“When I first started working for her (she didn’t hire me), she took me aside to tell me she didn’t think I would make it at the company and that I didn’t have what it took to be successful in the industry. I took that as a challenge and set out to prove myself and I did — to other people in the company anyway. Last month I applied for an award that recognizes women in my industry. The application requires endorsement from the company and has room for your boss’s input, so I asked her if she would be interested in supporting the award. She refused, telling me there’s no way I could win. I was dumbfounded but found support from another executive in the company.
I just found out that I won. I’m proud, but it’s created tension at work — co-workers congratulate me in front of my boss and it’s awkward. Also, she is my boss and she seems even frostier now than before. I need to manage this situation in order to manage my career (I don’t want to leave the company; there’s lots of potential here). I feel bullied. How do I handle this boss who clearly isn’t on my side?“
Executive Vice President, Red Havas US
In many organizations, it’s the youngsters who school the older workers on all things digital and social. But in Red Havas North America PR’s case, Linda Descano performs as the agency’s head online experimenter—carrying clients and twentysomething team members into the future. Recruited as Red Havas PR’s EVP in October 2015 to lead digital/social strategies for clients like WEX Inc., MilliporeSigma, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Descano provides cutting-edge counsel and tactical implementation, infusing PR, media relations, thought leadership, advertising, social media, content partnerships and influencer marketing into her campaigns. And as a CFA charter holder, she brings a financial savvy to the table that helps deliver more results for less. Prior to Descano’s pivot into PR, she spent 20-plus years in financial services, designing and delivering industry-leading integrated campaigns underpinned by social media and content marketing.
If you are serious about staying with the company, then you must commit to being part of the solution and not exacerbating the tension. That begins with having a clear understanding of what your boss expects from you.
First, schedule a face-to-face to discuss her vision of the key attributes for success at the company, and why she doesn’t think you have what it takes to be successful. Listen more than you talk, and ask for concrete examples. Strike a constructive, rather than accusatory, tone.
The objective would be to align on the top three things that are expected of you, as well as a schedule for regular check-ins.
One idea to explore with your manager is a 360° review, so both of you have more data points to inform your action plan. Document these discussions in an email so you have appropriate records in the event that you aren’t able to reconcile and escalation to HR is necessary.
With respect to the award, always check with your organization’s policy to determine whether any approvals are required before submitting an award application. Even if none were required, I would be transparent and notify my manager in advance of submitting the application. If her endorsement was required and she declined, I would not ask another executive for an endorsement without telling my boss first—and, on the flip side, I would let the other executive know that my manager had declined. Going behind your boss’s back to get what you need may hurt you in the long run, since your behaviour will generate mistrust and does not demonstrate respect for her position.
Regardless of the specifics of your individual situation, it’s important to pinpoint the source of your conflict, whether it’s with your boss, a colleague or a direct report. If your issues stem from mismatched ethics, value, or integrity — rather than your abilities — then seek advice and guidance from your ethics office or a reliable internal HR resource to help you navigate the best way to proceed.
Jayne took inspiration from her love of cottage living and enjoyment of curating unforgettable family vacations to create Jayne’s Cottages — a full-service, luxury Muskoka cottage rental and concierge company. Starting with just a handful of cottages in 2014, her business has seen rapid growth. Today, she has over 60 employees and they manage almost 200 of the finest properties in the region.
My first job ever was… working at Tim Hortons.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I always felt that I could offer so much
more if I had more freedom and authority to act on my own thoughts and impulses than I could as an employee for someone else. I always felt stifled and constrained and thought I could do a better job for both my employer and the customer if I had the ability to do so. That being said, for most of my career, I enjoyed working for others and learning from my mentors and eventually giving the experience and courage to pursue entrepreneurship.
My proudest accomplishment is… how the company has grown less than 5 years to employ 70 people – 50 people who live year-round in Muskoka, 20 seasonal employees from outside the region. Also, we now have 10 year-round employees.
I surprise people when I tell them… that my business is only 5 years old as it is now a fixture in Muskoka and is a large employer in the area.
My best advice to people starting up a business is… utilize all the resources available to small businesses (grants, small business funding, college entrepreneurship courses, local employment and government agencies to support small businesses, chamber of commerce etc). I was not aware, and don’t think other small businesses are aware of how beneficial these resources could be and they have been very helpful to get me where we are now.
My best advice from a mentor was… to listen to others and plead for understanding. Work with your stakeholders so everyone understands all sides.
“I stay inspired by the joy I get from my employees who now have a stable job with our business and we can provide a fulfilling future for them in their home community.”
My biggest setback was… losing great staff during the summer season as they quit to accept year-round positions.
I overcame it by… hiring my best staff on a year-round basis and not laying them off after the summer season even though I did not really have the income to support year-round employment. I feel responsible for their livelihood in this community where there is little year-round employment. I know that they are very committed to my company just as I have shown my commitment to them.
I stay inspired by… the joy I get from my employees who now have a stable job with our business and we can provide a fulfilling future for them in their home community and continue to add more employment opportunities as we grow.
If I had one more hour in the day… I would spend it with my 4 children and partner.
The future excites me because… I love what I do and what I have achieved and know I can continue to grow with the help of my new software platform and my network of global property managers. We have the formula now to help more guests with great vacation experiences and more owners with safe additional income and look forward to growing this formula into other markets. And most importantly the future is exciting as we continue to expand our home base of this travel/tech company in the Muskoka community as we grow outside of Muskoka while providing employment and economic growth through our business success to our region.
My next step is… doing what I do in Ontario in other popular global travel destinations. With an over 50% repeat guest rate and guests repeatedly putting their faith in Jayne’s Cottages for very expensive vacations, I am now working through my network of property managers globally to connect with and entrust these property managers with my guests who can guarantee a great guest experience. This will be facilitated by the launch of my software that will allow new property managers to easily onboard and market their properties to anyone associated with Jayne’s Cottages such as a hotel with properties, property manager with properties, real estate company with properties or a single property owner.
A new player in oil and gas, Kiely Maclean is the co-founder of RJ Maclean Tank Services. Her business is a three-year-old innovation company focused on challenging the status quo in the energy sector with unique automated technology — using robotics, instead of people, to clean tanks. She is a passionate advocate for innovation in business, the environment, and promoting women in the energy field.
My first job ever was… Paper route; delegated to younger siblings.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… It’s not a decision, it’s innate.
My proudest accomplishment is… Co-founding and growing RJ Maclean.
I surprise people when I tell them… My age.
My best advice to people starting up a business is… Have a clear vision, adapt but do not compromise.
“Have a clear vision, adapt but do not compromise.”
My best advice from a mentor was… ‘You can’t fail if you are always willing to get back up’.
My biggest setback was… Access to capital.
I overcame it by… Perseverance, and finding the right business partners.
I stay inspired by… My team and our potential.
If I had one more hour in the day, I would… Walk the trails with my Husky.
The future excites me because… Extending RJ Maclean’s reach and innovation to other markets.
My next step is… Opportunity for international expansion of RJ Maclean!
From little girls to young ladies — to not-so-young ladies — we could all use some empowerment from the books we read. While strong female protagonists are becoming more common, girl power doesn’t always have to come with a bow and arrow. Through storytelling, role models, and good advice, these six books are guaranteed to uplift the girls in your life (and you along with them).
An inspiring bedtime story for the modern-day girl – this creatively rhyming, colourfully-illustrated book shows girls that anything is possible and nothing is out of their reach. From climbing a mountain to driving a fire truck, to becoming Prime Minister (author Caryl Hart hails from the UK, so your little Canadian will recognize the leadership term) — a girl can do or be anything she sets her mind to. Tapping into the power of positive women role models, girls will marvel at the amazing things the characters are accomplishing on the pages of this book while moms will love the empowering messages the book imparts. Build a house, pilot a space rocket, play hockey — the sky’s the limit.
If you know a young girl who struggles with perfectionism — this is the book for her. Children will laugh along with Beatrice Bottomwell who has never, not ever, made a mistake. In fact, she’s become a bit of a celebrity in her hometown thanks to her perfectness. But on the day of the annual talent show, Beatrice’s streak of perfection is about to come crashing to a halt — and she will learn a very powerful lesson about mistakes, and the joy and freedom that come with letting go. A fantastic resource for classrooms and a bedtime story that inspires real conversation, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes is something we can all learn from (parents and kids alike).
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls — Volume 1 and 2 — are packed with easily-understandable, perfectly age appropriate stories of extraordinary women from the past and present, illustrated by female artists from around the globe. These stories will inspire girls to learn more about game changers, inventors, leaders, artists, revolutionaries, and others who have changed — and are changing — the world. The perfect accompaniment to the books, I Am a Rebel Girl: A Journal to Start Revolutions provides activities that challenge perspective and prompt action. Following the huge success of the Rebel Girls books, a movement has sprung up, inspiring girls worldwide with a chapter book series, a podcast, art, stationery, a newsletter and more. Learn more at www.rebelgirls.co.
Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self
BY KATTY KAY AND CLAIRE SHIPMAN
First came The Confidence Code, written by journalists Katty Kay (BBC World News America) and Claire Shipman (Good Morning America), to inform and guide women through the process of understanding the importance of confidence and learning to achieve it. What followed was an overwhelming number of requests to translate the book into something accessible to girls. The authors saw a paradox, familiar to all parents, that while girls were achieving like never before, they were consumed with doubt, obsessed with perfection, and overwhelmed by their online presence. To empower girls from a young age, Katty and Claire wrote The Confidence Code for Girls, and filled it with engaging content — including graphic novel strips, illustrations, lists, quizzes and challenges. The perfect starting point for girls who are ready to become bold, brave, and fearless and a fabulous resource for those already well on their way.
Toronto speaker, educator, and founder of Girl Talk Empowerment — an organization that empowers girls to overcome personal challenges and be inspired to make their mark on the world — Katie Zeppieri has created something completely different with her new book of poetry, She Rises. Beautifully inspiring and honest, her illustrated poetry book takes readers on a mental health journey from darkness to light. Written in response to her own mental health struggles, Katie’s book serves as a reminder to girls everywhere that from darkness comes light, and from our lowest points, we can rise and persevere. From anxiety and depression to eating disorders and low self-esteem, the book speaks to challenges women and girls face and inspires hope and strength even in the most difficult times.
What began as a personal project for photographer and mother of two girls, Kate T. Parker, has become an internationally bestselling, widely acclaimed tome celebrating — through stunning photography and quotes — a new, more empowered definition of beauty. Real beauty is about being your authentic self and owning it — and it’s that beauty that Kate captures in these arresting and candid images. A book for every coach, mentor, teacher, mother and father of girls — these are the images girls can look to for inspiration. And for those ready to take it a step further, Strong Is the New Pretty: A Guided Journal for Girls invites girls ages 8 to 12 to discover and celebrate their independent, wild, silly, powerful selves.
They’re staging ‘die-ins’ at the UN in the name of global warming awareness, speaking out publicly for gun reform, fighting international governments for equal rights, being elected into government roles, standing up for equality and pay equity. They’re starting businesses, running charities, using coding and STEM to solve real world problems. They’re training to work in trades. They’re breaking gender barriers their mothers and grandmothers could only dream of. Beyoncé says they run the world. Oprah says their new day is on the horizon. The world is telling them that the time is now. So, what’s it like to be a girl in 2019?
by Hailey Eisen
“It’s a very exciting time,” says Lindsay Sealey, author of Growing Strong Girls. “But, with endless possibilities and infinite choice also comes a great deal of stress.”
Lindsay works in Vancouver as a coach, speaker, and educator, helping girls navigate the teenage years by looking at stress, social media, body image, self-confidence, and mental health, as well as academic, social, and emotional development.
“Girls feel the change happening in the world, they see the advantage and privilege afforded to them, but they also feel a lot of responsibility. We tell them, girls can be anything, and what they often hear is, girls have to be everything.”
In many ways, they are meeting the challenge. “Research shows that girls are experiencing tremendous success in areas such as academics, athletics, activism, and business,” Lindsay says. “Girls are making huge strides in areas which society deems important. But while success rates are rising, self-esteem, bravery, confidence, and risk-taking are falling — because with the bar now set really high, pushing the bar becomes a lot scarier.”
Lindsay calls it ‘SuperGirl Syndrome.’ Trying to be everything to all people. And, she says, while some girls find it debilitating, others don the cape and run with it.
Ashley Zhiyue He (pictured left) is one of the girls who’s running with it. She has no trouble believing that girls can do anything. She’s watched her mom lead by example — emigrating from China, raising two children, and starting her own wealth management firm — and attended, since Grade 9, one of Toronto’s most prestigious all-girls’ schools. Girl power, it seems, is in her blood, and she’s leapt at the opportunities afforded to her to empower other girls her age.
“I’d like more young people to realize that the platforms we have available to us are so unbelievably amazing — how many people we can reach and how far our voices can be heard,” she says.
Ashley has taken YouTube — a social media tool oft associated by teenage girls with fashion and makeup tutorials, unboxing videos, and celebrity commentary — and done something different. Her goal is to empower girls of her generation to have grit and tackle the world without fear, and she’s doing so by interviewing empowered and successful women.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a YouTuber — to get paid for promoting cool stuff online,” Ashley says. “But I now realize that while entertainment is important, the real power is in using our voices to spread positive messages.”
The idea for Ashley’s YouTube channel, GIRLSGIRLSGIRLS, started when she turned to her mom for advice about what she would do when she grew up. Nearing the end of her high school career, Ashley knew she had some decisions to make, but she had a variety of interests and wasn’t sure what direction to take. “My mom suggested I speak with other women at the start of their careers and ones whose careers were already underway, to see what their experiences have been like and how they chose the path they’re on,” she recalls.
Ashley, being of Generation Z, figured that if she was going to talk with these women anyway, she might as well record them and post them to YouTube in hopes of helping other girls like her.
She’s now completed nearly two dozen interviews, including with former Canadian Senator, Vivienne Poy; activist, educator, and founder of The Period Purse, Jana Girdauskas; and former Team Canada Olympic archery coach, Joan McDonald — and that’s just the beginning. “So far, I’ve interviewed women through connections I have, but my goal is to expand and connect with interview subjects and viewers across the country,” Ashley says.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a YouTuber — to get paid for promoting cool stuff online but I now realize that while entertainment is important, the real power is in using our voices to spread positive messages.”
While she did have to step out of her comfort zone to put herself on camera and send the finished videos out to her peers, she says the response has been amazing. “I was a really shy kid, and if you’d told me five years ago I would be doing something like this, I would have thought it was crazy,” she says. “But my friends have been really supportive and I’ve received a lot of great feedback — and it makes me feel really good.”
As for her own plans for the future, Ashley says she’d like to go to school in the United States and hopes to find a way to combine her interests in STEM and media. She’ll also continue to grow her YouTube channel and see where it leads. “I think the biggest challenge most young girls face is being too hard on themselves,” she says. “As women, we feel like we need to prove ourselves, that we have to be perfect — that’s something I’m working on, too.”
And Ashley’s not alone. While the narrative for girls is certainly changing — look at the recent influx of empowering books, re-invented Disney “princesses” defying the damsel in distress trope, and the “femvertising” trend of ads designed to inspire — there’s still more that can be done.
“It’s around the age of nine that we see girls start to lose their voices,” Lindsay explains. “That’s when peer influence becomes stronger than one’s sense of self, and when being called bossy dims girls’ lights. They learn that social connection is more valuable than what they have to say, and so they stay quiet in order to fit in.”
This is where social media can be quite powerful when used correctly. Speaking up and speaking out is often less scary online than it is in person, and social media provides a platform for girls to share their stories, to stand up for what they believe in, and to say ‘me too’ when their peers share their own stories, Lindsay explains. The key is to leverage the tool — which can be destructive and harmful — for good.
Enter Canadian twin sisters Teagan and Keisha Simpson (pictured left). As psychology students at Bishops’ University in Quebec, they both struggled with body image issues, feelings of inadequacy, fear of missing out (FOMO), and other social-media fueled challenges.
When faced with the choice of succumbing to the detrimental impacts of social media or doing something about it, the girls decided to own their narrative and step into their power. Thus began their game-changing Instagram movement: Live Life Unfiltered (@livelife_unfiltered).
“I’ve been struggling with my body for a long time,” says Keisha, now 22 and a recent graduate. “Specifically, my legs. I’ve never liked the way they look and I haven’t worn shorts in years.” Social media only fueled her self-loathing. “I’d go on Instagram and compare my body to everyone else — girls I knew and girls I didn’t know.”
According to the #StatusOfMind survey of 1,500 teens and young adults, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health in 2017, Instagram is the worst social channel for mental health and wellbeing.
“It’s really an issue of volume,” Lindsay explains. “Girls spend as much as eight hours a day on social media — and even if they’re aware of what’s going on behind the photos, their emotions are going to hijack their brains and they’re going to start to feel not good enough, jealous, resentful, and inadequate.”
For Keisha, a bout of self-awareness led her to clean up her social media feed and find more positive Instagrammers to follow. What she found were a bunch of girls telling her “you’re beautiful” and “you’re perfect just the way you are.” And, while there was nothing wrong with these messages, they didn’t work for her at all. “Because being told you’re beautiful doesn’t make you feel beautiful.”
“Use your voice, risk failure, step out of your comfort zone, fail and learn from it, and then try again.”
While the girls were aware of the effects Instagram was having on their wellbeing, it took some time for them to realize the way out. They had started using the platform in Grade 10, but it wasn’t until university that they began talking openly with their friends about its shortcomings, and the distorted sense of reality it was presenting them with.
“We’d talk with our friends about how Instagram isn’t real, how no one posts photos without posing, taking hundreds of shots, using photoshop and filters to perfect the image, and curating only the best moments of their lives to share,” Teagan explains. Yet, while the girls logically knew all of this, none of it made them feel any better as they scrolled through thousands of “perfect” images every day.
They finally realized that what could potentially make them, and other girls their age, feel better would be more vulnerable, honest, unfiltered posts. The idea was to show girls that they weren’t alone, that many girls were struggling in similar ways and worried about similar things.
It began as an Instagram account with six photos of friends, un-posed and unfiltered, with statements from the girls about how they were feeling, what they were struggling with, and why. One year later, it has grown into a movement with hundreds of posts, thousands of followers, and a hashtag — #AsSheIs — that’s on the brink of going viral.
Teagan and Keisha started in their hometown, setting up a photo booth one afternoon at the University of Ottawa. They’ve since had photo booths on eight different campuses across Ontario and Quebec. They stop female students on their way to and from class, on study breaks, and in the middle of everyday life, asking them to pose for a photo against a plain backdrop, without giving them an opportunity to change their clothes, touch up their makeup, or fix their hair.
“The most common response we’d get,” Teagan recalls, “was, ‘No!’” It wasn’t surprising, given it takes a great deal of courage to be vulnerable with complete strangers, and they were reaching out to a generation not used to posting anything that isn’t highly edited and curated. But, with persistence, their Instagram feed grew.
Beyond the photos, every single Live Life Unfiltered post includes a quote from the girl about her own insecurities, her feelings about social media, and life itself. Girls talk openly about missed opportunities, about parts of their bodies they hate and those they like, about refusing to wear a bathing suit in public, about jealousy and insecurity, about bad relationships and good ones, about abuse, sexual orientation, mental health, and the future. Live Life Unfiltered has become a safe space, where girls can be themselves without judgement.
For Keisha and Teagan, it’s a passion project that has already surpassed their expectations. The girls have received a huge amount of support from their family and friends and have leveraged the movement to line up speaking opportunities into next year. They already have multiple talks under their belts, one upcoming at TEDxOttawa, plus features on CBC’s The National and in The Globe and Mail slated for this fall. Momentum is growing. “We’re going to take next year to focus on this project and see where we can take it,” Teagan says.
“When we started we were really scared,” Keisha admits. “In fact, we’re still scared, because we’re going out on a limb here, and everyone knows we’re doing this — and it takes courage to put yourself out there like that.”
But courage is what it’s all about. Combined with hard work, says Lindsay, it’s what girls need to leverage the opportunities available to them today — and do something powerful.
“Use your voice, risk failure, step out of your comfort zone, fail and learn from it, and then try again,” Lindsay says, citing her most common advice to girls. “And don’t be afraid to put in the time. Take some of the hours you’re spending consuming social media and see what else you can do with them. Work on a variety of skills, try new things, do what makes you happy, and instead of asking people, ‘who should I be?’— tell them: ‘this is me!’”
Jeff Perera credits his upbringing — and the negative male role models in it — for leading him towards his current career: as a speaker, writer, and facilitator focused on a modern view of manhood. His approach avoids shaming men for their learned biases, and instead encourages them to support each other as they build their ‘empathy muscles’, celebrate their differences, and set themselves free from the stereotypes they grew up with.
by Hailey Eisen
Jeff Perera has spent more than a decade working to inspire a shift in what it means to be a man in today’s society. “Quite simply, our ideas of manhood are outdated and are no longer serving us,” explains the 44-year-old speaker, writer, and facilitator who has delivered keynotes, talks, and workshops to tens of thousands of people across North America.
“I aspire to breach conversations in a brave way,” Jeff says, “to build a bridge between the genders and provide opportunities to support one another as we move toward the awakening of modern men.”
He traces the roots of his passion back to his childhood. Raised in Canada by Sri Lankan parents who emigrated via the UK, Jeff recalls having a staunchly ‘Canadian’ upbringing. “I grew up speaking English, eating mac and cheese, and watching hockey,” he says. “My parents experienced a great deal of racism in England and wanted a different experience for me here in Canada.”
Part of his understanding, and critique, of manhood came from his own father’s abusive behaviour toward his mother. “My mother was an extreme example of what women and girls endure, but I learned early on that my father was broken,” he says. “And I was seeing similar behaviours in the socially and emotionally challenged community I grew up in.”
As a man of colour, Jeff says, there were additional stereotypes he had to navigate. “Whether it’s the negative ones, the narrative that group X is lazy and group Y is smarter, or other stereotypes that feel complimentary, like this group is more athletically inclined or this group is more hard working — they’re still treating you as ‘other than’,” he says.
As a teenager, Jeff rejected a lot of the traditional stereotypes that were pushed on him. But it wasn’t until he was in his thirties and went back to school to study social work at Ryerson, that he realized how he could take his beliefs and put them into action.
As a mature student, Jeff got involved in human rights work on campus and joined White Ribbon, the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls. For years he co-chaired the White Ribbon Campaign on campus and organized events and facilitated workshops. This led into a full-time role with White Ribbon, followed by a position with Next Gen Men, a non-profit organization that promotes positive masculinities, healthy relationships, and gender equity. He eventually started his own freelance business — spreading a message of healthy versus harmful ideas of manhood — which he’s been running successfully for four years.
“For most boys, there’s a moment of trauma where childhood ends and they’re encouraged to ‘man up’, but when they enter their first romantic relationship, suddenly they’re expected to contribute emotionally and don’t have the tools to do so.”
Today, he’s speaking and facilitating workshops to help create a map of modern manhood that’s more inclusive, accessible, and puts equity first and foremost. “As a collective society, we’ve instilled traditions and ideas of masculinity that don’t serve us in a lot of ways. There’s the hunter-gatherer narrative, there’s manhood measured by dominance, what we own, what we demonstrate or produce, and our access to power,” he says. “But what I always say is the measure for manhood should be how we give and how we live.”
Through his work, Jeff is tackling the stereotypes that he grew up with — and more. Be it gender, ethnic or cultural background, or disability, “what we really want to do is to recognize those differences and celebrate them,” Jeff says. “We want to be able to say, ‘like you, I am different.’”
But what about those men who aren’t ready for that message? We may find ourselves feeling defensive or reactionary if our differences are challenged rather than celebrated — but shaming others for their learned biases isn’t going to change them. Real change begins, Jeff says, when we have more living examples of what manhood should look like, and role models leading the way. This is what he’s set out to do, and he’s encouraging other men to join the conversation via his website, Higher Unlearning.
From a corporate perspective, Jeff urges companies to think about more inclusive hiring and to “dip your toe into the pool and try to see what it will feel like for a woman, or a gay man, or a person of colour.” It’s about becoming aware of your blind spots and doing what you can to change those. This includes stepping up as a champion and contributing to a culture of caring.
“We have to ask ourselves, what can we do to ensure our work environments are more inclusive?” This can be impacted by simple things such as the language that’s being used, the activities chosen for team building, the culture of respect being garnered, and the focus on listening to what women, and others, have to say.
Jeff believes that most men need to work on building their “empathy muscles,” which tend to get stunted in childhood. “For most boys, there’s a moment of trauma where childhood ends and they’re encouraged to ‘man up’,” he says. “But when they enter their first romantic relationship, suddenly they’re expected to contribute emotionally and don’t have the tools to do so.”
To build empathy, Jeff says, men need to go back to the metaphorical gym and work on the muscles they want to grow. “Men also need to step up and spot one another in this process,” he says. “As I always say, compassion without action is just observation. If you want change, you need action.”
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.
Farida Deif is the Canada Director at Human Rights Watch — one of the world’s leading international human rights organizations. Based in Toronto, she monitors human rights abuses across Canada and advocates for a rights-respecting foreign policy. Born in Egypt, she has dedicated her life to advancing human rights in the Middle East and around the world. Taking on one international crisis after another, she plays a vital role in efforts to advance justice and accountability for the world’s most persecuted people.
My first job was… in retail at a clothing store in Ottawa. I was in university at the time, thankful for the extra income, and the colourful characters I had a chance to meet.
My proudest accomplishment is… the life I’ve built for my son and me in Canada after more than a decade abroad. I’m so grateful to be surrounded by a loving and tight-knit community of friends, family, and neighbours.
My boldest move to date was… leaving a coveted job at the United Nations straight out of graduate school to become a researcher at Human Rights Watch. It was a role that I knew would provide massive opportunities for growth and learning. I’ve never looked back.
I decided to dedicate my life to fighting for Human Rights because… the everydayindignities experienced by far too many people deeply trouble me.
The most fulfilling thing about my job is… meeting the fearless human rights activists who fled persecution in their home country and thankfully found safety in Canada.
“Follow your instincts and never make decisions based purely on ego. Both professionally and personally, ego-driven decisions are often the worst ones we make.”
The most challenging setting that I have ever worked in… is prisons, without a doubt. Interviewing detainees puts you face-to-face with life’s full range of tragedy and despair, but sometimes a glimmer of hope too.
My advice to anyone thinking about a career in the Human Rights sector… determine which human rights abuses make you the angriest and how best you can use your skills and experience to meaningfully address them.
If I had five extra hours a day I would spend it… making art, reading fiction, and practicing yoga. Essentially, all things that feed the mind, body, and soul.
My greatest advice from a mentor was… to follow your instincts and never make decisions based purely on ego. Both professionally and personally, ego-driven decisions are often the worst ones we make.
My biggest setback was… the sudden loss of my mother when I was sixteen. She was my home and compass, and it was hard to find my bearings for a long time.
I overcame it by… cultivating and building community. I realized that being an expert on loss forced me to become an expert on rebuilding too. This was the silver lining.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… not being afraid to fail, embarrass myself, and grow into a role that I may not be quite ready for yet.
I surprise people when I tell them… I was a documentary filmmaker for a few years. It was so strange yet wonderful for me to use the artistic side of my brain every day.
The future excites me because… it’s filled with so many opportunities to surprise ourselves with what we can overcome and achieve.
No matter what industry you work in, the challenges in today’s business environment are rapidly evolving — and success lies in our ability to keep up. Diana Drury, Director of Team and Executive Coaching for the MBA/Master programs at Smith School of Business, shares how the school is preparing future leaders to excel through teaching skills that cannot be found in a textbook, yet are vital to professional success, and how you can develop these skills to help you on your own career journey.
By Hailey Eisen
Today’s business environment is moving faster than ever. Every industry is constantly changing. So how do we prepare ourselves to excel in an ever-evolving world?
“What you know is important,” says Diana Drury, Director of Team and Executive Coaching for the MBA/Master programs at Smith School of Business. “But even more important is how you navigate the world, problem solve, and engage with others.” It’s these interpersonal, social, and emotional skills that employers want to see, especially when hiring for leadership positions.
They can’t be found in a textbook, yet they are vital to professional success. At Smith, says Diana, these are the intangibles of the MBA program. “We help students build these skills through teamwork, real-life experiences, and extensive coaching.”
Diana shares three skill sets that can benefit anyone looking to advance their business career.
1. Insights on human dynamics
Managing, motivating, and engaging with others are essential leadership skills today. Rarely do people work in isolation. As such, being attuned to human dynamics or the needs, desires, and backgrounds of others is essential. “In the workplace, you don’t get to choose who you’re working with,” explains Diana. “Success comes when you can recognize your own patterns of behaviour and biases, which will influence how you work within a team and as a leader.”
The first step towards an effective team is recognizing the differences that arise as a result of cultural backgrounds, age and life experiences. The goal should be to establish understanding and trust early on. This can be achieved with open channels of communication, access to cultural intelligence training, as well as guidance in conflict management, difficult conversations, and issue resolution, among other things, says Diana.
“Success comes when you can recognize your own patterns of behaviour and biases, which will influence how you work within a team and as a leader.”
2. Self-awareness and resilience
Recognizing your own patterns of behaviour requires a certain level of self-awareness — something that does not always come naturally. “To recognize your own patterns, it’s helpful to be open to receiving constructive feedback from others,” Diana explains. This requires active listening. It’s easy to form habits or behaviour patterns that you’re unaware of. But with open transparent communication, you can better understand how you are contributing to the team dynamic.
Smith uses assessments and coaching to help students understand and anticipate response patterns. “We’ve been using the Big Five personality assessment to help individuals understand where their personality preferences are, what strengths and attributes they bring to the team, and where their vulnerabilities lie,” Diana says.
From a place of self-awareness and vulnerability comes increased resilience. “What we’re hearing more and more from the corporate world is that MBA students may have the skills, teamwork abilities, and cultural intelligence needed to be successful in the workplace, but what they are often lacking is resilience,” Diana says.
Resilience comes from experiential learning. It can’t be taught, but, like a muscle, it can be strengthened.
“We put the MBA students through a rigorous resilience training program which is unpredictable and challenging,” Diana says. “Over the course of a weekend, they’re challenged to push themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, and to work closely as a team.” This resilience training helps students understand the extent to which they can push themselves when faced with ambiguity or the unknown.
In the business world, resilience training is beneficial for working collaboratively, managing time, facing challenges head on, and understanding your own productivity outside of your comfort zone.
3. Experience and exploration
There’s nothing more beneficial than life experience to build the toolkit to excel in the workplace.
Smith’s team-based learning model broadens students’ experiences by placing them in a team they’re unfamiliar with — to put everyone, despite their age, background or experience, on an equal playing field — and then have them tackle projects and assignments together. “We work with students to get them comfortable giving and receiving feedback, encouraging them to push boundaries individually and within their groups.” Through this model students learn to try, fail, and try again, knowing that they are in a safe zone.
While a school environment makes it easier to set the stage for specific growth experiences, it’s still possible to employ the tactic in your own career — by pushing yourself, expanding your experiences, challenging your assumptions, and growing beyond what’s typically comfortable or known to you.
“We know that challenges in the business world are evolving at a fast pace,” says Diana. But with the right skill sets, you can evolve along with them.
Self-awareness, resilience and a growth mindset are all crucial in today’s business world. At Smith School of Business, you will work with expert coaches dedicated to helping you build your leadership capacities and realize your potential. Learn more about Smith’s suite of MBA programs here.
President and Founder of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, Diana Olsen, found her passion quite interestingly — while at university studying French literature. During her course, she discovered a kindred spirit in Monsieur Balzac and his genuine passion for coffee. After graduating, she immersed herself in authentic French culture, spending a year and a half in France. Passing many enchanting afternoons in the Grand cafés of Paris, Ms. Olsen was inspired to bring this sophisticated celebration of coffee and social tradition home to Canada. San Francisco was her next stop in 1993, to learn the craft of coffee roasting and bean selection at the West Coast Specialty Coffee Training Institute. In 1996, the first Balzac’s café was opened in Stratford, Ontario and now they have 14 locations across Ontario. Today, Diana oversees all aspects of café operations and coffee roasting from the Balzac’s Roastery in Ancaster, Ontario.
My first job ever was… when I was 15 working in the kitchen at IL Giardino, an Italian restaurant in Vancouver. The chef taught me how to dry a full day’s worth of bibb lettuce by becoming a Human Salad Spinner…the washed lettuce would go into a huge table cloth and I would stand in the back alley spinning it with both arms while the water flew out…It worked! One of my tasks there was making espresso and cappuccino, which I took a particular interest in and thus began my love for coffee.
I decided to be an entrepreneur… by default really, I was very restless and having a difficult time finding a career that would challenge and stimulate me. I knew that whatever I was going to do I had to love it and be happy doing it. I realized that starting my own business and following my passion for coffee was probably my best option.
My proudest accomplishment… other than raising my amazing daughter Annabelle is building a brand that is not just an overnight success, but one that has grown deep roots in the communities we serve. We are strong, we can withstand the challenges we face, and we are going to continue to grow at a healthy rate.
My boldest move to date was… also my greatest move to date — opening the Distillery District Café, at a time when no one had a clue where it was or what it was. It was a big gamble that really paid off. I’m forever grateful to my landlords there for giving Balzac’s such an incredible opportunity.
I surprise people when I tell them… I play hockey…I’m not very good mind you but I love it!!
When asked, my best advice to people starting out in business is… don’t rely too much on advice from others, especially the unsolicited kind. It’s your business and your own intuition is usually going serve you best.
Having said that there will be times when you really do need the help of someone with more experience than you — even just for emotional support — so having a trusted mentor is very important.
“Don’t cower in the face of adversity…fight for what you believe is right. ”
My best advice from a mentor was… to stand up for myself! Don’t cower in the face of adversity…fight for what you believe is right.
My biggest setback was… having to throw in the towel and close a café that was struggling. It was not a good choice of location. My bad.
I overcame it by… opening a new café in a great location!
I take my coffee with… organic cream and a splash of maple syrup.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend it with family.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that my hobby is collecting Lake Ontario beach glass… but if you followed me on Instagram you would!
The one thing I wish I knew when starting Balzac’s 25 years ago is… that business is ultimately more about the people than the product. While we do sell amazing coffee, it’s building relationships with our customers, our suppliers and our co-workers that truly matters and what gives our business meaning and success. As Balzac’s has grown, unfortunately, I’m not able to personally connect with all of my customers and employees, but I hope I have created a culture where people feel valued and appreciated. “The café is the people’s parliament,” a quote by our namesake Honoré de Balzac says it all.
I stay inspired by… our natural surroundings… I love to spend time outdoors.
The future excites me because… I never know what to expect. Every day there are new opportunities and new challenges…it never gets boring.
My next step is… to open two new cafes, one at the new Vaughan Metropolitan Center and the other is directly across from the Mattamy Athletic Centre, formerly the Maple Leaf Gardens.
As Director of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, Ingrid Devin oversees a global community of women business owners — ensuring they have access to the networks, capital, knowledge, and technology they need to excel. It’s a great fit for a life and career that’s been defined by advocacy. She shares what she’s learned on her journey so far, and what excites her about the future.
By Ony Anukem
We all have defining moments in our lives, Ingrid Devin says. “One of the things that always stuck with me was that my dad died when I was quite young, so I had a very strong mother.” The last born of six children from an Irish family, she also learned the art of self-advocacy at a very early age. “I come from a large family where if you didn’t speak up, you didn’t get heard. If you weren’t quick, everyone else took the good things.”
Today, it’s not just herself that she is advocating for, but women entrepreneurs around the world. Ingrid is Director of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN), a global community that was established by Dell Technologies a decade ago to connect women entrepreneurs with networks, capital, knowledge and technology. These women are at the heart of everything that DWEN does — they are committed to adding value to their members personally, professionally, and in business.
One key element of the network is the annual summit, a three-day event that brings members together in a different city each year. In 2018, it took place in Toronto, Canada. This year marked the 10th DWEN summit, and on behalf of Women of Influence, I travelled to Singapore to take part, collecting the stories of some of the inspiring attendees hailing from every corner of the globe.
“There are three things we aim to achieve at DWEN. Access to technology, access to funding, and our third is access to a global network, and I think that for the women, all three areas are really important,” Ingrid says. “However, the real magic of the DWEN summit is the women — the friendships, mentorships and business opportunities that come out of them connecting.”
While the summit is the centrepiece of the network, “we are way more than just the summit,” Ingrid explains. DWEN members enjoy several other benefits, including a DWEN app, educational webinars, regional events, and tech consultations.
Constantly surrounded by successful women entrepreneurs, Ingrid feels she’s become more entrepreneurial. “My role is like running a small business,” Ingrid says. “From looking to attract new members to thinking about budgets, or even developing the team. I have more of a security because I know I will get paid at the end of the month, but I certainly think as you work with entrepreneurs, you begin to think a little more like them.”
Reflecting on the biggest entrepreneurial lesson she has learned in her current role, Ingrid says “a lot of people set up businesses and they have a great business idea. But the absolute crux is, you’ve got to be looking at finding a solution to a problem.” When I ask her if she sees entrepreneurship in her own future, she laughs. “Will I set up my own business someday? Maybe. Never say never.”
“For any business, you need diversity in your team. But it’s not just about diverse hiring. If you don’t create an inclusive culture, inclusive environment, it’s hard for your team to be successful.”
Advocating for women entrepreneurs is not the only type of advocacy Ingrid has led during her time at Dell. Prior to her role as Director of DWEN, she spent over a decade as Dell’s EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Lead. “At the time I started, it wasn’t like what it was now,” she says, pointing to “the gradual shift from equality alone, to a greater focus on inclusion.”
And that means moving beyond just diversity. “For any business, you need diversity in your team,” explains Ingrid, “but it’s not just about diverse hiring. If you don’t create an inclusive culture, inclusive environment, it’s hard for your team to be successful.”
She says her biggest challenge was ensuring that people saw the value of diversity and inclusion. “One of the things we did to overcome this was, I would find senior leaders who understood the value of diversity and inclusion, and I would get them to share the message.”
Turning to the future, we begin to discuss the importance of collaboration in women’s career advancement in the next ten years. “Every time we talk about gender diversity, we have got to include men,” she says, adding, “a lot of organizations are focusing on the issue of gender balance, a lot of governments, a lot of corporates, but the more we work together over the next ten years, the more powerful we can be.”
Ingrid is a strong believer in the power of mentorship and role models, citing the popular phrase “if she can see it, she can be it.” But she reminds us that role models can come in many forms, “I am really motivated by different people for different things,” she says. “In Dell, in the entrepreneurship network, through my friends, and women who may have been facing similar challenges to me.”
She’s also quick to point out the importance of introducing the topic of entrepreneurship to girls at a much earlier age. DWEN does this through its complementary program for girls aged 13-18, Girls Track, that runs simultaneously with the annual summit. Girls Track participants join certain elements of the summit and then have their own exclusive breakout sessions where they focus on key business topics such as how to go from an idea to a business plan, goal setting, and budgeting. Their program culminates with the girls pitching business ideas they have developed to the entire DWEN delegation on the final day.
“My advice for young girls is to dig around to find what you’re really passionate about and try to find a career,” Ingrid says. “It’s important to teach yourself to be authentic and think about what you want. Is it money? Is it status? Is it a cause you’re passionate about? Is it a type of role? Is it travel? The world is changing so incredibly, the careers that are here now may not be here in 10 years. There are so many jobs out there we don’t know and the future is so exciting.”
Founder, Gillespie’s Fine Spirits, Switch Spirit Free & Boozewitch
Winner, Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award, WEST
Her passion for food and drink came from a “live off the land” way of life in rural Quebec, where she grew up on a hobby farm until the age of 17. Today, Kelly is an internationally recognized beverage coach, teacher, and consultant, a past food and beverage columnist, as well as a regular presenter on Saturday Sips on Global TV. After becoming certified in distillation, Kelly began Gillespie’s Fine Spirits in 2014, which is now the umbrella to Boozewitch Beverages, Switch Drinks, and an award-winning cocktail bar.
My first job ever was… With a little encouragement from my mom, I sold refreshments at her weekly softball games, a fold-up card table with an array of popcorn, freezies and juice.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was born an entrepreneur. I have always wanted to leave my stamp on the world, inspire others and contribute positively to society. This is the best way I know how to do that.
My proudest accomplishment is… It is a real toss-up between managing to get a distillery open against all odds and birthing my son at home. So, both my babies.
My boldest move to date was… The Johann Von Goethe quote “Be bold and mighty forces come to your aid…” is part of my personal manifesto. I rock bold all the time. I feel like it is the default program for being a woman in a male-dominated business.
I surprise people when I tell them… I grew up in the middle of the bush in a log house my family built. My closest neighbour was three miles away. You’d think I was a real city girl, but a back-to-the -lander is where I get my spirit.
My best advice for small business owners is… It’s not my advice. It’s Nike’s. JUST DO IT! You can spend your whole life trying to make it perfect, hemming and hawing and generally resisting your genius, or you can go for it. You will fail lots along the way, but the true test of your mettle is how you rise.
My best advice from a mentor was… I was lucky enough to have two dads that I adored. They are both in spirit now, so an old friend who is a savvy businessman and watched me grow up has been named “sub-dad”. About 25 years ago he taught me:
1-Show up on time
2-Do what you say you will do
3-Finish what you start
4-Always say please and thank you
5-Never give up
“Success to me is a moving target. I think my biggest success is finding the joy and beauty in the journey.”
My biggest setback was… Strangely the single biggest thing that catapulted my business forward. It’s a long story, but it has to do with “trusted advisors”, a huge financial loss and the ending of a marriage/partnership.
I overcame it by… Leaping. I was on the precipice of crumbling and instead, I just held my breath, dug deep and went for it. “Boldness has genius power and magic in it”…. More of that Johann Von Goethe quote!
I never go a day without…Hugging my kid, drinking lots of water and sleeping at least 7 hours a night. Those things to me are pure magic.
The future excites me because… I feel like as a woman in her 40s, I have less @#$%s to give and more courage and self-worth than ever. Look out world!
Success to me means… Oh, the elusive “success”. Success to me is a moving target. I think my biggest success is finding the joy and beauty in the journey. Love and gratitude in my heart, a calm mind in the face of daily challenges and being a positive influence in the lives of others.
Finalist, Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award, EAST
Connie hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia and is the creator and founder of RIO Halifax, an avant-garde studio specializing in pilates, yoga and movement classes and ROGUE, a kickboxing and circuit training studio. Connie has been an ambassador for Lululemon Athletica, as well as several other local brands. She also teaches at events, retreats, and festivals throughout Canada and Internationally.
My first job ever was… Coaching Gymnastics.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to do it my way.
My proudest accomplishment is… I was part of a National Award campaign earlier this year recognized for our contribution and involvement in the community. It was the first time business in Atlantic Canada had been recognized and selected as one of 7 businesses in North America. As part of the award, they made a massive contribution to an organization I am passionate about and to feel in that moment that I had done something that made a difference and opened opportunities for others… that was the best feeling.
My boldest move to date was… Having a goal to open one studio by the age of 30 and instead, opening 3.
I surprise people when I tell them… I built the vision for my business five years before it opened- it took me four years to save the money to do it. Businesses don’t just happen. When the doors open, the journey is already well on its way.
My best advice for small business owners is… Follow your gut.
My best advice from a mentor was… If you cant 10x yourself you can’t 10x your business.
“It is equally important to grow the self, as it is the business. It takes a huge investment of time and energy to push yourself forward through the downward spirals.”
My biggest setback was… Setbacks are what lead you to success. They were all big, they were all worth it.
I overcame it by… Never giving up on my thirst for knowledge, surrounding myself with supportive people, always seeing the silver lining.
I never go a day without… Coffee. movement. working.
The future excites me because… It is so unknown. There is so much opportunity. There is so much to be done.
Finalist, Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award, CENTRAL
In 2017, Megan and Angelica joined forces to launch the national, full-service art consulting firm, K+D. Prior to partnering, Megan worked in the visual arts industry for fifteen years and had been running a cataloguing business since 2013. Angelica had a decade of senior-level experience in the art and business sectors, and specialized in corporate art consulting, communications, and business development.
My first job ever was…
Angelica – working as a cashier at a local food store when I was 14 years old.
Megan – as a cashier at McDonald’s.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because…
Angelica – I had a big vision and strong business values and was determined to prove to myself and others that I could build a successful company founded on principles of integrity, transparency, authenticity and reciprocity.
Megan – a gap in the market presented itself — so I took a leap of faith and started to fill that gap 6.5 years ago!
My proudest accomplishment is…
Angelica – that I found a way to leverage my skill set, network and experience to launch and lead a company that is changing the art landscape in Canada.
Megan – creating jobs in the visual arts sector across Canada.
My boldest move to date was…
Angelica – taking a calculated risk and walking away from secure employment to become an entrepreneur.
Megan – setting up my original business (Kalaman Art Collection Management) for success so I could take maternity leave and start my second full-time job as a mom to my awesome daughter.
I surprise people when I tell them…
Angelica – I’m in my young thirties and have built a successful business in the arts.
Megan – that I am a co-founder of a company that provides services in the visual arts sector.
My best advice for small business owners is…
Angelica – listen to your gut and surround yourself with positive people who challenge, inspire and support you.
Megan – follow your gut; it is right every time.
My best advice from a mentor was…
Angelica – from one of the partners at PLANT Architect who said: “There’s always room for style.” — words that have inspired me to develop a polished brand for K+D and approach all aspects of our work with a curatorial eye and regard for the finest details.
Megan – don’t focus on any potential competition or losing talent; focus on what you have now in front of you and the goals you are looking to achieve.
“Be present. Be mindful. And remember that while becoming an entrepreneur can be an immensely challenging feat, it is also a liberating, empowering and incredibly rewarding pursuit.”
My biggest setback was…
Angelica – less of a setback and more of a signal to recalibrate as I found myself working in a toxic environment with no chance for positive career growth.
Megan – wanting to start a family while also running a small business on my own.
I overcame it by…
Angelica – reminding myself that in order to grow as a professional and cultivate my potential I needed to find more fertile soil.
Megan – working with a business coach to make and follow a solid plan that would allow my business to continue to thrive while I went on maternity leave.
I never go a day without…
Angelica – taking a moment to appreciate the amazing people in my life.
Megan – starting my day with yoga and meditation.
The future excites me because…
Angelica – this is only the beginning; I’m just getting started!
Megan – my business partner and I share a long-term vision for success and together are growing an exciting company that is establishing new standards in our field.
Success to me means…
Angelica – living a full, extraordinary life while leaving a positive imprint on the world and enriching the lives and stories of others.
Megan – leading a team of talented people who are excited by the work that we do at K+D, who are engaged and passionate about their jobs, and who are contributing to the growth and success of our company.
Jill White is passionate about uniting people through play and social experiences. As the President of global aquatic play manufacturer, Waterplay Solutions, and two full-service playground and park amenities companies servicing Western Canada, RecTec Industries and Playworks-Parkworks, she feels that play is a right for children throughout the world, in every culture, regardless of background or preconceived notions of ability. As a group of companies, the Waterplay, RecTec and Playworks-Parkworks Teams have embraced the 10-Minute Walk Movement, an effort aimed at providing every child with a community park within a 10-minute walk from their home, as a guiding light to their passion. To date, the teams she leads have provided access to play to millions of children in the more than 10,000 projects they have been involved in, and Waterplay projects can be found throughout the world on every continent aside from Antarctica. We caught up with her ahead of her speaking on the panel at our spotlight event in Kelowna on October 21st — Following Your Passion: How to Turn a Personal Dream Into a Multi-Million Dollar Business.
My first job ever was…stuffing envelopes at my Dad’s office…the first one I got on my own was refereeing beach volleyball.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I grew up in a family business, it’s kind of all I knew.
My proudest accomplishment is…besides my daughter (cliche I know) yet to come.
My boldest move to date was…developing our current new office building and expanding our production facility.
I surprise people when I tell them… everything, I’m an open book, I’m constantly telling people more than they need to know!
My best advice to people starting out in business is…surround yourself with people much smarter than you and listen to them.
My best advice from a mentor was…cash is king.
I would tell my 20-year old self…not to stress about finding your passion. Make good choices and pay attention and it will present itself. My biggest setback was…lots of little ones, thankfully nothing major…each one a time to learn and pay attention.
I overcame it by…not sweating the small stuff. Stay focused on the big picture. Always take care of people.
“Surround yourself with people much smarter than you and listen to them.”
The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… building the team with people who have strengths that you don’t so you can focus more on doing things you love, and then seeing our accomplishments.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…I wish I could say work out, but I’d probably use it to just try to be more organized.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…anything really about me. While I’m an open book with people I know, I’m quite private and try to maintain a distinction between work and play.
The one thing I wish I knew when starting Waterplay is… I didn’t start Waterplay, but the one thing I wish I knew before taking it over was how important networking is. Again, I’m quite private and somewhat introverted so networking isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I have great relationships with people that I know, I’m just not comfortable walking into a room where I don’t know anyone. I’m trying to be better at that.
I stay inspired by…allowing myself to have free space …I need time out of the office whether it’s at a seminar or an educational session, where ideas can just come to me.
The future excites me because…there’s a real need for social connection in a world of digital anonymity and isolation. We are fortunate to work with cities around the world to provide their citizens with public spaces for physical, social and cognitive development and ultimately social connection.
My next step is…more of the same…we have a great team, great products and a desire to make the world more livable and socially just….we just need to do more of it.
“A new position has come up in another area that I would love to pursue — but it doesn’t feel like the right time to leave my department. Should I pursue it anyway?
Knowing how much pressure we are under to deliver, I am concerned that my boss will be angry if I leave. I like my boss and my team, and I don’t want them to think I don’t appreciate all they have done for me. And I hate the idea of leaving them with all of this work to do — it will put a lot of extra pressure on everyone.”
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre
Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.
In my role, I get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of professional women at varying levels within their organizations, from CEOs to administrative assistants. So many women I coach feel there is “never a right time” to leave a position. I’m going to share a few pieces of wisdom I’ve gathered from working with very successful women.
It’s not a marriage. So many talented women treat their commitment to their jobs in the same way they approach their marriages or families — acting as if they are committed indefinitely. Every employer will tell you that having employees that are extremely loyal is a great asset to their business. The challenge with this thinking is that it can limit healthy personal and professional growth.
Years ago, when I was struggling to leave a relationship, my coach said to me: “You don’t have to make him wrong in order for it to be the right decision to leave.” This was eye-opening. I was looking for where the other party was wrong to help me justify my decision to make a change. I see many professionals who will say they like their boss, team, company, or role — so they don’t know why they feel like they want a change. You don’t have to hate your job to justify leaving it.
It’s not a fling. While it’s important to recognize that being too loyal can be a detriment, I also like to challenge talented women to think of how they build a personal brand of commitment. Changing positions quickly can leave people wondering if you’ve got the grit to work through challenges and stay the course when things get tough.
I not only ask clients if they’ve been in their existing role for a minimum of 18 months, but also whether they’ve seen some work through to completion — in which they can say with confidence that they’ve gained new critical skills through that working experience. There will always be unique circumstances that merit a quick departure, but repeated short stays can leave future employers questioning your credentials if this becomes your regular rotation.
“You don’t have to hate your job to justify leaving it.”
It’s more like a home. I like to use the analogy of a home when it comes to how we approach loyalty in our careers. If you think about it, many of us have lived in different homes throughout our lives. Some homes we live in for numerous years, others are only for a short time. Sometimes we move to get away from our loud and rowdy neighbours, other times we move because we’ve simply outgrown the place and it’s healthy to evolve in a new environment that is a better fit for who we are today.
Don’t wait for permission. I’ve worked with many women who feel they need to wait for permission to leave. We want others to say: “It’s okay to take that new role!” The truth is, we have to give ourselves permission to pursue what feels right to us, even at the expense of disappointing others. A boss that values your work is rarely going to encourage you to take on a different opportunity, and that’s a good thing — they see your greatness! This is even more reason why you should take that leap that excites you the most.
Be thoughtful about how you leave your role, and always thank those around you for what they’ve taught you. You’ll find that over time you’ll create a network full of professionals that continue to support you for years to come.
To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After four years building and leading Deloitte Canada’s Diversity & Inclusion Consulting practice, Carolyn Lawrence is now Deloitte Global’s first ever Inclusion Leader. Passionate about creating inclusive cultures, Carolyn previously spent ten years at the helm of Women of Influence, growing the organization’s reach, offerings, and impact.
by Carolyn Lawrence
“I want to influence women’s advancement.” That’s what I wrote in a graduate school application essay some 20 years ago. It was a pivotal moment. You know the kind. When you’re working through your thoughts; exploring, testing, sounding out and seeing what sticks. And then I wrote that and everything became clear.
I mapped out my action plan to pivot from my marketing and communications in financial services background and follow my passion. This led me to join and subsequently run Women of Influence. It was a dream creating events, magazines, and courses, all to advance women! Things couldn’t get better.
But throughout those highs came a number of strength-building “opportunities” — and some real lows. I faced not only the stresses of entrepreneurship amidst a recession, but also the sudden loss of my father.
What helped me most was that I knew I had found my purpose. I’ve said it many times before, and I will say it many times more: find your passion. This has been my compass and a burning fire lit from within. Still, I knew I needed change. I was tired, stretched, and feeling a need to learn, grow, and, quite honestly, have a little less entrepreneurial stress.
I also saw that the representation of women in leadership wasn’t increasing fast enough. It was time to shift my focus away from helping women advance, to advancing corporate culture instead — guiding them to hire and promote women.
That led me to Deloitte, where I joined the Human Capital consulting team to build a Diversity & Inclusion practice. It took significant effort to learn how to be a consultant and navigate the hundreds of bosses in the partnership, plus a good amount of resourcefulness to create a new service offering (thankfully with helpful and bright minds, global thought leaders, and strong allies on my side).
To be rated a high performer, I had to supplement the practice with substantive revenue and hit billable hourly targets. It was a challenge to keep up with the pace and volume. I was working from 4 am to 6 pm, spending time with my son, and then often crashing right after I got him to bed if there wasn’t an urgent proposal on the docket. I had some great wins, and learned some invaluable lessons about my work — but I wasn’t connected to my purpose, and therefore wasn’t getting fuel. It felt more like running on empty.
“What helped me most was that I knew I had found my purpose. I’ve said it many times before, and I will say it many times more: find your passion.”
Then a funny thing happened: I got some negative feedback on a presentation. It was hard to hear, but it was also the push I needed. It was time to look in the mirror.
Was I being true to my purpose? Nope. Did I want to be a badass again? Yes! Here’s how I moved back towards passion and authenticity:
Pivot when it’s not working. There was a meeting planned in front of a panel of partners where I had to share my business case for advancement. I knew I couldn’t keep on the course I was on. I prepared, sought counsel, and designed my case. Would they give me some runway to figure out how to declare my focus? I shared my passion and expertise, and my ideas for how I could make it work. I thought through their perspective and all of the questions they might ask. The meeting went well. They were appreciative of my honesty and that I had framed it with the business in mind.
Be Brave. I risked my career in that moment. I’d spent many years keeping my mouth shut when things weren’t going accordingly (at home and at work). No longer. I do wait for the right moment and thoughtfully and strategically script myself, but I do it.
Stay true to yourself. As a result of my bold move, I was realigned to the work that I loved: designing gender pay gap methodologies and groundbreaking research, all with inspiring people. Our report, The design of everyday men, shares a new perspective on how culture is getting in the way of gender equity, including the “always-on, always available” barrier I encountered.
When Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe first opened Mandy’s Salads at the back of a Westmount boutique, they didn’t have culinary or business degrees — but they did have passion and positivity. Fifteen years later, they’re working on their eighth store in Quebec, scouting for their first Toronto location, and finding new ways to use technology to improve the service they provide their growing customer base.
by Shelley White
When Mandy Wolfe and her sister, Rebecca, founded their salad business, they were looking to serve one particular demographic: themselves.
“We were the customer,” says Mandy, a Montreal native. The inspiration stemmed from Rebecca’s experience as a student at Parsons School of Design in New York City, in the early 2000s.
“Rebecca saw these salad shops popping up everywhere with lineups out the door, and she was a customer there,” Mandy adds. “We were looking for someplace like that to eat in Montreal, and nothing was available.”
That quest for the perfect lunch spot was the genesis for Mandy’s Salads, which Mandy describes as a “gourmet, fast, casual, upscale salad experience.”
The sisters started selling their fresh, colourful salads in 2004. At first, they set up shop in the back of a trendy Westmount clothing shop, Mimi & Coco, which was owned by Rebecca’s husband.
“That allowed us to have very affordable rent and a chance to perfect what we were doing,” says Mandy of those early days. “We weren’t formally trained with degrees in culinary school or MBAs. So the time that we were inside the boutique allowed us to gain that confidence and that traction that gave us the final boost to go out and open up our own location.”
Now they have seven locations around Montreal and will soon have an eighth opening in Laval, Quebec. Mandy says that both she and her sister have personalities that are well-suited to entrepreneurship.
“We’re both very creative people and we grew up in a creative, entrepreneurial home,” she says. “I have enjoyed having the liberty to create a menu as I wanted it to be. And Rebecca has enjoyed designing all the locations as she saw them. We don’t have to answer to anybody or fit into any box, and we get to do what we love to do.”
Some of the biggest challenges have stemmed from the fact that neither sister has an educational background in business, says Mandy.
“There are so many facets to owning a business, whether it’s human resources or payroll or figuring out what profitable margins look like, or maintaining consistency across seven locations. These are all things that we’re still learning about and striving towards and it’s a constant challenge and every day is different.”
“We have a strict rule that when you have to go pick up the kids at the end of the day, you’re off, and it’s kind of a blackout time. You don’t answer work-related calls or emails or texts until 8 pm when they’re asleep, and if you feel like getting back to work after that, you can.”
Another challenge has been ensuring they are using technology to their best advantage. That’s one of the reasons Mandy and Rebecca got involved with Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle, an initiative supported by BDC — Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs — that provides networking, education and technology support for women-led businesses. The Wolfe sisters found out about the Circle of Innovation (one of the programs within the Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle) from BDC, a partner since they opened up their second stand-alone location in 2015 — a 2,000-foot shop on Crescent street.
“Crescent was our scariest and biggest leap of faith, and BDC was there to help us all the way along,” she says. “The Circle of Innovation came up casually in conversations and meetings with BDC, and when the opportunity came up to join we said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”
Through the program, Mandy and her team were paired with Chloe Macdonald, an industrial engineering student at the University of Toronto. Chloe interned with Mandy’s remotely this past summer, working with the company on several key initiatives. For example, she researched and outlined a plan for data retention and cybersecurity, and also implemented a new way to organize, track, and manage their customer feedback email account. Chloe also created a web app to extract data from Google reviews.
Mandy says the internship experience has been fantastic, helping them learn more about how technology can improve the service they provide their customers. These insights will no doubt help Mandy and Rebecca with their next big endeavour — finding the perfect spot to open a Mandy’s in Toronto.
“I think that Montreal’s a very unique market, where it’s easy to become a big fish because the pond is smaller,” Mandy says. “We do have conviction and faith in what we’re doing, but there’s always the question, would this work somewhere else? Going to Toronto is not like going to Paris, but still, Toronto is a whole other market.”
They will start looking for a location this fall, Mandy says. Rebecca recently had a baby and is taking some time to “be a mom,” she adds. Because both sisters are moms (Mandy has four children and this is Rebecca’s third), they have been careful to make those responsibilities a priority.
“There’s a deep respect for our motherhood roles as well as our entrepreneurial roles,” she says. “We have a strict rule that when you have to go pick up the kids at the end of the day, you’re off, and it’s kind of a blackout time. You don’t answer work-related calls or emails or texts until 8 pm when they’re asleep, and if you feel like getting back to work after that, you can.”
Mandy says it definitely helps that there are two of them at the helm. “We often tell each other how grateful we are that we’re not doing this alone,” she says. “We also have a fabulous team and supportive husbands.”
It’s enabled them to strike a balance between working hard and playing hard — and when you hear what the sisters like to do on their own time, it’s no wonder they’ve found success with Mandy’s Salads. “We love to travel. We love dancing. We’re very positive, happy people.” Mandy explains. “We love getting together with friends, having dinner parties — family, food, fun.”
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 Businessmodule to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.
Katie Zeppieri is the founder of GIRL TALK Empowerment, an organization that empowers girls to overcome personal challenges and be inspired to make their mark on the world. Over 10,000 girls have been empowered through GIRL TALK thus far, which has school chapters in Canada, the United States, Uganda and Egypt. Katie is also the author of the book, GIRL TALK: Words Every World-Changing Girl Needs to Hear which is used as a teaching resource at schools across North America.
My first job was…working as a clown named “Giggles” on the weekends for kids’ birthday parties! I was 13 years old.
My proudest accomplishment is… writing and self-publishing She Rises. I am just so proud of the final product and think it has such a unique take on poetry and empowerment. Plus, the topic of mental health has become of greater importance to me over the past few years. In 2017 I underwent a period of burnout where I struggled with anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts. This was a real low point for me and made me empathize with the struggles of others. I told myself that when I got through this I would write about it to help and inspire people who were struggling and let them know that it’s OK to not always be OK.
My boldest move to date was…deciding that I wanted to work for myself just six months after graduating from university. I finished my six-month work contract and then went cold-turkey into being an entrepreneur despite having zero previous business experience. I just had a little dream and a desire to make it happen, no matter what the cost.
My biggest setback was…struggling to get my organization off the ground. It took quite a few years to find our business model. I found it especially challenging starting out as I was uncomfortable asking for money—not great for a budding entrepreneur!
I overcame it by… surrounding myself with an incredible group of mentors and establishing an Advisory Board. These people had all achieved great career success and helped me navigate many of the challenges I was facing. I’m proud to still have many of these people and some new ones as current mentors.
“Sometimes knowing that someone has been where you are can greatly reduce anxiety and help the person focus on healing and finding the right supports they need to make it through.”
The best part of my job is… getting to talk to people about things that MATTER. I spend a good portion of every year talking to youth and adults about self-esteem, confidence, leadership, bullying, and making a difference in the world.This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night and I am so blessed to be able to help people think about their lives in a deep and meaningful way so that they do not live with regret.
The most challenging part of my day is…balancing how I spend my time. There’s always lots on the to-do list but the key is to focus on the handful of things that really move the needle forward on my business. I also continually strive to have technology-free periods of my day where I am not on a laptop or my phone. It’s a work-in-progress but I am happiest when I have a balanced day with time away from distractions.
My hope for She Rises is that … it can touch the lives of those who are struggling to find the light in their life. Sometimes knowing that someone has been where you are can greatly reduce anxiety and help the person focus on healing and finding the right supports they need to make it through.
My greatest advice from a mentor was…to stand strong against adversity. One quote my mentor gave to me that stuck was from Martin Luther King Jr. “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in times of comfort and convenience but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.”
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… RESILIENCE. None of the things I am working to build have come without setbacks and personal challenges. Truly in order to come out on top, a resilient mind and heart is required.
I surprise people when I tell them…although I am a very gregarious person, I can also be quite introverted. I find crowds exhausting and get my energy rejuvenated from alone time reading, writing, exercising, and reflecting.
The future excites me because… I truly believe that the best days are yet to come.
This year marks the 27th year of recognizing the top women entrepreneurs in Canada. We are thrilled to be celebrating another influential collection of business owners. Representing diverse industries and business sizes, and hailing from across the country — here are the 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Finalists.
This was a record-breaking year for the program with over 9,000 nominations from across the country. After an intensive judging review, 18 finalists were selected across six legacy award categories. An additional five recipients were chosen to receive the Ones to Watch Award, which recognizes entrepreneurs who have launched businesses that have made an incredible impact in fewer than three years.
These exceptional women were chosen for their accomplishments in a diverse group of industries including finance, oil and gas, publishing, technology, construction, hospitality and health services.
“We are honoured to celebrate the accomplishments of our 2019 award finalists,” says Alicia Skalin, Co-CEO, Women of Influence. “These entrepreneurs have applied their intelligence, dedication and ingenuity to challenge the status quo of their industries. As we approach the end of the decade, the 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award finalists are an exciting representation of the growth and innovation that is to come for Canadian business.”
The winners will be announced and celebrated at the 27th Annual Awards Gala, on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. Keynote remarks will be shared by Jacqui Allard, Executive Vice President, Personal Financing Products, RBC.
The RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards recognize female business owners from across Canada who make impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian or global economy. Candidates share a strong entrepreneurial vision and a relentless passion in pursuing their dreams. These awards recognize businesswomen from three major regions across Canada: East, Central and West.
“Women entrepreneurs are a powerful force in driving Canada’s economic growth and innovation agenda. Their leadership and economic participation generate more than $148 billion a year and their trailblazing efforts serve as an inspiration for the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs to rise to their potential,” said Greg Grice, Executive Vice-President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “In recognizing the tremendous accomplishments of Canadian women entrepreneurs and celebrating their stories through initiatives like this — and many others at RBC — we hope to accelerate our collective progress on the advancement of women in business.”
All nominees are required to submit thorough applications, which are reviewed and judged by a panel of prominent business leaders and subject to a due diligence performed by KPMG.
Without further ado, here are our 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards program finalists and recipients:
The 2019 Recipients of the Ones to Watch Award are:
Benveet Gill, ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre
Melissa Kargiannakis, skritswap
Melinda Rombouts, Eve & Co Cannabis
Dina Kulik, Kidcrew
Lisa Ali Learning, AtlanTick Repellant Products Inc.
The 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Finalists are:
Diversity Institute Micro-Business Award
West: Kelly Ann Woods, Gillespie’s Fine Spirits Ltd, Boozewitch Beverage Company, Switch Beverage Co.
Central: Camille Jagdeo, Edge1 Equipment Rentals Inc.
East: Youlita Anguelov, AgroFusion
Social Change Award
West: Laurel Douglas, Women’s Enterprise Centre
Central: Geetha Moorthy, SAAAC Autism Centre
East: Pascale Bouchard, Leucan
TELUS Trailblazer Award
West: Jesse Finkelstein & Trena White, Page Two
Central: Carinne Chambers-Saini, Diva International Inc.
East: Natalie Voland, GI Quo Vadis
Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award
Central: Anna Eliopoulos, byPeterandPauls.com
Central: Margot & Marion Witz, Elizabeth Grant International
East: Brigitte Jalbert, Les Emballages Carrousel Inc.
The 2019 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards are presented by Women of Influence. Award sponsors include RBC, TELUS, Diversity Institute and our official Due Diligence partner, KPMG.
View the full press release in English or French for more information and join in the celebration by purchasing your tickets to the 27th Annual Awards Gala on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto.
Marcela Geer made the leap from an ascending career in finance to start up her passion project in hospitality — a Latin catering and food truck company, El Bosco Catering. Marcela shares her story on how a mashup of experience is fertile ground for a self-made career, and the lessons she’s learned so far as a founder, owner, and director of operations.
By Marcela Geer
After a decade climbing through the ranks in finance, I made one of the scariest decisions of my life: to leave my corporate role as Manager of International Banking at RBC, and pursue my passion for culinary event planning and management. But this wasn’t my first brush with the hospitality industry.
My love for hosting and the business of food dates back to my arrival from Colombia to Canada at 13, when my family opened up a restaurant called Coco Loco in London, Ontario. They wanted to bring authentic Latin cuisine to the community, and teenage me was more than keen to jump in and help in any way I could. I busied myself serving, handling cash, and bussing tables every day after school and on weekends — and sneaking empanadas and, my favourite, Salvadoran pupusas, whenever I could.
The restaurant was a success, and at just 14, I was entrenched in all sides of the family business. At 18, I relocated to Toronto to earn a Bachelor of Commerce in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Ryerson University, and I went on to spend 15 years in the restaurant and bar industry in Toronto, bartending, serving, and finally managing at some of the most prolific spots Toronto has to offer.
Fifteen years into my food career, I was offered a role at RBC that promised change and job security. I was drawn to their clients-first culture, diversity and community involvement. I worked hard — and smart — and was promoted several times before securing my role as Manager of International Banking.
Later, when I made the decision to move on from my decade-long tenure, it came with mixed emotions, but the experience I took with me into my new catering venture — the ability to network, forge strong relationships and, of course, shrewd money management and negotiation skills — compounded with my previous experience in food all came together like kismet, like puzzle pieces that had been waiting to click. Who knew a zigzag path from hospitality to finance, and back again, would one day form the quintessential foundation to head up events and management for my very own company, El Bosco Catering.
“Now, I firmly believe that if you partner with like-minded, valued individuals, the possibilities are endless.”
So, there I was, with my life-shifting decision to leap — and with this unplanned, yet serendipitous mosaic of perfectly-appointed skills, that on paper was going to make El Bosco a huge success. I thought I would write my business plan and work my way through it, mostly on my own. I had a vision, but when it came time to execute, I expected to delegate my vision to the people for the job and move on to the next. I was in for a shock.
I found myself deeply involved with every single task, analyzing every detail of the job, allocating more time and energy to every single need than I could have ever imagined. Suddenly learning about various industries, not just the one I was in. I was getting a crash course in advertising, marketing, web development, graphic design, PR, social media and more. My expectations-vs-reality-wake-up call left me in a flurry of anxiety, sleep deprivation and over-perfectionism. I realized I had to find a healthier approach. I began doing regular “brain dumps” of emptying my busy thoughts into notebooks, jotting my ideas down and sketching — just to get the information out, to get some mental relief.
I hired one professional after the other, dipping deeper into my budget than anticipated. When I finally understood the power of investing in key people, and how it changed the trajectory and potential of my business, it was a watershed moment. Onboarding the professionals I needed — an esteemed publicist, culinary director, marketing pros, advertising and many more was worth every dollar spent. In contrast to my former life in finance, I planned ahead for future results — with catering, clients demand and deserve instant gratification. It’s incredibly important to get it right on the first try — there are no second chances. Now, I firmly believe that if you partner with like-minded, valued individuals, the possibilities are endless.
Having laid the foundation for a strong and solid launch, my focus is on business development for El Bosco. We’re scheduled at various festivals and events all over Toronto to expand brand recognition, and ultimately grow.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount in the last year leading up to this pivotal moment. And I’m honoured and privileged to share my journey with the leaders of our future, in the hope that they, too, will glean a few key lessons to bravely and boldly leap.
Here Are My Top 3 Lessons Learned:
A nonlinear trajectory can be an asset
Don’t worry if you change careers several times over the course of your professional life. (I’m talking to you, millennials!) When you consider that any business owner is straddling several industries and possesses many skills, zigzagging through multiple jobs and industries can actually be an asset. Had I not spent 15 years in hospitality and 10 in finance, that happy-accident mashup of skills would have never occurred. I look back now with immense gratitude that I did all of that, even though at times it was confusing and I worried I may have wasted time.
Invest in people to succeed
Without question, the greatest lesson gleaned while launching my catering business was that despite thinking I could do most things on my own, I was dead wrong. The minute I made the choice to invest in talent that are rock stars in their respective fields, the opportunities and possibilities blew wide open. You only get one chance to do it right, especially in my field.
The lessons will never stop — embrace them and chase them
I’ve learned a tremendous amount in my career transition thus far but I know it’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I refuse to ever fall into the trap of thinking I’ve learned or know it all, that will only make me comfortable and comfort is a recipe for disaster. There is always something to learn and I made the choice long ago that I will always seek challenges out. I guess that’s why I am where I am today. This is advice I’d give to any aspiring leader.
Founder, Owner & Director of Operations of Toronto’s newest Latin catering and food truck company, El Bosco Catering, Marcela Geer is a force to watch. After making the leap from an ascending career in finance, to start up her passion project in hospitality, Marcela shares her story on how a mashup of experience is fertile ground for a self-made career.
With her startup, The Good Cup Project, Kate Tyshchenko is trying to solve the problem of single-use plastic pollution, developing a travel mug with cutlery seamlessly fitted inside its walls. It’s her third venture; Kate previously founded a startup that connects people over home-cooked meals (think Airbnb for dinners), and she still advises corporations on digital marketing and data analytics. A former management consultant, Kate has a master’s in economics from the University of Regina, and a bachelor’s in logistics and management that she earned in her native Russia.
My first job ever… was as a detective’s assistant in Russia. I asked our local police office if they needed any help with catching criminals, and they hired me for the summer as an admin assistant when I was 13. At the time I really wanted to work for the police and be a detective.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I am the type of person who learns things quickly but also gets bored quite easily. I am interested in so many different areas — everything from neuroscience to micro-controllers. Running a startup is the only way I can never get boredbecause my life is so different every day. I also love making my life harder — “challenge” is my middle name!
My proudest accomplishment is… moving to Canada alone without knowing a single soul here and leaving my entire life back home.
My boldest move to date was… leaving a well-paying job in management consulting to jump into startups. Everyone was asking me why I did it, but I always knew this is what I was meant to do. The truth is, if you are a real entrepreneur, you cannot enjoyworking in a corporate world.
I surprise people when I tell them… I do a lot of scuba diving, which is my favourite thing to do in the world.
My best advice to people considering launching a start-up is… to listen to your customers, but even more importantly, listen to those who are not your customers and try to understand why they do not use your product. Learn from them and constantly iterate.
The best advice I’ve received… was during my time as a mentor at Y Combinator startup school. A few things which Paul Graham said stayed with me. One was on constant iteration: “Pivoting is part of your startup growth.” It means that no founder just comes up with an idea and grows it into a billion-dollar company. You have to change on the way, to create something that people really want, not what you believe they might want.
“I am very much a generalist and I love exploring what else the world is about besides business… different perspectives and different people inspire me the most.”
My biggest setback was… when suppliers told me my first idea of an eco-mug was “not manufacturable” because of how injection moulding works.
I overcame it by… telling myself: “Unless it contradicts the laws of physics, there must be a way. It might be very expensive and not feasible, but it will take all my creativity to fix it.” I sat down and created a new design on a napkin, then I found my current engineer who actually took my design to the next level.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… doing what you love every day. Working on what you really care about!
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… learn how to sail. Is one hour a day enough?
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know that… I did stand-up comedy and I still plan to do open mic at least once this year.
The one thing I wish I knew when starting The Good Cup Project is… how to be more organized on a daily basis. Since I am a solo-preneur I sometimes struggle to organize my day in a productive way without killing myself and working super late. I also feel guilty when I don’t work and I still need to find a way of dealing with this.
I stay inspired by… reading and learning about a variety of different subjects and topics. I am very much a generalist and I love exploring what else the world is about besides business. I took classes in computer science, neurobiology, behavioural evolution, analytics and photography. Different perspectives and different people inspire me the most.
The future excites me because… the best time to start a business is now! Your customers are just a few clicks away and solo-preneurs like me compete with old and established businesses like Coca Cola. And it will only be getting better!
For my next step… I just got an amazing engineer as part of my team, so we are redoing the Good Cup design to make it more appealing for users as well as more feasible. I am super excited about how we will be able to change people’s behaviour and reduce the amount of single-use plastic cutlery and takeaway paper cups.
Nicole Bach was born out of witnessing a gap in the market for suiting and wanting to change that with a service tailored to women. The founders Jasmine Janowski (pictured left), Oksana Ringsma (pictured right) and John Chao (not pictured) came together while working for a luxury retail banner, after discovering they shared similar experiences seeing the obstacles women face. The collection of backgrounds in sales, business and styling between all three founders set the foundation for this concept. The core goal for Nicole Bach is to provide a solution for the growing market of professional women that need access to tailored garments. All garments are manufactured in Canada, from patterns drafted in-house, with a fabric selection curated from mills in Europe.
My first job was…
Jasmine — In retail, I worked at Dynamite as a sales associate.
Oksana — Technically it was working at a barn cleaning, but my first company employment was at a gas station when I was 15.
John — Scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins. It was the summer the first Sony PlayStation console came out and I wanted one bad. My parents told me if I wanted one, I was going to have to pay for it myself.
My proudest accomplishment is…
Jasmine — I’ve struggled with generalized anxiety my whole life, and I’m proud of new things every day for how I can push myself to new places and still live a full life.
Oksana — Starting Nicole Bach. There has been a lot of time and energy put into making a vision a reality, and getting to this point has been a big step for me and my partners.
John — I had a position as a recruiter at one of the Big4 accounting firms out of university. Early on in my career affirmation from legitimate organizations gave me the confidence to try hard things.
My boldest move to date was…
Jasmine — Taking a risk with my career and leaving fashion for a completely new role in pharmaceutical sales. I was looking to expand my experience into more relationship building roles as an account manager. I left something I was really passionate about so I could diversify my experience.
Oksana — Leaving a path with a company I was comfortable with to start in a new industry. I chose to explore the unknown, and that turned out to be a pivotal decision in my life that worked out for the best.
John — Starting this company. Most times, something really worth doing also requires a big price and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. I knew I wanted to start a business that would help people.
My biggest setback was…
Jasmine — Myself. I’ve doubted myself and had a hard time believing in myself. I have been my own biggest setback because a lot of opportunities and experiences are hindered by my own anxieties and fears.
Oksana — A lot of my career has been sales-focused because it’s something that came naturally to me and the flexible hours meant I could work full-time while I was completing my degree. I didn’t realize that decision would have me so typecast as just a salesperson and how limiting that would be. I struggled after graduating to get recognized as more than that, and it really made me reconsider the direction I wanted to go in.
I overcame it by…
Jasmine — This is an issue that I am working on every single day to improve. I cannot say that I have completely overcome it, but what I can say is that I am always working on new ways to step out of my comfort zone. Self-care has been a large contributing factor in my journey.
Oksana — Using my experience with people and relationship-building to set the foundation for my own business.
“Stay true to yourself, because the right people will appreciate you for who you are.”
I got into women’s suiting because…
John — There was a blatant hole in the market and it felt like other people didn’t think it was profitable enough to try, even though the need was clearly there. Last year, after 5 generations of master tailors, the first-ever female master tailor opened her door on Savile Row where the world’s most famous men’s custom suiting boutiques are. She did it because she believed that women should also have access to services provided to men, not because she could run a profit or become famous. This is also why Nicole Bach was started.
A good suit …
Jasmine — Can be anything you want it to be because I believe women should have the freedom to express themselves through their clothing.
Oksana —Makes you feel confident and powerful. That can look many different ways, but for me, it means a good shoulder pad, functional pockets and breathable fabric.
John — Makes you stand a little taller, smile a little brighter, and feel like you can take on whatever you put your mind to.
If I had five extra hours in the day I would …
Jasmine — Sleep. That’s how I recharge.
John — Invest it in people. Our society is quite broken and I’m just one person. However, if I can spend time with people who care to make a difference and help them grow to reach their potential, then I’ll have a part in helping resolve many issues that need attending.
The best part of what I do is…
Jasmine — It’s connecting with people and helping women live up to their true potential.
The most challenging part of what I do is…
Oksana — We’re in a niche market and help women shop differently than they’re used to. There is a lot of educating involved and the sales cycle is longer than traditional off the rack retailers. There are also very few influencers and market leaders to look to, so we’ve had to really trust our own instincts.
The worst professional advice I ever recieved was…
Jasmine — A lot of people thought I should follow the same career as my mother because that was the easy answer.
Oksana — To get a desk job to pay my bills and live for hobbies on the weekend.
“A good suit makes you feel confident and powerful. That can look many different ways, but for me, it means a good shoulder pad, functional pockets and breathable fabric.”
My greatest advice from a mentor was…
Jasmine — Stay true to yourself, because the right people will appreciate you for who you are.
Oksana — No one owes you anything, so work hard and prove your value.
John — Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. I’m not great at a lot of things, but I’m proficient in a few things and when I put effort into something, there’s a positive result. I stay humble and stay willing to learn.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be…
Jasmine — A strong passion for the fashion industry. When it’s your hobby in real life, it’s easy to develop it into a career. Also, having a network of people in my life that support my goals.
Oksana — A thick skin.
John — Think about things before asking people questions. You don’t know what you don’t know, but if you show that you’ve put in the effort to problem solve, then people are much more likely to go above and beyond to help you.
If you googled me you still wouldn’t know…
Jasmine — That I used to be very gothic.
Oksana — That fine art was and still is a pretty big part of my life. I draw and paint and at one time went to an art school because I thought I wanted to pursue a career in the arts.
The future excites me because…
Jasmine — I’m excited to see the growth potential for both myself and my business.
Oksana — I have big goals for myself, and so far every year has brought many opportunities and surprises that I couldn’t have imagined, so I’m excited to see what the world has in store for me.
John — this is a totally new territory and I feel like we’re able to make some serious impact. This is not about us getting famous or rich, it’s about inspiring people to do the right thing and help others and hopefully, they will also follow suit.
Elaine Kunda is the founder and managing partner of Disruption Ventures, Canada’s first private venture fund focused solely on women entrepreneurs. It has been a long — and strategically planned — journey for Elaine; here’s how (and why) she did it.
By Sarah Kelsey
If you were to ask most entrepreneurs about how they got to where they are, you’d likely be greeted with a list of similar answers: hard work, perseverance, luck, some helping hands. But ask the same question while catching a few moments with the incredibly empowering Elaine Kunda, and you’ll be greeted with a different response: planning.
“Everything I’ve done has always been highly strategic. I’ve mapped this out very purposefully and specifically,” Elaine says of her role founding and managing Disruption Ventures, a first-of-its-kind in Canada, made-for-women, private venture fund. “Every connection I’ve made has always been done with a plan in mind.”
Take, for example, the babysitting job she took in university; it was for a woman who was the president of a company. “I thought, I want that to be me one day,” says Elaine. So she babysat the woman’s son and eventually asked her for a summer job so she could learn more about management.
Then there was a stint working as a salesperson at a furniture supply company. The role didn’t inspire passion, but she knew she’d learn the skills she needed to attain a top job. “It was a stepping stone. It was a very conscious and clear decision.”
Every job she’s held has prepared her, in some way, for doing her own thing: business development manager at Grey Interactive, managing director at Toronto.com, president and CEO at ZipLocal, president and CEO of b5media.
Elaine first conceived of her current business, Disruption Ventures, in 2012 after speaking with several women entrepreneurs about the challenges they faced financing their businesses. The idea was initially ill-received.
“If you presented to investors and said, ‘I have an undervalued, underutilized, high-performing asset class,’ would you want to invest in it? The answer would be unequivocally ‘yes,’” she says. “But as soon as you add gender into the mix, the audience is lost. Why wouldn’t you create a fund to invest in women? It’s a missed opportunity.”
“People are comfortable acknowledging that supporting women entrepreneurs is an issue, but it’s still very hard for people to put their money where their mouths are.”
Part of the problem, she notes, is that the audience is largely made up of men. According to the 2019 “Women in Venture” Report from Highline Beta and Female Funders, just over 15% of partners at Canadian VC firms are women. “There was a disconnect between the men who did the investing,” explains Elaine, “and the women who were coming up with ideas for businesses.”
The result can be measured in real dollars: a little over two per cent of venture capital funding goes to women-led businesses, and research shows they not only typically receive less than men, but also less than they ask for.
With a focus on early-stage capital, Disruption Ventures aims to be the starting point for women founders. Anchored by a milestone investment from Scotiabank, the organizations have a broader partnership — including marketing assistance and educational content for entrepreneurs — tied to the Scotiabank Women Initiative. It lines up well with Elaine’s broader goal of advocating for women in business.
“People are comfortable acknowledging that supporting women entrepreneurs is an issue, but it’s still very hard for people to put their money where their mouths are,” she says, noting that the slow pace of change has always worried her. “Every story has a life cycle; if change doesn’t happen soon, then people will say, ‘well, women had their chance.’”
So what advice does Elaine have for women entrepreneurs? It’s the same for any woman trying to reach the top.
Passion is key. “You have to want to get up in the morning and do what you’re doing. I don’t think people close to me have any clue how much I work. They see the fun part of the travel I do on social media — and not the stuff like conference calls or early wake-ups to secure funds. The only way to keep that pace is passion.”
Women also need to develop the confidence to own their successes and manage negative feedback.
“The negative fuels me. The people who are assholes are actually fuelling my passion. When somebody inaccurately puts me in a place I dig deeper,” she says. “Once someone called for a reference on me and my referer said ‘you’d rather have her on your team than have to play against her.’ That’s because success is the only option.”
Lastly, each woman has to do what’s right by them.
“There are some things I know I need in my life to be happy. It’s a marathon not a sprint. I’m creative and adaptable. I don’t need order or structure or quiet or peace. I need things to be opposite; put me in an office every day, I won’t perform. I’m overly productive so why should I follow someone else’s structure that makes me less productive?” she notes, adding: “Every step of the way you have to believe in yourself and trust yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will.”
For the first seven years of her life, Gaia Orion spent her time mostly barefoot in Africa, this provided the foundation for her love of nature and aspiration for living free. She studied and graduated in Paris as an architect before moving to Canada, becoming a self-made entrepreneur, and a mother of three. In just ten years she built a successful career as an artist — as well as a corporate creativity coach — and has exhibited in cities around the world, with her artwork featured in over 60 different publications. Featuring strong feminine images, she aims to use her art to invite women to embrace and reconnect to who they are in the full scope of their power and capacities.
My first job ever was… working for Zap Pizza in Paris, I wanted to practice riding a moped delivering pizzas before deciding if I should buy myself one!
I became an artist because… I never imagined myself being an artist, I am still getting used to the idea. For me, life has unfolded step by step and turned me into an artist!
My proudest accomplishment is… I moved from bustling Paris, France to a hermit life in the forest in Canada. After 20 years I still miss my family and friends, the French food and the European way of life although I know that being uprooted allowed me the freedom to take bold decisions and find my way to living a meaningful extraordinary life.
My boldest move to date was… Over 20 years ago, after my twin girls were born (and with a 14 month old boy) my husband and I decided to quit his job. We had no idea what we were going to do, we only had enough money to survive for 6 months. Necessity kicked our entrepreneurial spirit in gear and we have only worked for ourselves since then!
I surprise people when I tell them… I had three kids in 14 months! For my first son it was supposed to be twins and for the twins after, I had triplets at the beginning of the pregnancy! Imagine I could have had 5 kids in 14 months!!!
My best advice to people hoping to have a career in the arts is… just do it! The 21st century is the best time in the whole history of humanity to be an artist as there are countless resources available and many ways to bring income with our art. I run my international career from my little home by the river in the forest North of Toronto!
The key to creativity is… practice boredom, avoid distractions and find inner silence, this gives space for the Muse to show up. These skills are precious in our sensory overload world. Creativity is useful for anyone, not just artists, practicing these key skills would do good to everyone!
“The world would be so amazing if everyone followed their dreams and believed in themselves and if we all encouraged each other to do so.”
My biggest setback was… my self-esteem and confidence. I was very shy, I thought if people liked my work they would just buy it. I soon found out that I had to develop many social and personal skills if I wanted to be successful. It’s unfortunate that many artists (and people in general!) don’t believe in themselves.
I overcame it by… doing psychotherapy, meditation and many other healing modalities.
I wish everyone in the world knew… the potential available in all of us. The world would be so amazing if everyone followed their dreams and believed in themselves and if we all encouraged each other to do so.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… read more, there is never enough time to read all the existing amazing books I want to dive into!
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love cooking, I make all my meals from scratch and I always hold back from taking photos and sharing on social media my beautiful creative meals. If I didn’t restrain myself people would think I am a foodie and not a painter!
The one thing I wish I knew when starting out is… Our uniqueness and differences are our strengths. Because my art is so different than everything else I saw around me it was hard for me to find my place in the world or feel that I belonged to the art world. Now I realize that the original visual signature of my art is the most important asset I have.
I stay inspired by… the harmony, peace and beauty of nature
The future excites me because… I feel I have worked hard to build a strong foundation to my career. Now my motto is to work smart not hard and to simplify to amplify. I really like getting older: my body doesn’t have the same energy so I adapt by being wiser and softer in my approach to everything.
My next step is… doing more teaching of creative tools especially in the corporate world and do more public speaking because now that I am not so shy anymore I really love it!
The job title of Chief Technology Officer isn’t usually associated with diversity and inclusion initiatives — but Rahul Sekhon, CTO at Sun Life, sees things differently. A passionate advocate and ally for women, people of colour, indigenous people, and individuals with disabilities (among others), Rahul is using tech to contribute to a broader strategy of promoting inclusion. Through his role — and his own actions — he’s playing an important role in attracting and retaining top talent.
By Hailey Eisen
As Sun Life’s Chief Technology Officer, Rahul Sekhon’s responsibilities include cloud transformation, employee experience, DevOps, and global infrastructure services. And while his education and experience align perfectly for this position, it’s the informal roles and responsibilities he’s taken on within Sun Life that really cause him to stand out amongst other male executives.
“People who know me would tell you I’m a relentless activist for equality,” Rahul says. And it’s through this lens that he sees all his roles and responsibilities at Sun Life. In fact, he has made it his mandate to support women’s advancement in the workplace, with a particular focus on recruiting more women into technology to support diversity, and increasing the percentage of women entering science, technology, engineering and math-related fields.
“Throughout history, Sun Life has taken pride in being an employer that supports fairness and a safe environment,” Rahul explains. “We also recognize that we must move beyond the traditional and continue to evolve to attract and retain the best talent in the industry — operating like a tech company in the insurance space.”
In an effort to better understand their clients and create products without bias, about five years ago Sun Life began looking at Diversity and Inclusion internally as part of an overall sustainability strategy. They began with unconscious bias training, looking for gaps in the talent pipeline, and re-writing job descriptions to ensure they include gender-neutral language. This year, they partnered with six other insurers to launch the Women in Insurance STEM (WIISTEM) program in Canada, offering female coop students in STEM undergraduate programs work terms with Toronto-based insurance companies. Sun Life has also sponsored several technology advocacy and recruitment events, such as the 2019 Girls Learning Code Day, WomenHack Toronto, and the Move the Dial Summit. And these efforts are paying off — there’s a great culture across the technology area, where men and women are treated fairly and equitably, and opportunities are available to everyone.
With a background in technology, Rahul is especially interested in how tech can be used as part of this broader strategy to improve the employee experience and promote inclusion. He’s using technology to design for an experience where employees are free to be productive in ways that best suit them, and are encouraged to be open and honest about their needs and desires.
“We’ve actually begun to simplify our technology use to create a frictionless experience — allowing people to work from one system to the next without losing productivity, and keeping in mind people with disabilities and our employees who are based all over the world,” he says.
Looking to amplify the voice of each employee, Sun Life has leveraged Workplace by Facebook, an online team collaboration tool that brings together its offices across 26 countries. With a similar interface as Facebook, it allows the organization to connect employees across the globe with town halls and other Livestream events, and provides a common space for individuals — from entry-level to executives — to share company news, personal stories, and feedback broadly, and comment and engage readily. It not only increases the frequency and authenticity of communication, but it also ensures everyone feels included and heard, even if the feedback is challenging.
“We launched the platform with the aspiration to bring our organization together,” says Rahul, noting the #ReachOutAndDiscover hashtag that employees were encouraged to use, “and we’ve seen example after example of how it’s enabled us to move to a truly open and inclusive culture.”
“Being authentic is more than how we dress up, it’s ensuring that we lead in our day-to-day actions around driving inclusion, whether it’s allowing people to speak up and voice views that are different, or amplifying the voices that get suppressed.”
Like when Dan Fishbein, President of Sun Life U.S., began to use the tool to share personal anecdotes and observations with employees. “He demonstrated that it’s OK to open up and be vulnerable, and encouraged others to share their stories and experiences as well.”
With a corporate culture focused on bringing your authentic self to work, Rahul has made every effort to follow suit. From small things, like using Zoom meeting and turning his camera on, to empowering his teams to choose how and when they work — he encourages leaders to be authentic and empathetic. “Being authentic is more than how we dress up,” he says. “It’s ensuring that we lead in our day-to-day actions around driving inclusion, whether it’s allowing people to speak up and voice views that are different, or amplifying the voices that get suppressed,” he explains.
Coming from a place of authenticity, Rahul says, has always been extremely important to him. Born and raised in India, he admits he has experienced discrimination first-hand. But he hasn’t always been the ally and advocate that he is today. “My personal journey began many years ago, with the self-awareness and recognition that I needed to shed my own biases before I could influence others.”
Rahul began by participating in learning opportunities to engage with women and other minorities, to understand the challenges they were facing. “At first, I wasn’t a huge contributor, because I was trying to build my skills as an active listener,” he says. “But, in 2017, I took a personal risk and participated in a series of unconscious bias videos to share my own story. That’s when I realized I was in a position to influence change and new behaviours, and made it my mission on a daily basis to do so.”
While Rahul sees the value in large gestures, he believes real change takes place on a grassroots level, and that small, conscious actions have the most impact. As an engineer by trade, he says he’s generally inclined to want to ‘solve’ things, but in this case, it’s more about making subtle changes in how you act and how you show up, and, in doing so, influencing others to do the same. Leading by example, Rahul makes it a priority to actively mentor and sponsor women, create awareness about bias and discrimination, and volunteer on a regular basis.
As such, Rahul’s commitment to inclusion has always been part of his home life as well. “My wife and I have always taken turns in our careers, to raise our daughters while still allowing each other to grow professionally,” he says. It’s these beliefs that he’s ingrained in his daughters, too, who are now 13 and 17, and active diversity activists in their own right.
The advice he offers his girls — and other young women — is the same advice he has had to heed himself over the years. “As immigrants, my wife and I consciously chose not to let go of our identities when we came to Canada,” he says. “This advice translates to women as well. Don’t be someone else, be yourself, focus on your personal brand, be authentic and curious — and never settle for second best.”
As a strong advocate of the role that men need to play in driving equality, his advice for young men is around respecting women and building courage to stand up against bias. “Supporting women is not about giving up your spot, rather it’s about making room by being an ally,” he says. “It’s ok for men to show their vulnerability and still be passionate about what you stand for. But we need to be accepting of other views, and most importantly, we need to take accountability for our actions.”
While he believes nothing is going to be fixed overnight, Rahul is prepared to keep pushing for change. “We are trying to undo 15,000 years of damage, and we need to dig our heels in and commit to achieving equality for the long term,” he says. “It’s less about a revolution, and more about evolutionary change. It’s how we show up and how we acknowledge the other 50 percent of the human race. And how we become their allies. Equality is not optional.”
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.
Leadership is a complex ideology, with so many different forms and approaches. It’s common to worry about whether or not you are an effective leader — however, with an array of tools and resources at our fingertips, we can lay those anxieties to rest, and be the leaders we were born to be. Stephania Varalli is Co-CEO of Women of Influence, and oversees the organization’s media offerings, including the website, social media channels, newsletters, partnered content programs, and Women of Influence magazine. She recently completed the Queen’s Leadership Program at Smith School of Business and shares three very important lessons that she learned.
By Stephania Varalli
Until recently, when people would ask me what I did for a living, my standard response was always: “I work for an organization called Women of Influence.” The statement wasn’t incorrect, but it took my husband being in earshot to point out that something was wrong.
“Why don’t you ever mention that you are Co-CEO?” he asked me one day.
I didn’t have an answer. Yes, I did the work of a Co-CEO. I had a team. I made key decisions. I considered the big picture and the company’s future. I was a leader. But was I a good leader? Or maybe a terrible one? Was I transformational? Authentic? Inclusive? Any other buzzword? And that was the problem: I referred to myself as just one of the gang, because I didn’t really know who I was as a leader.
Which is why I chose to sign up for the Queen’s Leadership Program at Smith School of Business. It appealed to me because it wasn’t just designed to teach you about great leadership, or provide tools for leading effectively (though it did do both). The intensive, five-day course offers insights on you — your strengths, your weaknesses, and how you, specifically, can become a better leader.
In June of this year, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my three-year-old daughter, my 18-month-old son, and my very supportive husband, and boarded a train to Kingston. Over the course of the week, I would completely change the way I think about leadership, and gain clarity on how I was perceived as a leader. Here are the three key lessons I learned.
It’s about you
Prior to leaving for Kingston, I completed the Attentional and Interpersonal Style (TAIS) questionnaire online. The assessment is a deep dive into who you are and how you perform, especially under stressful conditions. It provides insights about the way you work, how you view yourself, and how you interact with others. We received the results one morning, and were given time for some quiet reflection as we read through the report.
I liken the experience to looking in a mirror for the first time. There wasn’t anything surprising — I could recognize this was me, with all my strengths and faults — but seeing my personality mapped on 20 different scales brought me to a level of self-awareness I had never before reached. All my unique traits, and how these elements worked together, were suddenly clear. Most importantly, it helped me to see how my behaviour was impacting other people.
The point was hammered home all week, by our professors and in one-on-one sessions: to be a great coach and a successful leader, you have to know who you are.
But it’s not about you
Knowing who you are, however, is only the first step. We were challenged to ask ourselves if we were observing the impact we were having on others — and taking responsibility for it. For me, the most difficult part of this exercise was coming to the realization that other people were seeing things that I didn’t think they’d see. I have a tendency to start solving a problem before someone’s finished explaining it to me, which means my listening brain exits stage left halfway through a conversation. And I had to admit to myself, my team sees this. Not to mention, solving other people’s problems by providing them with the answer isn’t what I should be doing. As a leader, my role is to develop learned optimism, not learned helplessness.
“People are remarkably sensitive to the way in which they are treated — and will respond accordingly,” said Dr. Julian Barling, one of our session leaders, and a renowned expert on leadership.
“Great leadership can seem a little out of reach — a pedestal for the likes of Nelson Mandela — and realizing success could come from developing a few traits and focusing on key moments made it feel much more attainable.”
Fortunately, I also received direct insights on how my team felt they were being treated. Another part of my pre-work for the program was the 360 Degree Feedback process, which involved gathering input from my peers and direct reports through confidential questionnaires. In one of my coaching sessions, we compared my own perception of my leadership skills with how others saw my effectiveness in my role.
The good news? I was doing pretty well. As the kind of person who isn’t content with doing pretty well (yes, that was in my TAIS report, too), I wanted to fix everything. But that would go against the biggest lesson I’d learned all week.
It’s about the little things
The first Julian Barling quote I wrote down (of many) came on our first day: “It’s a course on leadership, not sainthood,” he said.
The point? You don’t need to be perfect to be a great leader. In fact, after the class had listed off all of the hallmarks of effective leadership, Dr. Barling advised us to pick a few that we were good at, and focus our energy there.
He went on to explain that demonstrating these traits doesn’t have to be about grand gestures. The best of leadership, he said, is about moments. The small and routine interactions that you have with your team. And so he asked us, repeatedly, “What are the smallest things that you can do?”
I was thankful to have this perspective early on in the program. Great leadership can seem a little out of reach — a pedestal for the likes of Nelson Mandela, whose quotes we heard often — and realizing success could come from developing a few traits and focusing on key moments made it feel much more attainable.
The sentiment was echoed throughout the week. Dr. Peter Jensen — another impressive session leader, and founder of Performance Coaching (now called Third Factor) — continued to remind us that coaching is all about the little things. We heard the same words from our guest speaker on crisis leadership, Darby Allen — fire chief for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, who led the largest evacuation in Canadian history when he safely guided 88,000 residents out of Fort McMurray during the 2016 Alberta wildfires. An undertaking of that scale, he said, requires the efforts of many people to come together like a jigsaw puzzle, and “all the little things that they do will make the difference.”
Theory is much more powerful when you are able to put it into practice, and our daily small group sessions offered that opportunity. Our team quickly bonded as we rotated through roles: sharing a personal problem, helping that individual to explore the issue, and observing the process. Each role provided a unique perspective and learning; not only did I work on my active listening and coaching skills, I was able to hone in on what I needed to do as a leader to address stumbling blocks at work.
Thanks to these group meetings — plus the class sessions, one-on-one coaching, and more self-reflection than I ever thought possible — I came out of the course with specific goals to focus on (but, as advised, not too many).
I also received my Queen’s Executive Program Certificate, having now completed enough Executive Education courses (I did it through a personalized combo of two week-long programs at Queen’s, and some two-day, new-mom-friendly courses at their Toronto facility). I’d been working toward this goal since 2016, when I took my first course as a very pregnant new business owner.
But if you ask me about my biggest accomplishment that came out of the program? This fall marks my fifth year as Co-CEO of Women of Influence, and it’s a title I now confidently share with others.
As a professor of organizational behaviour at Smith School of Business, Jana Raver looks at how people overcome the challenges of starting a business. Jana has identified three factors that predict the likelihood a business owner will excel or fail. She explains why these matter, and what entrepreneurs can do to succeed.
By Hailey Eisen
Launching a business is extremely difficult. Half of all new businesses fail. What fascinates Jana Raver is the notion of psychological resilience — or the capacity of entrepreneurs to try, fail, bounce back, and try again.
“One of the most challenging and stressful occupations you can have is to be an entrepreneur,” Jana explains. “And often you have to do it alone.” As a professor of organizational behaviour at Smith School of Business, Jana has long been interested in entrepreneurship, not only because of its challenges, but also its unique opportunities.
“As faculty members, we basically live and work as entrepreneurs,” Jana says. “We have to launch research projects from the ground up, and, like a business, we have to secure funding, hire teams, and ensure results are met in a timely fashion. We’re familiar with failure.”
Having held organizational administration positions and worked in HR between her undergraduate and graduate degrees, Jana brings real-world experience to her research. When the opportunity arose to launch a research project on psychological resilience among entrepreneurs with Ingrid Chadwick, associate professor at Concordia University, Jana leapt at the opportunity.
“We wanted to understand how individuals can overcome the challenges of entrepreneurship and be successful despite all the hardships they face,” she says. “We were also looking for ways to identify individuals who would be better equipped to succeed at the helm of startups.”
Jana’s research studied first-time entrepreneurs over a two-year period as they developed, launched, and operated new businesses. The research specifically looked at individuals enrolled in a government-backed program to train new entrepreneurs and it measured their resilience levels before the participants even began creating their business plan.
“You want to keep one step ahead of your competitors, go out and talk with your customers and potential customers, understand what their needs are, and be creative in the ways you solve for their needs.”
“Then we studied them and the way they thought about entrepreneurship and behaved as entrepreneurs over the next two years. We were able to predict whether they would ultimately be successful and still have viable businesses two years later.”
Jana’s findings are of value to both individuals starting their own businesses and investors looking to identify entrepreneurs likely to excel. Most successful entrepreneurs share three tendencies, she says: psychological resilience, a challenge mindset, and proactive behaviour.
An individual who is psychologically resilient will be able to fail fast, take an experimental approach to a new business, and not let setbacks be indicative of failure. Resilient entrepreneurs bounce back with a new idea or approach, Jana explains.
Even more important than resilience is a challenge mindset that allows a person to see obstacles as opportunities to learn. “The way you mentally approach the game is so important,” Jana says. “The mindset of success is one that says, ‘Hey, this is hard, but I can get through it.’ It’s about catching yourself before you go down the path of doom and gloom.”
A challenge mindset can be learned, and people can train their minds to be more growth-focused. How? By treating problems — be they financial or logistical — as obstacles to overcome, as problems to solve, and as opportunities to learn, Jana explains.
Finally, proactive behaviour is an indicator of startup success. “You want to keep one step ahead of your competitors, go out and talk with your customers and potential customers, understand what their needs are, and be creative in the ways you solve for their needs,” Jana explains. “The key is to never rest on your laurels.”
Based on her research, Jana has developed helpful advice for entrepreneurs (that she’s applying to her own work, too). Her suggestions include:
Focus on self-care. Some people think it’s selfish, but taking care of oneself is the opposite of that. To be a successful entrepreneur, eat well, sleep well, and pursue activities that calm your mind — so it’s ready to handle whatever comes up.
Surround yourself with supportive, positive people. Quite simply, it’s hard to get into a challenge (or growth) mindset when surrounded by people with fixed mindsets. Instead, spend time with people who will build your confidence, challenge you to think outside the box, support your ideas, and stand by you — even when you fail.
Fail Fast. Accept that failure is part of the entrepreneurial process. See failures as opportunities to grow. If something doesn’t work, it’s the idea, not you, that failed. Then move on quickly and try again.
Over the long term, success hinges not just on your skills and knowledge, but also on your ability to recover, remain focused, stay energized and show up motivated every day; in other words, your ability to be resilient. Queen’s Executive Education offers in-person and online programs for managers and entrepreneurs looking to build their resilience. Learn more here.