Meet Jenna Caira, an Olympic medalist who is now helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

In her 27-year career in amateur and professional sport, 12 of which were spent in high-performance environments with Team Canada, Jenna Caira helped to lead her teams to success at every level, earning 10 international medals, 4 national championships and a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as co-captain of Softball Canada’s Olympic bronze medal team. She still managed to find time to excel in her professional life, working in corporate communications and partnerships, and as a motivational speaker and performance coach. In early 2022, she was appointed head of franchise recruitment for Laser Clinics Canada, bringing decades of training in high-performance teams, leadership, and success in diverse, high-stakes environments to her new position. 

 

My first job ever was… assisting with softball pitching lessons when I was 12 years old. I found the more I had to explain the dynamic pitching motion to others, the more I understood my body and its potential. It also increased my curiosity in asking “what else?” It enhanced my training by pushing me to meet smarter, more experienced people, which helped shape who I am today. 

My Olympic aspirations started when… I was 4 years old. I always had a passion for softball and aspired to playing at the highest level. I was fortunate to have a few role models and mentors in my life who guided me along my journey for 27 years. I focused on maintaining a growth mindset, but more importantly, I always competed and embraced the uncomfortable moments of pressure, regardless of the outcome

Transitioning from amateur sport to the business world has been gratifying! While these two worlds may seem so different, there are many parallels when it comes to goal-setting, leadership, team culture and work ethic. We all have transferrable skills that we can bring to different work environments, and it has been empowering to learn new skills every day in my role at Laser Clinics Canada. 

I’m passionate about my current role because… while I may not be throwing a ball and working towards an Olympic medal anymore, I am using my skills within an environment that can help other people achieve their dream of being small business owners

My proudest accomplishment is… winning a bronze medal for Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

“There is just one “you” on this earth, so show the world what you can do.”

My biggest setback was… myself. As an elite athlete, we constantly try to find ways to get better, stronger, and smarter. I had never participated in the Olympics before, and at one point I began questioning my abilities as to whether I was good enough to be a significant contributor to my team. I know many entrepreneurs starting their own businesses can relate – you’re in unknown territory. 

I overcame it by… choosing to be adaptable and remembering the “why” behind waking up every day to work towards making this dream a reality. I also learned it was okay to ask for help, and that having the support of my teammates and coaches helped me grow. That’s part of the reason why I enjoy working with Laser Clinics Canada. The unique 50/50 business model means we’re in it together to help make each clinic location a success. 

My advice for anyone changing careers is to give yourself credit for being courageous enough to try something new. When I accepted the role at Laser Clinics Canada in Franchise Recruitment, it wasn’t feasible to expect myself to have all the answers about the business right away. However, I could control asking good questions and being invested in my team every day. We must be open to feedback and willing to be open-minded as we pursue new opportunities. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is read non-fiction books and listen to podcasts! Get inspired by others because knowledge is power. My favourite book right now is “It Takes What It Takes” by Trevor Moawad.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… to just be yourself.  There is just one “you” on this earth, so show the world what you can do.  

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m now in starting rotation in my co-ed slow-pitch league! 

I stay inspired by… our Laser Clinics Canada leadership team. They encourage us to be creative, think outside the box and lean on each other to help bring this great business model to the Canadian market. 

The future excites me because… what I am contributing to at LCC will help create jobs, offer more opportunities for entrepreneurs who are passionate about the advanced beauty industry and provide a space to make selfcare a greater priority for everyday Canadians. 

My next step is… to build my professional relationship with Women of Influence! I follow this great network, and Laser Clinics Canada is incredibly excited to connect with other inspiring women! I will also connect with entrepreneurs who are looking to do something new with their careers and who recognize the power of being part of a trusted, award-winning brand like Laser Clinics.

Lessons Learned: My first year of building a business as a personal stylist.

Cheryl

By Cheryl Nomdarkhon

 

I’ve had a love of fashion since I was a teenager. I grew up watching Jeanne Bekker from Fashion Television interview the original 90’s Supermodels, trailblazing designers, and household names backstage during fashion week — New York, Paris, Milan, London — every week on CityTV

She would have access to the most coveted runway shows, and intimate conversations with everyone and anyone in the industry. Apart from watching FT, I collected numerous fashion magazines like Mademoiselle and Glamour. I especially liked the before & after photos and fashion do’s and don’ts.  

Fast forward 25 years to March 2020, and I found myself laid off from my full-time job for a global training & development company. It was a time to reflect and reinvent myself and start over. I’d worked in several industries, from IT to health and wellness, but nothing came close to what I wanted in a truly fulfilling career. I wanted to have a real work-life balance and a job where I could make a lasting difference with people.  

“It didn’t take too long to realize that the thing that I always wanted to do was create a career in fashion — specifically personal styling.”

While I was decluttering at the start of the pandemic, I found a black and white picture of my dad in my photo album. I was struck by memories of my dad, who passed away in December 2001. It was a photo of him sitting on a bench, probably at the time when he worked for the Jamaican Customs. He sat crossed legs, his pants starched and crisp, his black shoes polished and shined. 

I remembered his clothes, his closets. He always kept his clothes in immaculate condition even though he wore a uniform to work. On his days off, he always looked sharp. When we first moved to Canada, he took us to the Eaton Centre to go shopping. It didn’t take too long to realize that the thing that I always wanted to do was create a career in fashion — specifically personal styling. My dad significantly influenced my decision to embark on my new journey.   

Getting Started as a Stylist.

Starting my business, Uncover Your Style, during the pandemic meant that marketing and networking would look very different from my past business as a holistic nutritionist ten years ago. I made it my goal to share what I was up to with the people in my life — family, friends, past work colleagues, and my connections on social media. I attended weekly networking events over Zoom and had coffee Zoom meetings with other business owners and female entrepreneurs. Last year I joined an online organization for Black stylists called Black Women Who Style. Although I’m the only member from Canada, the group’s organizer, who’s been styling for five years, is very gracious. She’s created a platform where stylists help each other, not bring each other down.  

As the pandemic meant moving back and forth between lockdowns and re-openings, the most realistic way to conduct my business was virtual. The handful of clients that I had was through word-of-mouth. To gain experience, I practiced with family and friends doing consultations over Zoom, including closet/wardrobe edits. I had a few inquiries from my website, but nothing significant.  

“How I looked and how I sounded became critically important. I never had to contend with this when I worked in the corporate world as an employee.”

I also had to learn to navigate and use social media, like Instagram. Because what I do is visual, I had to learn how to present myself to people. How I looked and how I sounded became critically important. I never had to contend with this when I worked in the corporate world as an employee. I was always the one working behind the scenes in my job. There were opportunities for me to speak in front of large groups of people and present myself as someone professional and knowledgeable, but being out there and having people ‘watch and judge you’ anywhere in the world was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

I’m still not 100% confident and used to putting myself out there. I sometimes overthink what I will create on Instagram and TikTok and how I come across on camera. Is what I’m presenting educational, informative, and fun? Will people get it? Imposter Syndrome comes up a lot. Another pitfall is that I automatically compare myself to other stylists and how many ‘likes’ they get and how great their content is compared to mine.

My Lessons Learned. 

One of the biggest mistakes in my first year in business was signing up to advertise for a Yelp promo account. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I registered to use several hundred dollars in (Yelp credits) to advertise personal shopping for the holiday season.  After six weeks of ad promos, there were no new clients or leads. I cancelled right away when I saw my bill the following month. Sometimes things may sound enticing, but it doesn’t automatically lead to success for your business. I learned this the hard way financially. I still get solicited to advertise, and I politely decline the offer.

I made the other mistake of saying “yes” to everybody for styling. There were times when I said yes to working with a client who was very difficult. Early indications were that the client wouldn’t be fully ‘coachable’ or agreeable, but I ignored my inner voice. I now know the importance of vetting and interviewing potential clients before we agree to work together. 

My Goals For The Future.

One of my goals for the future is to create a one-stop-shop experience for clients — like a boutique image consulting service with other stylists, designers, make-up artists, and photographers.

Sometimes, I pinch myself and wonder how I got here. I’ve spent the past 18 months hustling — giving away my time, knowledge, and expertise to get somewhere. There are many times that I’ve been disappointed about not booking that client, not getting that opportunity on a grand scale. There are also days when I feel like giving up on my dreams. The conversation in my head is that “It’s too hard, nothing is working, nobody wants what I have to give.” The biggest challenge is having that winning mindset and keeping it going, no matter what. I belong to a Mastermind group and a meditation group that helps during those difficult times.

The truth is that I haven’t yet achieved the publicity, notoriety, and good client base that I want to commit to being financially and personally fulfilled yet. I’ve created action plans and revised my business plans and goals for 2022, and I continue to plant the seeds for the next chapter — and I’m looking forward to what I will harvest in the next few months.

Cheryl Nomdarkhon

Cheryl Nomdarkhon

Cheryl Nomdarkhon is a Certified Personal Stylist and founder of Uncover Your Style, a Toronto-based style consultancy offering both in-person and virtual services. After 10 years as a Training & Development Manager, Cheryl was inspired by her late father’s style sense and her own love of fashion to pursue her new career, launching her business in 2020. Believing it is never too late to reinvent yourself, her aim is to help people discover their style sensibility, and dress easily and confidently. Connect with her on Instagram and uncoveryourstyle.ca for style advice and to book a personal session.

Meet Nia Lee, founder of a social marketing agency and a skincare subscription box.

Nia Lee

Nia Lee is the Founder and CEO of Socialee Media Agency, a boutique social media marketing agency that helps beauty and lifestyle businesses create high-performing, visionary content for their social media channels. After gaining experience working for several notable brands like Bite Beauty, NYX Cosmetics Canada, Shea Moisture Canada, and DECIEM: The Abnormal Beauty Company, Nia launched her own beauty brand, Oilee Skincare with a mission to promote skin health instead of skin perfection. Oilee Skincare is the first-ever subscription box that helps people with oily, acne-prone skin discover new skincare products from indie & BIPOC-owned brands. Since then, Nia and her business have partnered with brands like Province Apothecary, Skin Actives, Dermala and The Body Shop.

 

My first job ever was… I always say it was Tim Hortons, but actually, it was doing my local paper route back when I was 14 years old, living in Markham, ON, making $40/month. I wanted a job really badly, so I remember applying for a bunch, but never hearing anything back. 

My cousin was doing the paper route at the time, and I used to help him out until he quit and I decided to take over. I remember dragging my cart through the snow; my hands used to be so gray and ashy afterwards — what a time! But, I made my $40 every month, and I could buy whatever I wanted with it. That made me feel good until I turned 16 and got to apply to a job that paid me at least minimum wage!

Before Oilee Skincare, I was… Passionately helping beauty and lifestyle brands make their mark on the world with visionary content for their brand’s social media within my boutique social media marketing agency, Socialee Media Agency

I founded Oilee Skincare because… I wanted to create a brand and community that focused on stopping the stigma of having oily, acne-prone skin, because I’ve had oily, acne-prone skin since I was 18 or 19 years old and I hated it when I was younger. I would do everything to stop my oiliness from showing, and it made me super self-conscious. Fast forward to the pandemic; I wanted to shop more intentionally with indie and BIPOC-owned brands in mind, especially those that catered to my skin type and tone. I fell in love with these brands, their products, the way they made me feel, and knew that it wasn’t about getting rid of my oiliness but instead, taking care of it. 

From there, I spent a lot of time researching. Seeing that a lot of people were also feeling self-conscious about their oily and acne-prone skin, I knew my ‘Why’ for creating Oilee Skincare had to be about embracing it and taking care of it, focusing on skin health over skin perfection, and changing the narrative around having oily, acne-prone skin because it’s nothing to be ashamed about! Making the decision to feature indie and BIPOC-owned brands came down to me having the pleasure to work with and use a lot of these brands over the years, and with new brands launching every day with innovative products, it was no brainer.  

“There’s going to be a lot of times in your journey as an entrepreneur when life, your business, and everything around you may knock you down, but you have to be willing to get back up.”

One of the most important things I learned about myself in my time as an entrepreneur is… To never stay down no matter how many times you get knocked down. There’s going to be a lot of times in your journey as an entrepreneur when life, your business, and everything around you may knock you down, but you have to be willing to get back up. Have a moment to feel all the feels, but get right back up because tomorrow is a new day! 

My proudest accomplishment is… Getting the opportunity to work with some really notable brands over the years, both within my agency and my brand, like Bite Beauty, Shea Moisture Canada, DECIEM: The Abnormal Beauty Company, Province Apothecary, The Body Shop, and even Canva! 

I’m a child of a Jamaican immigrant, I don’t come from money, and I don’t have endless connections — all I have is my ability to be myself, work hard, and give everything I do my best shot. I’ve been incredibly blessed, and I am beyond grateful for each and every opportunity. 

My biggest setback was… Being a perfectionist! 

I overcame it by… Realizing that not everything in life needs to be perfect right then and there. In the words of PR and Brand Strategist and Sakita Holley, “done is better than perfect.” 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t be afraid to start over, change your mind, fall 100 times, and experiment. Oh, and remember to HAVE FUN. It’s not always going to be a cake walk, and you will have your hard days, but enjoy the journey and try your best to celebrate your wins (I’m working on this myself!).

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Celebrating my wins! I don’t know what it is, but I just never take the time to smell the roses. My brain is always going a mile a minute, but when something amazing happens, no matter how big or small, I try my best to acknowledge it. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Spend more time with my friends and family. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… The fact that I get the opportunity to meet and connect with dope beauty founders every day. I love hearing their stories about how they built their brands, which may allow us to build a genuine relationship that may lead to us working together some day!

“When you are building a visionary and innovative brand, it’s going to take a long time for people to recognize that. You just have to buckle up and be patient; everything will happen in due time.” 

The one thing I wish I knew when starting Oilee Skincare is… How building a brand from the ground up is going to take a long time — especially when building a community that is safe for those with oily, acne-prone skin is such an important part of what we do. I can be impatient sometimes, wanting everyone and their mom to know about Oilee Skincare overnight, but I know at the end of the day, when you are building a visionary and innovative brand, it’s going to take a long time for people to recognize that. You just have to buckle up and be patient; everything will happen in due time. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I played the flute for seven years, from grades 6-12, and I was pretty darn good! 

I stay inspired by… Tapping into content from my favourite content creators, podcasts and business owners, including Ronne Brown, Kontent Queens, To My Sisters, The Financial Diet, MILLION DOLLAZ WORTH OF GAME, David Never Sleeps, Adella Afadi, Kennedy Johnson, Fab Socialism — trust me, the list goes on! 

The future excites me because… Every day there’s an opportunity for something amazing to happen, and the simple fact that I am blessed enough to be able to do at least one thing a day to work towards moving the needle, make someone’s day, or be inspired by others around me,  makes the future very exciting. 

My next step is… Finding a business partner and building a team to help grow Oilee Skincare. I know I cannot do it all by myself, and frankly, I don’t want to either! There’s so many more smart people out there that I know could really help Oilee Skincare become a household name and help shift the beauty industry to ensure that we always value skin health over skin perfection. If you’re reading this and that is you, feel free to connect with me!

Meet Bonnie and Melissa, co-founders of Creamery X, a vegan ice cream shop in Toronto.

Bonnie and Melissa

Bonnie and Melissa are the founders of Creamery X, a business specializing in frozen custards and vegan ice cream in Toronto. After working in corporate roles for many years, they decided to leave their jobs and embark on an entrepreneurial journey centered around their love for desserts. Though starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic proved to have its difficulties, Bonnie and Melissa have remained committed to their passion, making people happy, and giving back to local communities. 

 

My first job ever was… 

Bonnie: A group of friends and I all got jobs at the same fast food restaurant.

Melissa: I did babysitting for many years and then was a cashier at a grocery store. Typical teenage job stuff!

We founded Creamery X because… We were looking for a change from the corporate world, and we both had always wanted to own a small dessert type of business. With COVID, we had lots of time to explore ideas and test recipes! With Bonnie’s love of ice cream and Melissa’s passion for baking, this was a natural fit.

We’re passionate about the work we do because… We get to make people happy every day, and we love to see their faces when they try something they’ve never had before. We also love meeting and working with other small, local businesses. Through our Charity Flavour (a different monthly flavour with a portion of proceeds going to local charities or nonprofits), we are able to give back to causes that are important to us.

We decided to create our designated “Charity Flavour,” a different monthly flavour with proceeds going to charity because… It is important to us to work with small, local charities and nonprofits making a real difference in our communities. We have the privilege of sharing these organizations with our customers, highlighting the work they do, and raising awareness. We work with and contribute to a range of organizations: dog rescues, LGBTQ+ nonprofits, eating disorder treatment centers, and more. 

Our proudest accomplishment is… For both of us, it would be building our business from scratch. We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.

Our biggest setback was… We’ve had lots of setbacks! Ice cream machines have broken down, we’ve had flavour disasters (comes with the territory), and we’ve been declined for funding by major banks due to the seasonal nature of an ice cream shop. 

We overcame it by… Persevering even when it seemed impossible. We kept churning ice cream even when it meant staying up all night or sleeping in shifts to get it all done (true story). We believed in our unique product and vision of creating a community hub. 

“We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.”

“We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.”

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  

Bonnie: Believe in yourself and your vision no matter what. No matter how many no’s or disasters, pick yourself back up and keep moving! 

Melissa: Figure out what sets you apart and lean into it. Embrace what makes you unique or weird and share it with the world.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… 

Bonnie: Slow down and take breaks. When I get going, I can’t stop until the task is done. Melissa always calls me a whirlwind.

Melissa: Don’t overthink it! We come up with perfect flavours and I can’t help but think of just one extra thing to add over and over. It’s a blessing and a curse.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… We both feel that having each other has made a huge difference. Being able to create something so exciting and fulfilling with your partner has been amazing. We both bring different skill sets that work together really well. 

Having a background in business has also served us well — it has given us skills in contract negotiation, customer service, marketing, and finance.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… 

Bonnie: I’m a sucker for a self-help book. I love learning about human behaviour and how to interact with different types of people.

Melissa: I have always been a visual artist. Now I get to express my creativity through flavour creation and cake decorating.

We stay inspired by… We get inspiration from so many places and people. The wonderful folks from the charities we work with inspire us to continue to build our platform and stay appreciative of what we have.

The future excites us because… We have so many plans for the future! We are growing and building something we believe in. We are learning all the time and meeting incredible people. We can’t wait to see what’s in store next for Creamery X!

Jennifer Reynolds never feared a career jump — and it led to the role of her dreams.

Jennifer Reynolds

By Hailey Eisen

 

Jennifer Reynolds’ LinkedIn banner image shows her marching in the 2019 Toronto Pride Parade. She’s wearing a T-shirt that says Hockey for Everyone, and there’s a huge rainbow Raptors banner behind her. The moment captured in the photo represents the culmination of years of hard work, risks taken, unexpected opportunities, and a commitment to making an impact while following her passions. 

“I was marching alongside 50 of my colleagues down Yonge Street right after the Raptors championship win,” Jennifer recalls. “As a Queer woman and an athlete, to see the delight in people’s eyes, and to hear the chanting and spirit, was an extremely meaningful and memorable experience.” 

Now the senior manager of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), Jennifer didn’t set out with the intention of working in the sports industry, or EDI for that matter. She’s a chartered professional accountant by trade and describes her career journey as more of a jungle gym than a ladder. “I often advise people that the education you choose, and the first job you get, doesn’t have to dictate your career direction or where you’ll end up — rather, look at each opportunity as a stepping-stone.” 

Jennifer’s first stepping-stone was a move from Calgary (where she grew up) to Kingston to complete her undergraduate degree in Commerce at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University. She focused most of her studies on accounting. 

“My experience at Queen’s was really well-rounded. I participated in extracurricular clubs and conferences with the Commerce Society, I played intramural soccer and basketball, and excelled on the varsity triathlon team. I was also able to focus on my studies alongside other really talented students. I gained international experience and got to travel around Europe on an exchange semester to London, which was truly an enriching opportunity,” she says.

After graduating, Jennifer moved to Toronto, joined KPMG and worked towards her professional accounting designation on the side. “Though I loved accounting, I came to realize that being an auditor didn’t fully align with my core strengths and so I joined Deloitte’s mergers & acquisitions group in 2015 where I had the opportunity to provide value to clients in a more dynamic environment.” 

“It can seem scary to make these kinds of career jumps early on, but it’s important to keep your own best-interests and passions in mind.”

It was then that she says she really began to think about the idea of stepping-stones. “It can seem scary to make these kinds of career jumps early on, but it’s important to keep your own best-interests and passions in mind…Your studies, plus your lived experiences in the world, can lead to so many different things. What’s most important is that you believe in yourself, advocate for your own success and take steps to plan your own journey.”

During her three years with Deloitte, Jennifer says she experienced huge learning and growth. “I became a manager, found myself within the business world and had an entrepreneurial opportunity to help develop and grow Deloitte’s mergers and acquisitions practice, defining the roles and responsibilities as I went along.”

When the opportunity at MLSE presented itself, it seemed like a dream to the self-described sports fan. While she was happy in her current role, what MLSE was looking for in a manager of corporate strategy and planning aligned quite well with her skillset and passions. “It was hard to leave Deloitte, but I was excited to apply everything I’d learned in the first years of my career to an end product I was really passionate about.”

Jennifer had the opportunity to build out the role — supporting the organization’s CFO and senior executives when it came to strategic business planning across a variety of projects. “It was quite amazing to be working on projects that I’d seen and experienced as a sports fan and getting to understand them from the business side.”

Fast forward to the summer of 2020, a time when many organizations were facing an internal reckoning of sorts, following the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. MLSE realized that they could be doing more with their strong community presence at both the local and national level. “We had so much influence in our city and such a global fanbase that we recognized we had a huge platform to take a more active stance when it came to social justice.”

That fall, MLSE brought in an SVP equity, diversity and inclusion. Jennifer recognized an opportunity for herself to pursue something she was really passionate about. “I had always been involved with different community projects, with equity work on a volunteer basis,” she says.

“Being able to make that impact at a grassroots level first to now working in the professional sports space, I’ve come to realize just how much work there is to be done and just how powerful the impact can be.”

In 2016, Jennifer became the Canadian board co-chair for the You Can Play Project, an initiative with a mission to ensure the safety and inclusion for all who participate in sports — including LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches and fans. “Being able to make that impact at a grassroots level first to now working in the professional sports space, I’ve come to realize just how much work there is to be done and just how powerful the impact can be.”

She was also a driving force behind the creation of the Queen’s Queer Alumni Chapter. “There was a gap when I was a student in supporting and providing structure for queer students, which is what propelled me forward to co-found this chapter,” she says. “As alumni, we play an important role in supporting queer students and making the Queen’s community a more inclusive place for all.”

So when Jennifer learned that MLSE was bringing Teri Dennis-Davies — an HR professional with experience leading the design, development and implementation  of EDI strategy and initiatives — she knew there would be a need for someone to support her efforts. “I wanted to be that person,” Jennifer says.

She raised her hand, and in November 2020 she stepped into her current role — senior manager of equity, diversity and inclusion — helping to build a department and set the inclusion and engagement framework and strategy for the entire organization. 

“I’ve been in this role now for just over 18 months, but it certainly feels a lot longer with everything we’ve accomplished,” Jennifer says. “We have a huge focus now on addressing racism and social justice with an emphasis on three pillars: eliminate barriers, accelerate development, and change lives.”

“Remember that no change or action is too small, and everything contributes in some way to larger shifts. The key is to begin, one step at a time.”

Part of a team of six across an organization of 4,000 employees, Jennifer says she knows that true impact comes from empowering every employee within MLSE to be an agent of change. In February 2021, MLSE made a public declaration to address systemic racism and promote social justice, both within their workplace and in their community. “For a privately held organization of our size, this was a big step for us — and internally we’ve had great success in upholding this commitment. I’m really proud.”

A recent opportunity has come up to take on an expanded portfolio focusing on inclusion for the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise. “It’s been eye opening working alongside the Leafs’ front office, promoting inclusion both within the business side and community side — and seeing a tangible impact of the work we’re doing,” she says. “We acknowledge that professional hockey is typically a white male-dominated sport, and there’s a huge role the Leafs can play to break down those barriers.” One of the ultimate goals is to mirror the diversity of Toronto in the Leafs brand, employees and fanbase. 

Looking at all she’s accomplished in a short time, Jennifer is often in awe of how perfectly her passions and career are aligned. “I’m so fortunate to be in this position, to have the influence that I have and the platform that I have.”

As a mentor to young professionals, she says many look to her for guidance when it comes to following your passion and making real change. “You know, there’s always the potential for change in any field and in any organization,” she says. “Sometimes you need to step back to reflect upon how much change has actually taken place, and you’ll often see that there’s more happening than you realize. Remember that no change or action is too small, and everything contributes in some way to larger shifts. The key is to begin, one step at a time.”

Laura Isidean’s ‘second act’ has given her a new purpose — giving back to local and global communities.

Laura Isidean

By Hailey Eisen

 

Laura Isidean is nearly a decade into what she calls her “second act.” As a volunteer, non-profit Board member, and advisor, Laura is fulfilling her desire to give back in a meaningful way. After nearly two decades working in capital markets, Laura decided to transition to something completely different. 

“I had a really rewarding career,” Laura recalls. “I started on the buy side, moved to the sell side, and had the opportunity to work on the trading floor in what was a thrilling and fast-paced environment. I was very fortunate.” The first inkling that she was ready for change came in 2013 when she, her husband, and her daughter took a family sabbatical to Asia which included living in China for six months. “We adopted our daughter from China in 2010, so this was a ‘roots trip’ — an immersive opportunity to experience the culture and learn the language together as a family.”

Stepping away — as it has a tendency to do — helped provide more clarity for Laura on where she was at in her career and where she wanted to go next. While in China, she began thinking about her next steps. “While I recognized that the decision to permanently leave my job came from a very privileged position, I felt the need to contribute to society in a new way.”

After leaving Scotiabank where she’d been for the past 16 years, Laura began to get involved in a number of charities and non-profit organizations, following her personal interests and the causes that mattered to her. “Then, life threw a curve ball my way,” Laura recalls. “In 2014, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”

During that extremely difficult time, Laura turned to Wellspring, a cancer support organization that she’d learned about through their annual fashion show fundraising event she’d taken clients to. 

“Knowing I could turn to them for programs and services while I was undergoing treatment proved to be an integral part of my recovery,” she recalls. From then on, Laura was committed to giving back to the organization that had helped her and her family so much. “I joined the Board of Wellspring five years ago and became Chair in 2021.”

“I was lucky enough to find not one, but two organizations that really resonated with me for different reasons — and the life-changing impact this work has had on me, is that it’s really given me a true sense of purpose.”

But Wellspring wasn’t the only organization Laura devoted her time and resources to. She had already come across the Canadian Red Cross (CRC) while looking for an opportunity to join an organization at an advisory or governance level, and was drawn to their local and global impact. 

“I was lucky enough to find not one, but two organizations that really resonated with me for different reasons — and the life-changing impact this work has had on me, is that it’s really given me a true sense of purpose,” she says.

Laura’s first position with the Red Cross was in a volunteer advisory role with the Toronto Region Council, supporting CRC management in all aspects of operations within the GTA. “That was my initiation, in a way, learning how the organization operates within the city,” she says. “My role has evolved since then and now I support different levels of management with the CRC from an advisory standpoint, provincially and nationally, with a focus on volunteer engagement.”

Volunteer engagement is something she’s especially fond of. “The Red Cross has thousands of volunteers, and I get really excited about contributing towards making sure their experience is a positive one,” she says.

But it’s not just through volunteer work that Laura contributes to the Red Cross. She has also become a donor through the Tiffany Circle — a community of women philanthropists committed to furthering the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross locally, nationally, and around the world.

Laura found out about the Tiffany Circle through a fellow volunteer. She invited Laura to join her at a conference in Winnipeg hosted by the Tiffany Circle. “I was instantly inspired by the women I met and their commitment to the organization. I was drawn to the warmth of the Circle and the common purpose they all shared,” Laura recalls.

Joining the Tiffany Circle provided Laura with a new level of involvement and a way to contribute to the organization financially as well. “I believe many women like to give to charity in a more engaged way — they want to not only write a check, but also feel connected with the organization they’re giving to.”

She says women’s giving circles are filling this need by forging connections between like-minded philanthropic women. Within the Tiffany Circle, Laura is a member of a national steering committee that’s examining this idea of active philanthropy. “We are working to raise awareness around the ways members of the Tiffany Circle can engage with the CRC that are meaningful to them.”

Through the Tiffany Circle, Laura has also become a Red Cross ambassador within her own community, hosting disaster preparedness workshops to help empower people to feel more prepared for unexpected circumstances that could happen in their own lives, such as climate disasters.

“I feel so fortunate to be part of such an inspiring and empowering group of women who share my commitment to make a meaningful contribution to the work of this important organization.”

The philanthropic aspect of the Tiffany Circle is also very important to the organization. The annual financial contributions help the Red Cross deliver disaster management programs, forge Indigenous community partnerships, provide Emergency Field Hospital and medical specialists to communities after disaster and disease outbreak, and build and staff community and mobile health programs reaching women and children in crisis zones. 

“I feel so fortunate to be part of such an inspiring and empowering group of women who share my commitment to make a meaningful contribution to the work of this important organization,” Laura says. 

When approached for advice on how to manage a career shift into professional volunteerism, or how to know where to begin getting involved in a meaningful way, Laura typically suggests women do a bit of introspection to determine what causes and issues matter to them most.

“For me, the Canadian Red Cross was appealing in part because it’s the largest humanitarian network in the world, and in part because it’s there to support individuals and communities in a wide variety of circumstances. Whether conflict, climate disaster, or pandemic, we know these sorts of things can happen to anyone at any time.”

Knowing how to contribute is also important. “If you’re in the thick of your career and don’t have a lot of free time,” Laura says, “financial contributions are always needed. Your contribution will look different depending what stage of your career you’re in — and that will change with time. Find what works for you and go from there.” 

Since the COVID pandemic, many people have begun to think about what type of community members they want to be and how they want to contribute. “Ultimately, we all have a role to play,” Laura says. “Everyone, at every stage, can contribute in some way. The key is to think about what causes are appealing to you.”

As a mother to a 12-year-old, Laura feels even more committed to setting a good example. “I’ve always instilled in my daughter, from a young age, the responsibility to be an active contributing member of the community we live in and that notion has been embodied in our lifestyle,” Laura says.

No matter what you do or how you do it, the important piece is to do something. “If you are fortunate enough to live in a safe community, to have all of your needs met — schooling, healthcare, career opportunities — then I think we all have the responsibility to lift up those around us.”

Meet Assel Beglinova, Co-Founder and CEO of tech start-up, Paperstack

Assel

Assel Beglinova is the co-founder and CEO of Paperstack, a platform that provides working capital for e-commerce sellers. At 18, she moved to Canada from Kazakhstan as an international student without any connections. She went to school to study accounting, and pursued a career in the banking industry. When Assel got laid off during the pandemic, instead of looking for another job, she decided to take everything she learned and launch a company. She met her co-founder, Vadim Lidich, at Tea Club Toronto — a community Assel founded to help other founders with startup challenges. In the first year, the pair closed a pre-seed round of funding, and in the span of a few months, they were accepted into three prestigious tech programs: Google for Startups, Communitech’s Fierce Founders, and Techstars.

 

My first job ever was… as a volunteer at a student association. I remember it being so hard to get my first job because I didn’t have any experience and I just arrived in Canada — plus, my English wasn’t great at that time. My responsibilities were simple, like promoting upcoming events and handing out flyers, but it was so much fun, and it pushed me to speak English with so many strangers! I am so grateful that I had this opportunity.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to build an amazing product that will empower millions of people around the world. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I knew the stats and data were against me — less than 3% of VC funds go to women, plus I am an immigrant. I knew from the beginning that the journey will not be easy and there will always be wins and losses, but I have such a supportive community that has my back. I am so grateful for such tremendous support!

I founded Paperstack because… I love helping e-commerce founders succeed! I felt like they deserve better and more flexible solutions. It is so humbling and thrilling to receive messages from our customers who tell us how we are helping them meet and exceed their goals — that is success to me.  

I’m passionate about the tech industry because… It unlocks so many opportunities and options for many people from many different backgrounds. I think it’s amazing how you can build a solution in North America and somebody in a different part of the world will integrate it into their day-to-day operations. Tech also allows us to discover talented individuals around the world and build something powerful with them.

My proudest accomplishment is… being able to take steps to make my dream a reality: Moving from Kazakhstan to Canada, and changing my career from banking to a tech entrepreneur without a computer science background. It wasn’t easy; living thousands of miles away from family is very hard! Of course, I miss friends and family, but I’m so grateful for tools like Whatsapp that bring me closer to those most important to me.  

I was laid off exactly one year before we closed our pre-seed round of funding. That experience taught me that life can be a roller coaster — hang tight and enjoy the ride!

My biggest setback was… I didn’t have any connections in Canada when I started. I had to build my network from scratch! It was a lot of cold calling and outreach — I’m so grateful to networks like Women of Influence and so many more who bring together dreamers and doers!

I overcame it by… reaching out to people every day. I remember setting the goal of 10 calls per day. I remember printing my resume and going to 10 places with it every day in Toronto, or sitting in the library and applying to 10 jobs every day. After many attempts, one person said ‘yes,’ which led to our first customer and the first investor!

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… learn how to not let one ‘no’ affect the rest of your day. Another thing I think is important is to filter the advice you follow by considering whether or not the person has done it themselves. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… not letting every ‘no’ get to me — I’m not a robot! There are, of course, people I really want to work with; when I don’t get that ‘yes’ it can be disappointing, but I’m pretty resilient. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… connecting with people everyday: Our amazing team at Paperstack, our valuable customers, our supportive investors, our advisors, and our champions in the ecosystem.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the ability to move forward no matter what, even if 10 people told me not to do it.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was laid off exactly one year before we closed our pre-seed round of funding. That experience taught me that life can be a roller coaster — hang tight and enjoy the ride!

I stay inspired by… listening to podcasts and meeting with strong people who were able to overcome obstacles in their lives.

The future excites me because… I can create it by doing something today.

My next step is… being relentlessly focused on how I can continue to bring even more value to my customers every day. This is what I think about when I wake up and until I go to bed!

Meet Kathryn Plouffe, co-founder of eco-friendly period care provider, Only.

Kathryn Plouffe

Kathryn Plouffe is the Co-Founder and CEO of Only, an online eco-retailer that provides affordable, organic, and eco-friendly period care products. Only is a company that offers consumers sustainable goods, offsets all carbon emissions, and shares a portion of its profits with local organizations that are dedicated to ending period poverty in Canada. Alongside their biodegradable organic cotton pads, liners, tampons, and medical-grade menstrual cup, Only also provides consumers with Canada’s first reusable tampon applicator, which is good for up to 10 years.

 

My first job ever was… Doing demolition work on the houses my Dad was renovating. I mostly helped clean up debris from the demo and was only allowed to paint the insides of the closets. Wise choice, Dad.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… It honestly felt like the natural route for me — I can’t remember it ever being a conscious decision. The 9-5 lifestyle felt riskier to me.

I founded Only because… I was convinced there was a better way for people to experience the commercialization of menstruation. Better for them and much better for the planet.

I’m passionate about sustainable period products because… They should be the norm already. We have the science, technology, and logistics to provide a more sustainable experience for menstruators, so why wouldn’t we pursue that versus the plastic wrapped, rayon-based, carbon footprint heavy alternatives?

My proudest accomplishment is… Finalizing the distribution agreement between my company and our European manufacturers after a long, three year journey. What I love most about that accomplishment was that I intended to do my Master’s in International Affairs, but feel like I got a practical MBA instead.

I get to decide what needs to be done to move the needle every day. It can be the most exhilarating part of the job. Although, I admit that some mornings I miss having someone tell me what to do. Decision fatigue is real.

My biggest setback was… Managing my anxiety while building an investment-worthy company. Anxiety has definitely held me back from opportunities I should and could have taken.

I overcame it by… Consistent exposure to experiences outside my comfort zone: Meetings with potential investors, lawyers, accountants, marketing teams, logistics teams, our manufacturer, etc. After so many of these meetings, I became confident in myself instead of self-conscious, and felt like what I had to say was legitimate. I was worthy of being heard. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Two things: Find mentors and be resourceful. Keep figuring it out day after day, little by little. If you don’t know something, someone or some source does, and use that to your advantage. Conduct your own experiments if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Going to bed early. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… I get to decide what needs to be done to move the needle every day. It can be the most exhilarating part of the job. Although, I admit that some mornings I miss having someone tell me what to do. Decision fatigue is real.

 If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… For building a startup, I think it’s been key for me to have a teammate who shares my passion for this company, a.k.a. a business partner. For me, that’s Phil Faubert, and there’s no chance I would be where I am today without all of his support, sweat, heart and soul he’s poured into building this company with me. A business partner will keep you motivated, accountable, and offer alternative solutions to your business problems.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a hockey playing, video gaming, winter-loving person and proudest fur parent to my dog Puck and cat Nala. Growing up, my life goal was to get to a position that was powerful enough to allow body checking in women’s hockey (This is still a big goal of mine!).

I stay inspired by… Keeping my circle positive and inspiring. I haven’t always had this attitude; I was sticking with friendships, relationships, places of work, or following accounts on social media that didn’t make me feel good. I no longer make time or space for negativity, gaslighting, or general bad vibes and it’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself in my late twenties.

The future excites me because… I’ll soon be able to offer menstruators the period products they deserve! I’m so excited to share this beautiful, innovative, sustainable product line across Canada and start understanding what more I can do for my customers. 

My next step is… Making it through my first four quarters of Only being a revenue-generating company alive!

Meet Nadia Ladak, founder of FemTech start-up, Marlow.

Nadia Ladak

Nadia Ladak is the founder of Marlow, a FemTech start-up that has developed the first-ever tampon and lubricant designed to be used together for a smoother, less painful insertion experience. She is passionate about empowering a generation of menstruators to prioritize their menstrual and sexual health by sparking conversations around these topics that are often awkward — although they shouldn’t be. Before launching Marlow, Nadia worked as a management consultant at KPMG, where she worked across a number of retail clients in go-to-market strategy, customer experience, and e-commerce projects. Nadia is also committed to giving back to her community through her role as a catalyst board member at Holland Bloorview Children’s Hospital, and as a mentor for the Junior Achievement Company Program where she provides weekly coaching to high school students as they operate their own small businesses.

 

My first job ever was… working as a receptionist at a yoga studio.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… of the impact you can make. Entrepreneurs are working on the world’s to-do list by solving pressing challenges we are all facing. It is so inspiring to connect with these individuals and to see the passion and determination they have to change the world for the better. 

I founded Marlow because… I want to empower menstruators to live life on their own terms, not by what is dictated by the time of the month. Inserting tampons can be an uncomfortable process for those who are new to using them, who have pelvic floor conditions like vaginismus, who experience vaginal dryness, or for those who have a lighter flow, especially at the beginning and end of their cycle. Our lubricated product creates a smoother insertion process to allow menstruators to continue to live an active lifestyle while on their period. Through education and innovative products, we can help people get off of auto-pilot and take their menstrual health into their own hands. 

I’m passionate about the menstrual care market because…I believe it is an important part of our overall health. In the last decade, we’ve seen a surge of companies excel at physical wellness and mental wellness, and now it’s time to look forward towards menstrual and sexual wellness. In order to have holistic wellness, we need to prioritize all aspects of our health. 

My proudest accomplishment is… hearing the stories from our community about how our products & education have empowered them in their lives. Our mission is to change “The Talk” about menstrual and sexual health for the next generation from uncomfortable to refreshing — it’s incredible to read the comments and DM’s from our community, sharing that they turn to Marlow to learn more about their bodies. We can actively change the narrative around these topics, one conversation at a time. 

My biggest setback was… navigating the Health Canada process during the pandemic when they were quite busy managing COVID vaccines and approval. 

I overcame it by… partnering with a research lab and regulatory consultant who helped us build our strategy and path forward. Often it is nerve wracking asking for help, but it’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and to partner with experts who can help drive your business forward quickly, because as a start-up, speed is your biggest advantage. 

“Action cures fear, so at the beginning of each day, pick three realistic priorities that you can accomplish to drive your mission forward.” 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… find a low cost way to test your idea before jumping all in. Start by sharing your idea with your friends and family to get initial feedback. Then, you can do a customer survey to understand the problem space before building some initial prototypes. Entrepreneurship is all about continuous learning and iteration, so be open to building, learning, measuring, and adjusting accordingly.

The thing I love most about what I do is… having the opportunity to create change in a space that impacts 50% of the population at some point in time. Every day, I wake up energized and excited to empower menstruators with the products and education they deserve. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the support of the people around me. Whether it be my family, co-founders, advisors, or investors, I have been so lucky to receive support and mentorship as I embark on my entrepreneurship journey. They put up with the late night rants, they celebrate my wins, and they’ve taken the time to learn way more about tampons than they could have probably ever imagined! 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I started my university career in music. Growing up, music was always a huge part of my life. I was in choirs, participated in musical theatre, and played guitar and piano. I went on to study music in my first two years of university before pursuing the Ivey Business School program at Western University. Entrepreneurship has been the perfect career path for me, because it allows me to combine the passion and creativity I learned in music school with the analytical & financial management skills I learned in business school. 

I stay inspired by… taking things one step at a time. There’s a million things you could be doing, but it’s about finding ways to make the minimum viable progress everyday. Action cures fear, so at the beginning of each day, pick three realistic priorities that you can accomplish to drive your mission forward. 

The future excites me because… of the rise in mindful menstruation and the overall boom in FemTech. Pinterest released their 2021-2022 trends report that shows that terms like ‘period care’ are up 3x in search volume. Gen Z and millennials are increasingly looking to prioritize their menstrual health — we want Marlow to be at the forefront of this movement.

Meet Rachael Newton, founder of suction-free menstrual cup brand, nixit.

Rachael Newton

Rachael Newton is the founder of nixit, a suction-free, made-in-Canada menstrual cup that is revolutionizing menstruation. Rachael started her career working as a lawyer for an investment bank for nine years before branching out on her own and starting nixit. As a progressive period care brand, nixit is helping to make using menstrual cups mainstream, and is also invested in changing and leading the conversation around menstruation.

 

My first job ever was… Waitressing at a cafe in Sicily, Italy. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to make a positive impact on the planet and have a positive impact on those who menstruate. It wasn’t a conscious decision to become an entrepreneur, but once I felt the gap in the market and landed on the idea of nixit, I felt compelled to start. 

I founded nixit because… No one else was making what I believed to be the perfect menstrual cup. I truly believed that our suction-free cup is the future of period care and that if I could get it to market, I could both improve people’s period experiences and drive collective waste reduction. This is still my belief!

“Our mission is to not only to improve people’s cycles, but to spark conversations that make people feel comfortable to talk about this human experience. By destigmatizing menstruation, we empower people to make choices that are right for them.”

I’m passionate about the menstrual care market because… The traditional menstrual care market is based on the idea that periods should be managed with products that aren’t good for our bodies or the environment. The idea that we shouldn’t talk about or question our periods has fuelled the use of these products — and benefited the companies that make them. 

Our mission is to not only to improve people’s cycles, but to spark conversations that make people feel comfortable to talk about this human experience. By destigmatizing menstruation, we empower people to make choices that are right for them.

My proudest accomplishment is… Reading feedback from our customers! To be told that something I made has changed someone’s life and improved their period experience is extremely gratifying — it makes this journey feel all that more worthwhile. 

My biggest setback was… The pandemic. It was difficult managing home-schooling, looking after the children (they were three and five years old when it started), and running the business — which I have bootstrapped from the beginning. I obviously had to prioritize my family, but that meant nixit could only be tended to late at night and in the early mornings.

I overcame it by… Accepting that things at nixit would move more slowly than I wanted them to, but that we would get there eventually. 

Jill Nykoliation left a corporate career for advertising — now she runs one of Canada’s best (and most creative) agencies.

Jill Nykoliation

By Chris Powell

It’s human nature to want to cling to the familiar. After all, it’s comfortable and safe. But Jill Nykoliation, CEO of ad agency Juniper Park\TBWA in Toronto, is acutely aware that everything inevitably reaches a conclusion. Perhaps more importantly, she’s content to let it happen. “Don’t use up energy trying to hold onto something that maybe is done,” she says.

It’s how Jill knew when to call time on what had been a hugely successful early career with Kraft Foods and step into the unknown world of advertising—first as one of the partners of the agency Grip Limited, and then two years later as a founding partner of Juniper Park, now part of the global TBWA network, headquartered in New York City.

Nearly two decades and multiple professional and personal accolades later, her decision appears prescient. But she remembers her colleagues at Kraft being mystified. She had attained so much success, they said, and was highly regarded within the organization. She’d regret it, they warned.

But for Jill, the move into the Mad Men world of advertising after 10 highly successful years as a marketer represented an opportunity to again create her own path through what she calls the “tall grass”—the unmarked territory that presents both opportunities and maybe even the occasional pitfall.

“I spent five years in the tall grass at Kraft, and when it started to feel like it was coming over to the paved road, that’s when I knew it was time to go.” 

There was still so much she didn’t know when she first set foot into this new environment in 2005. Yet that step into the unknown brought with it the frisson of excitement that had been missing as her previous role reached its natural conclusion. “I spent five years in the tall grass at Kraft (where she helped launch and oversee the company’s data-led CRM efforts, years before such things became fashionable), and when it started to feel like it was coming over to the paved road, that’s when I knew it was time to go,” she says. “The part I was uniquely good at was wrapping up, and that’s when I went to the agency side of the business.”

The tall grass is a concept that Jill keeps circling back to when describing her professional life. It isn’t for everyone, but she delights in metaphorically hacking her way through, uncovering new insights and approaches. “I’m very much a tall grass person, and we’re a tall grass agency,” she says. “We attract people that love to carve out new spaces.” It’s not for the timorous, but Jill is convinced she’ll find her way through to the other side, usually with a breakthrough idea. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ll have something to show for it,’ ” she says. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I will.”

Powerful signal

That willingness to intrepidly venture into uncharted territory has enabled Juniper Park\TBWA to thrive while creating high-profile work for major Canadian and global brands including Apple, CIBC, GoDaddy, Nissan and PepsiCo.

The agency has grown from six employees since its formation in 2007 to 150 today, while adding to its capabilities with new divisions. They include the design studio Le Parc; a precision marketing arm called Scalpel; and a content production division called Bolt Content. Most recently, it launched Trampoline, an incubator and accelerator for small BIPOC businesses and emerging creatives.

While many Canadian offices of global ad networks often find themselves relegated to repurposing work created in New York or Los Angeles, Juniper Park\TBWA prides itself on being at the forefront of its clients’ marketing plans. “A satellite office would be a paved road,” says Jill. “What’s the global standard? We’ll do the Canadian version of that. We say, ‘No, we’ll create and launch [our own ideas].’ ”

There’s perhaps no better embodiment of that approach than 2020’s “Signal For Help,” a simple yet highly effective creation developed for the Canadian Women’s Foundation. The secret communication device for abused women arose out of one of the agency’s regular Thursday staff meetings—known internally as “pirate huddles”—during the pandemic’s early days.

“I remember saying to the team, ‘I don’t know what I’m asking, but is there a way we can help, using our tools and our culture of generosity and kindness.’ ”

That day, the conversation circled around to the rise in domestic violence due to women being trapped at home with an abusive partner. “I remember saying to the team, ‘I don’t know what I’m asking, but is there a way we can help, using our tools and our culture of generosity and kindness,’ ” says Jill. The American Sign Language symbol for “help” was too obvious, and texts or phone calls could be spotted or leave a digital trail for the abuser.

Like so many of the best communications, the idea put forth by Juniper Park\TBWA’s chief creative officer Graham Lang—folding a thumb into the palm of a hand, and closing the fingers over top to silently convey the message “I’m trapped”—was simple and easy to comprehend. Buoyed by widespread sharing on social platforms like TikTok, Signal For Help eventually travelled around the world, leading to news stories such as one out of Kentucky late last year in which a missing 16-year-old girl was rescued after using the gesture to indicate to passing motorists that she was being held captive. (A 61-year-old man was arrested.)

Jill says it’s a powerful feeling to know something she had a hand in creating proved so impactful. “I woke up that morning to a message from a girlfriend that read ‘Isn’t this your work?’ and I cried,” she says. “I’m proud beyond words.” Along the way, Signal For Help joined a select few Canadian-made ad campaigns that have travelled beyond the country’s borders, joining the likes of Always’ powerful “#LikeAGirl” and “Dove Evolution.”

Unlocking potential

Two decades since taking her first steps into the agency world, Jill is a highly regarded and acclaimed agency leader and CEO, notable accomplishments in a male-dominant business such as advertising. She is fluent not only in the masculine language of business, which tends to prioritize things like performance and innovation, but has oriented her agency around softer traits like empathy, vulnerability and collaboration. “I’m really good at saying ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I need help.’ There’s no shame in that,” she says. “I can be as smart as I want, but if I show up [with an] authoritarian style, it doesn’t matter because I’m unintentionally shutting people down.”

She describes her leadership approach as “leading from the feminine.” Shifting the business to be more supportive and collaborative unlocked the dormant potential within the agency. “I’ve learned that you can be a high-performance and forward-leaning organization, and do it with kindness, generosity and gratitude,” she says. “Performance doesn’t have to be cutthroat, and kindness doesn’t have to be at the expense of performance.” That’s borne out by the fact that, during what has been an incredibly difficult two-year period for the advertising industry, Juniper Park\TBWA had its best years from both a revenue and an output perspective in 2020 and 2021.

Ken Wong, marketing professor at Smith, says Jill has consistently demonstrated that profitability and moral integrity aren’t mutually exclusive. And she’s done it while never losing sight of the fundamental role agencies play in furthering their clients’ business objectives. “She is constantly inventing new services and refining old ones to keep her clients on the leading edge of marketing practice,” says Wong. “It should come as no surprise that her agency has been performing at record-breaking levels.”

Last year, Jill was named one of Canada’s three most powerful CEOs by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN). The annual award recognizes three women leaders considered “trailblazers in their field, [who] advocate for workplace equality and display vision, strong foundational character, a sense of integrity and the ability to elicit public trust.” Jill calls the accolade “humbling,” but is quick to share credit with her staff and the people who influenced her. “It’s a team award for me because nobody does anything alone,” she says. “It’s an amalgamation of all the people who have been brave and generous and kind enough to work alongside me.”

Jill Nykoliation

A Queen’s family

While there was no specific moment that Jill decided to pursue a career in marketing and advertising, the roadmap was in place from an early age. She learned about business from her father, Dennis, a successful executive who came up through the marketing side and held president and/or CEO roles with companies including Black & Decker Canada and Cambridge Towel.

“It was almost like I was doing classes at the dinner table,” she says. “I learned about branding in service to business all through my childhood. It was all very natural.” The Jills are a Queen’s family, with all four children attending the university. Jill’s twin brothers Brent and Bryan earned Commerce degrees in 1992, followed by Jill in 1993. Her other brother Michael graduated with a degree in life sciences in 1994.

“My parents always said ‘Jill, you can be anything a boy can be,’ and I believed them,” she says now. “I did well [coming up] through masculine industries and organizations, but now I look back and say, ‘How come nobody says to a guy that he can be anything a girl can be?’ ” Jill says that leading from the feminine has unlocked so much untapped potential within the agency—from elevating the calibre of the work and the insights that fuel it, to the makeup of the agency’s staff.

“How come nobody says to a guy that he can be anything a girl can be?”

When agencies looked to achieve greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Juniper Park was already well ahead. “We’ve been ahead of the curve so many times,” says Jill with a hint of pride. Today, more than half (54 per cent) of Juniper Park\TBWA’s staff is made up of women, while 32 per cent are BIPOC and 47 per cent come from outside of Canada. Lang and executive creative director Jenny Glover both hail from South Africa, for example, while president David Toto is from France.

“We want the sharpest talent possible. Who cares where they come from?” says Jill. “Our culture is borderless, which brings the freshest minds and most creative ideas. It is borderless in hiring international talent and how we assemble our teams.”

As a CEO, Jill is acutely aware of the power she wields in inspiring the next generation of female leaders. Early in her career, she was granted weekly access to famed Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld. It would shape her approach to strategic thinking. “I remember thinking, I am going to learn so much in her presence,” says Jill. “This is going to be a transformative project, and I can’t believe nobody’s fighting me for this. It will change me and rocket forward my learning.”

Working alongside Rosenfeld shifted Jill’s opinion of what a mentor should be. Today, she urges staff to sign up for projects that she’s involved with and simply watch how she works. “I could sit down with you for half an hour, or, like with Irene, I just decided she was going to be my mentor,” she says. “I thought, I’m going to do this work, but I’m also going to study her.”

Tall grass

When Jill was a young girl, her mother taught her how to sew. Fabric was her first creative canvas, and the more she learned, the more curious she became about how things were put together.

In many ways, that curiosity became a guiding principle of her career. “You dismantle brands, and you say ‘Oh, we can get rid of this and that, and this new piece comes in and then we’re going to build it back,’ ” she says. “And that’s what we do for every brand that comes in.”

It’s an approach that has helped distinguish both Jill and Juniper Park\TBWA in a highly competitive and occasionally cutthroat industry. Even the best runs eventually come to an end, of course. By then, Jill will likely have already recognized and accepted that it’s ending, and grabbed her metaphorical machete in preparation for the tall grass of whatever comes next.

Simone Giesen on how to keep reinventing yourself in life and business.

Simone Giesen

By Simone Giesen

Did you wake up in the wrong life today?

I know what that feels like: a couple of years ago, I had lost my way and found myself stuck in the wrong career. I could not help but wonder how I had gotten myself into this mess and where exactly I went off track. 

I’m a planner — to the degree that I schedule tasks for exact times. Of course, I had safely mapped out and planned my future. I thought I had done “everything right,” but why did the life I had envisioned for myself feel so bad?

After training as a banker in Germany and completing my degree in International Business Administration in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States, I started my career in the finance sector one month after graduation — while most of my friends from Business school were struggling to find a job. 

Three years in, I felt not only lost and out of place, but uninspired, unfulfilled, and miserable. One day, the suffering became unbearable and I was desperate for a change. So I quit my job without a plan B, and within six months I started over: I moved from Germany to Switzerland, pursued a new education, jumped into a new field, and landed my first job that would finally put me on my path to becoming a coach. 

When making that leap, you do not have to do such a drastic switch like I did. The stakes are high, and there are constraints like financial implications or losing status — but it is your life and you deserve to be happy. 

If you are contemplating a career change as well, here’s what I have learned.

LESSON #1: Always trust your gut feeling.

When I signed my first employment contract, my gut feeling told me something was off. It just did not feel right, even though on the surface, I had landed a good entry-level job in a well-known and reputable company. Deep down I knew that this was not right for me and that I was settling. I chose the alleged security and financial stability that this job would provide over an unknown future and the stress of an on-going job search, which scared me at that point. So I ignored that nagging feeling, not knowing that feelings are designed to alert us to pay attention to potential dangers — but also opportunities. Research suggests that your gut-feeling draws on experience and intuition and can help you make a bold decision, if you listen to it. 

LESSON #2: Do a thorough reality check.

Make sure the vision you are following is really your own, and it is truly aligned with your passion, talents, and personal preferences. We are constantly influenced by the media, friends, and family — and it can be overwhelming to choose from all the options that are available to us. It is important to raise above the noise level and make sure that the path you are following is yours, rather than somebody else`s idea of a great life for you (even though they might mean well). For the people pleasers among us: this is your kind reminder that you are not here to fulfill other people’s expectations. Know yourself, accept yourself, then decide what you want and go for it. 

How do you know what’s right for YOU? Follow the energy! What really excites you?  What are you passionate about? What is the topic you could talk about all day long? When do you feel most alive? When do you lose track of time? 

The answers to these powerful questions might be some indicators to point you in the right direction. Then, do your homework. Research as much as you can, and talk to people in the field you want to work in. The new career might look very glamorous from afar, but what would an ordinary day in this line of work really feel like? 

LESSON #3: Manage the process and prioritize self-care.

While you are figuring out your next move, you will experience some uncertainty, insecurity, and most probably some anxiety. It is important to be gentle and patient with yourself in the process. 

Keep your inner monologue positive, and show yourself some compassion. You are doing the best that you can. Set realistic and achievable goals for yourself. What could you do today that will bring you one step closer to your goal? This transition phase might be a good time to put some healthy self-care routines in place to keep your energy levels up and keep you sane along the way. 

LESSON #4: Be your own cheerleader and celebrate every tiny victory.

In his book, Choose Yourself, James Altucher stated: “We’re taught at an early age that we’re not good enough. That someone else has to choose us in order for us to be… what? Blessed? Rich? Certified? Legitimized? Educated? Partnership material?” 

The truth is that you do not need anyone’s approval to do what you love. Show up for yourself and cheer yourself on. Every single day. Your mindset is your most precious asset. A strong sense of self-esteem combined with an unwavering belief in yourself will define how you face the world. 

It’s not about being arrogant, it is about having a realistic and healthy self-image that does not need constant approval from the outside. Stop waiting for anyone to choose you. Step forward and claim your spot. Whether you are dreaming of becoming an artist, a writer, a designer, an entrepreneur, or — fill in the blank — you already ARE that person. Give yourself permission and start showing up as her!

LESSON #5: Authenticity — own your story.

It’s your life and it’s never too late to course-correct. In my career, I have interviewed and assessed hundreds of people and have come to the conclusion that an apparent “rupture” in a CV is rarely a deal-breaker, if explained well. The skills that were acquired in one field in combination with life experience and your personality are transferable. As Steve Jobs put it, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.” Be true to yourself and own your experiences! 

I hope you could find some inspiration in my story. For those of you who feel stuck or lost, please keep searching. Things will eventually fall into place when you are on your path. How you feel about work and your career rubs off on your mental health and well-being, your relationships, and the way you show up in life. Never stop learning and thriving. We all will have to reinvent ourselves many times in life, but that’s really the point isn’t it?

Simone Giesen

Simone Giesen

Simone is an executive coach & organizational development (OD) consultant based in Zurich, Switzerland. Over the last 12 years she has worked in the field of leadership development for multinational companies in the finance, hospitality, technology and engineering sector. She now runs her own business, SGC Simone Giesen Consulting — specialized in personal & leadership development, coaching, and change management. Simone works with individuals, leaders and teams around the globe to empower them to reach their highest potential in life and business.

This Smith graduate’s non-linear career path led to her becoming a Deloitte consultant — with a ‘human-first’ approach.

Chloe O’Brien

By Hailey Eisen

 

Chloe O’Brien’s career path has been anything but ordinary. But her varied experiences have prepared her well for her current role as a senior consultant at Deloitte, where she is fusing business acumen with her art and design background to deliver human-centric solutions for complex problems in our post-pandemic world.

It’s a far cry from her original career dream of being a pilot. 

“I grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia, a town with 9,000 people, in a very conservative religious home,” Chloe recalls. “I was homeschooled until Grade 10, and one of the only experiences we had outside of the church was going to the local air show with our parents.” 

When funding fell through the week before she was to start flight school, Chloe was forced to re-evaluate. She took a year and a half off and worked at a local clothing store while she reconsidered her path for post-secondary education. 

“In the two years I’d been in high school, I had become really interested in the arts. I loved ceramics, I was obsessed with architecture, and I could draw really well,” she recalls. The decision to attend NSCAD University made a lot of sense.

“While I was a generalist in terms of my focus, I became really interested in conceptual photography, how the photographer can make an impact on the way people perceive a topic or issue based on the art they create,” she says. 

With student loans to pay off, Chloe took a job with CIBC out of university and simultaneously started her own business as a wedding photographer. “I did feel conflicted leaving an incredible degree with a focus on conceptual art to take up work in commercial art — but wedding photography was highly lucrative and I was good at it.” 

“Travel made me a more independent person — it sparked my curiosity and taught me to lean into my fear.”

A few years later, she circled back to her desire to travel and decided to seek out opportunities that would give her the opportunity to see more of the world. “I had never had the means to leave North America, so I decided to look to the travel industry for work.” For the next six years, Chloe worked in the field in a number of roles, including marketing, sales and business development, and travelled to more than 30 countries. 

“Travel made me a more independent person — it sparked my curiosity and taught me to lean into my fear. Those lessons really helped when it came time to make my next pivot,” she says. 

Ready for more of a challenge, a friend – who happened to be an alumni of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University – posed the idea of an MBA and put her in touch with the school.

For Chloe, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) was the most challenging part of the MBA process. “Being a more creative-minded, less numbers-focused person, I found the quantitative portion of the test really hard.” 

Chloe wrote the GMAT four times, in hopes of getting a score high enough to earn her a significant scholarship for the one-year Smith MBA. When that didn’t pan out, she wrote the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and was accepted into the program for a January 2019 start.

“I quit my job two weeks before starting the MBA and moved to Kingston from Toronto where I’d been working up until then,” she recalls. “I loved the small city, student-focused feeling of Kingston and the team-based focus of the Smith MBA.” 

Being one of only two students with a Fine Arts degree made Chloe an anomaly in the program, but also worked to her advantage. “I would say I was able to bring more innovation and design thinking to my team and was able to bring a unique perspective to our projects.” 

While she did find the quantitative side of the program challenging and had to dedicate extra time and effort to economics and finance, it certainly didn’t stop her from being successful. The program’s teaching style also helped a great deal. “Queen’s has many exceptional faculty members who draw upon experiential learning and other best practices to create engaging classes,” she says. 

“We are looking at re-skilling, up-skilling, and re-evaluating the employee experience — in order to attract and retain top talent in a post-pandemic world.”

Even today, Chloe is drawing upon some of those lessons in her current role with Deloitte working as a human capital and workforce transformation professional.

Her international exchange experience at Copenhagen Business School during her MBA has also yielded transferable knowledge and skills. “I loved studying in a country where environmental sustainability is an objective at all levels of community, business, and government — and the human-first approach to work is built into the culture,” she says. 

Chloe began her new job with Deloitte from home in the middle of the pandemic, in an area that would prove to be needed more than ever. Workforce transformation was a growing service within the company, and the team has nearly doubled since Chloe came on board. 

“We are looking at re-skilling, up-skilling, and re-evaluating the employee experience — in order to attract and retain top talent in a post-pandemic world. I’ve been helping clients strategize and think through enormous problems that have surfaced because of the pandemic, especially in remote learning,” she says. 

With Deloitte’s new hybrid work model, Chloe – an employee of Deloitte’s Toronto office – has been able to move to Ottawa with her partner and work remotely. “I don’t know what consulting was like before, but since I’ve started, it’s been the best experience and there’s been a focus on wellness and balance which really excites me.” 

Flexibility, well-being and a human-centred focus is not only something Chloe helps her clients achieve, but something she’s experiencing first-hand as an employee of Deloitte. “I have this meaningful career, complex and challenging problems to work on, a team I absolutely love, and the support from the organization to focus on personal well-being.” This is something she witnessed first-hand in the Scandinavian countries she lived and studied in, and quite likely, is one of the positives that has come about as a result of the pandemic.

“COVID is certainly pushing workforce transformation, and advancing a human-centred approach to solving complex challenges for Canadian organizations,” she says. “It’s a future I’m really excited about.”

Lauralee Sheehan on the parallels between being a rock star and an entrepreneur.

Lauralee Sheehan

Lauralee, Founder and Chief Creative Officer oDigital 55 explains how standing out from the crowd and maintaining an edge as a musician helped her achieve entrepreneurial success in digital media and STEM.


By Lauralee Sheehan

Rockstars and entrepreneurs are idolised in society because they are considered “exceptional,” and maybe even superhuman since they represent a small percentage of the population. Similar to musicians, entrepreneurs represent the risk-takers who humbly work towards their goals everyday, without ever knowing whether things will lead to success. They need to be all-in on whatever they’re doing and not be afraid to express abstract ideas. This kind of passion and commitment is inspiring to the public eye, and serves as the fuel that keeps me going everyday. Many assume that the rock star life couldn’t be further from that of a digital entrepreneur, but in my experience, the two are eerily similar and intertwined with one another. 

The Art of Continuous & Incremental Risk-Taking

During my early band days in the indie duo Lovely Killbots, we were essentially entrepreneurs — we had to build everything from the ground up from music to media (lots of modular development), experience design to marketing and social media and it was all about taking incrementally bigger risks. I learned a lot from the idea of building slowly and pushing further as you go and this meant building not only a band but a brand. 

Over time, this transformed me into a digital entrepreneur running Digital 55, a media agency focused on producing knowledge-based, social purpose content, edutainment and learning experience design (LX). It started off as a one-woman show, but things quickly grew and now I’m leading a growing core team of 6 people and an ever-expanding collaborator roster who work closely with us on our portfolio of projects. 

I’ve also been learning to maintain my edge as the company grows. As you grow it’s easy to forget the ethos of what you were trying to build, so I like to think about bands and labels that were able to always “keep it cool” no matter how much exposure they got or how the industry changed around them. 

“In a song, you have layers upon layers of concepts and ideas and I think building a business is the same.”

Follow the Rules to Break the Rules

Another thing that translated from band days to entrepreneurship is the idea of following rules and patterns to eventually break them. In music, you have boundaries you work within like time signatures and beats per minute (BPM), but from these boundaries you are able to create the art and abstraction of songwriting through melodies and lyrics, riffs and licks. 

I think entrepreneurs do a similar thing in terms of setting up a business, working within industry regulations and taking on a lot of responsibilities — but you have to colour in the lines first in order to paint outside the lines later. In a song, you have layers upon layers of concepts and ideas and I think building a business is the same. Recently, we wrote a song, Bliss and Nothing Less, that is about the Toronto indie scene circa 2008. We layered musical patterns, sounds, textures and lyrics and I think that idea is similar to how Digital 55 was built and continues to grow. It’s a little bit technical, a little bit abstract, a little bit badass.

Discipline Daily

Everything starts with daily habits. I’ve always considered exercise and fitness an important aspect of my life then and now. I exercise and walk daily to get my endorphins in. Pre-pandemic, I’d go boxing four times a week — this was my analog, no tech time.  I think getting physical and spending some time with your thoughts without the distractions of social media, tech and all other things that might allow you to avoid thinking about things that are uncomfortable, uncertain or not immediately satisfying is a huge way for me to dedicate some time for growth in my mindset. 

During my band days, performing in front of a live audience was a workout in itself — lugging gear, jumping up and down on stage and singing my heart out takes dedication and physical and mental stamina. Nevermind all the behind the scenes work that people don’t see, like rehearsing three times a week, using vacations to work on band strategy (and now business strategy), practising scales, listening to music constantly from a research and inspo perspective. If it weren’t for the grit, work ethic, and unending determination instilled in me from my early band days, I wouldn’t be where I am with Digital 55 today.

“I used to think that the most important aspect in running Digital 55 was to become known for producing fresh, innovative digital design and interactive media — but its true value comes down to the original stories we are putting out into the world and the content we get to produce.”

Standing Out From the Crowd with Social Purpose

Rockstars and entrepreneurs are educators who share diverse perspectives of the complex human experience and storytell in a compelling and provocative way. I used to think that the most important aspect in running Digital 55 was to become known for producing fresh, innovative digital design and interactive media — but its true value comes down to the original stories we are putting out into the world and the content we get to produce. 

Like a rock star, the meaning of the lyrics is what resonates in the hearts and minds of your listeners and gets you indie darling status. Whether I’m composing a new single or leading my team to produce digital content across subject matters, the intention is the same — to “leave everything on the stage” and tell a great story that leaves a lasting  impression that connects experiences, cultivates understanding, provides access to knowledge, and ultimately, to influence social change. 

It is arguable that the pandemic has shifted what society traditionally admired about celebrity culture — excess, glamour, beauty, and social influence based on “non-essential” talents. As a result of lockdown restrictions, people struggling to make ends meet, businesses being shut down all around us, and our world forever changed, the pandemic has humbled us all. Now more than ever, we’ve put a greater emphasis on older values such as community, local living, mental health, wellness, humility and the gift of time. Most recently, Digital 55 produced several digital courses with PowerED by Athabasca University: Navigating Extraordinary Times and Digital Wellness 101: Optimizing Your Time & Energy which covers the aforementioned values in the context of wellness during the global pandemic. 

Considering the rise of our dependence on technology which has only been accelerated during the pandemic, digital entrepreneurs and content producers are the new rockstars of our time. The public’s attention has now shifted towards what used to be seen as an unassuming group of brilliant nerds who live online — a.k.a. tech entrepreneurs.  Although I agree that tech has taken over our lives and will be the future of business and life in general, music will always have a place in my heart. 

It will forever influence how I show up as an entrepreneur and has a profound impact connecting with people on a deep and personal level in an inexplicable way. I’ve paid my dues in my past life as an indie-famous rocker, and I wouldn’t be who I am today, leading the award-winning team at Digital 55 if it weren’t for my rock star days. Being a musician taught me how to pour my heart and soul into projects that wouldn’t be understood by the mainstream, develop genuine self-confidence after experiencing failure, and adapt in an ever-changing digital world. These formative experiences shaped me into the fearless businesswoman that I am today, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. 

Lauralee Sheehan

Lauralee Sheehan

Lauralee is passionate about instigating societal change towards diversity and inclusion, anti-discrimination, and advocating for women in STEM and digital media. As the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Digital 55, she leads her rapidly-growing agency to address these issues through producing digital content, cross platform media and digital learning course modules to educate, entertain, inspire critical thinking and instigate social change.

Meet Dr. Wanda Costen, new Dean of the Smith School of Business.

Dr Wanda Costen

Dr. Wanda Costen began her term as Dean of Smith School of Business in July 2021. An academic leader who champions inclusive excellence, she brings a unique combination of experience in academia — as a Dean, senior administrator, researcher, and professor — as well as a private and public sector management career. Dr. Costen’s research interests include managing diversity, racial and gender inequality in organizations, women and leadership, and strategic human resources. In addition to building on Smith’s reputation as a top business school, she’s focused on creating an environment where everyone feels welcome. 

 

My first job ever was… working at McDonald’s.

I decided to enter academia because… a program director I guest lectured for said, “We need people like you in post-secondary.” By that he meant a passionate, business-savvy African-American woman, of which there are very few in business education.

I’m passionate about business education because… by developing the kind of leaders that recognize business for good, we can have a positive impact on global society.

My proudest accomplishment is… raising my wonderful adoptive son, Darren.

My biggest setback was…  leaving the military. 

I overcame it by… recognizing I had more to offer, and focusing on doing my absolute best in every role I had. I committed to maintaining high ethical principles and values, and ensuring people were treated fairly, with dignity and respect.     

“By developing the kind of leaders that recognize business for good, we can have a positive impact on global society.”

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… don’t focus on the short-term outcomes; focus on the journey. I always tell students not to obsess about grades and instead focus on learning, but I know that’s hard to do.

The thing I love most about what I do is… the students! They energize and inspire me, and I love hearing their stories about how they are creating positive change in the world.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be…  my deep faith developed from my relationship with my incredible maternal grandmother who had the courage to emigrate to New York to escape the Jim Crow laws of the South.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I was a NCAA volleyball player at the United States Military Academy (West Point) in the 80s.

I stay inspired by… voraciously reading books across genres — business, history, self-improvement, sports, faith & spirituality — and being open-minded to finding new worlds to discover through reading.

The future excites me because… I get to lead a top business school where we are preparing future leaders to have a positive social impact on the world.

My next step is… to create a collaborative academic learning community, where everyone feels welcome to be their authentic selves. 

Meet Leora Barak: from multilingual interpreter to nutritional therapist

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Suzanne Trusdale’s personal journey has shaped her small business role at TELUS.

Suzanne Trusdale

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

For the last year and half, entrepreneurs have faced numerous, varied, and entirely new challenges — all thanks to COVID. 

Suzanne Trusdale, Vice-President of TELUS Small Business Solutions, can relate. Early on in her career, she ran her own small business — a restaurant and catering company in Western Ontario. Now, she’s leading a team that not only provides everyday support to TELUS’ small business customers, but also creates initiatives and programs to enable entrepreneurs to thrive. 

Running her own business has brought her closer to those who want to follow an entrepreneurial path. “I always wanted to have my own business, long before university,” Suzanne says. “I went to Ryerson University in Toronto to study hotel administration and believed that one day I was going to have my own restaurant and hopefully a catering company.”

After graduating, Suzanne spent a few years working for a prominent restaurateur. When they announced they were going to sell one of their locations, she seized the opportunity to get her start as a small business owner. Alongside a business partner and team, Suzanne built a strong brand and continued to grow the catering side of the business enjoying every exciting moment and challenge of her journey. That was until the recession of the late 80’s hit. After months of trying to stay solvent and keep things afloat, she realized that she needed to make the very difficult decision to close the business.  

“This all happened before I was 30,” she says. “If you come from a place where you go from university to making your dreams come true to losing everything and then having to start all over again… it’s daunting.”

Ready to start again, she left Ontario for British Columbia, and eventually took on a role at BC Tel, a telephone company that merged with TELUS in 1998 to become the second-largest telecom company in Canada. 

“If you come from a place where you go from university to making your dreams come true to losing everything and then having to start all over again… it’s daunting.”

“I thought I would go there for a bit, but that I would eventually get back to what I was passionate about: hospitality and starting another business.” Instead, Suzanne was given the opportunity to grow her position at TELUS and to bring some of her passion for small business to the roles she took on. “I’ve been able to build a tremendous career for myself in a space I’m incredibly passionate about. Some may say I have the best of both worlds.”

Suzanne credits mentorship and sponsorship — having internal champions that helped guide her and connect her to opportunities — for playing key roles in her career growth. It’s become a passion point for her as well; she regularly volunteers her time with organizations that look to advance opportunities for women and girls, especially in STEM. She’s also taken on the role of global co-chair for TELUS Connections, a resource group that looks to empower and create development and leadership opportunities for women within the organization.

As of late, Suzanne’s focus has been on leading her team to help support small businesses as they navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic. “There was a lot of panic last March. What’s been so inspirational is how quickly the majority of small businesses were able to pivot. Some were able to move faster because they had great digital infrastructure in place, and we saw an influx of organizations come forward with products enabling small businesses to connect with their customers in new ways,” she notes. “TELUS is one of those key partners for small business owners. We’ve been able to offer tools and products to help small businesses and entrepreneurs go from brick and mortar stores to digital, or vice versa.”

Suzanne served a key role in advocating for TELUS’ small business customers through the ideation of the now viral campaign called #StandWithOwners. The initiative has done everything from surprising business owners with gift certificates to giving them the funds they need to enhance their digital presence or improve their advertising. Since mid-2020, TELUS has invested $1.5 million (and counting) in the entrepreneurial community.

“I am proud of so many things that we have done this year, but this one is near and dear to my heart,” Suzanne notes. “TELUS has done so very much to give back and that is so important to me as a team member, as a Canadian, and as a woman in business.”

“It takes a ton of courage to ask for help. But why not stick up for yourself? Why not be your biggest advocate and get in there and get involved and see who can help you?”

The “she-cession” — a term coined to describe the unequal impact COVID has had on working women — has been difficult for Suzanne to witness first-hand. “If you think about the pressure of balancing home and work, especially when the sectors that have been impacted the most are sectors led by women — everyone has a breaking point,” she says. “It’s been unfortunate to see so many women forced to choose between supporting their family and career. It’s the wrong direction we need to go in Canada.”

The two big things Suzanne wants women entrepreneurs struggling in these COVID circumstances to know is they are not alone, and “this too shall pass.” 

“I do think so many women entrepreneurs feel they’re alone, but they’re not. Women aren’t really great at saying ‘I’m on the cusp of giving up or shutting it down and I just need some help,’” she notes. “It takes a ton of courage to ask for help. But why not stick up for yourself? Why not be your biggest advocate and get in there and get involved and see who can help you?”

Her advice for small business owners is to take a step back and assess the stress of the times and the “tyranny of the now.” She says it’s always better to “stop, calm down, breathe, and step back for a second,” so you can figure out who to lean on for support. 

“If a person doesn’t have a mentor or coach and isn’t actively working with an organization that can provide education and advice — organizations like local chambers of commerce and Women of Influence — they need to start taking advantage of them,” she says. “There are so many people and companies that want to help small businesses and entrepreneurs. All someone needs to do is reach out and ask.”

Meet Michelle Stilwell, Paralympic gold medalist turned politician turned director of rapid COVID testing.

Michelle Stilwell

Michelle Stilwell’s athletic accomplishments are impressive: she’s a six-time Paralympic gold medalist in both basketball and track, nine-time World Champion, and the world record holder in the 100m, 200m and 800m wheelchair racing events. Before retiring from competitive sports in 2017, Michelle had already started serving as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of BC for the riding of Parksville-Qualicum. In that role from 2013-2020, Michelle held several key cabinet portfolios as Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, Government Caucus Chair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health for Seniors, and was a member of the Cabinet Committee on a Secure Tomorrow as well as the Treasury Board and Deputy Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth. After leaving politics, Michelle joined the LIFESUPPORT Group of Companies, becoming responsible for CVM Medical’s Rapid Antigen Testing portfolio, where she’s helping to ensure the safe return and reopening of business, industry and sport across Western Canada.

 

My first job ever was… working for my parents at their hotel. I started bussing tables, then waiting tables, and finally moved to the front desk. That was my first glimpse into how hard entrepreneurs work to serve and support their communities.

My proudest accomplishment is… never giving up no matter what the circumstances are. We all face obstacles every single day of our lives and I’m proud that I continue to pick up and move forward.

My boldest move to date was… moving away from home and leaving my family and friends when I got married at 23 years old.

Competing in the Paralympics taught me… that anything is possible when you believe in your abilities.

I decided to go into politics because… I felt that using my voice to impact change would benefit my community and those I care about.

“My best advice to people transitioning their career is don’t be intimidated. Trust your instincts. You have your lifetime of experiences to draw from.”

My best advice to people transitioning their career is… don’t be intimidated. Trust your instincts. You have your lifetime of experiences to draw from.

My best advice from a mentor was… “Own your mistakes, but don’t let them define you.”

My biggest setback was… experiencing a cerebral spinal fluid leak. I’ve had a variety of health challenges but nothing compares to the symptoms associated with a cerebral spinal fluid leak.

I overcame it by… not only seeking proper care but allowing myself the time to heal without putting the pressure on myself to always be accomplishing something.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… to slow down. You don’t always have to be busy or accomplishing a task. Take a breath.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… journal.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I am an introvert and I recharge when I am alone. Most people wouldn’t think that I’m an introvert at heart because of my public background.

I stay inspired by… reminding myself that you only have one life to live. Make the most of each and every day. Stay focused and positive.

The future excites me because… things are always changing. There are more doors to open, and some I will choose to walk through while others I will walk away from.

My next step is… to write my book. Time is a limited resource, so best to get out there and make things happen!

How Diane Scott made a late-career pivot to focus on giving back.

Diane Scott

By Hailey Eisen 

Diane Scott couldn’t have planned a career as dynamic as the one she has. Five years ago, it didn’t exist.

As Chair and CEO of JMCC Group, Diane sits at the helm of Canada’s only woman-led international medical cannabis company. She built the business from the ground up and today operates on four continents and the Caribbean.  

JMCC, which stands for Jamaican Medical Cannabis Company, was founded in 2016. After more than a decade working in New York and London in the global financial services and technology industries — including work in the financial services practice of presidential candidate Ross Perot Sr — Diane felt burnt out and in need of a restart. “After all those years I wasn’t loving what I was doing anymore, and I didn’t like the person I had to be to do it,” Diane recalls. 

Taking a career pause gave her the opportunity to return home to Toronto after 17 years. “I sold my apartment in New York and came home to the town I was raised in to reflect. Suddenly I had five acres to look after, and I had to learn how to garden.”

While her next steps weren’t clear, Diane felt fortunate to have the time and resources needed to regroup. She’d been following the medical cannabis industry closely for some time and saw its potential from an investment perspective. In 2014 she started making investments in Canadian cannabis companies. 

What followed was a sequence of events which led Diane to explore cannabis farming in Jamaica. She was asked to consider investing in a family farm on the island, and while she initially said no as she felt only comfortable dealing with Canada, the idea stuck with her. 

“I took a conference call with the family who were looking to convert their sugarcane farm into medical cannabis. While we didn’t end up taking that opportunity, it made a few things very clear,” she says. First came the understanding that growing medical cannabis outdoors — what she calls a ‘natural grow’ in proprietary greenhouses — would ultimately be better for the end patient than growing it in big warehouses. And second, Diane came to learn that Jamaica has the most optimal growing environment, combined with regulations in line with what you’d see in Canada, Germany, and Australia. 

“We both reject the notion that you have to compromise profit in order to do good.”

Soon after Diane and a close friend in London, Tom Speechley, decided to build and launch a global venture capital business, SX2 Ventures. Their goal was to support innovation and long-term value creation in the human care sector, with a focus on life sciences, longevity, specialized care and emerging market healthcare solutions. “We were clear when we started that we wanted to do more with our investments. Rather than solely focusing on financial returns, we saw an opportunity to direct our funds to have a positive impact,” Diane explains. “We both reject the notion that you have to compromise profit in order to do good.” SX2 was an early expression of an environmental, social, governance (ESG) investment model years ahead of today’s standards. 

It was upon this ethos that JMCC was founded. “Starting SX2 naturally led us to create JMCC because we found there was nothing like it in the world. We saw the need, and believed that if it didn’t exist, we should build it.” After nine months of due diligence in the Jamaican market, Diane got on a plane to visit the island. 

“The huge learning curve for me became about the science and medicine,” she explains. And to help grow the business, Diane turned to people who she knew and trusted. “As an entrepreneur, you need to know your own strengths. We can’t be great at everything, so you need to build a team that’s great at everything.” Starting with her well-established network, Diane began to build the JMCC team, both in Jamaica and internationally. While Tom continued to run SX2, Diane focused on JMCC — taking a “divide and conquer approach.”

Diane knew her strategy with JMCC was unconventional from the get-go. “Being a female CEO who had chosen to do things differently than they were being done in Canada at the time, not going public, not growing in a big warehouse, cultivating on an island — I wasn’t making the most popular choices,” she recalls. Even still, she was clear on her vision and happy to be occupying a place that others were not.  

And her outside-the-box thinking paid off. In the five years since its inception, JMCC has become a fully integrated medical cannabis company, operating with a self-contained supply chain — from propagation and cultivation of raw materials supply, product development, manufacturing and packaging, through to global logistics and distribution. “We are the leading global provider of premium Jamaican medical cannabis products and services to the world.” 

She’s also in the final stages of organic certification, which should be in place by later this year. “Not many others can say they’re naturally grown, organic, and control their supply chain from start to finish. This allows us to ensure the highest possible quality patient experience,” explains Diane. “For JMCC, patient quality is at the center of everything we do. It has to be.” 

The company also just completed a joint venture in the Channel Islands, UK to establish a JMCC distribution hub in order to ensure seamless and timely prescription fulfillment to UK patients, and has expanded into an exclusive distribution agreement for the Australasian Region. 

Being a woman running a global medical cannabis company is unprecedented (the industry is dominated by men), but it has pushed Diane even harder to ensure an environment of equality for everyone on her team. “I’ve made it clear for all the women and teams I work with, that we are a company that will find the best talent — regardless of gender, religion, or sexual orientation — and that everyone who joins us has to believe and respect this.” 

Diane and her partner’s commitment to do their part to leave the world a better place has carried over in other ways to JMCC. “This is more than impact investing. We focus on profitable businesses that also are committed to doing good in the community,” she says. “We created the JMCC Foundation, and have committed to reinvest 10% back into communities, education, scientific research, and the medical cannabis industry.” 

“The idea of giving back has become more important to me the older I get. Societal benefit is as important as financials or unique value propositions when looking at an investment.

This includes working with academic institutions to support trials — such as an epilepsy trial being conducted via a Canadian university, which JMCC will provide the cannabis for at their own expense. They’re also one of only five companies in the world chosen to support Drug Science’s Project T21 — which is deemed to be the largest observational evidence-based study in the world, with a target of 20,000 UK patients.  

“The idea of giving back has become more important to me the older I get. Societal benefit is as important as financials or unique value propositions when looking at an investment. In SX2 and the companies we fund, we look for investment opportunities with those who share our vision for this.”  

Personally, Diane carries on that legacy with her involvement in community initiatives beyond her work. She’s a patron of a small school in Maasai Mara, Kenya on a 3,000-acre conservation area protected by the Kenyan Government. She was introduced to the school while on a business trip in Nairobi. “I had decided to stay over for a weekend and go on safari, and I met the manager of the safari who offered to take me to the local school,” she says. Since connecting with them, Diane has sponsored a water harvesting program that has allowed the school to harvest rainwater rather than the village mothers having to bring it from the river, which can be very dangerous. She’s also organized a program to ship books and sporting equipment from Canadian children to the children at this school, who are now learning to read in English. 

Diane is also a Royal Patron of the Royal Ontario Museum (also known as the ROM, in Toronto) and an Activator for SheEO, an organization which has built a $1B fund to help women-led businesses. SheEO is focused on investing to help with the ‘worlds to do list’.  She’s also a mentor and advocate for women, encouraging others to have confidence in themselves and their decisioning. 

“I think as women we don’t always feel like we deserve to be at the Board table, but the truth is, most of the time we’ve earned the right to sit in that seat,” she says. “Use your voice, share your knowledge and experiences, and contribute your thoughts as diversity always leads to better decision making.”  

She also has advice for anyone who is feeling the same sense of burnout and dissatisfaction she was before her pivot: “Doing what you love should be a career goal,” says Diane. “I don’t think people prioritize that enough.” 

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: How can I make a career pivot in a pandemic?

Woman working from home

Q:

“This last year has allowed for a lot of personal reflection. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong career, but I don’t know if now is the time to do something about it. How can I make a career pivot in a pandemic?”

 

Chanele McFarlane

OUR EXPERT:

Chanèle McFarlane
Certified Career Strategist

Chanèle McFarlane is a multiple award-winning Certified Career Strategist, TEDx Speaker and Writer. As the Founder of her career advice website, Do Well Dress Well, she has built an international audience around her approachable and practical advice on personal branding and career strategy. Chanèle is a sought-after public speaker who has spoken for several organizations, universities and colleges across North America. Her expert commentary has been featured in media outlets such as Fast Company, Elle Canada, FLARE Magazine and more. She is also an on-air career expert who has appeared on Breakfast Television, Global News’ The Morning Show, CHCH Morning Live and Rogers TV Ottawa. Chanèle has been recognized as one of PR in Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, one of the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada and one of the Top 25 Women of Influence.

 

 

A:

Well, this is certainly the question I have been asked most often over the last year!

The first thing I want to say is that if you’re questioning whether now is the right time to make a career pivot, the answer is unequivocally yes. 

The news is currently full of negative narratives surrounding the labour market. Everyday there are headlines that suggest the future of work is bleak and that unemployment rates will continue to increase.

Yes, some industries such as travel have been severely impacted, but there are others that are very much thriving with opportunity. For example, the healthcare and online education industries have grown exponentially since March 2020. People are successfully making career pivots and landing new jobs during the pandemic —  and you certainly can too! Sure, there is a lot of uncertainty right now, but with the right strategy, it’s very much possible.

As someone who has made several career pivots (I even did an entire TEDx talk on it!), here’s my best advice for navigating a pandemic career pivot:

Start with self-reflection

I always suggest beginning your pivot process with deep self-reflection through a Stop, Start and Continue exercise. This requires you to create three lists: 1) What would you like to stop doing?; 2) What would you like to start doing?; and 3) What would you like to continue doing? By no means will these lists be exhaustive; you can certainly continue to edit them at any time. However, this exercise is particularly helpful in eliminating some of the initial overwhelming feelings we tend to get when we’re starting the pivot process. What you write down serves as a great starting point and helps you get one step closer to figuring out your next phase.

Conduct a skills audit

Once you’ve completed this exercise, keep your pen in your hand because you’re going to continue the self-reflection through a skills audit. First, take some time to jot down all of your transferable skills. In other words, what skills do you have that are valuable in any industry? This could be things like communication, problem solving, and project management. Next, do you have the skills required for the future of work? According to Forbes, having a growth mindset and critical thinking are among the top skills for 2021 and beyond. We live in a ‘skills economy’ which means that in most industries, employers place the highest value on your specific expertise, compared to your educational credentials.

Do your research

Once you’ve done some self-reflection and auditing of your skills, it’s time to do some research! Read up on the industries that pique your interest, review job descriptions, and look through the Linkedin profiles of people who have the roles you’re interested in. What did their career path look like? What skills do they have? What education and/or professional credentials are required? 

Additionally, you want to ensure that there are actually employment opportunities available in your industry of interest — and that the future outlook is positive. The Government of Canada’s Job bank website is an excellent resource for this research. In fact, they’ve developed a page that outlines the Outlook for COVID-19 Impacted Occupations for each province. It’s important that you don’t skip this step because you could run the risk of investing time (and potentially, money!) into attempting to pivot into a dying industry.

It’s also a great idea to reach out to people for informational interviews to ask them about their jobs, how they got into the industry, and any advice they have for someone looking to get started. Attending events is also an excellent way to build your knowledge and expand your network.

Choose education wisely

You may do your research and come to the conclusion that you won’t be able to pivot successfully unless you gain more educational credentials. I would never discourage anyone from continuing their education, but I challenge you to really think if you actually need to go back to school or if you just need to see the value in your existing experience. Women tend to count themselves out of opportunities by seeing themselves as underqualified. In Linkedin’s March 2021 Workplace Confidence Index, they found that women were far more likely to consider education as a job-seeking strategy, with 40% reporting that they would be willing to go back to school part-time or online, compared with just 26% of men. If you were to read a job description and you realized you had 9 out of 10 requirements, would you still apply? You might not need further education but perhaps just a little more work experience. If you’re currently employed, find opportunities to take on new projects and/or find a volunteer organization looking for pro-bono support on a site like Catchafire.

If  you uncover that pursuing more education is in fact the best choice, be sure to choose a program that connects you with industry professionals and allows you to gain as much real-world experience as possible. When we feel stuck in our career, it’s seems easy to just decide to go back to school but remember that your skills and work experience are still the most valuable for competing on today’s job market.

Immerse yourself in the industry

Now once you have a good sense of what field you’d like to pivot into, it’s time to completely immerse yourself in it! When I was looking to make the pivot from digital marketing to employer branding, I made sure to immerse myself in anything and everything related to the industry. I followed the top thought leaders on social media, I signed up for events, and I read tons of articles, studies and books to fill my knowledge gap. You want to gain a strong sense of what’s happening in the industry, the language they use, and who the key players are. This will be invaluable when interviewing for roles because you’ll be able to demonstrate your understanding of the field and, more importantly, your commitment to continuous learning.

Rebrand your résumé and online presence

Making a successful career pivot also requires you to do a bit of rebranding. Update your résumé and Linkedin profile to emphasize your transferable skills, as well as any key industry terms. As you immerse yourself in content and events in your new industry, start to share this information publicly on your social profiles, especially on Linkedin. (With nearly 700 million users and more than 4 million hired through the platform in 2019 alone, you’re missing out on opportunities if you’re not actively using Linkedin!). It’s important to let your network and potential employers know about your new career focus, especially if you already have an established personal brand that’s heavily centered around your previous role or industry. Re-share interesting articles, talk about the events you’re attending, and engage with people in the industry by leaving insightful comments on their posts. Once you get comfortable with that, I encourage you to start writing your own articles. Over time, not only does creating content help you to reinforce your own understanding, but it is one of the best ways to attract new career opportunities. After all, you never know who could read it — anything is possible on the internet!

I know it may seem like making a career pivot is a lot easier said than done, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Author Cal Newport puts it best though: “Compelling careers often have complex origins.” That couldn’t be more true. Once you’re on the other side of the pivot, you may just realize that this new role or industry is exactly what you were meant to do and you’ll uncover a career path beyond even your wildest dreams. 

Her HR career taught her employee feedback was underutilized — her startup is solving the problem.

Yvonne Lau Retainify

By Hailey Eisen 

 

Having spent 15 years in corporate Human Resources, Yvonne Lau had a strong understanding of the employee experience. She knew that employee feedback held great value for organizations but that, by and large, it was widely underutilized. 

“The fact was, I had sat in a lot of leadership meetings and performance reviews, and I recognized a gap between the feedback employees provided to their managers, and how managers conveyed that feedback to leadership,” Yvonne explains. “Most feedback is either misrepresented or not conveyed at all, primarily because there’s a fear of sharing negative feedback and employees are often worried about the repercussions of telling the truth.”   

While she was interested in solving for this gap, Yvonne felt there wasn’t much she could do in her current director role. “I felt stuck in the role I was in, and limited by the potential for growth within my career,” she says. With an impressive resume under her belt — having held HR roles with Starbucks, Barrick Gold, and the medical technology company, PointClickCare — Yvonne realized the next move she’d make would be into a role she couldn’t be hired for. 

With the intention of starting her own business, Yvonne enrolled in a global executive MBA program through the IE Business school in Madrid, Spain. “Knowing this would be my last degree, and needing the flexibility to fly back and forth to Vancouver, where my mom was undergoing cancer treatments, I chose this international program,” Yvonne explains. Over the next year, she studied in Madrid, Singapore, LA, and Brazil, supported her mom through treatment, and began the ideation, prototyping, and customer validation process for her own business venture. 

This was when her start-up, Retainify, was born — developed to gather honest, timely employee feedback and turn that feedback into data, which companies would use to uncover issues, identify relationships that are at risk, and maintain a happy, satisfied workforce. 

“Looking back, I honestly think every woman should try entrepreneurship at least once in their lifetime. For women and people of colour especially, we often find ourselves asking permission or waiting for opportunities to come up — but when you go out on your own you give those opportunities to yourself. Now I’m doing rather than waiting,” says Yvonne. “I feel like I’m doing something to break through that concrete ceiling,” she adds, referring to the more challenging barriers women of colour face compared to white women, whose ‘glass ceiling’ at least affords them the ability to see the opportunity of leadership roles. 

“We started with nothing but an idea, and we pitched that to customers who took a chance on us and signed early letters of intent.” 

Earlier in her career, Yvonne may not have been so quick to take her own advice. “I had said I’d never be an entrepreneur and risk everything, after watching my family almost go bankrupt a few times,” she recalls. Yvonne’s father had come to Canada from Hong Kong with a grade three education and very little English. He left his own business behind to make a better life for his family, who were relying on him to bring them to Canada once he’d established himself. After feeling dissatisfied with the work he found in Canada, he started his own auto body shop.

It was Yvonne’s dad who encouraged her entrepreneurial endeavors. “When I got bored in my career in my late 30s, it was my dad and uncle who told me I had nothing to lose, that I was young, and even if I didn’t make it on my own the experience would help me a lot,” she recalls.  

Three years later, Yvonne has never been happier — but she’s worked hard to get there. “The year we started out, we were focused solely on building the software that would make Retainify possible,” she explains. “We started with nothing but an idea, and we pitched that to customers who took a chance on us and signed early letters of intent.” 

Yvonne credits her success with these early adopters who supported her through the trial and error process. “These weren’t free users, they were paying us, and supporting us along the way as we made mistakes and worked through them,” she says.  

As Yvonne began to experience success, so did her customers. “Our dashboards help leaders pay attention to their employee and customer engagement data with the same urgency they do with financial data,” she says. With staffing as the biggest cost on most companies balance sheets, access to this underutilized data can be directly linked with revenue growth. 

Just before COVID-19 hit, Retainify expanded into the senior care and home healthcare space, harnessing feedback to track resident and patient satisfaction. “While long term care is government funded, there’s not enough auditing or feedback process in place,” she explains. “If they had regular pulse checks and were using that data consistently, we would have been in a stronger position to fight against COVID.” This aspect of her business continues to evolve and it’s an area she’s especially passionate about. 

Also with COVID came the need for increased employee engagement, providing Retainify with a unique value proposition. “With our software, employers can better understand the needs of their employees as they work remotely — conducting regular pulse checks and building programs and solutions that keep them engaged. If your employees aren’t feeling great, you can’t expect them to perform,” she says.  

With a small team and the ability to pivot, Retainify continues to weather the pandemic under Yvonne’s leadership. She in turn has turned to other entrepreneurs for support and guidance. She joined the Tech Undivided program through ventureLAB which she says helped her build a supportive group of women founders she can relate to. “Being part of ventureLAB has always made me feel like I have someone to fall back on, like they want me to be successful,” she says.  

It is support such as this, which Yvonne says is key to success. Whether that’s through mentors, other founders, or customers, this unwavering support allows you to make mistakes, learn, and grow. “My customers continue to fuel me to be better, get better, and do better with our software and business ideas.” 

Looking forward, Yvonne has a clear view of her mission. “I want people to really know what it means to harness the power of data, leverage feedback, and continue to improve,” she says. “We all need feedback to improve — and I want to normalize that process.” 

How Patricia McLeod turned corporate governance into a full-time job — even though she didn’t fit the typical board member profile.

By Hailey Eisen 

The advice that Patricia McLeod likes to give — “Pick things you’re good at, because if you love what you’re doing enough you’ll find a path forward” — sums up her own journey over the past five years.  

Patricia spent 23 years as a lawyer and executive in Calgary and Vancouver before making an unusual career pivot. Armed with an Executive MBA, plus years of legal, privacy, compliance and corporate responsibility experience, Patricia began to expand on her volunteer experience. She took board positions with organizations focusing on community and economic development, arts, innovation, and vulnerable women and families. 

In 2015, she began to feel that her board work was more strategic than her job. The variety of challenges and opportunities was exciting. Patricia wondered if she could turn governance into her full-time career. She asked a handful of women directors for their opinions. 

Their responses were not reassuring. “I ended up with a long list of reasons why I wasn’t likely to be successful in corporate governance,” she says. “They weren’t being negative, they were just coming from a different place — C-Suite executives who’d been specifically tapped for their board positions.” 

As it was pointed out, Patricia wasn’t even 50, had never been a CEO, and wasn’t ready to retire. Plus, she had no experience in the oil and gas sector — a bit of a problem for someone wanting to serve on boards in Calgary. “I remember thinking: They’re right, but where am I in the board world? I’m the gap.”

Nevertheless, Patricia was undaunted. 

Within six months, she secured her first paid governance position and within 18 months, she was appointed as Chair of the Board of Calgary Co-op, one of the largest retail cooperatives in North America with annual revenues of around $1.2 billion and 440,000 member-owners. In two years, she resigned from her general counsel role, had a full portfolio of board positions and was making more money than she’d earned in her previous job. 

“I’m not a pioneer on boards because I’m a woman. Women on boards is now a much more well-known and supported concept. But I’m a pioneer because I treat my board work as a profession,” Patricia says. 

And following her passion has made her happy. 

“With board work, you’re doing strategy, leadership, issues management — all of which is so motivating to me,” she says. “And it’s a balancing act, like being a consultant.” 

Today, Patricia sits on a wide cross-section of boards, including Calgary Co-op, the Beverage Container Management Board, Alberta Innovates, and the Calgary Film Centre.

 “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills.” 

She says her prior board roles with First Air and Air Inuit proved especially satisfying. Based in Quebec and Ontario, the airlines operate passenger, charter and cargo services in Nunavik and Nunavut. “This was the first time they’d opened up the organization to non-Inuit board members, and there was a great deal of learning on both sides,” Patricia says. During her term, First Air merged with another Inuit-owned airline and Patricia brought her experience in governance, legal and relationship-building to the merger process. “It was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had.”  

But with no airline experience (or experience in many of the industries in which she now serves on boards), Patricia has had to market herself differently. “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills. For example, I worked in utilities, a highly regulated, high-hazard industry, which transferred nicely to the aviation industry.”

Patricia says she’s also needed a lot of self-confidence in applying for board positions — “for every ten interviews you’ll get one position” — and taking on a wide range of roles. She also needed to be willing to put her name forward for board leadership opportunities. She credits her Executive MBA with giving her the confidence to make the leap into governance and the success she’s having as a leader. 

With an undergraduate degree in business, a law degree, and years of work, Patricia went back to school in 2009 to earn her EMBA at Smith School of Business. “I knew I was a strong lawyer but felt the MBA would give me the business credibility I was lacking.” With two young daughters at home and a full-time job, Patricia joined the EMBA program from Calgary, with the strong support of her company. 

“The program not only helped me rethink the language of business writing, which was really important for me coming from a law background, it also put a huge emphasis on group work and leadership,” she recalls. “I literally use the skills from that program on a daily basis, when I’m chairing boards and leading groups, public speaking, leaning into difficult decisions and facing down big issues.” 

Completing the EMBA, she says, made her courageous enough to step into governance and gave her the skills to feel comfortable doing so. But first, it gave her the confidence to put her hand up at AltaLink, where she worked, to take on different roles beyond her existing scope. 

“Sometimes in an established career you are seen in a certain way, and you have to jar people out of that. You have to raise your hand and step outside of your comfort zone.” 

And staying just beyond her comfort zone is what keeps Patricia engaged. “It reinvigorates me, this board work,” she says. “I was recently offered a prestigious role back in legal, and while I was tempted, I decided to be brave and continue on the path I’m on.”

Meet Edith Lassiat: from 20 years as a global luxury marketer to exhibiting as an artist in Europe and the USA

Edith Lassiat’s career journey has taken her around the world. From 20 years spent in marketing for brands including Cartier, YSL, and Descamps, to exhibiting as an artist in Europe and the USA. She’s also been an art critic (she’s the founder of contemporary art magazine Exporevue), an art director for galleries, and she’s edited four books. Since 2014, Edith has turned her focus to helping women who want to contribute to changing the world for the better, through business coaching, speaking, online programmes, and Leadership Masterminds and MasterClasses. Married for 35 years, she’s a mother of two. 

 

My first job ever was… Marketing Assistant for a small European company in wallpaper business. It took me to Germany, Austria and then 1 year in New York. I loved the idea of being involved in design and decoration. I created a ”collector’s” collection for US Market called “Tête à Tête”…  The premisses of my artist flair :-). With my own sketches and a poem inside. Soooo French! 

15 years later an old stylist of a group I was leading a negotiation within New York, asking me about the reason of my good level in English, suddenly understood I had also worked in wallpaper business and smiled at me saying: ”Tete à Tete”, it was YOU?

My love for art began… Very early, I think I’ve always loved art. Painting, sketching, sculpting, photographs… I remember I offered my father, who was a fine musician, a portrait of Debussy done by myself when I was 14… 

I decided to pursue a career in marketing because… it was for me the best way to travel around the world, discover and understand as many cultures as I could. And because I felt I would meet incredible people… It actually happened, I worked with Yves Saint Laurent and became part of the outstanding world of Cartier.

My proudest accomplishment is… To have been recruited at 28 years as area manager, to supervise half of the world for Cartier. A jump into an incredible world, and a reward as it turned into a successful challenge, and gave my career huge momentum.

My boldest move to date was… To quit marketing and de-luxe industry when I was 39, in order to explore my passion for art. I chose to learn the art of Quattrocento (15th century in Italy, a period of the genius of Renaissance painters) with a Master, Pierre Yves Gianini. I became an artist who could exhibit in USA and all over Europe. 

 

Be yourself, push the limits, connect with your Higher Self, and trust your intuition, and nourish JOY at each moment of your life!

 

I surprise people when I tell them… 

  1. That I landed twice in VENICE in a private helicopter with my husband… and that I learned to fly for the sake of love. I did it in order to be part of his passion, even though I was really scared of piloting.
  2. That I quitted my first job and safety, when I was 24, to spend one year in South America, with as little as 4 $ a day. To find out who I really was !
  3. That even though I accomplished so much, I am still the ”Champion of Imposter Syndrome”… It is my very best friend. I never really could get rid of it! But together we can do miracles :-).

My best advice that I like to share…is to be yourself, push the limits, connect with your Higher Self, and trust your intuition, and nourish JOY at each moment of your life! LESS IS MORE WITH JOY!

My best advice from a mentor was…be authentic, focus on your Genius Zone, and dare to be excellent…

I would tell my 20-year old self… stay with me, express your dreams and desires. Together we can make all our dreams come true. See what we already did !!!

My biggest setback was… well, it was my best gift as well… ”My 1 million $ lesson”. We made a very bad investment 15 year ago, which could have put us down. It really scared me, but also gave me the strength to do all that had to be done. In the end, I got out of this nightmare, stronger, more confident, and closer than ever to my husband.

I overcame it by… understanding that there was a hidden gift, that I had an inner strength which was limitless, that I was guided, that it was worthwhile fighting, that my ego had no place at the time, and that I would really grow through this challenge. Also, I understood that money is not the most important thing in life, love is a higher value. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Meet Bianca Lee Mondino: a Toronto-based DJ who spent over a decade in the banking sector before pursuing her passion

Bianca Lee Mondino is a Toronto-based DJ and experience curator known for her ability to lift people through music and inspire women through joy-driven action. In the past 4 years, Bianca has been booked to DJ internationally in sunny locations like the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Croatia. In April of 2019, Bianca quit her corporate job of over 12 years in banking to pursue her creative passions full-time With a focus on corporate and special events, Bianca has had the incredible opportunity to work with brands like Bumble, YouTube, Toronto International Film Festival, TD Bank, Elevate Tech Fest and more. Outside of DJing, Bianca is the founder of Sunday Soul Service — a feel-good oasis that celebrates all those who identify as women. With a mission to help women fill their cup first, Sunday Soul Service curates unique phone-free experiences around the city to help women disconnect from the hustle of their every day and reconnect with their favourite versions of themselves.

 

My first job ever was…*technically* at Tim Hortons as a Customer Service Representative (just before I turned 16), but I started babysitting my neighbour’s kids when I was about 13.

I decided to give up my career in banking and follow my dreams of becoming a DJ because… it brought me a feeling of joy that I’ve never experienced before! I will never forget the feeling of waking up after my first DJ set (it was for a good friend’s 30th birthday); I woke up smiling from ear-to-ear and felt a sense of fulfilment that was entirely new and exciting. There are certain moments in my life where I’ve just felt called to trust my intuition fully, and this was one of them. There was something in me that told me I needed to explore this newfound passion project a bit more, and it turned out to be something I was able to grow into a sustainable career (having a corporate background + network really helped here). It was also a dream of mine to become my own boss one day!

My proudest accomplishment is… finding the courage to seek help so that I could better understand my experience with debilitating anxiety. There was a point when I told myself I couldn’t go on being miserable/sad/depressed every single day, and that there must be something or someone to help me through this. After some very honest conversations with myself (and with Google search), I found and began my first form of therapy (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

My boldest move to date was… leaving my stable, coveted 9-5 job to pursue my creative passions full-time!

I surprise people when I tell them… I am introverted! People look at my line of work and think ‘wow she’s the life of the party’, but in fact, after a fun DJ set or event, you will NOT find me looking for an afterparty. I crave solitude so that I can recharge.

I would tell people thinking about making a career transition… three things:

  1.  Invest in yourself – before I made the leap, I hired a business + mindset coach who helped me move through my limited beliefs + build my brand, a lawyer to help me structure my business and an accountant to help me get my books in order. While I understand resources can be a challenge, there are a ton of free tools and resources online these days. Investing in yourself to me doesn’t necessarily mean financially, but rather setting aside some time to work on moving you closer to your transition goals.
  2. Start an emergency fund – I put aside about six months worth of living expenses before I quit because I knew realistically I had certain financial responsibilities and a lifestyle I wanted to (at least somewhat) maintain.
  3. Start thinking about other streams of income you can tap into based on your skills and experience – for me, because I had over 12 years of experience in business, communications, PR, and branding, I began offering 1-on-1 strategy sessions for women.

My best advice from a mentor was… think about your “why” before making any big decisions. There was a time when I was seriously considering pursuing an MBA and my mentor asked me WHY I wanted to do this. This question totally stumped me and it turned out that I wasn’t actually sure why I wanted to do this. Once I honestly asked myself “why”, it became clear it wasn’t actually something I personally wanted but rather an impression of what I thought was the “right” thing to do. I am grateful for this advice because not only did it save me a lot of time and money, but I also truly believe it was not the right path for my journey.

 

“There are certain moments in my life where I’ve just felt called to trust my intuition fully, and this was one of them.”

 

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… it’s OK to ask for help!!! I feel like we can be our own worst enemies at times and especially as an entrepreneur/solopreneur it can be an incredibly lonely journey. However, I’ve realized that we don’t have to do it alone. I am making a more conscious effort to “receive” because I am notorious for being that person who just wants to give and figure things out on my own. More recently I’ve started to become more open to sharing my challenges on social media, joining communities and just simply asking for help from my network.

My biggest setback was… experiencing debilitating anxiety, which I first experienced six years ago. While I wouldn’t consider it a setback per se (I believe obstacles and pain can make us stronger), it was a really dark and challenging time for me. I felt like the world was against me and I couldn’t make sense of why I was constantly unhappy in my job, relationships and just life in general. It wasn’t until I starting seeking help that I now say anxiety really freed me. It helped me understand myself on a much deeper level (I also learned that I’m an empath during this time and this helped clarify a lot) and I’ve become a lot more intuitive because of it.

I overcame it by… seeking help and being transparent about what I was going through! I realized that I did not have to suffer alone. I started to warm up to the idea that there are professionals and resources available to help me heal and move through this challenging time. I also learned that it’s OK to talk about what I was going through – I understand this is not always easy or may not feel safe, however it helped to share what I was going through with loved ones and friends.

The best thing about being a DJ is… the people and energy. From the people, I’m DJing for, to the ones planning the events and everything in between. Some of my fondest memories are the incredibly energetic dance floors – one particular memory was earlier this year in Bahamas where I was fortunate enough to guest DJ a week-long corporate reward program. I will never forget a moment when the entire dance floor was packed and I was playing “We Found Love” by Rihanna and Calvin Harris. The energy was so electric and the entire dance floor (imagine 300+ people) was jumping in unison for most of the song. It gave me goosebumps to think that this was now my life. All that to say – I feed off of energy. I am also so lucky to work with some incredible clients and event companies. Travelling for work is also a nice perk – travelling gigs are some of my favourites!

The most challenging thing about what I do is… it can get lonely! While being an entrepreneur/solopreneur is often glamorized, it can get really lonely especially when you first make the transition. When I first started facing the challenges of being a solopreneur, it was hard for some of my friends and even family to relate to what I was going through because it was so new. However, I remained patient and open and was fortunate enough to meet more people who were in similar positions through Facebook communities, events, etc. This is one of the reasons I am a huge fan of WOI – I have met so many incredible women at events who genuinely want to help each other and learn about each other’s work. I am grateful for spaces like this!

While social distancing, I’m spending my time… on a few things! First, I’ve been working to bring more light into the community through Sunday Soul Service, a space I founded in September 2019. The mission of Sunday Soul Service is to help women (and those who identify as women) fill their cup first via experiences that help them disconnect with the hustle and reconnect with their favourite versions of themselves. Once the quarantine hit, we adapted our traditional in-real-life experiences to a virtual format, and so I’ve spent much of my time curating and producing virtual wellness experiences. I’ve been fortunate to know many incredible experts and healers who stepped up during this time to help me bring this to life (shout out to Hannah O’Donovan of Lovedey who helped me spearhead the virtual experience idea). Second, I’ve been having so much fun doing weekly, feel-good Instagram Live DJ sets! I do a 30-minute set once a week that is simply meant to help give people a little pick-me-up (they are literally called The Pick-Me-Up). Finally, I’ve been embracing my feminine energy more – to me that means proper sleep, solo dance parties, and just creating space to learn more about myself (journaling has been a huge help here!)

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I once hugged a panda! It was one of my life goals to volunteer at a panda research centre, and so I volunteered at a base in Chengdu, China about 5 years ago. It was a dream come true!

The future excites me because… I believe as we come out of this we are going to crave human connection more than ever and seek out more opportunities to play and heal.

My next step is… studying energy medicine and energy psychology and looking into how I can incorporate some of these techniques into my work to help people manage day-to-day stress. Also, I’m expanding my DJ offerings to a virtual format so that I can bring more feel-good music to people!

How Milica Kostic went from a Deloitte consultant to a Vogue-profiled designer.

When Milica Kostic began her consulting career at Deloitte, she came up against a common problem: finding an everyday bag that could fit her laptop, as well as appeal to her personal aesthetic. Anything elegant and professional lacked room and functionality — an issue that became more pronounced as she moved up in her career and began travelling every week for work. 

With planes and carry-on limits to contend with, extra essentials to carry, and more needs to be served — there wasn’t one handbag that could take her from the airport, to the office, to a dinner out. 

“That’s really when that pain-point became so much more prominent in my mind, and the initial idea started to form,” says Milica. “I realized there was a significant need in the market for designs that would be both functional and sophisticated for the professional woman.” 

Not an entrepreneur by nature, it took another push for Milica to consider meeting this need herself — and it came on a vacation to Tuscany. Her tour group visited some local tanneries with open workshops, and she learned about the rich history and quality of the leather industry in the region. “And that’s when something clicked,” she says. “The vision started crystalizing, and a few months after I got back, I started putting pen to paper.”

 
“I realized there was a significant need in the market for designs that would be both functional and sophisticated for the professional woman.” 

 

She began working on a novel handbag design, from the inside out. “I started by thinking about everything that the average professional woman needs in her handbag, as well as how to make it organized — so you’re not in the middle of a meeting rummaging through your bag to find something,” says Milica. 

What she ended up with became her signature interior, with a padded laptop pocket, multiple compartments to store essentials, including separate water bottle, passport and key pockets, and smart features like interior zippers and pen holders. It was all wrapped in a simple and elegant exterior. 

“I cannot draw for the life of me, so my first design was on a piece of paper in a coffee shop, with explanations all around,” says Milica, laughing. “It did not resemble a bag.” 

She hired a designer to create drawings that could be used by a manufacturer, started drafting a business plan for Voylan and within a year she was back in Tuscany to get the production process started. She knew the quality had to speak for itself, so took her time visiting tanneries, sourcing the best possible leather, and prototyping with manufacturers before selecting a family-run workshop and going into production.

Milica’s idea for a sophisticated, go-to line for corporate travellers first came to life in the Voylan Manhattan Tote.

In August of 2019, Voylan debuted with three handbag styles, hand-crafted with their signature compartmentalised interior. By November, Milica had received an email from British Vogue letting her know they loved the line and wanted to include it in their designer profile section. 

“We were a recently launched brand, so it was surreal to hear from them,” says Milica. “Not only was it an incredible honour, but also strong reinforcement that we’re on the right track.” 

Her business has also been validated by great feedback from her customers — but that doesn’t mean the process of launching Voylan has been without its challenges. 

“Going from employee to entrepreneur is a huge transition, and it takes even more discipline and accountability than I imagined,” says Milica. “There are always things you would do differently in hindsight, especially in situations where you are learning on the go. What I am trying to focus on is to learn from everything and continuously improve based upon those past experiences.”

 

“Going from employee to entrepreneur is a huge transition, and it takes even more discipline and accountability than I imagined.”

 

In addition to inspiring the design, Milica credits her consulting background with giving her the confidence to pursue the venture, and the capabilities to launch it successfully — from asking the right questions, to being comfortable with ambiguity.

“Being an entrepreneur, it is really hard to anticipate anything in the future — but it’s still important to make those plans,” she says. “You have to have a vision that you can anchor yourself to.” 

Milica’s vision for Voylan includes expanding the product line — they’re introducing wallets in the fall, with more products coming next year — while staying true to their commitment to provide exceptional quality, create investment pieces that are still accessible, and address the needs of professional women. For Milica, that’s as much style as it is functionality. 

“I have always seen fashion as a form of art and one of the ways by which we communicate a little bit about ourselves,” says Milica. “The fact that it is now a business I am growing is a huge source of personal satisfaction.”

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

By Stephania Varalli

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sally answers, of course, with a story:

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