Kristal has enjoyed a career of almost two decades in the financial industry, specializing in risk management, global transaction banking, and financial regulations. In her current role as SVP Innovation & Insights at Scotiabank, she is responsible for responding to the needs of the market by partnering across Scotiabank to accelerate strategic priorities powered by Analytics, applying customer insights and intelligence to business models, as well as diving external FinTech partnerships. Prior to Scotiabank, Kristal worked for the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Canada and IBM. Kristal is a passionate Board member of DAREarts, a foundation that is focused on building leadership skills through arts for marginalized youth. We caught up with her ahead of our spotlight event in Toronto on September 18th — The New Age of Business: How Digitization is Reshaping Your 10-Year Plan — where she will be speaking on the panel.
My first job ever was… delivering the Mississauga News in grade 6 with my sister.
I decided to be a banker because… I had a love for math and looked for a place where I could apply it to real life.
My proudest accomplishment is… I can’t really pinpoint one accomplishment. Overall, I’d say that I’ve always taken risks by choosing opportunities that put me into a ‘discomfort’ zone and I’m proud of how I’ve consistently taken on these challenges throughout my career.
I surprise people when I tell them… Career has not always been my number one priority.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Take advantage of this time to understand the details, learn as much as possible. Keep in mind that networks can last your whole career so always build relationships for the long run.
My best advice from a mentor was… Be resilient and creative around how you approach challenges. Focus on bringing solutions rather than what went wrong once you understand the root cause.
I would tell my 20-year old self… Relax and travel! There’s so much more to life and happiness than there is to ticking off the checkmarks of what adulthood is supposed to be like. If things don’t work out the way you planned it, there are so many options that are just as fantastic.
“We don’t know exactly what to expect all the time, but we know that life gives us so many new exciting options when we choose to be open to it.”
My biggest setback was… Battling severe endometriosis on a daily basis. I’ve dealt with this for as long as I can remember and it’s not something that we speak about as much or truly know how to resolve yet, but it impacts at least 1 out of every 10 women.
I overcame it by… I haven’t yet fully overcome it but I work hard every day to manage the physical and mental aspects of dealing with chronic pain.
The best thing about being a banker is… Being able to play a role in a customer’s financial well-being and being a part of large Canadian organization that impacts the lives of many Canadians.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Practice the piano.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Nothing makes me happier than when my plants grow and flower!
The one thing I wish I knew when starting in Banking is… The Financial Services industry is constantly changing, whether through economic cycles, new types of competitors, or innovation in technology and business models. It is imperative to spend the time to stay on top of events and trends, constantly looking to the future for what is next.
I stay inspired by… Learning about people, whether in history, current or just getting to know those I am surrounded by on a daily basis on a better level.
The future excites me because… The world is innovating and changing at a rapid pace. We don’t know exactly what to expect all the time, but we know that life gives us so many new exciting options when we choose to be open to it.
My next step is… Focusing on my latest challenge and opportunity at work and rewarding myself by planning a great vacation in early 2020.
A serial entrepreneur Elaine has successfully built teams and realigned business strategies for over 15 years. She recently launched Disruption Ventures, a Venture Capital fund that invests in female-founded and managed companies. This was a natural progression for Elaine as she has spent the past 6 years consulting and advising start-ups and early-stage companies, helping them reach their goals and access financing. Prior to consulting, she was CEO of B5Media. The company was sold to Alloy Digital in April 2012. Elaine was also the CEO of Ziplocal which was sold to Canpages in 2009. We caught up with her ahead of our spotlight event in Toronto on September 18th — The New Age of Business: How Digitization is Reshaping Your 10-Year Plan — where she will be speaking on the panel.
My first job ever was… Working in my mother’s children’s clothing store when I was 12. I was obsessed with making sure people didn’t leave without finding something they loved to buy.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I’m not sure you decide, I think it is part of you. Some key influences were my dad who is an entrepreneur and a woman I babysat for who was the president of a company. I remember thinking, I want to be like Jan!
My proudest accomplishment is… I’m not very good at celebrating my accomplishments because I’m usually on to the next. Can I tell you when I get there?
My boldest move to date was… I’m generally a bold person. It’s hard to say what has been “most” bold because at different stages in life I think I have done the unexpected relative to my position or authority. I just don’t deal well with the status quo for the sake of resisting change. I suppose what I’m doing now with Disruption Ventures is pretty bold. It’s definitely REALLY hard!
I surprise people when I tell them… That I was SUPER shy when I was a kid. So shy that my aunt suggested to my mom that they should get me assessed. I think I just observed in my early years. I then realized it wasn’t very fun to be the shy one and made a decision to get outside of my comfort zone. I guess it worked…or maybe I over-corrected!
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Make sure it’s your passion and that you get up in the morning wanting to do nothing else. It’s really hard and you’ll naturally question yourself all of the time. You have to believe it’s what you “need” to be doing.
My best advice from a mentor was… Early on in my career, someone helped me understand that not all people are motivated by the same things in life. That to lead effectively you have to provide opportunity for people to set their own goals and to understand what makes them tick.
I would tell my 20-year old self… the same thing I keep trying to tell my much older than 20 self, that it’s a long life and not to be impatient. I have to give people time to catch up sometimes. I’m not very good at that.
“ To lead effectively you have to provide opportunity for people to set their own goals and to understand what makes them tick. “
My biggest setback was… A horrible human who tried to take his own failures out on me. He was powerful and made my life a living hell for a while. It impacted my health and my happiness.
I overcame it by… I fought back. Bully’s don’t get to win.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… Setting a goal and then making it happen. From concept to reality. I love to execute.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Do the activities I love; golf, hiking, skiing. Sports, exercise, being outside keeps me grounded and sane (well relatively speaking!).
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I love country music, cooking for friends, Nicholas Sparks movies, and I think kids are way cooler than adults!
The one thing I wish I knew when starting Disruption Ventures is… Nothing. I’ve enjoyed the journey, learned from the challenges and it’s made me more bullish on what I’m doing.
I stay inspired by… The desire to succeed. To prove that my mandate and thesis are right and to watch and participate in seeing amazing entrepreneurs thrive.
The future excites me because… I think young people rock! They actually care about social responsibility, the environment and what is right and fair. They’re clever and informed and they also strive for balance. I’m long on Millennials and Gen Z!
My next step is… Step? I take leaps. 😉 My next leap, expanding on my current platform. This is just the beginning!
As the founder and head of both Parcel Design (a brand strategy and communications firm) and Torq Ride (indoor cycling studios), Julie Mitchell isn’t just a serial entrepreneur — she’s a concurrent one. As both businesses expand, she’s looking for ways technology can be used to boost productivity and communication. Here’s how she’s getting it done.
by Shelley White
Julie Mitchell is a woman with a lot going on.
As the owner of two successful Toronto businesses, Julie always has a very full calendar, and that’s just the way she likes it. From running her businesses and managing renovations to doing fitness challenges and planning social events, Julie says she wants every day to have purpose and value.
“I just know that I feel better about myself and my life if I am really purposeful and very productive,” she says. “I’m a very driven person and I like having multiple projects. I drive my husband crazy with that, but I’ve been like that my whole life. The more I have to do, the more productive I am.”
Julie founded her first business, Parcel Design, 15 years ago. As the award-winning brand strategy and communications firm grew, so did Julie’s ambitions. In 2016, she launched another business, borne out of her love of Spinning (indoor cycling). The aim was to create a “next level” studio experience that didn’t exist in Toronto at the time. Now, Torq Ride has two locations located in Toronto’s east end and an ever-expanding client base of spin fans.
“Torq was an opportunity for me to apply everything that I’d learned over a decade of running another business, to have the chance to start again and build it from scratch,” Julie says.
There have been challenges along the way. A recent issue involving renovations and a landlord resulted in the company taking a large financial hit.
“That was a real test of my own personal resilience,” she says. “Anyone can organically build a brand, but for something that requires a lot of initial capital, it can be quite risky.”
Julie says another goal for Torq has been to create a self-managed business where trainers and other staff could flourish in an environment focused on professionalism, career development and leadership — something uncommon in the fitness industry.
It was this desire to improve her businesses’ internal processes and systems that spurred Julie to get involved in Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC). She first found out about WEC through her Account Manager at BDC, Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs. While discussing opportunities for her business, the banker suggested she might get a lot out of Cisco’s Circle of Innovation program — a program supported by BDC.
“I just know that I feel better about myself and my life if I am really purposeful and very productive.”
The Circle of Innovation pairs up women-led businesses with university students enrolled in technology-based programs. With support from Cisco, the students intern with the businesses for 16 weeks over the summer, helping them tackle tech challenges and projects.
“It seemed like something that was worth exploring, particularly because you’re able to work with someone who has a very specific skill set,” Julie says of the program.
While both Torq and Parcel were quite dependent on technology, Julie says she didn’t feel they were using it to their advantage. She was interested in developing a “living” version of what normally would be called an employee handbook. The idea was to improve the team’s productivity and communications by giving them instant access to an intranet, or “wiki,” that would house all of the company’s policies, processes, templates and brand standards.
“This tool gives everyone access to everything in one place, whether they’re working remotely or not. And nothing ever becomes dated,” she says.
Through Cisco’s Circle of Innovation, Julie and her team were paired with Sahaj Singh, a student of electrical engineering and management at McMaster University. All summer, he’s been helping them make the “wiki” a reality.
“Because he’s an engineer, he understands technology, and he’s been both researching it and working with us to develop it,” Julie says.
The Circle of Innovation program has been a positive experience, she says, and one she would recommend to other business owners.
“It’s very flexible. You have the option of bringing the person into work in your studio or they can work remotely, and there’s been really great support from Cisco as well,” she says. “We’ve really enjoyed having an intern, but also developing the relationship with the team at Cisco.”
Beyond developing their new wiki, Julie says she hopes to expand her empire further with a third Torq studio. She just needs to find the right location.
“I think I have a very clear view of what has made Torq successful and a big part of it is clarity around what the neighbourhood needs,” she says. “I think you have to be very cautious as you’re expanding to make sure that you’re not just guessing.”
And while serving the Torq customer is crucial, creating a positive experience for staff is just as important, she says.
“I just want to be very focused on building the brand and continuing to create lots of unique opportunities for the people on the team.”
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, or try the BDC digital maturity assessment tool to find out in less than 5 minutes where your business stands compared to your peers, and how you can improve.
Nikki Csek, CEO and co-founder of Csek Creative and NowMedia, is passionate about people. She has cultivated and encouraged a community of diverse people, with various expertise, that has enabled her to thrive in business. She is the current president of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, and has served on boards for many local businesses and not for profit boards while serving her community. For over 20 years she has worked alongside businesses to understand their challenges and provide solutions that make a difference. We caught up with her ahead of her moderating 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… working in my mom’s small-town restaurant in North Dakota at the age of 11. I believe it built the foundation for my work ethic and my need to put the customer first.
I decided to be an entrepreneur … when I realized my work ethic was not usual and my passion for putting the customer first made it hard to work in a very tight corporate structure. I wanted more control over the outcomes of the day and the relationships with customers.
My proudest accomplishment is… I have many accomplishments in my journey so far that I am very proud of. Certainly, my family jumps to mind right away. We have raised three children that are good humans all the while building a company from scratch. Being recognized by the business community is always nice, but I believe my proudest moment is yet to come. Similar to a painter, it is their next masterpiece that is the best one.
My boldest move to date was… each day brings an opportunity for a bold move. I can not say which was the boldest, but maybe it was the day I told the bank that I was not coming back from maternity leave, that I wanted control over my path. Maybe it was the day I decided to plan a leadership conference with eight keynote speakers, including two former prime ministers of Canada, a Dragon, a former NBA player, a New York Times bestselling author and two leading Canadian women all within a 120-day runway. I am not afraid to do bold courageous things.
I surprise people when I tell them… I can swear like a trucker, love to drive my motorcycle, I’m a self-taught pool shark, love the band Tool, can’t wait to see the next theatre production and I’m allergic to “small” thinking and the philosophy that something is not possible. I can and will do anything I set my mind to.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… believe in your vision, be honest with yourself, recognize that being an entrepreneur is hard work, and there will be really tough days. If possible, find someone you can lean on in the tough days, whether that be family, spouse or friend; sounding boards are there to help you when you stumble and just don’t want to get back up. But most importantly don’t deceive yourself. It is all about hard work.
“Failure is okay, you just need to get up, wipe your knee off and keep pushing forward.”
My best advice from a mentor was… that I can never get fired if I am the best at the job. I was the best chambermaid, the best server, the best administrator, the best account manager and so on. No matter the job I always strived to be the best and do my best to ensure I did not disappoint my mentor (my mom).
I would tell my 20-year old self… to be brave and seek out as many mentors as possible. Read books, volunteer, sit on boards, say yes to speaking engagements, say no to things that do not align with my passion, and never be afraid to ask for help.
My biggest setback was… Tough question, as I don’t see setbacks, I see challenges and opportunities. Each day is an opportunity and I can’t wait to meet it. If there are setbacks, I prefer to see them as learning opportunities. I only make a particular mistake once, learn from it, adjust and carry on.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… having the ability to create my own destiny. To decide whether we should pursue a new line of business and to actually see it exceed far beyond expected projections.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… read even more. I would consume more information to always be striving for better, for the pursuit of excellence.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I am a rebel against rules. I don’t like to do things the way you are supposed to. I like to upset the apple cart every chance I get.
The one thing I wish I knew when starting Csek Creative is… that it is a journey that has ups and downs and that is okay. The downs make the ups so much more worth it. Failure is okay, you just need to get up, wipe your knee off and keep pushing forward.
I stay inspired by… knowing that we are making a positive difference in all that we do. We are going where no one has gone. We are creating something that will leave a dent in the universe.
The future excites me because… it is our chance to create the legacy we envision. We will change our sector because we are not beholden to any set of rules and are willing to take calculated risks where we see opportunity.
My next step is…to be even more comfortable about being who I am, to reach out and connect more, build more opportunities for women, and extend our reach from the Okanagan into more of Canada.
Becoming a working mom can sometimes feel overwhelming. Jennifer Hargreaves, an entrepreneurial mom who is the Founder and CEO of tellent — an online community and resource for professional women to pursue flexible work opportunities — offers three tips to get clarity in the chaos.
By Jennifer Hargreaves
No one can prepare you for becoming a working mother, or a mother for that matter. Even if you have done the research, made a plan and feel certain that you will know exactly how work, life, and motherhood will play out.
Adjusting to new priories, shifting values and personal identity can be exhausting and confusing. Some of us can pivot easily and adapt quickly; seeing clearly and stepping boldly into the next step, the next role, the next challenge in our lives. For the rest of us, we can lose the me somewhere along the way, becoming so intertwined with our children, our work, and our partners that there is no me left. This impacts our energy levels, our career choices and growth, and our personal happiness.
How many of us have craved time alone, to feel like ourselves again, to think our own thoughts, feel our own feelings, and make decisions because it is what we want to do and not because it is what we should be doing?
Here are three tips to help you sort through the noise and get clear on what this next stage of your career and life can look like.
1. Start. Right now. Seriously. Get a new journal and commit to getting clear.
What excuse just popped up in your head? It is so easy to come up with a rationale — not only to avoid starting a task, but also to justify why we can’t have what it is that we really want and deserve. Our excuses are born out of fear and our own self-limiting beliefs and lead to procrastination and inertia.
I want you to challenge your excuses to get different results. Here are two simple exercises to combat procrastination and get you moving towards setting clear goals:
Take responsibility. If you think you don’t have the time, make the time. We are brilliant human beings with infinite problem-solving potential! If your day is packed and you need five minutes, you have the ability to find it.
“Take perfection out of the equation and start showing up however you can.”
If you can’t find the time, you are choosing to prioritize other things over a task you don’t actually want to do — not because you don’t want clarity but more likely because your subconscious mind is sabotaging your actions.
Owning and recognizing your role in this process will give you a feeling of more control. Tell yourself, I can do this if I want to do this.
Make it easy. Break tasks down into simple actions. Take perfection out of the equation and start showing up however you can. For example, get out your journal and a pen and sit down. You have to establish this habit before you can improve it. Sit down enough times with your pen and journal and you’ll start writing.
2. Identify what you want, not what you believe you can have.
This is way easier said than done for all of the reasons listed above. What we want can feel like it comes with conditions. We can have whatever we want in the world — keeping in mind that we also have to pay the bills, look after the kids, are approaching 40, don’t have any experience, have the wrong experience… But what if we ditched the circumstance and conditions?
In order to do this exercise, you will need to relax and get quiet. Picture a baby and start by asking the question: what is this baby’s potential? What can she be, do or have? Put yourself in her shoes and ask yourself the same question. What can you do, be or have?
Watch out for the onslaught of ideas and reasons that will flood your mind on why that can’t be done or how you are going to do it. There is no growth beyond the beliefs that you hold, so for this exercise, we have to think beyond our beliefs.
Keep your journal handy and start to develop a vision of your future self — one with infinite potential. Think about:
where she lives – describe her house, the décor, who lives there.
what she looks like – visualize how she looks and her demeanour now that she has succeeded in meeting all of her goals.
what she does – describe the kind of work she does, who she spends her free time with, what gives her the most satisfaction and joy.
Find some time every day for the next seven days to connect with and visualize your future self. Close your eyes and imagine what it is like to live that life like it is happening right now. Create a list of all of your wants. Include your personal and professional wants. Remember that time, cost, education or responsibilities have no role to play in this exercise.
3. Ask an expert. (You).
Find a mentor. Not just any mentor — your internal mentor. Success looks different for all of us. External mentors play an important role in our professional development, but they cannot tell you how to get to your customized future state. The one that holds your individual hopes, dreams and values.
The best person to be able to guide you to that future is you. In amongst the pressures to work, not work, breastfeed, home school, do it all, do nothing… ask your future self for clarity on what needs to happen now to become her in 20 years?
Throughout the process, it’s also important to remind yourself that you are not alone. A lack of clarity on career and life direction after having children is the number one challenge that the over 3,000 professional women in our tellent community face.
“The best person to be able to guide you to that future is you. In amongst the pressures to work, not work, breastfeed, home school, do it all, do nothing… ask your future self for clarity on what needs to happen now to become her in 20 years?”
We field so many mixed messages about what we should be, do, or have as women, and especially as mothers, that it is easy to forget who we are and what we really want. These messages start when we are young and are often compounded by institutionalized workplace bias at mid-career levels. There is no doubt that work needs to work better for women, but we cannot wait for organizations to change for us as individuals. Start today in clarifying your goals with this exercise and start building the future career and life that you really want.
Jennifer Hargreaves is the Founder of tellent, and a champion and advocate for women in the workplace. In 2015, she set out to change the way that work works for women. The tellent community has grown to over 3,000 women in the greater Toronto Hamilton area. What started as an idea to provide access to flexible job listings has grown into a movement, creating more opportunities for full and equal participation of women in the economy.
When she first launched Abeego, Toni Desrosiers was met with skepticism — people couldn’t imagine giving up plastic wrap. She persevered through the challenge of creating a new market, and now the award-winning entrepreneur can boast years of explosive growth, and her reusable beeswax wrap can be found in more than 1,500 stores, 40 countries and hundreds of thousands of kitchens worldwide.
By Karen van Kampen
In 2008, when Toni Desrosiers launched Abeego with the first beeswax food wrap, “people literally laughed in my face,” she says. “They thought it was just ridiculous.” It was too hard to imagine replacing trusted plastic wrap with a reusable, all-natural alternative.
“We all have an intimate relationship with plastic wrap, even if we don’t realize it,” says Toni. “It’s something that’s been passed down from your mother. Nobody questions it because it’s been so habitual for the last three generations.”
Eleven years later, with food waste and the plastic environmental crisis looming, Abeego is successfully taking on the multi-billion-dollar plastic wrap market with its mission to “keep food alive.”
The average household throws out 40% of its fresh food, “and it’s no fault of theirs,” says Toni. “It’s simply because people don’t understand how to keep food alive once it’s been picked, pulled or plucked. With Abeego, you get to eat the food that you buy,” explains Toni. “You eat it all.”
Fresh food has always been an integral part of Toni’s life. Growing up in Olds, Alberta, Toni was given her own garden plot to tend where she grew strawberries and peas. Her mother was an herbalist who made tinctures, teas and natural remedies.
At 24, Toni moved to Mexico, living in small beachside communities in a camper van with only the necessities. Toni shopped locally at small butchers and tortilla shops and fruterias. The experience “taught me to be fully aware of my surroundings, as risk and opportunity are around every corner,” she says.
The following year Toni returned to Canada, enrolling in a holistic nutrition program at Ottawa’s Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. Completing the two-year program in six months, she graduated in 2005 at the top of her class. Her next move was to Victoria, B.C. where she took a job at Lifestyle Markets. Working at the natural food store helped Toni realize that fresh food is the best supplement for good health.
An entrepreneur at heart, Toni says “I was always thinking about what business I could create that would solve a different problem.” Her big idea came after asking herself, “If nature was going to wrap food in my kitchen, what would it look like?” Toni knew that plastic wrap wasn’t the answer. “There isn’t a single peel, skin or rind in the natural world that is air tight and transparent,” she says. Toni set out to make an all natural, reusable, breathable food wrap to keep food fresh.
“We all have an intimate relationship with plastic wrap, even if we don’t realize it,” says Toni. “It’s something that’s been passed down from your mother. Nobody questions it because it’s been so habitual for the last three generations.”
After extensive experimentation, Toni invented a formula of beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil that created a sealable barrier akin to plastic wrap while also keeping food fresh. In 2008, Abeego was born in Toni’s kitchen.
Offering advice to other inventors, Toni says, “You might have an idea that’s going to change the world. But if the market is not ready for your idea, it might take either a really long time and a ton of work — and if you believe in it, keep going — or it might never go anywhere.”
Despite initial customer skepticism, Toni never gave up. In fact, meeting customers face-to-face proved to be one of her most valuable marketing experiences. Toni quickly realized that she couldn’t position Abeego as an alternative to plastic wrap.
“Immediately I could see people put up their defensive guard,” she says. “They felt attacked, guilty, afraid.” So Toni created a positive marketing message by focusing on how people could make a lasting change.
Starting a business is very challenging, says Toni, especially when you are creating an entirely new category. “It took a lot of storytelling, convincing, and trust from people who were willing to give it a shot,” she says.
Around three years ago, customers began adopting a more open, environmentally conscious mindset. At the same time, competitors entered the market. “At first I was terrified,” says Toni. But Abeego was ready. With systems in place to scale quickly, they could easily handle the volume of new customers.
“When you set yourself specific boundaries and then give yourself the freedom to build within those boundaries, you build something sustainable and scalable,” Toni says.
Abeego has had 100% year-over-year growth for the past two years, and is on target to double again in 2019. Its reusable beeswax wrap can be found in more than 1,500 stores, 40 countries and hundreds of thousands of kitchens worldwide. The success has been recognized: Toni was the 2018 winner of the TELUS Trailblazer Award, granted to an entrepreneur who has identified and captured a new market while setting standards for originality, quality and successful management.
For Toni, the journey is more rewarding than the destination. Looking back, she says, “I’d tell my younger self to enjoy the doing, because just trying to get to the end goal is thankless. It’s just too hard. You have to enjoy the things that you’re doing along the way, regardless of the outcome.”
Arlene Dickinson is one of Canada’s most successful — and recognizable — entrepreneurs. Best known for her role as a Dragon on the multi-award-winning television series Dragons’ Den, she built her fortune with Venture Communications, and just a few years ago, launched District Ventures — an accelerator, venture fund, and communications firm focused on turning successful Canadian companies in the food and health space into globally respected brands. She is a two-time bestselling author, an accomplished public speaker, a television and podcast host, and the winner of multiple awards for her leadership and entrepreneurial success. Arlene sits on several public and private boards and is actively involved in supporting the community. We caught up with her after the TELUS Pitch contest — she serves as a judge — to get her top tips for entrepreneurs.
When it comes to business advice, there is so much out there that it can be difficult to know what to trust. What is the best business advice you have ever been given?
I get that question a lot. And so I can tell you that, when I think about it, I think it really comes back down to my dad’s advice, which really wasn’t business advice — it was life advice. And I think, at the end of the day, they’re the same thing. His advice to me was to always trust yourself. Always believe in yourself. Make sure that you listen to your instincts and make sure that you believe that what you’re doing is the best possible you can do.
It’s safe to say that you have perfected the art of the pitch — after years of pitching for your own businesses, in your capacity as a Dragon on Dragons’ Den, and with your own fund and accelerator, District Ventures. What makes the perfect pitch for you?
For someone to be successful when they’ve pitched me an idea, there are three things they’d have to demonstrate: they have to be honest, they have to be genuine and authentic, and they have to understand what a win-win means. In other words, tell me how I’m going to make money, tell me how you’re going to succeed as well.
If you had to pick two characteristics that have helped you to excel in your career, and are important for all entrepreneurs to possess, what would they be?
The two qualities I think are incredibly important are tenacity and persistence. You have to stay at it and you can’t let something stop you or get in your way.
Self-identity has an important role in shaping each of our lives, it’s a process that develops over a lifetime. For Scotiabank Program Manager, Jessica McKenzie, an instrumental moment in her journey to self-discovery was finding out about her First Nations heritage. After becoming aware, Jessica took many steps to understand and celebrate Indigenous culture from a course at university to becoming an executive member of the Scotiabank Aboriginal Network. Jessica shares how understanding who she is made her a more confident person and she sends a heartwarming message to young Indigenous women seeking to build their careers.
By Shelley White
Jessica McKenzie grew up in Toronto with questions about her identity. A person of mixed Indonesian and First Nations heritage, Jessica knew only half the story of her background.
“I didn’t even really know that I was Indigenous until I received my [First Nations status] card, it wasn’t really spoken about in my family,” she says. “We were Catholic. We didn’t go to traditional learnings, we didn’t go to powwows.”
In order to learn more about her First Nations side, Jessica took a course in Indigenous studies while doing a liberal arts degree at York University in Toronto. The course was life-changing, says Jessica, opening her eyes to the crises facing Indigenous people in Canada and giving her clarity about what she wanted to do with her career.
“I started to understand not only who I am as a person, but what I wanted to do for my people,” says Jessica, who is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.
Jessica volunteered at Indigenous Friendship Centres around the city – community hubs offering culturally-based services to Indigenous people in urban settings. Then, in a moment of serendipity, she met a Scotiabank recruiter who helped her continue her journey of self-discovery. Jessica had applied to be a bank teller in her third year of university and the recruiter, who was also Indigenous, recognized her potential.
“She said, ‘How would you feel about recruiting First Nations individuals across Canada?’ I just jumped at it,” Jessica says.
As a diversity recruiter for Scotiabank, Jessica travelled from coast to coast, visiting reservations and First Nations events on weekends to make connections and spread the word about opportunities at Scotiabank.
“I started building a rapport and a trust with [the people I met], so they could see a little bit of me within themselves,” she says.
When she was offered a full-time role at Scotiabank, Jessica decided to take an even bigger leap. She completed the final year of her degree at York while working full-time at Scotiabank.
“We want you to be leaders. We need your voice. We need you to be resilient and this is exactly why our people have been fighting for so long. Don’t give up on a dream, shoot for the stars.”
“It was absolutely intense – I was working 9 am to 5 pm at Scotiabank and going to school from 6 pm to 10 pm,” she says. “But it was so worth it. I loved working with people within my community so I just couldn’t give up working at the bank.”
Now, as program manager technology at Scotiabank, Jessica manages two programs that she created from scratch. One is a technology internship program that gives university students the opportunity to work in areas like software engineering, software development and data science. The other program, called IgnITion, is for recent university graduates – a full-time, 18-month program that allows grads to rotate through different areas within the bank’s Technology Solutions Group.
“We get them to dip their toes into a bunch of different areas, so they can truly understand what they want to do for a career,” she says.
Jessica is also an executive member of the Scotiabank Aboriginal Network, one of the bank’s volunteer Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). The group organizes “lunch and learn” activities for Scotiabank staff, “sharing our culture with the rest of the bank,” Jessica says.
The Scotiabank Aboriginal Network recently ran events celebrating National Indigenous History Month in June. This year, they partnered with the bank’s Pride ERG to invite a guest speaker who is two-spirited – in Indigenous culture, an individual who identifies as both male and female. They also brought in a keynote speaker to talk about Truth and Reconciliation, an issue that is close to Jessica’s heart.
“His main focus was, what can we do as people within the community to educate others on how to rebuild our relationships, not only with ourselves but with the land?” she says.
Jessica notes that Scotiabank has a long track record of working closely with Indigenous communities. The Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB) has awarded Scotiabank their Progressive Aboriginal Relations “Gold Standing” designation three years in a row.
Scotiabank recently partnered with Our Children’s Medicine (OCM), a not-for-profit organization devoted to helping Indigenous job seekers overcome barriers to employment. (While the Canadian unemployment rate is 6 per cent, the Canadian Indigenous youth unemployment rate is 24 per cent.) OCM helps businesses improve the application process by prioritizing skills over work experience.
As well, Scotiabank unveiled their Legacy Space in August, which was built in partnership with the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. The room, located at Scotiabank’s Bay street headquarters in downtown Toronto, features an installation based on the graphic novel The Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. It tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died while fleeing a residential school. People who use the room will have the opportunity to learn about Chanie’s story and be inspired to act in the name of reconciliation.
It’s important to provide connections to Indigenous culture in the workplace, says Jessica. Meeting Indigenous colleagues at Scotiabank meant a great deal to her when she first started at the bank and helped her see it as her “second home,” she says. That’s why the Scotiabank Aboriginal Network created a mentorship circle where they pair new hires with more seasoned Scotiabank employees who are also Indigenous.
“It’s great to have that friend, that guiding hand and that community not only at home but in your workplace as well,” she says.
While Jessica exudes confidence now, when she first started at the bank, she was faced with a feeling of imposter syndrome, “like, I shouldn’t be here, I don’t deserve this,” she says. “Speaking to a lot of my peers, I discovered it’s a common feeling among Indigenous people. So a big thing that I remind other Indigenous employees coming into the bank is that they were chosen for a reason.”
Jessica has a message for young Indigenous women seeking to build their careers.
“Know that you’re exactly what our ancestors prayed for,” she says. “We want you to be leaders. We need your voice. We need you to be resilient and this is exactly why our people have been fighting for so long. Don’t give up on a dream, shoot for the stars.”
Emily Mutch is the Tissue Culture Lab Manager at FIGR, a legal cannabis company whose recreational cannabis products are available in a variety of provinces across Canada. With a degree in Biology from the University of Prince Edward Island, and strong family history in farming, Emily is passionate about pursuing a career in botany and she is making her mark as a woman in two industries typically dominated by men: science and cannabis. As a PEI native, she has found a role that allows her to stay within her community while practising in a lab that is using cultivation methods that are on the cutting edge of the cannabis industry.
I chose my career path because… I’ve always wanted to work in science. My parents were very much into nature, so I spent a lot of time with plants growing up. As an adult, I had one professor in particular whose enthusiasm and mentorship really helped solidify that this is the career path for me. Fast forward a few years later, and now I’m working in one of the newest and most exciting industries in Canada in my home province of P.E.I.
My proudest accomplishment is… When I became the Manager of the tissue culture lab at Figr. It was unexpected but it really made me proud of the effort I’d put into my work.
My boldest move to date was… My boldest move was also my proudest accomplishment. I accepted the job offer for Manager of the tissue culture lab, but research is a tough area to work in, especially since plant tissue culture in the cannabis industry is so new. There are limited resources out there to help guide you, so we’re forging our own path and learning as a team what methods work best for us at Figr.
I surprise people when I tell them… Exactly what my job title is and what type of work I’m doing at Figr. Although plant tissue culture isn’t a new concept, it’s not well known or understood so people find it very interesting to learn about and I’m always eager to tell them.
My best advice to people starting their career is… Put yourself out there and apply for the job even if you don’t think you’re qualified. It’s never a bad idea to refresh your resume & cover letter and get as much experience as possible doing job interviews. If you are willing to put in the effort then you will do well.
My best advice from a mentor was… Always make sure you enjoy what you’re doing, and if you’re no longer enjoying it, then it’s time to move on.
Something that people always ask me about the cannabis industry is… My view on legalization. I strongly believe legalization will improve and regulate the quality of cannabis products available to consumers and I can already see that at Figr. Not only that, but through legalization, the opportunities for strong, reliable research will also be opened up and really increase our knowledge and ability to use cannabis to our advantage, both medicinally and recreationally.
“Always make sure you enjoy what you’re doing, and if you’re no longer enjoying it, then it’s time to move on.”
My biggest setback was… My lack of confidence in my own capabilities. Being young in any industry typically comes with a few doubts in yourself, but working at Figr over the past two years I find myself continuously growing as a woman in the cannabis industry – no pun intended.
I overcame it by… Pushing those thoughts aside and just constantly putting the effort into learning new skills and never being afraid to ask questions when I need help. Now, I get to take a leadership role and play an active part in planning the expansion of the Figr facility in P.E.I., which has been a tremendous learning opportunity.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… The support and encouragement I’ve received from my colleagues in the lab, superiors at Figr and family members have been essential for my growth and success.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I am an avid gardener – yes I work with plants even in my spare time.
I stay inspired by… Focusing on the future and dreaming about all the possibilities that are ahead of both myself and Figr. We haven’t even scratched the surface of possibilities for this industry and I get to be at the forefront of it – growing, learning and innovating along the way.
The future excites me because… As a young woman in the science side of the cannabis industry, I feel there are so many opportunities ahead of me, which I’m extremely grateful for. My colleague and I have put a lot of time and effort into the research we’ve been doing in the lab, as well as the planning of our future lab and it’s very exciting to know what we’re headed towards.
My next step is… Getting all the final details sorted for our new, state-of-the-art lab at Figr, expanding our department and taking on all the new challenges that await us.
At just 10 years old, Madison was selected to perform at the Havelock Country Jamboree, a music festival drawing an audience of 30,000 people. Madison’s passion for music eventually led her to Nashville, where she has since worked diligently to hone her craft. When asked about her songwriting style, she responded, “I write music with my live shows in mind. I strive to create music with a strong backbeat and lots of groove. Authenticity and truthful lyrics are key to my creative process.” Madison seamlessly blends her old-country roots with clever lyrics and catchy melodies to create a sound that is fresh, unique and compelling. We caught up with her recently to talk about her professional journey and the inspiration behind her latest single ‘First Last Name’.
When I was younger I wanted to be… A country singer. From the first time I stepped on a stage at age 9, I was hooked.
My proudest accomplishment… Graduating from Belmont University was a proud moment for me. I remember fighting with my parents after high school about not wanting to go to college, I was hell-bent on focusing on music full time. And I suppose the saying “Mother knows best” is true because those 4 years were some of the most transformative of my life and my career. I signed my publishing deal at the end of my 3rd year, after being discovered at a songwriting panel on campus. When my parents called to ask me if I wanted to drop out and pursue music full time, I said: “Nope, I didn’t come this far to only come this far.” I was able to finish out strong in the midst of writing full time and signing my record deal.
My boldest move to date… Moving to Nashville at age 14. I was so young yet so determined, thankfully I had the full support of my family in the big transition. I couldn’t have done it without their blessing.
My biggest setback was… When I first moved to Nashville I spent years chasing a sound and style that wasn’t fully me. Probably because I hadn’t experienced enough life yet to be truly sure of who I was, and I was so impressionable of everyone else I thought was cool.
I overcame it by… I found the common thread between all my heroes was that they all had something to say that was authentic to them. So I started going into my writing sessions with that in mind. If I had to choose between finishing an entire song in one sitting that I didn’t really connect with or getting a few lines in one day that I relate to wholeheartedly, I would choose the latter every time. I stopped worrying about what I thought people might want to hear or what the radio might play and started thinking about what stories I had to share that really meant something to me.
My advice to young girls wanting to follow in a similar path to me would be… Write and sing your truth.
If I wasn’t a singer I would be… Probably something else in the music business like a publisher (working with songwriters). I love working with fellow creatives! I interned in publishing while I was in college, and have always so fascinated by the life of a song.
“When you’re climbing the ladder and putting in the work to get where you want to go, don’t look horizontally and compare yourself to what others are doing around you. Just do you. That’s where the magic is.”
The best part of what I do is… Connecting with other people. Whether it’s in the writing room with co-writers or on stage with an audience, I love how music can be a bridge to bring people together. I think it’s the coolest feeling when a bunch of different people can all relate to a line in a song, finding common ground even though we all may have different backstories.
My song “First Last Name” is special to me because… It’s the most personal song I’ve ever written and it’s about my biggest inspiration: my dad. “First Last Name” was originally supposed to be a gift to my dad for Fathers Day. He was the one who taught me everything I know and love about country music. Growing up we spent nearly every weekend travelling to fairs, festivals, churches and retirement homes to play our favourite classic country music; it was just the way we bonded. This song feels very nostalgic to me and reminds me of why I love what I do and how this journey all began.
My biggest professional influences have been…
Loretta Lynn (my 1st concert)
My greatest advice from a mentor was… A piece of advice that Nicolle Galyon (my label president and songwriting mentor) shared with me: When you’re climbing the ladder and putting in the work to get where you want to go, don’t look horizontally and compare yourself to what others are doing around you. Just do you. That’s where the magic is.
If I were to pick one thing that had helped me succeed it would be…My family. I’m one of 8 siblings, so we’re more like a small village but they gave me so much encouragement from the beginning and made me believe anything was possible if I worked hard enough and was kind to people.
If you googled me you still wouldn’t know… My Tim Horton’s order is a medium steeped tea with 1 milk, 1 & 1/2 sugar and a sour cream glazed donut.
The future excites me because… Every day just keeps getting better. I’m excited to keep checking things off 10-year-old Madison’s list of dreams. Also, excited because I know THE FUTURE IS FEMALE.
As a woman constantly travelling for work, Kristi Soomer struggled to find versatile clothing that would allow her to pack less on trips. So she launched Encircled. The clothing line began with just one product — a cardigan that can be worn eight different ways. Now, Kristi’s company offers over 40 different designs, employs more than 14 people, and is a Certified B Corporation. Here’s how she did it.
By Hailey Eisen
Kristi Soomer was packing for a yoga retreat to Costa Rica when two things suddenly happened. First, her suitcase snapped. Next, Kristi had an a-ha moment. Together, they led her to develop a line of clothing designed to help women pack less while still having plenty of options for any occasion.
“It was the night before my trip and I was trying to shove everything into my suitcase when it broke,” recalls Kristi. “As I moved everything into a much smaller bag, I started wondering why I didn’t have more versatile clothing that could be used for a variety of purposes.”
It was 2012, and Kristi was working as a management consultant in Toronto, travelling thousands of miles a year and living out of a suitcase. She’d seen men wear the same suit every day —swapping out only their shirt and tie for a different look. Women couldn’t do that. They had to pack many different pieces so as not to be seen wearing the same outfit twice.
Kristi’s idea — which came to her that night and percolated for weeks after — was the Chrysalis Cardi, a cardigan that can be worn eight different ways, from a tunic to a dress, poncho, scarf, and more.
Kristi began sketching her ideas and sewing fabric together by hand. She was still working full time when she launched her own clothing company, Encircled, and began selling the Chrysalis Cardi through her own website. At first, it was only available in two colours.
What she lacked in fashion experience, she made up for with business acumen. At 26, she wanted a career in consulting and decided an MBA was the ideal stepping stone. She chose the Accelerated MBA at Smith School of Business, which she could complete in one year while still working full time (she was then employed by a home security company in business development).
“I was in my thirties when I first began to realize that I wanted to feel more connected to the purpose of my work, and while I had no problem working to help top retailers grow their businesses as a consultant, what I longed for was work that would have a measurable positive impact.”
Kristi embarked on the MBA journey with excitement. She earned top marks in her courses, which she says provided her with the foundation for starting her own business. She especially loved the program’s group work and being both a team player and leader – a skill she still uses to this day. She also appreciates the alumni network she developed during her MBA, which helped her as she entered the world of entrepreneurship.
Kristi graduated in 2008, but the economic downturn made it tough to find work in management consulting. Although she eventually landed her dream job with PwC, entrepreneurship beckoned.
Starting a business required a leap of faith, but Kristi was ready. “I was in my thirties when I first began to realize that I wanted to feel more connected to the purpose of my work.”
It’s easy to see this desire in the business that Kristi has built. Today, Encircled has more than 14 employees, 40 different designs, and a commitment to creating modern, versatile essentials from earth-friendly materials, made locally in Toronto using fairly paid labour. As a Certified B Corporation, Encircled balances purpose and profit — considering the impact of all business decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Kristi aims to make designs that never go out of style — the antidote to fast fashion — and let women do more with fewer pieces of clothing.
“We are passionate about using business as a force for good and we work constantly to balance sustainability with comfort and style,” Kristi says from her offices in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. With her focus now on growing Encircled, Kristi is also committed to helping other female entrepreneurs. She started a podcast, Brave + Boss, to help purpose-driven online entrepreneurs like her take their business to the next level.
Eventually, Kristi hopes to become an investor in minority- and women-led businesses. “I’d like to start my own fund, to be an angel investor, as a way of giving back,” she says. “There are so many great businesses out there, and capital doesn’t flow through certain populations. I’d want to invest in those purpose-driven businesses that focus on making a difference in some way.”
The Accelerated MBA at Smith School of Business is tailored to practising managers with an undergraduate business degree. Rather than relearning fundamental concepts you have already studied, the program focuses on advanced management topics that can help you take your career to the next level. Learn more here.
Coined by Anjuan Simmons, the term ‘lending privilege’ describes using your own position or power to help underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. What does it look like in action? We spoke to Matthew Jefferson, who walked from BC to Newfoundland to raise awareness on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, and Jordan Hart, who completed 100 days of busking to raise money and awareness for people with intellectual disabilities. Here’s how they are using their own privilege to help others.
By Hailey Eisen
Anjuan Simmons has travelled the globe speaking about diversity and inclusion, but his focus remains on ‘lending privilege’ — a phrase he coined with the intention of galvanizing action. The Texas-based technologist, speaker, and author believes that every single person has the ability to use their own position or power — no matter how great or small that may be — to help others.
“The term ‘lending privilege’ means the willingness to take two actions,” he explains. “First, you have to be willing to recognize your own privilege, that is to understand how your gender, race, level of physical ability, and other factors provide access to resources. Second, you have to be willing to share your privilege with others.”
While lending privilege isn’t exclusively done by men — there are many examples of women lending privilege in extraordinary ways every day — Anjuan says men, given their traditionally inherent power, have a vital role to play.
“I always encourage men to recognize the power they have by changing how they think about justice,” he says, and that includes recognizing the systemic bias and barriers women face. “These experiences limit the job opportunities women can pursue, the promotions they receive, the salaries they are paid, and even how safe they feel walking down the street. If men can see that unfair system and care enough to create a better experience, then they can do their part in changing the system.” The result actually makes the workplace — and home life — better for all genders.
To make real change, there are a number of simple actions individuals can take. Lending privilege can be as easy as nominating someone for recognition or a particular assignment, inviting junior colleagues to meetings with leaders, sharing information with individuals who don’t have the same access you do, standing up for the equal pay or rights of a colleague, joining a campaign like 30% Club Canada with a focus on gender-balanced leadership, or stepping into the role of mentor or champion.
Matthew Jefferson is a man who has taken the concept of lending privilege one step further. Or, more like a million steps further. On June 25th of this year, Matthew completed a year-long, 8,275-kilometer walk — from Victoria, BC to Cape Spear, Newfoundland — with the intention of bringing awareness to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada.
As a man who ‘presents white’ (on account of his New Zealand-born father) but is also full status indigenous, Matthew is committed to lending privilege to bridge indigenous and non-indigenous communities, open the channels of communication, and raise this often ignored issue to the broader public agenda.
“You never really know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself, I second-guessed myself every single day and even when I reached my final destination, I didn’t feel elated or done — this is just the beginning of my work and my journey.”
On October 14, 2017, Matthew’s aunt, Frances Brown, disappeared while mushroom picking in a forested area north of Smithers, BC. Local search and rescue crews from around the province were called in, alongside RCMP and volunteers — but the official search was called off eight days after it began.
“If I were an indigenous woman, or even looked more like an indigenous man, then you probably wouldn’t be having this conversation with me,” Matthew said from North Sydney, Nova Scotia. “As you can imagine, it’s a privilege to be who I am, and I am using that as a tool to deliver our message.”
Speaking in front of community groups, to the media, and most importantly, he says, to school-aged children, Matthew has been educating Canadians about residential schools, day schools, ‘the sixties scoop,’ and aboriginal child welfare — aspects of Canadian history that until recently had been brushed over in school curriculum. “Young people are this country’s future elders,” says Matthew. By educating them, he hopes they, in turn, can educate others.
Matthew is a staunch advocate for women’s rights — both indigenous and non-indigenous women — and while he says his talks across the country were mostly attended by women, his goal is to have more men engaged in these conversations. “Women are sacred, they are life bringers, water carriers, and an integral part of our societies,” Matthew says. “I want to see more non-indigenous women stand up for indigenous women, and more men stand up for all women.” Matthew is also a supporter of the Moose Hide campaign, a grassroots movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and boys who are standing up against violence towards women.
While his walk proved excruciating at times, leading to physical injury, illness, and emotional trauma, Matthew says he realized a great deal about himself over the course of the year. “You never really know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself,” he says. “I second-guessed myself every single day and even when I reached my final destination, I didn’t feel elated or done — this is just the beginning of my work and my journey.”
A welder and carpenter by trade, Matthew continues to commit his time and energy to championing this cause. “While I was walking I was able to meet with tens of thousands of people across our nation, laying the groundwork for what I’m about to do next.” On June 1st, 2020, Matthew will be leading a sponsored bike ride from B.C. to Newfoundland, raising funds for all indigenous communities in Canada that have missing family members. “I’ve connected with many people over the past year and through this bike ride I get to test their commitment to really wanting change.”
While Matthew was nearing the final leg of his journey, another Canadian man was just setting out on his own personal mission to lend a voice to those whose voices have traditionally been silenced.
This past spring, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Jordan Hart completed a 100-day busking challenge — serenading strangers on the streets across Toronto to raise money and awareness for L’Arche Canada, an organization that creates communities for people with intellectual disabilities.
Jordan was born into a musical family and says that he spoke music before he could speak words. Graduating from an arts high school in Edmonton and having completed a summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Jordan chose busking as the route to musical fulfillment. In 2013, he set out to travel across North America as a busker, beginning in Vancouver. “Almost immediately I was connected with influential people in the industry, including producers, and I decided to stay and see where those connections would take me.”
“You know, as humans, we have this preconceived notion about someone’s value based on their capabilities, which tend to revolve around money or talent.”
A few years later he followed his music and connections to Toronto, where he spent time in the studio with producer Michael Sonier (who has worked with Alessia Cara, Mary J Blige, and more) and the multi-platform, Grammy-nominated production/songwriting group Kuya Productions (their credits include Alessia Cara, Drake, and others), creating a five-song EP that blends acoustic, roots soul with alternative R&B.
“I spent a lot of time in the studio and was ready to get back to the streets,” Jordan says. But rather than focusing on self-promotion, he took the opportunity to lend privilege to an organization and cause that was extremely close to his heart.
“My dad was the executive director of L’Arche in Edmonton and has been on the board of L’Arche Canada for some time, and from a young age I was in touch with the community, spent time visiting houses, and had relationships with residents and assistants,” Jordan says. “What I experienced in those communities was inspiring and unique. I had never seen such unconditional love and acceptance in my life.”
Jordan dedicated every Sunday of his 100-day challenge to L’Arche, raising funds, and more importantly, awareness. “What I felt I could really offer was exposure of L’Arche to a younger generation,” he says. Jordan brought core members from L’Arche communities out with him to speak, dedicated his social media posts to the cause, spoke to the media, handed out information, and had one-on-one conversations with people who came to watch him perform.
The results were more than he could have ever imagined. “You know, as humans, we have this preconceived notion about someone’s value based on their capabilities, which tend to revolve around money or talent,” Jordan says. “And you look at someone with intellectual disabilities and they don’t possess these things and so they’re often overlooked. But when you sit down with them, you realize that value is not attached to that at all — what matters most is being in the moment and being human together. And, you realize that your worth actually never had anything to do with what you’re capable of. That understanding left a huge space in my heart to love myself for who I am — and a desire to share this realization with others.”
What surprised and delighted Jordan most was how many young people he met while busking who wanted to learn more and get involved. “I’ll never forget the moment a young man came up to me, saying he’d moved to Toronto to pursue a job, and while he was doing well financially, and all his goals had been met, he was feeling unsatisfied. He needed to reconnect to community and he was drawn to what I was saying about L’Arche and wanted to know what he could do to help.”
As Jordan continues his musical journey, he plans to continue to involve L’Arche directly. Next up is a showcase that will include music as well as other art forms. “I would like to have artists of all backgrounds collaborating to create a multi-sensory experience where you can feel the openness and inspiration to become who you are and celebrate that,” he says. The project is in the works now, with the aim to have it ready by late summer or early fall.
While lending privilege certainly doesn’t have to be the grand gestures made by Jordan and Matthew, which are two completely different examples, it does require the realization that our privilege gives us benefits that others can’t easily access. It’s what you do with that realization — how you step into your power and use it to advance the voice, or the career, or the well-being of another person or group of people — that really matters. Whether that means making an introduction to someone in your network, bringing a junior employee into a meeting, or choosing to be a mentor or sponsor, there is likely a small action you can make immediately that will have a long-term impact on someone else’s life or career.
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.
Nouhaila Chelkhaoui is the founder of Scale Without Borders one-stop-shop for newcomer tech entrepreneurs in Canada. As an immigrant in tech, her mission is to build a strong and bright community of newcomer tech entrepreneurs and make Canada the #1 startup destination in the world. Nouhaila is also a Programs Lead for the DMZ at Ryerson University, ranked #1 university-based incubator in the world, leading the DMZ Women Founders programming and helping run the DMZ growth accelerator. Nouhaila came to Canada from Morocco as an international student at the age of 17 to attend the University of Toronto. She’s also lived in other countries including Brazil and Turkey before immigrating permanently to Canada.
My first job was… a meal plan marketer. I think I gave out flyers on campus to fellow students so they can buy our meal plans.
My proudest accomplishment is… Coming to Canada at the age of 17 on my own from Morocco. I graduated from high school and researched the top universities in the world. The University of Toronto was pretty up there and my parents liked the fact that they didn’t hear about much trouble coming from Canada. There was also a more compelling immigration path.
My boldest move to date was… Starting Scale Without Borders.
My biggest setback was… Graduating without a job. I remember flying back to Morocco and having to explain this to my parents & family 4 years later (although they never asked for an explanation).
I overcame it by… Leaving the country, travelling around, and taking time to figure out what I wanted.
“Have a grand vision, but detach yourself from expectations, and stay grounded.”
My favourite thing about Scale Without Borders is… Being able to connect with extremely high potential international tech entrepreneurs and feeling like I can add value to them.
I would tell my 17-year-old self… Buckle up, you’re going to places! Literally.
One book every woman should read is… Educated.
Living in other countries has taught me… It’s important to pause and enjoy life.
My greatest advice from a mentor was… Have a grand vision, but detach yourself from expectations, and stay grounded.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… A positive mindset, with unwavering faith.
I surprise people when I tell them… I speak 4 languages (actually though!)
The future excites me because… I don’t know what it holds but I know it’s something great!
A busy career in finance might not seem ideal for taking on extra-curricular activities, and yet Allison Grafton somehow found the time to manage 15 home builds and renovations while working as an investment banker. The passion that inspired this “hobby” eventually led her to change her path completely, and at the age of 40, she launched Rockwood Custom Homes. As President, she’s combining her financial know-how with her keen design eye to lead her residential construction company to the top in the city of Calgary, and beyond — and her journey is far from over.
My first job ever was… A registry runner for a legal firm in Kelowna – every day after school 3:30-5: 30 PM.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… When you work for yourself, anything is possible. There are no limits to what you can accomplish. I work as hard as I can possibly work and be rewarded. I can take big risks, or not. I am master of my own destiny. I can dream big and execute!
My proudest accomplishment is…I can’t narrow it down to one. Being married and in a partnership with my husband for 33 years. My three children. Creation of Rockwood and its resounding and consistent success over this past decade.
My boldest move to date was… Staying extremely focused within my niche market. I am continually presented with many different types of opportunities and projects that I could easily say yes to (and are sometimes tempting!) but would take away the strong focus on the challenging and wildly fulfilling path I have chosen for myself and Rockwood. Saying NO and having the confidence to say NO to certain potential clients/projects/media that would stray from my vision and commitment to those around me.
I surprise people when I tell them…The truth. 100% of the time.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Educate yourself, make connections (many and often as you never know which ones will bear fruit in the long run), maintain optimism and honesty. Never betray yourself.
My best advice from a mentor was…Stay principled, stay focused and expect a strong work ethic and integrity in others. Don’t wait for change; make the change.
I would tell my 20-year old self…Expect the unexpected and that the unexpected is not to be feared.
“Stay principled, stay focused and expect a strong work ethic and integrity in others. Don’t wait for change; make the change. “
My biggest setback was…A brain aneurysm in my youth.
I overcame it by…I believed that I would fully 100% recover and not live in fear in its shadow. I had extremely good western and alternative doctors that were instrumental in my treatment and recovery. I trusted that all would be as it should be, regardless of the outcome.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…Sit down and talk more with my children, my husband, my friends. Connect more!
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…My deep love of cats. I LOVE my cat, Orange, more than anything.
The one thing I wish I knew when starting Rockwood Custom Homes is… People will come and go. Be sure to appreciate the ones who stay; appreciate them and be grateful for their loyalty and shared perseverance to meet common goals.
I stay inspired by… World travel, connections, engagement with people, seeing life as the opportunity that it is.
The future excites me because… Everything and anything is possible. Even in a deeply challenging market or during an unstable market or political conditions. If you stay exceptional in what you do and who you are, and every day strives to be your best in all, opportunities abound.
The idea of predicting the future might sound like a sci-fi plot but Keren Moynihan, Co-founder and CEO of Boss Insights, is helping private companies predict performance in real-time using AI. She is an advocate for data privacy, creating AI that unites rather than divides society and collaborative approaches to democratizing access to capital. We caught up with her to find out about her professional journey from her brief stint as an actor to her advice for making a mid-career transition.
My first job was… I loved working as a swimming teacher. It’s amazing to teach people to swim whether they’re six months old or adults. It opened my eyes to what happens to people as they grow up.
My proudest accomplishment is… I’m the proud mother of four babies, three humans and one startup. For those new parents out there, they’re all under 6 … consistent sleep is just around the corner.
My boldest move to date was… Leaving banking at RBC to start working at a startup or paragliding in Rio – it’s a toss-up ☺
I came up with the name of my business… Boss Insights predicts private company performance in real-time. The company name is a play on words. It’s an acronym that stands for Back Office Software Systems. Also, we deliver analytics and revenue generation opportunities for capital provider and entrepreneurs, like a boss.
I would advise anyone thinking about a career transition to… Think of the memories you’d like to have and find the working situation that will let you take steps towards building that reality. After making sure your career will meet basic life requirements, look for a job that will inspire and fulfil you over one that offers prestige. One colleague of mine inspired me so much by leaving her teaching job to start in sales for a tech startup. She was no ordinary teacher, finding positions in international schools and travelling the world. Her friends and family were surprised that she’d give up summers and a pension for a career that was riskier. Fast forward years later, and her sales job has fulfilled her, is still travelling regularly, both for work and play, and is more inspired.
If you’re not sure about what you’d like to do, speak to people to see how they’ve solved the ‘career conundrum’. Life has a way of providing opportunities.
My greatest advice from a mentor was… “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” — Diogenes
My biggest setback was… My first startup tugged at my heartstrings. Efficiency Capital offered capital to large buildings to make it more energy-efficient. It was a triple bottom line, meaning that it helped people, planet and profit. The main issues with the business was offering a solution that the market wasn’t ready for and creating a business model that would work for the people involved.
“We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.”
I overcame it by… It sold recently and is still up and running. Even though it’s not part of my daily experience, it makes me happy to know that they’re in operations and by succeeding there’s a greater good happening at the same time.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… Recognizing that failure is really an opportunity for greatness. There’s power in knowing that what you can change in yourself will lead to better future outcomes.
I surprise people when I tell them… I worked as an actor for two years. I got the chance to work in 40 different projects and test the limits. The key part of acting is to focus on relationships – that’s a takeaway that’s helped as I’ve gone through other experiences.
I stay inspired by… Letting what happens around me have impact enabling me to grow and change.
The future excites me because… We can be the change we want to see in the world.
My next step is… Moving Boss Insights from a startup to a scaleup company playing in the global marketplace and connecting with as many people as possible along the way.
Over the past 14 years at Cisco, Lisa Richardson has held roles in commercial sales, global account management, and as leader of Cisco Canada’s enterprise networking business. As leader of Cisco’s solutions sales in Canada, she’s also an expert in the simple, comprehensive technology solutions Cisco offers for small business owners — keeping them connected, secure, and collaborating. Here, Lisa offers her best advice for entrepreneurs looking to save time and effort in their security strategy.
We’re seeing it more and more often — headlines of big corporations becoming the victim of a cyberattack. While these news stories make it clear that cybersecurity threats are growing, they’re often missing an important fact: small businesses are even more susceptible.
“In today’s threat landscape, everyone is a target,” my colleague Jack Pagano, Director of Cyber Security at Cisco Canada, recently told me. “Cybercriminals don’t discriminate between organization size, and small businesses require the same level of cybersecurity protection as large enterprises.”
According to a recent study, last year 67% of small businesses experienced a cyberattack, and another 58% experienced a data breach — leading to lost revenue, customers, and opportunities.
What makes smaller businesses more vulnerable? The variety and complexity of threats are growing, but these organizations still have limited resources available to monitor, identify, and remediate risks.
“While the problem and risk are the same,” explains Jack, “large organizations have security teams dedicated to defending their assets while small businesses often struggle with resources and skills.”
This makes small businesses an ideal target for hackers. In the face of ransomware and malware to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and crypto mining threats, 1/3 of small businesses stated they have no safeguards in place to stop a cybersecurity breach.
Plus, the way we all do business is changing — with digital transformation initiatives and new technologies being deployed, and the rise of mobile, cloud services, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, and the Internet of Things (IoT) creating ever-growing security challenges. Firewalls and up-to-date anti-virus software are no longer enough.
“Last year 67% of small businesses experienced a cyberattack, and another 58% experienced a data breach — leading to lost revenue, customers, and opportunities.”
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the problem. At Cisco, we recommend that small businesses focus their efforts on four key areas:
Blocking threats earlier
Stop malware before it reaches your network or endpoints. Reduce the time spent remediating infections. This is especially important since 60% of small businesses go out of business in the six months following a cyber attack.
Remove blind spots and protect your employees anywhere they access the Internet.
Securing users and data
Protect employees, data, and apps in the cloud against compromised accounts, malware, and data breaches, while enabling compliance.
Enabling secure cloud use
Improve security with no impact on your employees’ productivity.
Cloud-based security solutions have the capability of delivering on all of these security goals, with techniques that ensure every employee, application and piece of data in the cloud is safe. When evaluating a solution, look for one that delivers:
Visibility: See everything with complete visibility of employees, devices, networks, applications, workloads, and processes. When your security strategy is holistic and integrated from the start, rather than pieced together, it’s easier to stay ahead of threats.
Threat Protection: Identify breaches faster with multi-layered threat sensors to quickly detect, block, and respond to prevent data theft and disruptions of operations. An automated response can help overcome the issue of limited resources with a small (or nonexistent) IT team.
Segmentation: Prevent attackers from moving laterally east/west across your network with micro-segmentation and application whitelisting.
This will enable you to establish a security “perimeter” around your IT environment, so you can safely transmit data throughout the network, proactively identify and defend against attacks before they hit, and dynamically increase and extend protection as needed.
The problems of cyberattacks may be growing, but with today’s solutions, your small business doesn’t need to become a headline.
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? Register for a free 14-day trial of Cisco Umbrella to protect your business, employees and customer data against cyber threats. With a Cisco Security solution, small businesses go from being overwhelmed to empowered.
At a time when the next best option is just a few simple clicks away, building a successful online profile is critical for companies and the entrepreneurs behind them. Jess Hunichen and Emily Ward, co-founders of Shine PR and Shine Influencers, share their proven advice for creating a brand image.
By Jess Hunichen and Emily Ward
When we started the Shine PR brand, we were told we were “too girly” to succeed. We launched the business loudly and yet lightly, with a decidedly less corporate- feeling vibe than what people were used to from public relations agencies at the time. Our tone and branding were fun and vibrant, with an Instagram account filled with quotes and colourful imagery — it had a bit of Kate Spade-esque aesthetic to it. The page gained traction, the business began to take off and our refreshing embrace of femininity actually helped us rather than hindered us.
In 2015, we expanded our business with the creation Shine Influencers, and now help our roster define their own brands. Competition has never been fiercer; at a time when the next best option is just a few simple clicks away, building a successful online profile is critical for companies and the entrepreneurs behind them. Whether you have sights of becoming the latest and greatest influencer or are starting a small business and are the face of the company, your personal brand image is a first impression you convey to the world.
Here’s how to get it right:
Conduct an Audit.
If you already have a social media presence, building a successful brand requires a good hard look at your current accounts; they’re probably in need of cleaning up in some capacity. Odds are, at least a handful of photos — perhaps from your younger and clearly more naïve years — will get deleted or relegated to your Instagram “archive” folder. Ask yourself if a photo or status update truly correlates with the image you’re trying to portray. The videos of your sorority sisters chanting their anthems may be cute to you (and your sisters), but perhaps best left as a throwback on a group chat. For an objective eye, ask someone for an honest opinion of your existing social media content.
Do Your Research.
Like any successful endeavour, a strong online presence requires a little initial research. Look into the workings of the ever-changing Internet: ways to gain traction and exposure, how to build databases and followers, and strategic posting times. Define who you want your ideal audience to be (and why) and familiarize yourself with people or brands that engage a similar demographic. What type of content are they creating and what is resonating the most with their audience? Although the last thing you want to be is a copycat — being your unique and authentic self is part of the strategy — studying successful brands and people who have come before you offers valuable insight.
Know the Feel.
Some of the most successful brands are intentional in their “feel,” which keeps followers coming back time and time again for that daily hit of that emotion. When building and maintaining your online brand, consider how you want your audience to feel when consuming your content. Do you want them to feel inspired? Motivated? Curious? Identifying this will help you develop and curate content that is congruent with the core purpose of your personal brand. Once you identify this, consider how everything from your imagery to your tone will reflect this.
Establish Your Voice.
It’s important to have a distinctive voice — and use it. Your voice could be intellectual, inspirational, motivational, sassy, funny, sarcastic, lighthearted or spiritual. Whatever your voice is, it’s important to try to be consistent online across all of your platforms — having multiple personalities won’t do you any favours. In addition to a uniform voice, your social media name or handle should be as consistent as possible across all of your social media accounts both for brand cohesiveness and so others can find you easily.
Consider Content Structure.
Having consistent content pillars is the final component. While it’s great to try new things and grow with your community of followers, it’s also beneficial to articulate what topics you’re covering and make them your staples. For example, if you’re a nutritionist, perhaps every Monday you post about a different fruit or vegetable, explain the health benefits and give a recipe on how to incorporate it into your week. Followers will find the content helpful and start to come back consistently to see what the next week’s recipe will be.
Build Your Personal Brand.
Have a clear focus as to what your brand represents; the easiest way to do so is to focus on what you’re knowledgeable and passionate about, whether that means travel, sports, entertainment or mindfulness. It seems self-explanatory, but it couldn’t be more important. Don’t become an “overnight expert” in something you clearly aren’t well versed in; the online world can sniff out that type from a mile away. Your community will appreciate the relatability of you discovering a new passion more than you trying to know more than you do. People follow personal brands because they want the real experience, so remember to be honest and recognize your faults if you make a misstep. In general, remember that your social channels are an extension of you; not the other way around.
Melbourne native Jess Hunichen launched her entrepreneurial career in 2008 with
Honey PR, an influential boutique agency. After a successful stint in TV, she arrived
in Canada in 2014 and became an independent communications consultant before
launching the Shine brand in partnership with Emily Ward that same year. Emily is
a public relations consultant with fifteen years of agency experience, working with
brands like Pilsner Urquell, Sol Cuisine, Vegas Tourism, Ontario’s Finest Hotels, Inns
& Spas, and Kraft Foodservice.
As Group Head at BMO Wealth Management, BMO Financial Group, Joanna Rotenberg is one of the bank’s most senior women leaders. She’s on BMO’s Executive Committee, sits on several boards, is active in the community, and is also a mother of three. How did she do it? We asked Joanna to share the key lessons she’s learned on her path to success.
There are two parts to success, Joanna Rotenberg, Group Head at BMO Wealth Management, BMO Financial Group, explains to me as she waits to catch a plane to Europe for business. The first is embracing risk. “I could not have predicted any of the twists and turns my career was going to take,” including a shift in focus from law to business. But in 2010, at the end of her first maternity leave, she got a call that changed everything.
“I was contacted by a board member at BMO about a position within the organization that was different than what I was doing,” she says. At the time, she was a partner at McKinsey & Company’s Toronto office and led the organization’s Wealth Management and Retirement practice. BMO was one of her clients. Though she knew changing careers and juggling a young child was a huge risk, she realized the opportunity was something she “couldn’t pass up.”
Today, Joanna is one of the most senior women leaders at BMO, the program executive sponsor for BMO for Women, and is widely recognized as a champion of women in finance. She sits on several boards, was named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network, and in 2018 was named ‘Women in Capital Markets Champion of Change’ for her focus on diversity and inclusion. And she’s a mom to three.
How she’s been able to accomplish so much at such a young age is in large part due to the second part of her success equation: surround yourself with great people. “Some of the best work I’ve done has been because of the people I’ve worked with,” Joanna notes. “Find people who complement your skills.”
She encourages everyone to live by the “airplane test.” Before taking a risk on a new job or project, ask yourself if the people you’d be working with are folks you’d want to spend five hours stuck on the runway beside. If they’re not, the opportunity may not be the right fit.
“For BMO, our best-kept secret is our people. It’s something I saw a little of when BMO was my client,” she says. “People are generally very smart and collaborative, and we attract those who think about the community.”
“Never underestimate the impact your voice and actions can have, I think it’s the little things that matter just as much as the big things.”
The “airplane test” also applies to sponsorship — something Joanna is a huge advocate for. She actively works to create the conditions for success for those who are keen, ambitious to deliver impact and growth, and will pay it forward to sponsor others to win. “I make it my business to sponsor men and women inside and outside of the wealth team,” she says.
Case in point: she recently coached a woman she’d been sponsoring to take a risk on a career opportunity that would be a stretch for both her knowledge and experience. But Joanna knew she’d excel in the position (which she did). “It’s about giving people that ‘at-bat’ — a seat at the table, to challenge our views, and opportunities to shine or fail in a safe environment.”
It’s here that Joanna pauses to very helpfully explain the important distinction between sponsorship and mentorship; they involve different levels of risk and one is more impactful than the other.
“A mentor will give you the advice, but a sponsor is someone who will knock down the doors for you,” she notes. “Sponsorship shows you have some promise — someone will be taking a chance on you — so do the best in every situation.”
She says everyone should know the difference before asking a person they admire for career guidance or support. But it’s also important for leaders to recognize each for what it is, and to remember the power they have to grow and build the next generation of high-performing employees. “Never underestimate the impact your voice and actions can have,” she says. “I think it’s the little things that matter just as much as the big things.”
Joanna also encourages leaders to check their biases at the door when choosing who to work with, especially when it comes to women. “When my daughter comes of age, I want her to have the same opportunities as her twin brother. No more, no less. I want her to not think about gender equality as an issue,” she notes.
Her last piece of advice applies to everyone — whether they’re in finance or the arts — and is tied to her first requirement for success: don’t let fear of failure prevent you from taking risks.
“Everyone fails in their personal and professional lives at some point… if you’re not failing enough, you’re not pushing it enough,” she says. “Failures are setbacks in the moment. We’re not surgeons, they’re not irreparable — they’re usually things that can be corrected, fixed and learned from.”
During our recent trip to Singapore for the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit, we caught up with Angela Fox, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, Dell Australia & New Zealand. In this role, she leads the commercial and public sector strategy and direction of the business while maintaining a commitment to keeping customers at the core of what Dell EMC does. Angela has a passion for people management and is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion. She is also a promoter of mentoring, advocacy and sponsorship, having experienced first‐hand the success these relationships manifest.
My first job was … working in a Chemist in my local town on university holidays.
The biggest thing lesson I have learnt after 13 years of working at Dell is… that no idea is a bad idea.
If I didn’t have the job I have today, I would be a… teacher, I studied a bachelor of science in Zoology and my likely path was to go to be a secondary school science teacher. My brother-in-law’s who were both significant influences at the time when I was graduating encouraged me to go into corporate instead of the public sector, with belief that I could always go back to being a teacher.
My proudest accomplishment is… my successful marriage and my son and daughter.
My boldest move to date was… taking my family on a journey around the world with me. I moved from New Zealand to Australia for my job, I moved from Australia to Singapore and then from Singapore back to Australia.
I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion because… it truly is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes a real difference for business and I want to play a role in making sure that everybody has a place at the table. When I was working for Dell in an Asia Pacific Japan role based out of Sydney, I was on maternity leave after having my daughter Sophie and I was really keen and had really supportive manager to keep me involved in the business. Our business changes with such pace and I didn’t want to come back early from maternity leave but I wanted to create an ongoing connection to the business and so during that period, I worked with the team in Australia to launch the diversity and inclusion council chapter within Australia.
DWEN is important because… it’s an incredible opportunity for women to really be authentic and take away lifetime friendships and business partnerships. They are all able to network in a safe environment, share their views and their stories – the triumphs and the trials.
“I don’t believe success in business comes without the people. Above all else, I remain very available to people – I want to stay getting the insights from every level of the business.”
My favourite thing about this DWEN summit has been… the energy, the enthusiasm, the stories. The stories that we have heard have been so powerful. And also, I just love the Girls Track – to pop in and see these young girls take the journey, scared as anything about what they’re going to present and then see the development that they’ve had, the friendships that they’ve forged in a really short space of time, is beautiful. (Girls Track a supplementary DWEN program available to girls 13 – 18, investing in girls so that their path to entrepreneurship can be a guided one.)
My biggest setback was… moving to Singapore, the organizational structure changing around me and therefore my role changing dramatically and that meant I had to look at what my alternatives were to continue in the company.
I overcame it by… leveraging my network, leveraging my reputation and worked hard to make sure that everybody knew that my future was in the company and I wanted to continue to make a positive difference.
My top 3 tips for women wanting to become leaders in the tech space are …
Take the opportunities that are presented to you or make your own opportunities for yourself
Believe in yourself
My greatest advice from a mentor was… to lean in and have a self-belief that you are capable of what at the time you don’t think you are capable of.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my passion for people. I don’t believe success in business comes without the people. Above all else, I remain very available to people – I want to stay getting the insights from every level of the business. I don’t like the concept of the higher you go, the less you know in the sense of what’s really going on at the grassroots level – that’s where you can find the most amazing insights.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know that… that I have a bachelor of science in Zoology.
The future excites me because… when you look at technology and where it’s taking the world. I just think of technology influencing health outcomes, influencing poorer nations and technology is an incredible opportunity to break down barriers.
We are currently in Singapore attending the 10th annual Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit, a three-day event dedicated to analyzing, celebrating and improving women’s entrepreneurship around the globe. This year the summit has brought together over 150 women founders, CEOs, dignitaries, professionals and Dell Leaders to explore the theme ‘Share. Inspire. Transform.’ Today, Dell has released their 2019 Women Entrepreneur Cities (WE Cities) Index, ranking 50 global cities on their ability to foster growth for women entrepreneurs. Let’s take a look at what the index means and why it’s important for the global conversation around women’s entrepreneurship and broader workplace advancement.
By Ony Anukem
Globally, the conversation around women’s entrepreneurship is still heavily centred around opportunity creation in order to enable more women to join the entrepreneurial ranks. While this is important, once women have successfully started a business, there comes a time when they need to shift their focus to scale.
The Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) was born from a desire to create, support and nurture a community of High-Potential Women Entrepreneurs (HPWEs), while providing them with access to technology, networks and capital. By Dell’s definition, HPWEs are women entrepreneurs who are scaling and growing existing businesses with the potential to break through the $1 million (USD) mark in annual revenue. 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.
“When we invest in women, we invest in the future; communities prosper, economies thrive and the next generation leads with purpose,” says Karen Quintos (pictured above), EVP and chief customer officer at Dell Technologies.
In partnership with IHS Markit, Dell launched the WE Cities Index in 2017 to benchmark and rate cities on their ability to attract and support HPWEs. The index analyzes and compares 50 cities on the impact of local policies, programs and characteristics in addition to national laws and customs to help improve support for women entrepreneurs and the overall economy. Two years later, they’ve re-ranked those cities to measure their progress and the new findings indicate positive change in all markets and a promising race to the top. Karen Campbell, Consulting Associate Director of IHS Markit explains “the 2019 Dell WE Cities report is unique from other bodies of research in that it not only ranks 50 global cities on their ability to foster women entrepreneurs, it shows how the cities have improved from their 2017 benchmark.”
The index assesses five key characteristics: Capital, Technology, Talent, Culture and Markets. These pillars are organized into two groups — operating environment and enabling environment. The overall rating is based on 71 indicators; 45 of which have a gender-based component. Individual indicators were weighted based on four criteria: relevance, quality of underlying data, uniqueness in the index and gender component.
“When we invest in women, we invest in the future; communities prosper, economies thrive and the next generation leads with purpose.”
It’s reassuring to see that all 50 cities listed in the index have made progress since 2017, indicating that the women’s entrepreneurship landscape is heading in the right direction. “Technology is helping to drive this progress as a gender-neutral enabler,” says Amit Midha, president of Asia Pacific & Japan, Global Digital Cities at Dell Technologies, “help[ing to] create a level playing field.”
In the top 10 cities overall, six are in the US, three are in Europe, and one (Toronto, where we are headquartered) is in Canada. Quite unsurprisingly, the tech hub of the world, the San Francisco Bay Area, took the number one spot after being number two in 2017. “This year we can see some patterns emerging,” Karen Campbell says. “Ranked cities have collectively made the most improvement in the Capital and Culture pillars, which shows the importance of measuring not just the operating environment but also enabling environment for women entrepreneurs.”
One key reason that the San Francisco Bay Area was able to overtake New York for the number one spot this year is because the Bay Area is one of the best places for women to gain access to capital. Additionally, in the area of Culture, the city moved up from 6th to 2nd — helped by the fact that women role models in the Bay Area are more visible than ever, and there are multiple initiatives that are actually taking action and achieving results to create, sustain and scale women-founded and women-led businesses.
“By arming city leaders and policymakers with actionable, data-driven research on the landscape for women entrepreneurs, we can collectively accelerate the success of women-owned businesses removing financial, cultural and political barriers.”
While it’s good to see that every city has made progress, we cannot afford to become complacent — there is still a lot of room for development. Out of a total of 100 possible points, the Bay Area only scored 63.7 points. “This data-driven approach shows where women entrepreneurs still face barriers in scaling their business,” states Karen Campbell. “It also validates the need for this kind of research and outreach to policymakers to improve the prospects for women founders.”
If we want to see big changes for women-owned businesses across the board, with cities hitting the 80+ point mark on the indices in the next few years, then we need buy-in at the international, national and local levels. Based on the findings and comparison between the 2017-2019 indices, Dell has developed a set of WE Cities Policy Recommendations focused on three areas, including:
Access to and the development of financial and human capital.
Private and public sectors role in increasing access to local and global networks and markets.
How government and business leaders can help women entrepreneurs thrive in the changing face of technology.
It’s not enough to set a goal without assessing the current situation and incrementally measuring performance to make sure things are on track. Karen Quintos believes that “by arming city leaders and policymakers with actionable, data-driven research on the landscape for women entrepreneurs, we can collectively accelerate the success of women-owned businesses removing financial, cultural and political barriers.” Hopefully, this index will encourage cities to maintain and improve their rankings, and inspire other cities that aren’t currently featured to get on the list.
Want to dig in deeper into the 2019 WE Cities Index or learn more about the work of Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network? You can find everything you need to know here.
Pride month might be over but LGBT+ visibility is needed all year round. Meet LGBT Ally Maddy Falle, producer and the Development Manager at Gearshift Films, before taking on this role she worked on television shows like Hockey Wives, NHL Revealed, and Workin’ Moms. In 2015 she was a producer on the viral short film Gay Mean Girls, that earned over 3.5 million hits on YouTube. After the success of the film, they went on to launch a queer coming-of-age web series bearing the same name.
My first job was… Managing the pet’s corner booth at African Lion Safari.
My proudest accomplishment is… Probably finishing Gay Mean Girls and delivering it when we said we would!
My boldest move to date was… Thinking I belong anywhere near a column called ‘meet a role model’
I would tell my 16-year-old self … Tostart channelling all that frenetic energy into more productive things so you’re not in as much trouble at age 15.
If I had five extra hours a day I would spend it… Can I break it up? I would work for 2, read for one, workout for one and spend one with my sisters.
My greatest advice from a mentor was… That when it comes to Producing a lot can happen in a 12 hour day so not to panic and you’re going to have bigger issues come your way so appreciate the ones you have now.
“I let personal things affect professional ones sometimes and I need to work on that.”
My biggest setback was… I don’t have a biggest but I think I let personal things affect professional ones sometimes and I need to work on that.
I overcame it by… Setting boundaries and being careful with who I hire.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… The example of consistent work ethic that I was raised around.
My favourite thing about our new series Gay Mean Girls is … That it is trying to say something in addition to being entertaining; there is a purpose to the project and supporting a creator who has something to say is all I seek to do as a Producer.
The future excites me because… I don’t know what is going to happen and I’m okay with that.
Maryann Turcke knows that her collection of career job titles seems out of the ordinary. But in the details, her path becomes clear. During her career, Maryann has moved up, down, sideways and even made a right turn, with an MBA from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, to get to her current job as chief operating officer of the NFL. Here, she shares how she did it, and her best advice for those wanting to follow in her footsteps.
By Hailey Eisen
In what may seem like an unusual career trajectory, Maryann Turcke began as a civil engineer in Kingston, Ontario — working in bridge design and construction — and ended up, three decades later, the highest-ranking woman in the National Football League.
Her path has taken her up, sideways, and even down as she’s moved into different roles and industries, both creating her own opportunities and fearlessly taking on those presented to her. It’s a strategy she recommends to the women she mentors, as well as to her own two daughters.
“My advice to women is always the same,” she says. “In order to distinguish yourself from others, it’s important to be brave enough to try things outside of where you’re traditionally comfortable.”
Maryann’s first move out of her comfort zone came in 1996, the first year Smith offered a 12-month MBA program for those working in science and technology. She had already earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering and had been working in the field for five years. She’d also had her first daughter and was looking to make a career change. Maryann decided that earning her MBA was the perfect way to get started.
Looking back, it was exactly the opportunity she needed to make a right-angle turn out of engineering and into business. After earning her MBA, she worked in management consulting, then in technology, and eventually as a freelance consultant — which gave her more time at home with her two daughters. It’s a time that she remembers fondly.
“Some of the best advice I was ever given was to make sure, during your career, that you take time to enjoy life outside of work — to fight for it if you have to.”
Returning to the corporate world, Maryann was hired by Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), and after three years was given a major promotion. “This was another pivotal time in my career as the CEO moved me from a VP to an EVP — skipping the SVP step — which was never done. He put a lot of faith in me — giving me a massive team of 12,000 guys and trucks.”
Her next move, however, was unconventional. Maryann was approached by Bell’s CEO with another offer, this time to join Bell Media.
“Some of the best advice I was ever given was to make sure, during your career, that you take time to enjoy life outside of work — to fight for it if you have to.”
“I ended up working for a peer of mine, which was a big risk for me career-wise. It was a sideways, downward kind of move, and I struggled with that decision,” she explains. But Maryann emphasizes that taking such a risk and learning something new can’t hurt your career, “I knew it would be fun and I’d learn a lot.” She eventually became the president of Bell Media, putting her on the radar in the sports and entertainment industry.
She sat on the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (owner of hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and basketball’s Toronto Raptors) and dealt with the NFL (Bell was the football league’s broadcasting partner in Canada). That eventually helped her land a job with the NFL as president, NFL Network, Digital Media, IT and Films, based in Los Angeles.
It was another new industry, and the job came with certain challenges. “I had an accelerated learning curve when it came to understanding the cultural importance of the brand and football itself here in the United States,” she says.
What she didn’t find, however, was a male-dominated workplace. The NFL is committed to diversity and equality, she says. “I’ve actually never worked with more women in my career as I do now at the NFL.”
Now in her third year with the NFL, she is the chief operating officer, working out of the league’s head office in New York City. Maryann holds a great deal of power within the organization — a privilege she doesn’t take lightly. She’s committed to elevating and enhancing the portfolios of emerging executives as the NFL works toward a commissioner succession plan.
She also recently took on the role of chair of the advisory board of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. Maryann says Queen’s runs through her blood: Her father was the university’s head of civil engineering; it’s where she earned her undergraduate degree and MBA, and both her daughters studied at Smith.
“Watching the school evolve over time has been really satisfying,” she says. “Especially when it comes to data and innovation — this is a really important time and I’m pleased to be part of it.”
Today, Maryann is able to reflect on her career with pride and gratitude. “It may seem like an odd path,” she says, “but looking back on how it all unfolded, it totally makes sense now.”
Smith School of Business has helped countless business leaders make their own right-angle career turns. Learn more about Smith’s suite of MBA programs here.
An entrepreneur at heart, Daphne De Groot was driven to create an alternative to Toronto’s outdated real estate model. Today, Daphne is the CEO of Justo — a new type of real estate brokerage. She is responsible for bringing this client-centric real estate brokerage to fruition and providing strategic oversight across the organization. Determined to bring fairness to the marketplace, she successfully developed a profitable solution for both buyers and sellers.
My first job was… as a veterinary assistant. I love animals and actually studied marine biology at university!
My proudest accomplishment is… My friends and family. I’m lucky; not everyone gets along with their families, but mine is very close-knit. I’ve also managed to maintain amazing friendships throughout my entire life, and I’m really proud of that.
My boldest move to date was… Starting my company, Justo. There is a lot of competition in the Canadian real estate industry, and a lot of very deeply rooted norms, and we’re trying to change the way things are done. Disruption takes guts!
The idea for Justo came about… because my own experience trying to buy a home in Toronto was terrible. I felt like my agent only cared about his commission, and not what I needed from him. Buying or selling a home is a huge process, and it can be stressful and challenging. I started Justo so we could give our customers a great, positive, and helpful experience.
The real estate industry keeps me excited because… it is everywhere and it touches so many different aspects of life. It incorporates aesthetics and design, culture… It’s also all about people – what they want, what they need – and helping them find a place to call home.
“Pay attention to the details. If you pay attention to the details, life becomes more interesting and more satisfying.”
It’s also a business that will never disappear because everything relates to real estate. Someone needs a place to live. Someone opens a business and needs a place to work. Someone launches an e-commerce business and needs storage. No matter what the need, people will always need places to exist, making real estate the most long term positive business cycle. That’s what makes it so fascinating. It’s like a living organism that is constantly evolving, and it differs in every country, or city, neighbourhood.
My greatest advice from a mentor was… Pay attention to the details. If you pay attention to the details, life becomes more interesting and more satisfying.
My biggest setback was… due to a lack of balance. If you are too extreme, you’ll fall off of your path. It’s important to be determined and focused but to balance that out with what you enjoy.
I overcame it by… falling. And picking myself back up again. And learning from the experience.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… understanding that you can be a good business person and still be a good person.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I have a degree in marine biology.
I stay inspired by… other entrepreneurs, who take on the challenge and fear of failure, determination and grit and all the hard work and details that need to be noticed to make something work. When you’re on the outside, you’re not aware of how much thought, time and patience is needed to create something.
The future excites me because…Justo is my baby, and watching the business grow is like watching my baby grow up. Like I would for a baby, I have dreams for Justo, what it will become and how it will evolve. It gives me great pride and joy.
My next step is… I’m not thinking about what’s next, yet. I’m still in the middle of this current step, which is growing Justo and being part of a trend that is fundamentally changing the way real estate is done.
“My mentor told me that if I want to move up, I need to start putting more effort on critical mandates. I feel like everything I do is stuff that has to get done — so I’m not sure what to do with this advice. Was it a criticism of my work? What am I missing?“
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.
I often coach my clients on how to productively handle negative feedback — but I actually don’t think this is what your mentor is offering. Focusing on critical mandates is key for advancement, and the first step is understanding what this means. It’s not about getting through your task list — everything might have to be done, but not everything is critical — it’s about putting more energy towards what will have a big impact. Here are three easy steps to do it:
Figure out what are your critical mandates.
Can you quickly list the three most important things your company needs you to deliver on? Just because a task is urgent (someone in shipping needs a signature for a package) doesn’t make it important (delivering a presentation to align peers on a critical business objective).
Colour code your calendar.
If you have three critical mandates, begin to colour code what mandate you are working on at each point in the day. A lot of people feel this sounds too tactical, but ironically, the moment you see where your daytime hours are being spent, it gets very easy to see what is keeping you away from your most important work. I challenge you to try this out for four weeks and then review your history to see what stands out to you.
Ask for support.
As you start to re-prioritize your time to focus on the most important mandates, some other things are going to naturally get less attention. As this is a growth opportunity for you, you may need to reach out to your boss to explain how you’re prioritizing critical mandates, and ask for support. She might need to delegate time intensive, low priority work to someone else, or even advise that certain tasks be set to the back burner until more critical initiatives are complete.
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.
Caroline Drees is a passionate proponent of diversity and inclusion, and has spent much of her career working to support underrepresented groups, close gender gaps and promote equality in the workplace. The Global Editor, Editorial Learning and Culture, at the global news organization Reuters, her remit includes diversity and inclusion, training, talent and career development for Reuters’ more than 2,500 staff members. Caroline has enjoyed a truly global career, working as a reporter, editor, manager and executive across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, in Europe and in the United States. Before moving to Washington in 2013, Caroline was Reuters’ managing editor and then general manager for the Middle East and Africa, including during the Arab Spring. A native speaker of English and German, Caroline also speaks Arabic and French.
My first job was… do babysitting and dog-sitting count? My first “real” paid job was a 1991 summer internship with French news service AFP’s Middle East headquarters in Cyprus, when I was sent to Lebanon to cover the release of Western hostages just a few months after its 15-year civil war ended. What an incredible introduction to international journalism!
My proudest accomplishment is…helping set up Iraq’s first independent news agency after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Working in a war zone with journalists who had never worked in a country with a free press — training them and their managers how to operate a truly independent news organization — was incredibly rewarding, and their dedication to pursuing the truth under the most adverse conditions was inspiring.
My boldest move to date was… starting to flirt long-distance with a colleague I really liked 10 years ago; we’ve been a couple for almost a decade now and live together in our Washington, DC home with our three dogs.
A defining moment in my career as a reporter was… meeting with the father of one of our journalists who had been killed doing his job. Our colleague had only been 22 when he died. His father gave me a photo of his son to make sure I’d never forget him. It’s stood on my desk ever since, and I think about him every day.
This moment reinforced my deep respect for the bravery of journalists doing the important work of reporting the truth and bringing greater transparency to our world. It also reminded me once again how fragile life is, and how important it is to live each day as fully as you can.
Speaking four languages has had an impact on my life… because it’s allowed me to see the world through a multicultural lens. It’s given me opportunities such as seeing from the frontlines in the Middle East how differently the Iraq war was seen in the region, compared to the United States. I’ve been able to interview Saudi businesswomen and stateless “Bedoons”, and everyone from far-right extremists in Austria to francophone peacekeepers in Africa. I think this multicultural lens has also helped me see my own country in a more nuanced way and allowed me to approach challenges and opportunities with eyes wide open.
The most fulfilling thing about the work I do is… working with people. It may sound cheesy, but I love the energy of working with people, feeding off each other, learning from each other. I love mentoring more junior colleagues and designing and implementing programs to support diverse talent. Call me crazy, but I also love running complex projects, juggling multiple things at once and bringing them to a productive, sustainable conclusion. Throw in time pressure and I’m happy as a clam. One of the most rewarding projects I worked on recently involved interviewing about 70 per cent of our staff – more than 1,700 people – face-to-face, all over the world, to find out what was making their work harder than it needed to be, then suggesting and implementing solutions.
“It’s normal to question whether you’re up to the task in the workplace sometimes, especially when you’re planning your next move. But the key thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and the only way you’ll know how far you can go is by stretching yourself.”
The most challenging thing about my work is… ensuring I handle crises and challenges coolly and calmly, keeping emotions in check, even when stress levels are enormous and lives are sometimes at risk.
I would tell my 21-year-old self … don’t sweat the small stuff, trust your gut and live your values. The rest will fall into place.
I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion because… simply put: businesses and society are better off with diversity. I have seen first-hand how the absence of D+I leads to alienation, disenfranchisement and inequality as well as a lack of innovation, creativity, productivity and business success. It’s also a really exciting field, with new research from economists, social scientists and others leading to a greater understanding of the ways we can embed D&I into business, with tools such as people analytics and behavioural design.
A world where we have achieved diversity and inclusion looks like this… it’s a world where everyone feels equally welcomed, involved, appreciated and productive; a world where diversity is woven into the fabric of each business, not tacked on like an afterthought; it’s a world where different people, voices, ideas and views are empowered, shared, heard, discussed and incorporated into what we do. Where businesses tap into the entire talent pool at all levels as a matter of course, and as a result, economies and societies thrive.
My greatest advice from a mentor was… that it’s normal to question whether you’re up to the task in the workplace sometimes, especially when you’re planning your next move. But the key thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and the only way you’ll know how far you can go is by stretching yourself.
My biggest setback was… I’ve been astonishingly fortunate to experience very few major setbacks. There were disappointments, sure. But nothing I felt was a major roadblock, derailer or fateful development that altered my life. Disappointments included many jobs I applied for and didn’t get over the years. But in each case, something else came along that I actually loved more!
I overcame it by…not dwelling on it. By trying to get my mind off things that got me down. Singing lessons turned out to be an amazing way to get into a good mood.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the support of family and friends.
The future excites me because… I am at a stage in my life where I feel there are so many opportunities, and there are so many new fields of work opening up. The world is becoming more inclusive despite continued setbacks, and I have the chance to work with dynamic, energetic, new generations that expect diversity and inclusion to be part and parcel of life and work. We have our work cut out for us. And that’s great!
Latha Sukumar was working as a lawyer when a personal experience led her down a new career path. She’s now the Executive Director of MCIS Language Services, a non-profit social enterprise offering translation, interpretation, and consulting to over 800 organizations across Canada — but it wasn’t always such a success. Latha shares how she came into her role and grew the business, with a mission of giving more people a voice.
By Karen van Kampen
As a summer law student working at the Crown’s office, Latha Sukumar witnessed a trial that would have a deep, lasting impact on her life. A man was charged with sexually assaulting an Iraqi woman at a church picnic. It was a difficult and emotional case, says Latha, with the Arabic speaking woman unable to tell her story.
“I felt totally helpless because I didn’t speak her language,” says Latha. “It became evident that these kinds of cases cannot be properly prosecuted if women don’t have a voice. That became a crusade for me.”
As Executive Director of MCIS Language Solutions — a non-profit social enterprise that specializes in translation, interpretation, and consulting — Latha works tirelessly to give people a voice by removing language barriers.In recognition of this unwavering vision, in 2018 she was presented with the RBC Social Change Award. It’s given to the leader of an organization dedicated to social change, that’s championing philanthropy and volunteerism in Canada.
Latha’s fight for social change began when she was a young girl growing up in India, listening to stories of oppression from her mother’s village. Stories of marital rape and widows working as menials in their own homes. Despite being very smart, her mother had to quit school when she reached puberty, forbidden to attend a mixed school with boys.
Along with her two sisters, she “grew up with the idea that women are subject to all these injustices and we have to stand up for the rights of women,” says Latha, adding that her mother “raised us to be women who were fearless.”
In 1987, at the age of 25, Latha immigrated to Canada with her husband and one-year-old daughter. “I had to go through a whole process of transforming myself,” she says. Latha cut her long hair, removed her nose ring, and began wearing Western skirts and pants.
A year later, Latha began a Master’s in Women’s Studies. “When I came here, I had to find my voice,” she says. “I had the freedom, I sensed, to be able to speak my mind, but it took a while to gain the confidence to believe that I had something important to say.”
Latha continued her studies at Osgoode Hall Law School, where she learned a more evidence-based way of thinking. “If I did not go to law school, I would have a much more rosy-eyed view,” she says. “Now I’m more practical.”
In 1996, Latha was appointed Executive Director at the non-profit Multilingual Community Interpreter Services (MCIS). “It was serendipitous,” she says. “It felt like my cause had found me.” At the time, MCIS had a staff of two-and-a-half, including Latha, operating out of a small warehouse in Scarborough. They relied solely on year-to-year government funding, which was unsustainable.
“When I came here, I had to find my voice. I had the freedom, I sensed, to be able to speak my mind, but it took a while to gain the confidence to believe that I had something important to say.”
In 2004, Latha set out to grow the organization, a feat she says she completely underestimated. “I thought as a lawyer, I had all the competence to do things,” she says. “I was so wrong.” Latha discovered that being an entrepreneur entailed reading financial statements, building streamlined operations, collecting and reading data, predicting and planning.
That year, MCIS partnered with Rotman School of Management, offering students experience at a not-for-profit. In exchange, Latha says the MBA interns shared knowledge of operations, upgrading technology, standard operating procedures, and marketing. MCIS continued the summer program for the next six years. “It was incredible learning,” she says.
As your business grows, it’s important to constantly educate yourself, to stay on top of changes within your industry, and “to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in many different ways,” says Latha. “That’s hard sometimes because you feel challenged.”
It’s also important to delegate responsibility and not “get bogged down with busy work,” she adds. “The more you grow, the more strategic you have to become. It’s important to look beyond the present and keep calibrating your company’s weaknesses, strengths and opportunities to grow to the next level.”
To stand out in the crowded space of language services, MCIS increased its training programs to ramp up capacity quickly, hired bilingual staff and ensured people had the proper security clearance. This enabled MCIS to compete for federal government contracts, and in 2015, MCIS won the contract to provide interpreter services for Syrian refugees immigrating to Canada. When the first plane landed, Latha says they were ready, deploying hundreds of Arabic speaking interpreters who also spoke English and French to work with government authorities in both Montreal and Toronto.
Today, MCIS has more than 6,000 interpreters and translators who speak more than 300 languages collectively and serve more than 800 organizations across Canada. While it hasn’t always been easy, Latha tells herself, “every day incrementally,” focusing on how she is able to make a difference in people’s lives.
Latha reflects on a woman who refused to speak for three months. Every day, an MCIS interpreter would visit the woman in a shelter, yet the woman remained silent. Then one day the woman found the courage and trust to tell her story of abuse. The case went to superior court and her husband was convicted.
“We know that we made a difference in that woman’s life,” says Latha. “Those are the stories that keep you going every day.”
The topic of “having it all” can quickly spark debate — not only about whether or not it’s possible but also about the unrealistic expectations just discussing this goal can impose on women. But, whether we talk about it or not, many of us are still experiencing the struggle of balancing work and life. Shemina Jiwani, a tech executive and mother of two, has found her own approach to having it all, centred around compromise. These are the lessons she’s learned.
By Shemina Jiwani
Can a woman have it all? I grapple with this question all the time, as I attempt to find balance in my own life between being a mother to two young children and a Chief Operating Officer for a FinTech company. I believe the answer first lies in how you define “having it all” and being realistic about it. I believe that I can have it all, with one caveat: having it all comes only when we are able to make peace with the trade-offs and compromises necessary to do so.
Women are earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, we are asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rate as men, and we are staying in the overall workforce at the same rate as men. So why do women represent only 15% of executive or senior management positions?
Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to stand on equal ground.
Eliminating Unconscious Bias
I recently took a business trip to London, England for four days, leaving my husband to care for our four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son solo. I was flying with a male colleague whose kids are the same age. I jokingly asked him if he was in trouble for leaving, as I had multiple friends, colleagues, and even my own mother tell me I shouldn’t be leaving my children. He was surprised. He replied the only opinion he was given on his trip was a pub recommendation.
Both men and women can harbour unconscious biases when hiring and evaluating for the promotion of women. Often these biases focus on women’s motherhood or even potential motherhood. For instance, it may be assumed that a woman between the ages of 20 and 40 will inevitably take maternity leave, or if she is a mother that she will prioritize family before career. Yet, even hard-working women who try to prioritize their careers will still be subject to judgements about being a bad mom or working too hard. It’s a frustrating catch-22, and it is a bias because these assumptions are not commonly made for men of the same age group.
The antidote to unconscious bias may very well be empathy. Start a dialogue by sharing your experiences with your colleagues; you may help them see things from a different perspective.
Find a Work-Life Balance
It was very difficult for me to find balance; I couldn’t unshackle myself from my own guilt and the opinions of others, even if it meant sacrificing my own happiness. This is not sustainable. Flexibility, boundaries, and self-care are essential to “having it all.”
Here are some good places to start:
Ask for what you want: I was lucky enough to adopt my son from Morocco, which meant living there for six months. Before, I would have assumed taking maternity leave was my only option. Instead, I worked remotely and didn’t lose any momentum in my career progression. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.
Establish rules of engagement: Set boundaries for yourself and others that help you be more present. For example, I leave the office at 4 PM every day, and I don’t check my phone again until the kids are asleep at 7:30 PM. For you, it might mean working from home more often, establishing flex-time, or setting a monthly travel-limit.
Find a support system: Maybe we can have it all, but we can’t always do it all. It’s also important to remember that raising kids is not only a mom’s job. I have an amazing husband who shares the load with me. Single moms may need to consider amending co-parenting plans, enlisting the help of family, or even hiring childcare. Every family is different but remember you don’t need to do it alone.
Ditch the guilt: Inevitably, you’ll miss something: a recital, a game, a meeting, a deadline… accept it and move on. Own your choices and mistakes: you’re a human being. Guilt is not productive, nor is placing too much stock in the opinions or judgements of others.
Find a Tribe: With so few women in upper management, it can get lonely. I was lucky enough to find a group of like-minded women from an accelerator program called Rise Up. I now have a network of 35 women that can truly relate to me, empower me, and help me stay on track.
You probably can’t be an effective CEO and a PTA president, but you can have it all as long as you are at peace with the compromises you need to make to do so.
Shemina Jiwani is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at AscendantFX, a technology-based payment provider. Shemina is an experienced strategic leader with a focus on aligning people with technology. Shemina is an inaugural member of Money 20/20’s Rise Up Program, a global accelerator program for women in finance and technology. Follow her on Twitter @sheminajiwani