Struggling with difficult conversations? Here’s how to ease the discomfort.

Difficult Conversation

By Amanda Hudson

Having worked with many women business leaders while running A Modern Way to Work these past eight years, one thing is abundantly clear: we don’t love having difficult conversations. Not only would most of us do anything to avoid them, those who claim to do them well generally take an “I just tell it like it is” approach that doesn’t always get them the outcomes they’re after.

It’s tough to feel in control of your business when struggling to carry out difficult conversations while keeping them productive. So, if your aim is to become a more effective business leader, it’s worth taking a closer look at why some discussions are so difficult and what you can do to ease the discomfort they cause.

Why do we find certain conversations so difficult? 

Most difficult conversations are the result of one person wanting another person to change. Not only can it be tricky to handle such a proposition diplomatically, it almost always involves a breakdown in trust. This can make the stakes for getting the conversation right—and not breaking the relationship down even further—feel exceptionally high. 

Many of the women I work with also identify as ‘people pleasers’ who don’t like the idea of upsetting others. Mix all these factors together and it’s easy to see why a simple ask that someone improve their performance can turn into a difficult conversation pretty quickly.  

Is there a legitimate way to avoid having difficult conversations?

It’s not uncommon to avoid addressing an issue we have with another person the first time it happens. In fact, many of us secretly hope that by ignoring a certain situation, it will end up resolving itself. What happens in most cases, however, is that the issue persists while the conversation required to address it becomes increasingly difficult.

There is one legitimate ‘hack’ business owners and leaders can use to avoid having a difficult conversation that doesn’t involve ignoring the issue. The next time you’re faced with an uncomfortable discussion, try assuming the behaviour you want the other person to change is completely your fault. 

As leaders, it’s easy to blame others for outcomes we don’t like or want. By accepting 100% responsibility for those outcomes instead, you’ll likely discover that shifting some of your own behaviours will get you closer to the results you’re looking for. 

3 Tips for tackling difficult conversations you can’t avoid.

If you’ve determined that a particular difficult conversation is unavoidable, here are a few strategies for making your discussion more rewarding.

  1. Know your purpose. Many people initiate a difficult conversation because they’re unhappy or annoyed with someone and want an opportunity to air their grievances. It’s important that you only enter into a difficult conversation when you’re clear on its purpose and what you want to achieve.

You’ll know you’ve identified your purpose when you can articulate what you want the other person to change in a single sentence. If your ask is unclear, they’ll never be able to meet it, and your conversation will likely only increase any tension or frustration. 

  1. Focus on gathering—not giving—information. When we initiate a difficult conversation, it’s usually because we have a lot on our minds that we want to share. But what if you entered the conversation from a different place? 

You could, for example, assume the other person wants to do a good job—rather than telling them how they aren’t living up to your expectations— and acknowledge that it’s your role to find out what’s getting in their way. Then you could make it a point to gather great information by asking open-ended questions, listening—and then listening some more. 

The truth is that the better you can understand the other person’s situation and perspective, the more likely you are to craft your message in a way that will resonate with them.   

  1. Drop your assumptions. Most of us are very good at telling ourselves stories about why someone is acting a certain way—particularly when it’s not the way we want them to be acting! One of the many things we assume about other people’s distressing behaviour, in fact, is that it’s meant to be a personal attack. 

Taking the time to identify, label, and then drop your assumptions before entering into a difficult conversation will give you an unfiltered view of what’s really going on. This open-mindedness will serve you better in turn by making it easier to see potential pathways to achieving the outcome you want.

There will always be situations where having a difficult conversation can’t be avoided. If, however, you find yourself having the same discussion with someone over and over, there’s a good chance you’re not having the real conversation that will help get the issue resolved. 

In any difficult conversation, the key to communicating well is ensuring your message is clearly understood while remaining empathetic to the receiver. To help steer ritualistic exchanges in a more productive direction, make sure you go into every difficult conversation prepared to listen and armed with open-ended questions that will help the other person feel heard and acknowledged.

Amanda Hudson

Amanda Hudson

Amanda Hudson is the founder of A Modern Way to Work, an HR consultancy and antidote to outdated HR that delivers forward-thinking recruitment services, manager training and fractional HR. She and her team are also the creators of the Difficult Conversations Card Deck, a leadership tool for navigating tough conversations with ease.

Seven tips to prepare for and get the most out of your professional portrait.

By Kathryn Hollinrake | Photos by Kathryn Hollinrake

As a professional photographer, I’ve learned there are so many little things that can impact the success of a portrait. Fortunately, some of these things are fully in your control. 

No, I don’t mean with Photoshop. It’s true almost anything can be fixed in post-production — with a certain budget. Not only is that budget rarely available for difficult problems in corporate portrait-land (my current specialty), I think it’s a waste of time and money to fix something that could have been avoided in the first place with some care and planning. 

To help you prepare for and get the most out of a professional portrait session, I’m sharing guidelines based on what I’ve encountered over 25+ years as a photographer and retoucher. I am sure some will seem, and in fact are, relevant only to some — and I hope nobody feels excluded or offended. (If you’d like a broader range of tips, you can find them on my LinkedIn and my blog.) 

I also know, from the many times I’ve been the one in the photo, that it’s not easy to just wear the right clothes, have the perfect hair and makeup, and project nothing but confidence with your pose. But with a bit of prep (and help from the right photographer) getting a shot you want to share with the world is possible. I know you will look great for your next shoot — especially if you follow all of my suggestions!

Tip #1: Breathe

Once you arrive at your photo session, breathe. Why would I say this? Because people filled with dread hold their breath. I work with people all the time who come to portrait shoots geared up for what they anticipate will be a fairly short but painful nightmare, “knowing” they are unphotogenic and they will probably hate the results. Determined to get this thing over with (and make it count!), they stop breathing.

Remember it’s your photographer’s job to help you find your way through and past this first and very real obstacle. I encourage you to embrace the idea that you are in good hands, take a deep breath or twenty, and keep breathing. Slow down, listen, and trust. When people stop breathing they tend to tense up, their shoulders go up, their neck tendons flex, and they positively, silently scream “uncomfortable!” Nothing can suck the power out of a portrait faster than the appearance of overwhelming and unmitigable discomfort. 

Tip #2: If you wear a suit, make sure that it fits. 

A portrait in which the suit fits perfectly will outshine a portrait featuring a lumpy suit every time. This might seem obvious, but for many of us it can be incredibly difficult to find a jacket that doesn’t bunch and pull in various spots. I have photographed myself to illustrate blog posts and articles for years now, and I always start with a jacket I’m pretty sure fits fine — but often discover it does something in a photograph that I consider distracting and unacceptably imperfect. You can try posing and pinning to mitigate wrinkles, but sometimes it is impossible to get rid of them. They make successful retouching too difficult and time consuming to be practical, especially if the suit fabric is textured or patterned.  

How do you know if it fits? Make sure you can comfortably do up a button. You will look more polished and pulled together with a neatly closed jacket. You will feel more confident if you are comfortable and you know you look good. And if your portrait is cropped as a head and shoulders image, your face will be nicely framed by the ‘v’ of the neckline. If you are not sure what works best, and time allows, bring options for your shoot. 

Tip #3: Higher necklines are always the safer option.  

Ideally a neckline will be fully contained within the frame of a portrait. This way your wardrobe helps to frame your face and the viewers eyes aren’t pulled off the edge of the frame. It is not terribly unusual to find that the neckline of a top that seems business appropriate in real life disappears off the bottom edge of a typical head and shoulders portrait crop. This can catch people by surprise, as can the apparent disappearance of the top under a jacket when that jacket is closed; we generally want the jacket closed to make a nice ‘v’ to frame the face. 

My advice is to play it safe and opt for a higher neckline, and remember, you can think beyond tops. If you have a dress that works — even if it’s one you’d never wear to work — try wearing that. With a head and shoulders portrait nobody cares what’s going on below the crop. 

Tip #4: Wear long sleeves for head and shoulders portraits.

If you plan to wear a dress or top without a jacket, avoid short sleeves for head and shoulders portraits. Why? The crop is probably going to be somewhere above your elbow. As such, it can be a bit distracting for viewers if the bottom left and right corners feature the skin of your arms, especially if your skin is noticeably lighter or darker than your clothing. 

As for sleeveless dresses or tops, it’s pretty universally advised to avoid them for business portraits. Some companies’ corporate photo guidelines even expressly forbid them. Long sleeves will almost always be the most flattering and most professional looking option. 

Tip #5: Work with a professional makeup artist.

There are typically three options for portrait makeup: DIY (free), department store makeup counter (token product purchase), and professional makeup artist (professional fee). Whichever option your budget allows, remember what you are trying to do: Show your best authentic self to the world, refreshed and maybe a bit enhanced. You don’t want to end up looking unrecognizable. 

In my experience, a professional is worth the investment to meet that goal. A good make-up artist (paired with good moisturizer and communication!) can help you show up as your best self while still looking like yourself. That means wearing just the right amount of make-up for you, wherever that is on the spectrum — from full glam to practically none. 

With the same goal of authenticity in mind, try to avoid getting a haircut from a new stylist right before you get a new portrait done. A professional make-up artist may be able to rescue you, but if not, I think most people know the potential for distress and disappointment here. I have seen it! 

Tip #6: Keep jewellery simple.

Unless you are a jeweller looking to advertise your work via your business portrait, then the general guideline is to stick to more understated jewellery. I acknowledge the welcome movement towards people bringing their whole, unique, authentic selves to work, personal style and all. But the most consistently you part of you is your face. So to a large extent that’s where you want people’s focus. The added advantage of wearing subtler jewellery is that it will be less likely to date your portrait when styles change. While Fashion magazine’s May 2022 issue said that “statement necklaces are back in style,” I suggest that this be considered less relevant to us in business portrait world. Avoiding wearing trendy jewellery or wardrobe is one good way to stave off having to do a new professional portrait every year.

Tip #7: Lean in. 

Yes, this one’s really simple. Particularly when someone is really not excited or is, more accurately, filled with dread at the idea of being photographed, but is also committed to doing their best to get through it. Their default posture can be rigid, back straight up and down, chin sucked in, at attention! But this stance can make people look timid, uptight, and freaked out. You may be all these things, but you don’t want to look like it!

You can make great headway towards appearing to be the total opposite by merely leaning in. You want to look relaxed, confident, and engaged, and step one to appearing to be those things is a bit of a tilt forward, back still straight, shoulders back, hinging from the hips, allowing the chin to come forward a wee bit so the angles of your jawline will be nicely defined above your tension-free and extra-chinless neck.

Tip #7: Lean in. 

Yes, this one’s really simple. Particularly when someone is really not excited or is, more accurately, filled with dread at the idea of being photographed, but is also committed to doing their best to get through it. Their default posture can be rigid, back straight up and down, chin sucked in, at attention! But this stance can make people look timid, uptight, and freaked out. You may be all these things, but you don’t want to look like it!

You can make great headway towards appearing to be the total opposite by merely leaning in. You want to look relaxed, confident, and engaged, and step one to appearing to be those things is a bit of a tilt forward, back still straight, shoulders back, hinging from the hips, allowing the chin to come forward a wee bit so the angles of your jawline will be nicely defined above your tension-free and extra-chinless neck.

Kathryn Hollinrake

Kathryn Hollinrake

Kathryn Hollinrake has been “making people and things look pretty” as a professional photographer for over twenty-five years after graduating at the top of her class with a Bachelor of Technology in photography from TMU (then Ryerson). During her long and diverse career she worked briefly for Kodak, then started her business as a commercial and editorial photographer shooting everything from food to dogs to people, shot weddings, produced and exhibited fine art, acted in TV commercials and finally found her tribe in corporate and portrait photography where she collaborates with businesses and individuals to make their branding imagery shine. To learn more about Kathryn’s work, connect with her on LinkedIn or find her online at

Are you stuck in the expertise gap?

By Cloé Caron

Through my many years of coaching and management experiences, I have come to realize that most leaders, from first line to C-Suite, experience the same struggle: they find it difficult to step out of their expert role to focus on their leadership role. Rather than play at the right level, they get stuck in what I call ‘the expertise gap.’ 

How do you know if you’re in the expertise gap? You feel you must know all the answers, make most of the decisions, and be part of many meetings. You think getting involved in the daily grind will get things done and set the pace for the team, so your To-Do list gets filled with expert operational tasks. And you don’t have time to get the most important strategic stuff done — like reflecting, setting orientations and goals, creating strategies, giving feedback, and owning your development and that of the team.

To help leaders grow out of the expertise gap and focus on the true impact they can have, I have developed the Unique Strategic Contribution (USC) concept. It allows you to focus your intention and attention in the right place, maximizing your impact on a day-to-day basis. 

Generally, if you’re not doing what you should, you’ll feel it. You will shortly become overwhelmed by your workload. And that is a sign that you should be defining your USC. 

What is a Unique Strategic Contribution?

Your USC determines your contribution at your highest strategic level — what only you can and should achieve on your team. It is the element on which you should focus your attention and energy to create the most strategic impact in your organization.  

There might be many responsibilities you can and are able to do, but do they create the most impact? Are they at the core of your role?

For example, as a manager, what should you focus your attention on? Is it managing your agenda? Is it the daily emergencies of clients? Should you rather focus on giving your team a goal and sense of direction so that they know where they need to go? Should you rather focus on creating a work climate where they can strive and succeed, where you coach them so they can learn and grow?

Defining your own Unique Strategic Contribution will help you take a step back and look at the bigger picture of your daily focus.

Determining your own USC  

First, take the time to answer the following questions:

  • What is the ‘’why’’ of my role? 
  • In my team, what is it that only me can and should accomplish? 
  • What should be my contribution to my team and organization, at its highest strategic level possible?  

This exercise may not be easy at first. If it’s difficult to determine what only you in your team should do, think of it in terms of the impact you want and need to have. Having experienced it in many organizations, I know that determining your USC will change your state of mind and allow you to achieve results you did not think possible at first.   

You can now fill the following sentence to get you started: 

My USC is to ______________ in order to create ______________ and influence my team by______________.

You can also think about your team’s Unique Strategic Contribution. What is the thing only your team can do in the organization? How is your own USC aligned with your team’s?

Are you up for the USC Challenge?

It’s not easy for a leader to focus on their USC because our expertise gap often takes over. We want to give the answer, to make the decision, and to be involved in the operations because we often know the “how to” (or we think we do). I face this challenge in my own leadership role, and have to remind myself: Is this how I should be focusing my attention? 

To focus on your USC, you must delegate, rethink where you spend your time, and challenge your priorities — even when it isn’t easy. Otherwise, you will not be able to create the real impact you want to have in your organization. You must therefore learn to make room for your team so that each member can make decisions in their field of expertise and at their level.   

As your coach, allow me to challenge you:

  • Should you be attending all the meetings in your agenda?
  • Which decisions should you leave up to your team?
  • Which responsibilities and projects should you be delegating?

The advantages of the USC 

Once your USC is determined and you decide to put your focus on it, you will discover that you have time in your schedule to do the things that are core to your role. This will contribute greatly to making your team more accountable. It will give you a clearer vision of the impact you want to have, and it will make it easier for you to establish and track your KPIs to measure whether you are achieving your USC.

Your mindset will shift, enabling you to say “no” to what does not belong in your USC and say “yes” to what really matters to your team and organization. You will waste less energy on issues that do not help you make the impact you want to make. You will feel you are playing your role at its highest level, which will be fulfilling for you and create value for your organization. 

So, I’ll ask again: are you stuck in the expertise gap? Get started on your Unique Strategic Contribution!

Cloé Caron

Cloé Caron

President and founder of o2Coaching, Cloé is an executive coach, podcaster, and author. In her latest book, Dare to Empower — Women in the Lead, she helps professional and entrepreneur women operate five essential shifts to gain confidence to fully empower their career and their business for maximum growth and impact​.

Five tips to position yourself for a board seat — from the chairperson of two boards.

Kristi Honey

By Kristi Honey

As chairperson of two boards, I’m often asked: “How do I get started in governance?”

When I get questions from ambitious women about how to position their profile and professional brand, and see more success in their professional lives, “giving” is often my answer. It pays dividends to give back to the community and those around you, and provides a way to build your professional circle and brand. I suggest people examine their own communities for opportunities first. In today’s virtual age, there are still numerous ways to contribute, while also building your own portfolio.

I had to learn this myself too.

In my 20’s, when I had my own tech startup businesses, I quickly learned the more I gave without expectation, the more meaningful connections, and opportunities I received. When I attended events and met people, I spent time listening and getting to know them, versus waiting for a pause to get in my own elevator speech. By taking an altruist mindset — genuinely concerning myself with the happiness and welfare of others — I noticed that others genuinely wanted to partner on opportunities, work together, and support one another in purposeful ways in return.

By establishing long-term and sincere relationships, I was able to be introduced to new people and grow my network. This led to opportunities to get involved with local groups, such as Girls Inc. of Durham, the Optimist Club of Brooklin, and Whitby Chamber members. By volunteering my time and expertise locally, I developed a reputation for myself. I became known for my bright, positive, and giving nature.

After my first meeting, I shared with a friend, “I want to be the Chair of the Board one day.” She laughed and said, “You’re not an old white man.” It was all she had ever seen.

Through my experience of being recognized and awarded the Durham College Alumni of Distinction award in 2008, I knew that I wanted to be on their board of governors. This would allow me to give back to a local institution that has a tremendous impact on the community and economy where I both live and work.

I applied for the Durham College Board of Governors in 2009 and was invited to an interview. As a busy wife, mother, and entrepreneur, I hadn’t spent the necessary time learning good board governance or understanding governance models, and naturally when these questions were asked, I wasn’t able to answer them fully. That was a learning experience for me — I knew I needed to sharpen my skills in this area, and gain board experience.

Over the next several years, I stayed in touch with the President of Durham College who I had met in 2008. I sent hand-written annual holiday cards and connected when we attended the same events — whether virtually or in person. In 2014, I applied again, and this time I attended the interview fully prepared. I had also pre-established relationships with others on the board and had gained the necessary experience and governance expertise.

By 2015, I was appointed to the board. After my first meeting, I shared with a friend, “I want to be the Chair of the Board one day.” She laughed and said, “You’re not an old white man.” It was all she had ever seen. Four years later, I was nominated and then elected by my fellow peer governors as Vice-Chair and in 2021, I became the Chair of the Board.

Last Fall I was appointed as the Chairperson of the Board for the College Employer Council, the governing body that oversees collective bargaining for the 24 colleges in Ontario, which includes all Ontario College Board Chairs and Presidents. Chairing a board of more than 50 people virtually is a new challenge, and I am taking the same principles of finding ways to connect with and support others, while listening and learning.

Here are my top five tips to help you position yourself to get a seat around today’s boardroom table:

1. Build your profile, establish your brand, keep focus.

  • Mindfully and purposefully identify your passion. In today’s world, time is our most valuable commodity — especially while balancing home and career responsibilities. We can’t be passionate about everything. Focus on what lights you up and has meaning to you.
  • Ensure your online and in-person persona align. When you post on social media or are asked to participate in speaking engagements, be purposeful and ensure it relates back to your passion, the industry you are targeting, or your key priorities/messages.  If you aren’t asked to speak, volunteer! Step out of your comfort zone and ask to be on panels within your community or workplace.

2. Grow your network by supporting others.

  • Find ways to help and support others (ask if you need to). Helping others is one of the best ways to establish connections, meet new people, and create a good, reliable reputation for yourself. 
  • Be intentional by introducing yourself to others and attend virtual or in-person events where there are key attendees you want to meet. In virtual spaces, just as in real life, you don’t need to dominate chat rooms — instead have a meaningful presence, listen actively, and support others (think quality over quantity).
  • Identify key contacts by learning who the influencers are on the board(s) you are targeting. If you are able, find out what they are passionate about and use this knowledge when you meet them to engage in conversations of interest to them. If you are able, find and share common interests.

3. Get involved in your community.

  • Volunteer your time and expertise, particularly to organizations that align to your passion, and where key influencers will be in attendance.
  • Attend local virtual and in-person events and be visible in your own authentic way. You don’t have to be the person that “works the room” to be visible. Meet the people at your table, in break-out virtual rooms, and establish one or two meaningful connections. Find out what others are passionate about and seek ways to help or support them first without any expectation in return.
  • Stay connected by mailing personal thank you or holiday cards when you’ve worked with someone in the community, or you’ve received assistance or support from others. If you hear of another’s accomplishments, send a hand-written congratulations card to recognize them.  I mail 2-3 hand-written cards weekly to staff, colleagues, community members and sometimes to people I’ve never met who impress me. Pro-tip: keep a list of who and when you send cards and card’s sentiment to ensure you aren’t sending multiple cards to the same person (whoops, I’ve done it!).

4. Invest in your own learning.

  • Take courses or self-study good governance, learn the different governance models (for example, working, traditional, hybrid, policy (Carver)), and be ready to answer questions on good governance during board interviews. 
  • Attend public board meetings and/or read the previous agendas and meeting minutes, particularly if there is a board you’d like to learn more about or apply to.
  • Always read the organization’s strategic plan and priorities, annual report, and most recent news articles.
  • Engage a recruiter and join a forum or community, such as Women of Influence, Women Get on Board, Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), or Next Gen Board Leaders.

5. Be a mentor.

  • Be a mentor to support and lift others. Offer growth opportunities for those you mentor, introduce them to your contacts, and grow their network.
  • Recognize exceptional contributions, celebrate the wins of others, and nominate people for awards — without asking or expecting anything in return. 
  • By supporting others, your network will also grow, and you will continue to learn (and because it just feels so good to do!).

Recognize it takes time. Be strategic and patient. Don’t give up. Getting on a board is a journey and through giving and purposeful interactions, you will position yourself for success.


Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey is the Chief Administrator for the Township of Uxbridge and Chairperson of both the Durham College Board of Governors and College Employers Council Board. She has led several startup businesses to their successes and is a champion for education, the environment, and the economic empowerment of women and human rights.

How to know when it’s time to go.

Kimberly B Cummings

By Kimberly B. Cummings

Not every opportunity is a great one. This may be an unpopular opinion that perfectly fits into the “millennial mindset” that many other generations frown upon, but I’m going to say it anyway: You don’t have to stick it out. If you are unhappy, feel like your growth is being stunted, or learn there is a proverbial glass ceiling at your job that does not support your growth, you do not have to stay.

Like Jim Rohn once said, “If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.” Sometimes, leaving a job can seem like an easy decision. However, I want you to be strategic and allow this to be a conscious decision, not just because you are frustrated, feel underemployed, undervalued, and underappreciated, which are all valid reasons, but because you are consciously choosing to embark on a job search to ultimately find a career for yourself, rather than just another job.

Before some folks tear me to shreds for encouraging you to leave your job, I will share that I believe it’s important to exhaust your options and have a strategic career conversation before leaving. I also do not advocate leaving a job before you have another one lined up unless it’s an extremely dire circumstance or you have six months to a year’s worth of savings and you like playing Russian Roulette. Before submitting your letter of resignation, it’s important to have honest conversations about your career trajectory with your manager or skip leader.

  • Ask for feedback about your performance from your manager or skip leader.
  • Understand the trajectory of your career at your current company.
  • Understand the current climate of your industry and how that would impact a job search at that time.
  • Ensure you have built strategic relationships with mentors and sponsors who can advocate for your next career move, regardless of whether it is internal or external to your current company.

Before making a career move, I stress to my clients that the work needs to begin well before any moves are made. This theory is one of the main reasons that I wanted to write this book! Too often, we try to fast track the next move because we’ve reached a certain place in the current role where we feel we can no longer be happy. If you are already at that place and know it’s time to go, I will not advocate for you to stay.

“You can create a career that rewards you with opportunities, rather than waiting for someone in your current company to tap you on your shoulder and indicate it’s time for you to rise.”

It wasn’t until I was preparing for my fourth professional move that I felt myself make a truly strategic career decision. Earlier I had shared that I was performing well — basically overperforming. I was also in classes to complete my Master of Science in counseling that required an external internship, all while innovating various ideas and strategies that the career-development office was working toward executing. I exceeded my goals, but my manager felt I had untapped potential and could further exceed my goals. It goes without saying that I was pissed. I was angry beyond measure. I had worked so hard that year. I could not understand why I was not being promoted when others in the office received promotions while doing less work and made fewer contributions to the office than I had in the past year.

At that moment, I felt that I had to take control of my career versus waiting to be recognized and provide an opportunity to myself. Women and people of color often wait to be recognized as high performers to be promoted and rise to the next level in an organization. I want you to switch that mode of thinking. You can create a career that rewards you with opportunities, rather than waiting for someone in your current company to tap you on your shoulder and indicate it’s time for you to rise. This is why having this book in your hands is so important. We need tactics in our careers, so we know what to do.

This was the first time I felt like I truly made a strategic move in my career and not just moving because I was unhappy or simply believed my time had come to an end with a certain employer. I was performing at an organization, doing work that I thought was meaningful, and was excited to continue to excel as a leader in the industry. I had to sit back and think, “How can I grow my career in the same field but just not at this organization?”

“It’s essential to understand when it’s time to leave and assemble a career strategy that allows you to be ready at all times.”

It’s essential to understand when it’s time to leave and assemble a career strategy that allows you to be ready at all times. You should always have options, even if you are happy in a job. Options don’t always have to look like a way out either. Each new relationship you build may provide you with options. Each task you complete in your career strategy may provide you with new possibilities. Each time you add a new skill to your toolkit, you are creating an option. That is why developing a career strategy is so important. Logging into your work computer each day with your head down, hoping that change will happen, is the farthest thing from an option. If you are on the fence about embarking on a job search, there are several reasons that you may think it’s your time to go.

Let’s examine the seven most common reasons that may serve as signals to either start your job search to get a new job or have a serious conversation about getting promoted or increasing your current responsibilities.

1. Suddenly feeling bored at work.

I’m not talking about being bored on a particular assignment or if things are slow in the office and you find yourself doing more online shopping than working. I’m talking about that feeling of being bored to your core, and you feel like you are still exceeding the organization’s goals, but your mind craves more. The example I like to give is about a mother’s feeling that her child needs more learning opportunities. She can see that her child has an aptitude for more, and she looks for additional books and resources, or it’s time for her child to go to school even though he or she is only three and not ready to go to preschool. Moms talk about seeing the “light bulb” turn on in their child and knowing they need to do more for them because watching Frozen for the 28th time will not cut it. The same goes for your career. If you are bored beyond belief because you’ve mastered your role, and this boredom is also causing overall dissatisfaction, the time has come for you to think about your next move.

2. You have been there for a while, but you feel like you finally started to outgrow your work.

If you’ve accomplished all there is to accomplish in your position, and you begin to feel constrained by your title and role, it may be time to start looking for options. Maybe you need to have a discussion with your manager about a power lateral or promotional opportunity, or maybe it’s time to start looking at job boards if you know upward movement is not a possibility for you in your current company. The key is knowing you have done all you could do within the constraints of the role you currently hold.

3. If you put in the time, but the pay still isn’t where it should be. 

Maybe you negotiated to the best of your ability, but two solid years have passed, and you are a consistent, high performer, yet you have not received more than a cost of living increase. The key is ensuring you put time into your role and you’re performing well because you cannot complain about a pay level you accepted when you were hired, especially when you haven’t put in enough time to showcase your professional value. Once you have been in a job for at least a year, observed how the business operates year-round, and you’ve mastered your job, it’s more than acceptable to start looking for money inside and outside of your company. However, having the experience and impact to back that desire to increase your salary is essential. Many professionals have had a situation in which they quickly said “yes,” and were excited about a job opportunity but realize they would be underpaid but that is not enough in this case.

4. Having a conflict in the office that is not fixable. 

This is tough. Sometimes, conflicts at work are difficult to navigate. If you’ve had a conflict with a manager or co-worker that is truly affecting your ability to perform in your job, then you may want to consider your options. However, I am a huge advocate for making sure you find a job before leaving your current job. It also helps to develop relationships with other colleagues to make sure you are guaranteed a quality recommendation, if needed. There are many types of conflicts that can happen in the office. It goes without saying that if it’s impacting your work, your ability to continue contributing, or someone is retaliating against you, you must go through the proper channels, generally through your human resources office, to document and share this. However, there may come a time when it may be best to either leave the department or leave the company to pursue your next role in an environment that supports your growth.

5. You work for a department or company you do not like. 

There is no use in working for a department or company that you cannot stand to be in for 40-plus hours per week. If you know you do not support the mission, the vision, or the work you are completing every day, it may be time to leave. Even if the economy may not be great or you feel as though the job you are looking for may be hard to come by, this must be a strategic move. Do not just pack up and quit today. Start applying for positions in other departments in your current company that could make you happy or at a new company that you feel aligns with your career strategy and has what you need to thrive. When it comes to making career decisions, consider everything involved– the people, company, your work, and the trajectory you will have when doing this work. All those factors come into play.

6. Circumstances in your personal life make your job harder.

Changes in your personal life can be even harder if your job is making it more difficult. Maybe you got married and with your spouse bought a house that is super far from work. Maybe you were thinking of starting a family and know your office could care less about work-life balance for its employees. Maybe you have a health concern, and the long hours and late nights in the office won’t allow you to care for yourself properly. Maybe COVID-19 significantly impacted your responsibilities for your family and you need to reevaluate your work situation. Those are all valid reasons, and there are probably hundreds more, that can make it time for you to start thinking about navigating and building a career that supports your current life stage. Evaluate whether you can do anything to stay at your current job if you would like to stay, such as reduced hours, an alternative schedule, or a permanent remote arrangement. Still, if your current job does not fit your lifestyle, it may be time to think about leaving.

7. You’ve found out there’s a glass ceiling at your company. 

If you’ve hit a glass ceiling at your job, and you know there is no possible way for you to get promoted, develop further, and reap any of the benefits that that company provides, you may need to explore outside opportunities where you can spread your wings. One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Barbara Ross Lee, a nationally recognized expert on health policy issues. Dr. Lee spoke at a women’s leadership dinner when I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree, and she said, “When you feel that you’ve hit a glass ceiling, find a bigger room.” There is always the option to take your next move outside of the company.

Excerpted from Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love by Kimberly B. Cummings. Copyright © 2021 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ. All rights reserved.
Kimberly B. Cummings

Kimberly B. Cummings

Kimberly B. Cummings is a career and leadership development expert as well as an accomplished speaker and podcast host. Her mission is to empower women and people of color get seen in the workplace, make more money, and become industry leaders. Founder of Manifest Yourself, LLC, Kimberly provides organizations with tailor-made solutions to hire, develop, engage, and retain women and people of color. Her book, Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning into a Career You’ll Love, teaches professionals how to navigate the working world.

Good Question: Can contradictory personality traits combine to become super powers?

In a special edition of Good Question, we’re sharing an excerpt from When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership. The book is unconventionally co-authored — through an exchange of emails — by Harvey Schachter, a management columnist, and Sheelagh Whitakker, a board member and retired CEO (notably, the first woman CEO of a TSX listed company). The pair have never met, but through emails share what they have learned over the years while challenging conventional wisdom on notions of ambition, success, ethics, getting communication right, gender at work, and legacy. In Chapter 10, they both explore a very good question: can contradictory personality traits combine to become a superpower? You can use the same exercise to meet your oxymoronic self — and perhaps discover that your contradictions aren’t self-defeating.



Sheelagh WhittakerSheelagh Whittaker
Retired CEO, board member, and author. 

Sheelagh Whittaker loves to laugh. A savvy strategist and CEO, shrewd observer of the zeitgeist, and engaging storyteller — imparting wisdom from her invariably humorous stories — she rose to corporate top echelons back when people thought the glass ceiling was an observation deck. She has served as CEO, board member, and mother in Canada, the US, Britain and Australia. Her co-author, Harvey Schachter, is the dean of management column writers. Specializing in leadership, management and workplace issues, Harvey curates and synthesizes business how-to books and missives full of purported insights, and directs the reader to those worth consideration. Trenchant and practical, his delivery is sensitive to his reader’s need for insights delivered in small doses.


Hi Sheelagh,

Journalist Stewart Alsop called Bill Gates a “practical visionary.” That’s an odd combination, an oxymoron. But if he had just been a visionary without that practical side, he may not have been as successful as he was. If he had just been practical, there would be no Microsoft powerhouse today. The oxymoronic combination of traits was critical.

Walmart founder Sam Walton embodied not one but three critical paradoxes. He was relentlessly focused on winning but totally flexible and willing to try anything that seemed reasonable. He was creative but also willing to copy anything that worked well elsewhere. And he was an excellent motivator, willing to give people space to try out their own ideas but he also checked up on everything anyone did.

That comes from a 1997 sleeper book I loved, Paradoxical Thinking by Jerry Fletcher and Kelle Olwyler, which argues “the route to sustaining high performance is to consciously and actively encourage yourself to be paradoxical.” 

To find your core personal paradox, they suggest listing your personal qualities and characteristics – at least twenty – such as the types of actions you like to take, roles you like to play, and words that might be used to describe you. Then combine those into paradoxical pairs using oxymorons. For example, in one workshop they unearthed the following from participants:

  • attack sheep
  • lazy do-it-all
  • spontaneous planner
  • ruthless helper
  • creative imitator
  • passionate robot
  • hesitant risk-taker
  • velvet jackhammer
  • insecure tower of strength
  • ambitious slowpoke

Look for combinations of words on your list that are already opposites. You may, however, need to invent a phrase to describe yourself. The authors note that names of animals can be helpful – shy and timid making you a mouse, powerful and fearless turning you lion-hearted.

You’ll probably be uncomfortable with some of the characteristics you’ve named. “If one side of your core personality paradox seems like a limitation, you probably have felt for much of your life that you ‘shouldn’t’ act that way or you would be ‘better off’ if you were different. It is likely that you have tried to suppress or eliminate that quality of your personality. Yet this is not the direction to go,” they insist. 

Instead, reset your perceptions by listing the positives and negatives of the preferred and disliked sides. From those, develop a high-performance oxymoron combining the best of both sides, and a negative oxymoron combining the not-so-goods. In an example in the book, a woman defines herself as a “self-doubting overachiever,” liking the overachiever but disliking the self-doubting element. However, when she completes the self-examination, her high-performance oxymoron is quite helpful: “Thoroughly prepared expectation exceeder.” The nightmare scenario, though, is when she becomes a “hopeless wheel-spinner.” She has to try to be the former and not the latter.


When I first read the book and for many years afterwards, I considered myself a “gentle tiger.” I still do, but recently I have focused more on a newer oxymoron: “rebellious loyalist.”

What about you? 


Hi Harvey,

I’d be interested in understanding your loyalties.

Meanwhile, I had a lot of fun with performance oxymorons. Right off I tried on “likeable bitch” with a good friend of mine who responded quickly but kindly, “Sheelagh, we are who we are. But maybe there are other ways to phrase it.”

Undaunted, I experimented with “irrepressible?” and came up blank. I guess I am simply irrepressible.

Other ideas included:

  • insightful boss
  • feminine feminist
  • ambivalent disciplinarian
  • effervescent recluse

While playing with performance oxymorons I was reminded of a very clever job category that existed in EDS – that of EDS Fellow.

EDS Fellows could be described as corporate individual performers. Early on, someone (maybe Ross Perot himself) recognized that we needed to attract and nurture brilliant mathematical and operations research minds to help us stay ahead of the game. Clearly, we did not want these people to spend their time managing others. We could handle that; we wanted them to spend their time experimenting and coming up with new ideas. 

A career path entitled Individual Performer was created, to which a very special class of IT artiste could aspire to be promoted. An EDS Fellow had the status, salary and perks of a vice president and no mundane day-to-day responsibilities. It was a brilliant solution to a motivation and retention problem and the EDS Fellows were revered by the organization.

I’ve got it – “irrepressibly curious.”


Hi Sheelagh,

You never follow the rules, do you?

But maybe you’re, as they say, aligned! Unlike me.

I’ve always worried my contradictions hinder my leadership, compared to others who are not as divided within themselves. The book offered me hope that maybe my contradictions aren’t self-defeating. You may be the model I need to follow. Together, we are probably an oxymoron.



Why we need time to disconnect — and how leaders can (and should) make it happen.

A woman relaxing with a book and tea.

By Christine Laperriere

Do you regularly shut off your devices and “leave work”? Do you have specific and agreed-upon hours in which you are no longer “on-call” for answers to work questions? Are you thankful you are not working 24/7 these days like others you know? If you couldn’t answer yes to at least one of these questions, you might need the right to disconnect.

It appears that before the pandemic, many of us were overwhelmed with the demands of work. I was so frustrated with this problem, I chose to write, in my spare time, a book entitled Too Busy to Be Happy. Thousands of people worldwide bought it, and many admitted that it was the book’s title that caught their attention. It was like I had identified a feeling that so many people had but couldn’t articulate. Ironically, some who have bought my book are — wait for it — too busy to read it.

Then came the pandemic — which forced hundreds of thousands of knowledge workers (a clever new name for office workers) into their homes, stuck behind their computers for hours on end. This had another massive impact on the way people worked.

When knowledge workers shifted to work-from-home, you could encapsulate the new phenomenon that developed in one catchphrase: “If I’m awake, I’m working.” Many employees were not accustomed to working from home and wanted to let their bosses know they were indeed working, so they fought to respond to email and text messages as quickly as possible (i.e. what I like to call digital facetime). With that, serious challenges started to arise:

  1. People did not get more productive. Although people felt they were “always on,” they didn’t have dedicated time to focus and accomplish more significant tasks because meetings filled their days. Any significant blocks of time were fractured. High-value tasks were constantly being stopped and started again, as people often urgently responded to non-urgent texts and emails.
  2. People extended their workday. I noticed that many people I work with started to do “high-focus work” in the evening or late at night because this became the critical time they were not meeting or responding to daily information, and they can finally focus without interruption.
  3. People felt more pressure to work around the clock. As more people started tackling mission-critical work in the evenings, those who were not online started to feel like maybe they should be. As some played late-night catch-up, other well-intended employees felt like maybe this was the expectation. I don’t blame those who posted late-hour work—they wanted people to know how hard they were working!
  4. People stopped fully disconnecting. Ironically, many well-intended team members would see things coming in after hours and they’d opt to send a quick answer or acknowledgement. Who wants to look like one of the “slackers” who are busy eating dinner with their families or hitting their home gym for the 410th time?
  5. People burnt out. This never-ending cycle of work mixed with a global pandemic was the recipe for depression and a deep level of anxiety.

When I challenge my coaching clients to designate specific times to disconnect, they often say that they find that challenging because of the lack of alignment with those committed to digital facetime — sending messages and emails at all hours of the day. Given that most people can’t complete their full workload these days and constantly run behind schedule, they at least want to give their organization the impression that they are doing their best.

Here are a few solutions I’ve been challenging companies to implement:

  • Designate company-wide blackout hours, where no one is expected or required to be online or working (i.e. 8 pm – 8 am).
  • Allow employees to clarify their blackout hours themselves (i.e. an employee who works from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. could dedicate 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. as their “disconnect” hours.)
  • Designate meeting-free blocks of time during the work week dedicated to getting big assignments done. For example, Tuesday is meeting free or no meetings from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Why is it important to make this a cultural concept versus letting everyone manage this independently?

  • We need to remember the power of culture — people subconsciously mirror one another. Therefore, when we work in an environment where people work around the clock, even if we implement healthy boundaries—by nature—we feel either guilty or disconnected from the team in our efforts to uphold those boundaries.
  • Unspoken permission is a thing. I have noticed that culture can be powerful in setting up what feels like unspoken permission to do or say specific things. Setting the precedent that encourages people to disconnect each day—even if they choose to take a different path—will eliminate the unnecessary guilt and resentment when they choose to take a much needed break.
  • Life is short. In the last twenty months, many of us have lost or lost time with loved ones. People have been acutely aware that our time on earth is finite. And with that, many have come to enjoy regular family dinners, skipping rush hour, growing a herb garden, and seeing that even weekdays deserve moments of enjoyment.

Whether or not you’re in Ontario — a province that has just passed the “right to disconnect”  I encourage you to take the lead. Spot those hours when you will disconnect from work and be present with your friends, family, or yourself. Block out times in your day to focus on what matters at work and unhook from the need to respond to pointless emails and text messages. Last but not least, give yourself permission to enjoy any newfound peace and freedom these practices create.

Christine Laperreriere

Christine Laperreriere

Christine Laperriere is president of Leader in Motion and focuses exclusively on developing great leaders. She hosts the Best Boss Ever podcast on Apple Music and Spotify where she interviews top professionals on who their best boss ever is and why. She offers advice through her blog "The Whipp" (Wisdom, Humour and Inspiration for Professional Peeps) and she is 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.

That mystifying quality of “executive presence” — and how you can get it.

Executive woman with presence

By Gilda Joffe

How does watching a marvelous performance on stage make you feel? Curious, alert, in the zone, transformed, enthralled? And what about the performers? What keeps your eye peeled for their next move or word? What magic do they have that you wish you could emulate? 

As it turns out, it isn’t magic as we know it, but nevertheless something cloaked in a bit of mystery — it’s PRESENCE.

Presence, that indefinable something that makes you sit up and notice when someone enters a room. Something about them, the way they carry themselves, move, or speak, intrigues you and keeps your eyeballs following their every move.

I’m remembering two very well-known women ballet dancers from a bygone era that showed up long ago to the Carnegie Hall stage door where, as a great lover of dance, I had attended a performance. With a side eye and trying not to stare, I noticed that they (who had seemed so tall and magnificent on stage in their youth), were now, because of advanced age, quite diminished. However, with postures like giraffes, coupled with commanding presence, they swept in with an air of royalty!

The presence that you wish to develop, however, is far different. 

Not the alienating sort, but very much the opposite — the kind that can produce an amazingly powerful positive effect on your career. The ambiance you create around yourself determines instantly how people see you, and how they will consciously or unconsciously begin to relate with you.

So, what is this Executive Presence, and why is it important?

Shortly said, executive presence is a charismatic quality which enables others to feel trust, respect, confidence and real interest in the decisions and ideas of the person who possesses it. Furthermore, it is not a luxury to have, but a prized necessity in work and life which directly influences the productivity and advancement of an organization, and tremendously affects self-development. 

When you develop executive presence, it has a ripple effect on the people around you in whatever type of organizational fishbowl you swim, because your attitudes and behaviors:

  • Instill confidence in the person to whom you are speaking — making it easier for them to feel heard, understood, and ultimately psychologically safe to share their ideas. (It’s not hard to see how this relates to creativity, whether individually or in teams.)
  • Allow others to feel your genuine respect, thereby enabling them to mirror that respect back to themselves, and their colleagues.
  • Let you present a clear vision in an inspiring and authentic manner.
  • Show that you are able to communicate skillfully — not by fear-based demands, but by creating an atmosphere of trust and opportunity.
  • Are examples to others of how not to be afraid of mistakes, since by watching you they learn that owning up to mistakes is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Let you handle challenges with dignity and poise, qualities which affect the productivity and emotions of those in your surroundings.

And how does Executive Presence help you personally?

  • By taking responsibility for your emotional patterns and behaviors, you not only raise yourself to a higher level, but are able to show others how you handle chaos without falling apart or resorting to unproductive behaviors.
  • When you cultivate Executive Presence you show your capabilities to others in senior positions, helping them to keep you foremost in their minds for promotions and opportunities.
  • You learn to think more quickly under pressure, to stay calm and recalibrate yourself during or after a stressful situation.
  • Your self-confidence increases enormously in all areas of work and presentation. It IS possible to generally feel very confident even if you are overwhelmed in a specific situation.
  • It gives you a good understanding of how others might perceive you. Looking at yourself from an outside perspective is important to understand what physical or emotional impressions are coming across to others.
  • Your listening and speaking skills, crucial components of Executive Presence, vastly improve, so that you never appear flustered, out of your depth, or emotionally out of balance.
  • You dress appropriately with style and confidence, signaling to others what you think about yourself. If style is not your thing, hire someone to give you a few tips! Everyone needs a little advice now and then.
  • Taking time to ground yourself in your own presence, gives you a platform from which to read and understand your audience. And it is only from that vantage point that you can understand their needs and how to couple them with your own objectives. 

“Executive presence is quite similar to stage presence, so necessary for people in the public eye, since they both require the necessary skills to handle super-charged relationships with many different types of colleagues and listeners.”

To start developing Executive Presence, consider the following areas; they’ll help you assess how you come across to others both personally and professionally:

  • Engaging speaking skills: What is the pitch of your voice? How fast or slow are you speaking? What impact does this have on your listeners? What kind of sentence flow, vocabulary do you use?
  • Reassuring Body Language: Are you tense, closed and constricted? Or open and welcoming? Physical movements calm and reassuring or small and agitated? Facial expressions?
  • Outstanding Communication skills: Can you be assertive without being acerbic? Can you handle difficult people? Situations? Interruptions? Make decisions under pressure? Show authority without an authoritarian attitude? How are your listening skills?
  • High Confidence: Not only project it but feel it! Necessary to allow others to trust in your capabilities, and for others to feel your trust in them.
  • Personal Resilience: Are you on an emotionally and physically stable keel? or constantly stressed, with not enough sleep, and an unhelpful diet? Do you recognize that other aspects of your life are just as important for your life- as for your work?
  • Productive Action: Can you recover quickly from mistakes (we all make them) and continue on decisively with calm? Can you see the bigger picture? Create a vision for yourself and others? Do you have the passion to make a difference? Can you become a mentor to others?

Executive presence is quite similar to stage presence, so necessary for people in the public eye, since they both require the necessary skills to handle super-charged relationships with many different types of colleagues and listeners. In almost all high level professions you will find communication problems, difficult people, and knotty financial /artistic corporate decisions which must be made. Having “Executive Presence” means that you have acquired the kind of mindset which enables wiser decisions and productive actions. Being in command of yourself, before you lead others, is paramount if you wish to have successful outcomes in any career.

To sum it up, no matter what your career, on stage or off, in the boardroom, running a meeting, presenting to your angel investors, developing financial strategies or having an eye on a promotion, your presence and how you express your thoughts will be the determining factor in other people’s decisions about you and your capabilities. The advantage of taking time to develop your executive presence is clear, since it serves the expansion of your company’s horizons, as well as your personal opportunities!

In addition, the very same skills that produce results at work are those that we can use in our everyday lives. When we are secure in our own presence we can then go forward to deliver our gifts, realize our goals, and become the conduits for other’s dreams and visions as well.

What better possibility can there be?

Gilda Joffe

Gilda Joffe

Gilda Joffe, Executive Female Coach and former international performer, works with women worldwide to transform negative mindsets and fears preventing release of creative and business potential. Her 25+ years of coaching and performing experience, has helped hundreds of women to recast issues of confidence, performance anxiety, negative internal dialogues, imposter syndrome issues, into compelling executive presence. She is the author of Dancing With Your Muse: How to Release Fear and Embrace Creativity (Exisle Publishing) set for release in December 2021. Contact Gilda on LinkedIn or

5 personal branding secrets every business leader should know.

Monique Bryan

By Monique Bryan

Landing those dream clients, referral partners, speaking opportunities, publishing deals and media coverage doesn’t happen by happenstance. Some of us fail to understand that the success we see of some of our online business idols was the result of years of consistent effort, backed by strategic marketing and personal brand management. 

As PR expert Nicole Dunn says, “In establishing yourself as a brand that people trust, you’ll be able to price your goods and services at a premium, attract more media attention, be viewed as an authority in your industry and create a long-lasting platform.” 

Today, it is not enough to be an expert at what you do. It’s your job as the leader and visionary of your business to learn how to be heard and seen amongst the noisy oversaturated online arena so it’s easy for people to choose you.

Here are 5 key ways to start positioning yourself for the opportunities you want:

Secret #1: Own Your Lane And Stay In It

As the saying goes, “A confused customer never buys.” Being multifaceted and multi-passionate are great attributes to have, but we can’t expect to be top of mind for our audience in all areas at the exact same time. People don’t have the bandwidth to figure out what we do. It’s your job to tell them and then become known as the go-to in that space. The mistake some entrepreneurs make is that they diversify too soon, failing to establish credibility and trust.

Here’s a goal: Pick a lane you want to own, then be prepared to own that lane for at least five years before you start diversifying into other areas. Be good, and keep getting better. 


Secret #2: Clean Up Your Digital Houzz 

Think about the last time you hired someone for something really important, what drove your decision? Nine times out of ten it was a referral, their reputation or how they looked online. According to personal branding expert, Giuliana Tranquilini Hadade, there are over 1 billion names Googled every day, yet only one in four have any positive information on Google. It is your responsibility to ensure your online presence aligns with how you want to be perceived.

Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Remove out-of-date and unprofessional photos, websites, and content from the internet. If you don’t own the content, reach out to those who do and make the request to have it removed or have yourself untagged.
  • Replace unprofessional and out-of-date profile headshots. (See Secret #3 for how to do this.)
  • Update your social media bios so they are clear and concise. They should tell people what you do, whom you help, and how to contact you with ease. 
  • Create a personal website where you control the message going out about you. This is online real estate that you own unlike your social media profiles, which could be shut down at any time without warning.
  • Create new content and post it online on a regular basis. This will push irrelevant and old content you may want to erase to the later pages of Google.

And remember, every piece of content you put online is either adding to your brand — or taking away from it.


Secret #3: Have A Good Headshot

Headshot with tipsWe all judge a book by it’s cover, no matter how brilliant the author; however, you don’t have to be the most attractive or photogenic person to seal the deal. You do need to look trustworthy and credible. Often people are deciding if your words can be trusted based on how credible you “look.”

They have a split second to choose you over someone else, and usually, all they have to base their decision on is a small one-inch profile photo they found on your social media, so it’s your job to put your best-polished foot forward. Hop over to your profile and ask yourself, “If I were seeing me for the first time, would I hire me, based on what I see?”


Secret #4:  Show Up On Video And Share Free Content 

According to industry experts, “…no amount of sophisticated technology can ever take the place of real, live, in-person events. That’s when you can look into a person’s eyes, read his or her body language, and sense their energy. But, the very next best thing is video, and especially live video.”

This is especially important if you sell one-to-one services, or you have aspirations for interviews by the media. If you are stepping out on your dream and you want people to decide to choose you over someone who does exactly what you do, you have to let people see the face behind the message. And the best way to do that is to create long and short-form video content and distribute it across your social media channels. 

Here are a few tips on how to get started:

  • Only speak on the topics you want to be known for (remember Secret #1: Own Your Lane.)
  • Plan what you want to say in advance. Fumbling around is not good for you or the listener
  • Focus on delivering value first. Always think about, what does my audience want to hear? 
  • Have a take-a-way for the listener, such as key action steps, a resource, or a call-to-action.
  • If you are nervous about showing up on video, ask a friend to interview you on camera versus going at it alone.
  • Wear something that makes you feel confident and like the expert that you are.
  • Be yourself and speak like you are talking to a friend.

Secret #5: Build Your Network Of Thought Partners 

“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you” will become your mantra as you build your personal brand and your influence. Therefore it is essential that you grow and nurture a strategic network of people who can help get your name out there. And as LinkedIn has shown us, we are usually just 1-3 connections away from everyone we want.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Make a list of the “types” of people you think could propel your credibility, opportunities, or proximity to the things you want if you had them in your network.
  • Look at your LinkedIn connections or contacts list on your phone and see whom you are already connected to and add them to your list.
  • From these lists identify which of these people you think would be comfortable putting your name forward or introducing you to your dream contacts.
  • Reach out through a thought-out direct message, video message, or email and reconnect.
  • Acknowledge them for their great work and offer them your help, expertise, or a connection you think they could use. Always give before you ask.
  • If they are active on social media, go one step further and make them look good by highlighting their accomplishments and sharing their content.

These are just a few of the essential components to brand yourself and start building a reputable personal brand.Your ability to build an authentic online reputation and social media presence that people, companies, organizations and even your future book publisher can get behind is critical. When you learn that your personal brand is essential to your ability to build your thought leadership, your platform, your audience, your bank account, and your dreams, you will plan, market and show up in a whole new way.

Monique Bryan

Monique Bryan

Meet Monique Bryan, a speaker, personal branding expert, online course creator, podcast host and triple positive breast cancer survivor. Monique helps women-identified coaches, consultants and seasoned professionals package and sell their genius, build a noteworthy online presence and build their confidence as they step into the spotlight. Book a Brand Discovery Call with her team to learn more or visit

Is there crying in business?

A woman crying at work.

By Christine Laperriere

If you weren’t around for the movie “A League of Their Own,” here’s Tom Hanks (circa 1992) delivering the incredibly famous line “there’s no crying in baseball.” Clearly we can see there’s no crying in baseball, but it poses the question: is there crying in business?

A client of mine brought up a humiliating moment in a coaching session. She said, “I was recently in an important meeting and I got very frustrated. To my surprise, I started to cry. I am absolutely humiliated and am worried that this will cause lasting damage to my career and how I’m seen by others. I can’t seem to let this go — I keep beating myself up about it. What should I do?”

Yes, sometimes, there’s crying in business.

In my role, I get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of professionals at varying levels within their organizations, from CEO’s to administrative assistants. Given my work with numerous clients in leadership, this topic comes up sometimes. So if this is you, please be assured that you are not alone — sometimes it just happens. Hopefully it will comfort you to know that even the top and most impressive professionals can, on occasion, find themselves caught off guard and emotional in an important meeting.

Understand why this happens. 

It’s important to note that just because someone is crying, it does not mean they’re sad or displaying weakness — often, it can be a sign of anger or severe frustration. We may be familiar with the way some people experience these same feelings in the workplace — their external appearance looks different; their face can turn red, their voice gets raised, choice words get sputtered and on rare occasions a fist might get slammed on the table (Exhibit A: see Tom Hanks in movie clip above). Because hot-headed leaders have often traditionally been in power, our unconscious bias can sometimes feel more accepting of these responses to anger and frustration as opposed to crying as a response to anger. 

Appreciate what your emotions are telling you.

These days, more and more companies want employees who are passionate about the work they do, engaged in getting results, and willing to take risks. When we work this way we are investing a big piece of ourselves and our identity into what we do each day. If you want people to really put their heart and soul into their work, this comes with emotion. And when we are committed at all costs, crying is often a signal that someone is no longer operating at their fullest and it’s time to take a closer look at what’s happening that is causing such an intense reaction.

Assess your overall stress level. 

An emotional outburst often has more to do with how someone is managing a large load of stress rather than their response to the single issue at hand. If you have been at home, trying to keep your kids fed, entertained, and educated — all while trying to concentrate on every work-related task — don’t be surprised if during a big meeting, overwhelming emotions finally catch up to you after “staying strong” for a number of days.

Notice trends. 

As much as self-forgiveness and understanding are key to moving forward in this situation, it is important to note whether you are seeing a trend. Have you had numerous emotional spells at work lately? Is it happening at home too? Is it happening in certain types of meetings? Is there someone you feel intimidated by at work? If this situation doesn’t feel like a one-time circumstance, start to track and look for trends as to when you feel this intense trigger of emotion bubble up.  

Do damage control. 

Sometimes, it helps people move forward if they have a quick conversation to clear the air after having an emotional response in a meeting. That said, it’s important to note that being emotionally engaged in your work, which sometimes results in anger or frustration, is not a sin. If you choose to, apologize for how you made others feel in the meeting and feel free to share what actions you plan to take to help bring your best self to work. Be careful not to undermine your own strengths in the process, though; your commitment to a project or your passion for getting results are positive traits. And don’t apologize for being authentic at work. 

Christine Laperreriere

Christine Laperreriere

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.

The benefits of reciprocal mentorship.

Mentor and mentee talking.

By Chantal Brine

It is well known that ‘who you know’ matters. Often, what I find missing is the context for that. Connections and relationships matter; not the quantity of those alone but rather the quality and intentionality of those relationships. Connecting with the right people at the right time/stage in your career (and life) is transformational. 

This is the lens through which I look at mentorship and why I’m on a mission to bring it to 1 million people with EnPoint. The inspiration, support, and perspective gained through mentorship, whether as mentee, mentor or both, opens doors for personal and professional growth.  

By learning as a mentee, a mentor can help you grow your career and business in a few different ways:

Deepen your self-confidence. 

Many find that increasing self-confidence is something that may be hard to do on your own. However, finding a mentor who believes in you is a huge help. 

Mentorship supports what we refer to as “beneath the iceberg stuff”: self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, which we all may struggle with at many points in our life. Often, this twinge of self doubt may appear in small ways such as attending a networking event or in big ways such as if you’re pitching your business or an idea.  Consider how does your confidence allow you to portray who you authentically are, or how does it inhibit you from doing that? I’d argue that the inner work on “self” that you achieve through mentorship is some of the most transformative along with things like coaching and other experiential learning opportunities. Whether we know it or not, self-confidence is gained or drained each day.

For women in particular I believe this is one of the most compelling reasons to find a mentor and build a relationship that uplifts you. As a female founder and entrepreneur in tech, I’ve found mentorship to be a remedy for the widely known “imposter syndrome”. My journey to confidence building with a life-changing mentor can be found here.

Get out of your own way. 

Your mentor can help you get out of your own way by helping you gain clarity and understanding of who you are and how you’ve been putting on the brakes for yourself.  Lack of experience, limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, bad experiences of our past can compound.  They can create a heavy load to carry on your own and can unconsciously skew the way you view opportunities within your career. 

I often refer to this with the analogy of buying a pristine, beautiful, and unique mirror you love. You hang that mirror up, you use it everyday, it gets scratched, maybe a little dusty, a little dirty, maybe even foggy, making it hard to see the “real” you. Now imagine, you have someone who is polishing and buffing that mirror every day, it shines just as bright and clear as the day you bought it, allowing you to see everything

Mentorship is that mirror. As you develop the relationship(s), the mirror becomes clearer, and you will begin to get a sharper picture of yourself and your path. You are equipped now with someone who enables this regularly. Mentors help you stand firm and be proud of what you excel at through celebrating your strengths. But, they can also help ground you by shedding light on your weaknesses and blind spots in a safe environment. By doing so, your mentor can motivate you to freely explore what your interests are and where you choose to invest your time.  

Creating a plan then having a mentor hold you accountable and provide you feedback on progress is critical. Remember the mirror analogy? The mirror can get cloudy again, allowing you to get distracted and stray from who you really are, and your goals. Having someone who can help you buff the mirror every once in a while- so you don’t lose your vision- is key. We all need that help.

A competitive advantage for the ‘Future of Work’.

Mentorship can provide a critical competitive advantage -something which can be difficult to find in the ever-evolving labour market. Your relationship with your mentor can help you stand out in the workforce with their support of you owning your “unique value proposition”. As we live through the future of work, the reality of an aging workforce, and a long-awaited focus on equalizing opportunities for groups that have faced systemic barriers to employment, career journeys will continue to look different than before. Mentorship is a crucial tool that can be used to ensure you have access to the right networks and skills you need to excel in your profession. Mentors can  facilitate introductions or referrals to relevant stakeholders, help you understand the gap in your skills, and teach you the critical skills that you require within your industry. 

Bridging the Gap contributor François Bertrand, Director of Research and Innovation, Polytechnique in Montreal explains, “we need to cultivate the ‘C-Generation’ of collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers, that bring these power skills to every job.” Mentorship offers opportunities for “foundational skill” development, such as adaptability and communication skills, two things needed to successfully navigate the workforce.

Building relationships that matter.

Women in careers have faced systematic barriers that still exist today and have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. According to a report published by McKinsey & Company, while all women have been impacted by COVID-19, three major groups that have experienced the largest challenges are working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women. The increase in automation and digitalization further complicates women’s reentry in the workplace due to the need to reskill or find new career paths.

When we look at the impact of people working from home and having to take care of children and/or parents, they likely do not have the same time available to invest in career building networks. Peer groups like Young Presidents’ Organization and Women of Influence that are focused on supporting individuals in their career in intimate settings may not be opportunities that they can leverage despite knowing the advantages that come with these groups matter. As human beings we habitually look within our rolodex to  source talent, content, service providers, almost everything.  For some, not cultivating or engaging with a “network” may mean unequal access to opportunities and access  to compete.

I’ve discovered that having an intentional networking and relationship building strategy is something women in particular struggle with. To some, it often feels contrived and inauthentic, or too many pressures coalesce and the network drops. When looking at male-dominated industries, women have often been excluded from relationship building or “bonding” activities such as golf trips or sporting events, for years and are still dealing with this disadvantage. It is at these events where the connections form, informal conversations happen, and people get to deepen their understanding of who their colleagues are outside of work. 

It is critical to invest in relationships as a core pillar in your career management plan. Whether you are starting, building, or rebuilding your career, launching a business, or growing a business, relationships matter. Mentorship is an efficient gateway to other relationships. It is a vehicle to expand your network intentionally, in a manner aligned with the time you can commit, and in a way  that is career (and time) aligned. As your relationship with your mentor flourishes, they will have an intimate understanding of you, your interests and your goals. As a result, your mentor becomes your biggest advocate to those who do not yet know you. They will support in cultivating the right kind of relationships with people who they feel would be relevant to your career acceleration. 

While not every mentor can support in this way, finding mentors that can and are willing to help you build and facilitate the right network for your career goals are pivotal. 

On the flip side, being a mentor is just as beneficial for your career as it is for mentees: 

Being a mentor to help you grow.

As a mentor, you have the opportunity to share learning experiences and impart wisdom that your mentee may not have necessarily been privy to. 

Sharing these experiences with your mentee can not only help others learn and evolve in their careers, but is also a chance to self-reflect on your journey to success, how you have overcome challenges and what you may have done differently. Sharing your career journey can both deepen your relationship with your mentee and open you up to new learnings about yourself. Being in story telling mode is an active reflection for you as a mentor. Use this time to strengthen your relationship with your mentee, re-examine your career goals, celebrate the wins to date, and re-learn your own personal or professional “truths”. 

Impact another life and grow together.

No matter how long you have been in the workforce, you are never too old to learn something new, and never too experienced to learn something from someone less experienced than you. Your mentee can broaden your perspective and uncover any blind spots that you may not even be familiar with. For example, if your mentee comes from a different industry and background, they can offer insight on how different their experiences may be and shed light on their career journey to date.  This is an opportunity for you as a mentor to practice curiosity and check any assumptions you have about the world around you. As well, this mutual knowledge exchange allows you to reflect critically on current trends and social issues. Your mentee can help you diversify your perspectives and in some cases, unlearn any practices. This again will deepen your connection to your mentee.  

Strengthen your ‘relationship building’ muscles.

Particularly for someone who is building a team, mentorship is a great way for you to develop your skill set on how to build people up.   As a mentor you can learn from your experiences outside your workplace and then bring them into your organization and/or different relationships. As a mentor, your goal is to hold a mirror up to your mentee, help them see their strengths and who they authentically repeatedly. You support them by ensuring that your mentee is focused on their goals and objectives. 

Mentorship provides us with learnings that are applicable to all areas of our lives. In being a mentor it’s important to reflect on the question of “how do we show up in our other relationships as a positive force that builds people up, as opposed to tearing people down?” 

Mentorship is not a one-sided relationship. It is a dynamic and evolving, mutually beneficial relationship. Whether that’s a relationship between two people or a small group of individuals, ultimately there is cross functional and experiential learning in the mentee and mentor roles.  Throughout our career and our lives, we may take on both roles, transitioning between mentee or mentor depending the circumstances. I wholly encourage everyone to intentionally mentor and be mentored.  

Chantal Brine

Chantal Brine

Chantal Brine is a builder — of people and businesses — a believer in experiential learning, a proponent for mentorship, and an active advocate for women. As founder and CEO of EnPoint, Chantal and her team help clients create and maintain effective mentorship programs using their easy-to-use, customizable and fully automated platform. A sought-after speaker, she often talks about the importance of living an authentic life and on the impact of mentorship in advancing in one’s career.

7 Questions leaders must ask themselves.

Woman leader thinking and smiling

By Dr. Jivi Saran

Ready to become a transformational leader? It’s time to take your mask off.

No, not the one you’re thinking about. The mask I’m talking about is your leadership mask — the ideal and perfect role you’re trying to portray. This is a particularly common technique among people of colour and women. Performing in a leadership role is a bit like dancing in a masquerade ball. There are steps, a routine to follow, but the tempo is always changing. To avoid a misstep, many leaders cling to a routine, even if it’s not in their best interest, or even entirely appropriate to the situation.

As a Senior Business Advisor at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), I’ve spent 35 years collaborating with business leaders who want to maximize their potential and create high-performance teams. I’ve worked globally in just about every industry except aerospace (it’s on the bucket list). My secret to creating high-powered teams? Executives and CEOs must be willing to un-mask — to realize and maximize their true leadership potential.

Taking the mask off isn’t easy. It’s predictable and protective. For women and minorities who are often judged more harshly, it can feel like the mask creates a cool anonymity that’s often confused with professionalism. No one is supposed to know about the fight you had with your partner or father’s mental decline. Numbers, project deadlines, and growth are where business leaders are supposed to live and die. But that’s not tenable as a leader — or a human being.

Taking Off the Mask

Authenticity is probably the best worst-kept secret of the business world. The knee-jerk horror at the idea of feeling vulnerable is a perfectly normal response, particularly if you feel like you already receive unfair scrutiny and judgement. Yet, it’s this vulnerability — the real stuff — that often works to connect you to your team. 

Think of it like this, if you’re overwhelmed by a work task — frustrated, confused, irritated — your team members almost certainly feel the same. And ignoring this isn’t going to make it go away. A facade of cool unflappability, especially coupled with a by-the-book attitude, can make you unapproachable. At best, you miss out on opportunities to connect and emphasize with team members. At worst, it creates space for miscommunication and errors. 

Team members may be hesitant that voicing concerns may be perceived as weakness. They don’t want to mess up any more than you do. When things go wrong, pretending everything is fine doesn’t work. Acknowledge feelings of futility, frustration, disappointment — and find a way to move forward. When things go right, celebrate. Share your excitement and approval.

Authenticity is a cornerstone of leadership. Your role doesn’t end at business leader, you are also a human being. And the legacy of your company, the stuff that will live beyond your tenure, is made up of your team’s beliefs, its energy — your corporate culture. The ability to unmask, show your humanity, and adjust your course is vital. The secret sauce of leadership has always been competency, with a dash of humanity. 

7 Questions to Ask Yourself

Leading authentically isn’t just about how you present yourself to your employees, it also requires taking an honest look inward. If you’re serious about creating a high-caliber team, the sort that unlocks growth and profitability, ask yourself these seven questions about your performance:

  1. How do team members talk about you?
  2. What stories about you are shared around the water cooler?
  3. When you return home, how do you feel? Are you excited to transition out of your work role to your family role? Or are you tired and frustrated with nothing left to give?
  4. How do you WANT people to talk about you as a leader?
  5. What legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you hope to impact humanity?
  6. How much time do you waste on random thoughts every day? Based on your salary and time, assign a dollar amount. Now multiply that by the number of people on your team.
  7. Do you want to create a workplace where everyone functions with purpose, ease, and grace?

Sovereign Leadership: Preparing to Take the Lead

Removing your mask and asking these seven questions are steps on the path to becoming a sovereign leader. What does it mean to be a sovereign leader? If we return to the analogy of the masquerade ball, this is how you take the lead. Sovereign leadership is about growing into yourself as a leader. It’s where you learn how to leverage your individual industry experience, energy, and passion to create a leadership style that’s smart and approachable. In other words, you gain the confidence to listen and learn what’s happening around you and then make adjustments as needed. However, doing this means coming to terms with several factors:

  • self-identity
  • self-realization
  • self-awareness
  • and self-actualization

Leaders wear many mantles. And the higher you climb, the more will be expected. To manage, report, correct, direct, nurture, assert, and grow, you need to feel comfortable approaching team members with understanding and empathy. You have to feel comfortable being yourself — man, woman, non-binary, person of colour (or some combination of these). There’s no other way this works.

Aligning with yourself as a leader takes work, but it is a profoundly rewarding journey filled with deep, personal insights. By unmasking and becoming the best version of yourself — and allowing others to do the same, you can create a workplace that’s happier, healthier, more efficient, and more inclusive. And isn’t that the point of the whole dance?

Dr Jivi Saran

Dr Jivi Saran

Dr. Jivi Saran is a business advisor, leadership coach, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of Permission to Be You. Specializing in change management, she holds a Ph.D. in Organizational and Human Behavior and MBA in Leadership. Jivi leverages almost 35 years’ experience to increase productivity, focus, and creativity within organizations, and guides top-tier executives to reach peak-performance by changing how they teach, interact, communicate, motivate, and inspire.

How a decade of war in Syria has led to serious gender-based human rights violations.

Syrian girl holding Syrian flag.

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk


This year marks ten years since the Syrian uprisings against the president started and the country spiralled into a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands and pushed around eighty per cent of the population into poverty. The protestors demanded freedom and justice, and yet many were forced to flee their homes, escaping wide-scale brutality and state persecution. The violent conflict between the government, backed by Russia and Iran, and the opposition, supported by the West, as well as several Gulf Arab states, has quickly turned the country into a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.    

Since the outbreak of the war, women have been disproportionately affected. They have to not only deal with the dangers of the war but also cope with gender-based discrimination. The ongoing armed conflict has intensified gender-related violence in Syria and has led to a rise in rape cases, as well as instances of forced and child marriage.

Conflict fuelling gender-based abuse   

Syrian society, where traditional gender norms dictate acceptable social behaviours, allows for the degradation of women. As a result of the ongoing armed conflict, misogynistic practices such as domestic violence have intensified, putting women and girls more at risk of sexual abuse and oppression than ever before.    

Since the beginning of the war, more than twelve million Syrians have been internally displaced or are living as refugees. As a report published by Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom revealed, women represent around 50 per cent of all Syrian refugees. In camps and shelters for displaced people, women and girls are more susceptible to violence than men and boys. 

In these settlements, women often fall victims to sexual exploitation and, having limited mobility, cannot escape those who hurt them. Moreover, with no sources of income, many hope that marriage could bring them and their daughters physical and financial security. Sadly, young girls who are married off to older men in exchange for money end up taken away from their loved ones and find themselves trapped in abusive relationships. 

Sexual violence as a weapon of war

Over the last ten years, rape became a common occurrence and sexual violence has been used by both the Syrian government and extremist jihadist groups to achieve their respective strategic goals. They use rape to spread ‘terror and humiliation to the population’, as the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict reported. Jihadists belonging to the Islamic State would rape girls as young as twelve years old and force them into sexual slavery. Through ingraining fear in the Syrian population, they aimed to enhance their governance and authority. Additionally, selling women to new recruits would help them get money to fund their activities. Similarly, the Syrian government and associated militias regularly rape women at checkpoints and during house searches to show their superiority and demand compliance. Rape became a tool used by parties complicit in the Syrian conflict, becoming a harmful pattern serving to demonstrate who holds more power.

Moreover, in a country where the honour of a woman is considered sacred, rape is being used to cause unrest amongst the population. Women and girls who have been raped are often the ones who have to face the consequences of the acts of their perpetrators. The patriarchal culture dictates that if a woman is raped, her honour is violated. In such circumstances, entire families experience stigma and social exclusion. Hence, in Syria, women are being killed for allegedly bringing dishonour upon their families.

Women’s empowerment crucial to restoring peace 

Looking at the Syrian war from the gender perspective and recognising how severely women have been affected by it is crucial to restoring peace. To protect and empower women, it is necessary to examine the challenges they face as a result of the war as these are highly specific to their gender. It is clear that the prevailing insecurity caused by the conflict has been particularly harmful to women. The problems that existed even before the war, have now been aggravated to the point where Syria has become the world’s third most dangerous country for women

Syrian women have to deal with dual oppression; that of years of armed conflict and that of gender-based violence. Hence, the humanitarian responses to those affected by the war need to be altered to provide Syrian women and girls with better protection. The implementation of durable peace can only be achieved if women’s rights are preserved. Otherwise, even once the fighting stops, women will have to cope with discrimination and limited possibilities to rebuild their lives. As the fighting in Syria continues, however, the world is yet to see what the position of women will be in the post-war period.

Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, which is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world and helps people get immigration advice. She writes articles about the struggles of refugees and security concerns facing women around the world. Through her articles, she wants to promote human rights and raise awareness about topics that do not get enough attention. She also currently serves as a Volunteer Translator for the United Nations Volunteers Regional Office for West and Central Africa.

3 tips to get your mind focused on progress, rather than perfection.

Woman Thinking

By Annie Gaudreault


Healthy habits are actually not that hard to adopt. You might already be starting to yell at your screen in protest, but hear me out. They really are not that hard to adopt. The reason that healthy habits escape us time and time again is often because we are seeking perfection.

Does this sound familiar: “I can’t do X because I’m not thin enough, I don’t have the right clothes, I don’t have the hour I said I would devote to my workout so I’m just not going to do it at all today.” Well, this, this right here, is the enemy because every day we’re looking for perfection — the perfect time, scenario, or feeling to start our healthy habits. And when any little thing gets in the way or throws a wrench into our perfectly laid out plan, we get frustrated or discouraged and decide to, “try again on Monday.” How many times have you played that script in your head?

As a coach and endurance athlete, I can tell you that progress beats perfection, EVERY. TIME. Read that again. Progress beats perfection, every single time.

The perfect day, the perfect mindset, the perfect circumstance is so very rare. I’ve had maybe 20 perfect runs in my life, but I have had thousands of runs. Most days, the weather (too hot, too cold, too windy, too humid), my clothing (too tight, too loose, it’s falling down, it’s rubbing weird, it’s itchy), my mood (I’m sluggish, I’m tired, I didn’t sleep enough, maybe I overslept) and my meals (ate too much, not enough, drank too much coffee, not enough water) could have provided some reason to not run, but I did it anyways.

“As a coach and endurance athlete, I can tell you that progress beats perfection, EVERY. TIME.”

It’s your choice and healthy habits are really just the result of repetition. Consistently going to bed and waking up at the same time, doing your meditation or reflection, journaling, taking a walk, whatever the habit is that you want to implement you just have to do it and keep doing it day in and day out. Because most days it won’t be the perfect scenario you’re hoping for, but it’s the accumulation of a little bit at a time that will get you ahead in the long run.

When you skip the activity because it wasn’t the perfect scenario, the only person that loses out is YOU. Let that sink in. If you don’t do your exercise or your meditation or whatever else it is that you had planned, the only person who is missing out on that experience to improve is you.

The daily habits, even little ones, are progress and with them you win every time. You might not have had time to do a full yoga practice that you planned for but you did 10 minutes and that is great. You might not have had a full salad for lunch but you were able to include a side of broccoli. These are all little decisions that move you forward towards bigger impact.

In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear there is a wonderful quote: “One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress.” And isn’t that so true? Whenever we make progress towards our goals we always feel better. In finance they talk about how you win by putting $50 a month in your savings account, even if you wish you could put $100. You’re still ahead and it’s cumulative and at the end of the year you may not have $1,200 but you do have $600 and that’s better than $0. It’s the same thing for the health bank account. Make the deposits, no matter how big or small, into your health bank account daily and watch those benefits accumulate the same way.

So how can we get rid of the disease of perfection?

Here are my top three tips:

1. Be specific.

What exactly is the habit you’re trying to implement or change? For example, saying “I’m going to exercise more” is not specific enough and can very easily be ignored or pushed to “tomorrow.” A specific habit would be, “At 5:00 I will change into my workout clothes and do 30 minutes of cardio.” You need to be very clear about what it is you want to do. Vague words produce vague results.

2. Challenge your status quo.

The idea of you is not necessarily true. What does that mean? There are a lot of stories that we tell ourselves, such as, I have to have five coffees a day to make it through, I’m not a morning person, I can’t cook, etc. I recommend challenging yourself to stick to your habit rather than succumbing to these stories. Recognize the patterns you have created and the stories you tell yourself and challenge them. Are you really not a morning person or is this a bad habit you’ve gotten into of going to bed too late? Recognize what is fact from fiction and work to change those habits.

3. Be clear about your purpose. 

Know your why, and be clear about what it is and why you want it. For example, I want to be active because I want to be able to feel strong and be independent and enjoy my life well into old age. It’s not about other people and seeking their approval because that is the weaker motivation and won’t stick. To truly change you need to dig a little deeper and find the intrinsic reason for wanting to change, something that will make you happy, feel better or bring you joy. Intrinsic reasons are very powerful and are rooted in very deep emotions, you just have to take the time to think about them and remember them every time you feel like giving up. Motivation will let you down but your why will never fail you.

So let go of the idea of perfection and let’s focus that beautiful energy on progress and moving forward, even a little bit, every single day. You’ll be amazed at the results!

Annie Gaudreault

Annie Gaudreault

As a healthy aging expert and nutritionist, Annie founded VEEV Health & Wellness to support smart and successful mid aged women to lose weight, sleep better and get more out of life. An endurance athlete with 12 marathons and 3 Ironman triathlons under her belt, Annie lives what she preaches. A prior 25+ year career as a brand consultant working with executives of Fortune 500 companies gave her a solid background to serve the wellness needs of those living busy lives. She is a regular speaker to the media, corporations and lifestyle organizations on various topics of health and is a healthy aging expert.

Good Question: How do I deal with a professional identity crisis?

Woman Thinking


“My whole life feels like it’s been upended this past year, but my career in particular has me feeling lost. I can’t imagine a bright future, or plan my next career move, or even wrap my head around how my work has changed right now. I’m questioning my career choices and my professional identity — but questions are all I’ve got. Where do I even start to get some answers?”



Christine Laperriere
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.



Many of us are still stuck in lockdown limbo, and there’s no denying that this global pandemic has changed the professional world forever.

With home offices replacing cubicles and some job-related perks that may never return (RIP business travel), I’ve found that COVID-19 has forced many of my clients into a career identity crisis.

Part of it is certainly the unknown: What’s the world (and my day job) going to look like tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? Some industries are worried that they won’t get back to pre-pandemic levels of business for years, if ever. And part of it is having an abundance of downtime (if you don’t have kids, of course) to reflect on your professional journey so far. Are you happy? Does your job make you feel professionally fulfilled? There’s nothing like saying, “You’re on mute,” five to 25 times a day to make you reassess all of your life choices.

So, if you’re feeling like you don’t know where to go from here, the most reassuring thing I can tell you is that you’re not alone. This is a common reaction to a crisis, and with some deep, inward reflection, you can find your next step — or should I say lily pad? (More on that below.)

The Lily Pad Effect: Stop trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.

Though it’s certainly one of the most popular questions, I truly believe asking ourselves what we want to be when we grow up is also one of the most tragic. It assumes that there’s only one destination. While that may have been true in decades past, the modern working world looks a lot different.

The vast majority of my clients have a much different, non-linear story.

It isn’t based on one single decision (like “I’m going to go to dentistry school and become a dentist”), but a series of decisions over time. Let’s call it a migration.

So, if you take that idea and relate it to the Lily Pad Effect, each lily pad is a decision, a step, a chance to grow. Each lily pad takes you further along on your journey, just as it would act as a point of support for a frog crossing a pond.

This is one of my favourite concepts that unfortunately, didn’t make it into my book, Too Busy to be Happy. (But there’s a lot of other important info in there, so I encourage you to take a read! You can download a sample here.) The Lily Pad Effect is a great way to look at your professional life, along with each choice you make in your career.

There’s nothing like saying, “You’re on mute,” five to 25 times a day to make you reassess all of your life choices.

The key to the Lily Pad Effect is to not be so focused on the final destination. Figure out your next jump — or your next lily pad. You may go there, hang out for a little while, and for a period of time, it feels great because the sun’s out and the lily pad is warm. But then the sun starts to set, and that lily pad falls into the shade. It gets cold, and so you move on.

And this is what I use to coach clients who are grappling with a career identity crisis. Look for your next lily pad. It doesn’t have to be forever (and it probably won’t be) but take a look at the lily pads (or opportunities) around you and make the best decision based on what you can see and the information you have. Each lily pad will bring you closer to a new set of lily pads, and the pattern will continue over the course of your career.

If I look at one of my clients who’s in marketing, a job in legal and compliance probably doesn’t seem like one of the available lily pads — it would likely take quite a lot of jumping to get there.

But if I assess the lily pads around that client, I’d find that moving into sales or customer service might be within jumping distance. Or maybe a different role at the same company, or the same role at a different company. Those jumps would be feasible based on that client’s experience and career trajectory, and they would likely feel more comfortable making the leap.

Look at your career dynamically.

Like being a parent or a partner, being a professional is an ever-evolving journey. The role looks different in your 20s than it does in your 40s, and it’s time that we all approach our careers with the same mindset. It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to predict what the final destination should (or could) be, but if you think of your career milestones as stops on the journey, the moves become a lot more manageable.

Instead of trying to figure out what you “want to be when you grow up,” try figuring out what you want to do next. What would feel good for the next two or three years of your life? What interests you right now? Once you have an idea, you can start planning what you can do to get there.

Do your research.

Any move you make, whether it be within your company or to a totally new pond — er, field — should be considered research or information-gathering. This is a critical component in finding your passion and professional fulfilment. Every role you take on teaches you about your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and the type of company you might want to work for — if you want to work for a company at all. Maybe being an entrepreneur is more up your alley?

Whichever way you turn, there’s an opportunity for discovery.

Wherever you are in your career, remember the Lily Pad Effect. Consider each lily pad a small step along your journey, and use each stop to learn more about what drives you. Eventually, you might find a lily pad that you really enjoy and you’ll spend your workdays basking in the sun.



3 Fears That Keep (Most) Women From Being Visible On LinkedIn.

Mildred Talabi

By Mildred Talabi


It’s no secret that women generally struggle more with being visible online than men. 

Being visible online means putting yourself “out there” on social media in a way that attracts the attention of your target audience for the purpose of building your business and/or personal brand.

In the course of my work as a LinkedIn Visibility Coach for women in business, I regularly speak to women about why they’re not being visible on LinkedIn and the reasons generally fall into one or more of the following three fears. 

  1. Fear of saying the wrong thing
  2. Fear of appearing “salesy” 
  3. Fear of showing up too much 

If you can identify with any of these fears, the good news is there is a remedy, so read on!


Fear #1: Fear of saying the wrong thing

Diagnosis: The fear of saying the wrong thing is usually rooted in not understanding what the “right” thing to say would be. For many women, LinkedIn is seen as a “professional” platform and one which requires a certain code of conduct. 

The problem is when you don’t know what that code of conduct is, it’s easy to feel intimidated by the platform and to fear breaking this unknown code by saying the wrong thing. Add that to the fact that no one wants to look bad in public, especially on a ‘social media’ platform, and you have a real barrier that keeps women from being visible on LinkedIn.

Remedy: The remedy to this fear is to understand that yes, LinkedIn is indeed a “professional” platform in that its original aim was never to be a “social” network like Facebook and Instagram — but it’s also a platform filled with real human beings with a whole range of perspectives on what’s right and what’s wrong. Unless you come out with content that is outrightly offensive or polarising in some way, it’s going to be pretty hard to say the wrong thing on LinkedIn — so go ahead and start posting. 

If you’re brand new to LinkedIn (or returning after a long absence), it’s a good idea to take a few weeks to just get a feel of the platform before you start putting out your own content. Read other people’s posts, comment on things, get involved with discussions on pages, etc. Once you feel more confident that you understand the platform (and how it differs from the other networks), you can then start putting out your own posts with the confidence that it’s highly unlikely for you to say the wrong thing. 


Fear #2: Fear of appearing “salesy” 

Diagnosis: Many women have been so put off by bad sales practices that they run a mile when the word sales is mentioned! If you’ve been on LinkedIn for any length of time, you would have received at least one inbox message at some point from a relative stranger offering to sell you something you didn’t ask for and have not even an iota of interest in buying. So many of us have had this unpleasant experience that it’s left a mental scar in our sales psyche that says, “I do NOT want to be that person — not now, not ever!”

It also doesn’t help that selling has long been promoted as something that’s rather ‘masculine’ in nature and best suited to certain personality types — the overly confident, self-promoting, persuasive types with the ‘gift of the gab’ who are good at making people buy things they don’t need or want. Not something many women feel they can identify with. 

With both these elements in mind, it’s no surprise many women are afraid of appearing “salesy” on LinkedIn!

Remedy: So, what’s the solution? The first thing is to understand that the word “sell” has been removed from its original meaning. The root meaning of the word is actually “to serve”. When you think of selling as “serving” your target audience with relevant services and/or products for their benefit, selling suddenly takes on a new significance.. 

The other thing to realise is that if you’re in business, you’re also in the business of sales — otherwise your business won’t last very long (as a side note, even employees are in the business of sales; you have to constantly “sell” yourself to land your next job or promotion!). The good news is that LinkedIn, as a platform, works on the basis of “social selling”. This is where you sell through building and nurturing relationships with your target audience, rather than trying to force your goods down people’s throats via your posts and inbox messages. 

When you engage in social selling correctly — primarily by serving with your content — you will be able to sell your products and services on LinkedIn with relative ease and without coming across “salesy”.


Fear #3: Fear of showing up too much 

Diagnosis: “Won’t people get tired of seeing my face?” This is one objection I hear time and time again when I initially start my clients on the journey to being visible on LinkedIn. As part of this journey, I recommend that they post 3-5 times a week on LinkedIn to maintain visibility for the purpose of building their brand and their business. 

This is when the fear of showing up too much rears its ugly head. As women, many of us have been taught as little girls to stay in the background and avoid drawing too much attention to ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us have also carried this mentality into adulthood, shrinking back at work and in our businesses when we should be taking front and centre stage. 

We think that if we start being visible — showing up more often and commanding attention — people will be put off by this, or think we’re being boastful, arrogant, overly confident or any one or more of the other negative associations we’ve assigned as a society to women who are not afraid of the spotlight!

Remedy: Think about your favourite actor. How many of their films have you watched? Let me ask you this — if they were to put out another film today, would you watch it? Chances are if they’re indeed your favourite actor, your answer would be “of course!” 

Well, guess what? The same is true for you and your target audience. When you really identify the audience you’re called to serve and you start to add value to them through your content and services, your audience will never get tired of seeing you. In fact, the more they see and hear from you, the more they can’t wait to see and hear from you next time! 

So don’t worry about showing up too much on LinkedIn. It is indeed true that when you really start to be visible on LinkedIn (and elsewhere) you absolutely will turn off some people, but that’s not only okay, it’s recommended! You want to resonate so well with your target audience that any and everyone who doesn’t fit this bill will automatically disqualify themselves, saving you time and energy in the process.

Did you identify with any of these LinkedIn fears? Do you have fears of your own not covered here? Get in touch with me via LinkedIn — I’d love to hear your feedback.

Good Question: Does Covid-19 mean my career plan has to go on hold? Christine Laperriere shares her advice.


“Before Covid-19, I was on a career plan to move into a Vice President role in the next 18 months or so. I knew I had more to do to secure the position, but I was doing great work, growing the right relationships, and my last performance review confirmed I was on track. Now, everything has changed. Working remotely, I can’t just stop by someone’s desk or easily get a few minutes with senior leaders — who all seem to be in crisis mode, so I hate to bother them with career discussions. I know I’m lucky to just have a job. Should I accept that my career aspirations are on hold?”




Christine Laperriere
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.



Let me start by saying, you’re not alone. So many of us are scratching our head and trying to figure out what to do next. And yes, you are fortunate to be employed, but it can still be frustrating to feel that your hard earned career momentum has been lost. The good news is, your aspirations don’t need to come to an end — you just have to adjust your strategy.

Demonstrate leadership through a crisis.
You’ve put in the work to show you can be a leader — now’s the time to prove that you can lead through a crisis. Think about this: in the future, when other leaders in your organization are trying to assess whether you are ready to be a VP, they are going to use their past experiences with you to determine if they can picture you being successful in this new and expanded role. So help them picture it. Stay open minded, stay innovative, and practice as much self-care as you can to help you stay sane (which I know is near impossible for those of us with kids at home, or those who are worried about the health and safety of our family and friends). None of this is easy; and that’s exactly the point — leading through a crisis is very challenging, which is why it’s such a critical opportunity to show your capability and dedication.

Create a communication plan. 
In order to put the first point into action, you need to become thoughtful about your talking points. Think through how you will communicate to others about how you are leading through this challenging time. For example, when people ask you how you are doing, tell them how you are leading. Tell them about how you view the complexities of moving to a virtual environment overnight, how it has impacted the team, and how it has changed your business. And then share with them exactly what your approach has been to lead through this challenge to get the best outcomes possible. As people get to hear how you solve problems, it will build your personal brand even further.

Connect virtually, but with a purpose.
Although I can imagine that few of us really want one more virtual meeting on our calendar, don’t be afraid to reach out to sponsors and mentors and ask them for a few minutes of either coaching around a business issue or a discussion about leading during this crisis. Share stories, support each other with ideas, and most important, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. If you are going to a sponsor, start by explaining how you are approaching leading through this crisis, and then ask for their advice on what you should be considering. What are you missing? How are they approaching this challenge? This meeting approach not only gets you coaching on how to be a strong crisis leader, it also gives you a chance to show your strategic thinking capability.



How Colette Cooper transitioned from trained nurse to self-taught co-owner of a successful engineering company


With four small children and the challenges of juggling home, her nursing career, and her husband having his own business, Colette Cooper made the decision to step away from a demanding career as an intensive care nurse — and never went back. Instead, she joined forces with her husband Darren, ultimately taking on the role of Executive Vice President at Renteknik, their energy efficiency and operational management, engineering and consulting company.


by Shelley White



When Colette Cooper first entered the world of entrepreneurship alongside her husband Darren 16 years ago, she thought it was just a temporary career change. 

Colette was an intensive care nurse by training, and had stepped away from that demanding career to look after her four small children. Darren had just started a renewable energy engineering company and asked Colette to help him structure the business. She found the new vocation suited her and that she and her husband made a great team.

“I’m a better mom when I’m doing things, and I’m a career-driven individual,” says Colette, who’s based in Burlington, Ontario. “Darren’s very entrepreneurial, very personable, he can inspire confidence to embrace change with anybody. I’m more behind the scenes — very organized, very ‘Type A.’ But everybody has their strengths and I think that’s why we work so well together.” 

Now, Colette is Co-Owner and Executive Vice President of Renteknik, an energy efficiency and operational management, engineering and consulting company. She and Darren founded Renteknik with a since-retired colleague nine years ago. Colette says they came up with the name, which means “clean technology” in Swedish, around a kitchen table over a few cups of coffee.

“We are a boutique company working with our clients using state-of-the-art, real-time technologies to monitor their operations, efficiency and productivity,” Colette says. “If there is energy wastage, we can identify operational efficiency and energy management opportunities, helping them to be more competitive and successful and also sustainable from an environmental standpoint.”

The company’s clients include hospitals, arenas, recreation complexes, office buildings and manufacturing facilities across Canada (with some clients in the U.S.). Renteknik leverages innovative technologies like the ClimaCheck Performance Analyzer, which optimizes HVAC systems by recording and reporting on operations in real time. Another important technology is Panoramic Power, which provides wireless electricity monitoring through self-powering wireless sensors to identify malfunctions and inefficiencies through a cloud based software platform.

Colette says they are currently working on integrating their different analytical platforms into a single watchdog-type software portal that both they and their clients will be able to use. 

“It’s going to provide the visibility that our clients need to achieve greater efficiency and fuel their business success,” she says. 

Renteknik has been helped along in their quest to create this software portal through Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC) — and more specifically, the Circle of Innovation program that’s a part of this broader initiative. WEC is designed to provide technological and advisory support for women-owned and part-owned businesses across the country, and the Circle of Innovation pairs up companies with interns from Canadian universities to help them complete specific technological goals and projects. Colette says she heard about the program through their relationship with BDC — Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs, and a key supporter of the Circle of Innovation program. 

“BDC brought forward this opportunity for us and said, ‘Your company is 50 per cent owned by a woman. And we think that this would be a wonderful opportunity for you,’” Colette says.


“I try and take every opportunity to influence and show other women that it is not just about getting a business education or being the smartest or prettiest. I am self-taught in business and have achieved success by following my core values which include responsibility, integrity, creativity, learning, teamwork and partnership.”


This past summer, Renteknik was paired up with Harsh Guraya, a McMaster University student in his third year of the Electrical and Biomedical Engineering Program. Colette says the experience was a positive one, and she would recommend the program to other women entrepreneurs. 

“Through Harsh’s contribution, we are well on our way to completing the back-end stage of the project,” she says. “So we’re working now towards creating a front-end solution that will incorporate automatic analysis and machine learning algorithms.”

Colette says programs like WEC are crucial supports for women entrepreneurs. As a female business owner in a male-dominated industry, Colette says she sometimes struggled to get the respect she deserved. “It would be like, ‘Oh, you’re in business because your Darren’s wife,’” she says. Now, she hopes she can be a role model for other women entrepreneurs in male-dominated spaces.

“I try and take every opportunity to influence and show other women that it is not just about getting a business education or being the smartest or prettiest,” she says. “I am self-taught in business and have achieved success by following my core values which include responsibility, integrity, creativity, learning, teamwork and partnership.” 

Colette says she also feels good about the WEC program because it provides valuable learning opportunities for the students who take part as interns. At Renteknik, providing opportunities to students and new graduates is a key priority, she adds, as they are our future.

“Our company is very multicultural, and we’ve hired a lot of people that couldn’t get their foot in the door in Canada,” she says. “And we have a lot of women professionals including engineers, we’re probably at about a 40/60 split.”

With their tech goals on the road to completion, Colette says she and Darren have plans to expand their services throughout Canada and beyond. She admits that being an entrepreneur can be challenging — “It’s not for everyone,” she says — but over the years, she and Darren have figured out how to keep their home lives and their business lives in balance.    

“I think that it’s just all about communication,” she says. “And our kids, we’ve brought them up to know that you don’t get anywhere in life if you don’t work hard. We all just have to work together.


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

How Theresa Keeping is building opportunities in her native Newfoundland


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


by Shelley White




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Good Question: How do I know when is the right time to leave my job?


A new position has come up in another area that I would love to pursue — but it doesn’t feel like the right time to leave my department. Should I pursue it anyway?

Knowing how much pressure we are under to deliver, I am concerned that my boss will be angry if I leave. I like my boss and my team, and I don’t want them to think I don’t appreciate all they have done for me. And I hate the idea of leaving them with all of this work to do — it will put a lot of extra pressure on everyone.”






Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.



In my role, I get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of professional women at varying levels within their organizations, from CEOs to administrative assistants. So many women I coach feel there is “never a right time” to leave a position. I’m going to share a few pieces of wisdom I’ve gathered from working with very successful women.


It’s not a marriage.
So many talented women treat their commitment to their jobs in the same way they approach their marriages or families — acting as if they are committed indefinitely. Every employer will tell you that having employees that are extremely loyal is a great asset to their business. The challenge with this thinking is that it can limit healthy personal and professional growth.

Years ago, when I was struggling to leave a relationship, my coach said to me: “You don’t have to make him wrong in order for it to be the right decision to leave.” This was eye-opening. I was looking for where the other party was wrong to help me justify my decision to make a change. I see many professionals who will say they like their boss, team, company, or role — so they don’t know why they feel like they want a change. You don’t have to hate your job to justify leaving it.


It’s not a fling.
While it’s important to recognize that being too loyal can be a detriment, I also like to challenge talented women to think of how they build a personal brand of commitment. Changing positions quickly can leave people wondering if you’ve got the grit to work through challenges and stay the course when things get tough. 

I not only ask clients if they’ve been in their existing role for a minimum of 18 months, but also whether they’ve seen some work through to completion — in which they can say with confidence that they’ve gained new critical skills through that working experience. There will always be unique circumstances that merit a quick departure, but repeated short stays can leave future employers questioning your credentials if this becomes your regular rotation. 


“You don’t have to hate your job to justify leaving it.”


It’s more like a home. 
I like to use the analogy of a home when it comes to how we approach loyalty in our careers. If you think about it, many of us have lived in different homes throughout our lives. Some homes we live in for numerous years, others are only for a short time. Sometimes we move to get away from our loud and rowdy neighbours, other times we move because we’ve simply outgrown the place and it’s healthy to evolve in a new environment that is a better fit for who we are today.


Don’t wait for permission.
I’ve worked with many women who feel they need to wait for permission to leave. We want others to say: “It’s okay to take that new role!” The truth is, we have to give ourselves permission to pursue what feels right to us, even at the expense of disappointing others. A boss that values your work is rarely going to encourage you to take on a different opportunity, and that’s a good thing — they see your greatness! This is even more reason why you should take that leap that excites you the most.

Be thoughtful about how you leave your role, and always thank those around you for what they’ve taught you. You’ll find that over time you’ll create a network full of professionals that continue to support you for years to come.


To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at


Three tips for getting clarity in your career when life gets murky after children

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. 


Good Question: My mentor told me that I need to put more effort on critical mandates. Was it a criticism of my work? What am I missing?


“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?



Christine Laperriere
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: 


  1. 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).

  2. 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. 

  3. 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


Lessons Learned: How a senior executive is redefining “having it all” by making peace with compromise

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.


We Need Female Executives

There are countless studies which find direct correlations between a company’s profitability and the presence of women in executive and senior leadership positions, most notably McKinsey & Company’s “Women in the Workplace 2018” report. Clearly, we as women are doing our part.

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


How Catherine Bell created The Awakened Company — and three tips for ‘awakening’ your own business

After completing an Executive MBA from Smith School of Business, while working full time and making partner at an executive search firm, Catherine Bell knew she had the capacity for a big undertaking. It would take a few more years of experience, but she eventually launched The Awakened Company — a management consulting firm that helps companies focus on the individual, engagement and culture in order to improve the bottom line. “Companies focus on financial metrics, and we need to also be measuring culture,” she says. We asked Catherine how her journey unfolded, and how other organizations can start the process of ‘awakening.’


By Hailey Eisen



Catherine Bell spent most of her childhood moving from city to city across Canada. It was challenging, but she attributes much of her personal development and success to it. It was through the challenge that she grew.  

“Always finding myself in new situations, new schools, with new people was not easy — but it has served me well as an adult,” says the founder of The Awakened Company, a global management consulting firm focused on igniting interpersonal and cultural transformation within organizations, and the author of a book by the same name.

Being prepared to handle change — even embracing it — turned out to be a superb life skill for Catherine to acquire at a young age, given both the academic and career path she would embark on later.

Catherine began her undergraduate education in Waterloo studying science. Partway through, she changed both her degree and university, and eventually graduated from Western University with a Bachelor of Social Science in sociology. Having lived nearly everywhere from Montreal to Vancouver, Catherine chose Calgary to settle after university, first working in market research and then switching to executive search. “In 1998 when I got that job, no one was hiring,” she recalls. “But they took a chance on me, and I decided then and there that I would make partner before I was 30.”

It was around this time that Catherine began thinking about furthering her education. “I needed a broader perspective; I wanted to understand financial statements and taxes,” she says, of her decision to find an MBA program that would provide her with such skills. In her mind, an MBA would equip her with a problem-solving toolkit.

“At the time, Queen’s had a two-year Executive MBA that I could do in Calgary, and I especially liked their team approach to learning,” she recalls. In 2000, Catherine began her studies at Smith School of Business while working full time and — just as she had set out to do — made partner at her firm that same year, at age 29.  After her experience as an entrepreneur she joined one of the largest international executive search firms to get a broader perspective.

By 2008, Catherine felt she had enough career experience under her belt to start her own boutique consulting and executive search firm, which she called BluEra. Along with her co-founder, she decided to focus the business on building awakened and evolved teams, using mindfulness as a business tool, and shifting the focus from “me” to “we.”


“When happiness is up and engagement is up, turnover is down and companies profit as a result.”


“From everything I’d learned, I knew there was a different way to do business, a way to build companies that focused on the individual, relationships, and team culture.” BluEra grew from a small startup to being ranked on the PROFIT 500 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.

Starting a business with two small children was a challenge. “The EMBA experience was definitely capacity building,” she says. “Knowing I could work full time, make partner and complete my degree made me realize I could do anything.” She believes most people, when they set their minds to something, can achieve it.  

Catherine’s passion for a new way of doing business evolved naturally into a book project — The Awakened Company. It was an opportunity to share her learning and perspectives with a broader audience. “It took me seven years to write my book, but along with my two brilliant collaborators, I interviewed more than 20 world-renowned business leaders in the process,” she recalls. “I really had to throw caution to the wind when reaching out to these individuals to ask them to contribute to the book. It was an invitation to let go of fear, to up my game and to step into vulnerability.” The book merges practical know-how, wisdom traditions and business research.  

One of the book’s contributors was Julian Barling, a Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, an expert in transformational leadership and one of Catherine’s professors during her EMBA. “I’ve used Julian’s framework for leadership time and again, in my coaching and consulting and in my own leadership,” she says.

Finding a publisher proved to be another challenge and another opportunity to strengthen her perseverance. “I specifically wanted Namaste Publishing — the publisher of Eckhart Tolle’s books — but because they hadn’t published anything like this before, they said no many times before they finally said yes.”

With a book under her belt and BluEra thriving, Catherine was just about ready for the next challenge. When the opportunity came to sell BluEra and move on, Catherine decided to focus all of her attention on The Awakened Company, the management consulting firm she’d been growing on the side, based on the contents of her book.   

“These days I’m taking the learnings I had from building BluEra and sharing them with other CEOs,” she says. The Awakened Company now has a team of six coaches working to move organizations toward an “awakened” approach — valuing culture, happiness, social good and service over profitability and the bottom line. Catherine believes culture builds profitability and her focus is on measuring culture.  

“The outcomes we notice, when we see and think about things differently, is a dramatic increase in profitability,” says Catherine. “When happiness is up and engagement is up, turnover is down and companies profit as a result.”

How can your own organization start on the path to becoming an awakened company? Catherine explains there are three keys to awakening well-being in an organization:

  1. Practice self-care

At the root of self-care is your relationship and connection to your awakened self. Once you are in touch with your inner compass and aim, you can make positive decisions toward the world you want to create.

  • Develop your self-awareness. This includes knowing your gifts, your work-ons, and how to silence your inner critic (that voice in your head can take up way too much space and time).
  • Celebrate the things you have accomplished in a journal, or with a colleague or friend over lunch.
  • Develop a centring or mindfulness practice. Your presence is your power. And the power of the pause cultivates better leadership.
  1. Establish genuine relationships

While relationships play a significant role in employee satisfaction and productivity, they aren’t always valued enough within organizations. There are many ways for leaders to cultivate the ability to go deep and establish genuine connections.

  • Make time to have one-on-one meetings.
  • Use ‘I’ language and speak from your three centres: I am feeling, I am thinking, I am doing, and my request for action from you is…
  • Listen. Listen. Listen. Write down the exact words the person is saying, or repeat what the person has said in your head.
  1. Collectively create a healthy culture

Research shows that organizations that focus both on cultural and financial metrics perform best — but many continue to only measure their bottom line. There are a number of actions that can be taken to improve the health of an organization’s culture.  

  • Develop a clear sense of where the organization is headed; a unified vision that informs meaning in people, in relationships, in transactions, in the choice of suppliers, in choosing employees, in social media strategy — in everything.
  • Develop a clear understanding of the organization’s values, with policies that reflect it.
  • Develop cultural metrics, like turnover and satisfaction, that are measured quarterly and reported.


Unlike other executive MBA programs that draw their students from a single city, Smith’s Executive MBA is a national program that draws participants from every region in Canada, creating a broader perspective in the classroom and a powerful alumni network that spans the country. Learn more here.


How Kimberly Fulton orchestrated her own six-month secondment to focus on her passion

Kimberly Fulton was navigating her career as a management consultant and looking to incorporate her passion for women’s advancement into her work. Inspired by an article about the director of Catalyst Canada in her alma mater’s alumni magazine, she pursued and secured herself a six-month secondment with the global not-for-profit focused on women’s advancement in the workplace. Now she’s applying her consulting skills to drive impact at Catalyst while also deepening her expertise and professional network in the diversity and inclusion space.




By Hailey Eisen




As a Manager with the global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, Kimberly Fulton loves working with global organizations on their strategic and operational transformation programs and talent strategies. But after three years in the industry, she was looking to further incorporate her passion for women’s advancement into her work.

“It was one of those serendipitous moments; I arrived home from the airport after spending the week with my clients and in the mail was my Smith alumni magazine,” recalls Kimberly, a graduate of the Smith MBA program at Queen’s University. “On the cover was Tanya van Biesen, the director of Catalyst Canada.”

A global non-profit organization dedicated to advancing women in business, Catalyst was founded in 1962. The organization drives change with pioneering research, practical tools and proven solutions to accelerate and advance women into leadership.

The magazine article sparked something in Kimberly. She’d long been passionate about diversity and inclusion and had been leading A.T. Kearney’s Women’s Network — first within the Toronto office, and then in the U.S. “This had always been something I wanted to pursue in more detail,” she says.

Kimberly leveraged her professional network to get an introduction with Tanya. “I wanted to see how I could work with and support Catalyst without leaving my job,” she recalls. She approached A.T. Kearney about flexible career programs and was able to arrange a six-month secondment with Catalyst.

“The firm was extremely supportive of this move, which they recognized as a career development opportunity for me, as well as a chance to gain knowledge and experience to bring back to the firm and help us accelerate our own D&I journey,” Kimberly says. “Diversity and inclusion are critical priorities for A.T. Kearney and they saw this as a great opportunity to put those values into practice.”

Now that she’s halfway through her secondment, Kimberly says she’s inspired by the work Catalyst is doing to build diverse and inclusive workplace cultures, and impressed by the opportunities this secondment has offered to further develop her skills, expertise and professional network.

“I had incredibly high expectations coming into this experience, but it has exceeded those expectations at every turn,” Kimberly says. “When I started, I knew I would get the chance to immerse myself in Catalyst’s research and learning programs, but I never expected to find myself sitting in a boardroom and sharing our work with the CEOs of many of Canada’s largest organizations.”

She encourages other women to chase opportunities that will help shape their careers into what they want them to be. “Sometimes I think the narrative we’re told as women is we don’t have the confidence or assertiveness to seek out new challenges, which can actually have a self-fulfilling effect,” she says. “The reality is any significant career move can be intimidating, but I don’t think this is unique to women …Regardless of your gender, the most rewarding and impactful career steps will almost always come from a place where you don’t feel super confident; where you’re forced to stretch and grow and develop.”   


“Sometimes I think the narrative we’re told as women is we don’t have the confidence or assertiveness to seek out new challenges, which can actually have a self-fulfilling effect.”


This isn’t the first time Kimberly has taken a leap into the unknown. In 2014, six years after completing her undergraduate degree at Queen’s University in Psychology, Kimberly left her job and moved back to Kingston to do her MBA. She’d been working with a civil engineering firm in B.C., followed by a job at a construction management company in Calgary. While she enjoyed her career, she felt as though she could be doing more. She was looking for a way to unlock the next step in her career path. She decided an MBA was the right move.

“It required a significant investment in myself for what was, essentially, a big unknown,” Kimberly recalls. “But the program really pushed me outside my comfort zone and it was incredibly rewarding to see what I could achieve as a result.”

Kimberly faced the teamwork and academic challenges head-on, and was also elected into the role of Consulting Club President. “Taking on that leadership role proved to be an excellent opportunity and I gained exposure to many consulting firms, which I was interested in pursuing after graduation.”

She saw consulting almost as a ‘residency program’ following her MBA, giving her the chance to take the skills and knowledge she’d acquired in class and apply them in the business world. She was hired by A.T. Kearney through on-campus recruiting and moved to Toronto upon graduation to begin as an Associate.

“I quickly found I had an interest in talent, culture and change management, which brought together my background in Psychology and the skills I acquired during my MBA,” she says. Now, as a manager in A.T. Kearney’s Leadership, Change and Organization practice, Kimberly advises some of the world’s largest organizations on how to achieve their business strategies by activating the full potential of their talent.

In navigating her career, Kimberly often recalls the advice she was given by a partner at the firm, “Instead of trying to solve for my whole career at a single point in time, she advised me to focus on identifying the most interesting opportunities right now and then continually re-evaluate. Keep an eye on where you’re going in the long-term, but don’t step off your career path just because you haven’t decided if this is exactly where you want to be in 10 or 20 years.”  

This advice has proven useful for Kimberly, who would have never guessed she’d be spending six months working in the not-for-profit space. When inspiration struck, Kimberly actively pursued it to create a valuable experience for herself. “I was pretty persistent with both Catalyst and A.T. Kearney to make this opportunity a reality because I saw a lot of potential value and was excited to follow my passion without stepping off my career path,” she says.

For now, she’s working to support Catalyst’s strategy and operations in Canada — and learning and growing every single day. As for what’s next, Kimberly is enjoying every moment of her experience with Catalyst while looking forward to returning to A.T. Kearney with a renewed energy and fresh perspectives to share with the firm and her clients.


As an important step in solving organizational diversity and inclusion challenges, and to develop more inclusive leaders, Smith School of Business and Catalyst Canada, have formed a strategic partnership. Learn more about the new partnership here.


How She Did It: Mandy Rennehan, founder and Blue-Collar CEO of

If Mandy Rennehan’s entrepreneurial success story doesn’t inspire you to get up and get moving towards your goals, we suggest you check your pulse. The Blue-Collar CEO of, a boutique construction firm that dubs itself “The Fun Company,” Mandy is an award-winning entrepreneur who started with nothing on the East Coast of Canada and has built a name for herself in the competitive GTA and across Canada and the U.S. Today, the brand is synonymous with quality, excellence, and integrity. Here’s how she did it.




How did you know that entrepreneurship was the right path for you?

I didn’t. It chose me at a very young age. I was born and raised in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, a fishing town. By the age of 10 I was foraging for bait and selling it to local fisherman for profit.


Did you talk to anyone for business advice or direction on what steps to take?

I actually didn’t know what to ask people, so I watched and listened to everything going on around me and learned that way. I purposefully chose to take on the projects that would have the most impact to help build my credibility and business — some worked, some didn’t!


How did you fund your business in the beginning? Did you need any start-up capital?

Sweat equity was all I had. I saved every penny until I became my own line of credit. After five years of self-funding the business, the bank gave me a line of credit because I had real cash flow and, by then, credibility.


How did you land your first client?

Word of mouth. I took on a big project for free, to prove myself and my work ethic, and it paid off with the referrals that got my business rolling.


How did you scale your business to the next level?

I visualized the goal and started climbing, like I did when I first started my business; except this time, I strategically picked people who added value in the areas that weren’t my strengths. Together we are an unbeatable powerhouse. Many of my original core team are still with Freshco today.


“We have found a happy medium of the collaboration between human connection and technology that is a force in the industry.”


Has your business gone through any transformations since you began?

A million and six! My team has grown and evolved, and technology has made things both better and worse. To get the consistency and quality is known for, we realized we had to train and mentor all new staff in-house. The whole process takes a year! It is a massive investment but essential to ensure the customer service and quality we have become known for is maintained. In our conservative industry we are known as the Fun Company because we make fun a priority. All our staff have their caricatures on their business cards, they wear cheeky uniforms on job sites, and do amazing work with an awesome attitude – our clients love it!  We have found a happy medium of the collaboration between human connection and technology that is a force in the industry. We have an incredible project management and booking system that allows projects to be booked together, based on location, and saves our clients hundreds of thousands a year in trip fees. We have also created a custom Clean Room to allow us to work and contain dust and debris without impacting a functioning retail location. We are also the first in Canada to use the Fortis Exoskeleton in a construction application to reduce fatigue and injury — the list goes on.


Looking back, how much of your success do you attribute to luck, and how much do you attribute to your skill, personality, or intelligence?

I believe I was lucky to be born with all three. For that I am grateful.


Connect with Mandy at @MandyRennehan and

No one ever got ahead by being a wallflower


By Rebecca Heaton





Being assertive in a professional setting isn’t always easy, and you’re not alone if you feel like you’re often not being heard. This is especially true for women who may find themselves to be silent observers in other words, wallflowers. To them, I would ask: Are you using muscular language (active words and authoritative statements) or are you downplaying your authority? Are you being a discussion leader? If not, it’s time to embrace your inner boss lady, whether the world is ready for her or not.


Come to the table, and have something to say when you do

As a young woman starting out in her career, I began where many of us begin: at an internship. I was lucky enough to land an internship at Women of Influence, where I could develop my skills and personal communication goals in an environment where I was committed to the cause and loved the people. It’s a place where I felt valued and confident. It was a place where I could be loud. While I am happy more women are going to university and coming to the table, I can’t help but notice that young women don’t feel very confident verbally asserting themselves. What’s the point of being at the table if you’re going to be a silent observer? There are many ways women can advance themselves. Why not start by speaking up? Even if you get shot down, at least people know you’re in the room.  


Don’t be afraid to take up space

Once you’re at the table, it can feel like you’re not supposed to be there. Myself and other women suffer from imposter syndrome, a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud” despite external evidence of their competence. I often find myself trying to fake it ‘til I make it. However, by being a presence in the room and reaching out to other influential women, I have accessed mentorship and opportunity, and I now have people in my corner. It has been uncomfortable and scary, but I gained much more than I lost. I made mistakes along the way and might have embarrassed myself a few times, but I have my foot in the door and that’s what matters. 


Fill the gaps and be of use

It’s important to remember that being at the table is a privilege, one we should not take for granted. So, be of use when you occupy a seat. Prepare yourself before you walk in the door. If you’re going to speak, say something smart and remind your boss why they hired you. If you see a gap in the process, offer to address it. Taking initiative and being engaged are some of the ways competence is judged, and the bar is unfortunately much higher for women. We have to constantly prove ourselves to be taken seriously. We have to show up over and over again. We have to go the extra mile. We have to work harder and work smarter because of the double burden we face. And it will do wonders for career advancement, but maybe not always for likability. But you’re not in the business of people pleasing, are you?  


Take pride in your accomplishments

Success and likability are often in opposition for women. We worry about being disliked, appearing unattractive, outshining others, or grabbing too much attention. A study done at Cornell University found that men overestimate their abilities and performance, while women underestimate both. Obviously, men are not exempt from doubting themselves, but they do not let their doubts stop them as often as women do. Think of this when you’re applying for your next job. Maybe you don’t meet all the requirements, but please understand that no one knows everything. Most of us just pretend we do, and some of us are better at pretending than others. Some of us are better at sticking out our noses and asking, “why not me?” I have come to understand that you must know what you have to offer and only accept what you are deserving of. No one is going to advocate for you but you.