Tamara’s short-term disability presented unique challenges — here’s how her employer enabled her to overcome them.

By Shelley White

Tamara Mungal’s life changed in the blink of an eye. 

It was December 2018, and Tamara had recently been promoted into a new role as Senior Consultant, Talent Acquisition for Retail and Small Business Banking at Scotiabank. On what was otherwise an ordinary day, things changed when Tamara fainted. Though she doesn’t remember exactly what happened, “I must have hit a doorknob or something on the way down,” Tamara says.

Her brother found her bleeding and unconscious on the floor and took her to the hospital, where tests revealed she had a concussion. After getting the diagnosis, one of Tamara’s first concerns was her new job.

“I remember contacting my director and saying, ‘The doctor said I have a concussion, so maybe I can return to work next week.’ He replied, ‘Why don’t we wait and see what the doctor has to say,’” Tamara recalls. “I thought, give it a week, I should be fine. I had no idea I would have to go on short term disability for a total of eight months.”

Although each individual’s experience is different, concussions can cause a range of symptoms that can persist for a year or more. Tamara says she experienced dizziness, nausea and vomiting, as well as pounding migraine headaches, crippling fatigue, and brain fog. 

“There was some memory loss in the beginning,” she adds. “I’d have conversations with people and I would find myself forgetting parts of the conversation. I was unable to drive long distances because that would exacerbate the nausea, dizziness and the headaches. I wasn’t able to watch screens or monitors for an extended period of time because I had sensitivity to light. I also had a loss of balance and coordination, difficulties concentrating, mood swings and sleep disturbances.”

Moreover, Tamara had a persistent feeling of guilt about missing work. 

Even though I was aware my leave was medically justified, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.

“This was a drastic change for me. I’d never been on a medical leave before,” she says. “Even though I was aware my leave was medically justified, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I was also partly afraid of how my peers might respond or interpret my absence since my concussion was not visible.”

Tamara says that another contributing factor to her guilt and fear stemmed from her upbringing. Born in Trinidad, Tamara moved to Canada with her family at the age of 10. 

“Coming from an immigrant household, we’re very aware that many immigrants struggle to find employment, and it’s something not to take for granted. I was raised to feel like it was wrong to take too many sick days, because it could create a negative perception in the eyes of the employer,” she says.

Slowly, Tamara’s condition improved, with the help of physiotherapy, acupuncture, massage, counselling, mindfulness practices and meditation. Six months after her fall, Tamara got in touch with the Bank’s Workplace Accommodation (WA) team to discuss returning to work.

“I told them, ‘I’m ready to come back, I’ll just assess my progress and see how it goes,’” she says.

To ensure Tamara was cleared to return to work and would be properly accommodated in the office environment, the WA team asked for assessments from her physiotherapist and an occupational therapist to determine what her return to work should look like. 

Tamara was cleared for a gradual return to work in August 2019, with regular check points to assess her progress. One of the assessment recommendations for Tamara was to work in a private room to avoid migraines that could be caused by too many lights in an open, shared workplace. This recommendation would also help to reduce distractions that could disrupt her concentration.  In connection with this recommendation, she was advised to take frequent screen breaks throughout the day.

And though she understood these accommodations were for her benefit, they once again stirred up feelings of guilt and shame.

“My team, for the most part, sat together in an open workspace and I would be sitting alone in a private room. I sometimes felt like I needed to explain myself to avoid being perceived as antisocial because I was sitting alone,” she says. “I also felt like the accommodation was hindering my presence and visibility in the workplace.”

To help ensure she felt valued and included, Scotiabank provided opportunities for Tamara to participate in multiple special projects, such as delivering Inclusive Hiring Training across all regions and launching Talent Acquisition’s Onboarding Program. 

“I really appreciated these opportunities, because it allowed me to have the exposure I felt I was missing. It allowed me to build relationships, form connections, and build a brand for myself,” she says.

Anna Zec, Senior Vice President, Global HR Services at Scotiabank says that Scotiabank is committed to providing accommodations for employees (and prospective employees) with disabilities, so that people are able to realize their full potential in the workplace. “Aligned with this policy, the Bank has a dedicated Workplace Accommodation (WA) team who works with employees on their accommodation needs,” she says. “They work together to help recognize barriers and determine solutions.”

Zec says that when employees like Tamara return to work from a leave of absence, the WA team may work with the employee, the employee’s healthcare team, management and other parties as needed to implement accommodations to facilitate a safe and sustainable return to work. And over the past few years, Scotiabank has expanded mental health benefits to build and align with an overall philosophy of “Total Wellbeing” — an effort that has been especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The global pandemic has created not only a physical health crisis, but many are now referring to the resulting mental health crisis as the silent second wave,” Zec says. “These measures were put into place to provide support to employees so they can bring their best self to work, and to life, every day. The Bank recognizes that everyone’s needs are different, even more so during these challenging times, and offers comprehensive and flexible programs that are available to employees when they need them.”

Like many on her team, Tamara currently works from home, and while she still gets migraines and must be careful to limit her screen time, Tamara says she is following the recommendations of her healthcare providers and her condition continues to improve as she utilizes the total wellbeing benefits offered by Scotiabank.

I’m able to relate to others in different ways — as a woman, as a woman of colour, as an immigrant, and as someone who had a short-term, non-visible disability.

The theme of this year’s 2020 International Day of Persons with Disabilities — which is observed on December 3rd each year — is “Not all Disabilities are Visible.” For Tamara, this day is about removing stigma and promoting understanding and support for the rights of persons with disabilities.

“Through this experience, there’s another layer to my intersectionality. I’m able to relate to others in different ways — as a woman, as a woman of colour, as an immigrant, and as someone who had a short-term, non-visible disability. We want to be a workplace of choice for the diverse communities we serve, so having these unique lenses really help not only strengthen me as an individual, but professionally I am able to have a multi-dimensional outlook as a member of a winning team.” 

While the past two years have been challenging, Tamara says she has been surprised to recognize the positives in her experiences.

“I did have feelings of shame and guilt in the past, but looking back and reflecting on it, I see it differently. I see resilience. I see strength in my story”.

Meet Hoda Paripoush, Founder and Creative Director of Sloane Tea

Hoda Paripoush is among the elite group of the first certified tea sommeliers in North America. Her tea knowledge is further supplemented by professional studies in perfumery at the Studio Des Fragrance in Grasse, France. Building on the principles of perfumery, combined with her love of tea and unwavering commitment to quality, she has created an artisan line of exceptional teas that speak to the elements of scent and taste. 

My first job ever was… working at a hot dog cart in my hometown of Brockville, ON.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… what I wanted to do was so unconventional at the time, that I had to create my own path for it.

My proudest accomplishment is… experiencing my tea aboard VIA Rail, especially because during our early years in Canada my parents worked as evening custodians at the Brockville VIA Rail station.

My boldest move to date was… selling our house to fund the growth of Sloane Tea.

I surprise people when I tell them… my family came to Canada as religious refugees.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… go forward like you know it will succeed.

My biggest setback was… COVID-19.

I overcame it by… pivoting how we view and run our business — innovation is key.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… that you have control over your destiny, and practically speaking, you have control over your schedule.

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… sleep (I operate on too little).

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… much about my family and upbringing, which is pivotal to who I am today.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business… is that you shouldn’t let the need for perfection prevent you from moving forward, because sometimes, just being the first one there, even if you need improvement, is what matters.

I stay inspired by… challenging myself with creative and unique projects — even if they are outside of my comfort zone.

The future excites me because… the platform of how businesses operate is changing quickly and dramatically, opening up opportunities for growth and innovation at an unprecedented level.

My next step is to… go digital — to curate and create online education on a whole host of topics related to tea and the world of hospitality, via collaborations, workshops and master classes.  

Meet Patricia Kumbakisaka: Rising International Relations Leader

Patricia Kumbakisaka speaks five languages — French, English, Greek, Swahili and Romanian — a result of her parents, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, working in the diplomatic field. Born in Romania, her family moved to Athens, Greece when she was three, and Winnipeg, Canada when she was 10 years old. She’s since followed her own passion for diplomacy, representing Canada at the UN Youth Assembly and UN Youth Romania. Named one of Canada’s most Accomplished Black Women in 2020, she’ll soon be continuing her work (remotely) at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, Germany, where she will be focused on International Relations and Cultural diplomacy issues.

My first job ever was… in an International call center where I was a translator and also took phone orders for people ordering from the Sears catalogue. Aside from that, I worked at an immigration center in Winnipeg where I was a junior data entry clerk.  

My proudest accomplishments are… when I represented Canada as a delegate at the UN Youth Assembly in 2018, and at the UN Youth Romania as the Human Rights Council Chair, and being named one of Canada’s most Accomplished Black Women in 2020. 

What I’ve enjoyed most about working on Canada’s Diversity Advantage project is… how I got a chance to promote the importance of the diversity that we have in our country and the talent and skills that newcomers bring to our country. The project was also to educate people on the fact that learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world we live in. It helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups. Canada’s Diversity Advantage project’s message was to help us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own.

My boldest move to date was… moving from Winnipeg to Ottawa by myself two years ago to pursue my career further. I must say I loved living in the nation’s capital where I have made many friends and a community! Of course, Winnipeg will still be home and I do go back often to visit my parents and siblings, especially during holidays. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I speak Modern Greek and Romanian fluently. Everyone’s face is always shocked, especially Greeks and Romanians, as soon as I open my mouth and speak their language. 

My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in international relations is… do not give up. It is not easy to find a job right away, it’s not an easy field. Try volunteering through organizations working in the field since it can open up many opportunities. Also try internships, network and continue to keep in contact with those networks and your past professors and advisors from University. 

My best advice from a mentor was… always have confidence in yourself; things may not go as you plan at first, but they will come together if you continue to work hard, not give up and have confidence. 

My biggest setback was… taking my very first unpaid internship which had nothing to do with my field, I was honestly very bored in the beginning and felt like this was so useless and was wondering how this was going to bring me forward. Surprisingly, that opened up doors and helped me get to where I am right now. After my internship ended, I kept in touch with people from there and of course they passed on my CV and it led to more opportunities tied up to my field.

I overcame it by… learning that there is an opportunity in everything, and that even the most boring opportunities were not a waste of time at all and were a part of my journey. 

My passion for foreign policy and international politics began… in childhood. I have known that I want a career in international politics since middle school. I have always been a leader in school and in my community. In University, I was involved with the Student Union and was a head organizer of the Canadian Political Science Student Association conference. 

If I had an extra hour in the day… I would go out with my friends and family; but that is not possible due to the pandemic, so more sleep it is!

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that my least favorite fruit is watermelon, that I took ballet lessons in Greece, and that when I was young, I played the piano and clarinet by ear. 

I stay inspired by… past and present world leaders, as well as my parents, who despite their own accomplishments, continue to remain humble. 

My next step is… to continue to be a leader. I am a very proud Canadian and continue to mentor and help others to improve our country nationally and internationally. 

Meet Cessidia De Biasio, Founder of The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship

When she was just 19 years old, Cessidia De Biasio established The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship in honour of her Nonna Addolorata, a widow who immigrated to Canada with her five children. Raising over $52,000 to date, the foundation aids first-or second-generation University student leaders while paying homage to our ancestors who immigrated to Canada. Understanding the impact of storytelling, Cessidia launched the #OurJourneytoCanada grassroots social media campaign which showcases Canadian immigration stories. One of Leadership Windsor-Essex’s “40 Leaders Under 40,” Cessidia volunteers with several not-for-profit organizations, and will soon be pursuing her MBA.

My first job ever was at an ice-cream store. I still remember all 51 flavors and never got tired of eating ice-cream! 

My Nonna Addolorata inspired me to establish The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship because… as a widow with five children, one being my mother, Nonna risked everything to migrate with her family from Italy to Canada in order to provide them with a better life. Travelling by ocean liner and landing at Pier 21, in Halifax, Nonna, at 47 years of age, came to Canada with little money, a trunk full of belongings, no knowledge of English, and a grade three education. To say her voyage to Canada was met with many obstacles is an understatement. 

Nonna’s courage, as well as that of my paternal grandparents who also immigrated to Canada, inspired me to build upon their voyages and assist those with similar stories. No matter your family’s country of origin, we all share something in common; we are all here today thanks to our ancestors who paved the way for us. These factors were catalysts in establishing my charity, The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship. I created this foundation to pay it forward and support first-and-second generation University student leaders. I also established the charity to honour the perseverance, sacrifice, and vulnerability of youth, immigrants, women, and our ancestors who came to Canada to provide their families with better lives. 

My boldest move to date was… performing The Vagina Monologues, as part of a University course. Prior to this performance, I was terrified of public speaking. This frightening, yet liberating experience, enabled me to become a more confident presenter, feminist, advocate, and empathetic person. Putting myself in the shoes of others aided me in cultivating emotional intelligence and helped me become more vulnerable.

This performance bolstered my confidence when, at the age of 19, I undertook a $40,000 fundraising goal for The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship. As a young philanthropist, I encountered much rejection while trying to get a seat at the table and be taken seriously. Collaborating effectively, becoming comfortable with presentations, demonstrating adaptability and perseverance, and learning lessons from every obstacle and triumph contributed to successfully raising over $52,000 to date. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I enjoy boxing and listening to rap music. My first concert was to see Lil Wayne. 

My advice for young professionals is… to look at failures as learning opportunities, be vulnerable, and do not take no for an answer! As youth, we are sometimes underestimated because we are viewed as being “too young” or “lacking in experience.” As the next generation of change-makers, our responsibility is to collaborate with others and advocate for our passions. We deserve to have our voices be heard!  

My best advice from a mentor was… to remember that whenever I am feeling uncertain or overwhelmed I need to keep in mind the following mantras: “this too shall pass” and “am I being the best version of me?” 

My biggest setback was… my inner critic. For the longest time I rarely gave myself credit for my accomplishments. I thought that any success I achieved was a result of luck or external forces outside of my control. My inner critic produced a lot of self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, and caused me to fall into negative thinking traps. 

I overcame it by… meditating and practicing mindfulness, being more kind to myself, and being vulnerable by talking about my inner critic. Sometimes I still doubt my abilities; however, placing more emphasis on what I do, rather than what I get from what I do has helped increase my happiness and gratitude. 

My passion for women, youth, and immigrant advocacy began when…I enrolled in Social Work and founded my charity. As a Social Work graduate and former Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (WECAS) employee, I learned about utilizing empowerment theories, finding my voice, and advocating for vulnerable populations. At WECAS, I supervised court-ordered family visits, navigated hostile relations, oversaw suicidal teens, and collaborated with clients and coworkers of diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. This experience alongside my family’s immigration journey, my community’s multiculturalism, and my belief in the power of an education inspired me to start my foundation and advocate for equity-seeking populations.

Recognizing the impact that storytelling had on my well-being, motivated me to create a safe platform for others to share their stories and take power over their narratives. I established the #OurJourneytoCanada social media campaign to help showcase Canada’s multiculturalism by highlighting immigration stories. Bringing people’s voices and perspectives to the forefront helps humanize their experiences and creates unity among diversity. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… take my dog, Luna, for more walks. Luna is our family’s six-year-old black Labrador who loves squirrels, peanut butter, car rides, and baths. She can lift anyone’s spirits and has gotten me through some tough times. 

I hope to achieve… a career where I can help break down educational and employment barriers for women, immigrants, and youth and increase mental well-being initiatives so vulnerable populations can be assisted holistically. I believe that enhancing a person’s quality of life through their mind, body, and soul, makes our communities stronger.

I stay inspired by…reading the #OurJourneytoCanada stories. This campaign is intended to create a dialogue among those in our community regarding diversity, overcoming obstacles, and how we have more similarities than differences. Learning about a person’s journey, culture, and traditions teaches people valuable lessons and enables empathy and engagement. Our stories help define us. So why not share it in hopes that we can inspire others along their journey in life? 

The future excites me because… of the new adventure I am about to embark on! I will be pursuing my Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Queen’s University, Smith School of Business, starting in January 2021. I am excited to go back to school and utilize my Social Work and Business acumen to make a social impact. Every person, obstacle, and achievement I have encountered has been a gift. My journey has profoundly shaped the woman I am today and will continue to influence the woman I want to become in the future.

Meet Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Entrepreneur, Former Politician, and Author

Celina Caesar-Chavannes is a business consultant, coach and international speaker. She currently serves as the Senior Advisor, EDI Initiatives and Adjunct Lecturer at Queen’s University.  Her forthcoming book, Can you hear me now?, published by Penguin Random House Canada, is available for preorder. She was the former Member of Parliament for Whitby, Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Parliamentary Secretary for International Development.

My first job ever was… working in the children’s department at Brampton Public Library. Minimum wage was around $3.50 and within a few weeks, it went up to about $3.75. I thought I was rich!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I had applied to 732 jobs after completing my first MBA around 2013. After only getting four interviews, two second interviews, and zero jobs (because I was overqualified and had no managerial experience), I decided to go full force into launching my company, Resolve Research Solutions, Inc.

I made the decision to enter politics because… after close to ten years of running the company, I started to get bored. I decided to do a second MBA at Rotman in September 2013, and part of the program had a politics component — the first politics course I had ever taken. It intrigued me, as I knew I could bring my business acumen, love of research and passion for people into the political role. I signed up to become a member of a political party for the first time in February 2014, and the rest is history.

My time as a politician taught me… to be myself. That experience, as painfully beautiful as it was, allowed me to find my voice, in a place that was not designed for me to be there in the first place. 

My proudest accomplishment is… my three children, Desiray (21-year-old law school graduate), Candice (16-year-old who photographed and came up with the concept for the cover of my book — she also got the contract with Penguin Random House Canada to do so), and Johnny (12-year-old who is a gifted student in math and science, a competitive ballet, contemporary and jazz dancer, and all around good kid).

My boldest move to date was… intentionally stepping into my authentic self in September 2017, and deciding to speak up against microaggressions and racism in Ottawa. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I am an introvert or a well-trained extrovert. I hate crowds and much prefer to be cuddled in my bed with a glass of champagne.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… understand your brand and do everything to protect it.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… the flexibility to be at home with my children as they were growing up (and the money!!)

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… meditate longer.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how much I love taking care of my front lawn. I am obsessed with my grass.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business… is to never take the first offer. I understand my worth now, and therefore have learned to never sell myself short.

I stay inspired by… my children and the courage of the young people of the world.

It Will Take All of Us to Reach Gender Parity in VC Funding

Gender reveal parties have been a thing for the past several years, and in a couple of incidents, parents-to-be accidentally started catastrophic wildfires when a reveal event involving pyrotechnics went awry. Someone on Twitter proposed a safer alternative: give participants a wallet, and if they open it to reveal a dollar, it’s a boy, and if it’s 81 cents, it’s a girl. 

Ok, that was a little snarky, but the financial disparity would be even greater if the reveal were based on venture capital funding by gender instead of wages: the wallet announcing a girl would contain about three pennies, representing the 2.8% of venture capital female founders raised last year vs. 97 cents for a boy. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that 2019 was an increase from the 2.2% that went to women-owned startups in 2018. It’s too early to predict 2020 funding numbers.   

Will COVID-19 be a setback for women-owned startup funding?

COVID-19’s economic effects began in earnest in the latter half of Q1, so Q2 was the first quarter that fully reflected its impact. According to a July 2020 Crunchbase report, in North America, venture dollars invested in the first half of 2020 were down compared to investments in the first half of 2019: $64B this year as compared to $70B last year. 

The report shows that venture capital funding is down across every stage in Q2, from seed and angel investing to early-stage and late-stage investments to exits. According to a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, women entrepreneurs who are seeking funding are especially vulnerable at the pitching stage, as demonstrated by numerous studies where pitches from male entrepreneurs outperformed those from women, even when the content was identical.

Given that funding is down across the board, and knowing that the rate at which women are funded in comparison to men was abysmal before the pandemic, it’s reasonable to assume that women entrepreneurs will continue to receive a smaller slice of a smaller pie. And statistics for the boom years leading up to the pandemic-related downturn suggest that even if the economy bounces back quickly, women entrepreneurs will still face unique funding challenges. 

People trust people who look like them

The gender disparity in funding isn’t caused by conscious bias, at least not on a widespread scale. It’s human nature. Funding a startup isn’t like approving a home equity loan. By providing funding, a venture capital firm is endorsing an entrepreneur’s vision and entering a very long-term relationship. Once a startup is funded, the company CEO and venture partner will work closely together for many years. 

Because of the momentous nature of the decision, people tend to rely on their instincts and perceptions to find a good fit, and that typically results in venture capital firms funding entrepreneurs with a background and appearance similar to the decision-maker’s. In other words, male Stanford graduates tend to fund other male Stanford graduates. 

This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to men. A landmark Babson College study conducted several years ago found that venture capital firms with women partners were twice as likely to invest in a startup that had female executives on the team and more than three times as likely to fund startups that are led by a woman as CEO. The problem is, there are too few women in that role.

When I sought Series A funding for my startup several years ago, I ran an experiment by presenting my company and business plan to venture capital funds that were run by men and some that were run by women. You can guess the result. And so that’s why I started advising women entrepreneurs to pitch to a healthy mix of venture firms run by women or who have women partners. 

Venture capital firm parity is the only path to funding parity

Unconscious bias in favor of people who look like us and share a similar background may be human nature, but it’s a significant barrier to gender parity (as well as racial, ethnic, non-binary, etc.) in venture capital funding. For gender parity in funding, the solution is greater gender parity at venture capital firms. We’re making progress on that front, but not enough. 

According to Axios analysis conducted in 2020, slightly over 12% of venture capital decision-makers in the U.S. are women. That’s an increase from nearly 10% in 2019 and about 9% in 2018. If this slow rate of increase holds steady, we won’t reach gender parity at venture capital firms for many decades, and that’s too long to wait. 

To accelerate change, some groups in the tech sector are working on the issue, including an organization called All Raise. With bootcamps that help women and non-binary entrepreneurs prepare pitches, to a speakers bureau that raises awareness, to a community that connects funders with founders, All Raise is engaged in changing the situation on the ground. 

Ultimately, it will take a broad commitment across multiple industries, including venture capital, to solve this problem — for women, non-binary people and the BIPOC community alike. These groups will need to be persistent and look for openings. It won’t be easy, but the struggle for equality never is. 

About Bonnie Crater

Bonnie Crater is Co-Founder, President, and CEO of marketing analytics company Full Circle Insights .  In 2013, Bonnie was named one of the “100 Most Influential Women” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal, in 2015 the Sales Lead Management Association named her one of the “20 Women to Watch” and in 2016 Diversity Journal honored her as one of the “Women Worth Watching.” Bonnie holds a B.A. in biology from Princeton University. 

2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Winners

We are proud to announce the six winners of the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. These award winners join the five recipients of the up-and-coming entrepreneur ‘Ones to Watch’ award category, which was announced in September 2020.

These winners are shining examples of the perseverance, ingenuity and grit it takes to be an outstanding entrepreneur. They have demonstrated that despite the challenges that have existed this year, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive in Canada. This year’s winners and recipients span sectors that include healthcare services, engineering, beauty, technology, hospitality  and beyond.

“We’re honoured to celebrate the achievements of Canadian women entrepreneurs who have been critical to the success of our Canadian business community and economic growth,” says Greg Grice, Executive Vice President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “RBC is proud to partner with Women of Influence to put a spotlight on all of this year’s winners and finalists who have made tremendous contributions to their industries and communities through their work. Their leadership, commitment and entrepreneurial spirit serve as an inspiration for the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs as they pursue their aspirations to be part of a resilient and thriving economy.”

Now in its 28th year, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards program recognizes the country’s leading female entrepreneurs who have made impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian or global economy. The judging panel of the awards program is comprised of 14 judges who are notably some of Canada’s top business leaders, including: Karen Brookman, Partner and Chief Innovation Office West Canadian Digital Imaging; Farah Mohamed, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Policy & Public Affairs, Toronto Region Board of Trade, Elizabeth Dipchand, Intellectual Property Lawyer, Dipchand LLP and Paulette Senior, President & CEO, Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The official announcement of the 2020 award winners was made at the first ever virtual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards gala that took attendees on a cross-country tour to discover the Canadian cities and towns where innovation is taking place. It was held on November 18th and hosted by Marcia MacMillan, Anchor, CTV News Channel.

This year, over 8,600 nominations were received recognizing women entrepreneurs from across the country.

The Gala also honoured the recipients of the Ones to Watch Award: Eno Eka, Eny Consulting Inc.; Jenn Harper, Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics Inc.; Nadine Chalati, Chalati Lawyer Inc.; Rogayeh Tabrizi, Theory+Practice and Suzie Yorke, Love Good Fats.

“Now more than ever before, we are honoured to be able to recognize the incredible achievements and perseverance of this year’s award recipients,” says Alicia Skalin, Co-CEO & Head of Events, Women of Influence. “These women have faced the challenges of 2020 head-on, and seized the opportunities to continue to pave the way for women entrepreneurs across Canada; a strong testament to the bright future of Canadian business.” 

For more information on this year’s award winners, visit our RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards webpage

Laura Didyk explique comment les femmes entrepreneurs peuvent réussir dans l’adversité.

Laura Didyk BDC VP

Nous sommes à la mi-novembre et cela fait maintenant huit mois que la pandémie de COVID-19 bouleverse notre quotidien. Comme certaines d’entre vous, je suis toujours en télétravail et je m’emploie à trouver de nouvelles façons d’entretenir les liens avec des femmes entrepreneurs partout au pays.

Si la crise de la COVID-19 nous a toutes mises à rude épreuve, je crois qu’elle nous a aussi amenées à donner le meilleur de nous-mêmes. Le plus inspirant pour moi est de voir la persévérance et la résilience dont les femmes entrepreneurs font preuve. L’avenir de nombreux secteurs n’a jamais paru aussi incertain, et pourtant ces leaders audacieuses ne cessent de chercher de nouvelles perspectives pour leur entreprise, leurs clients et leurs employés, et de se préparer pour l’avenir. 

Comment est-ce possible? L’histoire nous a appris qu’une mauvaise économie crée parfois des occasions et, pour citer Winston Churchill, « il ne faut jamais gaspiller une bonne crise ». En fait, certaines des entreprises les plus emblématiques du monde sont issues d’une tourmente économique et de la nécessité de faire les choses autrement. Les entreprises Disney et HP ont été lancées pendant la Grande Dépression, et la récession de 2008-2009 a été le terreau fertile de la révolution numérique qui nous a donné Uber, Airbnb et Square, des entreprises désormais incontournables dans la plupart de nos vies. 

Un peu plus tôt cette année, j’ai lancé cette chronique dans le but de présenter des entretiens édifiants avec des femmes entrepreneurs qui non seulement traversent cette crise, mais trouvent le moyen de prospérer. Mon objectif? En inspirer d’autres à suivre leur exemple. Dans un monde trouble, la seule certitude que j’ai est que rien ne peut empêcher ces femmes de réaliser leurs rêves, pas même une pandémie mondiale! 

Dans le cadre de cette série, je me suis entretenue avec des propriétaires d’entreprise pour apprendre tout ce que je pouvais sur les outils nécessaires à la survie d’une entreprise, la manière d’aider ses employés en temps de crise, et les moyens d’atteindre les consommateurs et de maximiser les perspectives de ventes, entre autres choses. Dans le dernier billet de cette série, je vous présente trois conseils qui m’ont marquée et qui, selon moi, aideront chaque propriétaire d’entreprise, tous secteurs, tailles ou stades de développement confondus. 

Le pouvoir de la pensée positive

Les femmes tendent à être plus exigeantes envers elles-mêmes. Nous nous poussons à en faire plus, à nous améliorer et à ne rien laisser tomber. Cette incessante quête de l’excellence peut être accablante et miner la confiance en soi. Mais comme l’ont démontré ces femmes entrepreneurs, le doute se surmonte en persévérant, en s’acharnant et en suivant son instinct, même si c’est difficile. Pour citer Evelyne Nyairo, fondatrice de la gamme de produits de soins corporels socialement responsables Ellie Bianca, il faut garder le cap. « Avez-vous des craintes? Oui. Avez-vous des doutes? Oui. Mais foncez quand même. »

Plus les temps sont durs, plus il faut être inventive.

Pendant une pandémie mondiale, aucune recette n’étant infaillible, il faut trouver des façons créatives de s’adapter à des circonstances qui évoluent. Bobbie Racette, fondatrice de l’entreprise technologique Virtual Gurus, constatait que les propriétaires d’entreprises en démarrage et de petites entreprises en arrachaient pendant cette crise. Elle leur a donc offert une aide administrative gratuite ou à prix réduit. Ce coup de pouce semble avoir porté ses fruits, car beaucoup de ces propriétaires sont devenus des clients payants, faisant augmenter son chiffre d’affaires de 66 %. Andrea Mulligan, copropriétaire de Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, a vu ses employés se démener pour trouver une garderie afin de pouvoir revenir au travail. Voyant une occasion de leur prêter main-forte, elle a ouvert une garderie dans une partie de sa brasserie auparavant utilisée pour des événements. Elle l’a depuis rendue accessible à d’autres membres de la collectivité.   

Ne laissez pas une crise saboter la culture de votre entreprise.

Rester fidèle aux valeurs fondamentales de votre entreprise est crucial en temps de crise. Pour Maude Rondeau de Luminaire Authentik, il est important de continuer à concevoir et à fabriquer tous ses produits au Québec. De ses modestes débuts dans son garage à un atelier de production et d’entreposage de 5 000 mètres carrés (53 000 pieds carrés), elle vend désormais ses produits partout en Amérique du Nord. Demeurant fidèle à ses valeurs, elle continue de fabriquer ses produits au Québec. Pour Evelyne Nyairo, l’important c’est d’être un exemple pour sa fille et les amies de celle-ci. Pour reprendre ses propres paroles, « si elles ne voient pas nos réalisations, si elles ne nous voient pas exceller, elles continueront à tourner en rond. Rien ne me rend plus heureuse que de voir une autre femme réussir. Je veux simplement voir autant de femmes que possible créer de grandes entreprises. »

L’année a certes été difficile pour les entreprises – grandes et petites – mais, malgré les sombres perspectives, il existe de nombreux exemples inspirants de femmes entrepreneurs qui prospèrent au sein de leurs entreprises et des collectivités qu’elles servent. À BDC, nous sommes là pour fournir les outils, les conseils, les capitaux ou le soutien nécessaires non seulement pour que les entreprises survivent, mais aussi pour qu’elles soient florissantes. 

En 2018, la Banque s’est fixé l’ambitieux objectif de fournir 1,4 milliard de dollars à des femmes entrepreneurs pour qu’elles puissent lancer et développer leur entreprise. Aujourd’hui, je suis fière de dire que nous avons atteint cet objectif plus tôt que prévu et que nous continuons à investir dans les femmes parce qu’elles sont essentielles à la réussite économique du Canada et parce que nous voyons un grand potentiel dans leur capacité à développer leur entreprise et à la hisser au niveau supérieur. À toutes celles d’entre vous qui vivent de l’anxiété ou du désespoir en ces temps difficiles, je tiens à dire que nous voyons ce que vous faites et ce qui vous attend, et que nous sommes prêts à vous aider à réussir. Et nous ne sommes pas les seuls. 

Sachez que votre bond ou votre pas hésitant en avant pourrait avoir un effet d’entraînement. Comme l’a dit Evelyne Nyairo, « Lancez-vous en premier, et vous pourriez bien en inspirer d’autres à en faire autant ».

Laura Didyk on how women entrepreneurs can thrive in the face of adversity.

Laura Didyk BDC VP

It’s mid-November — eight months since the COVID-19 pandemic upended everyday life — and, like some of you, I’m still working from home, trying to find new ways to stay connected with women business owners across the country.

While COVID-19 has tested all of us, I believe it also brought out the best in us. What I’ve found most inspiring, is the steadfast persistence and resilience of women entrepreneurs. The future for many industries has never seemed so uncertain, yet these bold leaders remain focused on creating new opportunities for their companies, clients and employees, as they plan for the future. 

How is this possible? If history has taught us anything it’s that a bad economy sometimes creates opportunity (it was Winston Churchill who said “never let a good crisis go to waste”). In fact, some of the world’s most iconic companies were born out of tough economic times and the need to think differently. Disney and HP launched during the Great Depression and it was the Great Recession in 2008/2009 that ushered in the digital revolution and introduced us to Uber, Airbnb, and Square, companies that are now staples in most of our lives. 

Earlier this year, I began this column to share uplifting interviews with women entrepreneurs who are not only surviving this crisis, but also thriving through it. My aim? To inspire others to follow their lead. In a world of uncertainty, the one certainty I found is nothing can stop these women from chasing their dreams, not even a global pandemic. 

During this series, I spoke with business owners to unpack everything from the tools needed for businesses to survive and how to support your employees during a crisis, to finding new ways to reach consumers and fill the sales funnel. For my final post of this series, I’m sharing three pieces of advice that stuck with me and that I believe will help every business owner regardless of the industry, size or stage of your business: 

The power of positive thinking.

Women tend to be harder on themselves than anyone else. We push ourselves to do more and try harder, while keeping every ball in the air. This relentless pursuit of greatness can be overwhelming, opening the doors for self-doubt to creep in. But as these entrepreneurs showed us, doubt can be overcome with persistence and hard work, and trusting your gut no matter how difficult. As Evelyne Nyairo, the founder of the socially conscious Ellie Bianca skincare line said, the plan has to continue. “Are you going to be scared? Yes. Are you going to doubt? Yes. But do it anyways.”

When tough times hit, get creative. 

There is no tried-and-true way of running a business during a global pandemic so it’s important to find new, creative ways to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Bobbie Racette, founder of the tech company Virtual Gurus, saw that start-ups and small business owners were really struggling during this crisis, so she offered them free or discounted admin support. This helping hand seems to have paid off because many have since converted to paying clients and Bobbi’s business has grown 66%. Andrea Mulligan, co-owner of Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, saw her employees struggling to find childcare so they could get back to work. Seeing an opportunity to help, she opened a daycare in a part of their brewery that was previously used for events and has since opened it to other members of the community.   

Don’t let a crisis sabotage your company culture.

Staying true to your company’s core values is critical as you navigate your business through a crisis. For Maude Rondeau of Luminaire Authentik, it is important to her to design and manufacture all her products in Quebec. From humble roots in her garage to a 53,000-square-foot production and storage facility, and selling across North America today, she kept that commitment and still makes everything locally. For Evelyne Nyairo it’s being a strong role model for her daughter and her daughter’s friends. In her own words, “…If they don’t see us do it, if they don’t see us excelling, they will continue going around in circles. And there’s nothing that gives me more happiness than when I see another woman succeed. I just want to see as many women as possible build big businesses.”

It has certainly been a difficult year for businesses big and small, but amid all the gloomy headlines there have also been many inspiring examples of women entrepreneurs flourishing in their businesses and in the communities they serve. At BDC, we are here to provide the tools, advice, capital or support required to not just survive, but thrive. 

In 2018, BDC set an ambitious goal to provide $1.4 billion to women entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. Today, I am proud to say we reached that target ahead of schedule and continue to invest in women because they are vital to Canada’s economic success and because we see so much potential in their ability to grow and take their business to the next level. So, for any of you feeling anxiety or despair during these challenging times, I want you to know we see you and are here for what’s ahead to help you succeed. And we’re not the only ones. 

Know that your leap — or tiptoe forward — could start a chain reaction. As Evelyne Nyairo said, “Be the first to jump in, and you might just be giving someone else permission to do the same.”

Meet Aaiman Aamir, Author of Our Stories in STEM

Aaiman Aamir is a community builder from Toronto whose passion for diversity and inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) led her to writing Our Stories in STEM, a children’s book about 40 Canadian women working in STEM fields today, illustrated by 40 Canadian artists. In 2017 she joined the Greenhouse Social Impact Incubator where she started a research project to figure out why only 22% of STEM professionals are women. Three years later, she wrote her book to inspire young Canadian girls to pursue careers in STEM. 

My first job ever was… delivering newspapers on a paper route of 50 houses at 12 years old. Every weekend at 9am, a City of Mississauga car would drop bundles of newspapers and flyers on my driveway. I’d have to take apart each paper, put one of each flyer inside, package it in plastic, and leave it on people’s porches. They were heavy, took me hours, and were a nightmare to deliver in the snow; but I would stay focused thinking about all the things I could do from the money I was about to make. At the end of the month I received a check for $50… that was a pretty rude awakening.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… seeing my family struggle in traditional jobs as part of the working class, and how often the amount and quality of work they put in would never equal financial stability, it seemed like the only promising route to financial independence based on the stories of other entrepreneurs around me. Apart from that, I’ve always had a deep desire to do something — whether that’s building community, making things, or volunteering. The desire to make an impact on the world has always driven me to do more. Acting outside the traditional norms of what society expects from a middle-class immigrant Muslim girl is an extra plus.

We need inclusion and representation in STEM because… we need inclusive, equitable, and innovative solutions to solve complex global problems. Diversity leads to better problem-solving, fresh perspectives that are a better representation of the global population, creates equal opportunities, expands the talent pool, and is imperative for long-term economic growth.

My proudest accomplishment is… the first time I ran a workshop with little children, introducing female role models through play-based learning. The little girls realizing that game designers and architects and engineers can be women highly accomplished women doing things they love was a big win for me. It made me realize that small-scale efforts can have large-scale impacts on young children’s lives.

My boldest move to date was… signing a big quote with a design studio to create the branding for my business. It was the first time I decided, ‘yeah, I’m doing this. I believe in this project and I’ll invest in myself to make it happen.’ 

I surprise people when I tell them… I was a horrible student who almost failed out of school many times. People often correlate traditional success with grades, but anything I’ve achieved in my life has never been from my academic performance. It’s okay if you failed, none of my employers have ever given it a second glance. Especially in the entrepreneurship world it’s all about your willingness to self-learn and follow through.

My best advice to people hoping to become an author is… number 1: finish your book. Number 2: be very careful before signing any publishing deals; they can sound promising in the beginning but can often be very predatory in the fine print. Weigh the pros and cons between self-publishing and hybrid-traditional publishing.

My biggest setback was… not having the funds to bring ideas to life, or the knowledge of how government funding, grants, and bursaries could be applicable for me. This led to a lot of missed opportunities that could have resulted in catapulting my business much faster.

I overcame it by… asking for help. Founder support groups, especially the Female Founders Fund, are a great resource to get help from those who are looking to give it. There’s nothing wrong with letting people know that you have no idea what you’re doing when it comes to certain areas of operating a business vulnerability is a strength. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… make more things! Maintaining a balance between my business, my full-time work, my relationships, and other life necessities means a lot of the hobbies I enjoy have to take a backseat. With another hour I’d love to be painting, drawing, and making crafts.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… my real story. There are versions of my journey, so far, that I choose to put out into the world as they pertain to my career or my book, but I keep the full version about my struggles, abuse, and mental health issues close to me. It helps me maintain a choice between who I choose to be vulnerable to. That’s the best part about stories, you can choose how you tell it. Or on a lighter note: you wouldn’t know that I used to be a Paint Nite instructor.

I stay inspired by… the incredible women around me. Those that are achieving great things, along with those who are overcoming their barriers and surviving. The power and resilience that women hold within themselves is astounding.

The future excites me because… the youth are curious and informed. Now, more than ever, I see the next generation being the torchbearers for social, political, economic, and environmental change. 

My next step is… to use my platform to bring more stories of every day role models to young children. Stories of political activists, environmental leaders, or everyday folks trying to live — stories have the power to change the world. I want to be part of that change in a teeny tiny way.

Meet Dr. Sarah Saska, CEO of DEI Consulting Firm, Feminuity

As the CEO of Feminuity, Dr. Sarah Saska (Sher, Her, Hers)  partners with leading technology startups through Fortune 500s to build diverse teams, equitable systems, and inclusive products and company cultures. Before co-founding Feminuity, Sarah led pioneering doctoral research at the intersection of equity, technology, and innovation. Her research highlighted the need for companies in the technology and innovation sector to centre ethical and equitable design and became the inspiration for Feminuity.  

My first job ever was… offering conflict resolution sessions to kids during recess in elementary school.

I decided to be an entrepreneur… out of necessity. When I was in grad school, I led research on the importance of equity and inclusion in the design of technology and innovation. In the process, I found gaps, biases, and blatant inequity in some of the technologies and innovations that are intended to make our lives easier, and better. These technologies weren’t inclusive or accessible for some, and were actually harmful to others. Some common examples include facial recognition software that doesn’t detect racialized people’s faces, natural language processing (NLP) that doesn’t recognize different dialects, and risk assessment algorithms that disproportionately assign high crime risk scores to Black people. In the midst of my Ph.D., I took a pause and joined MaRS Discovery District to translate my research into practice, and that’s how Feminuity came to be.

Tech companies must prioritize diversity and inclusion because… we’re at a critical moment in history where technology can either exacerbate existing inequities, or make things a heck of a lot better. Right now, many tech companies have more political, economic, and social power than entire countries. They are out-pacing law and policy and playing in the proverbial grey in ways that are having real, tangible effects on issues relating to equity and human rights. If left unchecked, we know that technological and innovative solutions will continue to hide, speed up, and deepen various forms of exclusion, discrimination, and inequity. A small sliver of the population should not be able to determine and design technologies that impact the majority of us; technology will be most powerful when everyone is empowered by it.

My proudest accomplishment is… my relationships.  

My boldest move to date was… turning down offers that while seemingly secure, financially lucrative, and optically prestigious, just weren’t right for me. They didn’t fit the type of life I want to live, the type of person I want to be and the kind of impact I want to have in the world.

I surprise people when I tell them… that we turn down clients whose values do not align with ours and that we’ve never raised money.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… to get really good at identifying and taking the advice that’s right for you and what you’re building, and to have the guts to leave the rest behind.

My biggest setback was… younger versions of me that had limiting beliefs in my own abilities.  Also, being in romantic relationships that didn’t support my vision. 

I overcame it by… doing the work and building an incredible support system. I now know and believe that I am resourceful and resilient enough to handle anything and it’s made all of the difference. It’s become clear to me from our work that the characteristics and qualities of entrepreneurs quickly become a core part of an organization’s culture, whether for the better or for the worse. So it’s up to us to continue to do the work to lead in more human, ethical, and equitable ways. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… read more! I usually have 3-4 books on the go at any time and I crave more time to read each day. I am currently reading: Ramesh Srinivasan’s brilliant research as detailed in Beyond the Valley,   Annie Jean Baptiste’s game-changer, Building for Everyone, and re-reading Esther Perel’s State of Affairs.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… when it’s best to outsource and pay other people to do something and when it’s best to invest in my own learning and development. We cannot do it all.

I stay inspired by… people’s stories.

My next step is… to launch an e-learning course to share everything we’ve learned about the diversity, equity, and inclusion practice over the past decade. I’ve been overwhelmed with requests from newly minted diversity and inclusion leads and Chief Diversity Officers to support them in their role, and it’s become really clear  there isn’t a practical, applied, and actionable program for new leaders to learn from.  It’s a gap in the market. We’re going to share everything from how we collect and analyze data using an intersectional analysis, to how we design equitable diversity and inclusion strategies, to how we develop custom metrics and evaluation, and more.  It’ll be another labour of love, but it’ll also be awesome to open-source this work.

Five lessons learned from being onboarded virtually to a new job.

Woman working from home

If you told me at the start of the year that I would begin a new job virtually, I would have laughed you out of town. But then again, so much has happened this year that I could never have expected or prepared for. I was lucky enough to have had flexible jobs in the past that allowed me to work from home often, but the idea of working 100% remotely seemed like a distant dream. Fast forward to July 2020, and I’m starting a new role as an Advocacy Manager at a non-profit, from the comfort of my home. 

Usually, when I start at a new company, I have a good idea of tasks that I will do in my first few days: familiarizing myself with my new surroundings, setting up my desk, reading company policies and handover notes, trying to get to know my new colleagues — the usual. This time I didn’t know what to expect; I was walking into the unknown. I wanted to make a good impression on my first day, so I spruced myself up and put on a semi-formal shirt. In the end, I only had one meeting that day, and it lasted a little over an hour; then I set up my email address and gained access to the drive, and I started my designated reading. 

If I’m honest, it was quite lonely and anti-climatic. The next day was better. I met the rest of the team, got a better sense of my responsibilities, and started getting stuck in. It’s been an interesting journey, with bumps, adjustments and some wins — but three months in, and I finally feel fully integrated. Here are some lessons I learned along the way:

1. Find time to bond with your new colleagues

One thing I took for granted was the importance of casual conversation with coworkers when establishing a rapport. In this not-so-new normal of virtual meetings, phone calls, and occasionally the odd voice message — communication is a lot more direct and mostly work-focused, making it harder to form bonds. How I miss small rituals, like taking coffee breaks with colleagues and discussing upcoming weekend plans. These things are often seen as insignificant and unproductive. However, it’s in the small details that connections are formed, and team bonds are strengthened. In-person, these informal office interactions happen organically; for many, these moments are almost effortless. In a virtual setting, recreating these moments requires intention. 

I quickly realized that two one-hour team meetings a week were not going to cut it when building relationships. I decided to schedule individual meetings with the whole team, asking them questions about their roles and getting to know a little about what they liked to do outside of work. These one-to-one check-ins weren’t a one-off. I didn’t have a rigid schedule in place, but periodically I would catch up with my teammates. Slowly those discussions morphed from small talk to meaningful conversations and personal anecdotes. I cracked it. 

2. Take notes during your introductory meetings

Now, I’m not talking about wishy-washy half-written notes; I’m talking about comprehensive notes that you can refer to when you get stuck. I’ll admit this one I learned the hard way around. I’ve never been the best live notetaker; I like to give people my full attention, and I find that I become distracted when taking notes. In your first few weeks in a new job, it can feel like information overload — and though, in person, you can quickly clarify any points of confusion without too much disruption, in the virtual space, getting clarification on something can take a lot longer and leave you feeling disempowered. 

I soon sharpened my note-taking skills with the help of the note-taking tool, Google Keep. Each meeting, I would capture the date, who I was meeting, any context that I needed to remember, step-by-step instructions for critical processes, and any resulting actions. Before, when I used to capture notes, I would feel pressured to hear everything once. This often led to incomplete and sometimes tricky to understand notes. To improve the quality of my notes, I had to stop being afraid to interject and ask for something to be repeated or clarified. Eventually, I started taking better notes, and they soon became tools of empowerment when getting on with independent work. 

3. Create a designated workspace 

In my previous job, I had been working from home permanently since mid-March, and I didn’t have a designated workspace. I didn’t feel I needed one — I knew my job like the back of my hand and could get on with my tasks anywhere. When I started my new job, I realized this wasn’t the same. When you are processing lots of new information, it’s helpful to be in a controlled environment with all the resources you need in close reach. While I had my ‘home office’ set up in the corner of my living room, it wasn’t a great spot for natural light. After a little reshuffling of my living room, I found a new area for my workspace that had a clear and aesthetically pleasing backdrop for video meetings and adequate natural light to get on with my work.

4. Set healthy boundaries to avoid burnout 

As a new employee in an uncertain job market, eager to please is an understatement, but it’s important to remember the well-known quote: start as you mean to go on. While it might feel tempting to burn the candle at both ends, it creates unsustainable expectations and rapidly leads to burnout. I decided to create a daily routine; each morning, I start the day with some form of physical exercise, have a coffee and read the news before logging on for the day. I wanted to avoid that all too famous wake-up and rush to the computer; I didn’t want my life to feel subsumed by work. It’s not always feasible due to working with colleagues across time zones, but I also try to take a clear lunch break and get some fresh air.

Having a designated workspace also made it easier to hold myself accountable to draw an end to the day. I deliberately placed my TV out of sight so that I couldn’t have it running in the background, reducing productivity and lengthening the workday. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I definitely appreciate being able to log off while there are still a few good hours in the day.  

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your team

The last and arguably most important lesson I have learned is not to be afraid to ask for help from your team. As a new team member, it’s easy to feel like you are overloading your colleagues with questions when you are face-to-face in the office, and since you talk less in the virtual world, every email, instant message, call or text can make you feel like you are being a nuisance. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. Sometimes we have to fight the instinct to figure everything out alone to avoid making unnecessary mistakes and improve our productivity. That said, it’s important to be mindful of people’s time and their preferred style of communication. Early on, I made a note of my colleague’s preferred time for meetings, how I should contact them for in-the-moment questions and issues, and also in the event of emergencies and urgent matters. This helps to shake off any feelings of guilt and gives you the answers you need to do your job and do it well. 

 

Meet Mandy Farmer, President and CEO of Accent Inns and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Recipient.

With a focus on customer experience and team building, Mandy Farmer is an innovative hotelier known for her passion and dedication to making people feel safe and at home in her hotels. Mandy is the 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Recipient. 

My first job ever was… a chambermaid, what we now refer to as a room attendant. However, the title of chambermaid was very fitting because I had to wear a floor length black dress and a frilly white apron complete with a bonnet, all while vigorously cleaning a room.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I love the ability to imagine some crazy idea, rally the team to see how the heck we would do it, and then implement it to perfection. Our brand new Tofino location is the epitome of this: it has a bike path through the lobby, psychic’s den with Tarot card reader, secret passageway to a 1980’s arcade, a mini disco and so much more!

My boldest move to date was… putting a bike path through our lobby.

My biggest setback was… COVID. It made the world stop travelling.

I overcame it by… quickly pivoting! Hotel rooms became office spaces, we welcomed and cared for out of town chemotherapy patients, we raised money with the United Way to provide free rooms for essential service workers who are afraid to bring the virus home with them.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how nervous I get right before any public speaking event, whether it be townhalls with my team, media interviews or award functions (yes, I’m talking about the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!)

When starting my business, I wish I knew… to dream even bigger. We are often bound by how far our imagination can take us.

My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… surround yourself with the most awesome team ever and grow the business together. Nothing will stop you then!

A great leader is… someone who inspires the team with a vision and the means to achieve it, then gets the hell out of their way.

The future excites me because… there are so many boring hotels for me to transform!

Success to me means… having fun, my team enjoying their work, and customers happy with their experience!

 

Meet Marina Glogovac, President and CEO of CanadaHelps and 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Finalist

Marina is the President & CEO of CanadaHelps, a unique social technology charity that connects donors with all Canadian charities, helping them to succeed in the digital age. Under her leadership since 2013, CanadaHelps has rapidly accelerated its growth trajectory, tripling the donations it facilitates for charities to $275 million a year, and dramatically expanding its offerings for both charities and donors. Marina is a 2020 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Excellence Finalist.

My first job ever was… a culture reporter at a local radio station, and I helped produce a weekly talk show while I was studying Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Belgrade.

I chose my career path becauseI am driven by a desire to expand my insights and learn more. I’ve had several career paths; I started out preparing to be a literary critic and academic, but ended up running a charity — definitely not a career trajectory I would have ever expected in my younger years. In between I was a media and technology executive. While they seem unrelated, my various paths are all framed by curiosity and a desire to build something good and lasting. 

The part of my role that I love the most is… meeting with people at different charities across Canada, and learning about the huge breadth and depth of the sector — there are so many charities operating in Canada that I didn’t know about before. I love that we get to enable and help amplify their impact and their passion.

The biggest challenge of running a not-for-profit is… the mindset and expectation (of charitable sector staff, funders, governments, and Canadians) that NFPs should not invest into their own capacity and infrastructure. Canadians have been misled to believe that lean administration spending is the best indicator of an efficient charity, when in fact, most charities are not spending enough. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I initially came to Canada to join a modern dance company called Mobius.

My best advice from a mentor was… get comfortable saying “I don’t know”.

My best advice for anyone interested in a career in the not-for-profit sector is… be prepared for a huge infusion of meaning in your life. I’m proud of my career and the work that I have done, but feeling like what you do matters has a very unique way of making the stress and challenges worthwhile. But at the same time, anyone entering the sector must be willing to listen, unlearn what they know, and be open and flexible to learn new ways of doing things and being effective.

One thing for-profit businesses could learn from the not-for-profit world is… how to do a lot with little, and how social impact can be incorporated into a business model. 

A great leader is… one who is continually working on themselves. A leader must practice self-reflection, learn from mistakes, and be driven to grow and change for the better.

The future excites me because… leading with mission and achieving social good in addition to shareholder profits is becoming the norm. Young people are demanding change, and they expect social impact and profit from businesses. This energy from young people and the expansion of philanthropy is exciting. This is necessary to turn around the decline of the planet.

I stay inspired by… the stories of charities that are helping the world in so many ways, and the Canadians who generously support them. I’m inspired by being of service. 

It’s time to do more than just ditch ‘The Bad Apple Defense.’

Four years ago, I wrote what felt like a strongly worded open letter to the newly elected President Trump. I did not hesitate to call out his racism or misogyny, or mask my disappointment that America had failed to elect its first woman leader, who was — love her or hate her — unquestionably more qualified to lead the world’s biggest superpower.

And I remember thinking at the time, have I gone a tad too far? Am I giving in to emotionally-driven hyperbole?

Oh, Stephania of 2016, how naive you were. It’s been four years of “Did that really happen? How could this possibly get worse?” followed quickly by, “This, this is how it gets worse.” I am now beyond eloquent rage. A list of all the ineptitude and horror delivered by Trump and his regime during his first term would take up an entire article (if that’s too triggering, try this delightful song version instead); in the last week alone, we’ve seen police pepper-spraying peaceful voting marches and a Trump caravan attempting to run a Biden campaign bus off the highway.  

And someone, somewhere, is rationalizing that these are the acts of a few bad apples, and not indicative of his supporters as a whole.

It’s an excuse I’ve heard far too many times over the course of 2020. In a year in which we’ve had a nearly global reckoning on institutional racism, and plenty of proof of the toll it takes, there has been no shortage of talking heads explaining that the issue is actually just a few bad apples. Trump himself said it in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, and again during his visit to Kenosha after the shooting of Jacob Blake

And before I let Canadian exceptionalism rear its ugly head, let’s be clear that politicians and other public leaders have made the same claims here, and some have been relying on this defense for a long time. There’s plenty of evidence to show, as one recent survey did, that Canadians themselves “are more likely to view racial discrimination as the attitudes and actions of individuals, not a systemic issue embedded in Canadian institutions.” That’s fancy talk for ‘blame the bad apples.’ 

It’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous to assume that the problem is contained to this small group — and you only need to look as far as the origin of the saying to see why. For the past few decades, ‘bad apples’ have become most often used to denote a handful of people behaving unacceptably, thereby negatively affecting the reputation of the community or institution they belong to. That entirely eliminates the latter half of the phrase, which points out that these bad apples have the capacity to make an entire bunch rotten. (If you want to really dig into the history, the first recording dates all the way back to 1340, written as “A rotten apple quickly infects its neighbor.”)

There’s been plenty of think pieces written about how the ‘bad apples’ saying has morphed over the years, but here’s the part that I don’t think we pay enough attention to: pointing out how the meaning has morphed is about as effective as saying ‘the system is the problem’, as if stating what should be obvious is somehow the solution. 

It doesn’t matter if we recognize that a few bad apples can spoil the bunch, if we don’t actually take that as a call to action to change the system so that it no longer allows for bad apples to thrive or survive. 

Take the case of Donald Trump. It is not hyperbole to say he is one of the most rotten and infectious apples we’ve seen in modern times. (If you think his putrefaction is contained to the US, let me tell you about what it was like to watch a caravan of maskless Canadians, waving QAnon and Trump flags, drive down Yonge street.) If the community he belongs to does not vote him in the trash heap where he belongs, I shudder to think of what will happen to the world in the next four years (or more, if you listen to Trump). 

 

How Lulu Liang became CEO of Luxy Hair at 25 — and then started a side hustle.

Lulu Liang

By Hailey Eisen

 

At 25, Lulu Liang was named CEO of Luxy Hair, a global beauty brand with more than 300,000 customers in 165 countries. She had joined the company just three years earlier as an operations assistant. 

While such a quick leap up the corporate ladder may seem unusual, Lulu insists she joined the premium hair extensions e-commerce company with the intention of rising to the top. Now, just two years into her tenure as chief executive, Lulu has added a side hustle, with the launch of Evergreen Journals, an entrepreneurial collaboration with a friend and former colleague. 

She credits her drive and success to the way she was raised — though the entrepreneurial nature of her career was certainly not what her parents expected. 

“They had really high standards for me growing up,” Lulu says. “I lived in Beijing until I was seven, and in those days, my parents would quiz me on my multiplication tables every night over dinner.” 

When her family moved to Toronto, Lulu didn’t speak any English, but her math skills were beyond what was taught in the grade three class she joined. “They were multiplying four times five using apples, but I had already learned my times tables up to 12 when I was five years old.”

Not speaking English, however, made things tough for Lulu. Plus, her parents were starting over in a new country and were working constantly. “They couldn’t afford after-school programs or care, so I stayed home alone a lot,” Lulu recalls. “Those experiences helped me to become really independent.”

As she grew up, Lulu found her footing, working extra hard in school. “I once got an 88 per cent on a math test, and my mom told me I was hopeless,” Lulu recalls, laughing. Thankfully, her mom was wrong. And, while Lulu thought about becoming an optometrist, she found herself stronger in math than sciences and enrolled in the Commerce program at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business. 

In her first year, Lulu went to a recruiting event for consulting firms and decided that she too wanted to be a consultant. “I was sold,” she recalls. “My goal was to launch my career in consulting for a few years, then do an MBA at an Ivy League school before working in leadership in the beauty or fashion industry.” 

Her love of fashion came from the movies. “As a kid growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I’d wear the same outfit five days in a row. But I watched The Devil Wears Prada and fell in love with that lifestyle,” she says.  

“Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life. The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.”

At Queen’s, Lulu co-chaired the Queen’s Business Forum on the Fashion Industry (now the Queen’s Retail Forum), a student-run conference that explored the multifaceted world of fashion and retail from a business perspective. This hands-on experience, coupled with a summer internship at L’Oréal in Montreal, solidified her love of the industry. 

When Lulu secured a consulting job with Accenture at the beginning of her fourth year, it took the pressure off finding a job upon graduation. With that peace of mind, she decided to take on a more extensive course load. A year later, Lulu graduated with two bachelor’s degrees — the commerce degree and another full degree in math. “Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life,” she says. “The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.” 

After a summer of travelling in Asia and Europe, Lulu started at Accenture, expecting to thrive in her role. “I had always done well in school and I wasn’t used to failure,” she recalls. “I guess I had a big ego back then, but consulting certainly humbled me. And to be honest, I hated it.”

In the midst of what she referred to as a “quarter-life crisis,” Lulu realized that she’d been working so hard toward this one particular goal that she hadn’t stopped to consider what would happen if it didn’t work out.   

It was around this time, while watching “morning routine” videos on YouTube, that she discovered Luxy Hair. “I had been following Luxy’s co-founder, Mimi Ikonn, on her YouTube channel,” Lulu recalls. She watched all of Ikonn’s videos in two weeks, then reached out to learn more about the companies that Ikonn and her husband, Alex, had founded. 

“They were hiring for a social media position with their other company, Intelligent Change,” Lulu recalls. “But, as I got to know them, they decided they wanted to bring me on to Luxy Hair and train me for a GM role they needed to fill.” 

Leaving consulting for the new venture world was risky — but Lulu was ready for the change. Luxy had grown from a startup created to fill a gap in the market for quality hair extensions to a scale-up with a million dollars in sales in its first year. In 2017, Time.com named Luxy’s YouTube channel as one of the 15 best to watch. Today, with over three million subscribers, the company’s videos have accumulated nearly half a billion views. The Luxy Hair channel has become a go-to source for tutorials, hairstyles, hair hacks, extension tips and more. 

“When I started with Luxy, we were a small group working from a co-work space,” Lulu recalls. “Now we have a beautiful office and an amazing team and we’re world class in what we do in terms of people and culture.” The company was named one of the Top 50 Best Places to work in Canada, something Lulu is especially proud of. 

“While there may be a stigma attached to hair extensions, and it’s still a niche industry, I know that lipstick was once taboo, too,” Lulu says. “Our goal is to empower women to lift each other up and make it okay for any girl or woman to change up their hair, make it longer, fix a bad haircut, create a natural balayage look without dye, or do something special for an event.” 

In 2018, Luxy Hair was acquired by the American beauty conglomerate Beauty Industry Group, and Lulu, then the GM, led the company through the entire sale process. One stipulation of the sale was that she’d stay on as CEO, while the Ikonns left to start another business. “Overall, we run the business autonomously, but the owners are really supportive and helpful when we need it,” she explains. 

“I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day — the moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life, in fact your life is everything that happens in between.”

While 2018 was certainly a milestone year for Lulu (selling the business, becoming CEO, getting engaged and travelling a great deal), she says it was actually one of the most anxious years of her life. “I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day. The moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life. In fact, your life is everything that happens in between.” 

Lulu began to think critically about her own habits, and what she did have control over in her life. Then she and her best friend created a tool they could use to build better habits. With the entrepreneurial drive lit within her, Lulu decided to take this tool and create a product she could share with others. 

Together Lulu and her friend launched Evergreen Journals and their first product, The Habit Journal, in May 2020. “Our journal is available online and will be in the Goop holiday gift guide,” Lulu says. “It feels really good to have created something of my own, and we have more products and ideas in the pipeline as well.” 

Looking back on her career to date, Lulu is proud of her successes and excited for what the future holds. “I’m so grateful I hated consulting, because I don’t think that if I’d been successful I would have had the courage to take the leap,” she says. “My greatest lesson in all of that was, sometimes you have to let go in life. It’s important to have goals and work toward your dreams, but you also have to let go of expectations and focus on what you can control. And don’t take anything for granted.”