of focus, and a new home in London, United Kingdom. “It’s always an incredible challenge to have this type of opportunity; it doesn’t come without a cost and those costs are not seeing your family and your friends, but on the flip side it’s getting closer to the people that you know here and making new friends,” she explains. “More often than not the glass is half full, rather than the glass is half empty.”
If you forget who you are in service to and you don’t remember why you are doing what you’re doing; it makes all those other things that you are doing pointless.
Pinpointing the highlight of her time at Malala Fund was really easy for Farah. “People expect me to say my highlight was speaking to Malala every day. It was absolutely a highlight to work with Malala and Zia,” says Farah, speaking of Zia Yousafzai, Malala’s father and co-founder, “but the real privilege was seeing the girls.”
“I’d say to people all the time, I don’t work in service to Malala or Zia or my even my board,” Farah says. “I work in service to those girls and I fundamentally believe that. I don’t work in service to any government or any partner we have, I work in service to those girls.”
She reiterates how important it is for all organizations — charities, social enterprises and businesses alike to remember who they are serving and remain true to that through and through. “If you forget who you are in service to and you don’t remember why you are doing what you’re doing; it makes all those other things that you are doing pointless.”
In Malala’s new book We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World, Farah shares her story to transform the conversation around refugees in Canada and beyond. “Malala gave me the opportunity to say ‘Hang on, wait a minute, don’t villainize and dismiss the contributions that refugees who leave their countries can bring to the countries that welcome them,’” she asserts. “I didn’t actually think I would ever share my story because it’s not my story alone, it’s my parents story and my sisters story and when Malala first requested that I be part of our book I was really really hesitant,” she says.
To tell her story for Malala’s book, Farah had to have some very open conversations with her parents that they had never had before. “I learnt a lot of stuff about my parents. [In the book] I talk about my mom being assaulted by arm guards, I didn’t know that until I was in preparation for this book and so it’s very personal,” she says. “I realized that I can be quite a private person – so this is probably the most open I have ever been. I allow myself to be vulnerable, but it’s a good vulnerability to share in the context of refugees, they are not a drain on our system. Refugees – many if not all of them contribute to their countries and that’s why I shared it.”
Rogayeh Tabrizi is a recipient of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award. In 2018 she Co-Founded Theory+Practice, an advanced data science company, where as CEO she has led the strategic growth of the self-funded private company that now employs 20 highly skilled people.
My first job ever was… translating science articles for a university magazine geared towards highschoolers. Making knowledge accessible to those who previously didn’t have access to it was very fulfilling.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it seemed like the natural path for me versus a conscious decision. I didn’t decide to be an entrepreneur as much as my desire to question the status quo and contribute to a better future led me to be an entrepreneur. It has been an iterative process.
My proudest accomplishment is… being at the ground-level of starting the African School of Physics (ASP) 10 years ago. ASP is an NGO dedicated to capacity development in fundamental physics in Africa and socialize learning on the continent. To date we have hosted 700 students from 17 countries, with 70% completing their PhDs or post-docs in North America and Europe, and 35% returning to their country of origin.
My boldest move to date was… switching from MSc Physics to PhD Economics with no background. I had worked to be a physicist for my entire life and it took a lot of soul searching and hard work to change paths. I went from being at the top of my class to having to basically start over. The move has paid many dividends and I am happy I had the courage to be bold at that time.
I surprise people when I tell them… I would jump the fence when I was in grade 9, walk a few kilometres by the highway and then jump the fence to sit in physics classes at the local university. I did that for two years and my poor parents were called to school often. Another funny surprise is that the Dalai Lama fell on my lap after he came down the stage! I had helped to organize his last visit to Vancouver.
I knew it was time to launch my business when… I left physics to pursue a career in economics as a way of applying my technical skills to more real-world problems. I was talking about this — with who would eventually become my co-founder — and it became clear that there was an opportunity to bridge the high-level theoretical knowledge and leading edge thinking researchers do in academia to the practical issues facing businesses and society today. It was then that Theory+Practice was born.
To constantly try to improve and that the journey is about working to make things better, but at the same time, you need to know when something is good enough for now.
My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… don’t be idealistic about the monetary benefits of being an entrepreneur. Commit to working, particularly when you feel stuck. Ground your decisions on your values and principles. Being an entrepreneur will challenge you in ways you can’t imagine. Persevere and stick to it, but also ask for help. You won’t be able to succeed on your own. Get advice from everyone you can and find mentors to help you reflect on your progress. Dig deep and find the strength in our heart.
My best advice from a mentor… came in the form of a question. One mentor asked me “are you a perfectionist?” and I proudly responded with a yes. With a straight face, he said to me, “Quit now, you would never finish anything.” I realized then that it is more important to strive for excellence than perfection. To constantly try to improve and that the journey is about working to make things better, but at the same time, you need to know when something is good enough for now.
When the going gets tough, I tell myself… “I am not playing two dimensional checkers, this is chess in Star Wars!” I focus on what is right here, right now in front of me and remember the goal. I remind myself of the positive moments and how grateful I am for all the resources around me and that I am not alone. I ask for help and remind myself that I am working for my team and together we can and do manage through tough times. It is actually very rewarding and fulfilling to deal with and manage adversity.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… paint more. I would just grab a canvas and let the creativity take control.
I stay inspired by… my team. Every day I am inspired by the power of teamwork with diverse thinking and perspectives that accompany it. There is truth in the cliche, “The sum is greater than the parts.” At Theory+Practice we are often trying to solve problems that have never been solved before. We deal with a lot of complexity, but focus on simplicity. There is a magical moment when clarity emerges and a team becomes radically aligned. I crave these moments for myself, and for my team.
The future excites me because… even with the vast disruption and impacts of COVID-19, there are endless possibilities for a better future. Never before have we had such an opportunity — in so many ways — to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
My next step is… to continue the journey that Theory+Practice has put me on and find new and bigger opportunities to impact the world around me, while staying open to change. It is about showcasing — big or small — what is possible and questioning the status quo. I am excited to continue to learn and share my experiences with others, and mentor young people to help them on their own journeys as well.
Nadine Chalati is a recipient of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award. She is a lawyer and the owner of the boutique law firm Chalati Lawyer, specializing in corporate and commercial law. As a firm advocate for accessibility in the legal system, Nadine regularly acts as an outside general counsel for small-to-medium sized businesses and assists not-for-profits and charities. Accentuating her practice on improving accessibility to justice and providing value to the community, Nadine also films daily legal segments on corporate and commercial law on Instagram.
My first job ever was… a lab technician at a pharmacy. It was my first experience in the service industry. It taught me how to communicate effectively with clients, provide outstanding service and resolve disputes. Additionally, as a lab technician, I learnt the importance of thoroughness, diligence, and revision of every action, even if they appear simple, such as counting pills. The skills I learnt then as a teenager are at the base of the skills I utilize today as a lawyer and entrepreneur.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I felt in me the desire to build something on my own. I was drawn to the idea of creating my own independence and relying on myself to make a living. Also, I craved the freedom to carve myself my own niche in law. I felt that I could only do that if I had total freedom to take the risks necessary to establish a practice that was totally customized to my interests.
My proudest accomplishment is… growing my business to the stage it is at now and consistently finding ways to leverage my skill set, my network and my drive to further its growth. I am endlessly grateful for it.
My boldest move to date was… starting from scratch. I was very young, fresh out of school, had no clients or a network. Looking back now, I am proud that I had the confidence to be so bold and take the risk!
I surprise people when I tell them… that I opened my firm at 23.
I knew it was time to launch my business when… I was at a crossroad. I was sworn into the Bar after an internship that was focused on litigation. Although I loved litigation, I discovered that it was a great source of stress in my life. I had to therefore decide if I wanted to continue pursuing the path of litigation, working in a firm, or if I wanted to shift towards building my own practice where I could tailor my business to suit my personality.
My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Practice. Practice. Practice, with the objective of performing with excellence. You show your worth by being excellent. The ability to provide quality work will help you build a solid foundation of clients. In turn, this will give you the inspiration to consistently evolve your business and most importantly, it will give you pleasure to work.
When I am struggling with an issue that is not straightforward, I pause, I study and I evaluate the elements at hand.
My best advice from a mentor was… Just post it! It does not matter if it’s not perfect. My website, my first video, first ad, first blog… they were far from perfect, but they were good enough. That first “good enough” gives you just enough momentum to start landing your first clients, building a network, attracting attention. Eventually, you look back and notice you have a bank of clients, skills and content that came from that first, “not perfect but good enough.”.
When the going gets tough, I tell myself… that the business that I am trying to grow is not any kind of business. I am trying to grow a business as a lawyer within the boundaries of my professional order. When I am struggling with an issue that is not straightforward, I pause, I study and I evaluate the elements at hand. Often, I will go for a walk in nature or meditate to assess the issue at hand properly and in a sound mind.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… learn a new skill, kayak, paddle board, meditate, do yoga and enjoy the beauty and simplicity of life. I believe my creativity originates from the pause, from slowing down. Once I feel inspired and recharged, I can focus again on performance and development of my goals.
I stay inspired by… when I see a client leave my office with a smile and they are appeased by my work, it inspires me to keep doing good work and persevering. Seeing them happy brings joy to my day and is really the best part about the work I do.
The future excites me because… there is so much potential for change and transformation in the legal industry. Whether that be in the way that we service our clients, the products that we can create to better serve them or the platforms we can utilize to further disburse legal information to the public at no cost. The potential is limitless and I am truly excited to be able to play a part in this transformation.
My next step is… to continue to grow Chalati Lawyer, to build an even stronger niche in corporate and commercial law and ultimately to be able to help more businesses with our services. Part of that process involves building new innovative products that both our clients and the community at large can use and to post more legal content on various social media platforms in order to make legal information widely accessible to the public at no cost.
Suzie Yorke is a recipient of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award. A mom and a yoga enthusiast, Suzie developed Love Good Fats, a company that produces high-fat, low-carb, and low-sugar products, after she identified a gap in the marketplace and an opportunity to help others through food. With a background in marketing and deep passion for health, Suzie is on a mission to spread the word that fat is back, and sugar is out!
My first job ever was… at Harvey’s at the age of 15. Part of my job was cleaning toilets. The following summer, I got a job at a hospital where again I cleaned toilets! A theme indeed!
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… from a very young age I always wanted to have my own brand. I remember telling my mom at age eleven that one day I was going to run my own company. I really had no idea what that was going to be but the idea has always excited and inspired me. It just took 40+ years to get there!
My proudest accomplishment is… I’d have to say my kids! In regard to my business I’ve been blessed to hit some pretty amazing milestones. One of the biggest ones for sure was being picked up by every Whole Food market across the US so quickly.
My boldest move to date was… starting a company at age 50! I finally took the plunge and risked my life savings. Being a single mom with 2 kids soon to be in university, this was a bold move — but it all worked out! Now we have one of the fastest growing food start-ups in Canada!
I surprise people when I tell them… I am an eleven-time Ironman finisher! Racing triathlons and marathons has always been both a passion and a lifestyle. Each race would require months (usually about 10 months) of being focused on that eventual race day and being ready. So a lot of little daily steps that lead to — come race day — both arms raised up in the air at the finish line!
I knew it was time to launch my business when… after 20+ years on a low fat diet, I read a book, Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz, and immediately changed my diet to more fats and cutting out sugar. I couldn’t find on-the-go snacks to support my new lifestyle so I’m leading the charge of change with a high fat/low sugar brand, starting with bars.
I get very motivated with personal sharing, wins and stories. Connecting with people and chatting about their stories is always a go-to for inspiration.
My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… first, be brave and start — take that first step to commercialize your idea. Until then, it’s just an idea. Start!Second, don’t give up. My very first production run failed and ate up most of my investment and I had to make a decision to quit or go forward. We’ve had so many challenges — some of which could have been fatal — but we pick up pieces, reassess, learn, and forge forward.
My best advice from a mentor was… not to look twenty years out but to look at the steps you need to do right now. The rest of the pieces will fall into place as you move forward. Trust that you’re on a journey and take steps in the right enough direction.
When the going gets tough, I tell myself… to look at my past successes and take heart from what I have achieved. Although the success of the company has been a rocket ship, it’s been tons and tons of very hard work and lots of “scary” moments and big decisions. Nothing comes easy but with hard work, the right team and mindset, it will.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… definitely use it to work out. With COVID, I have been able to find a bit more time to run or bike or do yoga and that’s indeed a blessing. That being said, I’d still love more time every day to get the oxygen and adrenaline flowing — this is when I get the best ideas too!
I stay inspired by… tapping into all the amazing people around me — I get very motivated with personal sharing, wins and stories. Connecting with people and chatting about their stories is always a go-to for inspiration.
The future excites me because… there are so many opportunities for our Love Good Fats brand. Our bars and shakes have given us permission to introduce more low sugar/high fat products with clean ingredients.
My next step is… growing Love Good Fats to achieve the mission of changing the way people eat. Until we’re well on our way there, this is my laser focus on the next step.
Jenn Harper is a recipient of the 2020 Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Ones To Watch Award. She is the founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics INC, a digitally native direct to consumer brand that is helping Indigenous youth see themselves in a beauty brand. Cheekbone Beauty uses the concept of a circular economy in the brands ethos and in developing their latest line of products, creating a new segment in the beauty industry—Sustainable Socially Conscious Beauty.
My first job ever was… either the shampoo girl at the local salon or the dishwasher at a local restaurant, both the same year but I can’t remember what was first. The cleanest pots and scalps in Niagara! I have always been a hard worker no matter what role I filled.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to see Indigenous faces represented in beauty. I did not see anyone else trying to do this, so I went for it.
My proudest accomplishment is…overcoming alcoholism. To make a really long and painful story short, this still feels like I overcame a mountain — with lots of help of course! But I fully believe I can accomplish anything because I have overcome mountain-like obstacles with the right support team.
My boldest move to date was… not giving up.
Be consistent, keep showing up. You can’t lose if you keep trying!
I surprise people when I tell them… I have no experience in the beauty industry, or at least I don’t think I do.
I knew it was time to launch my business when… we had a website and a product, which was not perfect at all — but I decided to give it a go!
My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to be consistent, keep showing up. You can’t lose if you keep trying!
My best advice from a mentor was… to use a business advisory board — very practical and helpful.
When the going gets tough, I tell myself… “Our youth need hope and help. These are actually my Brother BJ’s words; he said this to me before he took his own life just before the launch of Cheekbone in 2016. A very painful companion but truly the driving force behind Cheekbone.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… read more.
I stay inspired by… getting out in nature, near water or lots of trees.
The future excites me because… of hope; believing the best is yet to come keeps me going!
My next step is… designing and developing new sustainable packaging that doesn’t exist yet! Exciting and very hard but it will be worth it!
How do you foster diversity and inclusion in an industry that’s not known for attracting women, youth, or Indigenous people?
“It’s about doing what’s right before worrying about the politics,” says Tanya Wick.
She has been described as someone who is not afraid to stand up for others and lead the change, even if it means creating some discomfort. That fearless, outspoken leadership style is just one reason that Tanya, as Vice President, People and Services for Tolko Industries, is transforming diversity and inclusion efforts not only at her company but across the forestry industry as well. The first woman executive in Tolko’s 64-year history, Tanya puts her high level of energy to work championing equality and making space for others to find their voice.
“I believe being frank about an issue is how you will solve it,” she says. “Change won’t happen if we are not honest about what the problem is and how it is manifesting.”
Since joining Tolko, a leading forest products company based in Vernon, B.C., ten years ago, Tanya has partnered with the company’s executive leadership and board of directors to shape and execute the organization’s strategic direction. She started the journey by looking at workforce planning numbers. “Before jumping into solutions, we wanted to understand our current environment,” says Tanya. “The metrics showed us that we needed to focus on some key groups: youth, Indigenous peoples, and women.”
She’s since led the creation of targeted initiatives to address the unique needs and barriers of each group, touching on everything from talent acquisition to management practices to creating and promoting a respectful work environment — one that fosters engagement and differing viewpoints.
“At Tolko, diversity and inclusion isn’t a side project, it’s embedded in our values-based culture,” explains Tanya, “meaning that each existing company value speaks to our D&I strategy — resulting in a workplace where all of our employees feel safe and respected.”
Her efforts to increase diversity in the company have had a measurable impact, significantly increasing generational, cultural and gender diversity among employees. In 2018, an independent audit noted that Tolko is “leading the charge within the forest sector” on gender equality; within their own company, there’s been a 30 per cent increase in female employees since 2016, and in 2019, 35 per cent of promotions were female.
“We have become known as leaders and as advocates for women in forestry and it has improved our culture,” Tanya says. “When we are hiring, candidates often say they applied and want to work for us because of our work in this area.”
To me, silence meant acceptance and there are so many things I didn’t want to accept. I believe in being an ally, and in fighting for the right for all of us to be treated equally.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan and with a degree in business, Tanya became passionate about human resources early in her career. With over 20 years of experience in HR under her belt, she says companies’ view of that role has changed over the years.
“When I started, people were not even on the agenda at business meetings — it was uptime, production, new capital spend.” Now, companies have embraced the idea that people are their most important assets, Tanya says, with the war for talent and movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter forcing companies to take meaningful action on diversity and inclusion mandates.
Tanya says that when she first joined Tolko, it could be challenging to find her voice in a mostly male environment. “It’s not that the other members of the leadership team made it purposely difficult for me, but there certainly was some adjusting to do.”
She recalls a round table that was meant to allow everyone to speak, and “as the only woman in the room, they skipped right over me.” At business meetings, Tanya says she was sometimes assumed to be a spouse of one of the executives, and was often spoken over or interrupted.
Over time, Tanya says she found her voice and gained her male colleagues’ support. It was then that she decided it was time to pave the way for other women in the industry.
“To me, silence meant acceptance and there are so many things I didn’t want to accept. I believe in being an ally, and in fighting for the right for all of us to be treated equally,” she says. “This is a big part of why I’ve chosen HR as a career — I want to support systems and structures where everyone is treated equitably and respectfully.”
To recruit more women, Tolko began by building awareness, Tanya says. One important key has been removing unconscious bias, which meant changing processes and behaviours to be more inclusive.
That started with the company making a statement of their intent when President and CEO, Brad Thorlakson, publicly signed the B.C. Minerva pledge, a commitment to gender parity. As well, a Women’s Steering Committee was created at Tolko to support the development and advancement of women.
There were also basic areas to address when it came to “people practices,” Tanya says. There were still locations throughout the company without women’s washrooms. A zero tolerance for harassment and bullying was reinforced, a pay review was conducted to ensure equity, and more flexible benefits were introduced for employees.
As well, a robust Leadership Impact for Women program was designed, for which Tolko won the 2019 Employer Initiative of the Year award from Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion (CCDI). In addition to providing training and coaching for female Tolko employees, the program includes a mentorship component — an undertaking close to Tanya’s heart. Coaching and empowering women to build full, rewarding careers has been a key priority throughout her work life. “I get energy from it,” she says.
Tanya is a big proponent of personal accessibility, connecting with colleagues and staff through blog posts, articles, speaking events and personal emails. Most recently, she has been exploring how to further encourage industry leaders in driving diversity and inclusion.
While she is proud of the impact she has had on Tolko and the forestry industry in general, Tanya says she’s not nearly done yet.
“I want to ensure leaders understand the value proposition for diversity and inclusion in their companies and communities,” she says. “I know what it feels like to have no one stand up for you, and I want to make it easier for women and other marginalized groups in the industry.”
Dr.Golnaz Golnaraghi (she/her) is a facilitator, educator, researcher, published author, social entrepreneur and an advocate for gender and racial equality. With a combined 15 years in corporate marketing with large multinationals and 14 years spent designing and delivering transformative learning experiences focused on youth, women and early career leaders, Golnaz is Founder of Divity Group Inc., through which she provides facilitation, learning and program design, as well as leadership development and equity and inclusion education. She launched her legacy project, Accelerate Her Future in 2019, a career accelerator for early career racialized women pursuing careers in business and tech. She holds an MBA from the University of British Columbia and a Doctor of Business Administration from Athabasca University.
My first job ever was … at my mom’s women’s clothing store, which she shortly opened after we immigrated to Canada out of necessity and to financially support me and my brother through school. With little English, zero business background and limited understanding of Canadian practices, witnessing her struggles and triumphs taught me the power of persistence, agency, and resistance in the face of circumstances which were less than ideal at times. Working in the family business, I received first-hand experience into operations, marketing and sales and the day-to-day challenges of running a small business. My mom role modeled what it means to be strong, resourceful, and resilient especially during a time when there were no communities and support for women in business like we have today.
I founded ‘Accelerate Her Future’ because… I recognized the gaps in career and professional development programming tailored to the unique experiences of racialized women in college and university and in their early careers, especially at a pivotal time in their lives. As a leadership educator and feminist scholar, I have dedicated my research, teaching, and mentoring to better understand the experiences and needs of early career racialized women. I decided to take this work into the community because we need programs that are tailored and that apply an intersectional lens. I launched Accelerate Her Future in 2019 as a career accelerator that seeks to do just that through network building, skill and career advocacy development, and mentorship while fostering cultures of allyship and advocacy to affect transformative change.
Leaders should prioritize diversity at all levels of their organization because… diversity is our strength and representation matters. Early career talent can’t be what they can’t see. Although I will say that a focus on diversity is not enough. We also need organizations that prioritize inclusion, equity, and justice. Racialized women are highly educated yet are missing from decision making tables. What’s more they experience a labyrinth of barriers within workplaces from the very first promotion opportunity. They also don’t typically have the same access to influential networks, mentorship, and sponsorship in our workplaces. While white women have made advances into leadership roles, this is not the case for racialized women, especially Black and Indigenous women. We need to do more. We need to do better. Representation matters.
Be clear about your values, what you stand for and the impact of your decisions. Your values and your integrity are your compass.
My proudest accomplishment is … completing my doctorate in my 40’s while working full time and raising a young child. During my first doctoral course, I was introduced to critical theoretical perspectives including intersectional and postcolonial feminist theory by my professor who later became my supervisor. As I delved deeper into understanding how our history informs our modern day, the impact and legacies of colonization, I felt compelled to take action.
I surprise people when I tell them… I am a certified meditation instructor. I began on my meditation and mindfulness journey during a particularly tough year when I felt stuck with my doctoral dissertation research and after a car accident left me in a lot of pain. I found grounding, focus and calm in this practice as well as greater self-compassion and connection to my whole self. We need to bring our whole selves into different facets of our lives, especially work —– head, heart/emotions, and body. Over time, I’ve begun integrating mind-body connection and energy leadership into my teaching, facilitation, and learning design.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… to be clear about your values, what you stand for and the impact of your decisions. Your values and your integrity are your compass. Lead with ethics and moral character. Beyond scandals like Enron and the 2008 financial crisis, we’re also seeing growing inequalities, climate change and other complex global challenges. While business plays an important role in the economy, leaders have a moral imperative to contribute more toward the betterment of society placing greater focus on people, planet and profit.
Embrace who you are, especially the things that make you different. Only you get to define you.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… trust in your own abilities, decisions, ideas, and voice. This is especially difficult when you find yourself in spaces where you’re one of few or the only racialized woman. I’ll never forget years ago being invited to present a new program I had led to design and launch at a departmental committee. Immediately after my presentation two male peers went on the attack in a demeaning and inappropriate way. My team and I had invested a year in research, consultations, iterative pilots, and had launched the program successfully. To have me and my work minimized and marginalized was hard and the imposter syndrome aftermath was real. I promised myself to never allow anyone to speak to me or other women, especially racialized women, that way again.
I would tell my 20-year old self… this powerful quote by Audre Lorde that embodies what I’d tell my 20-year old self who felt her differences acutely: “If I didn’t define myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies of me and eaten alive.” Embrace who you are, especially the things that make you different. Only you get to define you.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my relationships. While life has taught me to be resilient and never give up in the face of challenge, my community and relationships have been essential to my success. These relationships started in my youth with a few notable teachers and professors who invested in my potential, provided mentorship, and connected me to their networks. Their impact on my life was significant and transformative, especially as a racialized immigrant youth. These early experiences are what inspire me to do everything I do focused on early career women.
I stay inspired by… the brilliant, talented young women that I have the privilege to get to know through Accelerate Her Future, get to teach and mentor, and get to work with every day. I was recently asked by a young leader what solutions I see in response to the systemic barriers racialized women face in our workplaces. My response, the very same young women that I see every day stepping into their leadership and potential who are responding to these complex issues with solutions, projects, volunteerism, activism, and entrepreneurial ideas.
The future excites me because… I see so many people, especially young people, stepping into their leadership potential and working in solidarity to challenge the status quo. A little while ago I was approached by a women’s facing student club at a large University that wanted to do more meaningful anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism work. After a mentorship conversation with the student executive, I have been excited by the bold and courageous work they have done in solidarity with other clubs on campus. These brilliant courageous young talented minds are our future and I feel we are in good hands.
My next step is… My next step is to continue to build Accelerate Her Future into a sustainable national online career accelerator. My team and I are gearing up to re-launch our website and new flagship program and looking to engage corporate/business sponsors and partners who believe in our mission of accelerating Black, Indigenous and racialized women in their careers and have a genuine commitment to equity and justice.
In our third interview for our Perspectives column, we interviewed the amazing Erica Milsom. We first met Erica during training we had when we were filmmakers in Disney’s Dream Big Princess Project, and have loved watching her journey ever since. Erica is a Film Director and Writer at Pixar, who has worked on films such as Loop (2020), So Much Yellow (2017) and Academy Award-winning Inside Out (2015). In her role as Pixar’s Director of Behind-The-Scenes Documentary Content, Erica has worked on short films that accompany the release of Pixar Animation Studios Films, such as Ratatouille, Brave, and many more. Her short film Loop was part of Pixar’s SparkShorts series, and features the story of how two kids on a canoe with different ways of communicating (including a girl with autism) attempt to connect.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
When I was eighteen, I took a documentary filmmaking class — and it’s weird because I don’t think any other class in my whole life took as much of my brain space and kind of made my other grades suffer quite as much as that one class.
We worked like crazy on these small documentaries, and I learned quite a lot about storytelling, about the character in front of you, the potential form of telling your story, the technical end of capturing it and making sure that it looks as good as possible, that it sounds as good as possible, that it has an eloquence to its flow. And then, twelve years later, I thought, “Oh, maybe you should do that for a job.”
And the funny thing is, I would have never imagined that as my job. I think it was partially a failure of imagination on my part, but maybe it was also that I had never seen anybody like me having that job. I just didn’t know that would be possible.
So I spent the rest of my twenties doing work internationally and in multiple communities in the Bay Area in non-formal education, meeting people, and I’m super happy that I did. Because I feel like the stories that I gathered during that time and the kinds of people I met were so varied, exciting and different from my own. I got a broader sense of what the human experience is from a village in Nepal, to the back streets of Oakland, to mental health facilities in San Fransisco. All of those places are not places that I would have had access to just as a filmmaker necessarily, but as the person that I was and the hopes that I had for helping in non-formal education, I got a lot of new stories.
And then, when I was 29, I started a graduate program in vocational education, and I realized that I don’t like graduate school. It’s kind of weird when you get to a point in your career where you’re like, the next step isn’t interesting. You have to go back and say, “What have you loved? What do you want to do?” and that thing that I had loved, was that documentary class. So I got an internship and started from the bottom as an assistant editor in this really small educational documentary place, and that feeling I had in college, that there’s so much to learn, has never stopped since then. I started when I was 30 and just turned 50 this year, so I’ve had 20 years of unbelievable learning, and I think that’s the thing I find wonderful about this career.
In filmmaking, there’s a huge community of people who are looking for solutions together and that’s part of why it’s such a transforming technical and creative field. People are talking to each other, and building things together, across the platforms and across the nations. It’s really exciting.
That’s amazing, what a great answer. That brings us to our next question, which is what was the biggest challenge that you came across when you were starting your career in filmmaking, and how did you overcome it?
My first challenge was seeing myself in it, and saying, you should try, you might be really good at this. At the beginning I wasn’t maybe great at it, but I think the part of me that is curious and engaging, and can connect with a person in front of the camera, is the part of me that has stayed with me the whole time and makes me a really great director, a good writer, and a good editor, because I have a sense of compassion for the person in front of me. Despite not seeing anyone like myself, despite not knowing a lot about films (it wasn’t like I was obsessed with watching films and deconstructing how they worked), I knew how to connect with a person and bring in an authentic and vulnerable voice to the screen. I think that was important to see.
The second thing was, when you start out, you’re in these roles that are very low on the totem pole. I started out at this very boutique place (boutique meaning the basement of a guy’s house) being an assistant editor, and there were all these technical things that were really hard to solve, and I learned how to solve them. Things would blow up or there’s a lot of stuff that can go wrong in post-production, and you feel so scared that you ruined it. And there are resources, and I think it’s important to learn how to relax and say that nothing is permanent in the world of digital, but, solutions take a methodical approach to solving, and you need to be able to go out, look for resources and not be afraid to ask for help.
Even the most confident and educated people in the realm of technology, sometimes have a challenge that they don’t know how to address, and they ask for help. So that was a huge challenge in the beginning, and it taught me this massive lesson about not only thinking that I had to solve everything. In filmmaking, there’s a huge community of people who are looking for solutions together and that’s part of why it’s such a transforming technical and creative field. People are talking to each other, and building things together, across the platforms and across the nations. It’s really exciting.
That’s definitely a really great point, and a useful point too. Because I think it was in 2015, we went on a trip to Pakistan and we made this whole documentary, but we lost all the footage while editing. It was so devastating, and we were so young at the time. It wasn’t like we wanted to stop filmmaking, but we wanted to go back right then and just do it again. And so I think that point about looking to others for help and asking for support is really important.
Yes! Well, I feel you. I’m so sorry that happened. The fact that it did not deter you!
It’s okay! Last year we actually made our documentary about girls’ education in Pakistan and it was like a grown-up version of that one, and it was so much better, so it worked out in the end.
Every human being has something that connects them to another human being. I just believe that if we spend enough time together, we’ll find a way to see value in each other’s experience. Because we’re story-driven people. We’re curious. At our core, we humans are curious and interested in the story of life. And the different stories of life are powerful. They’re ways we connect, and ways that we’re different.
What has the experience of working at Pixar been like for you, and how would you describe your journey with the company?
I’ve been at Pixar for about fifteen years. I started on Finding Nemo, on a documentary called Making Nemo. It was very funny going from this very small studio where there were two of us who were full-time employees, to a studio full of people who were collaborating together, and giving each other notes, and making things better. Before that, I had always been in small places and risen to the top kind of fast, and that was not going to happen at Pixar. There’s a lot of top to get through! And I actually grew to really appreciate that. The hierarchy of experience and insight, and how you could come in and learn your slice of the pie, and be appreciated for it. You also got to sit next to someone who was doing either the thing above you or two things above you, and watch them, and they would critique you and give you feedback.
Being a documentary filmmaker at a studio means that any question you have at any point over your entire existence there, you can ask anybody. People are really warm, and they’re inviting, and I think everyone in the studio is passionate about the work and curious. And they’re always trying to improve. And each new film is its own new problem, so they’re trying to address those problems, and grow and transform.
I’ve had this lucky role, where I just spin around and ask everybody about every stage of it. So like, how does the rendering equation work? I kind of know that now, which is a very weird thing to know! But it’s also, how does writing for Toy Story work? What is a challenge that a new director might face when they’re working on a franchise film that has all these rules and all this underpinning, but you have to open up the next story? What is the importance of specularity on a skin? What is the difference between transforming our human representation from the old days when it was mostly white characters, to now trying to transform just even the skin tone of our characters, and let’s make sure that that feels right and honest. I feel really grateful for that studio, because I’ve gotten to listen to so many brilliant people talk about the thing that they love.
I’ve taken one filmmaking class in my life really, and then, I’ve been at Pixar for 15 years, taking this never-ending, beautiful class with the people there. So I love this studio, I think it’s an amazing place and it feels like a campus to me. It feels like a place where everyone is learning constantly, and in the best way, we’re making something together all the time, and then evaluating that and thinking, “Okay what can we take from that to the next thing?”
That’s so amazing, and that brings us to our questions about your film Loop! It was so awesome to see and we loved watching it. Would you be able to tell us, what was the process of creating the film like, and what inspired you to create the film?
It was definitely inspired by the time I had spent when I was taking this year of part-time work (I’d just been working really hard for a while and I thought, I’m going to try and get my head back together). I immediately found out that working part-time made me miss my friends at work. So I needed to make some new friends, and I went and did this volunteer gig over at a centre for artists with disabilities called NIAD near me. And that year I did this thing on acting for the screen, and eventually taught a class on performance. But in the beginning, I was just volunteering and there were a lot of people in that studio who didn’t communicate through speaking. And I didn’t know what to do, so I would just fill up the empty space with Erica chatter and that didn’t get me closer to them. It took a while to kind of figure out how to connect with those folks. And it was really important to me. They were cool artists. They were really interesting people. I wanted to connect. And a lot of it turned out to be just hanging out and waiting, and opening up the space, and listening with that part of me that’s not listening for language. Like watching body movements, and watching the way that they responded, the small moves that they made, that kind of stuff.
So that was formulating in my head, and that experience made me think about this idea of a character like me, who is very chatty and didn’t know what to do, and a character who didn’t speak. And then as I came back to Pixar with that idea. I also wanted to put it on a canoe, because I really wanted it to be a happy story, and weirdly, canoeing makes me happier than almost anything in the world. And it’s a good trap for two characters, to make a small, fast movie.
The SparkShorts are made in six months, and for Pixar time, that’s lightning fast. From the moment you write it, you feel like you’re just on this, “Go! Go! Go!” I just wanted it to be two characters and have them trapped, kind of like that buddy movie thing with these two people in opposition and how they find their way to a connection. So that was the inspiration.
I hope that having more women in film means that we’re all looking a little deeper into our experiences and saying, “Oh! I’m going to look at another side of what I’ve always done and see what I haven’t said there or what I haven’t tried there.”
That’s awesome! What is the main message that you would like viewers to take away from the film, and why do you think it’s important for films to feature characters with diverse backgrounds and abilities?
That’s a great question! Well, the main message is just that you might not quite understand how to connect with someone, you might be afraid and judge someone because they feel different than you, and some element of their behaviour frightens you because it’s different. But if you relax, and let yourself be unguarded, you will find connection.
Every human being has something that connects them to another human being. I just believe that if we spend enough time together, we’ll find a way to see value in each other’s experience. Because we’re story-driven people. We’re curious. At our core, we humans are curious and interested in the story of life. And the different stories of life are powerful. They’re ways we connect, and ways that we’re different.
For me, the message was that there is a way to connect even if you think there’s not. You just have to look for it. You just have to let yourself find it.
And I’m unbelievably excited about more voices coming to the screen, about more authentic representations of people’s identity, of their experience, of their point of view. It’s fun storytelling. We’re not going to listen where there will be some elements of the same story over and over again, because there are some elements of life that are pretty profound, and themes that are resonant across any identity, but the nuance and the power of our difference, and the excitement of that, to me is just really rich and I’m super stoked to see that on-screen.
Definitely. What are the ways in which women filmmakers can contribute to the film industry, and how can companies create spaces to celebrate their voices and their work?
It’s not like we speak a different language as women, but we have maybe a different way of expressing ourselves, and maybe have different aesthetics and style that we want to bring to the screen. Things that have been important to us in our childhood or our lives. If we’re portraying kids, it’s like, “I remember this girl being my very best friend.” For Pixar, it excites people to have that new, powerful, excited voice. .
I hope that having more women in film means that we’re all looking a little deeper into our experiences and saying, “Oh! I’m going to look at another side of what I’ve always done and see what I haven’t said there or what I haven’t tried there.” And I hope that women, who are all walking into this role feel that sort of confidence. I think it’s hard to feel confident in a new place. A lot of times you come in with a sense of uncertainty and worry. You want to do a great job, and I think it’s good to have that drive in any career. But you should have confidence that what you have has value, and it’s going to be exciting for the people around you, and that relationship of finding something new together is going to push everyone forward. You should know that in yourself when you walk into that role, and feel like you’re here to give something new to our community. I feel like that is something that I’m going to always take with me.
We are proud to announce the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards finalists. In what has been an unprecedented year, this program continues to shine the light on the Canadian women entrepreneurs whose accomplishments are worthy of recognition and celebration.
At Women of Influence, we are familiar with the challenges and opportunities that accompany entrepreneurship and innovation, and are honoured to celebrate the accomplishments of a diverse group of women in a wide range of industries including healthcare services, engineering, beauty, technology, hospitality, law and beyond.
With over 8,600 nominations from across the country, we had the incredible task of selecting 18 finalists across six legacy award categories. In addition to that, five recipients were chosen to receive the Ones to Watch Award, which recognizes entrepreneurs who have launched businesses that have made an incredible impact in fewer than three years.
We are grateful to all of our partners whose contributions make this celebration of women’s entrepreneurship possible, especially the dedication and commitment of our Title Sponsor, RBC.
“The unwavering resilience, creativity and passion of Canadian entrepreneurs has, and continues to be the hallmark of our economic strength as a country and business community,” says Greg Grice, Executive Vice President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “Many of these businesses are led by inspiring women leaders who are important role models for the next generation of aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs. RBC is proud to work with Women of Influence to bring their stories to light, and celebrate their achievements and contributions to the Canadian business community through the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.”
We are honoured to celebrate the accomplishments of our 2020 award finalists. These entrepreneurs have displayed remarkable resilience over the course of the year, demonstrating exciting growth and innovation as they adapted their businesses to a new environment.
The winners will be announced and celebrated at the 28th Annual Awards Gala, on Wednesday, November 18, where all attendees will be digitally transported into the first ever Virtual Awards Gala. This immersive experience, which will be live streamed around the world, will shine a spotlight on all the amazing Canadian women entrepreneurs. Keynote remarks will be shared by Demetra Streda, Vice President, Commercial Financial Services Strategy, RBC.
En tant que vice-présidente et leader nationale, Entrepreneuriat au féminin à BDC, Laura Didyk passait beaucoup de temps avant le confinement à parcourir le pays pour échanger avec des femmes entrepreneurs. Poursuivant ces conversations de manière virtuelle, elle s’est entretenue ce mois-ci avec Maude Rondeau, fondatrice et présidente de Luminaire Authentik, une entreprise québécoise de création et de fabrication de luminaires.
Après l’obtention de son diplôme en administration des affaires, Maude Rondeau a évolué pendant 13 ans dans le monde de la mode, mais elle rêvait depuis toujours d’être à son compte. Lassée des voyages d’affaires et du peu d’occasions d’exprimer sa créativité, Maude décide, en 2015, de démissionner pour se consacrer à sa passion : la conception de luminaires.
Depuis son domicile, Maude fonde l’entreprise Luminaire Authentik dans le but de combler une demande pour des produits stylés et originaux à prix abordable. Soucieuse des besoins de ses clients, elle a vu son entreprise croître au cours des cinq années suivantes.
Si tous ses produits sont toujours conçus et fabriqués au Québec, Maude a déménagé ses pénates du sous-sol de sa maison à un atelier de production et d’entreposage de 5 000 mètres carrés. Aujourd’hui, ses produits sont vendus partout en Amérique du Nord à des particuliers et à des entreprises, en ligne et dans trois salles de démonstration exclusives.
J’ai demandé à Maude comment elle a réussi à développer son entreprise tout en l’adaptant efficacement pendant la pandémie afin de garder le cap.
Laura : J’aime toujours parler des débuts. Comment avez-vous eu l’idée de Luminaire Authentik et comment l’avez-vous concrétisée?
Maude : J’ai travaillé pendant 13 ans dans le monde de la mode, où j’ai acquis beaucoup d’expérience en vente, en marketing et en distribution de marques. Je devais toutefois beaucoup voyager et, à 33 ans, j’en ai eu assez des déplacements d’affaires et des salons professionnels. J’étais également lasse de devoir faire les choses en me conformant à un moule. La tête pleine d’idées, j’avais toujours rêvé d’avoir ma propre entreprise.
D’un autre côté, tous ces voyages ont nourri mon amour pour l’architecture et l’éclairage et ma passion pour le design. Forte de cette sensibilité et de mon expérience en commerce, j’ai vu une occasion d’affaires. Il y a cinq ans, le choix de luminaires abordables ayant du style était limité. Les produits étaient soit très coûteux soit très bon marché; il n’y avait pas de juste milieu.
J’ai décidé de quitter mon emploi et commencé à fabriquer des luminaires dans mon sous-sol. J’ai rencontré quelqu’un qui m’a aidée à comprendre les éléments de la construction, et une fois bien établie sur cette assise, j’y ai ajouté une touche personnelle.
Laura : Cette touche personnelle fait aujourd’hui partie intégrante de votre modèle d’affaires, n’est-ce pas?
Maude : L’important, c’est l’expérience du client. Les gens sont heureux de participer à la conception de leur propre produit – qu’ils soient des architectes travaillant sur un projet spécifique ou des clients qui veulent créer leur propre éclairage de maison (avec l’aide de nos experts, bien entendu). En nous occupant de la conception, de la fabrication et de la distribution des produits, nous avons pu obtenir le bon prix et vivre cette expérience avec les clients.
Laura : À en juger par l’état actuel de votre entreprise, cette formule a été très fructueuse. Pouvez-vous m’en dire plus sur votre parcours au cours des cinq dernières années?
Maude : Nous avons fait nos débuts dans mon garage de 65 mètres carrés et, deux ans plus tard, nous avons emménagé dans un atelier de près de 300 mètres carrés. Nous aurions pu rester là, mais je voulais ajouter un circuit de distribution, celui des hôtels et des entreprises, ce qui exigeait une accélération de la production et plus d’espace d’entreposage des produits finis. Il y a un an, nous nous sommes installés dans des locaux de 5 000 mètres carrés, dont près de 1 500 servent d’atelier. Cela a créé beaucoup de nouvelles perspectives et de l’espace pour croître.
« Suivez votre instinct, n’ayez pas peur et soyez épaulé par les bonnes personnes. »
Laura : Une telle croissance en cinq ans, c’est très rapide, non? Comment avez-vous réussi à gérer tout cela et quels enseignements en avez-vous tirés?
Maude : Il est difficile de répondre à cette question, car je dois encore aujourd’hui gérer la croissance. Mon conseil est de toujours suivre son instinct. Je l’applique tous les jours. De plus, il ne faut pas craindre de passer à l’action, car l’inaction empêche de croître.
En début de croissance, le principal défi d’un entrepreneur est toujours l’embauche de personnel. Il n’est pas facile de trouver les bonnes personnes, au bon moment. Je suis entourée d’une équipe formidable, mais certains postes semblaient impossibles à pourvoir. Une fois que c’est fait, cependant, l’atteinte de vos objectifs est possible. C’est impossible de tout faire par soi-même. Je n’y suis pas arrivée toute seule. Mon équipe m’épaule, et je dirais que c’est le facteur le plus complexe et le plus important dans la croissance de l’entreprise.
Laura : La pandémie a-t-elle eu une incidence sur vos projets de croissance? Vous avez mentionné que vous commenciez à exploiter le marché hôtelier, mais ce secteur a été l’un des plus durement touchés par la pandémie.
Maude : La pandémie de COVID-19 a indéniablement freiné nos projets de croissance. De grands projets avec des hôtels ont été annulés. Si je compare les projections budgétaires pour l’année et la situation réelle, c’est un désastre. Mais la comparaison ne doit pas se limiter aux chiffres. Nous vivons une situation anormale.
Les ventes interentreprises, avec les hôtels et les restaurants, par exemple, sont sur pause, mais elles reprendront – on ignore seulement à quel moment. Il s’agit donc maintenant de trouver de nouvelles façons de composer avec le changement et de nouvelles pistes d’exécution de notre plan d’affaires. J’ai vite compris que la seule façon de traverser cette crise était d’être le plus proche possible des clients. Le volet des ventes commerciales étant fermé, nous avons misé sur l’approche résidentielle.
Tous ces gens confinés à la maison ont commencé à investir dans leur espace, parce qu’ils s’y retrouvaient « coincés ». Cela nous donnait une formidable occasion d’offrir un service à la clientèle plus personnalisé et plus accessible, et de concevoir et de fabriquer de nouvelles collections de produits aptes à susciter l’enthousiasme. Nous voulions être perçus comme une entreprise locale novatrice et dynamique.
Laura : Comment y êtes-vous arrivés? Pouvez-vous nous donner des exemples de mesures que vous avez prises pour stimuler vos ventes dans le secteur résidentiel?
Nous avons toujours eu un volet de commerce électronique, mais nous avons investi beaucoup de temps et d’énergie pour améliorer grandement l’expérience des clients en ligne.
Une semaine après le début de la pandémie, j’ai compris que nous ne pouvions pas recevoir de clients, mais que nous pouvions leur proposer des visites virtuelles de la boutique. Nous pouvons maintenant joindre des clients partout au Canada par rencontre virtuelle privée avec un conseiller en éclairage, ce qui est même mieux, car nous pouvons voir leur espace de vie et leur faire des suggestions. Cela a débouché sur un modèle d’affaires auquel je n’aurais jamais pensé auparavant.
Nous avons également créé une plateforme 3D, axée sur un outil que nous avions développé à l’origine pour que les architectes et les concepteurs puissent comprendre toutes les possibilités d’intégration de nos composants. Nous l’avons rendu plus convivial à l’intention des consommateurs. De leur domicile, nos clients peuvent à présent voir toutes les formes, couleurs et fonctions qui s’offrent à eux. Nous leur offrons 2 800 possibilités! Ils auraient la même expérience de personnalisation en boutique, mais nous l’avons recréée virtuellement, en leur donnant les outils pour concevoir leur propre éclairage et l’accès à des conseillers.
Le mariage de ces deux éléments a été la clé du succès. Cela nous a aidés non seulement à traverser la crise, mais aussi à éclipser des entreprises n’offrant pas de tels outils ou services. L’adaptation et la rapide mise en marché de ces outils et services ont demandé beaucoup d’énergie, mais cela nous donne aujourd’hui accès à de nouveaux clients au Canada et aux États-Unis.
Laura : Comment se porte votre entreprise physique? Vous avez toujours des salles de démonstration à Montréal et à Cowansville, et un nouvel emplacement ouvrira ses portes à Toronto en septembre prochain, à un moment où de nombreux détaillants réduisent leurs activités.
Maude : Comme je le disais plus tôt, il faut se montrer stratégique et ne pas craindre de passer à l’action. Les gens travaillent à domicile, et cela deviendra la norme pour beaucoup d’entre eux. Ne voyageant pas et ne fréquentant pas les restaurants autant qu’avant, les gens ont de l’argent à investir dans leur milieu de vie. Notre avenir est dans le résidentiel. Nous devons avoir pignon sur rue à Toronto pour exploiter davantage ce marché très porteur. Les outils virtuels sont efficaces, ils nous aident à traverser cette crise, mais rien n’est comparable à l’expérience complète, qui s’est améliorée à cause de la pandémie.
À la réouverture de notre boutique de Montréal, les clients pouvaient venir sur rendez-vous seulement, et même si tout revient à la normale, nous allons conserver ces rencontres privées. L’expérience du client est bien meilleure lorsqu’il bénéficie d’un accès exclusif à toute la boutique et de l’attention complète d’un conseiller en éclairage. L’ouverture sur rendez-vous seulement signifie que nous avons besoin de moins d’espace et qu’il est plus facile d’y assurer l’hygiène.
Laura : Il semble que vous ayez réussi à créer l’expérience client que vous recherchiez, et qu’ironiquement, la pandémie vous ait montré un moyen plus efficace d’y parvenir.
Maude : Absolument. Je n’aurais jamais pensé qu’il serait plus efficace d’ouvrir la boutique sur rendez-vous seulement. Si nous regardons la conversion des ventes en boutique, c’est comme le jour et la nuit. C’est tellement bien que ce n’est pas comparable. Nous investissons le temps qu’il faut avec un client motivé, et cela porte ses fruits.
Laura : Je suis heureuse de l’entendre. Forte de vos succès jusqu’à présent, quels conseils donneriez-vous à d’autres entrepreneurs qui peinent à traverser la pandémie?
Maude : C’est simple : suivez votre instinct, n’ayez pas peur et soyez épaulé par les bonnes personnes. Entourez-vous bien et regardez droit devant.
Darby Lee Young founded Level Playing Field, an accessibility agency, in 2015. Born with mild cerebral palsy, Darby works to mitigate barriers that people like her face daily. Accolades for her strides creating a more inclusive, accessible built environment include a Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award, the Calgary Stampede’s Western Legacy Award for Innovation, and an Inspired Albertan feature.
My first job ever was…
At the Calgary Stampede, as a gate attendant, when I was 14. Back then, there were no apps—you had to buy a paper ticket and show it at the entrance. I loved meeting all the different people from all over the world, saying hi, and of course the mini doughnuts.
I created Level Playing Field because…
I was born with mild cerebral palsy and as a person with a disability, I was tired of trying to go out for lunch or dinner with my friends and not being able to find a great place where we could all meet for a simple social gathering. Where to grab a bite for lunch, drinks after work, a coffee: these should be a simple, quick decisions, not a two-hour logistical headache. It was frustrating and isolating—until I realized that lack of accessibility was a problem for many others but it was rarely seen, yet I had a first-row seat. And I knew we could solve it if we could get more people to understand the issue and work together.
Leaders should prioritize accessibility because…
If we have leaders who understand and think about accessibility and inclusion in their professional life, in their daily life, they will use that perspective when we think about where we want to meet. We think about what our office would be like for someone to visit as a client or to join our staff. Lack of accessibility is an issue that once seen and understood cannot be “unseen”.
Once you see the issue, it becomes unthinkable to overlook accessibility as a priority. Leaders with this insight literally pave the way and open doors. Leaders break barriers so that people with disabilities who had been isolated to get involved in their communities, to become active in the workforce, to enjoy parks and public spaces together. Accessibility is part of inclusion; it enriches our society because we all have something to offer and when we all have this chance to be included, everyone is better off.
My proudest accomplishment is…
Not giving up and standing up for others. Growing up, I heard that because of my disability, sports were going to be a difficult option for me. It was heartbreaking because sports looked like so much fun and I longed to jump in the fray. It’s hard to keep hearing “you can’t do that” over and over. The words stung but I didn’t let them get to me. So I not only participated in sports, I volunteered with Hockey Canada the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and competed in Para-Alpine downhill skiing. It was great fun!
In sports I found not just some of my truest lifelong friends, cheerleaders and mentors, but also my self-confidence. Those lessons I carried forward into starting a business. It was hard to be taken seriously in the beginning. Over and over, I got the condescending looks, the judgemental top-to-bottom looks. The same looks that Julia Roberts got in the movie “Pretty Woman” when she went into a boutique in Beverly Hills.
Five years in, I feel proud and grateful to run a business that has survived two world crises. To have a strong, inclusive team. To be building not just more accessible spaces, but also a network of forward-thinking architects, designers, space owners, builders and policy makers who “get” why accessibility is important. Together, we are breaking down barriers and building pathways of hope and inclusion for people with disabilities.
My proudest achievement has yet to happen because there is really so much more that needs to be done.
Being an entrepreneur is hard. It is exhausting because you’re always on – there are no days off. But it’s worth it if you and your team are building something that’s greater than yourselves.
I surprise people when I tell them…
That I have a shoe obsession. I was having trouble finding cool, fashionable shoes that were practical and accommodated my disability. Last year, Canadian shoe designer John Fluevog decided to build a shoe and even named it after me! Now it comes in multiple colors due to the popularity.
I’m heavily involved in volunteering in sports—Hockey Canada, the Vancouver Olympics, and most recently, until COVID, tennis—on the team services side. We take care of coordinating the details, the user experience, so that athletes can walk right up to the court and are able to concentrate on the game. It’s coordinating little things like making sure that the have clean laundry, clean equipment, dressing room setup, logistics. These are low-profile tasks that nobody wants to do, but I’m happy to pitch in to help us win.
My best advice to people starting out in business is…
Rally a good core team around you, and support others in whatever big or small ways you can. A clean towel might be what helps the team win a gold medal—you never know!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Nobody can go it alone.
Being an entrepreneur is hard. It is exhausting because you’re always on – there are no days off. But it’s worth it if you and your team are building something that’s greater than yourselves.
People might question your ability and they might judge sometimes, but don’t respond in kind. Just bring your A-game consistently. Prove them wrong. Listen to their point of view and have a conversation. I have found that 99% of the time, people of integrity will always be ready to support what’s right. The other times, they might be really tired because they’re also on all the time…
Last but not least: please think about accessibility! It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business. Your next big client or top-performing staff might have a disability. Be open for that and plan for it.
The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is…
Have a work-life balance. I was up at 4:30 today, but I guess passion never sleeps.
I would tell my 20-year old self…
To work out more. Find the time to exercise and not just work, work, work. I still haven’t been able to figure that out. It was hard at 20 and frankly it’s still a struggle for me. Maybe I just need some clean towels…!
My biggest setback was…
Financing. It’s hard to get started and to get ahead in a small business. There is some funding eligibility but it’s far from being enough. It’s hard to be small, build credibility and prove ourselves in a field like accessibility that is not well understood.
I overcame it by…
Creativity, perseverance, and talking to people. One thing that helped me overcome the financing catch-22 was growing my voice through Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2018. ATB is a local sponsor. They believe in accessibility, they believed in me, and I got a small loan.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be…
My friends and family. In my inner circle of supporters and mentors, we have each other’s backs, and in tough times we remind each other that giving up is never an option.
The best thing I’ve done for my business so far is…
Looked after my team and clients to build a superior brand. At the end of the day, we are a business but businesses are made up of people, and people are at the heart of what we do. Problems can happen but when they do, we have a conversation and listen to each other.
In accessibility and inclusion, what we are building is so much greater than just dollars and cents. We are all working towards a more accessible world.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…
(Until today!) that my legs sometimes give me lots of trouble, so I slip and fall. 99% of the time I fall backwards and therefore I turtle. But you know what’s bigger than a fall, though? The laugh. I’ve learned to laugh at myself when I fall. It makes getting up again so much easier.
I stay inspired by…
Trying to make a difference for others, so that they don’t have to face the same challenges that I have faced.
My parents. One of the strongest women I know is my Mom, Joanne. She is a tough businesswoman with an amazing sense of humour. I take after her in those things. My love of sports I got from my Dad; one of our favourite things to do together is to watch a good game. Go Raptors! Go Flames! Go friends and family in sports!
The future excites me because…
Accessibility is coming more and more to forefront and people with disabilities deserve to be considered and included in their community.
My next step is…
To make my company one of the top new accessibility firms in Canada.
In business, yes there is competition and there is a place for that. But beyond competition, there’s a bigger picture, too. In accessibility and inclusion, what we are building is so much greater than just dollars and cents. We are all working towards a more accessible world.
When we truly do accessibility right, we compete, but we also cheer for each other. It can’t just be about whose company took what particular step. We have a very long way to go, and every well-grounded step towards universal design and inclusion moves the needle for everyone. So that’s a win for team Canada.
As Vice President and National Lead, Women Entrepreneurs at BDC, Laura Didyk used to spend most of her time traversing the country, interacting with women business owners. She’s keeping those conversations going virtually — and this month it’s with Maude Rondeau, founder and president of Luminaire Authentik, a Quebec-based lighting designer and manufacturer.
After earning her business degree, Maude Rondeau spent 13 years working in fashion — but she had always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. By 2015, she’d had enough of business travel and the lack of an outlet for her creative ideas, and so she quit to pursue an opportunity that aligned with her passions: lighting design.
Working out of her house, Maude created Luminaire Authentik, filling in a gap in the market for mid-priced products featuring creative designs. By understanding and catering to her customers, her business continued to grow over the next five years.
Everything is still designed and manufactured in Quebec, though they’ve transitioned from Maude’s basement into a 53,000-square-foot production and storage facility, and now sell across North America, both to consumers and businesses, through a combination of eCommerce and three exclusive showrooms.
I caught up with Maude to talk about how she was not only able to scale her business quickly, but also successfully pivot during the pandemic to keep her company on the right track.
Laura: I always like to start with the origin story. How did you get the idea for Luminaire Authentik, and get it launched?
Maude: I worked in the fashion industry for 13 years, and I got a lot of experience with sales, marketing, and branding. But I had to travel a lot, and by 33 years old, I was fed up with traveling and doing trade shows. I was also fed up with doing things that had to fit in a box — I had so many ideas, and it was always my dream to have my own project.
At the same time, all that traveling brought me a love for architecture and lighting, and a passion for design. Having that sensibility, plus my business background, I saw an opportunity in the market. Five years ago, we didn’t have really creative, accessible lighting design. It was either very high-end or super cheap, and right in the middle, there was nothing.
I decided to just quit my job and started making lamps in my basement. I eventually met someone who helped me really understand the elements of the construction, and once I had that base, I was able to add in personalization.
Laura: And that personalization is a big part of your business model now, right?
Maude: It’s all about the customer experience. People get emotional about being a part of their own design. Whether that’s architects designing for a specific project, or customers that want to have the experience of creating their own lighting for their homes (with our experts to help of course). And by handling the design, manufacturing, and distribution, we were able to have the right price, as well as this experience with the clients.
Laura: Looking at how your business is doing now, that formula worked really well. Can you tell me a bit about that trajectory of the last five years?
Maude: We started with just 700 square feet in my garage, and two years later we moved into a 3,000 square foot workshop. We could have stayed there, but I wanted to be able to reach out to a new channel of distribution, working with hotels and businesses — which not only required a higher volume of production, but also more room to stock the finished product. One year ago, we moved into our 53,000 square foot facility, and we’re taking 16,000 of it for the workshop. It opened the doors to lots of new possibilities, and there’s room to grow.
“Follow your gut, don’t be scared, and have the right people supporting you.”
Laura: Doing all of that in five years is, from a business perspective, a rapid timeline for growth. How have you managed it successfully, and what lessons have you learned from it?
Maude: That’s a hard question, because even today the growth is something I have to manage. My first piece of advice is to always follow your gut. That’s something that I apply every day. Also, don’t be scared of taking action, because without taking action you’re not able to grow.
Once you start to grow, human resources is always the first challenge for an entrepreneur. It’s not easy to find the right people, at the right time. I have an amazing team, but it was a challenge — some positions seemed impossible to fill. But once you do, that’s the key to reaching your objectives. You’re not able to do anything by yourself. I didn’t do this by myself. I have my team with me, and I would say, it’s the most challenging and the most important thing that has affected the growth of the business.
Laura: Has the pandemic affected your growth plans? You mentioned you were starting to tap into the hotel market, but this sector has been one of the worst hit.
Maude: COVID has definitely put a pause on our growth plans! We had some massive cancellations from hotels. If I look at what the budget was for the year and what the actual situation is, it’s a disaster. You just can’t compare with numbers. It’s not a normal situation we are in.
The B2B sales, like hotels and restaurants, these I see as taking a pause — it will come back eventually, we just don’t know when. So now, it’s a matter of finding new ways to embrace the change, and finding new ways or new channels to keep up with the plan. I quickly realized that the only way to survive this crisis was to be as close as possible to our clients. On the commercial side everything was closed, so the key to our approach has been residential.
All these people at home started to invest in their own space — because they were stuck in it. For us, it was a great opportunity to be much more present than ever in terms of customer service, in terms of accessibility, and in terms of designing and creating new collections to generate excitement. We wanted to be seen as a local, fresh, and driven company.
Laura: And how did you manage that? Can you share some of the specific actions you took to foster your residential business?
Maude: We’ve always had an eCommerce business, but we invested a lot of time and energy making big improvements to the customer experience online.
Just a week after the pandemic, I realized, ‘We’re not able to receive customers, but we can offer them virtual visits inside the store.’ Now we can reach clients all over the country through private virtual meetings with a lighting expert — which is actually better, because we’re able to see their living area and make suggestions. It opened up a business model that I would never have thought of before.
We also created a 3D platform, based on a tool we were originally developing for architects and designers to understand all the mixing and matching they could do with our components. We tweaked it to make it more user-friendly for consumers, and now our clients can be at home, see all the different categories they can play with, change the colors — we have 2,800 possibilities! It’s the same experience they would have in store, building and personalizing, but we’ve recreated it virtually, giving them the tools to design their own lighting as well as access to expert advice.
Having these two mixed together has been a real success. It has helped us to not only survive, but also to outshine other companies that didn’t have these tools or services. It took a lot of energy to adapt and get to market so quickly, but now we’re accessing new customers across Canada and the US.
Laura: And what about your brick-and-mortar business? You still have showrooms in Montreal and Cowansville, plus a new location opening in Toronto this September, at a time when many retailers are scaling back.
Maude: It goes back to not being scared, and being strategic. People are working from home, and a lot of that is going to stay. They aren’t traveling or eating out as much as normal, so they have money to invest in their space. Our future is in residential. Toronto is a big market opportunity, and we need to have a presence on the street to tap into it more. The virtual tools work, they are helping us to get through this, but nothing compares to the full experience — which has improved because of the pandemic.
When our Montreal store reopened it was by appointment only, and even if everything goes back to normal, we’re going to stick with these private VIP meetings. The customer experience is so much better when they have the whole store to themselves, and the undivided attention of an expert. On our end, opening by appointment only means we don’t need as big a space, and it’s easier to keep things sanitary.
Laura: So it sounds like you’ve really nailed what you want the client experience to be, and the pandemic inadvertently showed you a way to do it better.
Maude: Absolutely. I never would have thought that it would actually be more impactful to only have appointments. If we look at the conversion of the sales for the stores, it’s like night and day. It’s so good it’s not comparable. The right time is invested with the right clients, and that is paying off.
Laura: That’s great to hear. Based on your success so far, what advice would you give to other business owners trying to navigate the pandemic?
Maude: Super simple: follow your gut, don’t be scared, and have the right people supporting you. Build your team and just look forward!
Tessa Virtue is a household name not only in Canada, but around the world. Tessa and her ice dance partner, Scott Moir, first captured the hearts of Canadians at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, where they became both the first North Americans and the youngest ice dancers to be crowned Olympic Champions. They would go on to become the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history, earning five career medals — three gold and two silver — along with several other wins on the world stage. After 22 years as partners, they chose to step away from the sport. Now retired from ice dance, Tessa continues to be a strong advocate for women’s empowerment and works closely with FitSpirit, an organization whose mission is to raise public awareness around the problem of declining participation in sport among pre-teen and teenage girls. As an ambitious academic, Tessa now plans to pursue her MBA and channel her energy into her next challenge: becoming an entrepreneur.
We recently spoke with Tessa about her career journey and the transition she is making into entrepreneurship — and gathered some insights on balance, resilience, and the lessons she’s learned as a professional athlete.
You’ve grown up in the spotlight and are a household name as an Olympic champion. Following your retirement and through your career transition, what inspired you to pursue your MBA at Queen’s University?
I always admired my mom for getting her MBA later in life. She talks about that time in her life with affection and gratitude – it offered her a chance to nurture her own identity outside of the prescribed roles of employee, mother, and wife. I’ve always known education would play a major part in my life, and I’m eager for a new challenge. I have been incredibly fortunate to dive into the corporate realm in a unique way for the last decade, but I want to develop a greater understanding from a macro level and earn some credibility as I venture forth in the next phase of my career. I am keen to better understand how to use my platform by earning my stripes!
I want every single young girl and woman to feel limitless, and that begins by believing she is worthy of her dreams.
Resilience is a very important skill for professional athletes. How has your resilience helped you navigate through some of the most challenging times during COVID? Can you offer any tips on staying resilient through obstacles and challenging times?
Interestingly, in preparing for every single possible scenario as an athlete, I also learned that it was important to be responsive, not reactive. Being adaptable is key, and finding freedom within a regimented structure is a delicate balance. I’d say my approach to COVID was mostly affected by the perspective it offered, and the gratitude that came with the realization that it’s the simple things in life (the things we so often take for granted) that make me happy. I tried to find purpose each day, however small or seemingly insignificant, and do my best to contribute to meaningful causes.
Following the completion of your MBA, what is your number one leadership trait you want to bring into your next role of CEO?
Empathy and confidence (sorry, that’s two!).
We recently spoke with fellow Olympian and gold-medal winner, Cassie Cambell-Pascall about the importance of sport, in the midst of the pandemic. As a strong advocate for women’s empowerment and through your work with FitSpirit, what is your take on continuing to use sport as a catalyst to develop positive change in the lives of children, youth and in communities during this time?
There are so many important lessons to be learned through sport – including, but not limited to; embracing failure, making vulnerability a strength, delayed gratification, goal setting, and teamwork. It is incredibly easy, especially in today’s climate, to feel overwhelmed and insignificant. What physical activity offers is a sense of purpose, a release of energy, and a surge of self-worth. Moving our bodies through space – TAKING UP SPACE! – is valuable, particularly for young girls. I want every single young girl and woman to feel limitless, and that begins by believing she is worthy of her dreams.
To learn more about Tessa Virtue’s next chapter, join us for an immersive, digital experience at the Women of Influence Spotlight Series, in partnership with Scotiabank. Tessa will sit down for a candid conversation with CTV News Anchor Marcia MacMillan and reveal exactly what it takes to rise to the top of your industry – and how to transition into your next act when the time comes. Tickets on sale now.
Scotiabank is proud to partner with Women of Influence as the presenting sponsor of this Spotlight Series event with Tessa Virtue. Learn more about The Scotiabank Women Initiative™, supporting Canada’s women-owned, women-led businesses.
“My company announced that we’re going to start going back to the office soon — and I’m not looking forward to it. While some of my colleagues are excited about the prospect, I’ve gotten really used to having zero commute, more flexibility, and fewer distractions. How do I convince my boss to let me continue working from home?”
Fotini Iconomopoulos Negotiation Coach, Keynote Speaker, and MBA Instructor
Fotini Iconomopoulos is an award-winning negotiation consultant, keynote speaker and MBA instructor based in Toronto. She works with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to small business entrepreneurs to help them achieve their goals. She is regularly featured in the media and Harper Collins will be releasing her book in March 2021. Her father unknowingly influenced her career path at the age of 6 when he nicknamed her “the negotiator.” You can learn more about her work and find more of her tips at www.fotiniicon.com.
Your situation is very common! Many are excited about getting the heck away from the home office and back into civilization, but others are… not so eager.
Maybe you’re not ready just yet or maybe you want this arrangement to become permanent. Whatever the situation, there are things that you can do that will help you in your negotiation with your employer. In fact, I’ve been helping folks with employer negotiations like these for years, and COVID-19 just made working from home requests a lot easier — you’ve been trialing this (hopefully successfully) for months!
I always advise to keep track of the successes and wins you’ve had while working from home, and to lay the groundwork by dropping them into your conversations regularly. But even if you haven’t been doing that, you can make up for it with the steps below:
1. Position yourself for success
Before you even propose continuing working from home, make sure you make your employer aware of how well it’s been going. How did you make the transition seamless with your team? Did you increase productivity? Any big wins to bring up (despite the chaos)? Have you been more accessible without fighting traffic? If you have some quantitative results, even better. The more positive things you have to share about this remote work experience, the harder it will be for them to deny your request.
2. Consider it from their perspective
‘They’ are both your peers and your employer. Consider how your remote work will affect others. If you think they might have some objections, consider those now so you can address them and handle them before your employer has a chance to raise them. You’ll be acknowledging their concerns and building trust. Especially if you have solutions or learnings for their concerns.
3. Share testimonials and best practices
You already brought up some benefits earlier and now you can use the social smell of what others are doing and how they’re doing it successfully. Share testimonials from colleagues, clients, and other departments if you’ve got them. Other industry leaders and organizations who have already declared that remote work will be around for a while are a great way to use peer pressure to your advantage. A company with similarities to yours will be most compelling — so don’t pick some culture that seems like apples to oranges to them.
4. Be specific
Proposing a trial is usually an easy way to success (as it usually brings enough momentum to continue down that path) and you just had a lengthy trial run to work to your advantage. If you’ve figured out a formula for success, this is the time to lay out the plan. If it’s x number of days per week/month in the office, a rhythm of regular meetings or communication, specific working hours, or any other process that has made this a successful trial, be sure to spell it out.
5. Ask questions
Questions always come up because carefully crafted ones will get the others to convince themselves and make things less adversarial. Asking questions is something you also need to be prepared with in case you get resistance. Dig deeper than what they’re saying at face value. ‘How’ or ‘what’ questions are always my favorites: “How can we adjust this plan to make you more comfortable? What specifically about this is important to you?” Be ready to get them into problem solving mode before you just give up.
As I’ve said before, negotiations don’t have to be combative. Implementing a few of the tips above will make it a discussion instead of a boxing match.
Sydney Piggott (she/her) is a civil society leader, researcher, and advocate for gender equity and inclusion on a global scale. She is the Director of Programs & Projects at YWCA Canada where she leads impact-driven initiatives with a vision to see women and girls empowered in a safe and equitable society. She’s also a contributor at Btchcoin News, a British Council Future Leaders Connect fellow, and vice-chair at Springtide Resources. She brings an intersectional feminist lens to all of her work informed by her proud Afro-Caribbean heritage.
My first job ever was… a summer job as a records management associate at an insurance company. I was only 15 years old when I started and I remember not having any “professional” clothes to wear. I always joke that I looked like I was dressed as a flower girl at a wedding every day!
I work in the women’s sector/non-profit sector because… I care about creating just futures and I genuinely believe that women and gender-diverse people are the ones to make that happen. I also think that the women’s sector, and non-profit sector more broadly, needs to move away from its roots in white feminism and colonialism to adopt a truly intersectional and inclusive approach to this work. The only way to accomplish that is to have disruptors in this space. I see myself as one of many in this sector who is challenging our norms, innovating for change, and pushing for accountability so that we can collectively move the dial on gender equity, not just equality.
I personally reject the idea that being a good leader requires decades of formal experience in leadership roles. Leadership is a journey and it can start at any age.
We should entrust young women with positions of leadership because… they’re already doing it. My peers and those younger than me continue to demonstrate their ability to lead change across sectors from climate justice to education to entrepreneurship. I personally reject the idea that being a good leader requires decades of formal experience in leadership roles. Leadership is a journey and it can start at any age.
We should invest in the potential of young women, girls, and gender-diverse youth because … we can’t afford not to. On top of a pandemic, we’re also in a global climate crisis, recession, fight for racial justice, and gender-based violence crisis, among so many other inequities that have only been exacerbated by our current circumstances. Historically, young women, girls, and gender-diverse people – especially those from underrepresented groups – have been excluded from decision-making processes and look where we ended up! Investing in the potential of young people who are furthest from opportunity is where we need to look for the solutions that will set us on the right path forward.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I still struggle with imposter syndrome every day. People often admire my confidence or are impressed by my job title, my degree, and my accolades. Despite all of that, I’m constantly doubting myself and it’s something that I’m trying hard to overcome. Luckily, I’ve surrounded myself with a great community of sponsors and mentors who give me more validation than any award ever could.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… to take time for self care. And I don’t mean bubble baths and ice cream; I mean true, radical self care that is part of a greater process of healing. I often talk about how important it is, especially with other young folks that I work with, but often don’t practice it myself.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… fostering relationships with sponsors who have not only opened doors for me, but set me up for success as I walked through them. I’m lucky to have more than one sponsor, people who take a step beyond mentorship and really invest in my success in such a selfless way. I try to pay it forward as much as possible and sponsor younger youth and even my peers. Sometimes that means passing up on a great opportunity in order to give it to someone else who is much more qualified, but doesn’t have the same connections or public profile.
I stay inspired by… the people who surround me. My friends, family, and community inspire me every day and keep me grounded in what really matters while doing this work. I learn from them, they support me, they help me grow. I’m so grateful to be around people who sustain me in that way. I would not have made it to where I am without them!
I can promise you that this isn’t another article on how to work remotely. We’ve been bombarded with these ‘tips’ and ‘how-to guides’ for many months. While technologies and proven processes are useful, it doesn’t get to the core of what’s important right now — and that’s how we sustain ourselves and our teams when we continue to work remotely throughout a pandemic.
One of the major concerns now for organisations and their leaders is the fact that workers all over the world are becoming increasingly burnt-out.
7 out of 10 professionals have experienced burnout since COV-19 started, so it’s not something we can just shy away from. We need to create a sense of shared responsibility and accountability in coming together and promoting a different culture of working.
Let’s take a step back and explore the root causes of the rise in burnout amongst remote workers this year.
Traditional working where we travel to and from a specific location every day naturally provides a sense of structure, routines and habits. Although that structure can involve tedious activities such as commuting (we won’t go there in this article), it forms a pattern of set structure that enables people to switch ‘on’ and ‘off’ from their work.
When we work remotely, however, the structure that we’ve been used to is gone. Yes, we have more time, more freedom and more opportunity to create a better work-life balance, but not everyone knows how to create a new structure and form new habits. It can be a challenge to adapt without the new knowledge required for effective remote working.
On top of all of that, this year has brought less than normal remote working circumstances. For some, it’s working on the kitchen table while homeschooling their family, for others, it’s a challenge to live and work alone all day, every day while being in quarantine.
Overnight, we’ve asked everyone to find new structures, coping mechanisms, time management practises and habits in this new way of working and living. All while dealing with and trying to process a pandemic.
Organisations can put proactive measures in place to prevent workforce burnout, and they can equip their leaders to identify the red flags that alert them ahead of their teams feeling stressed.
And let’s face it— our work, especially if we’re passionate about it, can be a welcomed distraction from all that’s going on in our worlds. We welcome the hours spent strategizing and meeting with clients as it allows us to turn a blind eye to all the craziness in the world.
What’s the tipping point for us as remote workers?
I often find that we only learn the lesson once we’ve reached the tipping point. We can have everyone around us telling us to ‘take time off’ but until we experience the impact that overworking has on us as individuals, we tend to take this advice with a pinch of salt.
However, organisations can put proactive measures in place to prevent workforce burnout, and they can equip their leaders to identify the red flags that alert them ahead of their teams feeling stressed.
Here are three ways you can prevent burnout, whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, manage a team or work on a remote team.
1. Focus on working smart instead of hard.
When we work remotely, the focus should be on output as opposed to input. Oftentimes we don’t realise how much more productive we are at home compared to working in an office. It’s important for remote workers at all levels to get clear on the main priorities, understanding that this may change more often due to the current climate. Once we’re clear on our work priorities, we can better structure our days and our time. We must be measuring ourselves and our teams on the output and decide on a metric that makes sense. Data will help us make better decisions when we ‘just want to answer that one extra email at 9.30 pm.’
2.Take time away from work in micro and macro settings.
Take some time to build the skill of self-awareness. At what times do you work best? What home environment helps you feel at your most productive? And finally, what activities and practices make you feel at your very best? Starting small is advisable. Maybe it’s that you begin a 20-minute walk before taking client calls, or you eat your lunch on your patio without screens every day.
Time away from work should be practised each day based on what works for you. These should become your non-negotiables. Remember, when you say YES to that meeting, what are you saying NO to? The likelihood is you’re saying NO to you feeling calm and grounded.
We need to have boundaries around work, even something as simple as reading emails first thing in the morning can set us up feeling frazzled for the rest of the day.
Macro time away is longer chunks of time away from work. Organisations should promote that everyone takes longer time away from work, even though our travel is limited.
3. Get an accountability partner and lead by example.
When I coach leaders that are concerned with employee wellbeing and engagement, I first ask them how they are managing themselves. It’s essential to change the culture of our organisation to be about balance and sustainability — and frequently we need to change our mindsets to be effective at that. Finding an accountability partner can be a great way to ensure you switch off at a particular time or take that extra-long weekend that you promised yourself you would.
If you have a team, start having these conversations with them in an open forum, asking them what their ideas and suggestions are around preventing burnout. Only then can we truly begin to normalise work/life balance and promote healthy and truly engaged work.
Shauna Moran is an accredited and award-winning executive coach who empowers leaders of remote teams to create and build more effective distributed workforces — so they can scale and grow with confidence. You can contact her directly on firstname.lastname@example.org or operateremote.com.