June Joplin

June Joplin, known by many as Pastor June, is a Mississauga-based pastor whose coming out as a transgender woman during a livestream sermon on June 14, 2020 proved to be the message of acceptance and love needed by many in the world of queer Christianity. 

It is a message that is far too often lacking in the lives of transgender people, especially trans Christians who are often faced with the task of choosing between their true selves and their faith. Inspired by her own experience as an 11-year-old — the age when she felt called to ministry, while also having intense feelings that she should be a girl — June hoped to use her position as Pastor to provide the affirmation she’d lacked growing up to all those trying to reconcile their faith and their identity, especially transgender youth.   

Shortly after the revelation, June lost her job after a congregational vote (52% in favour of termination, ‘for theological reasons’) that was in direct opposition to the outpouring of love from parishioners and supporters on social media. Nevertheless, June continues to share her message through weekly sermons, available on her YouTube channel, and guest preaching.

Annamie Paul

A daughter of immigrants who arrived in Canada from the Caribbean in the 1960s, Annamie Paul made history in October 2020 when she was elected the leader of the Green Party of Canada. As the first Black woman and the first Jewish woman to lead a Canadian political party, Annamie’s campaign platform included a strategy to help Canada fight climate change, a plan to defund the police, and a wealth “cap” to address wealth inequality. 

A lawyer, an international affairs professional, and a long-time advocate for diversity in politics, Annamie’s career is highlighted by a broad range of roles that centre innovation and inclusion in decision-making, particularly women and Black communities. This next phase in her career will have its challenges, but she’s already showing promise for the future of the Greens. Running in October’s byelection in Toronto Centre, she ultimately lost the election, but managed to capture 33 per cent of the vote — a big leap from the five per cent the party had averaged for the seat in the three previous general elections.

Bonnie Butlin

A globally recognized expert in security, Bonnie Butlin is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Security Partners’ Forum (SPF), a global network of security professionals which acts as an information sharing nexus for hundreds of security and related associations, companies, educational institutions, and individuals across the globe. She also founded the Women in Security & Resilience Alliance (WISECRA), which came about in response to a growing need to build capacity for and with women in security and related fields.

Recognizing the importance of fostering women’s participation in security and inspiring young women to enter the profession, Bonnie launched a series of Women in Security Awards across the globe, including in Latin America, Singapore, India, Africa, Philippines, Malaysia, and New Zealand — plus an inaugural Canadian award in 2020. This year, she plans on launching in South Korea and Israel, continuing to shine a much needed spotlight on women who have advanced the security profession.

Darby Young

Darby Lee Young is the Founder of Level Playing Field, an accessibility agency focused on the implementation of universal design principles and accessible best practices. Born with mild cerebral palsy, Darby works to mitigate barriers that people like her face on a daily basis. In 2020, that manifested in an unexpected and personal way, when Darby collaborated with shoe designer John Fluevog to create a line of shoes — affectionately named The Darby — with a sole that is rubber, removable, and easier to repair, taking the needs of those with particular disabilities into consideration. 

The work began when Darby approached her favourite shoe designer with a problem: because of her gait, her footwear always wore down in a particular spot, and lasted anywhere from a day to a month. Rather than the repair she was looking for, John Fluevog proposed a collaboration. The bestselling ‘Darby’ line now includes five colours, and is sold across Canada and internationally.

Kayla Grey

Kayla Grey is an award-winning journalist and an anchor for SportsCentre on TSN. She’s had a career full of achievements: upon her debut on SportsCentre in 2018, Kayla became the first Black woman to ever host a flagship sports-highlight show in Canada, and in 2019, she was a reporter for the Toronto Raptors during their historic NBA Championship run and their Championship parade, watched by 5.7 million people across Canada. 

In 2020, Kayla used her platform for a different purpose. Her criticism of the use of racial slurs in sports media opened up a conversation on racism that had a ripple effect within the industry. Despite facing hate mail and social media attacks, she continued to shine a light on systemic anti-Black racism, as well as advocate offline for more inclusion in her industry. Whether it be behind the scenes or in front of a large audience, Kayla is working to ensure that she’s no longer one of a few Black women in Canadian Sports Journalism.

Sara Asalya

Sara Asalya is the Founder and Executive Director of The Newcomer Students’ Association, a grassroots, membership-driven organization working at the intersection of migration, education, and social justice, and a platform committed to promoting inclusion and equity for post-secondary immigrant and refugee students. In 2020, Sara led a transformational expansion of the Newcomer Students’ Association, enhancing civic engagement and political action for immigrant students, and developing a new gender-focused mandate to build the leadership capacity for immigrant women, amplify their voices, and centre their experiences. 

Born and raised in a war-torn country, Sara witnessed first-hand the impact of violence, displacement, and trauma on the lives of war refugees — which guides her work as an award-winning leader and human rights advocate. In addition to the establishment of a successful grassroots organization, Sara is also the Manager of the Sister2Sister Program at Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto, where she builds leadership capacity among multicultural/multi-ethnic immigrant and refugee women. From promoting civic engagement to empowering women, Sara works to mobilize, activate and galvanize immigrant communities to take action for social change and impact.

Kluane Adamek

Regional Chief Kluane Adamek (whose traditional name is “Aagé”) is a proud citizen of the Kluane First Nation and belongs to the Dakl’aweidi (Killerwhale) Clan. The youngest ever woman to serve as Regional Chief of the National Assembly of First Nations, Kluane leads Yukon First Nations communities in advancing their priorities, while advocating for those whose voices most often go unheard — particularly women and youth. 

She declared 2020 the “Year of the Youth,’ dedicated to visioning, creating, and prioritizing initiatives on women’s leadership, youth empowerment and combating climate change. In February, her leadership made possible the first-ever regional First Nation climate gathering, “Shared Heart”, with a focus on intergenerational conversations between youth and elders. A month later, the Yukon Region held the AFN National First Nations Climate Gathering, hosting over 400 First Nations leaders, women, youth and elders to collaboratively discuss a holistic lens through which they could examine the impacts that climate change has upon First Nations’ self-determination, knowledge systems, self-sufficiency, and capacity to transition towards a sustainable and equitable future. Kluane’s dedication to First Nations’ self-determination, self-sufficiency, and capacity to transition towards a sustainable and equitable future led to the establishment of AFN Yukon Region’s Climate Action Fellowship, providing opportunities to Yukon First Nations youth between 18-30 to participate in digital and land-based training as they collaboratively develop a Climate Action Plan for the entire Yukon region. 

Kluane’s leadership is building upon First Nations’ matriarchal wisdom — a topic she spoke on for a November TED talk — and paving the way for future generations. 

Deborah Service, VP in Global Technology Services at Scotiabank shares advice on fostering future Black women leaders

by Shelley White


Deborah Service has this advice for young women looking to build their careers: Be open. Be curious.

“Don’t limit yourself and your possibilities because you’re thinking, this is what I know,” says Deborah, Vice-President, Service Management, Global Technology Services at Scotiabank. “You may not know something now, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn it and excel at it. Sometimes your career path gets rerouted inadvertently and it turns out to be the best reroute of your life.”

It’s a philosophy that has served Deborah well throughout her career. Born in Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Deborah says she never imagined a future in IT.

“When I was in college, if you told me that I was going to wind up working with computers, I would have laughed you out of the room,” says Deborah, who studied Psychology at the City College of New York. “As far as I thought, I hated computers and anything to do with technology.” 

That changed due to a pivotal conversation. To help pay for school, Deborah took a data entry job for a real estate company owned by Barbara Corcoran (who would go on to be a star on ABC’s Shark Tank). Beyond “putting the information on the screen,” Deborah experimented with the computer system she was using, trying out various applications — and often crashing the system through her explorations.  

“While I was at work one Saturday, the person who created the computer system came in to do an upgrade,” Deborah recalls. “And when you’re young, you have no fear. So I said, ‘Hey, is this your program?’ And he said, ‘Yes, it is.’ And I responded, ‘It doesn’t work very well.’”

Rather than being offended, the system’s developer asked Deborah to show him where the trouble spots were. She explained where the system had come up short, and he immediately recognized her potential. 

“He said, ‘You have an intuitive understanding of what systems are supposed to be able to do, and not a lot of people get that,’” Deborah says. “He took out his business card and said, ‘When you’re finished with school, give me a call and if you want a job, I will hire you.’”

After graduation, Deborah did just that. 

“Don’t hire like yourself. Think beyond the resumes, and not just based on the experience that’s on paper. Interview them, dig deep into their character and really identify what they could bring to the table for your team, your business and your customers.”

That first job opened her eyes and she saw that working in technology wasn’t just about programming. Over the next 20 years, Deborah expanded her skills, working in many different aspects of the IT industry at several organizations, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Thomson Reuters, and Time Warner. She went from being a “hands-on-keyboard” engineer and UNIX expert to running data centres and working in service management, a customer-focused approach to delivering information technology.

“Service management came about because there was a recognition that ‘techies’ do more than the technical work, that they are a key enabler of many business functions,” Deborah explains. “To ensure that business and technology work effectively together, the service management role evolved.”

Deborah’s career has also been a personal evolution. Back when she was starting out, she lacked confidence in her own abilities, in part because of the sexism and prejudice she encountered in a predominantly male industry. She credits an early mentor, Vincent Cohan, now Senior Vice President, Global Technology Services at Scotiabank, with pushing her out of her comfort zone and exposing her to new experiences.”

Deborah remembers working with Vincent at the Thomson Corporation in the early 2000s, meeting with technology vendors who “basically thought I was there to bring coffee or take notes because I was the only woman in the room, and the only Black woman in the room,” she says.

“Even if I called the meeting, they would only talk to Vinny. He’d let them do their thing, then would look at me and say ‘Deb, what do you think?’ He would say, ‘Gentlemen, in case you think that I’m the one you need to convince, you’re wrong. She is the one you need to convince. If she doesn’t get it, you don’t get in,’” she says. “He did that a couple of times until people got it.”

Nearly two decades later, Deborah says she is proud of the fact that more North American companies are publicly making commitments to diversity and inclusion, noting that Scotiabank has been a leader in this area. 

“Scotiabank recognizes the value of diversity and an inclusive culture at work. We put customers first — and our leadership, our people, and our products and services need to reflect those in the markets we serve,” she says. “Inclusion is more than a buzzword — it’s a commitment we make to be a winning team.”

That commitment spans everything from hiring targets — they’ve pledged to fill at least 3.5 per cent of senior executive and board positions in Canada with Black leaders by 2025 — to the celebration of Black History Month, and the mentorship and attraction of existing and new Black talent.

“It’s an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices and the contributions of those who went before us,” Deborah says. “To be honest, I wish that there wasn’t a need for Black History Month, but right now, especially with what’s going on in the world, it seems that there needs to be a reminder that people of colour have contributed significantly to the advancement of the human race as a whole.”

She lists some of the accomplishments of Black inventors and scientists, such as Frederick Jones, who invented mobile refrigeration in the 1930s, and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a scientist at the U.S.-based National Institute of Health who developed one of the mRNA vaccines now being used to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking to the future, Deborah says more work needs to be done to encourage young women, especially Black women, to see technology as a career option. 

“We don’t get as many women applying for roles as I would love to see. We have to reach out to them when they’re in school and educate them about the different trajectories their careers can take,” she says. “The perception right now is that working in technology involves programming or working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But the reality is there are so many opportunities — you can do things like service management and architecture. And we need to make sure that people understand how technology enables every single business. If you’re into music, or gardening, or farming, technology is an enabler for that. We need to evolve that vision of what the possibilities could be.” 

Deborah also has a message for the gatekeepers — executives across industries who are empowered to create real change in the world.

“Don’t hire like yourself,” she says. “Think beyond the resumes, and not just based on the experience that’s on paper. Interview them, dig deep into their character and really identify what they could bring to the table for your team, your business and your customers.”

Q&A: How Bethany Deshpande is turning challenges into opportunities.

Bethany Deshpande is the CEO of SomaDetect. She is a highly motivated, big-picture thinker who has more than a decade of experience in science and entrepreneurship and is always excited to tackle big problems in big ways. She told us about what’s next for her business as she adapts to the new economic landscape.

What area of your business has seen the most change since the beginning of the pandemic? 

We were always a distributed team with offices in Canada and the US; but with the pandemic everyone is working from home and it has been a big adjustment. We were lucky to have all of the technical infrastructure in place so that online work was completely possible. Even with this, we have definitely noticed changes in the team, how we work together, and how we’ve all adjusted to bringing our work into our homes over the last several months. 

What has been your biggest challenge in this process? 

In our company we create annual goals, and then break these into quarterly goals that we tackle one by one throughout the year. As a result of COVID, we had to let go of nearly all the Q2 goals that we had set. The biggest change for our company was caused by not being able to go on the farm to complete the fieldwork we had planned. This was a big switch for everyone in our company. In a business, you line up people, job descriptions, roles, and resources to be able to do certain tasks. When those tasks changed, several members of our team were asked to step up and take on tasks that didn’t necessarily match their job title or skill set. Everyone played a role in shepherding through the changes.

The pandemic gave me and our entire leadership team the opportunity to be totally clear about what our key priorities are.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

We have been staying connected with customers and each other using the various online tools – Zoom, Slack, e-mail, all that. There’s no question that we miss face-to-face interaction. We miss handshakes, high-fives, and hugs, and we miss brainstorming together on a big whiteboard. However, we’ve also gained a lot with the shift to being completely remote and each working in our own homes. We share a lot of pet photos and moments that make it well worthwhile. We also have a number of folks on our team that are growing very exciting house plants or sharing their cooking with the group. We do regular hangouts where we play trivia and online games together – it is hilarious and fun. All this has helped us feel connected. 

How has the pandemic changed your approach to business planning?

The pandemic gave me and our entire leadership team the opportunity to be totally clear about what our key priorities are. I feel like everyone shifted to a total survival mode, and from that place it became crystal clear what we needed to do to have maximum Impact and be successful despite the challenges we were all living through, both personally and as a company. At the end of the day, I think it has helped us be more thoughtful and successful with our planning.

What keeps you positive? 

There is so much to be positive about! It’s really exciting to be working on new technology because it’s a little bit like watching magic be made and unfold directly before your eyes. On a daily basis, I get to see people do things that they have never done in ways that they’ve never done them before. it is absolutely wild and wonderful and impossible to do without feeling both grateful and astounded by the power of a team of people working together. Every week at SomaDetect is a gift full of surprise and wonder.

How The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ is helping women take control of their finances

Erin Griffiths, Senior Vice President, Client Solutions and Direct Investing at Scotia Wealth Management, shares how Scotiabank is leveraging its understanding of women’s unique wealth management needs, and leading the charge to serve women best.

By Shelley White

Erin Griffiths has long had a passion for helping people achieve better financial futures. 

“I’ve spent my entire career, over 20 years, in the wealth space,” says Erin. “For me, it’s been a passion from the start, as I was able to see the difference that it can make in people’s lives.”

Erin is particularly driven by a desire to help women take control of their finances and attain their life goals. Women have historically been underserved by the wealth industry, and Erin says that there’s a “huge opportunity” to do better for them.

She points to a PMG Intelligence report from December 2019 that found that while 94 per cent of women investors want to learn about money and finances, and 90 per cent regard advice from a wealth advisor as helpful, only 22 per cent of women have a financial plan prepared by a professional. 

“There’s such a demand for [financial advice], and there’s been progress, but I think there’s still a significant gap,” Erin continues. “I would love to see us help close the gap that we’ve seen out there.”

To that end, Erin is championing the expansion of The Scotiabank Women Initiative into Scotia Wealth Management. This successful two-year-old program has already made significant strides in supporting women entrepreneurs grow, build and sustain their businesses in Canada.  

The Scotiabank Women Initiative launched in December 2018, led by executive sponsor Gillian Riley, now President and CEO of Tangerine Bank, to support women-owned, women-led businesses in Canada through access to capital, mentorships and education. One year later, the program was expanded to women clients in Global Banking and Markets, led by Scotiabank’s Loretta Marcoccia, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Global Banking and Markets. 

In its first two years, the program has deployed two thirds of its $3-billion commitment in funding for women-led businesses and engaged more than 2500 women entrepreneurs across the country through over 100 boot camps and mentorships sessions. In celebration of its two-year anniversary, The Scotiabank Women Initiative launched a Digital Hub to deliver resources to help women entrepreneurs adapt to uncertain economic times. 

In the one year since the launch of the Global Banking and Markets initiative, Scotiabank has delivered programs that help women clients to reach the next level of their careers. The team has designed and delivered a bespoke series of training sessions facilitated by Scotiabank professionals designed for women clients to increase their knowledge about key business topics such as cyber-security and payments modernization, and to network with other women in similar industries or roles. In addition, the Bank has launched a Good Corporate Governance Program, designed and facilitated by Julie Walsh, Scotiabank’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Secretary and Chief Corporate Governance Officer to help open the boardroom doors to more women in Canada.

On December 7, 2020, The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ for Scotia Wealth Management was launched, building on Scotia Wealth Management’s Total Wealth approach to provide tailored wealth advisory services to women, just the way they want it.

Erin says the idea is to transform the way Scotia Wealth Management serves its women clients, to better understand women’s distinct wealth management needs and provide a wealth advisory program that empowers women to take charge of their financial futures.

The program includes three pillars: education, advice and access to wealth services. The education pillar provides online resources and interactive workshops to help women make informed financial decisions about areas of focus that may be of particular interest to women. 

“Information around life transitions, like dealing with aging parents, navigating divorce, retirement. All those things that really are top of mind for our [women] clients,” Erin says.

In the advice pillar, Scotiabank Wealth advisors receive dedicated training to more effectively work with women clients. “It’s about training our advisors to have better, more meaningful conversations with their women clients,” she adds.

And through the access to wealth services pillar, advisors help women create a financial plan that will serve the entirety of their lives – from selecting appropriate financial instruments to transitioning their wealth and exploring how to leave a meaningful legacy through their estate. 

Following a successful pilot in 2020, Scotia Wealth Management will be rolling out different phases of the program for their women clients this year. Erin says that Scotiabank aspires to become the wealth manager of choice for women in Canada. 

“A lot of women are time-pressed because they’re business owners or working while trying to manage and juggle a family at the same time, and I think this is where advice becomes very important.”

“We want to change the way we serve our women clients as we go forward. Not just for our current client base, but also for future generations of wealth clients.”

Erin says her passion to help people achieve better financial futures originated way back in her childhood. 

“I grew up in a family where there were stresses about finances, especially for my mother after my parents divorced, so I always wondered if there was something I could do in my career to help change that for other families,” Erin says. “It came from a view that if you can remove some financial stresses from people, you can help clients live their best lives.” 

Early on, she was inspired by a female woman mentor whose life offered her a glimpse of what she could someday achieve. 

“I love the quote, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’” Erin says. “I was fortunate to know a friend’s mother who was a senior executive at one of the banks, at a time when that was not very common. I always looked up to her and I continue to learn a lot from her to this day.” 

Erin developed her career in the male-dominated advisory space, spending nearly a decade with ScotiaMcLeod as Director of Products and Services. “I was lucky to have both men and women champions at Scotiabank to support me in my own career development,” she says. 

As Vice President, Strategy, Erin was integral to the launch of the Scotia Wealth brand, then moved on to lead Scotia iTRADE®, the company’s online brokerage business. In March of 2020, she took on her current role as Senior Vice President, Client Solutions and Direct Investing at Scotia Wealth Management, which broadened her responsibilities to include the company’s financial planners and insurance consultants. 

Now, serving as Co-Chair of The Scotiabank Women Initiative for Scotia Wealth Management, Erin brings together several of her interests: helping people achieve better financial futures, driving change in the industry and championing women.

Erin says she has been very pleased about how much momentum and support there is for The Scotiabank Women Initiative across the bank, from both men and women.  

“It’s not just being championed by women, our male executives are also one hundred per cent behind this initiative, and that’s also been great to see,” she says. 

“We have trailblazers like Gillian and Loretta who’ve launched their pieces [of the program], but at the end of the day, it’s incumbent on all of us to make sure that we do the very best job for our women clients and customers across the bank.”

The New Face of Learning & Development

By Dr. Rumeet Billan

Last year, much like everything else, the Learning and Development (L & D) space was forced to change. As a result of the pandemic, the mode of delivery for professional development quickly switched from classroom learning to online. However, for the most part, the structure and content for training and leadership programming was left unchanged. As a result, many learners experienced frustration, exhaustion, and pressure to balance the demands of work, life, and the expectation to develop further. 

L & D teams were reactive, as they needed to be at the beginning of pandemic, especially in the face of so much uncertainty. Many questions arose as to whether people wanted professional development during this time, whether there was capacity, and if it should even be a priority. 

The focus remained on managing time and modes of delivery versus priority management and the transfer of knowledge. We continued to perpetuate our traditional understanding of what L & D is supposed to look like, instead of what learning is supposed to feel like. 

The issue is that we were asking the wrong questions and forgetting the core purpose and function of learning. The question we were asking shouldn’t have been whether people wanted professional development or not during this time, because it was already happening.

Throughout the pandemic, including real-time world events, learning has been, and continues to occur for all of us. We are continuing to acquire new understanding, behaviours, skills, attitudes, and preferences, as a result of what we were experiencing. We are continuing to challenge our own perspectives, and change how we work, live, and interact. Whether we label it as L & D or not, it’s happening. Learning is occurring.

The trends for 2021 that L & D experts have laid out include upskilling and reskilling, the rise of microcredentials, a focus on essential skills (I refuse to call them ‘soft skills’), and of course virtual and digital learning. These are trends that we’ve been hearing about for quite some time – even before the pandemic. Interestingly, the trends haven’t changed, even though the world has.  

“It is important for L & D professionals to understand that it is a privilege for us to have a learner take time out of their day to join a session — especially with all that we have endured this past year.”

One of the key issues is that these trends continue to overlook the foundation of transformative learning which necessitates us to focus on experience. I have created award-winning leadership programs for organizations, and the success of these programs is directly related to the experience we create for participants. I am known to completely change a full day of training curriculum within 24 hours of notice. I have done this because something happened in our world, and I know our learners would be deeply impact by it, and it needs to be addressed in a way where they feel safe and can trust the experience. There is nothing cookie-cutter about leadership development. 

It is important for L & D professionals to understand that it is a privilege for us to have a learner take time out of their day to join a session – especially with all that we have endured this past year. What we do with that time is critical.

When content does not reflect real-time world events and does not respond to what learners may be experiencing, we are doing a disservice. Our content will not land, and knowledge will not transfer. A learner is giving up their time to attend a session, and as L & D professionals, it is my position that we need to ensure that we make that time valuable to them. We do this by creating transformative experiences.

Transformative learning is an art. Designing a training session is choreography – it’s a sequence that makes the learner reflect, feel, and draw connections that are applicable and practical to them. It’s an experience. 

Instead of labelling them trends, here are my L & D thoughts for 2021, and they are simple:

  1. Learning is happening whether we are planning for it or not. We have an opportunity to shape it.
  2. We don’t know what a learner may be experiencing personally and/or professionally. 
  3. Real-time content, design, and delivery is non-negotiable.
  4. Content is content. Focus on the experience. 

If we want to get really nitty gritty, if I may for a moment, I will add that webinars should not be longer than 45 minutes, long gone are the days of the single 15 minute break in between 3 hours of training, and professional development sessions should end no later than 3:00 p.m. (and I am being generous with 3:00 p.m.). Backed by research and experience, but for another time.

The future of learning should look and feel different. We should be intentionally redefining the traditional notion of L & D, how we design and deliver content, and how a learner experiences training and development. Just as Disney creates a beautifully choregraphed, exclusively curated, and brilliantly executed experience for their visitors, L & D teams should be at the forefront of creating these types of experiences for their learners, too.

About Dr. Rumeet Billan

Dr. Rumeet Billan is the Chief Learning Architect at Viewpoint Leadership Inc. She completed her PhD at the University of Toronto and has designed and facilitated programs, courses, and training sessions across industries and sectors. She led the groundbreaking national research study on Tall Poppy Syndrome and co-led the Canadian Happiness at Work study in partnership with CMHA. In 2020, Dr. Billan was named one of Canada’s Top 10 Power Women. Learn more at  www.rumeetbillan.com

Mentoring as a Pathway to More Equitable Organizations

January is Mentoring Month across Canada, presenting the opportunity for leaders at all levels to reflect on the impact of mentorship in their organizations. 

Through my work at Accelerate Her Future, a career accelerator for Black, Indigenous, and racialized women (BIWoC), pursuing early-careers in business and tech, I’ve been reflecting deeply on one question: How can mentorship have the power to transform organizational culture and offer a pathway to creating more equitable organizations for women? This question matters to me as a racialized woman, changemaker and a researcher whose work over the last ten years has centred on racialized identities and equity and inclusion in the workplace through postcolonial and intersectional lenses.

While women are experiencing greater career progress, they continue to grapple with systemic barriers and workplace cultures that don’t fully cultivate a sense of belonging.  This is especially true for BIWoC. 

Women’s Experiences with Mentorship in the Workplace

Women continue to face inequities in workplaces exacerbated by the pandemic. A recent national study by Diversity Institute illustrates a persistent gender gap in Canada’s corporate leadership across eight cities. An intersectional lens shows that “in Toronto, non-racialized women outnumber racialized women by a ratio of 7:1 in board positions across all sectors”, a disparity that exists in varying degrees across the country. 

While the benefits of mentoring are clear in helping mentees advance, access to influential networks is a critical barrier for women and racialized groups. Research shows that individuals who look and sound like the dominant culture have greater access to mentoring and sponsoring relationships as well as informal networks within organizations. 

According to Leanin.org, women receive less support from managers and have less access to influential networks. This gap is most persistent for BIWoC, 60% of whom report never having had an informal interaction with a senior leader. As a result, BIWoC tend to have mentors at lower levels with less power and influence. Giscombe has explored mentorship experiences of women of colour citing a Catalyst study that found 62% of those with mentors indicated the lack of influential mentors and sponsors as a barrier to advancement compared to 39% of White women.  

Sponsorship as an Extension of Mentorship is Critical for BIWoC

Mentoring programs can provide critical access to power structures. According to a 2016 HRB study, formal mentoring programs that focused on racialized populations boosted advancement and representation in leadership positions which are critical for shifting power imbalances that have historically led to exclusion. 

One of the more powerful models I’ve come across is by Herminia Ibarra who provides a robust continuum model that positions sponsorship as an extension of mentorship. At one end lies classic mentorship as a private and more passive approach to support, advice, and coaching a mentee. On the other end lies classic sponsorship as public and active advocacy for promotion and advancement of a mentee. In between these points lies a developmental journey toward more active relationships (see Ibarra’s graphic visual). 

Ibarra’s model normalizes active sponsorship and intentional advocacy behaviours as critical, and can be greatly enhanced by considering intersectionality,  anti-racism and the mentor and mentee dynamic as part of this journey, particularly within the context of advancing BIWoC into leadership.

Reconceptualize Mentoring toward Greater Equity 

Equity is ultimately about ensuring everyone has the full range of opportunities and benefits to flourish and thrive. Equity work requires courage and dedication to affect the type of changes needed to create more inclusive and just organizations and systems. Mentorship programs are a powerful pathway to creating more equitable organizational cultures, when approached and designed with intention, data-driven insight and deeper understanding of equity issues.

About Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi

Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi(she/her) is the Founder of Divity Group Inc. and Accelerate Her Future, one of the leading career accelerators in Canada dedicated to advancing BIWoC pursuing early-careers in business and tech. She holds an MBA from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business and a Doctor of Business Administration from Athabasca University with research focus on racialized identities, immigrant labour market settlement, and decolonizing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Meet Michelle Kwok, Entrepreneur and Founder of FLIK

Michelle is a born and raised Vancouverite —  medical science student turned social entrepreneur. She co-founded FLIK, a platform connecting female founders/leaders and students across the world via meaningful apprenticeships.  Michelle has had the honour of speaking at universities and spaces across North America sharing her thoughts on entrepreneurship, womxn empowerment, diversity and inclusion, and breaking down barriers. She now serves on the alumni advisory council of League of Innovators and as an alumni rep for Next 36 where she works to accelerate more youth entrepreneurs. She has been recognized as a Top 20 Women entrepreneur to watch in 2020 by Tease Tea Founders Fund and awarded as YWCA’s Young Woman of Distinction in 2020.

My first job ever was… a summer camp counsellor! It was such a blast. I got to work with my friends, was promoted to a camp leader, and grew into my first big leadership role. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I felt so narrow in my academics in medical science. I went into medicine because I wanted to create a positive impact in peoples’ lives, but I didn’t think through the 8+ years of schooling. I was itching to make a difference, and found that entrepreneurship is the only profession where you can make your dream job and formulate it to create your dream impact — a scalable impact. I have so much respect for the practice of medicine, but I was always a Jill of all trades, honing many different skills, and working on several projects at once. Medical school was never for me. In entrepreneurship, I was finally able to use my designation as a “Jill of all trades” to my advantage, managing several departments, working with diverse people, and working towards a greater cause.

My proudest accomplishment is… Launching FLIK. It’s not just the action of launching my own company, but it was such a personal journey. When we first launched FLIK, Ravina and I both struggled from a major case of imposter syndrome. We had people telling us it wouldn’t work, that we didn’t look like tech founders, that we should just stick to what we know. We almost didn’t launch the company and so we might never have engaged this community of thousands of womxn globally. That was a major step: accepting that we might not be experts in tech, yet launching FLIK into the world was still the right path. Personally and professionally, creating FLIK from nothing has been my proudest accomplishment to date.

My boldest move to date was… When I decided I was leaving school a year early to enter Next 36, one of the top programs for young founders in Canada. I decided I would become an entrepreneur instead of going to medical school. I had 15 minutes left in walk-in academic counselling so I ran in. I asked to change my degree so I could graduate early, and I did it. I had this feeling it was the right move even though I didn’t know what my plan was going to be after Next 36. Deciding to graduate in 3 years instead of 4 was a bold move, but it was well worth it in the end.

I surprise people when I tell them… I have never had a traditional business education. I learned everything I know now through experiential learning, apprenticeships, starting ventures, and mentors that I met throughout my younger years.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… You don’t have to walk this road alone! Find a Co-founder with complementary skillsets and build a team you trust. Take advice from those who want to help you — so many people will want to help you. This can be a lonely road, and you have the power to make it a bit less lonely.

My biggest setback was… My imposter syndrome. It’s definitely something I still struggle with every day, but walking into entrepreneurship, I’ve never felt so much like I didn’t belong. I unfortunately wasn’t exposed to many female entrepreneurs early on and so felt that I shouldn’t be in the position to start my own company. I didn’t look like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, I had never known another Asian woman to be a founder of a tech company. Without this representation, so many times, I thought I could just easily give up.

I overcame it by… Reaching out to female founders who resonated with my identity. I learned from how they navigated barriers and challenges specific to womxn in business and entrepreneurship. I realized that I didn’t have to look like everyone else or sound like everyone else in a room to be a great leader or entrepreneur. My diversity of thought could be an advantage. I still struggle with imposter syndrome, but I try to remind myself that no matter what, I can push through and be part of the representation that is so needed in the world of female entrepreneurship. 

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… You wake up every morning to work on something you truly love and that you truly believe in. You have the power to make your work each day impact thousands if not millions in a positive way. This has definitely been the most rewarding year of my life.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Probably split it half way between work and sleep.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a wicked basketball player. I started playing when I was 5 years old and I’m always the most unassuming on the court, because I’m 5’4 and a girl, but I’ve beat my fair share of boys on the rec courts.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… The most important trait you can have as an entrepreneur is belief. Half of this job is just believing that you CAN do it. You don’t have to be THE expert in your field, you just have to be the one with the deepest drive and belief in the work you’re doing.

I stay inspired by… My team. They each bring such incredible passion to FLIK, knowing they’re working towards a larger cause, each elevating the other.

The future excites me because… We’re just on the ground floor and there is so much more impact to create, so many more womxn to elevate, and so many more voices to amplify. 

My next step is… Expanding globally. We are serving 47 countries around the world, but we will be expanding further to other countries and deeper into the countries we are already working with. Womxn from all over the world need unique support and we are here to be that comprehensive resource to elevate entrepreneurial womxn worldwide.

Meet Resilience Expert and Champion of Women’s Rights, Komal Minhas.

Komal Minhas is an internationally respected resilience expert, host, interviewer, investor and champion of women and women’s rights. Featured on Oprah’s Super Soul 100 list, Komal has interviewed inspiring people including Michelle Obama and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and is the founder and host of the successful podcast Lessons Learned, featuring soulful conversations about resilience. Komal also just launched an online shop of inspirational uplifting prints, perfect for home or office.

My first job ever was… working the concession stand at our local hockey arena! I wasn’t allowed to work — as a first-generation Canadian, education was a major priority — but I secretly got this job so I could save up to go on a class trip to Europe in 9th grade. Of course my parents found out, but it all worked out in the end.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… my entrepreneurial spirit didn’t fit the traditional workplace mould. My business has become a creative vessel for me, and a space for me to make an impact, create wealth for myself and my team, educate and tell powerful stories. It’s my dream job!

My proudest accomplishment is… having my parents in the stadium the day I interviewed Michelle Obama in 2019. It was one of the best moments of my life to see their pride after holding space for such a powerful conversation with the former First Lady.

My boldest move to date was… pitching Michelle Obama directly at a meet and greet to interview her as part of her stadium tour. She took my hands and said, ‘this is destiny.’ It took 10 months, and lots of no’s for it to finally happen. That was my boldest moment!

I surprise people when I tell them… I am actually more of an introvert than an extrovert! I really love my down time!

My best advice to people starting out in business is… take your time. The start-up world is full of stories of ‘overnight’ successes, but they are few and far between. Do what you need to take your time as you build and do it in a way that makes sense to you financially.

My biggest setback was… being diagnosed with cancer and a neurological illness in the same 10-months. Recovery took a few years during my 20s. 

I overcame it by… listening to my body and taking recovery day-by-day. When you face mortality at such an early age, you come to appreciate life in different ways. That experience led me to having a strong focus on purpose and impact and finding a way to create a business that could help me maximize both things well.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… employing others and leading them in a mindful, empathetic way.

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

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how hard this journey of entrepreneurship really is and how much my support system helps me get through hard days.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… it takes time to find product-market fit and each failure is actually a powerful step forward towards something that will work and hopefully scale.

I stay inspired by… my friends, and making new friends who challenge me and show me what is possible in my own life.

The future excites me because… so much can happen!

How Patricia McLeod turned corporate governance into a full-time job — even though she didn’t fit the typical board member profile.

By Hailey Eisen 

The advice that Patricia McLeod likes to give — “Pick things you’re good at, because if you love what you’re doing enough you’ll find a path forward” — sums up her own journey over the past five years.  

Patricia spent 23 years as a lawyer and executive in Calgary and Vancouver before making an unusual career pivot. Armed with an Executive MBA, plus years of legal, privacy, compliance and corporate responsibility experience, Patricia began to expand on her volunteer experience. She took board positions with organizations focusing on community and economic development, arts, innovation, and vulnerable women and families. 

In 2015, she began to feel that her board work was more strategic than her job. The variety of challenges and opportunities was exciting. Patricia wondered if she could turn governance into her full-time career. She asked a handful of women directors for their opinions. 

Their responses were not reassuring. “I ended up with a long list of reasons why I wasn’t likely to be successful in corporate governance,” she says. “They weren’t being negative, they were just coming from a different place — C-Suite executives who’d been specifically tapped for their board positions.” 

As it was pointed out, Patricia wasn’t even 50, had never been a CEO, and wasn’t ready to retire. Plus, she had no experience in the oil and gas sector — a bit of a problem for someone wanting to serve on boards in Calgary. “I remember thinking: They’re right, but where am I in the board world? I’m the gap.”

Nevertheless, Patricia was undaunted. 

Within six months, she secured her first paid governance position and within 18 months, she was appointed as Chair of the Board of Calgary Co-op, one of the largest retail cooperatives in North America with annual revenues of around $1.2 billion and 440,000 member-owners. In two years, she resigned from her general counsel role, had a full portfolio of board positions and was making more money than she’d earned in her previous job. 

“I’m not a pioneer on boards because I’m a woman. Women on boards is now a much more well-known and supported concept. But I’m a pioneer because I treat my board work as a profession,” Patricia says. 

And following her passion has made her happy. 

“With board work, you’re doing strategy, leadership, issues management — all of which is so motivating to me,” she says. “And it’s a balancing act, like being a consultant.” 

Today, Patricia sits on a wide cross-section of boards, including Calgary Co-op, the Beverage Container Management Board, Alberta Innovates, and the Calgary Film Centre.

 “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills.” 

She says her prior board roles with First Air and Air Inuit proved especially satisfying. Based in Quebec and Ontario, the airlines operate passenger, charter and cargo services in Nunavik and Nunavut. “This was the first time they’d opened up the organization to non-Inuit board members, and there was a great deal of learning on both sides,” Patricia says. During her term, First Air merged with another Inuit-owned airline and Patricia brought her experience in governance, legal and relationship-building to the merger process. “It was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had.”  

But with no airline experience (or experience in many of the industries in which she now serves on boards), Patricia has had to market herself differently. “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills. For example, I worked in utilities, a highly regulated, high-hazard industry, which transferred nicely to the aviation industry.”

Patricia says she’s also needed a lot of self-confidence in applying for board positions — “for every ten interviews you’ll get one position” — and taking on a wide range of roles. She also needed to be willing to put her name forward for board leadership opportunities. She credits her Executive MBA with giving her the confidence to make the leap into governance and the success she’s having as a leader. 

With an undergraduate degree in business, a law degree, and years of work, Patricia went back to school in 2009 to earn her EMBA at Smith School of Business. “I knew I was a strong lawyer but felt the MBA would give me the business credibility I was lacking.” With two young daughters at home and a full-time job, Patricia joined the EMBA program from Calgary, with the strong support of her company. 

“The program not only helped me rethink the language of business writing, which was really important for me coming from a law background, it also put a huge emphasis on group work and leadership,” she recalls. “I literally use the skills from that program on a daily basis, when I’m chairing boards and leading groups, public speaking, leaning into difficult decisions and facing down big issues.” 

Completing the EMBA, she says, made her courageous enough to step into governance and gave her the skills to feel comfortable doing so. But first, it gave her the confidence to put her hand up at AltaLink, where she worked, to take on different roles beyond her existing scope. 

“Sometimes in an established career you are seen in a certain way, and you have to jar people out of that. You have to raise your hand and step outside of your comfort zone.” 

And staying just beyond her comfort zone is what keeps Patricia engaged. “It reinvigorates me, this board work,” she says. “I was recently offered a prestigious role back in legal, and while I was tempted, I decided to be brave and continue on the path I’m on.”

Meet entrepreneur and Motivational Speaker, Ashley Wright

Ashley Wright is a young entrepreneur and motivational speaker from Toronto, Canada. She started her first business when she was 17 years old which led to the creation of her current businesses: The Wright Success and Study Cryptos. The Wright Success focuses on helping individuals become the best version of themselves through self-development and business coaching. Study Cryptos is an online academy that makes learning about Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Technology easy.

My first job ever was… a server at a Harvey’s restaurant.

My proudest accomplishment is… when I had my first sold-out event! My cryptocurrency workshop was packed and was filled with excited individuals. It was very engaging, professional and powerful. Not only did the event end in a standing ovation, but I was able to inspire and motivate everyone that attended.

The idea for Study Cryptos came to me when… I had an overwhelming amount of people messaging me about how to get started in cryptocurrency. I had many people asking me how to buy it, how to invest in it etc. That’s when I had that lightbulb moment on how I could turn my passion into a business. I decided to create an online cryptocurrency academy where individuals can learn about the crypto space anytime and from anywhere. I also started hosting cryptocurrency workshops across the city and online to continue to educate and engage interested individuals.

My boldest move to date was… creating the opportunity to interview, celebrity rapper, Akon. While at a conference he was speaking at, I made sure to stand out and take advantage of every opportunity that came my way. I then had the opportunity to interview him regarding the upcoming cryptocurrency he is creating. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I am in the cryptocurrency space. As soon as I mention that, they are surprised and instantly show curiosity. There aren’t too many women in this space, let alone women of colour. I decided to use this to my advantage and become the top woman of colour in cryptocurrency in Canada.

My advice for people interested in self-development and business coaching is… that it’s crucial in your entrepreneurship and success journey. In order to achieve your goals and success, you must have a positive success mindset and master your craft. You cannot get to the next level with the same you. You must grow. Business coaching and mentorship allow you to learn and leverage an expert’s experience and knowledge. 

My biggest setback was… myself. I used to doubt myself and my potential and that held me back the most. One of my favourite quotes, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right” by Henry Ford, explains just that. 

I overcame it by…changing my mindset and by doing lots of self-reflection. I took the time to reflect and appreciate my accomplishments so far and used that to build confidence. I then studied the law of attraction and understood that what you put out there is what you will receive. 

If I want success, I have to speak it into existence. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Je parle français. I speak French!

Being a young entrepreneur is… an exciting and unique journey. As an entrepreneur, you are tested in every aspect of your life. You experience the lows and sacrifices while building your business. You also get to experience amazing moments where you see your ideas come to life. 

I stay inspired by… Looking at my goals on my vision board, hearing powerful success stories of aggressive new start-ups, and getting kind and moving feedback from my clients.

My favourite thing about what I do is… that I can help and inspire people to become more, achieve more, and walk in their purpose.

The future excites me because…I continue to expand my businesses and grow my brand. This allows me to have a greater reach when it comes to helping and inspiring people. 

My next step is… to start another business, specifically in the Blockchain space and create a young women empowerment organization called Queen’s United.

5 Key Ways to Expand How We Approach Accessibility

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). The world has observed this day since 1992, when the United Nations established it to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. In celebration of IDPD, Women of Influence invited Darby to share her expert advice on the topic.

By Darby Lee Young

I come to the topic of accessibility with skin in the game. I was born with mild cerebral palsy, and I run an accessibility agency. This subject is my bread-and-butter. Working to ensure a more accessible world for everyone, leaving no one behind, is both personal and professional to me. Accessibility is complex and it would take a whole book to cover the basics. However, in my daily conversations around kitchen tables and boardroom tables, there are profound points that come up all the time. They are often overlooked, and I wish everyone understood these points better. Here are five of them.

1. There’s more to accessibility than the wheelchair.

You cannot tell if someone has a disability just by how they look, or by talking to them. Some disabilities are not immediately apparent, nor do they need be — it’s just that the presence of a wheelchair is more in-your-face. And although accessibility is usually represented by a wheelchair icon, keep in mind that it’s just an icon. It cannot capture the spectrum of wheelchair types or other devices, let alone the full range of disabilities. Consider that accessibility in a space doesn’t just mean accessible for someone in a wheelchair.

You’d think this was pretty obvious, but that’s not always the case. I’ll get to that.

2. Consider the details.

It’s not just the big things that make a big impact on accessibility. It’s the little ones, too. For example, carpet. When designing a space, it’s important to consider colour contrast and direction of the carpet pile. Have you ever smashed your face into a glass window, or tripped on a step you didn’t see? Exponentiate that. There needs to be contrast between the colour of the walls and the floor. And heavily patterned carpets make it needlessly difficult for people with visual disabilities to wayfind. Picture how a dark square shape in the carpet pattern can appear like a gaping hole or a step, making it unnecessarily more difficult for someone with vision loss to assess depth. Or long hallways in hotels or airports, and the ability to reduce friction resistance pending the direction of the carpet pile.

3. Think — and build — beyond the code.

In North America in 2020, we are working with regulatory guidelines that are old and outdated. Building just to codes misses the big picture. First, we’ve come a long way since the time these regulations were articulated. They were designed with the idea of ‘accommodation’ in the built environment, not with design stewardship at the forefront.  Factoring in code standards is a good start, but because the principles of design are not integrated at the beginning of the design process, operating this way falls short in a myriad of ways and becomes costly to integrate after the fact. That affects people with disabilities, and businesses’ bottom line. I’ll get to that a little later. 

Some architects might posit that we cannot build to perfection, with the underlying sentiment that “perfection is the enemy of the good”, and that building to code is good enough. But try saying that to someone in a scooter who is in the public space you designed and cannot make a turn from the hallway to access the washroom. Checking the boxes for code doesn’t cut it after the fact, and by that time it’s too late. Designing a space with the idea of ‘accommodation’ as a separate, piecemeal treatment to a built environment is far from ideal. It’s not even good enough. It does not consider most people from the get-go.

Leaving no one behind in accessibility requires design stewardship and not just sticking to what’s been done before, what’s good for some, or what’s good for now. That thinking, and that way of building, leaves out most people with disabilities and it needs to go the way of the flip phone. 

Instead, let’s design spaces that truly work well for everyone. Let’s change not just carpets, but how we approach accessibility, diversity, and design differently how we relate to each other. It’s a fundamental change for the better in how we use and move through spaces, leaving no one behind, while promoting active and healthy communities.

4. Think Human (Centered Design Approach)

If building to code doesn’t cut it, what does? Universal Design comes close.

Human-Centered Design goes one step beyond Universal Design, by engaging people with diverse lived experiences into the design process. Human-Centered Design is premised on the understanding that for design to truly serve the people it proclaims to serve, the design needs to be informed by research and interactions with real users, in addition to the traditional processes of evaluating and auditing existing products and facilities. 

That’s because we are human, and as such, our individual understanding is subjective and fragmented. Every person is limited in what they know. Each one of us perceives issues from our own perspective. and until diverse opinions and experiences are invited into the design processes, people will never know what they do not know. That’s why we need to figure things out together. 

The lived experiences of neurodiverse people and persons with disabilities — the nuances of barriers that we experience in everyday life — cannot be understood through empathy, theory, or the adherence to regulatory checkboxes alone. In accessible design, a human-centered approach regards people with disabilities not only as end users, but as drivers of design. That means people with disabilities must be integrated into key decision-making processes within a project cycle.

5. Drive design differently.

To improve how we approach accessibility, we need a fundamental shift. Factoring a range of perspectives builds synergies and drives design that works for everyone.

But there’s more to it than that. Think about public washrooms, for example. We can do better than making a few of the washrooms accessible. It’s about making all stalls functional for everyone. Designing healthy, active communities from the ground up will make a difference to everyone’s quality of life, no matter their age, ability, or life circumstance.

We are at the threshold of a massive opportunity for leadership. Let’s expand our thinking. Canada can maximize the flexibility and robustness of our guidelines, and step up to be positioned as an international leader in accessibility.

To do that, we must be willing to go above and beyond compliance to the traditional confines of regulatory standards. We have to transcend the systems that inadvertently label and disable people. Human-Centered Design destigmatizes disability and other diversities by finding shared commonalities. Instead of reaffirming disability by designing through code compliance and accommodation, let’s envision opportunities to enrich our social fabric, considering the entire ecosystem.

Architects and policy makers, I urge you to design differently, and make accessibility integral in your work. Factor in accessibility consultants and people with lived experiences of disabilities as part of early design processes of new builds and retrofits. You’ll be better positioned to envision not only what accessible design looks like, but what equitable and integrated design for all will mean for future generations.

You won’t know what you don’t know about accessibility — until you do.

What is at stake? 

What can happen when we don’t approach accessibility in depth? 

If we don’t consider the big picture, and recognize accessibility as integral to design from start to finish, we’re not just impacting the lives of people of all ages, abilities, and community groups. We’re also closing the door on opportunity and potential for active, healthy cities. 

And beyond the opportunity cost, failure to factor in accessibility and accessibility consultants can result in millions of dollars in losses to businesses’ bottom lines. One recent example is the San Francisco 49ers football stadium class action lawsuit. It’s something we can learn from.

Contribute to Change on #GivingTuesday

From an increased gender gap in the labour market, to ongoing violence against Black and Indigenous communities, to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, 2020 has highlighted a need for systemic change across multiple industries and institutions. 

As we reflect on the events of the past few months, we can’t help but be amazed by the women and change-makers who continue to lead, demand justice, and develop solutions to challenge barriers and pave new pathways for change, especially in the social impact sector. From supporting child survivors of sexual abuse to fighting voter suppression, here are 10 Canada and U.S.-based organizations that are making a difference and fighting for justice.

We encourage you to learn more about their work, and make a donation toward the mission this #GivingTuesday.

Organizations in Canada

Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow Today (DYLOTT)

Founded by 2020 Top 25 Women of Influence award recipient Candies Kotchapaw, DYLOTT is a leadership incubator that delivers a variety of youth programs intentionally designed to ensure young Black leaders have the tools to excel in the current and emerging Canadian and International job market. Their programs are designed to address barriers to social inclusion in employment, education and the broader social context.

Little Warriors

Little Warriors is a Canadian charitable organization focused on the awareness, prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse. It was founded by Glori Meldrum, a two-time RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Finalist. Little Warriors raises awareness and provides information about child sexual abuse and advocates for and with child suvivors of sexual abuse to ensure the rights, needs and interests of children are respected and protected.


Launched in 2009 at the Clinton Global Initiative, G(irls)20 places young women at the centre of the decision making process. They envision a world in which girls and women are able to participate fully in the economic growth, political stability and social innovations of their countries.

Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G)

A7G is an Indigenous owned and youth-led non-profit organization focused on cultural support and empowerment programs/policies for Indigenous youth, while being led by traditional knowledge and Elder guidance. A7G offers a wide range of resources and activities that aim to build community for Indigenous youth in Ottawa, including language drop-ins, land-based activities like berry picking, and conversations on topics such as toxic masculinity and whiteness, that advance liberation and fight oppression.

Girls Action Foundation

Girls Action Foundation provides spaces for girls and young women to speak out, build skills, and take action on issues that are relevant to them and their communities. Through building coalitions and partnerships, they provide leadership and growth opportunities in safe and inclusive spaces.

Children First

Children First Canada has a bold and ambitious vision to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up.They are improving children’s well-being by building greater awareness among Canadians about the urgent needs of kids, and mobilizing government and other key influencers to change the status quo.

Friends of Ruby

Friends of Ruby is dedicated to the progressive well-being of LGBTQI2S youth (aged 16-29) through mental health services, social services, and housing. Their approach is comprehensive, involving mind, body and community.

Organizations in the United States

67 Sueños

67 Sueños works with marginalized undocumented youth and youth from mixed status families affected by high rates of violence, mass incarceration, deportation, and poverty. Using political education, trauma healing, artivism, and introducing them to alternative life changing experiences, 67 Sueños cultivates youth organizing and power building by guiding youth to trust their own process and reframe their stories as a source of power and resistance.

Black Voters Matter

Co-founded by LaTosha Brown, Black Voters Matter Fund aims to increase the influence, power, and representation of Black people through effective policy, and to invest in grassroots Black-led groups in the U.S. 

Trans Lifeline

Trans Lifeline is a grassroots hotline and microgrants non-profit organization offering direct emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis — for the trans community, by the trans community.

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

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.