How Kelly Ann Woods built her beverage micro-business with a big impact

Starting with Gillespie’s Fine Spirits, Kelly Ann Woods has spent over five years growing her beverage brand portfolio — which includes the non-alcoholic Boozewitch Brands, and the cannabis-infused State B Beverage Company, which is soon set to launch in Canada and the US. The 2019 recipient of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award shares her journey. 


By Karen van Kampen


In 2014, Kelly Ann Woods set out to find a home for her distillery. After several false starts in Vancouver, she decided to broaden her search. A friend suggested she consider Squamish, B.C. “That little town you drive through on the way to Whistler?” asked Kelly, the co-founder of Gillespie’s Fine Spirits Ltd

Kelly discovered the mountain town on the Sea to Sky Highway was a welcoming place built on community. Famous for its beautiful scenery and outdoor activities, Squamish was also a foodie’s paradise in the making. “There was a zing in the air,” she says, adding that you could feel something big was about to happen. 

Kelly opened her distillery and cocktail bar on Progress Way, a fitting location for an innovator on the local craft scene. And after that? “A lot of magic happened,” she says, but much of it came from Kelly’s own efforts — she founded the Squamish Craft Beverage Association and helped launch the Squamish Craft Tasting Trail that has propelled the local food and drink movement. 

Adding to her beverage brand portfolio, Kelly created Boozewitch Brands, a line of non-alcoholic mixers, and State B Beverage Company (formerly Switch Beverage Company), a line of cannabis functional beverages that is soon set to launch in Canada and the U.S.  In recognition of her trendsetting efforts in the craft beverage industry, Kelly was the 2019 recipient of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award — a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who owns and operates a small yet impactful business. 

Building a drinks empire while working as an actor and raising a four-year-old boy is no easy feat, yet Kelly takes it all in stride. She developed a strong work ethic growing up on a hobby farm in Wakefield, Quebec, where she tended chickens and turkeys and tapped maple trees. Kelly remembers having to finish her chores before heading to the lake in the afternoon and lighting a fire in their log cabin at the end of a long day.

Although Kelly worked as a sommelier and mixologist for many years, she quickly discovered there were real challenges to opening a distillery. She hired a consultant to make sense of the archaic building codes that hadn’t been rewritten since 1941. She fought for zoning changes to operate a tasting room and lounge on-site. Through it all, Kelly never gave up. “I’m a doer,” she says. “I see a problem, and I go and try to fix it.” 

In the beginning, Kelly did everything from sales and bartending to social media and event planning. While she now has the help of six employees and a distribution team, Kelly still pops behind the bar when it gets busy at her speakeasy lounge, The G Spot, whose slogan is, “Have you found it yet?” 

As her businesses continue to grow, Kelly stays grounded in her roots in meditation and yoga, which helps maintain her focus. A Kundalini yoga teacher, Kelly believes that her business life can complement her spiritual life. “I’m able to do business in a way that’s true to who I am,” she says. 


“Get smart about finance and business. The things I had to learn as a businesswoman were all about money and getting comfortable with money.”


Self-care is also integral to Kelly’s success and happiness. She exercises, eats well and ensures she gets enough sleep. “Sleep is my magic weapon,” she says. “Getting a solid night’s sleep gives me the ability to pick up on certain things while letting other things go.” 

A self-taught entrepreneur, Kelly says it’s important to educate yourself and “get smart about finance and business. The things I had to learn as a businesswoman were all about money and getting comfortable with money.”

Kelly’s recent experience in a business incubator was invaluable. The Initiative, an accelerator program for women owners of cannabis businesses, was like her very own mini-MBA, an experience that had her “going through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship with a nest of amazing women who actually have your back,” she says. 

Mentors have also played a key part in Kelly’s growth as an entrepreneur. “I don’t think we can get anywhere without mentorship,” she says. 

If someone offers their time, Kelly suggests sending a thank you note. “We rarely get that tactility from a personal note,” she says, which is such a gift to find in a pile of bills. For Kelly, it’s all about treating people well. “It’s a long game. Be as good a person as you can along the way,” she says. “When you treat people with respect and kindness, that’s what they remember.”  

It’s been a year of accolades for Kelly, including Sin Gin’s silver medal at the 2019 San Francisco International Spirits Competition, and the momentum keeps on building. Kelly is set to launch State B in dispensaries across Canada and in California, the first of many U.S. states. Working with a master herbalist, she formulated five ready-to-drink products with different desired effects. Her current favourite is Sparkle — containing CBD and THC, it’s flavoured with raspberry juice, and “makes you feel sparkly,” she says.

Five Minutes with Stephanie Dei, UN Women National Coordinator – WE EMPOWER Programme ​of the EU, UN Women and ILO

Stephanie Dei works for UN Women as the National Coordinator in Canada for the WE EMPOWER programme of the European Union, UN Women and International Labour Organization, encouraging deeper action in the private and public sector to advance women’s economic empowerment in Canada. Stephanie is the Non-Executive Director at global frontier markets risk firm DaMina Advisors and Vice President, Finance for the Board of Organization of Women in International Trade – Toronto Chapter. Stephanie holds a BA Honors in Political Science and Law from Carleton University, Canada, and an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from SOAS, University of London. Stephanie is a mother of four energetic and empowered kids. As proud allies of the #FlexForEmpowerment campaign, we caught up with Stephanie recently to discuss the initiative and what inspired it. 


Can you start by describing what the WE EMPOWER Programme does, and what your role is there?

I am the National Coordinator for the WE EMPOWER Programme in Canada. In this role, I help to set and implement activities for the year, liaise with the public/private sector and civil society to pull key themes and speakers to participate in our multistakeholder dialogues, advocate for companies to join the WEPs, and I liaise with the European Union delegation in Ottawa, UN Women headquarters in New York and our International Labour Organization counterpart in New York to ensure our programme in Canada is in line with larger global priorities.

The WE EMPOWER programme is a joint initiative of the European Union, UN Women and the International Labour Organization that focuses on responsible business conduct in G7 Countries. The EU funded programme is operating in Canada, Japan and the USA and we convene conversations about gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. Our overarching global programme theme is the Future of Work – we are looking at how the workplace is changing and how this will impact women’s economic empowerment. As part of this work, we encourage the use of the Women’s Empowerment Principles to help guide further change and action. 

When did you first realize that you wanted to work in the women’s advancement sector and how did you get into this line of work?

I only began to notice gender differences in work experiences after I started having children. This really hit me because we have been taught from childhood that we are all equal. We go through the education system and enter into the workforce with this belief of equality and equity and then the baby comes and it is apparent that the workplace has not evolved with the same values of equality and equity that we are taught in school. Issues around equal pay, work-life balance and women in leadership have sadly set the tone for many women’s working experiences.

I was a new mother reconciling the realities of balancing work life with family and I came across a posting for a UN Women role in Canada through social media.  As a student of political science with a very keen interest to work in international relations I eagerly read through the terms of reference and agreed with everything that was being asked of for the role and applied without hesitation. It was one of those moments where you feel like this job was tailored for you. The rest is history.

“I only began to notice gender differences in work experiences after I started having children. This really hit me because we have been taught from childhood that we are all equal.”

What are the Women’s Empowerment Principles?

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) are set of 7 principles set up in 2010 by UN Women and UN Global Compact and serve as a guide for businesses on how to empower women. The WEPs are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that businesses have a stake in, and a responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Today, there are currently more than 2,700 signatories to the WEPs globally. The WEPs cover 7 main areas of change:

  1. High-Level Corporate Leadership
  2. Treat all women and men fairly at work without discrimination
  3. Employee health, well-being and safety
  4. Education, training for gender equality
  5. Enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices
  6. Community initiatives and advocacy
  7. Measurement and reporting

The #FlexForEmpowerment campaign started Septemeber 2020, what inspired it? What is the aim?

Flex for Empowerment is an online engagement campaign designed to bring awareness to the Women’s Empowerment Principles and showcase good practices of women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. We kicked off the campaign during gender equality week and have had an overwhelming response and as a result, extended the campaign to the end of March 2020. We are encouraging men and women to share good practices of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. 

What would you say has been a highlight of the #FlexForEmpowerment campaign so far? How can people get involved?

The highlight of the campaign has been seeing companies rally behind the WEPs and share some of their good practices to support gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. I have been so encouraged by the enthusiasm of our allies to flex for empowerment and also by reading about new initiatives in the workplace, marketplace and community to support women’s economic empowerment —  this has given me hope that we are on the right track. You can get involved by becoming an ally here and start flexing for empowerment by:

  • Signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles
  • Host an event to showcase your best practices and policies for women’s empowerment in the workplace
  • Take to social media and tag @Empower_Women with your strongest policy and workplace policies
  • Write a story to highlight workplace changes and the impact in your community and share on under Stories
  • Send out a press release to your network/stakeholders to let them know what your office is doing for gender equality and encourage others to #FlexForEmpowerment
  • Create a Podcast, Blog or Video and share with our team about how your organization flexes for women’s economic empowerment

Complete this sentence: Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are crucial because…

we need to strive for a future that works for all!


Three steps to create team engagement with strategic priorities

Most employees want to feel stimulated by their work and know that their contribution is valued. However, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs. This sobering statistic is sadly a bleak reality for many. Wondering how to foster a culture of employee engagement on your team? Kim Bohr,  CEO of The Innovare Group, shares three tips for boosting team engagement that can be actioned today.   

By Kim Bohr

  After years of leading teams and now advising companies across industries on how to align their people and processes to be effective in executing strategic plans, one fact is very clear to me: poor execution will sink strategy every time.  At the heart of failed execution are three realities:  
  1. Too many priorities impact employees’ ability to understand the importance of “this initiative over the next.”
  2. Lack of clear direction on how these directives align with the bigger organizational goals. 
  3. Why their work matters and how it fits into what the executive team says is most important.  
I learned this the hard way from my own experiences leading high-performing teams. As leaders, we are exposed to our strategic plans and key initiatives daily. So frequently, we become desensitized to the change swirling around us.  Our people, on the other hand, are not privy to the same level of frequency or detail. On more than one occasion, I found myself answering questions like, “Why are we doing this again?” What I came to realize was that I wasn’t keeping them current on the journey we were on because I was so comfortable with it. I forgot the importance of reminding my team why their unique skills mattered in the bigger picture of our company goals.   

“If companies are to remain competitive, evolution and reinvention must happen — which means change is inevitable.”

  It’s our responsibility as leaders to bring people along the way and to remind them where we’ve been and where we’re going. To do this I created a simple yet effective approach for leaders to use with teams to remain current and connected. These are three steps you can immediately put to use.
  • The Past Serves a Purpose 
Context is so important in change initiatives. Executing on strategy is about implementing change of some sort, whether it be grounded in a mindset, process, or product. Providing a sense of events from the past that have shaped our company or team preserves the history and connects everyone to the WHY.
  • Our current state and need to evolve
Human instinct is to settle into routine. We are creatures of habit. If companies are to remain competitive, evolution and reinvention must happen — which means change is inevitable. Stating where we are now and why we need to evolve is key to effective execution. Helping people understand why the company needs to embrace change should include details on the challenges being faced or opportunities to be seized. Context is key to minimizing the “Why are we doing this again?” sort of questions.
  • What’s ahead and why their work is important
Business moves fast and it’s not uncommon for people to be heads-down, plugging away. We move from task to task, checking off our to-dos from lengthy lists. If we aren’t intentional in bringing our people along with us, the shift in direction will feel jarring. When we describe where the company is going, the most important piece that can’t be forgotten is including why the work of our teams are important. The more we can tailor the message to each role, the stronger the commitment we get from each person in executing on the key strategic initiatives.  Given how much time and resources are invested in developing strategy and business planning sessions, it would make sense that a similar level of investment would be made in the efforts to execute and operationalize. In order to make all the planning effort worthwhile, attention needs to be given towards developing a solid communication plan. Using a framework like the above allows management to communicate a consistent message that reflects alignment from the executive suite throughout the organization. Perhaps equally important, it’s an inclusive approach that makes change efforts stickier and executing on the plan more likely to succeed.
Kim Bohr

Kim Bohr

Author, speaker, executive advisor, and CEO of The Innovare Group, is best known for diagnosing and repairing organizational and leadership disconnects by working with companies and leaders to help them assess, align and accelerate the strategic priorities that impact talent, execution, and business growth. Kim’s book, Successes, Failures & Lessons Learned, is a 12-week guided career journal designed as a valuable tool for companies to put into their employee's hands to foster accountability and greater ownership over their professional development goals.

Understanding emotional intelligence in the workplace: it’s not what you think

The value of emotional intelligence in the workplace is being promoted more than ever. Laura Rees, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at Smith School of Business, shares her key findings from her research on emotional intelligence and tips for navigating emotions at work. 


We’ve all heard about emotional intelligence, the ability to be aware of, manage, and express emotions — without sharing too much. Emotional intelligence is a hot topic around the water cooler these days. But there’s confusion. What does “emotional intelligence” actually mean? And how much emotion should you show at work?

When someone tells you to “manage your emotions,” what they’re really saying is suppress them. But is that always the right approach? Laura Rees, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at Smith School of Business, says no.

Laura studies emotions in the workplace. She believes feelings like anger, frustration and sadness are important and shouldn’t be overlooked. Emotions have enormous power to shape how people make decisions, she says. “It’s much better to understand them than to ignore them.” 

At BCG after university, Laura often worked with companies undergoing big changes – from disruptive strategy shifts to mergers and layoffs. Staff were naturally affected. Some got emotional, others hid their feelings. Laura began poring over psychology books to understand what was going on.

“I wanted to know more about the emotional side of humans,” she recalls. “I thought, why not understand it and leverage it?”   

Fast-forward to today, and Laura has a PhD in management and teaches negotiations, organizational behaviour, and leadership to Commerce and Masters students at Smith. Her research into emotional intelligence demonstrates the power of human expression. Among her findings:


Anger isn’t always negative — in fact, it can improve the outcome of a negotiation. 

While we may think anger is problematic and best left out of negotiations, Laura’s research shows that having the emotional intelligence to recognize anger in the person across the table can actually work to your advantage. 

“If someone acts angry during a negotiation, you’ll want to use this cue to ask questions and gain diagnostic information,” she says. “In some cases, anger can create value if you can use it to understand why a person is upset.”

On the other hand, countering anger with anger can often lead to more trouble. Instead, use the gathered information to ensure your side doesn’t lose out during negotiations. “Don’t let their anger result in you giving away what’s rightfully yours,” Laura says. 


We should all strive for ambivalence in making decisions. 

Ambivalence is defined as “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.” When people are ambivalent, we assume they’re wishy-washy or indecisive. Yet, ambivalence is a powerful tool. Fostering ambivalence offers us the opportunity to make a more thoughtful decision—and to change our mind.

 “Ambivalence fascinates me because it can have surprisingly beneficial effects, including making you a better decision-maker,” Laura says. In class, she teaches her students to understand the benefits of keeping an open mind.


Emotions not only have a place in the boardroom, they are a key ingredient to a healthy workplace. 

Suppressing emotions isn’t just bad for you psychologically, it’s bad for you physically. Some neuroscience research suggests that if the parts of the brain that process emotions get damaged, the brain’s cognitive abilities are weakened as well. “While some workplaces tend to encourage suppression, it’s much more dangerous to not recognize how your emotions are affecting you,” Laura says. 

Oh, and don’t believe it when someone tells you that emotions and business shouldn’t mix. Our greatest success can come when we learn to recognize, express, and use our emotions. “Don’t judge emotions as bad or good,” Laura advises, “just learn to leverage their benefits and mitigate their downsides most effectively.”

Meet Neha Khera: From Waterloo to Silicon Valley — how she became a Partner at one of the most active venture capitalist firms in the world

Neha Khera is a Partner with 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that is one of the most active in the world. Based in Toronto, Neha leads the firm’s investments in early-stage startups across Canada. She has been immersed in the technology industry throughout her career, starting off as a software programmer at a startup and making her way to leading tech innovation at one of Canada’s top banks. Prior to 500 Startups, Neha was with the MaRS IAF where she invested in and managed a portfolio of early-stage startups. Neha is a strong supporter of women in technology, having launched and run Girls in Tech Toronto and a TEDx Women conference for a number of years. Neha obtained an Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Waterloo and an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business.

My first job ever was… a cashier at Sobey’s. I loved handling money! And would mentally race the cash register to calculate the amount of change due. Too bad transactions are largely digital now. We had to memorize over a hundred codes for the various fruits/vegetables. Somehow my memory has decided to retain this knowledge. 4011 for bananas anyone? 

I decided to work in the tech industry because… it is fast-paced and ever-evolving, and no two days look the same. I’ve never set long term goals for myself career-wise, other than to do cool things in tech. That mantra has gotten me to where I am today, and I’m excited as to what new opportunities will unfold in this industry.

One misconception people have about venture capitalists is…that we have a crystal ball and can accurately predict a good business idea from bad. I always remind entrepreneurs that a VC declining to invest in their business has little to no correlation to the success of it! 

My proudest accomplishment is… doing articles like this. Or when a young girl asks me for advice on pursuing STEM or being a venture capitalist. I’m honoured to be a role model for others knowing how hard it was for myself not having a female role model when deciding to pursue Engineering.

My boldest move to date was… convincing a startup to hire me as a software developer when I was 20 years old and had zero prior coding experience. The only reason the firm invited me to interview is that they were curious as to why I had applied.

I surprise people when I tell them… I don’t use social media. I made a conscious effort to get off it as I found it was affecting my well-being. It’s been proven that social media sites today are negatively impacting our mental health, and yet it’s such a prevalent force in our society. I worry constantly about the next generation of kids.

My best advice to young girls thinking about a career in STEM is… you won’t regret it! At the root of STEM education is learning how to problem-solve, and this skill will carry you through any number of careers you wish to pursue within the wide landscape which encompasses STEM. I started my career in software development, then went on to work in hardware design, transportation, telecommunications, and banking before finally landing in venture capital.


“I’m honoured to be a role model for others knowing how hard it was for myself not having a female role model when deciding to pursue Engineering.”


My best advice from a mentor was… “Don’t focus so much on networking. Find two or three people that truly believe in you and focus on nurturing those relationships, as they will be the ones to open doors and go to bat for you throughout your entire career”.

I would tell my 20-year old self... to make smarter decisions with my money! It’s a shame our education system doesn’t teach kids about financial literacy. Perhaps I’ve found my next idea to invest in.

My biggest setback was… when my previous venture capital fund unexpectedly shut down due to unforeseen circumstances. We had spent a year fundraising, all to have it fall by the wayside.

I overcame it byI wouldn’t say I overcame it, but I dealt with it. And it left me with thicker skin. Failure is an option for me now because I know it will only make me stronger. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… workout, then read. Two things I love but always get bumped when there just isn’t enough time.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I used to be a dragon boater! 

I stay inspired by… doing my job! There is so much inspiration to be had a venture capitalist. You hear about people’s big ideas and dreams on a daily basis. You follow along in their journey to success or sometimes failure, and get the chance to analyze everything that went right or should have been done differently. And you’re constantly thinking about how the world works, and what could be done differently to make things better.

The future excites me becausethe next generation cares less about material possessions, and more about the environment. They want to create businesses through a diversified lens and in a sustainable way. We seem to have taught them all the right values and empowered them with technological advances to see things through. I do believe the world will see its best self yet, although I often wonder what are we doing today that people 50 years from now will look back and shake their heads at? 

My next step is… exposing my kids to the world of tech!

Jess Tomlin & Jessica Houssian

Jess Tomlin & Jessica Houssian, Co-CEOs, Equality Fund


Impassioned feminist leaders, Jess and Jessica have a combined wealth of experience in the International Development sector — particularly in the realm of development finance. Following the Government of Canada’s call for the Partnership for Gender Equality in 2018, Jess Tomlin and Jessica Houssian founded The Equality Fund, and were subsequently awarded $300 million by the federal government to invest in grassroots initiatives supporting women in the developing world. The fund is an innovative, Canadian-led consortium made up of 11 organizations that together make up the world’s largest women’s fund. In addition to the federal contribution, the fund has already gathered an additional $100 million from Canadian and international philanthropic foundations, with an aim to reach $1 billion in assets that work in support of gender equality over the next 15 years.

Meet Canada’s role models — introducing our 2020 Top 25

Meet Canada’s most accomplished women role models.

From notable firsts to victories on the world stage, 2019 was a momentous year for Canadian women. It also saw grassroots initiatives grow, corporate cultures change, and businesses boom — all thanks to an extraordinary group of women.

This year’s Top 25 recipients represent a variety of sectors, career stages, and contributions — from athletes to activists, corporate leaders to up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Their unique achievements are impossible to compare against each other, which is why we’ve designed these awards as a celebration, rather than a ranking. 


“Our goal at Women of Influence is to recognize and celebrate the diverse accomplishments of role models across Canada by bringing them into the spotlight.”


So, what do these women have in common?  They have all left their mark over the past year: contributing to the greater good through their initiatives; using their influence to drive positive change; or reaching inspiring heights on a global stage.

To our 2020 Top 25 Women of Influence, and all the other incredible Canadian women of influence having an impact across the country, we see you, we salute you, and we thank you.


Who are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 2020 list.



How Sally Armstrong went from phys-ed teacher to war correspondent

By Stephania Varalli

We are honouring Sally Armstrong with the 2020 Top 25 Women of Influence Lifetime Achievement Award for her decades-long dedication to sharing the stories of women and girls in conflict zones. Her work is easy to admire — providing an outlet to victims who want to have a voice, shining a light on struggles around the globe, driving change — and her journey is even more inspiring when you go back to the beginning. How did a high school phys-ed teacher with no aspirations of writing become “the war correspondent for the world’s women,” as she’s often called? How did a mom of three living in Oakville end up in Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Sudan, to name a few? This is the origin story of Sally Armstrong — multi-award winning journalist, bestselling author, and human rights activist. 


It was 11 at night, because when there’s a war going on, it’s better to move around in the dark. Sally Armstrong had already spoken to many other women — confirming the rumours that systemic mass rape was being used as a weapon of war in the Balkans. The estimates put the number as high as 20,000 women and girls, aged 8 to 80; most of them terrified to be found out, most from families who would disown them. “I don’t want to walk away with a statistic,” Sally had said, in an interview with a local psychiatrist. “I want to tell someone’s story, but I’m very worried about exposing someone who is terrified.” 

“I know who you should meet,” he responded. And that’s how Sally ended up sitting across from Eva Penovic, in the fall of 1992.

“She began to tell her story, and honest to God, I will never in my life forget it. You could hear the bombs in the distance, and the room would light up — there is no power, just candles — but the room would light up with the explosion. And here’s this woman, she’s a peasant, a country woman, and she started to tell her story. And the crescendo of her words would rise, and she would get to her feet, and she would be punching in the air and yelling and sitting down and sweating and sort of erasing the invisible wrinkles in her apron.”

And Eva told her, “Until someone says, ‘This is my name, this is my face, this is what you did to me,’ we won’t be able to have justice.”

If I were trying to sum up Sally Armstrong’s work as a journalist, Eva’s words would do a good job of it. She has dedicated herself to sharing the accounts of women and girls, giving a face and a name to conflicts and injustices the world over. 

“The thread is always the same,” Sally says, reflecting on her decades-long career. “There’s this extraordinary attitude that women should be second-class, put down, punished, not included. It is absolutely extraordinary to me. It doesn’t matter whether you are in South Sudan or Iraq, Afghanistan or China — it’s the same thing.” 

Her narrative style immerses you in the story. She captures the facts alongside the raw emotions, and doesn’t spare you from the hard-to-read details — her allegiance is clearly to her subjects. “I feel strongly that my job is not to protect you, it is to highlight them,” says Sally, “so I don’t shy away from the horror. People will say, ‘Don’t tell that story, people can’t bear to read that.’ Then skip over the page. My job is to tell what happened.” 

And often, her job doesn’t end there. One of the valuable things about her journalism, she says, is that she “gets to go back and find out where these people ended up.” Like Eva’s children, who contacted Sally on Facebook two years ago. They were 0 to 9 years old when she met them, in the middle of a war, in desperate days. She recalls them telling her that they associated her with darkness, explosions, fear — and games. 

“Because I was a phys-ed teacher,” she explains, “so I was teaching them how to do roundoff back handsprings off the couch while the bombs were going off two kilometres away.” 

To understand the juxtaposition — bombs and back handsprings, war correspondent and phys-ed teacher — you have to go back to the beginning. 

Born and raised in Montreal, Sally stayed in her hometown to attend McGill University, where she earned a Bachelor of Education degree in 1966. She met her husband, Ross, in the first week of school, and the pair were married a year after graduating. By 1975, they were settled in Oakville, Sally was not far beyond her milestone thirtieth birthday, and pregnant with her third child. An athlete from a young age, she worked as a phys-ed teacher — content in seeing the boost in self-esteem that physical fitness could provide to girls. 

“There were people in the magazine business that thought, what is Armstrong doing over there? I didn’t listen to them — I listened to the readers.”

The first fork in the road happened almost by chance. Her husband’s boss’ wife knew she was passionate about fitness, and so gave her name to Clem Compton-Smith, an entrepreneur getting set to launch a new lifestyle magazine. Sally had no writing experience, and didn’t expect to get the job at the yet unnamed publication, but when Canadian Living made its debut in December of 1975, Sally was on the masthead.  

With no formal training her work was unpolished, but she had an ability to deliver what was captivating in a story — authenticity, vulnerability — and worked hard to hone her craft. For a decade she wrote about exercise and family life. Then, in 1986, she heard about Theresa Hicks, a Canadian nurse working with impoverished people in Liberia. Sally successfully petitioned her editor-in-chief to send her to the West African nation to cover her story. It was her first foreign assignment, and her first exposure to a country in conflict. 

Sally was hooked, and readers were enthralled. But it wasn’t the kind of story Canadian Living was used to running, and it was clear the magazine had no intentions of moving in that direction. So in 1988, when Sally was offered the role of editor-in-chief at sister publication, Homemakers, she took the job — despite having little experience with editing.

“Homemakers was always known as a thinking woman’s magazine,” says Sally. “That’s the magazine that took on loads of issues for women — and society.” 

Tasked with figuring out how to compete with Chatelaine and Canadian Living, she thought there might be an opportunity to expand the scope of what Homemakers was offering, with international stories like those of Theresa Hicks. 

“It occurred to me that women reading my magazine would want more meat on the bones of the stories we were giving them,” says Sally. “And I thought we were the magazine that should go out there and take on what was happening to women and girls around the world.” 

There was no budget to test her theory with research, so she wrote to about 300 readers to see what they thought about the idea. Astonishingly, most of them wrote back, with enough support for Sally to take a chance. As part of her hiring, she had agreed to write two to three major features each year, and “it was a lot cheaper to send me than somebody else. It really began that way.” 

It wasn’t an easy road. “When I began, by myself, doing something that most editors at women’s magazines were not doing — and I felt the pressure of getting that story, I mean, imagine if you didn’t get the story? — I was very alone. No one knew me, and it was difficult. I knew what I had to do, but was I going to be able to do it?”  

If you asked the readers, the answer was yes. “They were coming through the doors and windows to get these stories,” says Sally. It was during this time that she recounted Eva Penovic’s tragic experience. She interviewed the first Canadian women troops on the front lines in the Persian Gulf. She reported on female genital mutilation in Senegal. She profiled two teenage prostitutes — a 15-year-old from Toronto and a 13-year-old from Bangladesh — sharing their story with 1.3 million readers. She visited Afghanistan months after the Taliban seized power, becoming the first journalist to report on the lives of women under the misogynistic regime. After the story ran, more than 9000 letters poured in from concerned readers. 

“It was a very new road for women, and we travelled it with energy and passion,” says Sally. “And our readers returned the passion to us.” 

“Over the toilet in my kids’ bathroom, I had a big poster. And it was Marilyn Monroe, and she was on a motorcycle, and she was leaning over the handlebars, and grinning into the camera. And the caption was, you can do anything. There were people who questioned whether I should have that poster over the toilet of my kids’ bathroom, but that’s what I wanted them to grow up with. And that’s what I would say to anybody today: You can do anything.”

Still, there were many — including her publisher at Homemakers — who didn’t think stories of international war crimes should be next to recipes for lasagna. Sally says she had to fight to see each one in print. 

“There were people in the magazine business that thought, what is Armstrong doing over there?” she recalls. “I didn’t listen to them — I listened to the readers.” 

After an 11-year run, Sally was ready for her next chapter. She left Homemakers to pursue a master’s degree from the University of Toronto, writing a thesis on human rights, women, and health. After graduating in 2001, she continued to focus her energy on the world’s women, but her platforms grew. She was a contributing editor at Maclean’s and an editor-at-large for Chatelaine. She worked on documentaries, authored five books, and got on the speaking circuit. She was named UNICEF’s special representative to Afghanistan, and served on the International Women’s Commission, a UN body whose mandate was assisting with the path to peace in the Middle East.

Her latest project is Power Shift: The Longest Revolution, researched and written in a gruelling seven months for the 2019 CBC Massey Lectures. Going as far back as the palaeolithic era, it examines the origin and evolution of the oppression of women, with a lens on history, sex, culture, religion, and politics. Sally draws from many of the stories she has reported on over the years, with new research and new perspectives added in — creating a thorough timeline with the hopeful conclusion that we are closer to gaining equality than ever before. 

It’s a fitting opus for someone who has dedicated her career to women’s struggles. At least, most of her career. I can’t help but ask, as we finish our interview, what would Sally-of-today say to Sally-forty-five-years-ago — mom of three, living in Oakville, teaching high school phys-ed?

Sally answers, of course, with a story:

“Over the toilet in my kids’ bathroom, I had a big poster. And it was Marilyn Monroe, and she was on a motorcycle, and she was leaning over the handlebars, and grinning into the camera. And the caption was, you can do anything. There were people who questioned whether I should have that poster over the toilet of my kids’ bathroom, but that’s what I wanted them to grow up with. And that’s what I would say to anybody today: You can do anything.”

After breaking barriers, Swanzy Quarshie is pulling others along with her

As a Director in energy sales at Scotiabank in Toronto, Swanzy Quarshie guides institutional investors in the landscape of energy. As a member of the bank’s Black Employee Network, she’s helping to mentor and inspire a whole new generation of rising financial stars.


By Shelley White


When Swanzy Quarshie first moved from Newfoundland to Toronto, she knew two things for sure: she wanted to be a portfolio manager one day and she wanted to work on Bay Street. 

A Bachelor of Commerce graduate of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Swanzy had completed a co-op program as an analyst with an East Coast telecommunications company. During the program, her co-op supervisor encouraged her to pursue her dreams of working in the capital markets. 

“He knew that I was really passionate about finance and he told me he thought I could do really well in it. He got me excited about my potential,” says Swanzy, now Director, Energy Sales Specialist, at Scotiabank in Toronto. 

Swanzy flew to Toronto, stayed with family friends in Mississauga, and set out to get a job. 

“But I knew so little about Bay Street. All I knew was that Bay Street was where you went if you were looking for a capital markets job. Unfortunately, I certainly didn’t know any of the right people to guide me,” she says. “And so I got on the subway and got off at Bay station.”

Finding herself in swanky Yorkville — more about high fashion boutiques than high finance — Swanzy asked someone on the street where the office towers were. 

“They said, ‘You mean like the financial district?’ And pointed me south. I headed that direction on foot, entered office towers and handed in my resume to anyone who would take it.” 

That first bold move was the beginning of an auspicious 20-year career in capital markets. Now, as a Director at Scotiabank and a member of the bank’s Black Employee Network, Swanzy is helping to mentor and inspire a whole new generation of rising financial stars.

Originally from Ghana, West Africa, Swanzy’s first experience with Canada was at eight years old when her family moved to Edmonton. Her father, a lifelong academic, had received a Canadian International Development Agency scholarship to do his PhD in the city. After three years in Edmonton, the family moved to the small island nation of Papua New Guinea where Swanzy attended an international school. 

Swanzy says that she felt like an “outlier” in both those environments.  

“In Edmonton, I was one of four black kids in my school and two of them were my sisters,” she says. 

After that first whirlwind experience landing a job on Bay Street, Swanzy began to build her career in capital markets in Canada. She worked her way up to portfolio manager in the energy space within five years of being hired.

When the company she was working at was acquired, Swanzy found herself again at a transition point. Keeping an open mind to new opportunities and different career paths, she talked to oil and gas companies, analysts, private equity firms, investment bankers, and more. “It got me as excited about my career as I was that first day I got off at Bay subway station.” Except this time, she had a network of contacts who rallied around her.


“Anytime you can break a barrier or break a ceiling, you have a responsibility to also pull somebody else along with you. And I see the Black Employee Network as that group that will allow me to reach out to people that face similar barriers and to help pull them forward.” 


When Swanzy was contacted by Scotiabank to discuss a new opportunity to join the bank as Director, Energy Sales Specialist, she went in with an open mind and quickly realized this new position was exactly what she had been looking for. 

“My clients are institutional investors that invest in energy,” Swanzy explains. “As a representative of Global Banking and Markets at Scotiabank, I represent the research team and provide clients ideas and solutions on behalf of the bank. Whenever there’s anything noteworthy going on in the energy landscape, I reach out to clients.”

Swanzy says Scotiabank’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was a major factor that convinced her it was the right place for her. During the interview process, her potential employer expressed how diversity and inclusion was an integral part of the bank’s culture. Scotiabank is currently the only Canadian bank that has created a Diversity and Inclusion office with a focus on capital markets.

“I was searching for a new platform to launch the next phase of my career. The role, the fact that diversity and inclusion is an integral part of this leading Canadian bank’s culture and the opportunity for career progression and development told me this was the right place for me,” she says.

Another important change in her life has come from her involvement with the Black Employee Network at Scotiabank. Swanzy says that in the past, although she had worked with some associations and done some mentoring, she never explicitly attached herself to any one group.

“I’ve come to understand that I have a role to play,” she says. “Anytime you can break a barrier or ceiling, you have a responsibility to also empower others. And I see the Black Employee Network as that group that will allow me to reach out to people that face similar barriers and to help pull them forward.” 

To celebrate Black History Month this year, the Black Employee Network is hosting a panel, moderated by Rania Llewellyn, Executive Vice President, Global Business Payments at Scotiabank, that will tackle the question “What does the future of Corporate Canada look like for black professionals?” Swanzy says that for her, Black History Month means a great deal. 

“I take a lot of pride in who I am,” she says. “And I take a lot of pride in the collective black experience. A lot of the slave trade occurred through Ghana. Slave castles dot the country’s coastline, so I’m forced to think about this part of our history often. For me, Black History Month is about recognizing all the achievements that have been made by our shared group in the face of extraordinary and often insurmountable barriers.” 

For young women hoping to succeed the way she has, Swanzy has this advice: Stop putting yourself in a box. 

“I think as women we naturally assume really defined roles and we allow these roles to further define who we are and our career choices,” she says. “If you want to grow, it’s really important to erase the confines that come with definitions, so you can embrace new experiences and the mistakes and failures that inevitably come with them.” 


Meet Kimberley Pontbriand: From teen professional model to entrepreneur and branding expert


Not many people can say that at the age of 14 they were travelling around the world — as a professional model, Kimberley Pontbriand was afforded this opportunity that would later pay for her university studies. While studying, Kim worked as the Director of Marketing for Clinique Invisia in Montreal, where she was responsible for rebranding the company, designing the website, and building all sales materials. Today, Kim is the Chief Brand Officer at ergonofis, and manages the look and feel of the brand. We sat down with her and talk about her professional journey and her top tips for success.



My first job was… As a waitress in a small restaurant at 14 years old. I was eager to start working and fortunate enough to live in a small town where everybody pretty much knew everybody, which is probably why the owner felt comfortable to hire me at such a young age. 

My proudest accomplishment is… Our startup ergonofis. Starting and scaling a business from scratch without investors is quite an accomplishment for me!

My boldest move to date was…Quitting my day job to start a business. I’m typically very calculated and so this was a very bold and risky move for me.

My biggest setback was…Being in my late 20s, I’m one of the lucky ones who hasn’t yet had a major setback in life. However, as an entrepreneur, life is never only a joyride. I sometimes overthink certain situations, I tend to work too much and ignore my personal life from time to time, and I sometimes feel lost. I remember one particular period when I felt completely lost, I didn’t know why I was working so hard and I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life. 

I overcame it by…Taking a few days off to reconnect with myself. During this time, I asked myself crucial questions to figure out what I wanted out of my life, what my objectives were, and what my purpose was. It turns out that it was all right in front of me this entire time. I just needed to take care of myself. I came back stronger and more motivated than ever!

The best part of my day is…My morning routine. I love waking up early, around 5:30 AM, I workout, and I fast until 11:00 AM. I also love going to the office before everybody else. It allows me to really focus on creative projects without being bothered by phone calls, meetings, and whatnot. 

The most challenging part of my day is…Meetings! I’m involved in so many parts of the company that my schedule is always filled with them (and we really don’t have that many compared to bigger companies!). Personally, it’s challenging to take a step back and not be involved with every single detail of the business because I’m so passionate about what we’re building and I want to make sure our branding transpires in everything we do.

Becoming a professional model at 14 taught me…How to think strategically about branding and it helped me develop my eye for design. I was inspired by so many great designers that I’ve had the pleasure of working with!


“I’m constantly evolving and discovering new passions. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be more interested in psychology then branding, who knows! And I want to give myself the freedom to change while I discover myself along the way.”


One book every woman should read is… Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Vab Edwards I can’t describe the book any better than the actual description of the book: As a human behaviour hacker, Vanessa created a research lab to study the hidden forces that drive us. This is the first comprehensive, science-backed, real-life manual on how to captivate anyone—and a completely new approach to building connections.

My biggest hope for my daughter is…That she finds her passion.

My greatest advice from a mentor was…Your career path isn’t going to be linear. I’ve never mapped out my career or felt the need to define what my long-term career should look like. I’m constantly evolving and discovering new passions. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be more interested in psychology then branding, who knows! And I want to give myself the freedom to change while I discover myself along the way. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… My business partner Samuel Finn (I know it a little cheesy but it’s true!). I never defined myself as an entrepreneur and he’s the pure definition of it. We’re fortunate to have different strengths. For instance, he’s really good in negotiations, finance, and everything business-related. On my end, I’m good at branding, and really anything that requires creative work. I also pride myself on being more human! We would never be where we are today If it wasn’t from him and our successful partnership.

I surprise people when I tell them…That I’m really shy and that it requires a lot of effort to get passed my shyness every day as I interact with people.

The future excites me because…There are so many great opportunities in front of us and I’m fortunate to work with the greatest team. I’m very grateful for all that’s happened, and everything that’s coming our way.


How Debbie Fung, co-founder of Yoga Tree Studios, found success following her passion


When Debbie Fung and her partner, Jason Lu, graduated from university, they both landed great jobs in their fields of study — but instead, they chose to follow their passion. Launching Yoga Tree Studios in 2007, they’ve grown the business to six locations, and have plans to open more. Debbie shares how the pair have found success — and balance — with their customer-centric plan.


by Shelley White




Debbie Fung says there are two things she and her partner Jason Lu aim to cultivate at their 13-year-old business, Yoga Tree Studios: community and value.

“We want to create community, in the sense that we offer authentic yoga classes, but also a space where you can connect and meet like-minded individuals,” says Debbie, co-founder of the Toronto-area chain of six yoga studios.

“And when we say value, we want to make sure that we’re definitely not the cheapest yoga studio, we’re not the most expensive, but we’re priced right,” she adds.

Debbie and Jason founded Yoga Tree in 2007 when they became disillusioned with their chosen careers. The couple had both graduated from the University of Waterloo and immediately landed high-potential jobs (Debbie as a buyer in retail, Jason in tech). But Debbie says that “mentally, it wasn’t very satisfying. There was a lot more in life that we wanted to strive towards, a passion that we always wanted to foster.”

The two travelled to India to complete their yoga teacher training and when they returned, they applied for a small business loan and opened a “tiny studio” in Thornhill, Debbie says.

“It was hard, but at the same time, in that situation, you get the most authentic live feedback because you’re there day in, day out — you live and breathe the business,” she says.

Debbie and Jason learned quickly that success was about listening to their clients. When yoga students asked about getting paraben-free soap to use after doing hot yoga (which is practiced in hot, humid conditions), Debbie and Jason made their own paraben-free soap to stock the bathrooms and showers. When clients said they couldn’t do hot yoga because of medications or health conditions, Debbie and Jason started offering reduced-heat classes.

“Conversations with our clients have led up to what we’ve evolved into today,” Debbie says.

It was a desire to deepen their relationships with clients that prompted Debbie to get involved with Cisco’s Women Entrepreneur Circle (WEC), which provides technology, education and expertise for women-owned and co-owned businesses across Canada. Debbie had learned about WEC a couple of years ago through her contacts at BDC. Known as Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs, BDC is a key supporter of WEC — specifically, the initiative’s Circle of Innovation program, that connects business owners with interns from Canadian universities for three months in the summer, to help them complete specific technological goals and projects.

At first, Debbie wondered whether they were the right type of company that would benefit from the program — were they too small? Not tech-savvy enough? But she decided to take the plunge and was paired with University of Toronto mechanical engineering student Chloe Macdonald this past summer.

Debbie says the goal was to explore whether they were leveraging third-party apps and software to their advantage on the Yoga Tree website.


“We want to create community, in the sense that we offer authentic yoga classes, but also a space where you can connect and meet like-minded individuals.”


“In the yoga landscape, we have all these different merchants approaching us, saying, ‘Why don’t you have this gadget or widget added on to your site?’ So what we hoped for from the Cisco program was that they would guide us to a new level of insight that we normally don’t have access to in the health and wellness space,” Debbie says.

One of Chloe’s primary tasks was to determine whether Yoga Tree should add a chatbot to their website.

“We have a lot of members and potential clients with questions and a lot of those might happen after working hours,” Debbie says. “They’re thinking, ‘I’m just putting my kids to bed at 9:00, and I now want to sign myself up and get motivated for yoga.’ So how do we make sure we don’t lose those leads?”

Chloe identified the different chatbot programs on the market and helped the company narrow down what programs could be a good fit. After Chloe’s research and analysis, Debbie says they determined that chatbot technology isn’t sophisticated enough at this point to properly answer the kinds of questions that clients would be asking.

“In the yoga world, it’s so customized,” Debbie says. “You might have a hip replacement, you might have a knee injury — the last thing we want is to upset the student, as opposed to making it more clear for them that yoga is a great choice.”

Debbie says having Chloe on board was valuable because she provided the kind of knowledge and understanding they likely couldn’t have gotten unless they had hired a consulting firm. “She provided a level of insight that was really fresh,” Debbie says.

It’s an experience that she thinks would be beneficial for businesses of all types and sizes. “Being a woman entrepreneur, you need to invest the time into tech,” she says. “You may not have resources for it, but I think Cisco, BDC, and WEC are great places to find that support.”

With six locations under their belt in Toronto, Debbie says she and Jason have big plans for the future. They are looking to open more locations in Ontario and then expand into Quebec.

Debbie says that while Yoga Tree is a passion that both she and her partner share — “We believe that yoga is something that benefits people; we’ve seen it change people’s lives,” she says — they are also careful to maintain boundaries in order to avoid burnout. While Jason handles the yoga side of the business, teaching class and training their instructors, Debbie handles the operations side, including areas like marketing and finance. Being busy entrepreneurs with kids (the couple have two young boys, ages 6 and 8), Debbie says she has also learned how important it is to delegate.

“I can’t emphasize that enough,” she says with a laugh.

“I volunteer quite a bit at my boys’ school, and the only way I can do that safely and happily is to really let go at Yoga Tree. Not letting go in terms of quality, but letting go in terms of hiring quality people to help you manage.” It may not be easy to drop the reins when you’re the leader, she says, but it does pay off to loosen them a bit.

“I think as entrepreneurs, we always want to do everything. One of my biggest ‘a-ha’ moments was understanding that not everyone might have the way of working like you do as the owner. But if you can let go and allow the other personal aspects of your life to grow, that’s when you get the most reward.”


The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps. Are you considering becoming a business owner? Access BDC’s free How to Start a Business module to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.

Meet Kathryn Hollinrake: a photographer known for her profile portraits and celebrity clientele

photo by Kathryn Hollinrake


As a professional photographer, Kathryn Hollinrake’s client list has many notable names, including several stars of Dragon’s Den, Hurricane Hazel McCallion, and multi-talented Canadian entertainment icon Bruce McCulloch, among others. She began her career after moving from Vancouver, graduating from Ryerson’s Film and Photography program with a Bachelor of Technology degree, and taking a slight detour to work as a Technical Sales Rep for Kodak’s Professional Photography Division in Edmonton. Back in Toronto and back to the plan, she launched her own business specializing in commercial photography. Faced with changes in technology and within the industry, she expanded her skill set, and eventually established her current niche as a corporate and portrait photographer known for her compelling profile portraits.



My first job ever was… working in a department store in New Zealand where we lived briefly during my teenage years. During a particularly slow period, a customer once mistook me for a mannequin. I’m sure people who know me now would never believe I could stand that still. 

I became a photographer because…  I couldn’t draw fast enough. I wanted to do something artistic, and when my graphics teacher in high school said you had to be really fast, I thought, “Well, graphic design is out.” The same year I had my first experience in a darkroom and I thought I could see doing that kind of work for a long time. When I told a friend of my father that if there was a degree program in photography that’s what I’d choose to do, he said, “There is, at a school called Ryerson in Toronto.” I applied and got in and never looked back.

My proudest accomplishment is… staying in business for 25 years so far, when many of my contemporaries chose to leave the field, and when I, at times, have thought I may not be able to continue. Thankfully, I have been able to pivot when needed and build a business that looks nothing like what I would have imagined it would when I started. When I launched I was focused on commercial photography, working with ad agencies and art directors. As much of that work started to disappear, I shot stock, I shot weddings, I exhibited as an artist, I did pet photography, and ultimately I focused in on corporate photography and portraiture, working with clients and organizations directly, as well as with their design firms, to produce everything from headshots to book covers to environmental portraits and business-related imagery for websites and other marketing initiatives.

My boldest move to date was… embracing that I needed to think and act like an entrepreneur. For years I held on to the idea that I was a photographer, not an entrepreneur. It’s been an ongoing challenge as I am really an artist at heart. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I am a divemaster level scuba diver.

My best advice to people starting out in photography is… Success will be more about running the business than about your skill as a photographic artist. And whatever you do, make sure you have confidence in your product (which in this case is both you and your photographs). It is very hard to sell a product you don’t believe in. 

The best part of my job is… surprising reluctant subjects with photographs of themselves that they didn’t expect to love, but do. And I find it fascinating and inspiring getting to know new people in all kinds of roles and businesses, and getting the chance to see diverse businesses from the inside. I never know who I am going to get to meet in the next month or year. 

My best advice about headshots is… that the skill and experience of your photographer will make a big difference to your own experience and to the final product. If you find the right photographer you don’t have to know anything going into a headshot session. It’s their job to make it happen. Trust them, be open-minded, and follow what they say. If they send you wardrobe instructions, read and follow them. And don’t tie your hair back, unless that really is the way you wear it all the time. 


I stay inspired by being on a never-ending quest to up my game, and keep the work fresh and new, and uniquely mine. I experiment.


I would tell my 25-year old self… Don’t subjugate yourself to horrible people to gain experience, even if they are stars in your field. The benefits won’t outweigh the potential damage. Put self-doubt aside, specialize in one area of photography, become really good at just that, and make a lot of noise about it. Be out in the world, meet a lot of people, and build relationships. It really is going to be about marketing and connections. 

My biggest setback was… probably also the biggest boon to my career. The introduction of digital photography and subsequent availability of cheap, high-quality commercial imagery wiped out a huge part of my market. Photographers were no longer being hired to shoot jobs for which stock photography could be used. The barriers to entry began to evaporate as digital cameras became cheaper and cheaper, and the ability to fix mistakes in Photoshop meant photographers did not have to be trained the way we used to be. So more and more people started hanging out their shingles as “photographers”. 

I overcame it by… joining the stock industry by shooting stock myself (that didn’t last long!), and at the same time concentrating on where original photography was still going to be needed, and how to provide more for less, without totally succumbing to the “race to the bottom.” This ultimately required pivoting from a commercial specialization to more portraits and corporate work. Fortunately, the creative tools that became available to photographers with digital imaging expanded my ability to create compelling original imagery — and differentiate myself from my competitors. One way I do this now, for example, is by designing and producing my own photographic backdrops for corporate headshots. I basically simulate a corporate environment so I can shoot in any place at any time of day and get a consistent and appealing result that’s more interesting than a headshot on a gray background.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… pick up the ukulele I started learning to play a couple of years ago (but stopped) and start again. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I have acted in probably a dozen commercials.

I stay inspired by… being on a never-ending quest to up my game, and keep the work fresh and new, and uniquely mine. I experiment. I collect portraits I like and study the lighting. I constantly observe what works and doesn’t in my photos and others’, and I am always thinking about what will serve clients best. There is always room for improvement. People call me a perfectionist and since perfection is pretty much impossible there’s an ongoing impetus to keep striving for it.

The future excites me because… I am on a bit of a mission to see all the bad photos online (and in print) in business-related places replaced with good ones. I see a lot of opportunity there. There is a bit of a pendulum swing happening with some clients who have had bad experiences with less than professional photographers and are coming back to understanding the value of hiring a true professional. 

My next step is… Finishing my newest corporate portrait backdrop. I plan to continue to create a small set of them so clients have a choice. As far as I know, nobody else is doing this. And I am going to be looking into video portraiture, starting with one for my website!

Announcing the 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Winners

Last night we celebrated the 27th annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, and today we are proud to announce the six winners of the 2019 awards. These award winners join the five recipients of the up-and-coming entrepreneur ‘Ones to Watch’ award category, which was announced in September of this year. This year’s winners and recipients span sectors that include finance, hospitality, technology, paralysis recovery, cannabis, packaging, fine spirits, and much more.






“Entrepreneurial trailblazers are defined by their relentless pursuit of innovation and excellence, and their perseverance and courage to challenge the status quo,” said Greg Grice, Executive Vice-President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “There are countless women entrepreneurs who have made their mark in Canadian business by exemplifying these qualities, and their journey serves as an inspiration to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Today, we’re proud to showcase and celebrate their stories and achievements as we recognize the winners of this year’s RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.”

Now in its 27th year, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards program recognizes the country’s leading female entrepreneurs who have made impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian or global economy. The judging panel of the awards program is comprised of 12 judges who are notably some of Canada’s top business leaders, including: Françoise Lyon, President & Managing Partner,  DGC Capital; Karen Brookman, Partner and Chief Innovation Office West Canadian Digital Imaging;  Karen Greve Young, CEO Futurpreneur and Paulette Senior, President & CEO, Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The official announcement of the 2019 award recipients was made at the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards gala, which was held on November 20th and hosted by Marcia MacMillan, Anchor, CTV News Channel. 

Following yet another record-breaking year of over 9,000 nominations, the 2019 award winners are:

  • Kelly Ann Woods, Gillespie’s Fine Spirits Ltd, Boozewitch Beverage Company, Switch Beverage Co., Squamish, BC, Diversity Institute / Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award 
  • Jayne McCaw, Jayne’s Cottages, Port Carling, ON, Start-Up Award
  • Janet LePage, Western Wealth Capital, Vancouver, BC, RBC Momentum Award
  • Geetha Moorthy, SAAAC Autism Centre, Scarborough, ON, Social Change Award
  • Carinne Chambers-Saini, Diva International Inc., Kitchener, ON, TELUS Trailblazer Award
  • Brigitte Jalbert, Les Emballages Carrousel Inc., Boucherville, QC, Syntax Strategic Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award

The Gala also honoured the recipients of the Ones to Watch Award: Bean  Gill, ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre; Melissa Kargiannakis, skritswap; Melinda Rombouts, Eve & Co Cannabis; Dr. Dina Kulik, Kidcrew and Lisa Ali Learning, AtlanTick Repellent Products Inc. 

“We are proud and honoured to recognize the incredible achievements of this year’s award recipients,” says Alicia Skalin, Co-CEO & Head of Events, Women of Influence. “As we embark on the start of a new decade in 2020, the success that has been achieved by this group of innovators and change makers is a strong testament to the bright future of Canadian business.” 

For more information on this year’s award winners, visit

View the full press release in English or French for more information.


Meet Mary Purdie: an Illustrator using her art for impact

Mary Purdie is an illustrator based in Los Angeles, California. She draws inspiration from her personal experiences to create art that amplifies discussions around topics like grief, healing, personal growth, and mental health. Mary’s mission is to continue creating heartfelt artwork that resonates, comforts and creates a community where vulnerable conversations are welcomed and embraced. Mary recently worked on “She Rises: Uplifting Words for Anxious Girls”, an illustrated poetry book written by TED Speaker, Katie Zeppieri, that takes readers on a mental health journey from darkness to light.


My first job was…barista at Starbucks!

My proudest accomplishment is…becoming a full-time freelance artist.

My boldest move to date was…moving from NYC to California without a solid plan!

My biggest setback was…self-doubt, comparing myself to others in the industry, and feeling envious of some opportunities that others received.

I overcame it by… trusting in my journey and knowing that what is for me will not pass me by.

The best part of my job is… creating beautiful art that connects with others.


“Prioritize sacred self-care. This doesn’t include manicures and bubble baths, but the activities that nourish your spirit and make your heart sing.”


The most challenging part of my day is…sticking to a routine that has a healthy balance.

My hope for She Rises is that … every reader feels seen, heard, loved, and that they know they are never alone.

My greatest advice from a mentor was…prioritize sacred self-care. This doesn’t include manicures and bubble baths, but the activities that nourish your spirit and make your heart sing.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… practice often. No matter how inspired or uninspired I feel, keep creating.

I surprise people when I tell them…I once gave up on my creative career dreams to pursue other things, but life had other plans.

The future excites me because…life is full of surprises!

Meet Margot & Marion Witz of Elizabeth Grant International

Margot & Marion Witz

Elizabeth Grant International

Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award Finalist


For mother and daughter duo, Marion and Margot, the beauty business was a natural choice. Elizabeth Grant (the mother of the former and grandmother of the latter) is the original founder of the luxury skincare company Elizabeth Grant International. Now, the three women work side-by-side. A successful international beauty brand, Elizabeth Grant Skin Care boasts an A-list following, with fans such as J.Lo, Blake Lively, Rosario Dawson, and Petra Nemcova, among others.


My first job ever was…

Margot – I was a Camp Counsellor at Camp Wahanowin. My first job in the city was as a secretary for my dad. I was 15 for both. 

Marion – I started working while still at school when I was 12 – far below the working age but I looked much older and needed money. My first job was at Woolworths in South Africa. I started in women’s clothing, then worked at the candy counter, graduated to the grocery checkout, operated the elevators, was promoted to switchboard operator and ended up as a filing clerk. My first real job was teaching History and English to High School students.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

Margot – I became an entrepreneur because I had the passion inside of me to do something different, and I was used to my voice being silenced. For me, being an entrepreneur allowed me to have a seat at the table, without having to ask permission for it.

Marion – I decided to become an entrepreneur because it was time. I worked with my husband helping him build his business and after 20 years I knew it was time for me to do it for myself. The opportunity presented itself and I seized the moment.

My proudest accomplishment is… 

Margot – My work with LGFB. There was a time I was their youngest board member, and they were having a deficit. One of the years I was on the board, my dad was diagnosed with Cancer, and I was awake all night just wondering how I could help. I started The Big Give, which was a charity party that 100% of proceeds were donated back to LGFB on the condition it went to the workshops that were having the most financial strain. No one believed the party was going to be successful, but the first year on a Tuesday night, I had 550 people, $20,000. The second was a Wednesday night 650 people, $80,000. The third and so far final, was over 1000 people and over $100,000 was raised. The Big Give was to me the little engine that could, and 5 years after its finale, I am still asked when the next one is. 

Marion – how the success of Elizabeth Grant has positively impacted the lives of the people who work for the company.

My boldest move to date was… 

Margot – Joining Elizabeth Grant Skin Care. I was originally a high school English teacher. A lot of people may not realize how difficult it is to work in a family business, a) you never leave work and b) never really have time off. But the harder aspect is earning respect from your colleagues, ensuring your team values your work and that you earn the right to be there vs just there because of nepotism.

Marion – Leaving my steady job with my husband and starting Elizabeth Grant International Inc.

I surprise people when I tell them… 

Margot – That I am a “Living Infomercial”. It’s a fun icebreaker with people who I have never met before, and an unexpected surprise to most “What do you do” conversations. 

Marion – I’ve authored 2 books – Stand Up and Talk to 1000 People, and Enjoy It! And Elizabeth Grant – My Life – My Story and that I love knitting.


“Success to me is not merely a personal accomplishment – it’s being able to know that I have helped guide people around me achieve their goals and improve their positions.”


My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… 

Margot – I have two pieces of advice: 1) do a SWOT analysis on yourself and your idea, learn the ins and outs about the risks and rewards of where your next step or opportunity can lead you, and after doing so, ask yourself: is it worth it? 2) Do not let anyone plant “a seed of doubt” in your mind. There will always be people in your life who want to give you advice on why something won’t work, or how something can be better, but unless they are in the trenches with you, it’s easy to give advice on what they would do, even if you didn’t ask.

Marion – Growing a business always requires capital – therefore it is critical to establish a good relationship with your bank. As banks require a good set of records my best advice is to employ a solid Financial Officer.

My biggest setback was… 

Margot – Feb 2016, when we almost lost the business

Marion – Feb 2016 when I almost lost the business

I overcame it by…

Margot – By open and honest communication with my staff. It’s one thing to restructure, and to get the finances in order, but it’s another to reduce any fear or “seeds of doubt” with remaining staff. I sat down and explained to each and every staff member individually what was going on, and also allowed them to have a conversation with me about any concerns they may have internally. I truly believe respect, honesty, time and communication lead to trust, and having incredible staff around me knowing that had job security was imperative. I knew we would turn the ship around, but if we didn’t have a team at the end of the rough waters, it could have led to a different challenge.

Marion –

  • Recapitalized the company improving and balancing the debt ratio
  • Improvement of gross profit – focused on reducing COG
  • Introduced a procurement department
  • Reduced permanent staff and hired from Agency when needed
  • Required Heads of depts to become more accountable

If I had an extra hour in the day I would… 

Margot – Focus on how customers are changing how they are shopping and being able to enhance /tweak what we are currently doing to improve our customer experience. In terms of the web and mobile applications, I would try to enhance the UI and UX. Finally, finding more of our customer forums via third parties to engage with customer questions and their experiences (I monitor these groups A LOT.)

Marion – Do more research.

I stay inspired by… 

Margot – My mother and my grandmother. These women are amazing in different ways, but they are so smart, experienced and passionate. More so, they are constantly redefining the world around them. My grandmother, the namesake of our brand, changed her narrative 70 years ago, my mother changed her narrative 21 years ago. It’s an unbelievable inspiration and education to know the power is in your hands to not only live the life you want to live, but to know the only person who can stop you, is yourself.

Marion – Attending seminars and always striving to be better.

The future excites me because… 

Margot – The future is exciting not because of the technological advancements, but because we have options. Knowledge is actually celebrated, women are encouraged, and we are becoming smarter in our global choices. If the future could be described in any way it would be: open and positive.

Marion – the company has turned around. I am excited by where Margot and her team will take it.

Success to me means… 

Margot – giving myself a strong foundation and opportunity of happiness. Monetary success comes and goes, but allowing yourself to add a strong foundation to living your best life means you are successful. Everyone’s wants and desires are different, and their definition of a strong foundation is different but for me, if I am not happy (and healthy) no amount of finances can curate a successful life. Also my customers, not in sales to them, but in connection to them. I have this whole network of people who I have never met in person, but online and on Instagram, we genuinely have a relationship, and it’s internationally. It’s amazing to me, that regardless of geography, language or age, I know about their lives, their family, their struggles, and their joy. The fact that people trust me enough to take the time to forge a relationship is truly humbling. 

Marion – Success to me is not merely a personal accomplishment – it’s being able to know that I have helped guide people around me achieve their goals and improve their positions.



Meet Brigitte Jalbert, President of Les Emballages Carrousel

Brigitte Jalbert

President, Les Emballages Carrousel

Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award Winner

Brigitte started working at the family business during her summer breaks, in the photography and communications department. In 1986, she joined the team full-time, and for 25 years, she worked her way up the ranks. In 2011, Brigitte was appointed as president of Les Emballages Carrousel, managing a company with a turnover of $110 million and 272 employees.


My first job ever was… A summer job in a convenience store located in Old Boucherville.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I felt a strong desire to ensure the sustainability of the company my father founded.

My proudest accomplishment is… The successful transfer of the company to the next generation while maintaining a human and mobilizing culture.

My boldest move to date was… Creating a VP Sales and Marketing position and having 2 sales managers who were also shareholders of the company report to that new position.

I surprise people when I tell them… That I did boxing and skydiving!

My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… To surround yourself with good people, to practice true listening and to be confident.

My biggest setback was… I hired and tolerated for too long a person who proved to be harmful to the company.


“Surround yourself with good people, to practice true listening and to be confident.”


I overcame it by… Trying several approaches to improve his behaviour, including external coaching, but finally, our paths had to separate.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Do yoga, meditation, jogging, paddle boarding, gardening and cooking…with my daughters!

I stay inspired by…  Seeing the people around me fulfil themselves and gain self-confidence, especially young people.

The future excites me because… I still have so many beautiful and good things to accomplish.

Success to me means… Feeling fulfilled, free, happy and being helpful to people around me, making a difference in their lives.



Good Question: Why Can’t I Get Hired? Islay McGlynn shares her advice.


“I’ve applied for more jobs than I can count in the past year, but haven’t landed anything. I graduated from university five years ago, have had two employers in that time, and earned one promotion. I’m still considered a junior-level employee so I’m looking for my next move. At first, I was selective, but my friends keep telling me “Apply to everything!” even if I don’t have every qualification listed on the posting. I put myself forward for anything that’s in my industry. I’ve been called in for many interviews, but never hear back. I bring references, I’m on time, and I always follow up to show that I’m eager. It hasn’t worked and I’m discouraged and demoralized. Why can’t I get hired?”



Islay McGlynn
Senior Vice President, Executive Support at Scotiabank

Islay is a thirty-year banker with broad experience across Personal, Small Business and Commercial Banking business lines as well as experience in risk management, human resources and operations. She is also the Chair of Maduro & Curiel’s Bank based in Curaçao, the Chair of the Dalhousie MBA Advisory Council and a board member at the Toronto Rehab Foundation.



Glad to hear you are persevering! When it comes to seeking new opportunities to advance your career, it’s best to start with a self-assessment of your strengths, skills, and achievements. Think about the type of work you enjoy doing and are passionate about.


Accessing the position qualifications

You don’t have to possess all of the requirements of a job posting in order to apply. If you can show that you have similar skills and abilities that you have demonstrated in other roles or volunteer positions, this increases your chances of landing an interview, and ultimately the job.

Are you a right fit for the company? Hiring managers are looking for the right experience, skills, and knowledge and for the right fit with the company culture and the team. As such, you would benefit from doing some research to learn more about the organization you wish to join.

The interview gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how you can contribute to both the job and the team. It is also when your fit to the organization and department is assessed. Your presence and the impression you make during the interview stage is critical to your personal brand and success. So go in prepared!

Be selective! Don’t just “apply anyway”!  Your first instinct was right: The “apply to everything” advice your friend suggested is not my recommended approach. Be selective in your job search. If you reach the interview stage, hiring managers will sense your level of interest and passion for the role based on your responses.

Set yourself up for success by being more selective about your next career move. There is a lot of competition out there so targeting the right level and roles for your skillset and experience will increase your job search results. Look for exciting opportunities that leverage your strengths. This will allow you to shine and position yourself as a valuable team member. The growth, development, and progression you seek will follow when you are in the right role.

Remember that it is important to diversify your search strategies and leverage all the ways possible to land the right role. Let your network of friends and colleagues know you are interested in a new career opportunity.

A LinkedIn consultant shares the 3 most important features of your profile — and how to optimize them


Is your LinkedIn profile the best it can be? If you’ve created a basic profile for yourself, but don’t know what to do next, here are the three features you can focus on now to ensure you stand out.


by Leslie Hughes





With over 630 million members in over 200 countries, LinkedIn is the undisputed champ in the world of professional networking.

Yet, whenever I’m at a networking event and I tell people what I do (I help to empower professionals and brands optimize their brand presence using LinkedIn), most people sheepishly admit to me that they aren’t using this channel to its fullest potential.

LinkedIn is the most career-focused out of all social channels, and we often overlook it in our day-to-day activities because, quite frankly, it’s not fun. But when it comes to creating opportunities and extending the reach of your professional brand, LinkedIn is a very powerful resource that goes well beyond just job hunting.

Did you know that LinkedIn is one of the highest-ranked sites when someone Google’s your name?

Have you ever used LinkedIn to research a vendor, or check someone out before a meeting? People are doing the same to your profile. You want to ensure that first impression actually impresses them.

Today, regardless of whether you work for a large organization or you’re self-employed, we are all expected to showcase our personal brand. 

If you’ve created a basic profile for yourself, but don’t know what to do next, here are the three things you must do now to ensure your LinkedIn profile stands out:


1) Use a professional photo. 

Your photo is one of the first things people see when they visit your LinkedIn profile. You want to ensure that it showcases a competent and confident professional. Investing in hiring a professional photographer is a smart choice, but even if you just use the smartphone in your pocket, here are some top do’s and don’ts when it comes to choosing the right photo.


  • Look directly into the camera. 
  • Smile! A study by Photofeeler found that when you’re smiling, people view you as more likeable, competent, and influential. When you smile and show your teeth, these photos were rated twice as likable as closed-mouth smiles.
  • Choose a photo that is up-to-date. (No Glamour Shots from the 80’s, please.)
  • Dress appropriately. Wear the same kind of outfit you would wear to a networking event or meeting.
  • Ensure the background of the photo is simple and uncluttered.
  • Use proper lighting. If you’re using your smartphone, natural lighting frames your face the best.
  • Crop your photo to feature your face and the top of your shoulders.


“Your photo is one of the first things people see when they visit your LinkedIn profile. You want to ensure that it showcases a competent and confident professional.”



  • Upload a selfie.
  • Crop yourself out of a group photo.
  • Include other people or pets in your image.
  • Use a graduation or wedding photo.
  • Include a photo of yourself drinking at an event.
  • Use a logo or avatar instead of your headshot.
  • Incorporate hobbies into your photo.

Having a strong professional photo can increase your profile viewings and also increase the response rate for people who will accept your connection request. 


2) Create a compelling headline.

Your headline is a part of your unique value proposition — and can let your potential connections know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them. Don’t use the default headline that LinkedIn will prompt you to use. Focus on using the right keywords that ensure you stand out.

The maximum character count for the headline section is 120 characters, so I highly recommend crafting your profile in a Word document to ensure you stay within the limits. The following formula will help you to create a headline that makes a big impact:

Option #1: (Your title) at (Company). Helping (your target audience) with (solutions you provide). 

For example: Marketing Manager at XYZ Company. We create unique marketing opportunities that drive awareness and convert clients.

This option is ideal if you’re responsible for extending brand awareness about your organization. Encourage your team to use a consistent framework so they can all become brand ambassadors of your organization.


“Your headline is a part of your unique value proposition — and can let your potential connections know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them.”


Option #2: If your role is multifaceted, you can use keywords to let people know what you do.

For example, my LinkedIn headline reads: LinkedIn & Social Selling Trainer • LinkedIn Profile Writer • Professor of Social Media • Appeared on CTVs “The Social”.

Notice, I don’t use my company name, PUNCH!media, in this headline. I focus specifically on keywords that help to showcase what I do, and some social proof to let people know I’m qualified to help them.


3) Tell a powerful story in your Summary/About section.

The Summary (also called About) section can be the most challenging area to write, but it’s also the best real estate for your professional brand to shine online. 

I like to call your Summary “your resume with personality.” I recommend writing your copy in first person (I am) as opposed to third person (Leslie is) because I think the reader feels more connected to you when they are reading your personal story.

You have 2,000 characters in the Summary block to highlight your accomplishments, build trust and let your connections know how incredible you are.

If you’re feeling hesitant about including your biggest accomplishments, you’re not alone. I’ve written hundreds of LinkedIn profiles and even the most senior executives don’t enjoy having the spotlight put upon them. Most of us don’t want to come across like we are bragging. 


“You have 2,000 characters in the Summary block to highlight your accomplishments, build trust and let your connections know how incredible you are.”


Here are two quick tips that will help you to feel better about writing your accomplishments.

Tip #1: LinkedIn is the channel you are supposed to include your achievements on. People want to work with the best. If you don’t include information that can help your network see how competent you are, then you are doing a disservice to people who need your help!

Tip #2: The easiest way to re-frame your “brags” is to use emotional language that focuses on the results you produce for your clients or how they describe you. 

For example: 

  • “I’m driven to ensure my clients receive (results you deliver)”
  • “I’m passionate about delivering (results you produce)”
  • “I’m honoured to have received X award, which acknowledges my commitment to my industry and my clients.
  • My clients have described me as trustworthy, honest and forthright.

I love the saying, “when you’re inside the jar, you cannot see the label” — often you don’t see the unique value you bring to your clients and your network. If you really don’t know how other people see you — just ask! Send an email to a few of your connections and ask them to describe you in five words or less. I think you’ll be surprised (and delighted) to hear what they think about the value you bring to the table.

As LinkedIn continues to grow, and as professionals lean on this channel more for building up their network of connections, you’ll be happy you spent the time to optimize your profile.



Leslie Hughes is a LinkedIn Optimization Specialist, Professor of Social Media, Corporate Trainer, Principal of PUNCH!media, and author of CREATE. CONNECT. CONVERT. She was called a “Social Media Guru” by CBC Radio and was featured on CTV’s The Social discussing how to manage your digital identity. Leslie has been working in digital marketing since 1997 and founded PUNCH!media in 2009. 





Meet Autumn Peltier: 15-year-old internationally recognized clean water advocate and the Anishinabek Nation chief water commissioner

Photo by Linda Roy of Ireva Photography


For most of us, the biggest thing we were rallying for at 15 was an extension on our curfew or a new outfit — but Autumn Peltier is not your average 15-year-old. Newly appointed as the Anishinabek Nation chief water commissioner, Autumn has already spent years advocating for water protection in First Nations communities, and around the world. Sharing the message of the sanctity and importance of clean water, Autumn is making some serious waves — from her debut global speech at the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden in 2015, to last year’s address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.


I first became interested in water protection when I was… 8 years old, when my mom took us to a water ceremony in Serpent River First Nation, Ontario. I noticed that there were signs all over the walls that read “Not for Consumption,” “Do not use for handwashing,” “Boil water advisory.” I had a hard time wondering why I had to use hand sanitizer and not the water to wash my hands. Then I asked my mom why can’t the people drink or wash their hands with the water here? And what does a boil water advisory mean? So my mom explained to me what it was, and that the community had been on boil water advisory for over 10 years. I was pretty shocked. I looked at the small children running around from the community, and how they had no idea what it was like to use running water, and I was so sad to have to imagine living off of an amount of bottled water per household. The next few days after that I did my own research and discovered that many First Nations Communities in Ontario were on boil water advisories for years. I thought Canada was a resource-rich country, and that we shouldn’t have this issue, and I wondered, why only my people? It didn’t seem fair or right.  

Being the Chief Water Commissioner is an honour because… it tells me that my Indigenous leaders have heard my voice and seen me using my voice for the water, to protect it and to advocate for my Indigenous people. It is an honour to be an Indigenous Youth and a female standing up for the people and for our inherent right to clean water. Who would have ever thought there would be a time we have to fight and stand up for water? 

My proudest accomplishment is… being invited to speak in front of world leaders at the United Nations in New York City. That was an experience of a lifetime, and even if I never did this work ever again, at least the world leaders heard my story and my concern because we all need water, whether we are poor or rich or different colours, we all need water to survive.

I surprise people when I tell them… how old I am, or how far I have travelled. Or how young I was when I began to understand there was an issue with water, and how it impacts everyone, and how we need water to live.

My best advice to other young girls is… to keep going, don’t look back, and if you have an idea, just do it; no one is going to wait for you or tell you what to do, use your voice and speak up for our planet.

The person I look up to is… my best friend Tori because she is almost 6 feet tall (lol JK). But professionally the leadership, Kevin Hart, Regional Chief for Manitoba; Roseann Archibald, Ontario Regional Chief (it’s nice to see a female Chief and that she can make a difference); Grand Chief Glen Hare, of the Anishinabek Nation; my own Chief Ogimaa Duke Peltier. Last but not least, my great auntie Josephine-ba, I will never forget her commitment to the water and her love for water; I was able to see and learn from her and my mom about our rare connection to water.


“Keep going, don’t look back, and if you have an idea, just do it; no one is going to wait for you or tell you what to do, use your voice and speak up for our planet.”


My biggest setback was… bullying, peer pressure and school. There are times when I feel like not doing the work anymore because people say negative things about me, or they feel I am not ceremonial enough or worthy enough, or I’m too young, or negative comments.

I overcame it by… accessing services for help, counselling and speaking to elders and healers.  Also having the support of my best friend; she’s always there for me. I’m not a perfect human, I’m still young, and I learned not to be afraid to talk to my mom or someone about how I am feeling.

I stay inspired by… knowing my great auntie paved a path for me and that she is watching over me.  Also when I hear from other youth or I inspired them to do something good for our planet, that keeps me going, as well as constant encouragement from the elders.

The most exciting thing about water is… that it gives life, something that many people take for granted and overlook. 

The career I aspire to have is… a role where I can make a difference. I aspire to be a lawyer so I can advocate for my people and the environment. My other aspiration is to become a doctor or nurse, as a helper to the people. I am young and my passion is to make a change in a role where I am helping people.

My next step is… to keep meeting other youth with the same passion and help inspire Nations of youth to stand up for our future and our great grand children’s future. I also hope to visit places where the water is considered sacred and meet the ones who understand the sacredness of water.


The Pressure of Performing

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


By Heather Barnabe, CEO, G(irls)20




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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


By Hailey Eisen




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


How Dream Maker Inc is making entrepreneurship more inclusive

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


by Hailey Eisen






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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



How Theresa Keeping is building opportunities in her native Newfoundland


Theresa Keeping, owner of the Port of Stephenville, is the quintessential serial entrepreneur, with over forty years of experience building several businesses. But it wasn’t until she moved back to Newfoundland — where she was born and raised — that her entrepreneurial aspirations have been connected to revitalizing the area her ancestors have called home for over a century.


by Shelley White




Over the span of 40 years in business, Theresa Keeping’s life has come full circle.

Theresa is the CEO and owner of the Port of Stephenville, located on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland. The port is a Transport Canada-approved facility, bringing in international and domestic ships year-round. It’s a part of the country that Theresa knows well — she was born and raised in the area, the fifth child in a family of 11 children.

But like many Newfoundlanders, Theresa moved away from Newfoundland to Fort McMurray, Alberta in the 70s, to pursue career opportunities. Over the next three decades, she would successfully launch and develop several businesses in Fort McMurray, including a printing, promo and sign company and a commercial development and real estate firm.

Theresa returned to her native Newfoundland in 2007, investing in and acquiring more businesses when the Port of Stephenville opportunity arose.

“My partner and I had a business building ocean-front subdivisions, and were leasing an ocean-view property to a gentleman from Charlotte, North Carolina. He introduced us to investment into this port which was being offered for sale,” Theresa says. She became a minority investor in the port in 2012, took over as majority shareholder in 2015, and recently bought out the last three shareholders to become the sole owner.

Theresa says it has felt very special to own and develop the land that her family once called home. A woman of both French and Indigenous heritage, Theresa is a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation. Her Acadian ancestors settled in Stephenville from Cape Breton in 1848, and her Indigenous ancestors originated there too.

“The mountain behind the port is called Indian Head, and most of the people that lived around there were Mi’kmaq. So for me, it was gratifying to be able to be back on the soil where there were footprints from former family,” she says.

Theresa has big plans for the port site over the next few years, including developing a mining facility from an existing granite quarry, fin-fish and shellfish aquaculture facilities, a soil enhancement business, and alternative energy projects such as wind farms.

The idea for the soil enhancement business originated from a former paper mill site that adjoins the port. “Many tonnes of wood chips and decomposed bark were being stockpiled on the property for years. They have very little value in the raw, but when it comes to soil enhancement, they are like liquid gold,” she says.

Her drive to develop the port site is borne out of both her keen ability to spot opportunity and a desire to bring new energy — and jobs — to the area.

“It’s much needed,” she says. “This part of the coast in western Newfoundland has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. We would like to see more young people able to stay home or return home, and also bring immigrant populations into the area.”


“After school, my children would come to the office where I was, do their homework and play there, before we went back home to have dinner, I involved them into my life so I could be with them, they could be with me, and we could be a part of each other’s lives.”


With such ambitious plans, raising capital is an ongoing challenge. Theresa says her relationship with BDC, the bank of entrepreneurs, has been extremely helpful.

“When we first started in 2015 with the port, I tapped into some assistance with them — not a large amount, but just enough to make sure our operations would be smooth. Since then, what I really like about BDC is the fact that they seem to really care about what they fund. They give you the opportunity to meet their people, something I find more difficult with other institutions,” she says, adding, “I really like the personal touch. Computers are wonderful, but I like people’s faces too.”

Another boon of Theresa’s relationship with BDC was their suggestion she get involved with Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC) — an initiative that BDC supports. As part of this program, the Port of Stephenville was paired up with an intern, Matthew Mather, a third-year student of management engineering at the University of Waterloo. Matthew spent this past summer working with the Port of Stephenville on an integrated management software platform to automate, plan and support all the on-going operations and future projects.

“As we build, we would like to be able to more easily manage everything. We have different entities — as many as seven before we’re finished — so, we need to keep a really good handle on them and grow with the business,” Theresa says.

With Matthew’s help, they are well on their way to developing the platform, she adds.

“Matthew was a great asset and gave us the knowledge of how to get started doing this,” she says. “He’s very knowledgeable and has assisted us in ways that we didn’t think would happen.”

In keeping with the Newfoundland way, Matthew was invited to visit Theresa and her team for a week to get to know everyone, and he was excited to take part in a traditional rite of passage, being “screeched in.” (The ceremony involves the kissing of a cod, among other things.)

“Now he’s an honorary Newfoundlander,” she says.

Theresa says she would definitely recommend the WEC program for other women entrepreneurs. She’s passionate about supporting other women founders, having faced her own challenges in the early days of building her companies — particularly the pressures of raising four children.

“After school, my children would come to the office where I was, do their homework and play there, before we went back home to have dinner,” she says. “I involved them into my life so I could be with them, they could be with me, and we could be a part of each other’s lives.”

She says she would like to see more support for women entrepreneurs to unlock the potential, innovation and economic power of women for the betterment of future generations.

“I would like to see assistance for women who are burdened with family responsibilities, like better opportunities for daycare, for instance,” she says. “Also, ways for entrepreneurs to find other entrepreneurs who are like-minded, so they can connect and build businesses together.”


The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps. Are you considering becoming a business owner? Access BDC’s free How to Start a Business module to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.

Meet Kristen Voisey: The Newfoundland Native who became Toronto’s “Cocktail Queen”

Without a background in business, but a love and passion for retail and cocktails, Kristen Voisey St. John’s, Newfoundland native, opened her first store in Toronto in 2011 and has since been dubbed Toronto’s “Cocktail Queen” . She is the founder and owner of Cocktail Emporium that currently has two stores with a new location opening early 2020 in Union Station, and international e-commerce site Cocktail Emporium is a specialty cocktail store that sells everything to do with imbibing (minus the booze). Kristen is regarded by the hospitality industry as an innovator and industry leader, she has travelled the world visiting distilleries, wineries, breweries, and cocktail bars.




My first job ever was… When I was 18 I ran the ticket booth for a whale watching tour in Newfoundland.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to be creative on my own terms and build something I could be proud of led me to start Cocktail Emporium (I opened my first store in Toronto in 2011). Plus my love of well made, chic-looking cocktails, of course. I started the Potion House line because I wanted to design and curate a collection of beautiful products that people would love as much as I did. Making your passion a career is the dream, right?! 

My proudest accomplishment is… Having stores that people love being in. I feel so  proud when I tell someone what I do and they say “Oh I love that store!” 

My boldest move to date was… Starting Potion House – my own line of bar tools and glassware. That was a big investment and a leap of faith. I went to China and met with the manufacturers — that was a wild experience. Now Potion House has over 150 products in the catalogue, and we have customers from all over the world. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I’ve never worked behind the bar. 

My best advice to people starting out in business is…You don’t need to know everything…you will be forced to figure it out! Better to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than not doing something because you don’t think you know enough. I knew nothing about operating a retail business when I opened my first store but I figured things out along the way. 

I would tell my 20-year old self… Don’t be so hard on yourself. I would also tell my 30-year-old self, and my soon to be 40-year-old self, the same thing! 


Better to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than not doing something because you don’t think you know enough.”


The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… Being able to employ a group of smart, hardworking people, and getting to work and grow my business with them. We are all learning together which has been both fun and rewarding. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Work on my future hotel business plan….or become an adobe illustrator/photoshop master. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… One day I want to open a hotel, where I can my love for interior design and hospitality. The in-room minibars will be incredible. 

The one thing I wish I knew when starting Cocktail Emporium is… Logistics (the shipping kind)

I stay inspired by… Travelling! I find it so inspiring to visit small independent bars, hotels and stores around the world – there are so many gems out there. My stores would not be half as successful as they are without my travels and the inspiration from these experiences. 

The future excites me because… Now that I have already created something from scratch (and something that is successful), I know that I can do it again – with whatever I decide to do. And with 8 years of business knowledge under my belt, so I will be much better equipped for future ventures.

My next step is… Continue growing the Cocktail Emporium and Potion House brands. The third location is opening in Toronto’s Union Station in early 2020, so that will be a huge and exciting step for the Cocktail Emporium expansion.


Knocking down physical walls to help demolish barriers to inclusion

Can changing a physical workplace foster inclusion? Barbara Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer at Scotiabank, explains how an “Activity-Based Working” approach to their office design created a space that enables all employees to work when, where, and how they choose — demolishing barriers, increasing engagement, and ensuring everyone is enabled to be their very best.


By Barbara Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank




The workforce has never been more diverse than it is today — a “one size fits all” approach to both physical workplace and workplace policies is no longer acceptable. 

Out of the available labour market, 52 per cent are women, more than 30 per cent are visible minorities, 10 per cent are people with disabilities, we have four generations now represented, along with greater diversity in sexual orientation and gender. The variety of perspectives this mosaic brings leads to richer solutions, greater creativity and ideation, and demands that workplaces be more inclusive. It also means a widely varying set of expectations and needs for employers to consider in order to attract and retain the best possible talent. 

At Scotiabank, an effort began a few years ago with the initial objective to decrease costs by reducing our real estate our employees occupied. What quickly emerged in our research in looking at other organizations outside of Canada was that we could learn from them and move well past the typical densification options, like hoteling. We had an opportunity to build a physical workplace, with accompanying “how to use” policies, that delivers a wonderfully enhanced employee experience to all employees. At the root of that experience was a simple concept — choice.

Several months of surveying our downtown Toronto population revealed what we already knew but hadn’t built a workplace for — employees are human. They have preferences, pet peeves, personal requirements, and unique quirks. They’re more than the sum of their tasks. And, if we put the responsibility in their hands to plan their day and where they’d like to work, then they would be truly enabled to perform at their very best. 


Employees are human. They have preferences, pet peeves, personal requirements, and unique quirks. They’re more than the sum of their tasks.


Enter Activity-Based Working (ABW) — an approach that recognizes that people perform different activities in their day-to-day work, and therefore requires the right technology and variety of spaces in order to complete that work in the most effective way possible. It’s a workplace that equips you with the tools needed to work when, where, and however you choose. 

We introduced training for managers on how to manage their teams remotely, allowing for more opportunities to work from home, and our spaces range from ergonomic chairs and standing desks to private offices, quiet zones, alone in silence, or somewhere where there’s a bit of a buzz. The spaces are equipped to be accessible by design in order to make the work environment more comfortable, user-friendly, and easier to navigate for persons with disabilities. ABW helps build an inclusive culture by offering everyone the same experience regardless of seniority.

To date, we have more than 6,000 employees working in ABW space. There is equal satisfaction amongst represented genders with the new space and we saw a significant boost in engagement amongst women working in ABW compared to those who are not, most noting they were far more engaged as a result of greater opportunity around flex working hours and working from home. More than 80% say they would never go back to their old way of working.

How employees use their space is their personal choice, and those preferences inform how we build. The future of the employee experience is one they design for themselves.


Meet Louise Fogharty: Vice President, Financing & Consulting for South Fraser Area at BDC

Louise Fogharty is Vice President, Financing & Consulting for South Fraser Area at BDC. She is also the Executive Sponsor of the Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs’ initiative for the BC & North region. Louise leads a team of dedicated individuals who help Canadian entrepreneurs to grow by providing, financing, capital and advisory services. A passionate supporter of women entrepreneurs her entire career, Louise is an active member of the ecosystem that exists to support and promote women entrepreneurs, including being a volunteer mentor to young women entrepreneurs through the Futurepreneur mentorship programme. Prior to assuming her current role, Louise worked in BDC’s regional head office as Regional Director, Strategy Implementation, which was preceded by positions as Business Centre Manager in Vancouver & North Vancouver. Before joining BDC, Louise spent 2 years at NorthPoint Capital Corp., and 5 years with EY corporate finance, both in Vancouver. Louise holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Business Administration from Aston University, UK. In early 2019, she was recognized by BC Business as one of the province’s Most Influential Women in Finance.




My first job ever was… answering the telephones for a Saturday morning quiz segment on BBC radio in the UK.
I decided to go into finance because… I wanted to work shoulder to shoulder with entrepreneurs. I firmly believe they’re the lifeblood of our economy.  
My proudest accomplishment is… being asked to lead BDC’s efforts to support women entrepreneurs in BC & the Territories.
My boldest move to date was… relocating to another country with no job or contacts and very little money. We could only afford a scruffy white sofa from the SPCA thrift store, so I dyed it dark blue with fabric dye and a paintbrush.
I surprise people when I tell them… I’m a half-decent squash player (I’m faster than I look…).
My best advice to people starting out in the finance sector is… network. Go to everything you can, put the legwork in to build your profile and make contacts.   
My best advice from a mentor was… ask myself “what’s my legacy?”, then build it.
I would tell my 25-year old self… enjoy beautiful BC! I was new to Canada and have so many treasured memories of exploring this stunning part of the world with new acquaintances who have since become lifelong friends.
My biggest setback was… when I ran a small team and lost one of my key team members to another opportunity.
I overcame it by… breaking down into bite-sized pieces what we needed to do to re-group and fill the gap. It became far less overwhelming and gave us a roadmap to follow. (Plus a bit of retail therapy helped, too…).
The best thing about what I do is… seeing entrepreneurs be successful. I still get a kick out of seeing a van pull up beside me at traffic lights, and realizing it’s a client I helped 15 years ago. I hope that feeling never leaves me.


“5 years ago, I used to have to check off a stack of paperwork in order for an entrepreneur to get the funding they needed for their business to grow. Today, it can take less than 10 minutes on an iPad.”


If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… close the door and allow my brain to wander and be creative. It’s amazing how many issues I can work in this way.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love cooking and indulge this passion by volunteering (although it doesn’t feel like work…) in a Salvation Army kitchen in Vancouver.   
I stay inspired by… sportspeople. I recently heard an Olympic gold medalist skater talk about how their coach made them fall, often, so they learned how to get right back up and carry on.        
The future excites me because… the pace of change facing businesses can be challenging, but exhilarating. 5 years ago, I used to have to check off a stack of paperwork in order for an entrepreneur to get the funding they needed for their business to grow. Today, it can take less than 10 minutes on an iPad. That’s an exciting change, but you have to be willing to get on the bus even though we might not know the exact route.
My next step is… who knows! I don’t plan in advance – I’d much rather go with the flow. It’s served me pretty well so far.