How two moms built a grassroots to global program at TELUS.

TELUS Mama Bears Founders

As ambitious, career driven women and first time moms, Angelica Victoria and Kate Evans saw an opportunity to build a way to connect mothers in their workplace: creating a community, cultivating a culture of support, and driving positive change. The grassroots program that they started has now turned global across TELUS, and they are leveraging their platform to create a legacy of change by amplifying the voice of the mother as they advocate to improve the lives of working parents. Their vision is to reimagine and institute a world-leading experience for moms at their organization and beyond.

by Angelica Victoria & Kate Evans

 

We call it the “Mama Bear Magic”: the instantaneous, unspoken connection and easy rapport built when sharing our experiences, vulnerabilities, challenges, and joys as mothers in the workplace. 

After having returned from our respective parental leaves and serendipitously becoming teammates, we both understood the ups and downs of managing a household with a small child, while also managing our demanding day jobs. Quite quickly it was evident that we were both equally passionate about our families as we were about our careers. We’re also immensely grateful and lucky to have joined a team with fantastic, world class leaders, and our immediate support person was a mom herself who was incredibly kind, understanding, and empathetic to our needs and aspirations. 

We discovered early how incredibly powerful it was to have fellow like-minded women and allies to lean on and learn from, not only for day-to-day parental tips and tricks, but also for navigating our career journeys, workplace nuances and norms — both from an emotional and tactical standpoint. This gave us the idea to build a program focused specifically on the niche of mothers within our workplace, where we could get career/life guidance, mentorship, and alliance from women who have been there before us, and share our own learnings and best practices with those who have yet to embark on the journey that is motherhood. And thus was born: The Mama Bear Program

And then COVID hit. Suddenly, the challenges of working mothers were exacerbated even further, with the pandemic creating even more pressure and workload for parents across the board. It was time to launch our side-of-the-desk project as we knew having a community of support was needed more than ever.

Within only a few short months, the grassroots initiative garnered a groundswell of support and expanded nationally and globally across TELUS, resonating incredibly strongly with many, many mama bears across the organization. It was a poignant, pragmatic offering that addressed a long-standing gap and aligned in many ways with broader issues gaining societal traction across various platforms. We shared it proudly and gained leadership support and advocacy to progress our impetus for change, sparking thought provoking conversations, and fueling ambitious goals and the vision of a world-leading team member experience for mothers at our organization and beyond.

Looking back, here’s what we learned:

Start with the why: drive a vision and dream big.
  • Be thoughtful, strategic, and articulate about the purpose you want to pursue, and the opportunity you want to address. 
  • Embrace challenges and vulnerabilities. Realize that you’re not alone and speak to these to connect a community and create an authentic voice. 
  • Set the bar high and create a strong, compelling, connecting brand for your program and platform. Be inclusive and welcoming, but focused on your niche market.
Bring a myriad of strengths to the table.
  • It’s been a true partnership between us — the power of our working relationship is that we balance each other out, we have our own unique strengths that we bring and exercise, we teach each other so much, and we are stronger together.
  • Thoughtfully and intentionally build a team and invite trusted voices to join you. We started with a couple of mamas working together at launch, and over time we’ve grown into a fantastic working team with various incredible skills. That’s been instrumental in allowing our program to scale.
  • Seek out advisers and champions — they are there! Look around, share your story, garner support, and tap into brilliant minds. We are so humbled to have our steering committee, VP sponsor, and various other passionate advocates to guide us and enable us to be better. 
Advocate for the community.
  • Take the lead and start the conversations. Timing is key, focus on progress over perfection, and begin even before you feel like you’re ready. Trust us — you got this!
  • Welcome and listen to the voice of the mother: no one person has the perfect answer. Learn, listen, and iterate as you go to build a meaningful program for the community.
  • Understand that every journey is different, but collectively, we are stronger together. The wonderful thing is that in spite of all the differences and paths we take, the thread that connects us all is the journey of motherhood.

It’s been an incredible, amazing journey to create and build up this program and scale it to where it is today. We’ve truly also surprised ourselves with how much we’ve been able to achieve together as a team. We never dreamt things would unfold the way that they have, with humbling challenges and phenomenal wins, and we are so grateful for it. The fuel that’s kept us going is our purpose, and at our core, we’ve found a way to stay empowered and inspired by the wonderful women around us in this community, by our children, and especially by our own moms who raised us and have been such a strong role models in shaping who we are, the women and mothers we’ve become — teaching us the importance of harvesting strong relationships, being committed to our values, living with strength and grace, and being our own personal women of influence. 

Meet Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi, Founder of Divity Group Inc. and Accelerate Her Future

Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi (she/her) is a facilitator, educator, researcher, published author, social entrepreneur and an advocate for gender and racial equality. With a combined 15 years in corporate marketing with large multinationals and 14 years spent designing and delivering transformative learning experiences focused on youth, women and early career leaders, Golnaz is Founder of Divity Group Inc., through which she provides facilitation, learning and program design, as well as leadership development and equity and inclusion education. She launched her legacy project,  Accelerate Her Future in 2019, a career accelerator for early career racialized women pursuing careers in business and tech. She holds an MBA from the University of British Columbia and a Doctor of Business Administration from Athabasca University.  

 

My first job ever was … at my mom’s women’s clothing store, which she shortly opened after we immigrated to Canada out of necessity and to financially support me and my brother through school. With little English, zero business background and limited understanding of Canadian practices, witnessing her struggles and triumphs taught me the power of persistence, agency, and resistance in the face of circumstances which were less than ideal at times. Working in the family business, I received first-hand experience into operations, marketing and sales and the day-to-day challenges of running a small business. My mom role modeled what it means to be strong, resourceful, and resilient especially during a time when there were no communities and support for women in business like we have today. 

I founded ‘Accelerate Her Future’ because… I recognized the gaps in career and professional development programming tailored to the unique experiences of racialized women in college and university and in their early careers, especially at a pivotal time in their lives. As a leadership educator and feminist scholar, I have dedicated my research, teaching, and mentoring to better understand the experiences and needs of early career racialized women. I decided to take this work into the community because we need programs that are tailored and that apply an intersectional lens. I launched Accelerate Her Future in 2019 as a career accelerator that seeks to do just that through network building, skill and career advocacy development, and mentorship while fostering cultures of allyship and advocacy to affect transformative change.

Leaders should prioritize diversity at all levels of their organization because… diversity is our strength and representation matters. Early career talent can’t be what they can’t see. Although I will say that a focus on diversity is not enough. We also need organizations that prioritize inclusion, equity, and justice. Racialized women are highly educated yet are missing from decision making tables. What’s more they experience a labyrinth of barriers within workplaces from the very first promotion opportunity. They also don’t typically have the same access to influential networks, mentorship, and sponsorship in our workplaces. While white women have made advances into leadership roles, this is not the case for racialized women, especially Black and Indigenous women. We need to do more. We need to do better. Representation matters.

 

Be clear about your values, what you stand for and the impact of your decisions. Your values and your integrity are your compass. 

 

My proudest accomplishment is … completing my doctorate in my 40’s while working full time and raising a young child. During my first doctoral course, I was introduced to critical theoretical perspectives including intersectional and postcolonial feminist theory by my professor who later became my supervisor. As I delved deeper into understanding how our history informs our modern day, the impact and legacies of colonization, I felt compelled to take action.

I surprise people when I tell them… I am a certified meditation instructor. I began on my meditation and mindfulness journey during a particularly tough year when I felt stuck with my doctoral dissertation research and after a car accident left me in a lot of pain. I found grounding, focus and calm in this practice as well as greater self-compassion and connection to my whole self. We need to bring our whole selves into different facets of our lives, especially work —– head, heart/emotions, and body. Over time, I’ve begun integrating mind-body connection and energy leadership into my teaching, facilitation, and learning design.  

My best advice to people starting out in business is…  to be clear about your values, what you stand for and the impact of your decisions. Your values and your integrity are your compass. Lead with ethics and moral character. Beyond scandals like Enron and the 2008 financial crisis, we’re also seeing growing inequalities, climate change and other complex global challenges. While business plays an important role in the economy, leaders have a moral imperative to contribute more toward the betterment of society placing greater focus on people, planet and profit. 

 

Embrace who you are, especially the things that make you different. Only you get to define you.

 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… trust in your own abilities, decisions, ideas, and voice. This is especially difficult when you find yourself in spaces where you’re one of few or the only racialized woman. I’ll never forget years ago being invited to present a new program I had led to design and launch at a departmental committee. Immediately after my presentation two male peers went on the attack in a demeaning and inappropriate way. My team and I had invested a year in research, consultations, iterative pilots, and had launched the program successfully. To have me and my work minimized and marginalized was hard and the imposter syndrome aftermath was real. I promised myself to never allow anyone to speak to me or other women, especially racialized women, that way again.

I would tell my 20-year old self… this powerful quote by Audre Lorde that embodies what I’d tell my 20-year old self who felt her differences acutely:  “If I didn’t define myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies of me and eaten alive.” Embrace who you are, especially the things that make you different. Only you get to define you.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be…  my relationships. While life has taught me to be resilient and never give up in the face of challenge, my community and relationships have been essential to my success. These relationships started in my youth with a few notable teachers and professors who invested in my potential, provided mentorship, and connected me to their networks. Their impact on my life was significant and transformative, especially as a racialized immigrant youth. These early experiences are what inspire me to do everything I do focused on early career women.

I stay inspired by… the brilliant, talented young women that I have the privilege to get to know through Accelerate Her Future, get to teach and mentor, and get to work with every day. I was recently asked by a young leader what solutions I see in response to the systemic barriers racialized women face in our workplaces. My response, the very same young women that I see every day stepping into their leadership and potential who are responding to these complex issues with solutions, projects, volunteerism, activism, and entrepreneurial ideas.

The future excites me because… I see so many people, especially young people, stepping into their leadership potential and working in solidarity to challenge the status quo. A little while ago I was approached by a women’s facing student club at a large University that wanted to do more meaningful anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism work. After a mentorship conversation with the student executive, I have been excited by the bold and courageous work they have done in solidarity with other clubs on campus. These brilliant courageous young talented minds are our future and I feel we are in good hands.

My next step is… My next step is to continue to build Accelerate Her Future into a sustainable national online career accelerator. My team and I are gearing up to re-launch our website and new flagship program and looking to engage corporate/business sponsors and partners who believe in our mission of accelerating Black, Indigenous and racialized women in their careers and have a genuine commitment to equity and justice.

Why I started a book club for in-risk teen girls

 

Tanya Marie Lee is the founder of A Room Of Your Own book club, offering teen girls living in poverty a safe space to find their voice, see their potential, and discuss issues they might face — with monthly meet-ups that include the author of the book they’re reading. Inspired by the sanctuary the library provided during her own traumatic childhood, Tanya launched the program in 2017 and has served over 600 students in Toronto so far. With no stable sources of funding, she relies on donations to continue her work. We asked Tanya to share her story.

 

By Tanya Marie Lee

 

 

When you think of a library, what is the first thing you think of? Books? Librarians? How about a sanctuary? What about a home away from home? How about a road to recovery? When I think of a library, these are the indomitable words that come to my mind.

My name is Tanya Marie Lee and I am the founder of “A Room Of Your Own Plus+” (AROYO) book club for teen girls living in poverty. Hosted in the Lillian H. Smith Public Library in Toronto, our primary focus is on giving young women a space for self-exploration, access to anti-oppression information, and a voice in society, while supporting their mental health and wellness. Girls from 13 to 18 years of age, from all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, abilities and sexual orientations, meet monthly for a discussion — with the author in attendance. We create safe spaces to encourage these young women to express their curiosity, ambitions, hopes, fears, needs, concerns, and frustrations.

How did I know a book club could offer so much? Libraries and books have always been a lifeline for me. Growing up in a very abusive household, my life was filled with conflict and trauma.

 

“I felt that abuse and struggle was just a way of life for me. No matter how much I prayed to God, the abuse never stopped — that is, until the moment I entered a library.”

 

I was physically, emotionally and spiritually abused. I was sexually abused by numerous people in my life, as a young child and into my teen years. I felt as if I couldn’t catch a break. Not only was I abused, but I witnessed abuse when my mother physically and verbally abused in front of me. I wasn’t valued at home for being a girl child either. I had no self-esteem and no sense of my potential. I felt lost, isolated and forgotten.

At school, I was bullied. As a mixed-raced girl, racism was ever present. I felt that abuse and struggle was just a way of life for me. No matter how much I prayed to God, the abuse never stopped — that is, until the moment I entered a library. The library was like heaven on earth for me. The library was a place of salvation, my lifeline. Books were my sustenance. When I walked into a library, I was no longer someone’s prey. I was me, Tanya Marie Lee. I was whole. I could be anything, or anyone, the moment I picked up a book and started reading. I wasn’t a victim or a survivor when I was reading a book. In books, I found everything I needed to survive, and eventually triumph.

Unfortunately, as a result of the abuse I endured, I now also live with an invisible disability. I live with PTSD and Bipolar II Disorder. When you look at me there are many things you do not see. You do not see my past nor what is happening to me in the present moment — both the good and the struggles. My identities include being an empowered, mixed-raced, Jewish woman who is a Life Skills Coach and a parent to an LGBTQ+ child. This rings true for young marginalized women as well. The layers of their identities are often unknown or dismissed.

I started “A Room Of Your Own” book clubs for girls in high priority areas (low income neighbourhoods) of Toronto, because I wanted to help them see their potential and shine brightly despite their struggles. This is the driving force that propels me to do this amazing work. It’s devastating to think it might come to an end.

 

Each month, A Room of Your Own needs about $2000 to pay for books for all of the girls, their lunch, and the travel expenses of authors. With your donation, this program can continue providing at-risk teen girls a safe space

International Women’s Day 2018 Events in Canada

 

 

Across Canada, women’s networks, corporations, charities, educational institutions, government bodies, political parties, the media and beyond are celebrating International Women’s Day 2018. Join the movement to #PressforProgress at one of these events, or plan your own celebration! 

 


 

The Dinner Party featuring Arlene Dickinson (Burlington, ON, March 7 @ 5:30pm EST)  

The Dinner Party is a major fundraiser to raise awareness and support for three important charities: Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Services Halton (SAVIS), Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan-Halton and Zonta International. All profits raised through ticket sales, silent auction and 50/50 draw are solely dedicated to supporting these three groups. Since inception, The Dinner Party has raised approximately $320,500.

 

Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce 2018 International Women’s Day (Coquitlam, BC, March 8 @ 11:00am PST)

Presented by TD Canada Trust, the afternoon event will connect, inspire, and empower all professionals in the room. Featuring guest speaker Fiona Forbes, host of Vancouver’s hit TV talk show, “THE RUSH.”

 

SHEfights II: #PressForProgress (Toronto, ON, March 10 @ 5:00pm EST)

SHEspars and Back Forward Kick present this Muaythai Ontario sanctioned all female amateur muaythai event in support of International Women’s Day.

 

International Women’s Day: keynote from Microsoft’s Vaz Rosario (Winnipeg, MB, March 8 @ 11:00am CST)

Part of ICTAM’s (Information and Communications Technologies Association of Manitoba) Women in Technology Series.

 

#TimesUp: A Dialogue on Women’s Equity in the Workplace, Politics & Society (Montreal, QC, March 8 @ 7:00am EST)

The Montreal Global Shapers hub, Forusgirls and JCCAC – Jeune chambre de commerce algérienne du Canada unite their forces to introduce a unite for a poignant discussion on women’s equity and the #TimesUp movement.

 

Leading with a Purpose: An International Women’s Day Lunch (Toronto, March 8 @ 12:00pm EST)

Attendees will be given the chance to network with extraordinary purpose-driven women from surrounding communities in support of this year’s IWD theme, #PressforProgress, a global advocacy and support movement for gender parity.

 

Women with Tech Taking Over the World by Volta Labs (Halifax, NS, March 8 @ 5:30pm AST)

The event will kickoff with a brief keynote given by Sreejata Chatterjee, co-founder of Leadsift, on the importance of having a co-founder. Sreejata will discuss how having a co-founder has assisted LeadSift in its growth, how to find the right co-founder, and her experience as a female founder. Following the address, we will open the floor to anyone who is interested in sharing their experiences and what they’re looking for in a co-founder.

 

“Flow and Goals” Yoga and Goal Setting by Lululemon (Toronto, ON, March 8 @ 7:00pm EST)

An evening of yoga, goal setting, female empowerment, and treats. The vinyasa flow yoga class (for all levels) will begin at 7:30pm, followed by a vision and goals workshop.

 

“Women Changing Lives” hosted by Family of Women Inc and Making Changes Association (Calgary, AB, March 8 @ 6:00pm MST)

In support of Family of Women Inc and Making Changes Association, the evening will include a guest speaker, a fashion show, and two musical performances.

 

International Women’s Day 2018 Concert (Red Deer, AB, March 8 @ 7:00pm MST)

Featuring Randi Boulton, Kimblery MacGregor, Amelie Patterson, Billi Zizi, Vissia, and Justine Vandergrift.

 

International Women’s Day: Pink Attitude 18 featuring Manjit Minhas (Brampton, ON, March 10 @ 6:30pm EST)

Pink Attitude Evolution celebrates women that shatter through barriers, while inspiring and empowering others to be prominent leaders regardless of age, gender, orientation, race, religion, or abilities. The event will feature Manjit Minhas, Co-founder & CEO, Minhas Breweries and Distilleries and Dragon on Dragons Den. 

 

 

Find more information and events on the International Women’s Day website.

Women’s Top Obstacle to Career Advancement

Earlier this year, we conducted a survey to get a better sense of our WOI community — who you are, what you’re interested in, and what challenges you face as professional women.

We were ecstatic to receive so much candid feedback from our intelligent, successful, and engaged community of women. Thank you to all who responded!

One of the questions we posed was: “What would you say are the top obstacles in your career advancement?”

 

42% of respondents said that a “lack of mentor or sponsor” is the #1 obstacle preventing them from making gains in their careers. Other top obstacles included maintaining a sense of work/life balance, and having a limited professional network.

 

It is not surprising to hear that what women feel they lack the most are meaningful connections with senior leaders who can not only help guide their careers with advice, but also advocate on their behalf, opening up opportunities for advancement. In a study Women of Influence conducted in partnership with American Express Canada, over 1200 women from both the corporate and entrepreneurial world were asked about mentorship and sponsorship. Only 27% of respondents had a mentor, and just 8% had a sponsor. And gender certainly has an impact; according to Harvard Business Review research, women are 54% less likely than men to have a sponsor.

Mentor-Sponsor-Graphic

 

What’s the solution? One tactic is simply communicating the need to potential mentors and sponsors, and creating opportunities to bridge the gap between these successful leaders and ambitious entry- and middle-level women. Initiatives such as #GoSponsorHer are aiming to do just that, using social media to encourage both male and female senior executives to identify and put their support behind high potentials in their organization.

 

“What women feel they lack the most are meaningful connections with senior leaders who can not only help guide their careers with advice, but also advocate on their behalf.”

 

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of sponsorship, as well as how to find (or become) a sponsor, join us at our upcoming Luncheon on June 21st at Toronto’s Arcadian Court. The panel discussion will be entirely focused on the subject, with a variety of perspectives ― from research that supports the impact of sponsorship, to personal stories of creating and developing these crucial relationships.

 

Inviting a junior team member to an event like this one as a guest is a great way for them to meet women they otherwise wouldn’t, and demonstrate a sincere investment in their professional growth. Do you have a sponsee? Buy your tickets today.

 

Calling all good dads

Women’s advancement can start in the home. Jan Frolic, our vice president, shares a heartwarming story of support from her father, and is putting a call out to every dad with a daughter to offer not only encouragement, but action.

By Jan Frolic

 

I am always amazed but not surprised by the number of our keynote speakers who credit their fathers with inspiring their success. To be honest, I am also always slightly annoyed….so few mention their mom. However, I am no different. I have a mother who is inspirational, who instilled all of the power in me and stayed up at night crying with and for me as I moved through life. I have that mother.

But when I became President of my own company and colleagues and peers whom I had worked with for several years all of a sudden started to tell me I had an ‘edge’ (which was a nice way of saying ‘you’re a bitch’ now that you’re the boss) it was my father who said these words:

“Consider the mountain….it is beautiful, it is respected, it can endure the changes of time, it has hard edges. Take it as a compliment Janice. You have what it takes. You have confidence, you have chutzpah, you have a sense of people, business and a general savvy beyond your years. You have what most people will never have…being a loving caring person who is intelligent, respected, funny, empathetic, lots of integrity and a great smile. Having an edge does not in any way mean that you are a hard-nosed so and so. It is a positive trait and a poorly worded way of saying that you are truly an exceptional business woman. Consider the beautiful mountain with its hard edge. Love Dad xoxo”

I carried those words in my day timer for about 15 years. It is now taped to my wall so my own children can read it.

With that in mind, I would like to invite fathers like mine to our next two events. I want the fathers who want to be engaged with their daughter’s successes. The ones who believe in their daughter’s potential. The ones that know it’s not going to be the easiest path. The ones who know they have powerful, smart women that they have been given the opportunity and privilege to raise.

I am offering you the ultimate father/daughter date.

On October 27, bring your daughter to our Women of Influence Evening event and listen to Natalie Panek, a space-robot-building rocket scientist and an advocate for girls and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and tell your daughter that you’ve got her back and she can do anything. Dream big girls…your dad believes in you.

 

 

From Women of Influence (WOI) Networking Course to Girls’ Career Day

We have all heard about the importance of networking. And we are always told to try to meet people outside of our fields. As an intellectual property lawyer at a downtown firm, I have found that it is a surprisingly small world in terms of the people that I run into in my day-to-day life. With that in mind, I decided to attend a Women of Influence course which seemed like a great opportunity to branch out and expand my networking circle.

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