Meet Leora Barak: from multilingual interpreter to nutritional therapist

For Leora Barak, growing up in three different countries was most definitely not easy. She remembers the difficulties of having to adapt to a new culture and to a new language every time she moved. But looking back, this only made her respect and appreciate people of all backgrounds and their particular ways of life. It also expanded her knowledge and love of languages. And so, the ease to learn languages became her strength, and part of her journey. From interpreting to diplomatic officials and vicious criminals in court, language training became part of her life. She then went on to have a family and three children. When one of her children became ill, her path took a different turn. She returned to school to study nutrition and its power on healing chronic disease. Today, as a reputable and well respected Nutritional Therapist, she works out of three clinic locations in Toronto, guiding, teaching and helping others discover that ‘Food is Medicine.’ She proudly offers her services in five different languages.


My first job was… a salesperson at a bathroom fixture & tiles store.

I decided to be a Nutritionist because… In 2010, one of my daughters started experiencing serious gastrointestinal issues. After months and months of seeing her suffer from severe pain, we were told that the next step would be “aggressive” medications and, eventually, surgery. As I was not yet willing to take that route, we decided to explore natural medicine a bit further and so adopted a nutritional protocol into her life. To my surprise, within a few short weeks, she started getting better and her improved symptoms slowly became more consistent. We were overjoyed, but what astounded me most was how simple, everyday foods could have such a significant impact on her improvement. I had suddenly realized that the starting point to her healing was right in my own kitchen. I knew that I had to ‘pay it forward’ and help others understand the power of food. And so I decided to go back to school and went on to complete an intensive program at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. And so, today, here I am. I feel blessed to be able to provide my clients with the understanding and use of proper nutrition combined with appropriate lifestyle/mindset changes and stress-reducing techniques as a means to address health concerns and even, heal disease.

My proudest accomplishment is… without a doubt, my family.

My boldest move to date was… at 19, when my parents decided to move back to Brazil and I decided to stay in Canada all by myself. I lived under difficult conditions, struggled to fend for myself and my mental health suffered tremendously. Somehow, with the help of amazing and supportive friends, I made it through.

I surprise people when I tell them…that I’m an introvert. My time alone is precious.

My best advice from a mentor was… from my first boss, who became my second mother and my best friend. She taught me that overthinking doesn’t get you anywhere. She also taught me that to be truly successful in business, you must stay authentic and humble.


“The future excites me because it’s unknown. My whole life I had to learn to adapt and I trust that, whatever comes my way, I’ll manage.”


To me, nutrition is… the strongest weapon we have and the first line of defence against chronic disease.  

I would tell my 21-year-old self… that it’s not about that exam that you failed at 19, or that tropical vacation you would take at 25, or that trendy outfit you would wear at 35. It’s about the people who will have the most impact on your life, the lessons they teach you, the memories you will make with them, your accomplishments and the legacy you will leave behind. And, yes, you will find the love of your life, and you will get married.

The most fulfilling thing about my job is… when someone tells me that they haven’t been able to get out of bed for months and that I gave them their life back…

The hardest thing about my job is… each of my clients becomes a mission for me. When I focus on their personalized health plans, I sometimes forget my limits and can sometimes sit and research for hours until I find the best, most sustainable solutions for them. It almost becomes an obsession and it sometimes gets in the way of my family life. I know I need to keep reminding myself of my boundaries. But, to no avail — I have to give it my all, that’s just who I am.

I stay inspired by… the power of nature — it absolutely fascinates me. Notice how nature is so patient and yet everything gets accomplished.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… bake more and walk more.

Through it all, I’ve learned that… even in the most unpredictable moments of life, we do, at the very least, have autonomy over our health. In spite of the ups and downs, the good and bad days, the perfect and imperfect moments, if we try to eat well and stay active, think positively and learn to relax, create and maintain healthy social connections, we may just have a better chance of growing old gracefully. And when we do, let us embrace old age and remember that the lines and wrinkles on our ageing face are there because of the people that we’ve met and the places that we’ve been along the way. They tell a story. They’re what makes us, us.

The future excites me because… it’s unknown. My whole life I had to learn to adapt and I trust that, whatever comes my way, I’ll manage.

My next step is… getting a group of women in their 50’s together, women who have accomplished much in their lives, tackling a variety of topics together relating to women’s health and wellness, inspiring and empowering one another. After all, we, women, need to stick together.


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

Woman working from home

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

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

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

1. Find time to bond with your new colleagues

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

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

2. Take notes during your introductory meetings

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

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

3. Create a designated workspace 

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

4. Set healthy boundaries to avoid burnout 

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

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

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

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


Farah Mohamed Reflects on Her Journey as a Social Entrepreneur

For Farah Mohamed, storytelling is a fundamental part of the human experience. “Stories help us understand, have compassion and see somebody else’s side; if we don’t share those stories all we will ever be faced with are facts and figures,” she says. “Sometimes I think that we’re in such a huge rush that we forget that everyone has their own story; everyone has their own path — no two people have experienced the same things and maybe that’s the most powerful way to learn, by learning other people’s stories.”

Globally recognized Canadian social entrepreneur, Farah has an impressive professional story. In 2009, she founded G(irls)20, an organization cultivating a new generation of leaders through education, entrepreneurship and global experiences — while working with G20 leaders to keep their commitment to create 100 million new jobs for women by 2025. Starting in 2017, she served two years as CEO of Malala Fund working alongside Malala Yousafzai, whose survival of an attempted assassination by the Taliban in 2012 for trying to go to school has blossomed into a global advocacy campaign for girls’ education. Now back in Toronto, Farah is Senior Vice President of the Toronto Board of Trade. 

Recognized for her service to Canada, she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She has also been recognized for her work to empower girls and women as a Top 25 Women of Influence recipient, plus BBC Top 100 Women, SALT 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World, and an EY Nominee for Social Entrepreneur of the Year and Diversity 50.

While her professional accomplishments and extensive list of awards are enough to leave most in awe, Farah’s success story is multifaceted. Born in Uganda, her family moved to Canada in 1972 to seek refuge when she was two years old, after Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Indian Ugandans. Resultantly, political justice and human rights issues have been the key themes in Farah’s life since her family moved to Canada. “It was part of my DNA,” she says. “I was raised by two people who got the short end of the stick when they had to leave their own country, but never let that pull them back. It gave them an appreciation for the fact that they then ended up in a country that was welcoming and provided opportunities that were safe and secure.”

Farah also credits her parents for teaching her the importance of charity and giving back to the community “from a young age, my sister and I were volunteering. My parents were like, ‘you can’t sit around the house and watch TV,’” she laughs. “I actually followed my sister’s footsteps and we used to volunteer at a nursing home. The reason she chose a nursing home was because we didn’t have grandparents around us and it was just a place that you could go and give comfort to someone and it didn’t matter what language you spoke or how old you were — these were people who wanted connection.”

We forget that everyone has their own story; everyone has their own path — no two people have experienced the same things and maybe that’s the most powerful way to learn, by learning other people’s stories.

Growing up Farah never pictured herself working in the nonprofit sector. “I always thought that I was going to be a lawyer — that I would go into criminal law, but I fell in love with politics at university,” she says. Before becoming the social entrepreneur she is today, Farah made her name working closely with some of Canada’s most senior politicians. She credits her success to Former Burlington MP Paddy Torsney, who gave her that first start in politics. “Paddy has been a real connector for me and not even just a mentor — she’s part of my family now,” she explains.

In 1993, Farah volunteered on Paddy’s campaign, which she went on to win. “It’s not just crazy that she won, it’s crazy that she was young and she won in a very conservative majority. She was a liberal, and it’s even crazier that a year later, she offered me a job and I moved to Parliament Hill. It is because of Paddy that I worked in politics for ten years. If she had not taken that chance on me, I certainly would not be sitting here having this conversation with you,” she says.

“I think the combination of my schooling together with my upbringing and then seeing politics work first-hand, put me on that path to social profit and social justice,” Farah explains. In 2009, Farah founded G(irls)20. “When I launched it, I had certainly hoped it would have an impact, but I definitely admit that I am really excited about just how it’s taken off,” Farah says.

After founding G(irls)20 and serving as the CEO for eight years, in 2017 Farah stepped down to take a new role as the CEO of Malala Fund. “For me, I felt that I had done everything I could to bring G(irls)20 to the point it was and that it needed new leadership and new energy and new thinking,” says Farah, reflecting on her decision. “It’s never easy to leave something but when you are going to leave, if you leave it in strong hands with a very strong foundation then it’s not hard to step away from it.”

Becoming CEO at Malala Fund brought about a lot of change for Farah — a larger team working in multiple locations and time zones, a new area of focus, and a new home in London, United Kingdom. “It’s always an incredible challenge to have this type of opportunity; it doesn’t come without a cost and those costs are not seeing your family and your friends, but on the flip side it’s getting closer to the people that you know here and making new friends,” she explains. “More often than not the glass is half full, rather than the glass is half empty.”

If you forget who you are in service to and you don’t remember why you are doing what you’re doing; it makes all those other things that you are doing pointless.

Pinpointing the highlight of her time at Malala Fund was really easy for Farah. “People expect me to say my highlight was speaking to Malala every day. It was absolutely a highlight to work with Malala and Zia,” says Farah, speaking of Zia Yousafzai, Malala’s father and co-founder, “but the real privilege was seeing the girls.”

“I’d say to people all the time, I don’t work in service to Malala or Zia or my even my board,” Farah says. “I work in service to those girls and I fundamentally believe that. I don’t work in service to any government or any partner we have, I work in service to those girls.”

She reiterates how important it is for all organizations — charities, social enterprises and businesses alike to remember who they are serving and remain true to that through and through. “If you forget who you are in service to and you don’t remember why you are doing what you’re doing; it makes all those other things that you are doing pointless.”

In Malala’s new book We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World, Farah shares her story to transform the conversation around refugees in Canada and beyond. “Malala gave me the opportunity to say ‘Hang on, wait a minute, don’t villainize and dismiss the contributions that refugees who leave their countries can bring to the countries that welcome them,’” she asserts. “I didn’t actually think I would ever share my story because it’s not my story alone, it’s my parents story and my sisters story and when Malala first requested that I be part of our book I was really really hesitant,” she says. 

To tell her story for Malala’s book, Farah had to have some very open conversations with her parents that they had never had before. “I learnt a lot of stuff about my parents. [In the book] I talk about my mom being assaulted by arm guards, I didn’t know that until I was in preparation for this book and so it’s very personal,” she says. “I realized that I can be quite a private person – so this is probably the most open I have ever been. I allow myself to be vulnerable, but it’s a good vulnerability to share in the context of refugees, they are not a drain on our system. Refugees – many if not all of them contribute to their countries and that’s why I shared it.”

3 Keys to Resiliently Running Your Business in Adversity

By Monique Peats


Loving yourself and being present in your own life makes every obstacle in life and business less impacting.

Like most of you, running a business we’ve had many ups and downs. Our company, Life Recovery Program: Inward Strong, is an online mental health/behavioural health resource for individuals and families. The unbelievable stigma attached to our business — which provides a solution for a stigmatized issue — is exhausting and challenging. Along with some incredible successes, we’ve had more obstacles, blocks and challenges than I care to mention.   

Our amazing company was birthed out of our founder Paul’s desire to provide a resource for people who were struggling to access support, whether due to stigma, lack of availability, or both. When he shared his idea, I was immediately onboard. Our mission was simple: to help fill in the service gap and provide support to as many people as possible, anywhere, anytime, at an affordable cost. Sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want to jump on board with this idea and help us move forward, especially given the high rate of depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse? Perhaps because of our clinical backgrounds, we were hopeful, naively excited visionaries with high expectations of a quick adoption to our solution.

Well, what we thought would be a no-brainer became the marathon of our lives — which is why I’d like to share three key power tools that have helped me stay resilient while running a business in the midst of challenges, from stigma to Covid-19.

1. Practice creative envisioning

Embrace your unique vision, dream big, and make imagination your superpower. Ensure your vision aligns with your core values; those things that give you meaning and purpose. Oftentimes the assumption is that there’s a ‘right’ way to do things and you have to be an expert in everything. Not only is it impossible, but this kind of thinking leads to burnout. Being an entrepreneur is tough, especially if you’re the CEO — Chief Everything Officer. The key for me is to acknowledge the painful stuff and notice all of the good stuff and everything else in between. Creative envisioning lets me play with ideas, and it makes what I do fun. So, whatever it is, lean into it — all of it — because if I don’t feel it, I won’t heal it, and new ideas are blocked from taking root and growing into great ideas that allow me to pivot, explore interesting opportunities, and meet helpful allies along the way.

2. Choose joy by accessing and sustaining positive emotions

My dad suddenly and unexpectedly passed away on May 21, 2020. He was the most amazing, loving, gentle, strong, kind, caring, thoughtful man I know. He was quite literally healthy one day and in the ER the next, and passed away two weeks later with no warning. What I take from that is to make every moment count, and cherish the people around you now because they may be gone tomorrow. In business terms, that means be grateful for the gift of each person on your team, even if you can only afford to have them for a few months or they choose to leave for a more lucrative opportunity. 


“Resiliency is simply noticing who you are and taking care of yourself on a consistent basis. It means putting yourself higher on your to-do list.”


Also, focus on why you chose to start your business in the first place. Helping people with an online resource that is simple, easy to use and accessible anywhere, anytime makes me feel so blessed, because even when we get a ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ I know that so many people have become Inward Strong because we decided to create a solution to help address a not so hidden epidemic.  

I know that every day isn’t going to be a perfect day — but I focus on the belief that every day is a day to be grateful for. Every day I choose to notice a moment that makes me smile. I choose to remember the things that bring me joy. My dad passing away doesn’t bring me joy, but focusing on how blessed I am to have had such an amazing dad puts an incredible smile on my face.


3. Have compassion towards yourself

I’m only human — so I forgive myself for mistakes, faults, and lack of knowledge. All I can do is my best in that moment, and recognize that given the awareness I have, I’m doing the best that I can. I do get tired, frustrated and weary a lot of the time — but I remind myself that that’s okay. I lean into it, and remember that to be human is to feel, to be a woman is to be acutely aware of all that I am, competing priorities and all. I remind myself that I am visible, I matter, I am loved and I am loveable (that’s the incredible gift that my mom and dad gave me, unconditional love). Regardless of what comes my way, I believe in who I am and that I have value, I am worthy of being present in this world, present as a businesswoman, a wife, daughter, aunt. In your moments of doubt, remind yourself: I am a woman of influence. I belong. I am worthy.

Resiliency is simply noticing who you are and taking care of yourself on a consistent basis. It means putting yourself higher on your to-do list. It’s remembering that you are enough and you have enough time. It is about personal and professional balance, being well resourced because we’re not designed to do life alone. It’s reminding yourself that you are powerful and unique, and that every day is yours for the taking. Yes, there are roadblocks — some greater, higher, nastier, and more disarming than others — but when we nurture ourselves on the inside, choose to surround ourselves with people who know us, listen fully to our voice, mentor, advise, challenge and accept ourselves, we can conquer anything. I believe that as women we can be a village of support that allows our own imagination to visualize and guide us into a more hopeful and equitable future. 

What keeps me moving forward? How do I keep going? It’s simple: I choose joy, I choose to stay in hope, focus on gratitude and our successes, resiliently recharge, refocus and rebuild. As a clinician, businesswoman and human being, resiliency is recognizing that life is stress and I can choose to either manage it or have it manage me. I choose the former, what about you?

Monique Peats

Monique Peats

Monique Peats has always had a passion for helping people, and her resume proves it; she’s an awarded clinician, entrepreneur, co-author, international presenter and health tech innovator. Recognizing the challenge of stigma, shame and accessibility had long plagued those seeking support, she co-founded Life Recovery Program (LRP): Inward Strong — an award-winning, simple and practical online program for people coping with addiction, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues. Based in Waterloo, she also maintains a private psychotherapy practice.

The 3 big “Wish I would Have Knowns” all working moms need to know

By Janet Winkler

On our journey to create Hacking Sophia, a digital platform designed to deliver career and life wisdom and solutions to time-starved working moms, we heard dozens of “I Wish I Would Have Knowns” from the more than 150 in-depth interviews we conducted with working moms. 

Things like: “I wish I would have known that despite all the little screw-ups, all the moments of self-doubt, all the times I asked myself if I was doing the right thing, my kids were going to turn out ok, because they did.”

This lesson, like all the rest, was unfortunately learned in hindsight. 

I too wish I had known them. There were too many nights that I laid in bed, after keeping it together for my kids, admitting to my husband “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” I had founded my own business, grown it to a company that serviced global clients with a best-in-industry reputation, worked with an incredible group of inspiring, committed, brilliant women and men — and I also had 3 children, a husband, and in time, a dog. I often felt like I was busting at the seams.

I knew all too well the challenge of being a working mom and navigating two competing time-consuming worlds — work and family. For my next chapter, I was determined to help all women, but with an emphasis on working moms living in, what we call, the Cram it all in Years, the years where career acceleration and babies and young children collide. 

Out of all the “I Wish I Would Have Knowns” that inspired the wisdom we share with the Hacking Sophia community, three big jewels emerged consistently as the foundations to prioritize, to help the shift from ‘post-baby just hanging on’ to living life more fully. Most of our Sophia Contributors learned these through challenges, often (also) experiencing a “can’t do this anymore” moment and wishing they would have known and acted on these pieces of wisdom earlier. Personally, I really wish I would have known and acted on these three early on. I know I would have saved myself a lot of hardship. 

1) Define Your What Matters (and you’re ‘not so much anymore’).

“It took me until my second child to really think through what mattered most to me. It was my immediate family, my career and my well-being. Full stop. The rest of the shit I was doing, that I thought was really important or gave me joy, just couldn’t fit anymore.” — A Sophia Contributor

Early on, everything that used to matter is still there plus add in a baby, then maybe children, and things quickly get overwhelming. Deciding what you really care about as it relates to baby/children/family, life and work in your new reality is essential. If how you spend your time doesn’t align with the core of what you really care about, your world is out of sync and you’re left feeling frustrated and certainly exhausted. Here’s how:

  • Define the big categories of things that matter most to you. Think about where you want to spend your energy, and in the Cram it all in Years think in shorter windows, like a 6-month horizon. Categories could include: immediate family, career, self-care, social time, creative outlets, etc. Just jot them down.
  • Distill your big categories of “what matters most now” list down to a top 5 and identify and define what doesn’t matter so much to you anymore. Choose your top 5, and by default, deprioritize what is less important to you. It can help to assign a value, a simple 1 – 10, to force choice.
  • List your Supposed To’s: Get these off your chest, your mind, your conscience! We’re overloaded with “I’m supposed to’s” whether it’s from social media, assumptions about what others think you should be or do, or other expectations that you accumulate. List your supposed to’s so you make the invisible visible, eliminate what doesn’t serve you and hold onto what’s important to you. Examples include: being my extended family’s ‘go to’ for advice, serving homecooked meals to my family, returning to my pre-baby fitness level, and more.
  • Write your clarity statements: For your top 5 categories, assisted by your list of ‘supposed to’s,’ add in your “why” these matter as a reinforcement and a check that you’re prioritizing for the right reasons (for you, for your family) and what you want to achieve (how). Here are some examples:

(What) Spending time with my immediate family is important to me (why) because one of my greatest joys comes from being a mom (how) so I’m going to make sure I invest quality time with them when I can be most present.

(What) Advancing career is a priority for me (why) because I enjoy the stimulation that comes from applying my skills and I want to continue to advance upwards (how) so I’m going to make sure I focus on what is going to drive my career forward, minimizing ‘other distractions” while I’m working. 

“There were too many nights that I laid in bed, after keeping it together for my kids, admitting to my husband “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” … I often felt like I was busting at the seams.”

2) Fierce Prioritization and Ruthless Boundaries.

You’ve done the hard part — the choices around how you spend your time and energy. Turn these “top 5 matters” into activities and actions, assigning time and get them in your calendar. This is what you fiercely protect and communicate to others, unapologetically. Continuing with the above two examples:

Immediate Family:

  • Spend quality time with my family: 
    • Be home by 6:30 pm 3 nights a week to bath and put my baby/kids to bed. 
    • Be fully present with them during that time; no emails, texts during that time.
    • And, relax my ‘supposed to’s’ around homecooked meals.


  • Advance my career:  
    • Ruthless focus on career advancing priorities by defining the 3 business critical priorities that will demonstrate success in my role. 
    • Defining the associated action steps to make that happen, the resources/support required, determining what to delegate and what to eliminate that doesn’t fit.

3) Assemble Your Team (Personal & Professional)

I wish I had leaned on my tribe more. You need an outlet of realness. You need a friend who you can call and say anything to without judgement. — A Sophia Contributor

We can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. Action it. Start by choosing which people are most critical to you and give yourself time to find them. It’s not a race!

Here are some examples that emerged as the early important ones:

Life: Childcare Team, 911 Friends, Trusted Advisors, Moms who have your back,
Work: Got Your Back Peers, Advocates, Mentors, Investors

Remember, as you consider the above, perfection is the enemy of done! Get started so you make choices. 

While I wish I would have known that despite the many screw-ups and agonizing periods of self-doubt of whether I was a good mom and business leader, I’m happy to report that I have three amazing adult children, each accomplished in their careers, each in healthy relationships, the same loving husband and a career that I can honestly say, “Wow, I got to do that!”

Janet Winkler

Janet Winkler

Janet is an experienced leader, entrepreneur and marketing specialist. Janet founded in-sync, an insights-based brand consultancy which was acquired by Publicis Groupe where she was appointed Group President, Publicis Health. Following her retirement from Publicis, Janet became a Senior Advisor at McKinsey & Company. However, Hacking Sophia was calling. It was born out of a desire to help working moms thrive in personal and professional lives.

How does COVID affect gender dynamics at home? This researcher is finding out.

By Hailey Eisen
(Photo Credit: Rich Blenkinsopp/Memorial University) 


There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the way we work—from massive layoffs to millions suddenly working from home. When the pandemic hit, many also faced the pressure of added responsibilities in the home and beyond. Early research into the way we work during COVID has unveiled notable gender discrepancies in the balance of responsibility and burden of care. 

“It’s been a fascinating time to look at gender roles in the home and workplace,” says Dr. Alyson Byrne, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld. “Despite the terrible and tragic things going on—and we must not make light of these—this pandemic has exposed cracks in the foundation in terms of gender and the burden of child care, elder care, and domestic care.”

According to Alyson, whose research has focused primarily on leadership, status, gender and relational outcomes, anecdotal evidence gathered during this time reveals an imbalance in women’s roles and responsibilities. “With the burden of care falling more on women, who are often simultaneously working full time, there will be potential long-term impacts of this time period which I’m not sure will disappear quickly, even with a vaccine.” 

With that in mind, Alyson has begun a research project with her mentor and former academic supervisor, Professor Julian Barling of Smith School of Business. Alyson and Julian published a paper in 2017 in the journal Organization Science about the impact women’s high-status careers have on their marriage and family lives. Their new research will focus on couples in a different context.

“For the time being, we are taking a snapshot of couples, trying to capture the dynamic of life as it is now during the pandemic,” Alyson explains. “We will plan to study the same couples during two more time periods: when regulations are lifted and again when the pandemic is over.” The research will focus on the roles of each partner, how COVID impacted work and the family interface, and what changes, if any, were long-lasting. “We don’t have clearly defined ideas yet as to what we’ll find, but we do have some ideas.” 

Working from her home and sharing responsibilities for their two small children with her accountant husband, Alyson says she doesn’t usually incorporate her personal experience into her research, but it’s hard not to see the connection in this case. “We’ve always been egalitarian parents,” she says. “We each took six months of parental leave for both of our babies, and continue to negotiate all aspects of domestic life, including who makes dinner, who gets up in the night with the kids, cleans up, etcetera.” 

While it’s been a challenge to manage child-care responsibilities while working from home, and many women seem to be facing an increasing burden of responsibility — it hasn’t all been negative. The pandemic may also have a few outcomes that improve couples’ work and relationship dynamics, according to Alyson’s early observations. 

For one, the pandemic has blurred the divide between work and home. “Suddenly your boss has his kids popping up on a Zoom call, and it’s completely OK,” Alyson says. “When you see others going through the same thing you are, you don’t feel so bad.” 

The pandemic has also increased the amount of time that families spend together. “Even if it’s not quality family time, there has been a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’, which is really nice.” 

It has also provided an unprecedented opportunity to see what each partner’s work really looks like. In fact, the pandemic has forced many couples to have important conversations about their careers, about who gets to work when, who gets the home office, if there is one, and who is responsible for groceries and the kids’ online learning, among other things. “It may lead to increased respect and a greater understanding of the types of demands each partner faces.” 

Alyson’s own upbringing was decidedly egalitarian. Her parents, both teachers, had no difference in the status of their jobs, and she was “raised to believe it was normal for women to want to work, and be expected to work.” But after a few years in her first job out of university — a role with Export and Development Canada in Ottawa — she realized she wanted to study work and teach about work, rather than be in the workplace. 

Alyson reached out to a professor from her undergraduate studies, a PhD graduate from Smith, who connected her with Julian. “While I knew little about academic research, I had passion and questions I wanted to explore, and Julian decided to take a chance on me,” Alyson recalls. 

“When we first met, I didn’t know about his credentials or the level of publications he had accumulated over his career, only that he was a nice guy who was willing to meet with me and let me explore the MSc/PhD program at Smith.” 

Looking back, Alyson sees Julian as her greatest champion, and his lab group formed an incredible network that was instrumental in her success. “The people in our lab group became collaborators and best friends, and over the years we have celebrated our publications, weddings, and the births of our children together.” 

While at Smith, Alyson says the support staff was also instrumental in ensuring she secured funding, got participants for her studies, submitted ethics, and was supported throughout the duration of her PhD. While she certainly struggled with imposter syndrome at times, wondering if she would get published (she did, many times) or if she would get a job (she did, her dream job in fact), she found the entire experience to be overwhelmingly positive. 

Having been interested in leadership since she was young, Alyson began her research in this field. “I was one of those young, extroverted children who took on leadership roles from student council to sports teams,” she says. “And when I started in the workplace, I was fascinated by the impact various leaders could have on my own motivation based on their behaviours.” 

Her work with Julian began by focusing on the small attributes of leaders, such as humour, and their impacts on employee outcomes, and then shifted to women’s careers and when women are the higher-earning partner in the family. The changes she’s studying now around COVID and couples’ work dynamics may, she hopes, lead to some bigger shifts in corporate culture, especially around family-friendly policies, the ideal scenario being true equality in the workplace that spills over into the family. 

“Wouldn’t that be a silver lining?” she says. “If more men came to respect the roles of their wives, to see more clearly the heavy lifting that’s being done on the home front every day that they weren’t aware of before? Truthfully, if this doesn’t transform the way we think about gender and work, I don’t know what will.”

How Carinne Chambers-Saini launched the DivaCup — and brought menstrual cups to the mainstream

By Karen van Kampen


Fresh out of business school, 24-year-old Carinne Chambers-Saini set out to revolutionize the menstrual care industry. She teamed up with her mother, Francine Chambers, to create the DivaCup, a reusable silicone menstrual cup that collects rather than absorbs menstrual flow. 

“I thought, we are going to change the world with this,” says Carinne. “I had a completely unrealistic view of how things would evolve. No one would take us seriously.” It took a year to find a supplier willing to develop and manufacture the DivaCup, and another year for the approval process as a class II medical device. Then came the biggest hurdle: getting the product listed. “The retailers just laughed at us and said, we’ll never carry this,” says Carinne. “That was definitely one of the hardest blows because we were so excited about the product and we knew what we had.” 

In 2003, DivaCup was turned down by all mass-market retailers. But the mother-daughter duo never gave up. “You keep going, no matter what,” says Carinne. “That’s the grit that people talk about.” Years of patience and hard work has paid off. Today, DivaCup is sold in 60,000 stores in more than 30 countries, bringing the menstrual cup to the mainstream, and its CEO and co-founder is being recognized as an industry trendsetter. Carinne was the 2019 winner of the TELUS Trailblazer Award (now the Innovation Award) — a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, that is granted to an entrepreneur with outstanding leadership who has set standards for originality, quality and successful management. 

The daughter of two entrepreneurs, Carinne says the creating part of business has always excited her. In high school, she worked at her mother’s jewelry store in Kitchener, Ontario, helping with buying and creating custom pieces. In 1992, Francine saw an ad for a menstrual cup. “That started the whole journey,” says Carinne. Reflecting on their own experience with a menstrual cup, as well as customer feedback, Carinne and Francine set out to create an improved, modernized version. 

The initial setbacks with mass-market retailers proved to be a blessing in disguise. Carinne and Francine were running the business from home, assembling packages in their basement, and realized that they weren’t ready for mass market. They focused on the natural market instead, and gained a loyal following at eco shops, natural food and outdoor adventure stores. It took five years to get listed in every Whole Foods region in Canada and the U.S. By 2011, DivaCup was listed in 3,000 natural and niche stores in Canada and the U.S. 


“We had to change our story and show retailers how the DivaCup could bring profit into the category, and how it was a destination product that people would be looking for.”


Diva International began building its team, setting up its headquarters and taking the business to the next level. Carinne stopped doing sales meetings with her mom. “It’s hard to get taken seriously when you are your own sales team,” says Carinne. “You just don’t have the credibility.” Then came an opportunity that would catapult DivaCup into the mainstream.

In 2012, a company had pulled their ad from the jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square at the last minute. The rep trying to fill the space was a fan of the DivaCup and called Carinne with the opportunity. The ad would run four times an hour, 24-hours-a-day for a year. It was a lot of money, “but something in our gut kept telling us we have to do it,” says Carinne. “As an entrepreneur, your best asset is your gut and intuition.”

A new buyer for Shoppers Drug Mart saw the DivaCup ad in Times Square, and suddenly Diva International was viewed as a real player in the industry. “We had to change our story and show retailers how the DivaCup could bring profit into the category,” says Carinne, “and how it was a destination product that people would be looking for.” In 2013, they brought on Shoppers Drug Mart as their first national account. 

With Shoppers on board, they approached other mass-market retailers with their success story. But there was still a lot of work to be done. It took five years to bring on the remainder of the mainstream retailers — including CVS that in 2015 started carrying DivaCup in almost 10,000 locations. Yet being listed in the mass market isn’t necessarily the magic bullet that will solve all your problems, cautions Carinne. To succeed, “you have to build the demand and build the market for your product,” she says. For Diva International, this includes investing in education on women’s health and menstruation, which has become one of its core missions. 

The DivaCares program aims to expose the global issue of period poverty in which girls and women lack access to menstrual products. “It is happening in North America, right here in Canada,” says Carinne, who points out that one in seven girls in Canada has left or missed school due to lack of access to period products

DivaCares also fights discrimination around menstruation by helping to normalize the conversation. At home, Carinne talks openly to her daughter and son. “Boys need to be part of the conversation,” she says. “It should not be something that’s reserved only for girls. It just propagates the taboos and shame around it.” 

As a certified B Corporation, Diva International uses its brand as a force for good, says Carinne. As an entrepreneur, she says it’s important to “think about how your business can become a vehicle for contribution and change in the world.”


Hockey legend Cassie Campbell-Pascall opens up about the importance of sport — even during a pandemic.

For Cassie Cambell-Pascall, hockey is more than just a career. She recently spoke with Lisa Ferkul, Director of Hockey Sponsorship at Scotiabank, on the return of the NHL, supporting women’s hockey, and the new documentary she’s featured in, Hockey 24 — highlighting stories of community hockey from across Canada.  


With NHL training camps set to start on July 10, hockey fans are excitedly getting closer to the return of a season that was put on hold nearly four months ago. But to equate Canada’s official national winter sport with just the NHL would be selling it short — it’s more than one league, and to many, it goes far deeper than just armchair entertainment. 

Cassie Campbell-Pascall would certainly agree on both counts. One of the most successful and recognized players in women’s hockey, she won 21 medals with Canada’s National Women’s team, including six golds at the World Championships, and two Olympic gold medals while captain — the only Canadian hockey captain, male or female, to achieve that feat.

Since retiring in 2006, she’s kept her focus on the game — as a broadcaster for Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada (and the first woman to do colour commentary on the show), and a Scotiabank Teammate, acting as an ambassador to the organization. 

She recently checked in with Lisa Ferkul, Director of Hockey Sponsorship at Scotiabank. Over the eight years, they’ve worked together on programs like Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada — where they annually coach side-by-side — Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest, and the Scotiabank Community Hockey Sponsorship Program, their business relationship has developed into a friendship, built on a mutual love of the good ol’ hockey game. 


LF: I know we’re here to talk about hockey, but let me start by asking: how has this pandemic been for you? How have you and your family been coping?

CCP: I would say for the first three weeks, I took advantage of a mandated break that I probably would have never taken for myself. I was just coming into the busiest time of my season, where I was heading off to the Women’s World Championship and then I was going to go straight into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then all of a sudden this hit, and you’re told to stay home. And so for three weeks, I kind of went off the grid — I didn’t do anything on social media, I spent time with my family, got jobs done around the house, and became a homeschool teacher, like every other parent out there that has their kids at home. 

And then you start to think, this is serious, people have lost their lives. I made a list of things I could do. I started a program called #JoinTheMovement, where we just try to get people to get active across the country. I supported Ronald McDonald House in Calgary — I’m an ambassador for RMHC — by buying meals with my family. I’ve had my great days and I’ve had my really hard days, where you’re scared and you wonder, is life going to ever be normal again?


LF: Yeah, the biggest thing for me is keeping perspective. I feel lucky that no one in my immediate circle has been severely impacted by the virus. And I’m very fortunate to work for Scotiabank — the bank has been extremely supportive of its employees. I wasn’t travelling as much as you were for work, but I had a pretty busy professional and social calendar, so I’ve been finding that this has been a time to slow down as well. But I do miss going to hockey games.   

CCP: Well, we know the NHL is coming back, but there’s so much we still don’t know. I mean, they have a plan that they’ve set out, but it all kind of depends on everything. For me, as a broadcaster, I don’t know whether I’ll be live at the venue, or broadcasting from a studio in Toronto, or from home here in Calgary. 

The one thing I can say for sure is we want the teams to play for the Stanley Cup. I believe hockey, and sport in general, can really help people get through this. I’m hoping it comes back sooner than later. 


LF: I totally agree. Hockey matters to Canadians. And by that, I mean hockey right down to the community level, right down to the kids starting out. You were seven when you first started playing, right?

CCP: Yes, and when I started, I think like so many young girls of my generation, it was because I had an older brother who played, and I wanted to be just like him. There wasn’t a girls’ league or minor women’s hockey at the time. I’d go to the rink and I’d be playing mini-stick hockey in the corner with some tape balls and all the other siblings. Finally, I just said to my parents, ‘Why can’t I play?’ They were worried about me getting picked on, but they let me play and I loved it so much. 

I loved it so much that I didn’t listen to the people that I heard, loud and clear, say ‘Girls shouldn’t play hockey’ as I walked into the rink. I loved it enough to ignore being made fun of and just kind of store those things in the back of my brain. And when I made my first Olympic team, those things kind of came out, like, that’s kind of funny you said that. 

You’re a lot younger than me, but I know you played hockey growing up, and you still probably were told that as a girl you shouldn’t play. 


LF: Yeah, I don’t know about a lot younger, but I did have the opportunity to play girls’ hockey, whereas when you started out you were playing with the boys and there weren’t many women hockey players to look up to. Fortunately, that’s changed. 

CCP: I think it’s been so important that people like you are in positions of strength at organizations like Scotiabank, because you fight for us behind the scenes, and fight to make women’s hockey just as much a part of the branding and marketing plans. I think that’s what has changed. 


“And I think for me, I get to sit in NHL arenas all the time, and call NHL games, and I’ve played at the highest level of women’s hockey, and sometimes you just forget about what hockey is really about — which is our kids.”


LF: Well, at Scotiabank we really believe that hockey is for everybody, and that we need to do our part to make it inclusive to everyone — which is such a great segue into Scotiabank’s Hockey 24. This documentary that we put together — with help from award-winning filmmakers, Scotiabank Teammates like you, and a lot of Canadians — is really about how community hockey in Canada isn’t just one story, it’s millions of stories. 

CCP: It’s such an important message, and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it. The day it was all filmed on, November 17, is my daughter’s birthday, and we were participating in the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest here in Calgary, and she was there with all her current teammates from this year and a bunch from last year, and she was just so excited. 

And I think for me, I get to sit in NHL arenas all the time, and call NHL games, and I’ve played at the highest level of women’s hockey, and sometimes you just forget about what hockey is really about — which is our kids. And it’s not only about trying to make some great players, but I think you want to try and make them great people, and this documentary really showed that hockey has the power to do that. 


LF: I don’t know if you know the background, but originally Hockey 24 was set to premiere during Hot Docs, an international documentary film festival here in Toronto. And when isolation was imposed and the live festival was cancelled, we called our friends at Sportsnet to release it on broadcast on May 24 — in the middle of a pandemic, in the absence of the game we love on the ice. 

CCP: Well, I think when it was released, I think people needed it. People needed to share in these messages of adversity and how people overcame them through hockey. Those were the stories that I was looking forward to seeing, which don’t often get told. And I think with Hockey 24, to have those grassroots stories told by Canadians and produced by Canadians — I mean, it’s something that’s never been done before, so I was definitely excited to be part of it that day, and then to see the final product.  


LF: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. There were so many inspiring stories — like the stories of Nicole, or Ainslie — that really conveyed how hockey is more than just a sport. 

CCP: And I’ve seen that in the other work I do with Scotiabank’s hockey initiatives. About a half-dozen times, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the kids I taught at Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest back when it started, 15 years ago, who are now coming back as an instructor for the program. 

That’s really powerful to me because that means she’s come through Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest as a six or seven year old, she’s found a love of the game, she saw a role model in someone who played on the national team or at a high level, and she just kept loving this game. Right through those teenage years when it gets tough, right through those years when you’re going off to university and you have no idea what you’re going to do and no idea what you’re going to take, but you know you’re going to play hockey — and it kind of grounds you through that. And then you’re back at this program that helped influence you at a young age, and I find that cycle very powerful. I know we lose a lot of girls at the age of 12 to 14 in sport for a variety of reasons. And so to see that evolution of a young player, to have met her a long time ago and then see her again and who she’s become as a person, who she’s become as a leader, those are some powerful moments. That’s when you realize you’ve had an impact, you’ve made a difference. 

That’s why, with Scotiabank, to support the women’s game as much as you have behind the scenes, I can’t even thank you enough. The impact that this company has had on women’s hockey is second to nobody. I know it sounds corporate and cliché, but it’s true — I’ve worked with a lot of different companies over the years where I’m there as the token woman, and I’ve never been made to feel like that here. So I just want to thank you for being you, and for pushing things behind the scenes, and for being a great friend.


LF: Well I’m going to echo the same sentiment. Thank you for being a Teammate, confidante, and such a dear friend.

Meet Monique Peats, clinician and co-founder of an award-winning health tech

Monique Peats has always had a passion for helping people, and her resume proves it; she’s an awarded clinician, entrepreneur, co-author, international presenter and health tech innovator. Recognizing the challenge of stigma, shame and accessibility had long plagued those seeking support, she co-founded Life Recovery Program (LRP): Inward Strong — an award-winning, simple and practical online program for people coping with addiction, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues. Based in Waterloo, she also maintains a private psychotherapy practice. 


My first job ever was… delivering a small local paper, the Waterloo Chronicle, at the age of 12,  as well as babysitting. I remember a neighbour hired me to look after her 3-month-old, and I knew nothing about babies. I laugh now, because I have no idea what she was thinking when she decided to leave her newborn with a 12-year-old (it may have had something to do with the fact that I lived two doors down and my mom was at home during the day so able to help at any time). Upon reflection, that’s who I am — curious and open — so even if I don’t fully know how to do something, I’ll try my best and allow myself to experience what often ends up being a growth-full moment. 

I decided to go into psychotherapy because… I simply wanted to help people, to try to make a difference. This desire to help people was quite strong even at a young age.  I tossed around several possibilities: lawyer, doctor, pastor, teacher, then clinician. During my studies at a private college, I stumbled on “systems thinking” and family therapy and became intrigued, and my passion and desire to help individuals and families navigate life evolved from there.  

My proudest accomplishment is… I’m extremely proud of my ability to be present and in the moment, even when it’s scary or painful. My dad passed away unexpectedly on May 21, 2020, and a few days later, I found a letter I wrote to him several years ago for Father’s Day expressing how amazing he was and how much I love him. Being present and in the moment causes me to give freely, express, share and process my thoughts and feelings without hindrances. We’ve all been impacted by the pandemic and the residual painful impact spotlighted in the media of injustice, inequality, disparity, pain and grief — and yet, I choose to feel it all, including the joy and gratitude of the gift of my life and all that it entails.  

I navigate my challenges by… As an entrepreneur, founder of an awarded online wellness program, who also juggles a private practice, being authentic with myself and others is imperative. I believe this perspective enables me to navigate some of the most challenging times and experiences both personally and professionally. It’s not always easy, yet authenticity of self enables me to acknowledge, reset, move through and adjust accordingly. 

My boldest move to date was… choosing to leave a salaried, secure job to work for myself as a clinician in private practice, to fully lean into my desire to be present with hurting people as they navigate some of life’s toughest journeys, and to take the leap to become a founder of a company that addresses the most stigmatized issues, mental health and addiction/behavioural.  Our company has experienced stigma because of the issues we’re trying to help resolve, yet it’s worth the bold effort because people are receiving help, one by one.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I co-hosted a late-night talk show and sang back-up for a friend who was a guest on City TV.

My partner and I started an online wellness program because… we both have clinical backgrounds and recognized that there aren’t enough qualified people to help all of the hurting souls who deserve access to mental health and behavioural health resources. We were saddened by the many stories and stats of people losing hope, suicides, broken relationships, and that so many experience blocks to access.


“Don’t lose your passion, don’t forget why you decided to do it in the first place, rest, laugh and have fun.”


My best advice to people starting out as an entrepreneur is… don’t lose your passion, don’t forget why you decided to do it in the first place, rest, laugh and have fun — if you believe and have passion, surround yourself with people who balance out your skills, focus on gratitude and choose to not take it personally, you’ll experience the satisfaction of knowing that you made a difference, whatever that means to you.

My biggest setback… occurred a few years ago when we finally received funding, had an amazing new team member, and focused on what seemed to be the right vertical to target our sales. Everything seemed so promising, we predicted the best financial targets to date, based on all of the opportunities and positive leads. Then it all fell apart — our targeted ‘perfect’ vertical that all of the market research validated had high need, high stigma (both mental health/addiction/behavioural issues etc..) and high desire for our self-directed anonymous solution, ended up having a low response to technology, meaning they weren’t open to utilizing an online solution. We were gutted. The role of stigma and shame was not accounted for in the market research. On top of it all, a key member of our team experienced a personal trauma.  The ripple effect was that we had to cut back and go back to a skeleton team. It was a devastating blow and we were all exhausted.

I overcame it by… choosing to not lose hope, resiliently recharge, refocus and rebuild. Remembering why we started all this, which is our desire to help meet a need that continues to devastate lives and families, has enabled us to focus on new verticals and opportunities that expanded our vision. We are now exploring opportunities in both Canada and the US.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… maintain a healthy balance consistently and rest to recharge. The only time I take a break and experience true reconnection with myself is when my husband ‘forces’ me to book a holiday someplace far away, which often involves hiking a mountain, exploring a new country or city.  Rather a tricky undertaking during a pandemic. I juggle my private practice, our company, and a personal life, which means that I am tired and exhausted a lot of the time — yet I love what I do and I am so grateful for it all and the amazing impact our online Inward Strong program is having on the lives of so many. I am a passionate person by nature, yet my goal is to be more passionate or compassionate towards myself, be more attentive and more mindful to notice when I need a break — so that I can chat with friends, read a book, take a course or whatever it may be that sparks my curiosity. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend time with friends and family, and then complete the four workshops and courses that are waiting in my inbox before they expire.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I took a course in hang gliding, sat on various boards, use to be involved in church ministry, sang in several vocal groups, performed in numerous musicals as well as performed and travelled as a soloist in a variety of venues across Canada and the US, and co-chaired and co-hosted the first Bell “Let’s Talk” event in the Waterloo region.

I stay inspired by… holding on to hope and faith. I know that there is a need, I know we have an awesome solution, and many have shared the power of our program and how it has made a positive difference in their lives. Inward Strong works — sometimes it’s easy to forget when you’re in the trenches that it really does work! — and for that I am grateful.

The future excites me because… Covid-19 has caused the tide to change in so many ways, and I believe the diversity that is now being highlighted across the board will become the new complexion of our world, it will become the norm rather than the novelty, at least that is my hope. 

My next step is… to choose to stand in hope for a better future for all of us, that diversity on all counts will become the new normal and to become a stronger voice that leads others towards hope, help and healing in whatever way I can, including and especially through our online resource.

25 Women to Watch: Succeeding in a COVID World

Canada51 was launched in 2020, with a mandate to grow into a collective of organizations, and individuals unlocking capital to invest inclusively in women-entrepreneurs and women-led companies. As a first step, we have convened our first Canada51 Capital Council. We have partnered with Women of Influence to amplify the stories of these women and their companies, and over the next few weeks you can learn more about them as part of the Women of Influence What Now series.


by Danielle Graham 


2020 has been a year of disruption and change. We are living through the first pandemic of our lifetimes; Millennial’s second financial crisis and the inequalities of our systems are more exposed than ever. Amidst the chaos, there is also an opportunity to break things down and rebuild, to expose what wasn’t working and find solutions to make it better.

Even while facing less access to capital, struggles in the start-up phase and outdated prejudices about women in leadership, women’s entrepreneurship is accelerating within Canada and beyond. In the spirit of collaboration and like-minded missions, Sandpiper Ventures from the east coast and The51 from the west, have come together to launch a new, national partnership to unlock capital and invest in women-led startups across Canada.

The result of our combined knowledge and shared networks is called Canada51.  This inclusive network is intended to grow to include all key organisations and people across Canada who see this as a social mandate and financial and economic opportunity.  Canada51 is committed to increase the participation of women as investors and business leaders and amplify the success of women tech entrepreneurs. 

Within Canada’s technology sector, only 25% of the 4,000 angel and seed-funded software companies have raised enough capital to see them through to the end of 2020. Entrepreneurs are now prioritizing survival by reducing burn and/or production costs. The devastating impact of mothballing exciting growth opportunities and reducing overhead became evident when Statistics Canada reported the second-highest unemployment rate on record at 12% with over 2.4 million Canadians filing employment insurance claims. 

If businesses don’t make it out of this crisis, not only will the impact on the lives of these entrepreneurs and their employees be devastating, the economic engine of this country will cease to exist. Subsequently, Canada’s burgeoning technology ecosystem, one that was just starting to make strides in enabling diverse founders, will become a shell of its former self, with the effort of many over the previous decade amounting to nothing. The silver lining is that COVID-19 is paving the way for a new, higher-tech future, with the potential for faster technology adoption at all levels of society. 

Recognizing that the innovation engine is what keeps our economy running during this crisis, we have been continually inspired by how entrepreneurs have stepped up and built critical solutions in the fight against COVID-19. Within the tech startup ecosystem specifically, we have had countless conversations with founders from coast to coast who are positioning themselves to weather this storm. 

Canada 51’s COVID-specific response is one of the first of many collaborations to amplify women entrepreneurs nationally. We are all investors focused on women founders, and these are founders we’ve known over the years from our programs, community engagement and portfolios. They are forward-thinking and performing exceptionally well even in such challenging times because their tech solutions are exactly what’s needed for our future economy.

These founders are examples of the resilience, strength and leadership our communities need. Below they share their perspectives on the future, and the lessons they are from COVID-19 as we collectively pivot. 

  1. Drones

Alex McCalla, COO & Co-founder of AirMatrix

AirMatrix helps cities and enterprises prepare for, manage and enable drone operations by building millimetre-precise drone roads for dense urban environments. Learn how AirMatrix is helping high-density cities create safe, scalable and efficient transportation systems here.

  1. Fake News

Harleen Kaur, CEO & Co-founder of Ground News

Ground News is the world’s first ‘News Comparison Platform’ aggregating news from 50,000+ publications globally, across the political spectrum. Learn how Ground News provides consumers with deeper coverage analysis to address the problems of misinformation, political bias and sensationalism here.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

Erin Kelly, CEO of Advanced Symbolics

Advanced Symbolics is a market research leader, with Polly, its proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. Learn how Advanced Symbolics helps businesses and governments better understand their audiences here

  1. Artificial Intelligence  

Donna Litt, COO & Co-founder of Kiite

Kiite, a leading provider of AI solutions for sales, helps sales teams capture, organize and share their documented and tribal knowledge. Learn how their tech sales training program, operating as Uvaro, equips recruits to pursue or grow their careers in tech sales here.

  1. Cybersecurity

Anne Genge, CEO & CO-founder of Alexio Corporation

Alexio Corporation is an award-winning CyberRisk prevention software and training company for healthcare practices and other small to medium-sized businesses. Learn how Alexio specializes in delivering enterprise-class cyber-security to smaller networks here.

  1. Digital Health

Kristal Lewis, Founder & CEO at Senior Care Connect

Senior Care Connect offers a web platform that easily connects those seeking a caregiver with caregivers offering services for hire. Learn how Senior Care Connect is giving families peace of mind and reducing the cost of care delivered here.

  1. Education

Julia Rivard Dexter, Co-Founder & CEO of Squiggle Park

Squiggle Park, one of the fastest-growing EdTech games of 2018, uses a scientifically backed reading methodology for Pre K-2 students to accelerate mastery of skills development in phonemes, phonemic awareness, word work, spelling and more. Learn how Squiggle Park helps students master the skills required to become a strong reader here.

  1. The Gig Economy / Remote Work

Bobbie Racette, CEO & Founder of Virtual Gurus

The Virtual Gurus is a Talent-as-a-Service (TaaS) platform that matches businesses and entrepreneurs with onshore, Canadian and US-based virtual assistants using a proprietary algorithm. Learn how The Virtual Gurus provides an inclusive, cost-effective solution here.

  1. Utilities

Elaine Kelly, COO & Co-founder, Klir

Klir’s integrated water regulatory compliance platform helps water utilities manage their compliance and regulation more effectively. Learn how Klir is helping make water safer here.

  1. Mobile Apps / Artificial Intelligence

Eyra Abraham, CEO & Founder of Lisnen

Lisnen is a mobile application that provides safety and situational awareness to people with hearing loss using AI. Learn how Lisnen is making life easier and safer for the deaf and hard of hearing here.

  1. Financial Services 

Marina Mann, CEO & Co-founder of EatSleepRIDE

EatSleepRIDE Motorcycle GPS® (ESR) is a social, tracking and safety platform for motorcycle riders, with its smartphone technology using mobility tools coupled with AI to improve safety and reduce motorcycle-related injury. Learn how Eat Sleep Ride Mobile is powering new kinds of insurance and making motorcycles more accessible and safer here.

  1. Digital Health

Huda Idrees, Founder & CEO at Dot Health

Dot Health is a mobile platform for the secure retrieval and storage of Canadians’ medical records from any healthcare provider. Learn how Dot Health is connecting the world’s healthcare information here.

  1. Virtual Reality

Nicole McLean, Co-founder of Instage

InStage makes VR speaking experiences, combining believable VR experience with useful analytics. Learn how InStage is increasing the speed that speaking skills and content are learned here.

  1. Delivery Services

Ugochi Owo, CEO of Flindel

Flindel is leading returns solution for online merchants globally with a focus on automating commerce returns. Learn how Flindel is empowering retailers to thrive by optimizing returns here.

  1. Digital Health 

Alexandra Greenhill, Founder, CEO & Chief Medical Officer of Careteam

Careteam Technologies is a cloud-based, AI-enabled digital collaboration and communication platform that enables care planning, patient engagement and offers a set of tools that integrate with other technologies. Learn how Careteam Technologies is helping clinicians collaborate, adapt, coordinate and accelerate their move towards patient-centred care here.

  1. Biotechnology

Bethany Deshpande, CEO of SomaDetect

SomaDetect is an agricultural technology company connecting dairy farmers with the milk-quality indicators most relevant for the management of their production. Learn how SomaDetect is enabling dairy farmers to identify problems early and produce the best possible milk here.

  1. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

Farah Brunache, CEO & Founder of Lagatos

Lagatos empowers digital underserved communities by helping run hyper-localized and accessible IaaS platforms. Learn how Lagatos is addressing the growing digital divide here.

  1. Accessibility

Maayan Ziv, CEO & Founder of AccessNow

AccessNow is a mobile app and web platform focused on connecting people to accessible experiences. Learn how AccessNow is empowering people to search for, rate and discover places and experiences that meet their accessibility needs here.

  1. Identity Tracking

Leanne Bellegarde, CEO of AKAWE Technologies

AKAWE Technologies provides inclusive digital blockchain solutions that embraces diversity through a unified governance process and distributed service model. Learn how AKAWE Technologies is enabling communities, economies, and nations here.

  1. The Sharing Economy

Sarah Selhi, CEO of SpaceiShare

SpaceiShare is a sharing economy platform and that helps property owners manage and monetize their idle spaces. Learn how SpaceiShare is enabling more market transparency and providing renters with affordable space solutions here.

  1. Real Estate 

Monila Joroszonek, CEO & Co-founder of RATIO.CITY

RATIO.CITY provides data-driven insights that can be converted into actionable strategies for cities. Learn more about how RATIO.CITY is helping build better, more livable cities here.

  1. Resource Extraction & Safety

Shelby Yee, CEO & Co-founder of RockMass Technologies

RockMass Technologies is the fastest digital rock mechanics tool for collecting structural orientation data underground. Learn how RockMass Technologies is enabling mines to operate safer and more efficiently through streamlined and digital data collection here.

  1. Music

Laura Simpson, Co-founder of Side Door

Side Door is a platform that matches artists with hosts, builds direct connections and simplifies the show-booking process with easy and transparent digital tools, building communities through the shared experience of art. Learn how Side Door enables artists to monetize their online performances here.

  1. Accessibility

Alwar Pillai, CEO of Fable Tech Labs

Fable Tech Labs has built an online platform that connects researchers, designers and developers with people with disabilities, with the goal of making it easier to create an accessible digital product. Learn how Fable Tech Labs is making it easier for digital teams to engage people with disabilities in product development here.

  1. Personal Care Services

Alicia Soulier, CEO of SalonScale Technology

Launched in 2018, SalonScale Technology has created the world’s first digital colour bar scale for stylists. Learn how SalonScale Technology is providing smart technology solutions and digital tools to help salons succeed here.

In the Canadian tech ecosystem, we have the power of problem-solving and the capacity to build scalable tech-enabled solutions with top-tier talent. I expect to see an increase in the number of technology startups in 2020. Historically, start-up creation spikes post-crisis. Smart, highly capable founders who were let go from corporate roles see this time as an opportunity to “go for it”. Intelligent investors will work hard to find, back and support these entrepreneurs as they look to build the next wave of generation-defining technology startups.

The last few months have a deeper need for these tech solutions and a newfound openness to rapid change that is being readily applied. These founders have not only responded quickly to the crisis, but they were already forward-thinking within their respective sectors, leading the way through the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19. I am hopeful for the continued adoption of these innovative technologies and I know that these startups can play an integral role in the future of tech.

First-hand, I have witnessed the incredible technology being built, some are category leaders and have the potential to change the industries mentioned above for the better. We all are affected by the impact of this crisis and our entire global culture is shifting. These tech founders are ready to lead us into that future.

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham is an Investment Principal and Co-founder of Sandpiper Ventures. She has extensive experience across the angel ecosystem in Ontario, particularly the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor and is a Venture Partner to the Archangel Network of Funds. Danielle has spent her career investing in, amplifying and enabling diverse founders to scale their businesses and succeed.

5 books to help you open your eyes up to realities beyond your own

As a black woman, I feel inspired by the important conversations the world is beginning to have about authentic representation, diversity, and race; but at the same time, I am filled with anguish at the length of time that it has taken, and the price we — black people — have paid to start this much-needed dialogue on and around anti-racism. Over the past few days, I have had many non-black people reaching out to share their support, genuine sentiments of solidarity, and annoyingly — their shock about the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the US, and similar incidents that have been happening to black people around the world for years. That shock stems from privilege — in 2020 there is no room, and no excuse, for not educating yourself on realities beyond those of your own, and I too am challenging myself to know better, be better, and do better. If you are keen to get started on your journey to getting clued up, here are five books to add to your June reading list. In a bid to support, not only BIPOC authors but also enterprise, I encourage anyone interested in these books to buy them from BIPOC or independent bookstores, or your local library.


By Ony Anukem



For multiple perspectives… 

New Daughters of Africa


New Daughters of Africa is the follow up to Margaret Busby’s internationally acclaimed Daughters of Africa, originally published in 1992. Margaret struck gold again with her latest anthology. She brings together fresh and vibrant voices that have become prominent around the world in the past two decades, from Antigua to Zimbabwe and Angola to the United States. Over 200 women writers celebrate in the heritage that unites them; key figures include Margo Jefferson, Nawal El Saadawi, Edwidge Danticat, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinelo Okparanta. Their writing takes many forms: speeches, journalism, poetry, extracts from longer works, and short stories arranged in order of the women’s birth decades — a chronological reminder that African women have been creating art for many centuries. Each piece exhibits an uplifting sense of sisterhood, honouring the strong links that endure from generation to generation, and addresses the common obstacles women writers of colour face as they negotiate issues of race, gender, and class and address vital matters of independence, freedom, and oppression.




For children… 

Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea 


Now more than ever, it’s important to be having conversations and teaching children about diversity and race. Last week, Meena Harris, the niece of former 2020 US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris, released an empowering picture book about two sisters who work with their community to effect change, inspired by a true story from the childhood of her aunt and mother — lawyer and policy expert, Maya Harris. One day, Kamala and Maya have an idea, a very big idea: they would turn their empty apartment courtyard into a playground. This is a story of children’s ability to make a real difference, and about the power of a community coming together to transform their neighbourhood. Wondering how to broach a conversation on diversity and race with little ones? This children book is an excellent start, particularly for children ages four to six.




For insight into the cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples in Canada and beyond… 

All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward


It’s important to realise that in Canada, we cannot bring about meaningful anti-racism reform without addressing the historical and current treatment of Indigenous communities.   Award-winning author Tanya Talaga explores the startling rise of suicide among youth in Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond. From Northern Ontario to Nunavut, Norway, Brazil, Australia, and the United States, the Indigenous experience in colonized nations is startlingly similar and deeply disturbing. As a result of this colonial legacy, too many communities today lack access to the basic determinants of health — income, employment, education, a safe environment, health services — leading to a mental health and youth suicide crisis on a global scale. But, Talaga reminds us, First Peoples also share a history of resistance, resilience, and civil rights activism, from the Occupation of Alcatraz led by the Indians of All Tribes, to the Northern Ontario Stirland Lake Quiet Riot, to the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which united Indigenous Nations from across Turtle Island in solidarity. This book serves as a powerful call for action, justice, and a better, more equitable world for all Indigenous Peoples.




For the untold story of Canada’s involvement in Slavery…

The Hanging of Angelique


When asked where the transatlantic slave trade took place, the first countries that most people would think would be the US, Caribbean, and Latin America. Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angelique completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning 200-year-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery. Afua tells the astonishing story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave woman convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in 1734, and condemned to die a brutal death. In a powerful retelling of Angélique’s story — now supported by archival illustrations — Afua builds on 15 years of research to shed new light on a rebellious Portuguese-born black woman who refused to accept her position as a slave. Afua takes Angélique’s hidden and marginalized story, and places it at the centre of Canadian national consciousness.




For a critique of heteronormative and patriarchal structures…



In telling this story from the perspective of an unnamed, ungendered narrator, Dionne Brand uses Theory to make a bold statement about love and personhood, and the intersectionality of race and gender. The story begins when its narrator sets out, like most graduate students, doe-eyed and naively ambitious about writing a thesis on the past, present, and future of art, culture, race, gender, class, and politics. A transformative body of work, that its author believes will integrate and thereby revolutionize the world. While trying to complete this huge undertaking of a dissertation, three lovers enter the story. Each galvanizing love affair — representing, in turn, the heart, the head, and the spirit — shakes up and changes the narrator’s life and, inescapably, requires an overhaul of the ever larger and more unwieldy dissertation, this book promises to make you laugh, cry, and reflect.

How one employee’s story inspired Scotiabank to enhance their benefits plan for everyone.

When Eileen Bonetti saw her child struggling, she knew she had to do something to help. 

Eileen’s daughter, Ashley, was assigned male at birth. In 2016, at the age of 22, Ashley came out as transgender. 

“But what we realized was that Ashley coming out was just the tip of the iceberg,” says Eileen, Director, Country Relationship, Chile, International Banking at Scotiabank. “Underneath, there was a lot of pain and anxiety, which led to severe depression.” 

It’s well-documented that transgender youth face increased mental health challenges. A 2017 study by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) found that transgender youth had a higher risk of reporting psychological distress, self-harm, major depressive episodes, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. The 2015 Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey found that 1 in 3 trans youth had attempted suicide in the past year. 

Seeing the pain that her daughter was in, Eileen was overwhelmed with worry. 

“Being a parent of a child who struggles with depression is really paralyzing,” she says. “You don’t know what to do.”  

To get some help for Ashley, Eileen looked to her employee benefits plan to fund therapy sessions. Ashley began therapy and was covered up to her twenty-fourth birthday, but after that, she was no longer eligible. After a call to her insurance company, Eileen discovered that her benefits only cover dependents for mental-health support if they are under twenty-five years of age and studying full-time. It was a heavy blow.

“I had all these benefits, but I couldn’t use them for the person in my family who really needed it,” she says.

Eileen reached out to her Scotiabank manager and he suggested she connect with Scotiabank’s Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG) for advice. Their mission is to help create an inclusive and supportive environment for LGBT+ employees, customers, their allies and friends. Eileen attended a meeting of the ERG to share her story.

“I remember that day. They all hugged me and they said, ‘You’re in the right place. We are going to work with you on this,’” Eileen says. “I felt very secure and very supported.”

The group asked Eileen to share her story and perspective as an LGBT+ parent through a series of panel discussions they were organizing throughout 2019. Through these panels, Eileen was able to relay the roadblock she encountered in trying to use her benefits for Ashley’s therapy. 

Ayman Alvi, Director, Global Benefits, Scotiabank Total Rewards, was in the audience for one of Eileen’s talks, with other members of his team. Ayman says the issue she raised resonated with them.

“We are always incorporating employee feedback, and the experience Eileen shared was a powerful one,” Ayman says. “We want to provide flexibility in our benefits to try to meet a wide variety of needs, and this seemed to be a gap.”

Ayman says the team reached out to their benefits provider to understand how they could expand eligibility for their employees’ mental health benefits. They were told the federal Income Tax Act does not allow for increasing the age of children who can be covered by benefits (Scotiabank pays up to $3,000 per year, for a variety of mental health professionals) — so those benefits could not be changed. 


“People think, I’m not going to say anything because nothing will happen. Or, I’m afraid to ask. And you know what? Things happen. You just need to speak up and ask.”


Undeterred, they found another way to address the gap. Scotiabank already offered a Wellbeing Account where employees could allocate benefit dollars towards mental health-related expenses. So the team updated that policy to allow for reimbursements for mental health-related expenses for any family members, such as adult children, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.

“We assume that there are many in the bank who may be dealing with similar concerns, whether it be an adult child, an elderly parent for whom an employee has caregiving responsibilities, or another family member who needs support,” Ayman says. “We believe this is an important and valuable resource to provide our employees and therefore the right thing to do.”

The changes came into effect earlier this year. When Eileen found out, she was relieved and grateful that she would be able to access funds from the Wellbeing Account to pay for Ashley’s therapy.  

“I thought, Oh my God, this is really life-changing,” she says. “I wrote an email to HR to say thank you and that I appreciate the bank for listening. Being listened to — that’s really touching.”

Eileen says Ashley is now doing well. She’s “building up her confidence,” working part-time and engaging with a writing coach to write a book. “The therapy has made a difference,” Eileen adds. 

June is Pride Month and at Scotiabank, the company works to raise awareness for the inclusion of LGBT+ communities and build futures that are free of discrimination, where LGBT+ people feel safe and open to be their true selves. In 2019, Scotiabank was the first Canadian bank to sign the UN Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business to strengthen its work around human rights and in promoting equality for LGBT+ people.

For Eileen, Pride means visibility in the community. That’s why it’s important for LGBT+ people, their parents, and other allies to share their stories to open up hearts and minds.

“I think that listening to these personal stories can really make a difference. That’s when it clicks. There are so many stories out there and one will resonate with you and then you will be an ally with passion,” she says.

Through this experience, Eileen says she has learned a lot about herself. 

“What I learned is that I’m stronger than I thought I was. As parents of LGBT+ children, we come out too. If I didn’t take part in that panel discussion at the bank, nobody would know. It’s a step for me too to say, ‘I’m the parent of a trans kid.’ So you find out how courageous you are,” she says. “I also learned that unconditional love is very empowering — that is what empowered me to fight for a good cause.”

Eileen says she’s also learned that the actions of one person can make a big difference. She encourages others to speak up in the workplace if they see something they think should be changed. 

“People think, I’m not going to say anything because nothing will happen. Or, I’m afraid to ask,” she says. “And you know what? Things happen. You just need to speak up and ask.”

Sarah Jordan on how she became CEO of Mastermind Toys in January — and how she has transformed and inspired the retailer since.

By Hailey Eisen 


Within the first 100 days of becoming CEO of Mastermind Toys — Canada’s largest speciality toy and children’s book retailer, with 69 stores across the country and online — Sarah Jordan faced store closures, work-from-home protocols and other unprecedented ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It was certainly an untraditional way of starting out as a CEO of a retailer,” says Sarah, who stepped into the role in January. “This is going to be an experience that will be a defining one for leadership, at least in my lifetime.”

While Sarah says her first priority was (and still is) the wellbeing of her employees and customers, she’s embraced the opportunity to lead the company through the transformation that she committed to deliver. She passionately believes that employee experience drives customer experience — and has empowered her team to keep Mastermind special, to be bold and scrappy and to come out of this stronger together.

Digital transformation is among Sarah’s top priorities. From increasing Mastermind Toys’ social media presence (hosting daily storytime readings and weekly virtual birthday parties), to improving digital capabilities and online shopping, to expanding upon the sense of wonder for shoppers online and in-store, Sarah is taking the Canadian retailer to the next level.  

There’s no doubt Sarah is taking things in stride. “This experience has lent itself to my strengths, giving me the chance to rally the organization to get behind and believe in my vision for the future.” One of her strengths is building a diverse, powerhouse team. She has proudly reshaped the leadership team to include balanced gender representation.

In order to ensure success in the best of circumstances, but especially in trying times, Sarah says a clear vision and strategy with constant communication is critical. With Mastermind’s signature wrapping paper adorning her Zoom background, Sarah is hosting virtual coffee chats, company-wide town hall meetings, and more intimate conversations with employees, all with the intention of building momentum, celebrating successes, and managing with a clear focus. She is also passionate about bringing the philosophy of Mastermind Toys to life — Play Is Kids’ Work — and has been leaning on that founding principle in making decisions. “I’m reminded through this time that play plants a tiny seed of curiosity in a child’s mind that grows into knowledge that lasts a lifetime,” she says in one of her emails to Mastermind customers as they navigated closures, curbside pick-up, and reopenings.

“At Mastermind Toys, we know that play is a central and critical part of kids’ lives. We want to inspire imagination, wonder, education and development, and empower Canadian families to help their kids become lifelong learners,” she says. That mandate couldn’t be more timely given that, due to COVID-19, schools closed early this year and children have had to learn in new and different ways at home.

With her own two kids taking on the unofficial role of Mastermind toy testers, Sarah is able to bring work home in a way she couldn’t in previous roles. She’s also aware that as a 38-year-old mom, she’s in the minority among retail industry leaders — very few store chains in Canada are run by women. “I’m motivated and excited to show that leadership comes in a variety of forms.” 

Sarah has always felt comfortable doing things her own way — she affectionately credits her parents for instilling that “can-do” attitude. In university, she studied engineering chemistry. Growing up she loved math and science. Upon graduation, she took a job in consulting with Accenture. At 24, she enrolled in the MBA program at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. “Yes, I was the youngest in my MBA class, but I never focused on that,” she recalls. “I really liked the business world and wanted to build that foundational skillset — to up my game.” 

Through the MBA program, Sarah was able to successfully transition to a business management career. A key element was learning different leadership styles through the school’s team-based approach. “It gave me a chance to reflect upon what type of leader I wanted to be and to learn from others in a safe space.” 


“Be unapologetically authentic; don’t feel the need to adopt a classic or traditional style of leadership. Leading through difficult times is certainly easier when you’re doing what you love.” 


Sarah’s academic journey came full circle when she started as a lecturer with the Smith MBA program last year. “I’m passionate about making sure more young women see leaders that they can see themselves in, both in educational and business settings.” 

Even without having that advantage herself, Sarah stepped into the role of CEO at Mastermind with confidence — succeeding the company’s co-founder, Jon Levy, who’d been at the company’s helm since 1984. That self-assurance came in part from the years of experience she had tackling retail and banking transformation as a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where she worked with Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, boards, and a host of stakeholders, driving change from the outside. She left BCG in 2017 to join Scotiabank with the desire to focus on transformation from the inside. “I transitioned from a consultant to an operator and leader with an agenda for innovation and value creation,” she recalls. 

Ready for another career leap and excited to get back into the retail space, where her true passion lies, she joined Mastermind Toys. She credits what she calls her “personal board of directors” for helping her step up. “Mentorship and sponsorship from my personal board have provided the compass for my success,” she says.

When advising others on how to create their own personal boards, Sarah suggests recruiting people who will cheer you on, provide advice, give tough love when needed, hold you accountable and remind you to celebrate along your journey. Ideally, your board will have a variety of perspectives and will include managers, coaches, professors, sponsors, mentors and peers who have grown up alongside you in your career. Sarah’s board also happens to include her spouse, whom she met while doing her MBA. 

When asked to share other tips for young leaders, Sarah says “be unapologetically authentic; don’t feel the need to adopt a classic or traditional style of leadership.” And play to your passions. “Leading through difficult times is certainly easier when you’re doing what you love.” 

Looking ahead to the next few months, Sarah is optimistic that Mastermind will come out of the pandemic crisis stronger and ready to embrace “the next normal.”

“As a retailer that focuses on multi-generational customers — grandparents, expecting mothers, kids and kids at heart — we plan to lead the way in terms of providing innovative experiences that have wonder and delight around every corner while keeping health and safety paramount,” she says. “We have reimagined our experiences. Our customers can now choose their own adventure — in-store, online and curbside — and we will continue to provide new and flexible ways of shopping while managing the complexity that lies ahead.”  

Good question: How can I come across more professionally in virtual meetings? Liz West shares her advice.


“My calendar has quickly filled up with virtual meetings. While I’m getting used to the technology (hello, mute button!) and trying to present myself well (goodbye, pajamas!), I still don’t feel like I’m giving off a professional vibe — definitely not like what I’m used to with in-person connections. Any advice for upping my virtual game?”




Liz West
Emcee/Moderator & Video/Media/Speaker Coach

Liz West is a seasoned television personality who has reported, anchored and hosted for five networks across Canada including CTV, CityTV and W Network. She is a sought-after emcee and moderator for live and virtual events and is co-author of Scratch Your Buts – Seven Words that Get in the Way, a guide to becoming a better communicator. A former Presentation Skills Instructor at Centennial College and experienced media trainer, Liz works with individuals and teams who want to be their best at the podium, on camera, and in the boardroom.



So, you’ve suddenly found yourself faced with having to sit in your home office and be your professional self “on camera” — all the while you are surrounded by your laundry, screaming kids, and your cat is wrapped around your foot. The good news is that for video calls, you really only need to worry about what the camera sees, not what it DOESN’T see. There are several simple steps you can take to set yourself up for success by looking and feeling more professional in Virtual Meetings.

Here are my top 3 Virtual Presentation Must Do’s:

1. Make eye contact.

Nobody walks into a meeting and sits on the floor while everyone sits in a chair, so why are you looking down during a virtual call? It’s not so much that nobody looks good from that angle (although that is a fact), it’s more about maintaining the natural eye-to-eye contact that we use in all aspects of our non-virtual life. Talking eye-to-eye creates an understood equality, which opens up a conversation to having the best possible outcome.

To fix the “up your nose” shot in your new virtual office, grab some books, a shoebox, or anything that is flat and solid and lifts your device six inches or so off your desk surface. If you are feeling really confident, let yourself look at your camera lens so that you even appear to be talking to your guest. Raising your eye level to a natural height will really help connect you to the participants of a video chat.

2. Pay attention to lighting.

How many times have you been on a video call and you can’t really see one of the people on your screen because it’s too dark? You wouldn’t have a meeting at your downtown office in the dark, and the same rules apply during a video conference. To fix this problem you need light. Any light. Ideally, sit with your face towards a window, because natural light is ideal. Do NOT have your back to a window or your side to a window. If you don’t have a window, then face a simple table lamp or standing lamp, so that you are well lit. Light is a woman’s best friend when it comes to video.

3. Get into prime position.

Remember that your “shot” is quite small, so you want to fill most of it. Having a little head at the bottom of the screen while we all admire your stucco ceiling or Royal Daulton collection is just plain distracting. Position your camera so that your head and shoulders take up most of the frame. And sit-up straight, so that your body is in an active position. The added energy you use to do this will help you stay engaged in what can be a very disconnected environment.

By upping your virtual game, on those video calls you will look and feel more like the professional you are, and can take a deep breath and forget about the laundry, your kids, and the cat (for a while).



Q&A: How Linh Truong is adapting to a new normal.

Linh Truong is the innovative founder of The Soap Dispensary, Vancouver’s first dedicated refill shop specializing in premium soaps, household cleaners, personal care products, DIY ingredients and grocery supplies. Considered an essential service, she has been able to keep doors open over the last few months but has had to drastically adjust operations to adapt to a new environment. She’s sharing how she’s successfully incorporating new virtual and delivery solutions and most importantly, continuing to service her customers with the products they need most.


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

My shop has remained open throughout this pandemic but our normal operations have been thrown out the window. Adaptation and new systems development and implementation (and doing it safely) have consumed all my attention. We have had to transform into another business in a way and join the ranks of many brick and mortar shops to adapt to an online market. 

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve? 

In a broad sense, I am trying to maintain the essence of what we did well before COVID; what made us unique and important in our customer’s lives and translating that in our new operations. My business tries to resolve the issue of how to help our community reduce waste in the simplest and most impactful way. So as my shop works around the restrictions and guidelines set by our local authorities, we are trying to uphold an important message in our community that even in a pandemic, we can still minimize waste and support our customers in the long term vision of the future we want. 

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Like many businesses around us, pivoting to an online platform has been a win for us and our customers. Our foot traffic has been reduced to a trickle but once we opened online, sales recovered quickly and allowed us to retain our team and maintain support for our suppliers. Our customers were grateful to be able to stay at home while still being able to explore our offerings online. 

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

I hope that by remaining open, we are not only a place to get essentials but we are also a little sanctuary for our customers to stay in touch with things that they care about beyond the fears and lockdown. I also feel that mine and all the little independent shops that have been able to stay open on otherwise deserted streets early in the pandemic keep our neighbourhood colourful and interactive and independent. We are available to our customers physically and virtually. Social media is also a great point of connection with customers 

As for my team, we have a morning meeting every day to stay in touch with what’s going on. I am very involved in my shop and I am in the shop every day. I make myself available to my staff if they need me. I think it has also been nice for those who choose to work during COVID to have a place to feel productive and see their coworkers and friends. With social distancing, the team has become the only other social circle they can share space with. 

What financial resources are you tapping into? 

I must admit I have not had time to look into if I qualify for financial support. I am grateful to my accountant for sending me info and I have plans to apply for the emergency loan from the Federal govt and cement some of our changes into permanent facets of the shop, such as a webstore upgrade. There are also lots to upgrade in our shop and delivery vehicle. A business can always improve. 


“I never see a problem as a problem. I see them as challenges; as an opportunity to tap into creative thinking; as a learning experience.”


What has surprised you? 

The resilience of my team. They came to work during the scariest and darkest hours during the pandemic. They were scared but they still showed up – to serve customers, to help me, to support each other. I am eternally grateful to them. 

How far ahead are you planning? 

I am a nose-to-the-ground kind of entrepreneur. I am very involved in the day-to-day operations which allows me to tweak and improve what we do all the time. My bigger plans are usually 3 – 6 months ahead but in actuality, I set small goals every few days or weeks to get to the bigger ones. 

What keeps you positive? 

I never see a problem as a problem. I see them as challenges; as an opportunity to tap into creative thinking; as a learning experience. I do get thrown off by mistakes or HR issues and financial worries like everyone else but I know things change all the time, and things almost always get better. Entrepreneurs are generally a positive bunch. You need some can-do attitude to want to go off on your own and take a risk! 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

For someone starting out, work hard to learn all about your industry and yourself within it. Then at some point, dive and take some risks. You can’t know how things will go otherwise. This is an advice I admit I am trying to practice myself. Do what you love and get others to help with what you don’t. You don’t have to be an expert at everything. You may worry that getting help is an expense you can’t afford or asking for help is embarrassing but your time is the most valuable asset you have.

Meet Jalee Pelissier: a 20-year-old advocate with Muscular Dystrophy working to make her community better for people with disabilities

20-year-old Sudbury, Ontario native Jalee Pelissier was born with Muscular Dystrophy, a disorder that weakens a person’s muscles over time. Jalee has made it her mission to make a positive change for people with neuromuscular disorders and all disabilities. She is a spokesperson for the Sunshine Foundation of Canada, whose mission is to make dreams come true for kids with severe physical disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. Through her advocacy work, Jalee became an honorary firefighter for the work she has done to raise awareness in her hometown. Her mantra is “dream, strength, balance and fearless” inspired by her role model Tessa Virtue, which she wears inscribed on her ring and bracelet every day.


I first started advocating for people with neuromuscular disorders and other disabilities… when I was about 13 years old. It started by me doing a lot of research trying to find support in my community and I came across Muscular Dystrophy Canada. I then signed up for the walk-in North Bay and had then started making it my goal to raise awareness by being an advocate and doing research and fundraising for MDC. Over the last 5 years, I have raised over 20 thousand dollars. By doing all these things I have received huge honours such as becoming an honorary firefighter, ambassador for Muscular Dystrophy Canada, spokesperson for the Sunshine Foundation of Canada, winning the Craig Nobel independence award, The Sally Spence Award from the Children’s Treatment Centre and the Young Woman of Distinction Award from the YWCA.

I became interested in this work because… it is my passion to advocate for those with special needs. I believe it is important that all places should be barrier-free and inclusion should be automatic and not something that should be fought for.  As someone with a disability, I have faced a lot of barriers and rough patches and I want to put a stop for others in the future. I feel I have turned my disease into something beautiful and used it as a platform to make a difference. 

My proudest accomplishment is…  when the firefighters in my community made me honorary firefighter. I had been going around the station giving presentations on Muscular Dystrophy as that is their charity of choice and I wanted to put a face to the issue and explain how the money they raise will help individuals with neuromuscular disorders. I would tell them a little bit about my story, give them a description of MD and tell them what the mission of MDC is and where that money is going and how it helps. By the 3rd presentation, they made me an honorary firefighter and it was a huge honour.

My boldest move to date was… as a little girl, I was so shy and couldn’t talk to people or look people in the eye. Then a few years later I got up on stage in front of hundreds of people to share my story and that’s when everything changed and where it all started with my public speaking. It was completely out of my comfort zone but now it is my passion 

The next thing I would like to accomplish is… to continue my work on being an advocate for people with disabilities. I would love to continue my public speaking but not only in my hometown, but I would also love to start travelling in order to fulfil my quest and continue raising awareness for all disabilities.   

I surprise people when I tell them… that my life doesn’t suck, that it’s okay that I have Charcot Marie tooth, I live a full life that it doesn’t define me and I’m happy. I don’t let it drag me down. I can do anything anyone does, but I may just have to do it a little differently.

My best advice to others who like to become advocates in this area is… there are no limits. Always take the opportunity to share information and to educate others. Let your story be heard.


“I tell everyone to dream big and that dreams do come true. You will get through anything and you can have challenges but still live an incredible life.”


The person I look up to is… it’s hard to choose just one person, but I will give you three. Number one is my mom, I hope to grow up and be just like her. She is my inspiration and my guardian angel. Without her, it would’ve been a lot harder to overcome all my obstacles, but we jump over the hurdles together. My family means the world to me my dad and older brothers are like my best friends and we share everything together.  Second, he doesn’t know it but Niall Horan has helped me a lot through my journey and his music means everything to me. I had the privileged to meet him and he was the nicest person in the world. Lastly, Tessa Virtue is the perfect example of a woman of influence. I wear her ring every day with the words engraved “dream, strength, balance and fearless” and I live by those words. She has accomplished so many incredible things in her life, not only by winning the Olympics but by being an inspiration to women everywhere. 

The best advice I’ve been given is… never give up on your dreams because they will come true. No dream is ever too big. Never stop dreaming. 

My biggest setback was… when I had surgery every year in my 4 years of high school. It was tough as I missed a lot of school by going back and forth to Ottawa to see my specialist when I’m from Sudbury. Loads of travelling and seeing doctors while trying to heal. I had 3 full reconstructive surgeries on my feet and a hardware removal during my 4 years. 

I overcame it by… working hard and having the support from my family. I stayed positive and not only worked hard on my schoolwork, but also working hard to recover. I kept my spirits high and pushed myself to accomplish my goals. In the end, I graduated from high school with all my fellow students and even received 4 bursaries. 

I stay inspired by… seeing what all my hard work is doing. Seeing how many people it has helped and seeing what I’m doing is working and that I am making a difference. 

The most exciting thing about the work I do is… knowing that the things I have done will help multiple families and I always get a thrill after one of my presentations and I’m so happy. I have also met some incredible people along the way who I will stay in contact with forever. 

The future excites me because… in the future, the world will be more accessible and will become a barrier-free zone for all! I will work my hardest for that to happen. As for the neuromuscular community, the world will be more informative of it and will be more well known. I have lots of projects set for the future and I am excited to start them. 

The career I aspire to have is…to work with individuals with disabilities and help them not only physically but also emotionally by inspiring them to work their hardest and stay motivated. 

My next step is…to participate in the new MDC webinars and to share information and my experience with my follow MD warriors and inspire them to reach their goals.

How Janet LePage built a $2.5 billion real estate empire in six years.

By Karen van Kampen


The night before Janet LePage was set to return to work after maternity leave, she sat on the floor of her daughter’s room and cried. She had a tough decision to make, one that would change the course of her life. Should she leave a good pension and steady paycheque to follow her passion and make a career out of investing in real estate? 

“I would be leaving everything,” she says. “It was terrifying.” The next morning, Janet quit her job and never went back to the corporate world. 

Six years later, Janet has built Western Wealth Capital into a global equity platform for real estate investment. With more than $2.5 billion in transaction value, the Vancouver-based company is the eighth largest private foreign buyer in U.S. multi-family real estate. As CEO and co-founder, Janet has garnered national recognition and accolades, including the 2019 RBC Momentum Award — a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has created a responsive business that can adapt to changing market environments and leverage opportunities for continued growth.  

When people ask Janet how she built her award-winning business, she’s open about the challenges. A new business isn’t profitable on day one, says Janet. This often means staying at your full-time job while building your next career in the evening and on the weekend, which Janet did for five years. “You work two jobs. My day job was from seven to five and then my next job started,” she says. “You don’t get a free ride becoming an entrepreneur.”  

The journey began in 2008, when Janet hired a coach to learn about the real estate industry. She then bought two single-family homes in Phoenix, Arizona. A year later, Janet devised a business plan to flip houses in Phoenix. But she needed $10,000 to get her idea off the ground. She presented the plan to her dad and he said, “if you beat me at crib, I’ll lend you ten grand at 18 per cent interest.” 

Over the next two years, Janet bought 58 Phoenix properties at auction, fixed them up and quickly sold the turnkey properties at the same price as neighbouring foreclosed houses. In 2011, Janet says the margins were becoming too thin. So she shifted her investment strategy and bought her first apartment building at auction, a 23-unit property near the University of Arizona. A year later, Janet purchased a 200-unit building in Phoenix. The $5-million cash close was the deal that propelled her career in real estate investment.  

With two young children, Janet knew that she had to choose between real estate and her full-time position as a senior marketing manager at a major North American construction company. “I was terrified that my children would derail my career, and they did the exact opposite,” she says. “They were hands down the best thing that ever happened in my success because they forced me to choose.” 

With her experience investing in real estate as well as some savings in the bank, Janet says she took a “calculated risk” and launched her business with partner David Steele. 


“You have to break every norm you thought possible of what a mother or a woman should be, you cannot fit a norm and be powerful. They don’t co-exist.” 


Her eight years in the corporate world “was a grooming on how business works,” says Janet, and her hands-on experience with corporate structure and controls provided a solid foundation to build her business. Western Wealth has created a strategy in which repeatability enables scalability. Once a property is purchased, a series of uniform interior and exterior upgrades are made. Keeping to the same colour palette and fixtures tightens the timeline for renovations and speeds up the process of listing units on the rental market. This creates wealth and reduces risk for investors. 

“There’s also probably some mom card being played throughout how this company was built,” says Janet. Property upgrades include lighting in parking lots to create a safe environment for women, and umbrellas at playgrounds offer a shaded place for kids to play. Every time a $600 washer/dryer is installed in a unit, this increases the market value of a property by $10,000. These upgrades also improve the lives of residents. 

While Janet says she is in the business of creating wealth for her investment partners, she adds, “you can create more wealth by doing good. That was the big ah-ha.” Generally speaking, the primary goal in real estate is to make money. Janet is working to change this outlook in her industry. “You can improve the lives of the people who work and live in your community while creating wealth,” she says. “It’s not an either/or.” 

Satisfied employees work harder and happy residents aren’t compelled to move. The less turnover, the less money it costs to operate a property. To date, Western Wealth Capital has acquired over 16,500 apartment units in Arizona, Texas and Georgia. The company employs 40 staff across its Vancouver and Tempe headquarters, 50 in-house property management and 400 employees across its third-party-managed properties. 

One day Janet was visiting a Phoenix property and noticed that many of the children boarded their school bus without backpacks. When the kids returned home that day, there were backpacks filled with school supplies waiting for them, and the “We’ve Got Your Back” program was born. Today, backpacks and school supplies are provided to all children living in Janet’s properties. 

With less than three per cent of women in executive roles in real estate investment companies, Janet often reflects on being a strong role model, especially for her kids. She talks to her daughter about finding success on her own terms. “You have to break every norm you thought possible of what a mother or a woman should be,” says Janet. “You cannot fit a norm and be powerful. They don’t co-exist.” 

The four keys to making a business partnership work.

By Vera Gavizon


Many years ago, while working as a consultant at McKinsey, one of my clients explained how he always enters into any partnership with a 50% share. He never considers a majority share — even if it is on the table. 

His logic was that this ensured he was a good partner. When no one has a majority, it requires you to explain your positions with rational arguments and fairness and not from a position of power, leading to a greater chance of success. His perspective has resonated with me ever since then.  

There are so many advantages to entering business with a partner as opposed to a sole proprietorship (and many challenges, too). The main advantage for me, when I co-founded Workhoppers, was to share the considerable responsibilities that are expected in starting a business while having time to take care of my family. 

My business partner Linda and I met while our kids were in daycare. At the time, we were busy juggling work, playdates, and the extracurricular activities of our (probably overly-scheduled) kids. We had worked on some contracts together, but it was only when our children started high school and were becoming more independent that we considered changing career paths to become entrepreneurs.

In the summer of 2012, while talking about our frustrations in finding flexible work, Linda and I came up with the idea for Workhoppers; a solution for all the busy professional moms around us to easily find flexible work and for companies to find them. We soon realized that the freelance market included more than moms and was on the rise. 

Finding the right person to start a business with is almost as difficult as finding the right partner in life. If you are lucky, sometimes fate brings you your partner, like it did for me — but often you need to be proactive and use resources, networks and the like to find your match. Our partnership works as we have the same vision and the same level of commitment. It did take some adjustments along the way, and I am happy to share what I learned:

Interview your partner before committing 

Linda and I met when our kids were young. Our friendship was based around having fun, carpools, and entertaining our kids. We had worked on a few projects together but getting into a business partnership requires a different set of skills and commitment. 

Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. What is your long-term vision for the business and what is your level of commitment to the success of it? This will determine the exit strategy, the financing strategy and the level of sacrifice that each is willing to undertake. Get concrete to better understand what your daily life will look like. How many hours a day will you dedicate to the business? Are you willing to sacrifice your personal life to put the business first? How many vacations are you going to take? Is your end goal to become a millionaire or are you seeking a steady income? How long can you commit before the business becomes profitable? I find that our partnership has a particular advantage: we both had made the choice of making certain sacrifices to be there for our kids, and this is very much present in our business relationship. Understanding these dynamics in advance is important when entering a business partnership because it has consequences on how you approach the future of the business.


“Finding the right person to start a business with is almost as difficult as finding the right partner in life.”


Make room for the differences

It quickly became clear that Linda and I had very different personalities and styles. Linda is more patient, detail-oriented, and good at developing relationships. I am more analytical, more direct, and as a former consultant, I need variety — I like to review the big picture often, and do not look too much into the little details.

It took some time to accept the differences, and to learn how our strengths can complement each other’s weaknesses. Today we try to bring out the best in each other, but we are a work in progress, which means it doesn’t work ALL the time. We are both “control freaks” and like to be involved in everything. Sometimes this makes it hard to make decisions and move quickly. 

Interestingly, a few years ago, we included a personality test in our matching platform that helps companies understand the working habits of the freelancer they are about to hire. This gives a very good idea of their leadership style, level of flexibility, communication skills, self-control and more. I think if we both would have undertaken this test at the beginning of our relationship this would have saved us a lot of energy in learning about each other. Knowing about the differences helps you approach them in a more productive way.

Our way to make it work is by treating everything as a project. Once we agree on the need of the project, we split the development of it — always checking in to get the other’s input before implementing.


It is all about open communication

Our relationship works in a respectful way. We have had many clashes (sometimes it feels like we are an old married couple) but we aim to speak openly about our disagreements, and discuss them until we find consensus or apologize. We are not afraid of telling each other the truth about how we feel, and we both easily move on after a disagreement. 

We like to believe that our differences push us to do better and find the best solutions. We know that if either one raises an issue it is because she has a strong opinion on how to proceed. To make a decision we discuss the why, best practices, expert opinions, and finding the facts. All with the objective of doing the right thing for the success of the business. 


Don’t forget to have fun

It is very important to remember to have fun while you go through the ups and downs of owning a business. Linda and I have learned to laugh at our mistakes and not to take everything too seriously. Having a partner makes the journey so much more fun and doable. We both believe that we could not do it without the other.  

Building a company is not easy. We share the financial and emotional ups and downs. It is great to have someone to celebrate the good times with, and we hold each other up during the times when we are not so sure of the future. And we know we can rely on each other to take over when needed — whether it’s for travel or to deal with personal issues. And being in the same stage in our personal lives makes it easy to understand the other’s needs and priorities. This is a huge bonus!

Vera Gavizon

Vera Gavizon

Vera Gavizon worked many years in management consulting and venture capital. A project manager by nature and training, she understands the need that companies have to outsource non-core activities to remain competitive. While looking for flexibility to continue her consulting career after motherhood, she envisioned the value of matching small businesses with talented professionals; founding Workhoppers with her partner Linda.

Meet Ony Anukem: Social Media and Content Manager at Women of Influence & Show Host of Twenty5 Podcast

Growing up as the first of four daughters, gender equality and leadership came naturally to British-import Ony Anukem. By day, she is the Social Media and Content Manager at Women of Influence — but she also wears another hat as the Show Host of the Twenty5 Podcast, a bi-weekly interview podcast that she started to guide young women through their mid-twenties. Since launching in July 2019, her podcast has featured as the #1 Society & Culture Podcast on the Apple podcast charts in several countries and has accrued over 10,000 plays in 50+ countries.


My first job ever was… was working as an entertainer for a kids party company, I used to get paid £25 (C$43.65) for a two-hour party. We hosted all kinds of parties from Disney Princess parties to Murder Mystery parties — as first jobs go it wasn’t that bad!

My favourite thing about working for Women of Influence is… the amazing women I get to work with, from the WOI team to all the inspiring and accomplished women in our community that I get to profile and interact with at events.

I decided to start the Twenty5 Podcast because… like many other women, I had grown up with ridiculous expectations of where I should be in my life by 25. As my birthday neared, I thought ‘I can’t be the only woman feeling like this’ and so I started discussing it with my peers and establishing a trend. I eventually started my podcast on my 25th birthday last year, as a platform to get advice from older women on what they wished they knew at 25. I talk to my guests about everything from relationships and career development to mental health.

My proudest accomplishment was… at 18 co-founding ASIM (A sister in Me), a community organization made up of over 260 members from diverse backgrounds, professional industries and areas in the UK, with a common goal of positively using our influence to help girls and women in our community unleash their full potential.

My boldest move to date was… a literal move. In January 2019, I left my family and friends in London, England and moved to Toronto with my life packed into four suitcases and my handbag. People always dream of things that never end up happening because life gets in the way or they don’t end up pursuing it, I’m really glad that moving to Canada wasn’t just talk for me. In my year and a half of being here, I have learnt so much and grown so much, and I have decided to base myself here for the foreseeable future.


“It’s easy to miss out on opportunities in life trying to be perfect, I have to remind myself constantly that perfection doesn’t really exist — you just have to go for things sometimes.”


I surprise people when I tell them… that I have been to 31 countries and I’d like to see the rest before my time is up.

My best advice from a mentor was… “don’t aim to be perfect, aim to be present!” If you never put your product on the market, nobody will ever be able to buy it. If you don’t finish a job application, it’s impossible to be shortlisted for the job. It’s easy to miss out on opportunities in life trying to be perfect, I have to remind myself constantly that perfection doesn’t really exist — you just have to go for things sometimes.

A piece of advice that I often give but struggle to follow is… don’t expect somebody to act a certain way just because that’s how you would act. I really love the quote ‘expect the unexpected’ — that goes for life events but also people’s behaviour, I try not to project myself or my feelings onto people, but it can be hard sometimes!

My biggest setback was… completing my Masters in Law and then deciding I didn’t want to become a lawyer. I had been saying that I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a child and suddenly having this epiphany frightened me.

I overcame it by… leaning into the things that I was good at and passionate about and eventually, I found myself at the intersection of gender equality and media.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I can do a pretty convincing Southern accent. I always tell people that my alter ego is a Southern Belle.

I stay inspired by… learning about the achievements of other women, I just think ‘if this woman can achieve X, then there is nothing me from achieving Y.’

The future excites me because… all through the global pandemic has been really terrifying on so many fronts, we are on the brink of change and I’m hopeful that we will see many positive changes come from this time.

At 25, I wish I knew more about financial management.

In Episode 1 of the Twenty5 Podcast, I am joined by Caroline Anukem (my mother) and she shares that at 25 she wishes she knew more about financial management. We talk about everything from millennials spending habits to what it’s truly like to live your ‘best life.’ Here is an excerpt from Season 1, Episode 1.


 Ony: For those of you that don’t know, I’m based in Toronto and my mum is in London. We’re doing this call over the phone even though she’s gonna be joining me here next week. For the benefit of those that don’t know you can you give us a brief introduction?

Caroline: I’m Caroline Anukem, also known as, Mama, AK, sis and several other names. I am a mother of four wonderful ladies — and I can say ladies because they’re all adult ladies. I am married to Stanley Anukem and I have worked with the education sector for the last 26 years. I am from a legal background, studied law and went into education.

Ony: This is really exciting having you on the podcast as my first of 25 women that I am speaking to for the series. The first woman I ever knew, and the first woman I ever loved! So it’s great to have you on here with me today.

Caroline: I love you right back darling!

Ony: Let’s just jump into it… so you said at 25 you wish you knew more about financial management — can you expand on that a bit? What, in particular, do you wish you knew about financial management?

Caroline: Growing up, I came from a family where pocket money wasn’t really the done thing. We got money for whatever we needed and we asked for it on an as and when basis, and I didn’t have a good idea of managing money that well. I think it came from that not having that experience from the very beginning. I didn’t strategize my financial planning and always thought there was a lot of time.

One thing that takes out to me particularly was when I was 25, somebody was talking about pensions and I nearly fell off my seat because I thought it was light-years away. I really wish at that moment, I got into that habit of being a bit like a honeybee and just having that little stash regularly for a rainy day. I was very good at putting money aside for a specific event, but not on that never-never and I think just greater financial awareness of saving plans, ISAs, TESSAs would have have been so useful. This is one of the things I advocate to be taught in schools now, that younger children from a very early age, get taught this in Maths rather than just trigonometry and algebra. Having a situation where they actually learn, and have practical exercises on saving and investing and things like that.

Ony: Would you say that the lack of financial knowledge was a generational thing? Would you say that 25-year-olds now are savvier? Or do you think the same sort of thing is repeating itself?

Caroline: There is a lot more information out there these days about finances, but a lot of the 25-year-olds I see at the moment are living their best life, and it’s great to live your best life — travelling, going out of posh brunches, orders coming in every day beautiful outfits from PLT etc. But I think a lot of them are still unaware and aren’t actually thinking about that thinking about the long-term. And also in particular in London, house costs are quite high, and one of the first investments that a lot of people saved for was a house in my generation, so when you started putting away your house — that was your motivation to save.

Ony: I guess for the average 25-year-old (in London and I would say even here in Toronto) buying a house at 25, just isn’t a realistic goal to set. Those who are savvier and better at saving look outside of the central (downtown) area to buy a house, because the reality is living in the area that you grew up in (for most people) isn’t really possible.

Caroline: So just to go back to your initial question on whether 25-year-olds today are savvier than my generation — yes and no. They have greater awareness, but they’re living a slightly different lifestyle in my generation. Back those who saved and put money aside, it wasn’t so much because of financial awareness but more a natural inclination.

Ony: At 25 you mentioned feeling like you had a lot of time to get your finances together. How, at that time, did you see the next 25 years playing out?

Caroline: I didn’t think I was in a bad financial position, but just looking back I could have made decisions then that perhaps would have left me in a better position: there was living, there was saving but I think back I could possibly have bought more than one property with better financial management, I could have invested in stocks and shares. Those kinds of investments would have made a very big difference.

Now at 25, if you’d asked me to look to 40 to 50, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I would have wanted at that time. And I think in having the vision that then leads you to create the path or the progression routes to get to that point.

Ony: Do you have any other advice that you would give to 25-year-olds now or any advice that you would tell your 25-year-old self?

Caroline: This piece of advice that I’m going to give now — I suppose it’s something that I’ve actually learned from you, rather than advice that I’ll give you but I just hope to keep on using it and all others do. It’s the SatNav approach to life. Planning. It’s important to take a little bit of time to plan, you don’t have to be orchestrating every move but really map out a plan. That’s what I would ask every 25-year-old to do: create a vision board. And just plot it. you’re not being held to it, you’re not accountable. But that’s not to say that you can’t take different routes, because life throws various things others that we don’t legislate for. However, having this vision board in place, you really stop and it helps you visualize where you want to be.

Listen to more Twenty5 Podcast episodes here and follow the podcast on Instagram @Twenty5Pocast for the latest updates.

The Scotiabank Women Initiative has something for every women-owned, women-led business.

By Shelley White


The Scotiabank Women Initiative™ has had a strong start since launching in December 2018, but according to Geneviève Brouillard, there’s much more to come.

Geneviève, who is Senior Vice President for Québec and Eastern Ontario at Scotiabank and an Advisory Board member for The Scotiabank Women Initiative, is endlessly enthusiastic about the bank’s expanding efforts to support women-owned and women-led businesses across the country — especially now in these unprecedented times.

“There is still so much potential,” says Geneviève. “We committed to allocate $3-billion in funding over the first three years, and after one year, we’ve already deployed $1-billion. We want to become the banking partner of choice for women-owned and women-led businesses in Canada, so I see this program becoming a Scotiabank signature as we go forward.”

“Hitting that $1-billion financing milestone was only one part of the program’s successful first year,” Geneviève notes. Scotiabank also invested in Disruption Ventures, Canada’s first private, female-founded venture capital fund investing in businesses founded by women.

Throughout 2019, 1500 women entrepreneurs and women business leaders across Canada were able to take part in the program’s educational Un-Mentorship Boot Camps™ and group mentoring sessions, building skills and expanding their networks. The Scotiabank Women Initiative also collaborated with the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs to launch a new bilingual podcast series called “The Go-To: For Entrepreneurs in the Know,” offering business and entrepreneurship essentials.

The program expanded its reach in early 2020, teaming up with networking organization Réseau des Femmes d’Affaires du Québec (RFAQ) to launch a series of events across the province throughout the year. 

“RFAQ is a non-profit organization with two thousand members that empowers women entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses and break into foreign markets, as well as businesswomen who want to excel in their careers,” Geneviève says. “It is a great match for us because we have a common goal, to support women entrepreneurs in Québec.”

“These made to measure events will enable women to learn from each other, build relationships and enhance their skills to take their business to the next level,” says Geneviève. “With this partnership with RFAQ, we’re making a statement about Scotiabank’s intention to grow in Québec, to be a part of the community we live and work in.” 

The Scotiabank Women Initiative has taken further steps to expand in Québec and created a new role to lead these efforts. This dedicated team member brings a strong understanding of the market and extensive experience working with women entrepreneurs, building programs and value-added content. 

The Scotiabank Women Initiative is continuously working to identify improved approaches to provide meaningful, forward-thinking support to women-owned and women-led businesses. Recently, the program sponsored Femmessor, a non-profit organization supporting women entrepreneurs across 17 regions of Québec. The Scotiabank Women Initiative and Femmessor are aligned in supporting women entrepreneurs in Québec through experts who are providing free advisory services to those currently affected by COVID-19.

The program also continues to build out online resources on its Knowledge Centre and is continuing to evolve its approach to communicating with clients through virtual events, webinars and podcasts.


“I want to make sure that as a legacy, I can help get more women into leadership roles like mine and others at Scotiabank. What are the actions we can put in place to make sure we unite that passion and that world of possibility for women?”


“Another important milestone for the program this past year was the launch of a research report that outlines unique insights into how women entrepreneurs approach the financing and growth of a business,” says Geneviève. The Scotiabank Women Initiative report, which was released in March 2020, was based on a study of small business owners in Canada. Entitled “Financial Knowledge & Financial Confidence – Closing Gender Gaps in Financing Canadian Small Businesses,” the study found that while women business owners’ loan applications are more likely to be approved, women business owners are less likely to apply for business loans. It also found that on average, the financial knowledge of women business owners is lower than their counterparts, men business owners. 

The report concluded that if woman business owners in Canada are to achieve their growth potential, education and other interventions must focus on both financial knowledge and financial confidence. 

Geneviève says that The Scotiabank Women Initiative is aimed at closing the gender gap, tackling unconscious bias and ensuring women have the resources they need to succeed.

“We want women to increase their part of the economic fabric of society,” she says. “That’s why The Scotiabank Women Initiative needs to be there to provide that capital to women, offer that full suite of financing solutions as well as mentorship and education.”

“Mentorship is a core part of the program mandate,” says Geneviève, “and it’s something that they are hoping to expand on.” An executive with 30 years’ experience in banking, Geneviève says mentoring has been an important part of her own career trajectory. 

“Mentoring is providing a non-judgmental space that can help people make better decisions personally and professionally. This can have a great impact on people,” she says. “I personally have taken risks and grown because of mentors. Sometimes when I was scared of an offer or a challenge, just getting a text from a mentor saying, ‘Yes, you can do it,’ helped me become who I am today.”

Geneviève says she is also committed to helping talented women attain leadership roles, both through her Advisory Board role with The Scotiabank Women Initiative and through her current role as Senior Vice President.

“The one challenge I still have is bringing more women along with me,” Geneviève says. “I want to make sure that as a legacy, I can help get more women into leadership roles like mine and others at Scotiabank. What are the actions we can put in place to make sure we unite that passion and that world of possibility for women?”

She has some words of advice for women entrepreneurs hoping to grow their businesses and become the leaders they want to be.

“Be bold. Network. And get advice from your banker.”

How a global pandemic might change businesses for the better.

By Hailey Eisen 


As COVID-19 upends economies and alters how business gets conducted, organizations must think beyond the bottom line – especially when dealing with customers and employees. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for leaders to consider the ways in which their values are reflected through their business practices,” explains Kate Rowbotham, professor and Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business. 

Kate says that businesses should focus their efforts on these three areas: communication, compassion, and flexibility. 


Communication is more important than ever. 

“Communication is extremely important because of the uncertainty we’re all facing,” Kate explains. “As everyone tries to make sense of this situation and understand the impact it will have on our lives, organizations must be completely transparent with employees and customers.” 

In the absence of talking face-to-face, communications can come in the form of emails, phone calls and virtual meetings. “I think some companies are doing better at this than others, and that relates to how good companies are at communicating in normal times,” Kate says.

So, what does good communication look like in a crisis? The keys are openness, honesty, and clarity on things such as compensation, work-from-home expectations, and what support an organization can offer. 

“Employees will be looking to leaders to model the behaviours they’re expecting from others,” she says. When leaders don’t know the answers, it’s better that they say so. “It actually makes me happy to see a leader say ‘I don’t know,’ to admit that they’re as unsettled as the rest of us, and to seek out answers rather than pretending they have them all.” 


“It actually makes me happy to see a leader say ‘I don’t know,’ to admit that they’re as unsettled as the rest of us, and to seek out answers rather than pretending they have them all.” 


Compassion is the only acceptable response. 

“This virus is affecting people in different ways, and many will be touched directly or indirectly by its impact.” With so much suffering happening around the globe, there’s really no way to respond but with compassion, Kate says.

That means tampering expectations — especially workloads. “With friends, social supports, exercise, and other things that we typically advise employees to turn to in times of stress inaccessible to many of us, companies have to carefully consider the impact of stress on productivity.” 

If we can’t expect ‘business as usual’ then what is the ‘good enough’ option for these unprecedented times? It’s a question Kate would like to see organizations ask themselves. Developing and working within ‘good enough’ standards will help reduce stress, and may even boost productivity.


Flexibility means rethinking how work should be done. 

As we move further into what has now become a ‘new normal,’ we know that everyone’s responsibilities at home, stress levels, and availability will differ. Thus, flexibility is important. 

Allowing employees to control their day and determine when and where they can get work done, will help increase productivity. “We’re all beginning to think about what productivity means, where it happens, what tools are needed to support it — and this could lead to lasting changes in the traditional workday.” 

Employees should be included in decision making and given autonomy to determine what works best for them. “In times of uncertainty, many people feel more comfortable with direction and guidance, so the key is balance,” Kate says.

Many are watching to see how organizations align their behaviour with their values. As an example, Kate recalls a story of a hotel in British Columbia that had to lay off all its employees, but found each of them another job first. “We are also hearing stories of CEOs taking pay cuts or dropping their salaries to zero in order to continue paying their employees,” says Kate. “We’ve seen grocery store chains go above and beyond to take care of their employees and communicate with their customers transparently. As an example, Loblaws was one of the first to raise employees’ salaries.”

With so many changes rolling out so quickly, Kate believes a lasting impact is inevitable. “I’ve always drawn on Management Professor Linda Hill’s work in my teaching, and one thing she talks a lot about is managers really getting to know their employees and who they are,” Kate explains. 

Interestingly, social distancing may give leaders and teams the opportunity to really get to know one another and develop new techniques to work together. Even when they’re apart.

Q&A: How Joanna Griffiths is adapting to a new normal.

Joanna Griffiths is the Founder and CEO of Knix and Knixteen, the direct-to-consumer intimate apparel brands that are reinventing intimates for real life. Through a focus on product innovation and a mission to empower women to be unapologetically free, a Knix item is now sold every 7 seconds, and the company has shipped over half a million orders in the last twelve months alone. Joanna has been recognized on both the national and international stage for her work as a marketing disruptor championing the topics of body inclusivity, fertility, mental health and postpartum.


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?

Running a company during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging experience. It has pushed us to think creatively and pivot our tactics. One area of the business that we have really had to focus on is our distribution, ensuring that our warehouse is properly stocked for the demand that we are seeing for Knix products. As you can imagine, with border closures and new regulations, it has been a challenge to have products shipped internationally. 

Another reason I have been so focused on distribution is due to the launch of our Knix PPE campaign back in March. We are raising funds through our community to provide hospital-grade PPE products to frontline healthcare workers. I am pleased to share that we have raised over $400,000 and have secured over 330,000 units of PPE. This project has become my nighttime job, but I am so happy that we have been able to support the people who need it most. 


What is the most important problem you are trying to solve? What has been your most successful solution so far?

We are trying to problem-solve different ways of introducing our products and experiences to consumers virtually. We have always been a nimble company, so we have been able to pivot our strategy pretty seamlessly. 

As soon as we started to see global lockdowns come into play, we were quick to act. When our stores closed, we launched Virtual Fittings, building on our customer’s online shopping experience, while also providing employment opportunities for our store associates. 

This April, we had initially planned on having our annual warehouse sale in Toronto, instead of cancelling it, we decided to launch it virtually to consumers. Taking the warehouse sale to a virtual platform was a huge success and we sold more items in the first 10 minutes then our full three-day warehouse sale last year. 

Currently, we are working on executing a new strategy around our swimwear launch. We had initially planned on during a live photoshoot in Tulum Mexico and had opened up a casting call for our customers to apply to be a part of it. The response was overwhelming, and within two weeks, we had over 11,000 applicants. Now that a photoshoot (especially one abroad) is out of the question, we selected 25 of these applicants to participate in an at-home content series. The photos from this series will come together to form our campaign, making it truly one of our most relatable swim campaigns. 


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

During the COVID-19 crisis, we have been staying connected to our customers through our Instagram channels, asking our community how they are feeling and reaching out directly to those who say they need to talk. 

With our Knix team, we implemented a 9:30 am daily company-wide video call. It gives me an opportunity to connect with the full team and provide updates on the different projects that we have on the go. It has been a great way to start the day and helps the team feel more connected during this time of social distancing. We also have a weekly wins and learnings video call where each team member gets to share a success or win in their life, whether it’s a personal success or one that is work-related. It is a very positive meeting that helps brighten everyone’s week. 


What financial resources are you tapping into? OR What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances?

Like so many organizations we don’t qualify for any of the business relief programs so there aren’t a ton of financial resources that we are tapping into. I’ve been hosting weekly zoom calls as part of the Female Business Empowerment Project along with Jessica Mulroney, Melissa Leong and Michele Romanow. Unfortunately, we are seeing this is the case for many. My best advice is to model out what different situations look like for you and your business. What would it mean if your supply chain is shut down and you can no longer get access to product, your fulfilment center can no longer ship, your physical retail doors can’t open etc. I would work on a best, better, worse and worst case and make sure that you are planning your cash spend accordingly. This is something we did at Knix back in Mid-March. It was helpful to plan these scenarios with a clear head. 


“Trust your gut and be confident in the decisions you make. During times of crisis, continue to support your community and give back when you can.”


What has surprised you?

The biggest surprise for me is seeing how effectively our team has been able to work remotely. In a strange way, our company community feels stronger than ever. I am blown away by the creativity and agility that is being demonstrated daily by every one of our teams. 


How far ahead are you planning?

Our plans are shifting and changing every day, but we are continuing to look ahead at the next six to twelve months. It is hard to know what the world will look like by then, but we are continuing to plan and prepare either way. 


What keeps you positive?

The tight-knit community that we have built is what keeps me so positive. We receive so many DMS and emails on how we have made a difference in women’s lives, how we have helped them regain their confidence and their love for their bodies. We have truly attached ourselves to our brand mission of helping women live unapologetically free, and that is what motivates me and the team to be so passionate about the work that we do. 

Most recently the work that we have done to secure PPE for healthcare workers and homeless shelters has added an extra layer of community building to our work. These frontline workers are risking their lives every day to help our country battle COVID-19. It really warms my heart to be able to help them during this crisis. It makes all the extra hours and emails worth it. 


What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

I encourage other entrepreneurs to be creative and agile with their thinking. Trust your gut and be confident in the decisions you make. During times of crisis, continue to support your community and give back when you can.

Meet Kimberly Dawn: country singer and songwriter inspiring women to follow their dreams

Kimberly Dawn is a country singer and songwriter born and raised in a small farming community in Alberta, Canada and now living in California with her family. As a mother of four, Dawn’s personal journey toward creating inner strength and balance on the road to living out her passion is one to which many women can relate, and one that she feels particularly suited to tell. Like many mothers, Kimberly put her passion for music on hold to be a stay-at-home mom. She began taking piano and guitar lessons after the birth of her fourth child. Still, in the throes of raising children, Kimberly is busy balancing it all, including many, co-writes with amazing artists. She released a couple of singles last year including, Slow Dancin’ in the Dark and Cadillac Lovers. Kimberly also showcases her love for writing in her weekly blog where she shares empowerment, struggles of life as a mother and pursuing her passion for music.

Before I became a singer-song-writer I…. actually was pursuing acting. 

I decided to follow my passion and become a musician because… I always loved music and music makes me happy. 

My proudest accomplishment is…being a mom of 4 amazing kids. 

My boldest move to date was… at 18 I packed up my things and moved from the farm to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams. 

I surprise people when I tell them …I was raised on a farm in Canada and  I actually worked on the farm moving irrigation pipes as well as pulling weeds out of the sugar beet fields.

My biggest professional influences have been…Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Reba McEntire,  Elton John, Shania Twain.

My best advice from a mentor was… When you’re writing a song, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. 

I would tell my 21-year old self… Trust your instincts cause your gut is God. 

My song “Nashville” is special to me because… I love that city. It has become a second home to me because I spend so much time there. When the tornados hit Nashville & then the Coronavirus hit all at once, my single Nashville had just been released. I feel like even in the darkest days this song has brought smiles and happiness to people when they listen to it. For that, I am so thankful. 

My biggest setback was… about 8 years ago I let too many people get in my head and I was literally done with the music business. I just woke up one morning and said “I quit. I’m not good enough. I don’t know why I ever thought I could make it.” I was one of the lowest points in my life. This tore me to the core. 


“I feel like women are finally being recognized and getting the respect that we so well deserve. There are so many amazing entrepreneurs, women in the medical field, actress’s, musicians and the list goes on and on.”


I overcame it by… For about 6 months I truly went into a depression. It was really hard. I had to do a lot of soul-searching during this time. In my heart, I was sad that I wasn’t making music but I also felt so defeated. My sweet husband finally said to me, “you don’t need to quit making music just because this person or that person says your not good enough. There is always going to be someone who doesn’t like you or your music. Make music because you love to do it and who cares what anyone else thinks.” He was right. Moving forward I remind myself that I make music because I love it and if someone doesn’t like it or I’m not their cup of tea, oh well.  You can’t worry about what everyone thinks. Everyone has an opinion and there are going to be those people that want to tear you down no matter what. 

The best part of what I do is… When someone tells me that one of my songs helped them through a difficult time or that a song put a smile on their face when they heard it. That’s the best feeling ever and I am so thankful for those moments.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I love to do laundry. It’s actually therapeutic for me. Just washing the clothes though. I don’t like having to put the clothes away. 

The future excites me… because I feel like women are finally being recognized and getting the respect that we so well deserve. There are so many amazing entrepreneurs, women in the medical field, actress’s, musicians and the list goes on and on. I see there’s a lot more opportunity and that excites me. 

My next step is… to finish up my EP and share new music with the world. 

Transformational Leadership is what every organization needs right now.

Rubina Salim Havlin is the former Interim CEO of PACE Credit Union, and it wasn’t the first time she has been called in to guide an organization through a major shift. Rubina has built a career as a transformational leader — a style that’s needed when aiming for better days ahead — and she’s sharing not only her journey, but her best advice.


By Hailey Eisen   


Growth and change are a constant in business – and in today’s environment, that truth is being amplified. But in times of flux, Rubina Salim Havlin thrives. For the majority of her career she’s been at the helm of complex change, leading organizations primarily in the financial services sector. Today, she’s sought after specifically in uncertain situations, for her wealth of experience and human-centric approach to leadership. 

It’s a style known as transformational leadership — focused on team building, collaboration, and motivating employees at all levels to participate in making change for the better. This approach is key when an organization is entering a period of hyper-growth, undergoing business model changes, ramping up innovation, evoking a disaster recovery plan, or winding up operations. 

In contrast with transactional leadership, which focuses on controlling day-to-day operations and maintaining the status quo through short-term goals, rewards and punishments, transformational leadership is about sharing a future vision, and getting everyone on board with achieving it. 

Part of that engagement and mobilization is recognizing that for many people, change is a challenge. “When I see the fear and anxiety in people’s eyes, I naturally gravitate toward that,” says Rubina, “because when it comes to large scale transformation, it’s the people that really matter.”

With PACE, Rubina was brought in to cast a strategic vision, ensure stability of the organization, sustain the credit union’s membership base and asset holdings, and position them for success. Under her leadership, they began the process of returning to member controlled governance, with a new board of directors elected earlier in the year.  

Whether she’s stabilizing an organization, as in the case of PACE, or leading one through growth, disruption, or a winding-down period, Rubina says the common element is always uncertainty. And it’s her ability to embrace uncertainty that’s contributed to her success. 

“Managing through transformation is not for the faint of heart,” says Rubina, calling from her home office amidst the COVID-19 pandemic — another twist she’ll embrace with the same thoughtful approach. “What’s required in these times of uncertainty is a common vision, laser-focused leadership and grit, and honest communications.” 

Over the years, Rubina has had the opportunity to test and fine-tune these practices through a number of roles. She began her career in the banking sector. “Even in the early days, I was never a traditional banker,” Rubina recalls. “I always had the desire to create and innovate and the Canadian banking industry was undergoing significant change at the time, which really helped my career.” 


“When I look back on my career, there were a number of forces at play that took me to where I’m at today. My road was certainly not linear, but each opportunity was a building block.”


As Vice-Chair of the Canadian Chip and Pin council from 2003 to 2006, Rubina led the migration of chip card technology in Canada — taking an unknown technology and working to implement it industry-wide. “This transformation was revolutionizing for the banking industry and consumer behaviour,” she says. It proved to be the ideal opportunity for someone who loved to challenge the status quo.  

She was hired by Bank of America, Canada Bank in 2012, with the task of leading the wind-up of the Bank’s Canadian operations, selling off its Canadian payment assets and repatriating the proceeds to the US. Domestically, Wealth One Bank of Canada appointed her President and CEO, to lead through its launch into the Canadian Chinese marketplace. 

“When I look back on my career, there were a number of forces at play that took me to where I’m at today,” Rubina recalls. “My road was certainly not linear, but each opportunity was a building block.” 

Besides all the different professional hats she’s worn, Rubina has also sat, as a member and chair, of nine different boards, both in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. “In terms of my board work in the for-profit sector, I’ve mostly stayed within areas where I specialize, financial services, payments, and the regulatory framework, adding value during transformations and transitions,” Rubina explains. 

When it comes to her charitable focus, however, Rubina is committed to supporting women and families. “There are so many people who can fall through the cracks and there are gaps in the market that no one is addressing,” she says. “I like to look out for the underdog.” 

Having served on the board of Up With Women for the past four years, Rubina takes the organization’s mandate of helping recently homeless and at-risk women build stable, prosperous careers, very seriously. She also extends her focus to women and families through her work as Director of the National Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity Canada. 

She’s also committed to mentorship, helping youth advance in their careers. “I enjoy the pluralistic nature of mentoring, showing that everyone has an opportunity to break through from middle management to leadership roles, in a multicultural way.” 

Through it all, Rubina has maintained a set of values and priorities that she believes others can adopt in these uncertain times. The first is embracing the uncertainty you’re in. The second is communication, to both internal and external stakeholders. Rubina explains that means maintaining consistency in the tone of your communications, the honesty in what’s being communicated, and the means of rallying your team. 

During a transformation, “you need to celebrate at every turn.” she says. If you create that engagement in your leadership approach, unspoken champions and leaders will step up at all levels of the organization and they’ll contribute to your overall success.

#WOIAsks Honourable Mary Ng — Twitter Chat Recap

From promoting Canada to the world as a great place to do business, to helping our entrepreneurs and businesses grow and access new markets —Minister Ng is focused on helping Canadians succeed. First elected the Member of Parliament for Markham–Thornhill in April 2017, Minister Ng wasfirst appointed to Cabinet in July 2018 as Minister for Small Business and Export Promotion. After being successfully re-elected in November 2019, she became Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade. Prior to serving as a Member of Parliament, Minister Ng served as Appointments Director for the Prime Minister, and as Executive Director for the President of Ryerson University where she oversaw the creation of a world-leading business incubator for tech start-ups. Throughout her 20 years of public service, Minister Ng has been a devoted community leader with a focus on creating jobs, fostering entrepreneurship, and empowering small business to innovate and grow. We caught up with her last week for a #WOIAsks Twitter Q&A to discuss what is being done to help small businesses, and how she’s navigating life in lockdown.

An HR expert explains how embracing change can be a strategy for career success

Marwa Jazi was 12 when civil war broke out in Lebanon. Her family, unfortunately, lived in one of the worst parts of the city — the borderline between the two warring parties. For most of her formative years, there were many times when she was stuck indoors, fearing bombings, and living with limited access to water and electricity. Simply waking up unharmed, and still with a home, was a blessing. 

This did not stop her from earning a university degree, nor building a career — even as the situation worsened. When she and her now-husband began dating, they both agreed that they wanted to raise a family away from the conflicts of war, and so the pair began discussing the possibility of moving overseas. By a stroke of luck, she heard the Canadian embassy in Syria was actively processing immigration applications from Lebanese civilians; two months later, with her almost-finished MBA and $3,000 in savings, she landed in Canada. 

“I was determined to create a life in Canada, whatever that looked like. Even if I had to wait tables, I was going to do what it took to establish a life in the country,” she says. “I wanted this change.”

While determination and persistence became her driving forces, embracing change became her strategy — and looking at her career, it’s clear it was a recipe for success.  

When she felt her growth at a previous employer had plateaued, Marwa challenged her manager to develop an action plan that would earn her a promotion (it worked). Later on in her career, she had the foresight to see that a relocation opportunity with a global company wasn’t something she wanted for her career or family, so she turned it down — even though it meant she’d be taking a step back in her career, and looking for work again. 

When Marwa started to feel that a former employer’s corporate culture was not aligned with her own values, something that she says is imperative for a working relationship to be successful, she knew it was time to look for opportunities elsewhere. 

It was during this time that she was approached by a former colleague about an opening at Ricoh. After interviewing for the role of Director of HR, she knew it was the right fit. Marwa loved the culture — she describes it as “innovative, supportive, and diverse” — and the latitude Ricoh offered its employees to create change.

In her current role, Marwa partners with leaders to develop and implement programs that support the company through its transformation journey. Since her tenure at Ricoh has been about supporting change, her work has always been interesting, and she is constantly learning. And because Ricoh sets high value on employee experience and growth, she is encouraged to help people make positive and lasting changes in their careers.


“I was determined to create a life in Canada, whatever that looked like. Even if I had to wait tables, I was going to do what it took to establish a life in the country.”


“I’ve always believed in the power of embracing change — whether for yourself, or as an organization — and that means more than accepting the changes that are thrust upon us. It’s about igniting and leading that change as well,” explains Marwa. “Ricoh’s tagline of ‘imagine.change.’ really encapsulates this in everything we do. Change is driven by imaginative thinking. By thinking creatively and collaborating with one another, we are always moving forward, always finding new ways of improving lives, and improving the way communities live and work together.”

Even during the current pandemic, Marwa and her team are helping people to embrace change in an unstable environment, to adjust to working from home, as well as providing them with information to help them stay safe. “Being able to help others, even in small measure, through such an unprecedented crisis, and the ability to see an immediate impact is truly powerful.”

Looking long term, Marwa advises individuals to look for a company that is willing to invest both in them and their career. This is especially important for women who may shy away from applying for jobs that pique their interest when they don’t feel they are 100 per cent qualified for the role. 

In these cases, Marwa’s advice is always the same: “If you meet 60 or 70 per cent of a job’s criteria, I’m here to say apply — if you don’t get the job, you are not worse off. If you do get an interview, you will likely gain something from the process.” She adds it’s rare (in the one per cent range) for someone to be 100 per cent qualified for a job. “And if you fail to seize and embrace new opportunities because you fear failure, you’re not going to grow as a person or leader.”

To help enable that growth, Marwa advises it’s also important to seek support along the way from a mentor or a sponsor, and to invest in continuous learning. “Never miss an opportunity to read an article or attend a webinar,” she says. 

And the key final piece? “Put your hand up,” says Marwa. “You don’t need to wait for a job opportunity or a promotion to do more. If you see a business need or an opportunity to use your skill to help your company, ask your manager if you can work on a solution to benefit them.” 

Marwa’s own story is proof — with persistence, determination, and a strategy of embracing change, you can create the career you want. “You just have to believe you can, and go from there,” says Marwa. “Remember, how you think about things impacts how you behave and ultimately the results you achieve in life. If you let go of limiting assumptions and beliefs, you can be very successful.”