Women online are facing harassment — the #ToxicHush campaign is addressing it.

By Shari Graydon

The TV reporter was telling me over the phone that he needed someone to interview who was not a beauty contestant. I qualified. 

It was 1992 and I was serving on the board of MediaWatch, a national organization working to improve women’s representation by the media. The reporter thought my view on the cancellation of the Miss Canada pageant might differ from the perspective of the previous winners he’d also interviewed. 

I looked into his camera and said how encouraged I was that a contest treating women’s bodies like cattle at an auction was no longer popular enough to attract advertisers. My sound-bite aired between equally brief clips of Miss Canada 1991 and Miss Canada 1992. 

But I had a lot more to say about how society objectifying women makes it harder for us to accept our physical imperfections, or be taken seriously at work. So I channeled the rest of what I thought into a newspaper commentary. 

Its publication emboldened me. I began regularly scanning the news looking for opportunities to write about the stuff I knew and cared about. As a result, I did lots of commentary on CBC Radio and TV, and for three years, wrote a weekly column for the Vancouver Sun. These experiences led to a 13-part TV series, a job in the BC Premier’s Office, and many invitations to speak. 

What I learned was that when you have a public voice, it’s much easier to get your phone calls returned, to convince people to fund the causes you believe in, or to change policies to reflect your research. And this realization inspired me to start Informed Opinions to support other women to increase their influence. 

The newspaper column also gave me experience dealing with hate mail. The envelope of the very first letter sent to me care/of the Vancouver Sun was addressed to “Shari Graydon, Bitch of the Year club.” Inside, my correspondent continued, “You are a dog-faced slut.” 

“The envelope of the very first letter sent to me care/of the Vancouver Sun was addressed to ‘Shari Graydon, Bitch of the Year club.’ ” 

Other readers sent me religious tracts making clear I would roast in hell for supporting gay marriage or for demanding action on women missing from the Downtown Eastside. One male columnist called me “feminazi”; another — employed by my own paper — publicly described me as the kind of person who “can’t stand to see others have fun.”

So I thought I knew what it was like for women targeted by ugliness. But I was wrong.

Two years ago, Informed Opinions convened a roundtable discussion with a group of accomplished women with intersectional identities featured in our experts database for journalists. I told them we were tracking how well we reflected Canada’s diversity and asked how we might better reach out to and support others in their communities.  

“We don’t want to invite women in our networks to join your database,” they told us. “It’s brutal out there. Can’t you do something about the toxic hate we’re getting?”

They shared stories I wasn’t capable of imagining about un-repeatable insults, physical and sexual threats, and despicable lies, all pouring onto their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or into their email inboxes by anonymous trolls bent on shutting them up. And their experiences reflect international research findings that Black, Indigenous, Asian, Muslim and immigrant women, those who identify as LGBTQ+ or live with a disability, are much more likely to be targeted than their white, cis, hetero sisters. 

Because these high-achieving women had careers they’d fought for, families they cared about, and reputations they needed to protect, sometimes the trolls succeeded. Sometimes the emotional and psychological impact of the degrading, sexist, racist, homophobic, or anti-Islamist assaults they were receiving became physical and financial, costing them not just productivity and mental health, but the ability to travel or the willingness to take on new opportunities.

That’s why Informed Opinions has invested in measures to address the unique hate speech specifically aimed at women. Last year we released our #ToxicHush Action Kit to provide a free, online resource to support those targeted in knowing how to respond and where to complain.  

“Sometimes the emotional and psychological impact of the degrading, sexist, racist, homophobic, or anti-Islamist assaults they were receiving became physical and financial, costing them not just productivity and mental health, but the ability to travel or the willingness to take on new opportunities.”

And in June we streamed “A People’s Tribunal: Every Woman’s Right to Speak Free from Online Hate” to draw attention to the human rights abuses affecting thousands of women every day, and to encourage change. The event featured moving testimony from courageous women speaking to their experiences in the context of their work in journalism, advocacy, politics, and healthcare.

In opening the Tribunal, the Honourable Marci Ien referenced the nastiness she’d received as a result of her visibility as a Black woman in television and politics. 

Award-winning Indigenous journalist Brandi Morin quoted a gut-punching death threat in her email inbox, and affirmed her intention to use her voice “for those who cannot speak.” 

And prominent human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby spoke of having been threatened so often that she’s met with police and installed a security system. 

“The fear of being attacked on social media and for that hatred to spill into real life,” she said, “means that I have to often second-guess myself about what I say online in case it is used against me… to justify hate and violence.”

Senator Kim Pate, in her role as one of three ‘Citizen-Judges’, gave legal context to help inform the action we’re urging the government to take. She spoke of the constant assault on women’s rights to participate freely and fully in public debate. 

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she noted, “does not guarantee a carte blanche freedom of expression… There is no constitutional right… to threaten to rape or kill a woman because you disagree with her politics.” But she also observed that in the absence of any formal regulation, the default practice is that anonymous attackers can say whatever they want, while the impact on women is “speak at your own risk.’ ”

The event was moving, illuminating, and infuriating. And as part of our #ToxicHush campaign against online hate, we’re complementing the Tribunal’s powerful stories with data gathered from many others about how they’ve been targeted, where, and what impact the abuse has had on how they feel and act. 

So if you’re affected — or know someone who is — help enrich the stories our data can tell by completing this simple survey.

“Unchecked online abuse threatens not only to stymie much-needed progress, but to actually reverse decades of equality gains.”

To date, 76% of the 270 respondents say they’ve seen an increase in online hate over the past two years, with Twitter and Facebook cited most often. More than half are being targeted with insults and slurs, and almost 20% have received threats of physical or sexual violence. 

Individual attacks retraumatize survivors of sexual assault, and the cumulative impact of having your mobile phone transformed into a delivery vehicle for abuse becomes a serious deterrent to women who might otherwise be willing to share their insights publicly and increase their visibility and influence. 

Indeed, unchecked online abuse threatens not only to stymie much-needed progress, but to actually reverse decades of equality gains. Despite the advances made, Informed Opinions’ Gender Gap Tracker shows that Canada’s most influential news media continue to quote men almost 70% of the time. 

We’ve devoted the past 13 years to bridging that gap, amplifying the voices of women and gender-diverse people, connecting them with journalists, supporting them to increase their impact. Because we all understand the truth behind “if you can’t see her, you can’t be her…” 

And if women’s realities and experience-informed perspectives aren’t part of our public conversations, helping to set agendas, shape policies, and impact spending, the resulting imbalance will continue to profoundly undermine our democracy.

Shari Graydon

Shari Graydon

As a print and broadcast columnist, best-selling author and award-winning women’s advocate, Shari Graydon has spent 30 years using media to draw attention to issues she knows and cares about. Now she motivates, trains and supports others to do the same. Since founding Informed Opinions, she’s helped thousands of subject matter experts share their knowledge in engaging and persuasive ways, and built a database of diverse, qualified sources to make them easier to find. She previously taught communications at Simon Fraser University, wrote speeches for cabinet ministers and the governor general, and was president of two national women’s organizations.

Hybrid teams come with risks — here’s how to make them thrive.

Hybrid team meeting

By Liane Davey

Has office life changed forever?

Many teams won’t return to the same office-centric approach that existed before the pandemic. Instead, the future of work will include a melange of arrangements, on a continuum from permanent work-from-home to full-time in the office. The middle ground will be occupied by employees who split their work weeks into a mix of remote and in-person days.

I think hybrid is a great answer for most individuals — but I’m nervous about the impact of hybrid models on teams.

When we all worked together in an office, we had a shared experience with our teammates. When we all worked remotely, we had a (mostly) shared experience. But now, people on your team might have vastly different experiences, which might cause rifts. Here are the risks to look out for: 

Challenges in forming trust

Trust is critical to all teams, but research suggests it’s even more crucial to virtual teams. The irony is that it’s harder to build trust when you aren’t physically together. Now play out the hybrid scenario. Some coworkers are physically together. They have downtime at the coffee machine. Perhaps they sit together while they eat (studies suggest that eating together forges connection). At the very least, they can observe one another’s body language and pick up contextual cues that help them interpret each other’s behavior more accurately. It’s a significant disadvantage for the remote workers who don’t have the same informal contact. The gaps in trust are sure to have consequences. 

Disparate Access to Information

Remote employees must rely on meetings, email, or activity in the Slack channel for their content. In contrast, in-office employees can chat in the elevator, learn from overhearing conversations between two other colleagues, or get an update from the boss as they come out of a meeting. That likely means that in-office employees are more in-the-know than those at home because they have access to more content. Being better informed can translate into greater productivity, efficiency, or innovative ideas. 

It’s not just more content that advantages in-office employees, it’s also the context they pick up. Imagine that the boss coming out of a meeting is conscious of the communication gaps, and therefore chooses to forego the chat with the in-office employees and replaces it with an email to everyone on the team. Although this solves the problem of different access to content, there are still imbalances. The in-office team might see the boss walk out of the meeting looking frustrated and red in the face. When they receive the email with the boss’ description of the meeting, this context will make a meaningful difference in how they interpret it. Without the contextual cues, the remote employees might interpret the tone in the email as hostility toward them. Both content and context matter. 

The Friction of Asking for Help

Research has shown that remote employees experience more ‘social friction’ in asking for help than people in the office. It’s difficult for them to know what information they need or whom to ask when they know what they don’t know. Social friction also includes the embarrassment of admitting you need help and the fear of being seen as incompetent. As a result, remote employees are less likely to ask for help.

It’s not all about whether someone asks for help or not. When you’re working side-by-side with someone, and they’re grunting and groaning over a task, it’s easy to know that they might need a hand. When a remote teammate is out of sight, you miss these cues and the chance to offer help. Over time, the cumulative impact might cause you to assume that in-office people are more talented, more effective, or more efficient than remote workers when the issue is really that the remote team hasn’t been set up for success.

“I’m glad that the future of work can work better for each of us. I just want to make sure that while it works for each of us, it also works for all of us.”

How to Minimize the Issues with Hybrid Teams

The genie is not going back in the bottle, the toothpaste is not going back in the tube, and the whole team is not going back to the office, so we’ve got work to do to make hybrid teamwork work. Here are a few things to try to get all the benefits of hybrid teams while minimizing the downsides:

  • Invest in bringing everyone together when forming teams or hiring new employees. Relationships that start with in-person connections can be sustained remotely for a long time.
  • Try to coordinate days where everyone is in the office, preferably weekly, but if not, monthly.
  • Have pictures of your whole team in prominent places in the office and shared online spaces. Out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind.
  • Avoid hybrid meetings. If you’re meeting while some people are remote, have everyone join through technology rather than having some people together in a room and others on the screen (or phone).
  • Use an exercise at the start of your meetings to share contextual information that helps reduce miscommunication and judgment.   
  • Establish buddies that pair in-office and remote employees and encourage them to have at least a weekly check-in to share their experiences informally.
  • Use the virtual knowledge-sharing approach to reduce social friction. Pair people up for weekly or bi-weekly sessions to share one thing they’ve figured out and one thing with which they’re struggling. This approach was shown to be highly effective in removing the social friction of asking for help and showed enhanced performance for almost all employees.
  • Provide unscheduled time for the team, including open, agenda-free time for team members to talk about what they’re working on or ask for help and off-task time where everyone can socialize.

I’m glad that the future of work will look different than the past. I gave up full-time office work more than six years ago, and I would never want to go back. I didn’t like the hour spent commuting, the inability to fit in personal tasks during my day, or the exorbitant amount I spent on pantyhose (seriously!).

I know other people who are just as keen to abandon the work-from-home phase and get back to the joys of instant communication and collaboration, the convenience of grabbing lunch in the food court, and the time between home and office to decompress. I’m glad that the future of work can work better for each of us. I just want to make sure that while it works for each of us, it also works for all of us. 

Liane Davey

Liane Davey

Liane Davey is a New York Times Bestselling author of three books, including The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Your Organization Back on Track and You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. She is a contributor to the Harvard Business Review and frequently called on by media outlets for her experience on leadership, team effectiveness, and productivity. As the co-founder of 3COze Inc., she advises companies such as Amazon, TD Bank, Walmart, UNICEF, 3M, and SONY. Liane has a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology.

Why our working hours should match our kids’ school schedules.

mom working with child

By Ellen Joan Nelson

As a working mother, have you ever fallen into a heap on the floor, in tears, because the ‘wheels have fallen off’? You have miraculously organised to fit everything in, but then the unexpected occurs and your perfect plans become unraveled; a child becomes sick, a plumbing emergency happens at your house, or your boss needs you to stay late. Have you ever thought to yourself that being a working mum is extraordinarily tough? 

As a manager, are you struggling to attract and retain the best talent? We are in the middle of the Great Resignation, and getting good staff is tough. Have you noticed that your staff are super stressed, especially those who have children? And further, do you have a good handle on how that stress is negatively impacting their performance? 

What if there was a way to improve the experiences for working mothers at the same time as improving organisational metrics? 

Following speaking engagements discussing my PhD research, which focused on the authentic leadership experiences and social well-being of women in the workplace (with the case study examining women in the New Zealand Army, and the research being listened to, and acted on, by the NZ Army), I conducted — unintentionally — further research focusing on the experiences of working parents, primarily mothers. During 2020, 82 corporate sector working mums reached out to share their experiences with me. When I kept hearing the same story over and over, I couldn’t help myself from applying my ‘research hat’ and note the findings. 

I now share this information with pretty much anyone who will listen to me, and I now have supporting data from more than 500 (and growing) further working parents (mostly mums, and some dads), across NZ, Australia, UK, US, Singapore, and Canada. 

The stories from these parents fall into two broad categories, with a relatively even split between the two. Parents either: 

  1. Return to work full-time and resent the fact that they barely see their children during waking hours in the week, as well as the associated financial cost of childcare. 
  2. Or they negotiate some kind of part-time arrangement, working less hours to spend more time with their children. They might become a 0.8 or 0.6 FTE (full time equivalent), for example, which comes with a corresponding reduction in their pay. 

What happens in practice for (b) though, is that their workload or outputs are not reduced, so these parents often work on their day(s) off, or in the evening — or, most prominently, they become far more efficient at their job, completing their work in fewer hours. In fact, when their manager agrees to ‘allow’ them to work less hours, the response inevitably goes something like this: “Yes, sure, happy to support your desire to spend more time with your kids, just as long as you still get all of your work done.” The parent responds with, “yes, yes, of course — thank you so much.” 

The parents who proceed with this second option all speak about how lucky they feel, and express gratitude for being able to work in an organisation that allows a reduced-hours contract. After hearing this story over and over, my rage set in. There is nothing lucky about getting a pay cut to do the same job — it is an absolute con! 

I knew there had to be a better way, so I did some more research about the construct of work, and realised that it is hugely archaic. The concept of ‘9 to 5’ is just made up. That’s right — it was literally dreamed up 200-ish years ago, around the time of the industrial revolution, and was cemented 100 years ago, in line with Henry Ford’s car manufacturing era. 

“The ‘9 to 5’ construct is based on the assumption that workers do not need to tend to children. The father goes to work, and the mother takes care of the children. However, the demographics of our workforce today are vastly different.”

At that time, women were barely in the workforce and men were barely in the home force. The ‘9 to 5’ construct is based on the assumption that workers do not need to tend to children. The father goes to work, and the mother takes care of the children. However, the demographics of our workforce today are vastly different. Most parents work. Most households do not have a parent dedicated exclusively to childrearing. Workers are responsible for looking after children, as well as their paid role. 

The heart of the issue became glaringly obvious to me. The societal mismatch between work being ‘9 to 5’ and school being less than that is absolutely bonkers. Why on earth would we operate in a modern society where the schedule of the adults is different to the schedule of the children? This means that every single working parent — and around 80% of people do become parents — have to stress about “what the heck do I do with the kids after school, and what the heck do I do with the kids during school holidays?” 

Working parents are experiencing significant and enduring stress, every single day, spanning over approximately two decades of their working life, because of this misalignment, and because they are missing their kids. Young people who are not yet parents are already stressing about this potential future conundrum. This is a huge concern for our society. 

Introducing #workschoolhours. 

Why not try and align the two schedules, by reducing the workday for all staff (without reducing salaries), and making more accommodations over the school holiday periods? 

Now, this is where things get really exciting. This is not just a ‘pie in the sky’ idea, aimed at making things better for staff (parents and non-parents), as well as wider society — which it would do. There is actually a business case to do it. 

The business case for change.

There is plenty of research to support that outputs can be achieved in less than 40 hours. For example, the 4-day-work-week movement is already demonstrating this increase in productivity. The most productive members in the workforce are often part-time workers, as they are already completing their workload in less time. 

Further, if the stress regarding the misalignment of work and school could be taken away from working parents, just imagine how much happier they would be at work, how much more innovative and creative they would be, how much better their focus and concentration would be? We know that staff well-being is important, not just because we care about our staff (which we should), but because it also impacts organisational performance. Happier staff generate more profits. 

Given the current pandemic, flexible working is now mainstream. Many staff now expect this to be a basic condition of their employment. Imagine the competitive advantage you could achieve, by being able to attract and retain the most talented staff, if your organisation operated within school hours? This doesn’t just apply for current working parents, but you would also be able to attract the best people, regardless of their parental status. 

Did you know there are already organisations doing this? There are, and they are raving about the positive impact it is having on their organisation. My latest research project is now collating data about these case study examples, to determine the most effective ways to implement and operate within this new #workschoolhours paradigm (if your organisation is already doing this, I’d love you to participate in this research project).

How to get started.

I now help organisations to understand how they could implement #workschoolhours. It doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ approach. 

Talk with your staff 
  • Find out if they are actually interested in working this schedule. 
  • Ask for their input regarding how this could work in your organisation. 
  • You might be surprised by the creative ways staff can increase productivity, to do the same in less hours, when they are sufficiently motivated! 
Phasing 
  • I don’t, necessarily, recommend switching to #workschoolhours schedule overnight. 
  • Try finishing in time for school collections 1 or 2 days per week. 
  • See how that goes, test, adjust, progress. 
Measuring outputs 
  • Get clear about the outputs you want your staff to achieve. 
  • It’s important to be able to measure these 
  • Instead of focusing so much on paying for staff inputs, (hours), we want to pay for their outputs. 
Scheduling 
  • Work out, as a team, when you genuinely need to be connected with each other. 
  • Determine the requirements for team meetings and co-working periods, and only set them within the school schedule. 
  • Stop setting 4pm team meetings! 

I am convinced that transitioning the work schedule to align with the school schedule is not a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’. Get on this bus, and experience the significant benefits to staff, organisations, and society as a whole.

Ellen Joan Nelson

Ellen Joan Nelson

Dr Ellen Joan Nelson is an ex-army academic business mum, with deep expertise and experience in leadership, well-being and the future of work. Her research focuses on the experiences of women in the workforce. Convinced the working world can, and must, be better, Ellen started the #workschoolhours movement. Ellen helps organisations, including the NZ Army, to remove structural barriers facing women and parents, while simultaneously improving organisational metrics such as: wellbeing, retention, leadership, productivity, innovation and business performance. ellenjoannelson.com

Comment la communication narrative peut aider les entrepreneur.es à se sentir eux-mêmes au travail, y compris ceux dont le genre est marginalisé.

Bradley Sensabaugh

Au travail, vous montrez-vous tel.le que vous êtes, autrement dit, êtes-vous vous-même? 

Nombreux sont ceux et celles qui parmi nous peuvent répondre « oui », sans réaliser à quel point c’est un privilège. Pour la communauté LGBTQ2S+, et les personnes transgenres et non binaires en particulier, ce n’est pas aussi simple. Il existe encore des pratiques, des croyances et des barrières systémiques qui font qu’il est difficile, voire dangereux, d’être soi-même sur le lieu de travail.  

De plus, vous pouvez éprouver ces difficultés quel que soit votre statut, employé.e ou entrepreneur. Selon un sondage mené par la CGLCC (Chambre de commerce LGBT+ du Canada) et l’Institut Deloitte, sur les quelque 28 000 entreprises appartenant à des personnes LGBTQ+ au Canada – combinant un chiffre d’affaires de plus de 22 $ milliards et un effectif plus de 435 000 Canadiens – une sur deux a délibérément caché le fait que ses propriétaires étaient des personnes LGBTQ+, et trois sur dix ont été victimes de discrimination. 

Afin d’approfondir ces questions et de découvrir des solutions potentielles, j’ai rencontré Brad Sensabaugh, conseiller principal, Diversité et inclusion, à BDC. Brad s’est joint à BDC il y a quelques mois à peine, mais en peu de temps, il a eu un impact déterminant sur notre stratégie de diversité et d’inclusion. Homme transgenre engagé à faire connaître les défis auxquels sa communauté est confrontée, il a passé près de dix ans en tant que spécialiste de la diversité et de l’intégration à rendre le milieu de travail plus inclusif pour tous les groupes marginalisés.  

Brad a expliqué pourquoi il est plus difficile d’être soi-même pour certaines personnes, en quoi la communication narrative peut contribuer à changer ce paradigme et comment nous pouvons tous être de meilleurs alliés à l’avenir. 

 

Laura : Je suis persuadée que pour certaines personnes, il est difficile de se faire à l’idée de ne pas pouvoir être soi-même au travail. Commençons si vous le voulez bien par explorer les raisons pour lesquelles certaines personnes, comme les membres de la communauté transgenre, ne peuvent tout simplement pas être elles-mêmes sur le lieu de travail?  

Brad : Je pense que pour les personnes trans, non binaires et de divers autres genres, le concept de dévoilement est incommensurable. Imaginez donc les défis que cela pose sur le lieu de travail. De bien des façons, nous pouvons être dévoilés sans le vouloir. 

Par exemple, il se peut que notre carte d’identité ne corresponde pas à notre expression de genre, comme c’est le cas pour un homme transgenre dont la carte d’identité indique qu’il est de sexe féminin. L’acte extrêmement banal et simple de s’identifier légalement peut être un processus intimidant, avec parfois des conséquences telles que l’échec d’une affaire ou une occasion manquée, et quelquefois aussi une sécurité compromise. 

Cela peut aussi se manifester très simplement, sous forme d’exclusion. Lorsqu’elles entendent parler de parité des sexes, c’est-à-dire d’une représentation de 50 % de femmes et de 50 % d’hommes, les personnes non binaires ont en quelque sorte le sentiment de ne pas exister.

 

« Imaginez que vous essayiez de fournir le nom d’une personne citée en référence et que vous deviez expliquer pourquoi cette personne ne vous reconnaîtrait pas sous votre nom ou votre genre actuel. »

 

Laura : Qu’en est-il pour les entrepreneur.es? Selon une étude canadienne, environ 50 % des propriétaires d’entreprises LGBTQ+ choisissent de ne pas divulguer cette partie de leur identité.    

Brad : Pour commencer, c’est souvent une question de sécurité. Bien que de multiples droits et protections soient en vigueur ici, au Canada, nombreuses sont les personnes qui craignent encore la transphobie et l’homophobie et choisissent donc de ne pas être complètement franches ou transparentes – de peur que cela ait un impact sur le succès de leur entreprise, ou pire. D’autres entrepreneurs et entrepreneures doivent faire attention lorsqu’ils font affaire dans des pays ou des territoires – même dans certaines parties des États-Unis – dépourvus de ces droits et protections. Cette réalité peut être encore plus préoccupante. 

Les personnes appartenant à la communauté transgenre ont parfois des trous dans leurs antécédents en matière d’emploi, de crédit ou de logement. Imaginez que vous essayiez de fournir le nom d’une personne citée en référence et que vous deviez expliquer pourquoi cette personne ne vous reconnaîtrait pas sous votre nom ou votre genre actuel. Cette difficulté peut également se présenter lorsqu’il faut fournir des relevés de notes ou des diplômes. Tout cela peut susciter le sentiment de ne pas agir avec franchise et une attention plus insistante à l’endroit d’une personne transgenre. 

Il ne s’agit là que de quelques exemples. Chaque membre de la communauté a son propre vécu qui définit la mesure dans laquelle il ou elle se sentira à l’aise pour partager son histoire. 

Laura : Je sais que vous vous sentez à l’aise pour partager votre propre histoire, et j’aimerais en savoir plus. Comment avez-vous commencé votre carrière dans le domaine de la diversité et de l’inclusion?  

Brad : La défense des intérêts des autres et un sens aigu de la justice ont toujours fait partie de ma vie – ce sont des valeurs qui m’ont été inculquées par mes parents dès mon plus jeune âge. Ensuite, tout au long de mon propre parcours en tant qu’homme trans déclaré, j’ai vécu directement certains des défis, obstacles et problèmes auxquels les personnes trans peuvent être confrontées dans les environnements de travail. Mais cela ne m’a pas empêché de regarder ma vie en face; ce n’était pas quelque chose que j’allais essayer de cacher. J’ai saisi les occasions d’entamer le dialogue sur ce que signifie être un homme transgenre. 

J’ai longtemps soutenu la communauté transgenre de façon parallèle. Puis, il y a environ dix ans, j’ai commencé à évoluer professionnellement dans le domaine de la diversité et de l’inclusion, et j’ai beaucoup appris sur d’autres communautés également. J’ai décidé de devenir un expert en matière de diversité et d’inclusion, en mettant l’accent sur l’inclusion. Car si la diversité est une question de mesure, l’inclusion est une question d’impact – et c’est là, je pense, que nous pouvons vraiment faire évoluer les choses dans les organisations. Ces convictions et ces valeurs s’accordent parfaitement avec le fait de travailler pour une entreprise qui a une optique sociale comme BDC, et je me suis senti extrêmement bien accueilli depuis mon arrivée, il y a quelques mois.  

Laura : Je suis heureuse de l’entendre. En quoi, à votre avis, votre propre expérience a-t-elle façonné votre façon d’aider les autres communautés marginalisées? 

Brad : Ce que j’ai appris durant ma transition touche aux concepts de privilèges et de stéréotypes. De nombreuses personnes trans sont visiblement trans, un terme qui, je considère, ne s’applique plus à moi. Je veux dire par là que si nous nous rencontrions par hasard, vous ne me percevriez probablement pas comme un trans, mais comme un homme cisgenre. C’est un privilège dont je jouis, contrairement à d’autres membres de ma communauté et à de nombreuses autres minorités visibles. Je ne suis pas dévisagé ou menacé à cause de mon apparence et je ne subis pas de moqueries. 

Cela n’a pas toujours été le cas, à l’instar de nombreuses personnes transgenres. C’est pour cette raison que je me sens obligé d’affirmer qui je suis et de rappeler à tout le monde qu’il ne suffit pas de regarder une personne pour savoir si elle est transgenre. En partageant mon histoire personnelle, je contribue modestement à corriger ce qui se dit sur ce sujet ainsi que tant d’autres idées fausses. 

 

« La communication narrative est indissociable de l’éducation; elle nous aide à élargir nos horizons et à ouvrir les esprits. »

 

Laura : Comme vous le savez, nous avons ajouté une composante de communication narrative à notre stratégie de diversité et d’inclusion à BDC, en présentant des témoignages d’employés et de clients pendant le Mois de l’histoire des Noirs, le Mois de l’histoire des femmes, le Mois de l’histoire des Autochtones, etc. Comment voyez-vous le rôle de la communication narrative dans l’inclusion? 

Brad : La communication narrative est indissociable de l’éducation; elle nous aide à élargir nos horizons et à ouvrir les esprits. L’évolution et la compréhension qui en résultent peuvent être très puissantes. Plus nous écouterons et nous nous sentirons à l’aise pour poser des questions, et plus nous admettrons honnêtement nos lacunes et demanderons davantage de renseignements, mieux nous serons tous informés.  

Chaque entrepreneur.e a une histoire qui contribue d’une manière ou d’une autre à son entreprise, et c’est également le cas pour chaque membre du personnel. Personne ne fait son parcours tout seul. Lorsque j’ai commencé ma transition, j’ai réalisé que mon histoire n’était pas uniquement la mienne. Mes parents ont eu leur propre parcours en devenant les parents d’un fils trans, et mon frère, qui avait autrefois une sœur, avait dorénavant un frère. Ainsi, je vivais ma propre expérience, ma propre histoire et ma propre vérité, et ils vivaient les leurs. Vous ne pouvez pas vous attendre à connaître absolument tout de l’expérience de quelqu’un d’autre. 

L’acceptation et la compréhension progressent lorsque nous accordons aux autres le bénéfice du doute, que nous leur permettons de vivre leur propre parcours et que nous cherchons à trouver des moyens d’être de meilleurs collègues, amis et alliés en cours de route. 

Laura : Y a-t-il des ressources que vous pouvez recommander aux personnes qui ne sont pas non binaires ou transgenres afin de les aider à mieux comprendre et à devenir de meilleurs alliés?

Brad : Il existe des organisations exceptionnelles qui offrent non seulement un soutien aux personnes non binaires et transgenres, mais qui proposent également des ressources – FAQ, témoignages, conseils précis, etc. – pour aider toutes les personnes, ainsi que les organisations, à améliorer leurs connaissances et leur compréhension.

Je commencerais par citer The 519, un centre communautaire situé à Toronto qui dispose de nombreuses ressources pour les entreprises. Fierté au travail Canada est un excellent outil pour les entrepreneurs, et Pflag Canada aidera les particuliers et les familles. Enfin, il existe une excellente ressource au Québec : Jeunes identités créatives

 

« Être un véritable allié ou une véritable alliée exige des actions, et pas seulement de l’empathie ou de la sympathie. Quelquefois, cela peut vous mettre mal à l’aise, mais il vaut mieux agir et en tirer des leçons que de ne pas agir du tout. »

 

Laura : Ces connaissances et cette compréhension sont si importantes. Et si on passait à l’action? Avez-vous des conseils sur la façon dont un allié ou une alliée peut offrir son soutien? 

Brad : J’aime l’idée de se demander cinq fois « Pourquoi? » avant de commencer à poser des questions concernant la communauté. Ce que je veux dire, c’est que vous exprimez votre souhait de devenir un allié ou une alliée pour cette communauté : Pourquoi? La réponse à cette question pourra vous donner des pistes d’action. Ensuite, posez la question « Pourquoi? » encore et encore et vous déterminerez plus précisément ce que vous pouvez faire ou ce sur quoi vous souhaitez vous concentrer. Souvent, le fait de demander aux autres « Que puis-je faire? » sans y réfléchir soi-même peut sembler être de la paresse. Commencez plutôt par lancer une idée : « Voici ce que j’aimerais faire », puis posez la question : « Qu’en pensez-vous? »

Être un véritable allié ou une véritable alliée exige des actions, et pas seulement de l’empathie ou de la sympathie. Quelquefois, cela peut vous mettre mal à l’aise, mais il vaut mieux agir et en tirer des leçons que de ne pas agir du tout. Il suffit souvent d’une seule personne pour briser la glace, défendre quelqu’un, ou agir – et cela suffit pour que tout le monde en parle. Nous voulons parvenir à parler ouvertement, afin de provoquer le changement. 

Laura : Quel est le changement que vous aimeriez voir se produire concernant le genre? 

Brad : Je voudrais que nous commencions à réfléchir à la parité des genres en comprenant que les femmes et les hommes n’ont pas toujours l’apparence, la voix ou le comportement « dont on a l’habitude ». L’appellation des femmes transgenres est souvent erronée, au téléphone et en personne. Mais pour être honnête, il en va de même pour les femmes cisgenres. Je pense qu’en tant que société, nous avons beaucoup d’attentes quant à l’apparence, à la voix et au comportement d’une femme, et chaque variation provoque un déclic.

J’aimerais que nous réfléchissions davantage à la diversité parmi les femmes, les hommes et les personnes non binaires. Le genre n’est pas la seule chose qui nous définit, ou qui fait de nous ce que nous sommes. Mais quelles que soient les expériences et les identités qui s’entrecroisent et nous façonnent, nous méritons tous de vivre et de travailler en étant vraiment nous-mêmes. 

How storytelling can help entrepreneurs break down gender bias at work.

Bradley Sensabaugh

As Vice President, Client Diversity at BDC, Laura Didyk is leading the bank’s efforts to understand and address the challenges faced by underrepresented and underserved entrepreneurs — whether they be racialized, identify as women, identify as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, be living with a disability, or exist within a combination of these identities. This month, she’s speaking with Bradley Sensabaugh, BDC’s own Senior Advisor, Diversity and Inclusion, on addressing gender bias at work.

 

When you go to work, are you showing up as you, as in your true, authentic self? 

Many of us can say yes — without realizing how much of a privilege it is. For the LGBTQ2S+ community, and transgender and non-binary people in particular, it’s simply not that easy. There are still practices, beliefs, and systemic barriers that make the workplace a challenging or even unsafe place for expressing who they really are.  

And these challenges can be present whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur. According to a survey conducted by CGLCC (Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce) and Deloitte Institute, of the approximately 28,000 LGBTQ+ -owned companies in Canada — who have total revenues of more than $ 22 billion and employ more than 435,000 Canadians — one in two had purposely hidden the fact that their company has LGBTQ+ ownership, and three in 10 had faced discrimination. 

To further explore these issues and uncover potential solutions I sat down with BDC’s own Senior Advisor, Diversity and Inclusion, Brad Sensabaugh. Brad only joined BDC a few months ago, yet in a short time he’s had a big impact on our diversity and inclusion strategy. A transgender man who is committed to raising awareness around the challenges his community faces, he’s spent nearly a decade making the workplace more inclusive for all marginalized groups as a Diversity and Inclusion specialist.  

Brad shared his insights on why showing up as your authentic self can be more challenging for some, how storytelling can play a role in changing that paradigm, and how we all can be better allies going forward. 

 

Laura: I’m sure for some people, it’s difficult to understand the concept of not being able to bring your true self to work. Can we start by exploring why some individuals, such as members of the transgender community, face barriers just being their authentic self in the workplace?  

Brad: I think for trans, non-binary and other gender diverse people, the concept of coming out is really big. You can imagine how, in the workplace, this presents challenges. In many ways, we can be outed without our choice. 

For example, our ID might not match our gender presentation — as in a transgender man might still have an ID that lists him as female. The extremely mundane and simple act of legally identifying oneself can be an intimidating process, sometimes with consequences such as loss of business or opportunity, and sometimes compromised safety as well. 

And sometimes it can manifest in really simple ways — such as not being included. For Non-Binary people, there is a sense of literally being non-existent when we hear people talk about gender parity meaning 50% representation of women and 50% men.

 

“Imagine trying to provide a reference, and having to explain why that reference would not know you under your present name or gender. There can be the same difficulty providing transcripts or diplomas. All of this can culminate in a sense of not being forthcoming with someone, which can further enhance the scrutiny being placed on a trans person.” 

 

Laura: What about for entrepreneurs? According to one Canadian study, about half of LGBTQ+ business owners choose not to disclose this part of their identity.    

Brad: To begin with, it’s often about feeling safe. While there are many rights and protections offered here in Canada, many still fear transphobia and homophobia and choose not to be completely honest or transparent for that reason — worrying that it will impact the success of their business, or worse. Other entrepreneurs have to worry about doing business in countries or jurisdictions — even parts of the US — where those rights and protections do not exist at all. That reality can be even more concerning. 

For people within the transgender community, they may have to navigate around gaps in their employment, credit, or housing history. Imagine trying to provide a reference, and having to explain why that reference would not know you under your present name or gender. There can be the same difficulty providing transcripts or diplomas. All of this can culminate in a sense of not being forthcoming with someone, which can further enhance the scrutiny being placed on a trans person. 

Those are just a few examples. Everyone within the community has their own lived experiences which contributes to their comfort around sharing their story. 

Laura: I know you’re comfortable sharing your own story, and I’d love to hear more about it. How did you get started down a career path of Diversity and Inclusion?  

Brad: Advocacy for others and a strong sense of justice have always been part of my life — they’re values my parents instilled in me at a young age. And then, with my own journey as a trans identified man, I experienced firsthand some of the challenges, barriers and issues that can confront trans people in professional work environments. Still, I saw it as the truth of my life; it wasn’t something I was going to try to hide. I welcomed the opportunity to open the discussion around what it means to be a transgender man. 

I supported the trans community for a long time from the side of my desk. Then about 10 years ago I moved into the diversity and inclusion space professionally, and learned a great deal about other communities as well. My focus turned toward becoming a Diversity and Inclusion subject matter expert, with a focus on inclusion. Because while diversity is measurement, inclusion is impact — and that’s where I think we can really make the greatest difference across organizations. These beliefs and values align really well with working for a purpose-driven organization like BDC, and I’ve felt extremely welcome since I arrived a few months ago.  

Laura: That’s great to hear. How would you say your own experience has shaped your approach to helping other marginalized communities? 

Brad: What I’ve learned throughout my transition relates to the concepts of privilege and stereotypes. Many trans people are visibly trans, a term which I would say no longer applies to myself. By that I mean, if we met randomly, you wouldn’t likely perceive me as trans, you would likely perceive me as a cisgender man. This is a privilege I carry, which others in my community — and in many other visible minorities as well — do not. I am not stared at or mocked or threatened because of my visual appearance. 

This wasn’t always the case for me and not the case for many trans people. It is for this very reason that I feel compelled to be out and to remind everyone that you don’t always know when someone is trans just by looking at them. Sharing my personal story is one small way to contribute to changing the narrative on this, and so many other misconceptions. 

 

“There’s a huge educational component to storytelling; that’s how we broaden horizons and open minds. The growth and understanding we experience as a result can be very powerful.”  

 

Laura: As you know, we’ve added a storytelling component to our Diversity and Inclusion strategy at BDC, featuring employees’ and clients’ stories during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Indigenous History month, and many others. How do you see storytelling playing a role in inclusion? 

Brad: There’s a huge educational component to storytelling; that’s how we broaden horizons and open minds. The growth and understanding we experience as a result can be very powerful. The more we listen and become comfortable asking questions and the more we can honestly admit the things we do not know and request more information, the better informed we all will be.  

Every entrepreneur has a story and that contributes to their business in some way, as does every employee. And no one is on their journey in isolation. When I began my transition, what I realized was that my story wasn’t just mine. My parents had their own journey, becoming the parents of a trans son, and my brother who once had a sister, now had a brother. So, while I knew my experience, my story, and my truth, they had their own journey as well. You can never expect to know anyone else’s experience absolutely. 

What increases acceptance and understanding is when we give others the benefit of the doubt, allow them to experience their own journey, and look to find ways to be better colleagues, friends, and allies along the way. 

Laura: For those who are not non-binary or transgender, are there any resources you can recommend that can help with increasing our understanding, so we can become better allies?

Brad: There are some great organizations that not only offer support to non-binary and transgender individuals, they also have resources — from FAQs to shared stories to specific guidance — to help individuals and organizations increase their knowledge and understanding.

I’d start with The 519, which is a Toronto-based community centre with lots of corporate resources. Pride at Work Canada is great for entrepreneurs to tap into, and Pflag Canada is helpful for individuals and families. Finally, there is a great French language resource based out of Quebec called Gender Creative Kids

 

“True allyship requires action, not just empathy or sympathy. Sometimes this may make you uncomfortable, but it’s better to act and learn from it, then to not act at all.”

 

Laura: That knowledge and understanding is so important. What about taking action? Do you have advice on how an ally can offer support? 

Brad: I like the idea of asking yourself “Why?” five times before you start asking the community questions. What I mean is, you say you want to be an ally for this community: Why is that? The answer you come up with may give you some actions you can take. Then ask “Why?” again and again and you’ll hone in on specific things you can do or focus on. Often asking others, “what can I do?” without giving it any thought on your own can come across as lazy. Instead begin with an idea, “Here is what I would like to do,” and then ask, “How would you feel about that?”

True allyship requires action, not just empathy or sympathy. Sometimes this may make you uncomfortable, but it’s better to act and learn from it, then to not act at all. Often it just takes one person to break the ice, to stand up for someone, to take action — and that’s enough to get everyone talking about it. We want to get to that open dialogue, that conversation, in order to see change come about. 

Laura: What’s one change you would like to see, when it comes to gender? 

Brad: I want us to start thinking about gender parity by understanding that women and men don’t always look or sound or behave in “typical” ways. Trans women are mis-gendered a lot, over the phone, and in person. But to be honest, so are cisgender women. I think as a society we have a lot of expectations for how a woman should look, sound, and behave, and any variation is a trigger for us.

I would like us to think more about the diversity within women, men, and non-binary people. Gender isn’t the only thing that defines us, or makes us who we are. But no matter what intersecting experiences and identities shape us — we all deserve to live and work as our true selves. 

Meet the new team at BDC making financing more equitable.

Entrepreneurs are some of the strongest agents for change in our communities, and some of the most inspirational as well. They use their grit, tenacity, passion, and skills to build a business out of a vision.

I’m proud to have spent the last 26 years of my career working with entrepreneurs at BDC — which for over 75 years has remained a dedicated financial institution for entrepreneurs operating small to medium-sized businesses. We not only provide financing, advice, tools and resources, we also build meaningful relationships with our clients to provide value-added service. 

Over all those years, I’ve seen firsthand how the entrepreneurial journey can be filled with successes, hurdles, and a few pivots. I’ve also learned that access to financing, business guidance, and a supportive network can be particularly challenging for underserved entrepreneurs to find. 

What does it mean to be an ‘underserved’ entrepreneur? They are often members of marginalized communities; they may be racialized, identify as women, identify as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, be living with a disability, or exist within a combination of these identities. Often, these entrepreneurs face more barriers to entry when it comes to starting or growing a business — and these challenges have been exacerbated through the pandemic. 

“Our commitment is to listen and learn, working with our internal teams and external partners to understand these unique challenges through research, conversations, and data.”

Acutely aware of these challenges, at BDC we have been working to develop an inclusive and impactful approach to Client Diversity. Our commitment is to listen and learn, working with our internal teams and external partners to understand these unique challenges through research, conversations, and data. Then, we will develop solutions with tangible, measurable outcomes. 

The whole bank is engaged with delivering this strategy, with five regional managers, each with a specific client segment focus, helping me lead the charge. These five individuals have diverse insights, knowledge, and experiences to share, plus a passion for helping entrepreneurs reach their full potential and thrive in every aspect of their business. 

Below, meet Brooke, Nancy, Monica, David, and Chelsea — the team of client diversity experts I have the pleasure of working with to make funding for Canadian entrepreneurs more equitable.

"All entrepreneurs deserve the space and time to share their successes and struggles — especially those that are underserved."

Monica James

Monica James

Regional Manager, Client Diversity, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Diversity and inclusion are weaved into everything that I do at BDC. Since joining the bank in 2003, I have been deeply invested in providing support and guidance to Indigenous entrepreneurs, championing their goals, and celebrating their accomplishments. Officially, I lead the Bank’s national strategy addressing the needs of Indigenous entrepreneurs, so they can overcome barriers, grow, and thrive. I’m also the Indigenous Lead for BDC’s internal strategy to honour the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #92

As a proud Cree woman from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and having been raised in northern Manitoba, my efforts are informed by my own personal experience. I understand the unique challenges many rural and remote Indigenous entrepreneurs face. I also know what is required for an accountable and equitable playing field in the realm of entrepreneurship and finance, and I’m driven to ensure that all entrepreneurs have access to the tools and resources they need to be successful in business. 

All entrepreneurs deserve the space and time to share their successes and struggles — especially those that are underserved. I’ve learned that the biggest ways I can have an impact are believing in their ability to succeed, helping to nurture their business, supporting them by purchasing their products and services, and creating visibility by promoting their brands to others.

"I’m also an entrepreneur myself, so I understand the stress that can come from starting and growing a business."

Brooke Gordon

Brooke Gordon

Regional Manager, Client Diversity, Waterdown, Ontario

I am passionate about supporting women business owners through their entire business journey, and I joined BDC in 2017 with that specific goal — plus nearly two decades of experience supporting organizations in strategic planning and effecting change. 

I’m also an entrepreneur myself, so I understand the stress that can come from starting and growing a business. After suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for years, I was inspired to become a certified health coach and host a podcast about what it means to live a healthy life. My personal business journey has informed my work at BDC not only through the lived experience I can draw from, but also from the perspective of wellbeing — research consistently shows that women, entrepreneurs of immigrant origin, and visible minorities have more mental health and well-being challenges, and 51% of entrepreneurs want a better work life balance.  

For any entrepreneur feeling stressed, I have two tips I can share with you. Number one: get moving! Gentler forms of exercise, like walking, can help focus your thoughts, ease digestion, and replenish your energy. Number two: set aside time at the end of each week to review your income and expenses for that week, and forecast what you expect to happen 13-weeks from now. It is a tangible way to build your intuition with the numbers (for anyone doubting their financial acumen, know you can learn a skill by putting it into practice), and considering cash flow is the most often mentioned source of stress from business owners, it’s a great way to create peace of mind. 

"I have been both the youngest person and the only Black person in many roles, and I understand the difficulties and challenges navigating oneself in predominantly white spaces."

Chelsea Prescod

Chelsea Prescod

Regional Manager, Client Diversity,
Toronto, Ontario

Empowering and mobilizing youth, women, and diverse entrepreneurs is the work that I live and breathe. I believe in equitable entrepreneurship and chose this path so I could help as many entrepreneurs as I can, particularly those from underserved communities, to build generational wealth and break down systemic barriers. I have an eclectic professional and entrepreneurial background, as well as sixteen years worth of leadership in civic engagement.  

As a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent who is the product of a business leader and a serial entrepreneur, I have seen and experienced what it is like to run a business as a person of colour. I have been both the youngest person and the only Black person in many roles, and I understand the difficulties and challenges navigating oneself in predominantly white spaces. I know what it feels like to not fit in and have to ‘code switch’ to get by. Moreover, I understand that access to financing and networks are significant barriers for many Black entrepreneurs, as well as other systemically marginalized communities. In my role, I want to help these business owners navigate the complex entrepreneurial ecosystem, ensuring they’re aware of the resources available to them and how to get the financing and new market opportunities they need to scale their business. It is time that everyone gets a seat at the table.

What drives me daily is building a better and equitable future for my twins, Justice and Freedom. I want them to live in a world where they are judged by the content of their character and not their background. I want their future to be limitless. I am proud to be part of an organization where I can be an agent of change and level the playing field for so many.

"With their representation, I was more able to believe that as a visible minority, I can be in a position of influence. By being visible, I hope to show all diverse entrepreneurs that they are understood — and they are supported."

Daniel Kim

David Kim

Regional Manager, Client Diversity,
North Vancouver, BC

Entrepreneurship runs in my family. I’ve been an entrepreneur myself, and my spouse and her mother two influential women in my life — are both business owners. They have experienced the generous support of their respective customers and unfortunately, as women of Asian descent, faced discrimination as a visible minority. 

In my mother-in-law’s situation, it was the typical immigrant story — with the added barriers of a new language, little funds and a lack of financial literacy, plus no network and a limited understanding of the business ecosystem. And she had a family to support. Having to rely on her young daughter to interact with institutions, she often avoided seeking support, as there was no one who fully understood her. Instead, she frequently reminded her children of the importance of working hard and persevering. Seeing someone in a position of authority and leadership that looked like her would have given her comfort and confidence when growing her business. 

Why do I believe that could have helped with my mother-in-law’s anxiety and stress as she struggled to grow her business? Early in my banking career, I experienced the power of visible role models. I interviewed for a role with someone who looked like me, and though I didn’t consciously realize it at first, that sparked a sense of confidence and provided inspiration. With their representation, I was more able to believe that as a visible minority, I can be in a position of influence. By being visible, I hope to show all diverse entrepreneurs that they are understood — and they are supported.

"Focusing on women has always been an integral part of the positions I’ve held at the Bank — I’ve gone as far as accompanying women entrepreneurs on several International Trade Missions."

Nancy Goudreau

Nancy Goudreau

Regional Manager, Client Diversity,
Montreal, Quebec

When I joined BDC 10 years ago — after more than 15 years working in the market development and venture capital space — the mandate of the organization called to me, and I was thrilled to be able to use my experience and network to accelerate the development of Canadian Entrepreneurs. In the first few months, I realized that women entrepreneurs weren’t comfortable with financing, and most didn’t know how approachable BDC was. I was fortunate to cross paths with the President of the Reseau des Femmes d’Affaires du Quebec (RFAQ), who was building a wonderful initiative aimed at scaling women-owned businesses by providing them with opportunities to work with large organizations.

From then on I was hooked, and began my best and brightest journey into inclusion, with a focus on opening doors for women. I quickly became president of a great initiative at RFAQ called Développement Économique au Féminin (DEF), helping more than a dozen influential business leaders — both men and women — to accelerate and grow their impact in our business community. It led me to form incredible bonds with the women entrepreneurs I met, and their success stories have become my daily highlights, inspiring me with the knowledge that I was making a difference.

Ever since, I stayed highly involved by helping develop BDC’s Women Entrepreneur Strategy, which was going strong even before it was officially made a national priority. Focusing on women has always been an integral part of the positions I’ve held at the Bank — I’ve gone as far as accompanying women entrepreneurs on several International Trade Missions, to ensure they felt supported and empowered to take on any opportunities coming their way. Now, to see my influence grow to include other underrepresented groups, I’m beyond excited to be able to replicate and apply this nurturing approach to help their business thrive and grow.

Four ways to accelerate growth in Canada’s tech industry.

Melissa Chee ventureLAB

By Melissa Chee

 

In 2006, I joined a tech startup that was little more than a concept and a PowerPoint presentation. I remember going into meetings with global decision makers, armed only with an animation that demonstrated what our product could do. Two years later, the chip was in full production with global consumer electronics brands, and we would eventually provide semiconductor chips to over 70-million televisions worldwide. 

The trials and tribulations of that start-up journey, coupled with a nearly decade-long tenure at global multinationals in telecommunications and enterprise software have helped shape my understanding of the Canadian tech landscape in the context of a global ecosystem. Now, as President and CEO of ventureLAB — a leading technology hub that works with tech entrepreneurs who we believe should be born global and built to scale — I’m eager to share this cumulative experience with Canadian tech founders, to play my part in enabling our ecosystem to scale and grow. 

Canada’s tech and innovation has come a long way since then, but there is still a lot of work to be done to accelerate growth in our tech industry to truly harness an environment that creates globally competitive tech titans:

We need to foster a founder’s mindset.

In order to succeed in a tech start-up, you must not only have the brains, but also the grit. We know success is a culmination of focus and relentlessness, and I think one of the biggest challenges in growing a company is developing that laser focus. That means knowing what to say ‘no’ to, and what you should not be doing. Whether it’s making the right hire, building out the team from day one, or adding new features that a customer requested (but which isn’t on your roadmap) — these are tough decisions that can make or break a company. As Canadians, we need to own the podium when it comes to our talent, which continues to be a major export for this country. To be successful, Canada needs to reverse this trend. To be viewed as a globally competitive ecosystem, we need to scale and build in key technology and economic sectors that have global reach — not just start companies which enables us to retain, attract, and grow our talent pool. 

For Canadian startups, a global focus is essential. 

Our market provides much too small a customer base, so companies coming out of this country must be born global, with a focus on building to scale. For the past decade or so, too much focus has been placed on chasing the unicorn — a company that starts small but grows quickly and significantly to achieve billion dollar market value. Canadian entrepreneurs need to focus on taking one step at a time towards sustainable, long-term growth — instead of exiting at low valuations way too early — and figuring out what it takes to really build a global enterprise. The questions you want to ask yourself are: Where does our expertise lie, and how can we leverage that to scale on a global basis? Success for Canada’s tech ecosystem is about creating a sustainable pipeline of anchor companies that really build to scale here in Canada, and sell into the global market. 

Now more than ever, diversity, equity, and inclusion must be ingrained in every tech company’s values, and it’s important to understand that the three values mean different things.

We can’t ignore hardware innovation.

Hardware innovation has been underwhelming in Canada over the past 25 years. If COVID has shown us anything, it’s that we are lacking the expertise to build out essential, IP-rich technology. Take the ventilator, for example. While we can ramp up production, we don’t create the electronics here, so we’re still dependent on foreign suppliers. Right now, global manufacturers are sounding the alarm about chip shortages — which are already resulting in delayed production in laptops, smartphones, and even automotive plants here in Canada. That’s just one unique opportunity that COVID has shed light on, to do some moon-shot investments and put Canada back on the map. After all, hardware and semiconductor development and manufacturing is essential in almost every sector — from healthcare to automotive,  clean energy, and agriculture — all hugely important for both the Canadian and global economy. For our country to leapfrog in a new, post-COVID world, we must invest with a long-game perspective in foundational technology as a modern form of infrastructure that will support jobs, growth, and a competitive IP strategy. 

Diversity, inclusion, and equity must be ingrained in the tech industry.

Now more than ever, diversity, equity, and inclusion must be ingrained in every tech company’s values, and it’s important to understand that the three values mean different things. It’s not just important that we have a diverse pipeline of founders, but we need to ensure that every organization fosters an equitable and inclusive organization that believes in creating equal opportunity — particularly for those underrepresented groups.

It’s with this in mind that we created Tech Undivided at ventureLAB, an initiative focused on bridging gender and diversity gaps. Our goal is to bring awareness to those biases that may be prohibitive for women founders while creating a merit-based environment where they can thrive. Leveraging our Strategic Mentor Network — a gender-parity community of seasoned entrepreneurs, innovators, and tech leaders — Tech Undivided gives these founders the tools and resources to grow and scale their businesses to become globally competitive. Our Tech Undivided founders work with advisors and mentors with a focus on four pillars: raising capital, talent retention, commercializing technology and IP, and customer acquisition. 

To make this work, our belief is that everyone must be at the table; ensuring the success of women entrepreneurs is not just a women’s issue, and so all genders need to be involved. We work closely with ventureLAB’s venture capital and angel partners to bring light to any unconscious bias they may have. Our goal? To re-tool the narrative and perspective. We want investors to see the founder before them, not a man or woman, but a leader with a great technology and business plan to commercialize at scale. Success comes when you can match the right people with the right founders in order to make a difference; that’s what we’re after. 

We also know we’ll be more successful achieving equity when individuals can see themselves in roles they aspire to be in and can relate to their own journey and experience. From CEO to Founders, to Chief Scientist or Engineer, in the tech world, we must shine a spotlight on successful women founders, and share both their challenges and triumphs — it’s these shared experiences that will inspire the next generation.   

Technology and innovation — our digital infrastructure — is the underpinning of everything we do here and around the world. Investing in tech start-ups means investing in a modern digital future that will power the key economic sectors Canada needs to lead.

Listen, amplify, act: how leaders can bring core values to life.

Margaret Stuart Salesforce Canada

By Margaret Stuart

 

Listening and amplifying diverse voices unleashes all the forces every business wants: innovation through new ideas, a higher employee engagement, and improved collaboration across the entire organization.

In that sense, International Women’s Day serves not just as a time to celebrate, but a reminder of how companies need to take equality from a core value to a boardroom imperative. 

While the conversation around diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) has arguably grown louder than it’s ever been, the critical next step is turning talk into action. It’s a priority that leaders in particular need to think through, both in terms of the next generation of female leaders in their midst and how equality informs their day-to-day relationships. 

Here’s how I try to think about it in my own role at Salesforce: What I look to do is create an environment and culture where all ideas are welcome, and all have an opportunity to say “yes” to new opportunities. That includes saying “yes” to projects and roles that may seem beyond their job function right now. 

We already make these courageous leaps at an organizational level. Many of the most successful businesses in the world only overcame their challenges by harnessing the power of technologies that changed everything about the way they work and serve customers. 

In a similar way, leaders need to support women (and all other employees), first through deep listening and then using their business as a platform for change. What changes in this case is not just the company, though, but the individual career journey of the people they empower. 

Taking Personal Accountability

As you listen and learn from a more diverse network, you also need to coach and mentor employees in a way that gives them the confidence to say “yes” to new challenges. I always come back to one of the best questions I was ever asked: “What would you do if you were not afraid?” 

Those you coach and mentor may give very different answers, but your next step as a leader is to help them identify avenues to explore what they want to do further. 

“When you take direct action on values such as diversity, equity and inclusion, you reinforce why they matter — not only to the rest of your organization but the wider world.”

In some cases that might mean helping them look more broadly than the opportunities that might be available within your own company. You might need to guide them in identifying not-for-profit organizations or business associations who can give volunteers valuable experience and leadership skills. 

Another path is to discuss whether they might take the lead in bringing their peers together. Anyone can form a community group that wants to create positive and meaningful change. This can happen with official support from your organization, or simply as an initiative you encourage on a personal level.

Finally, leaders need to be more mindful than ever about their role as facilitators of diverse voices. In the shift to remote work, this means ensuring people are regularly brought together to check in and share how they’re continuing to learn and adapt through challenging circumstances. I do this every week at Salesforce, and the calls we have often end with people discovering new connections and mentors. 

When you take direct action on values such as diversity, equity and inclusion, you reinforce why they matter — not only to the rest of your organization but the wider world. Let’s make IWD 2021 the moment more leaders decide the time to bring these values to life is now.

Five recommendations for including young women in decision making.

Young woman raising her hand.

By Bailey Greenspon and Almeera Khalid, G(irls)20

 

In March 2021, the UN Commission for the Status of Women met for its 65th session. A priority theme for this year’s meeting features “women’s full and effective participation in decision-making in public life”. G(irls)20’s mission is to advance the full participation of young women leaders in decision-making spaces to change the status quo. From boardrooms to policy committees and everything in between, G(irls)20 works with young women globally who are pushing for meaningful inclusion in spaces of power. We are calling on decision-makers to ensure real representation by young women. 

Globally, women make up half the population, yet only 25.2% of parliamentary seats in the world are held by women, with less than 2% held by women under 30.  Only 21% of government ministers are women, with only 14 countries having achieved parity. In the private sector, women are slowly breaking through to senior management roles, but the numbers are still low with 29%. With growing demand by young women to take part in decisions that impact their lives comes the imperative for global leaders in all sectors to open pathways for participation. 

Let’s do the real work to ensure real inclusion of young women in decision-making spaces. Here are five suggestions we can offer companies and institutions to start today. 

 

Recommendation #1: Avoid the Trap of Tokenism.

“I think there is often an overemphasis on the perspective I bring as a ‘young person’ and there is less recognition of the skills from my education and work experience which I could also bring to a board.” – Helen Cashman

Young women want to be heard. There is important talk of diversity, but without meaningful inclusion the result is tokenism: the practice of making only a symbolic effort, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of equality or diversity within a workforce. As institutions embrace equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts without enabling marginalized young women to make real decisions, they may become disengaged or cynical. This is the trap of tokenism; the real opportunity lies in working with young women and then giving them the trust, space, and power to lead.

 

Recommendation #2: Invest in Mentorship and Coaching.

“Mentors have been the most catalyzing forces in my career.” – Larissa Crawford

As young women enter decision-making spaces, they may experience blatant sexism, racism, and harassment. Providing access to visible women role models is one way to help the younger generation navigate barriers and allow them to assert their right to have a seat at the table. Mentorship allows young women to see what is possible and can be a source of inspiration for those with high aspirations and confidence. 

To take it a step further, coaching by mentors enables rapid feedback, joint solution-building, sharing of experiences, and guidance that can accelerate learning and confidence-building for aspiring leaders. Mentorship and coaching are also relationship-builders and can be used to expand the mentees network and increase access to related opportunities for growth and leadership development. By investing in coaches — especially those from shared identities or backgrounds — young women have a network of support to excel into decision-making spaces. 

 

Recommendation #3: Acknowledge the Roots of Imposter Syndrome.

“Women are too often made to feel that we’re challenging some sort of norm when we’re in those (leadership) positions. To start normalizing those types of things, you put women in those positions. You make it normal.” – Mumilaaq Qaqqaq 

Imposter syndrome is understood to be the chronic self-doubt experienced by high-achievers; a belief that one doesn’t deserve the success they have earned. Imposter Syndrome poses as a psychological barrier to young women’s access to and success in decision-making spaces. The experience is especially prominent among young people from backgrounds that have experienced systemic marginalization and oppression, who have been purposely designed out of decision-making spaces. When young women believe they are not qualified or do not deserve their success, they are at risk of checking out or not putting themselves forward for opportunities. 

The first step is to name Imposter Syndrome: help young women recognize the feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome and understand the pervasive phenomenon. Connect young women to mental health resources to unpack these beliefs and provide safe spaces for young women to discuss Imposter Syndrome. Most importantly, ensure the phenomenon of Imposter Syndrome is situated in a historical context marked by racism and sexism. 

 

Recommendation #4: Amplify Young Women’s Voices.

“If I have access to space that other womxn don’t, I advocate for their presence and voices in that space. If people ask for recommendations for certain opportunities or roles to be filled, I put forward the names of young womxn.” – Jathusha Mahenthirarajan

In order to bring diverse perspectives into decision-making to change the status quo, it is insufficient to place one young woman in a space of power. Research shows the need for a “critical mass” of young women to encourage innovative ideas and empower diverse perspectives. For example, evidence points to having three or more women on a corporate board in order to change the dynamic. Former female White House staff reference the “amplification” strategy — the repetition of key points by multiple people — to push for the acceptance of different perspectives. 

Further, when only one young woman is elevated to a position of leadership, she is at risk for Tall Poppy Syndrome. This term, coined in Australia, refers to the cutting down of the “tallest poppy” by those in their peer group. By ensuring a “critical mass” of young women in decision-making spaces are in leadership positions, we can begin to end the phenomenon of Tall Poppy Syndrome. When striving for representation, ensure the box is not checked when there is merely one new person in the room.

 

Recommendation #5: Measure Progress.

“If we invite women and marginalized folks into spaces and those spaces aren’t safe for them, we are setting them up for failure.” – Akosua Bonsu

When institutions fail to collect disaggregated data about progress on intersectional gender markers, they contribute to the silencing of underrepresented voices and experiences. This absence of data makes it challenging for institutions to identify gaps and to build a case for organizational and systemic change. Institutions must adopt policies to track the progress made of young women from many diverse backgrounds, identities, and lived experiences. Applying an intersectional lens to evaluation and learning initiatives is critical to achieving equitable outcomes for underrepresented young women leaders.

As civil society organizations and governments meet this year to advance meaningful change for the world’s women, policy-makers must prioritize creating supports for young women to join spaces of power.

Empowering approaches to build leadership for immigrant and refugee women.

By Sara Asalya

I have been reflecting a lot lately about my experiences in Canadian workplaces when I was a newcomer to Canada. Back then, I was not aware of my rights. I wanted to provide for my family, and I was told by my colleagues to never complain or speak up, otherwise I would be fired. 

The more I know about worker’s rights and women’s struggles in accessing, remaining, and ascending in the workplace, the more I realize that what I experienced was employer exploitation, abuse of power, microaggression, racism, and micromanagement at its best. Being in a toxic workplace environment has impacted my self-esteem, confidence, and the ability to believe in myself, or to even think that I am fit to be in leadership roles — let alone how these experiences have impacted my mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. 

As a racialized visible Muslim and immigrant woman, I was made to feel that I don’t qualify to be a leader. I was made to feel that the system was never designed for me or for the people who looked like me. I was made to feel that no one will ever get my back or even champion me. 

We are meant to feel different, that we don’t fit, we don’t belong, and we don’t have the skills or knowledge needed to really assume leadership roles. Our credentials are devalued, and we are often experiencing deskilling and underemployment. 

It is shocking to me to learn that I was denied these rights because my employers knew well that I so badly needed the job that I would follow their commands and rules no matter what.

It is never ok for an employer to tell us how we are supposed to dress, carry out ourselves, behave in the workplace, or even what we should or shouldn’t talk about. It is ironic that many of these employers are now speaking EDI language, encouraging their employees to bring their whole self to the workplace, and to openly talk about their mental health. Now, all of the sudden, these employers are championing these causes when they denied me accommodations to observe Ramadan as a Muslim woman, or denied me a day off to attend to my family as an immigrant mother, or a mental health break to name a few. 

It is shocking to me to learn that I was denied these rights because my employers knew well that I so badly needed the job that I would follow their commands and rules no matter what. It is also shocking to learn that my colleagues were granted extra days off to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving with their families, and that I was denied religious accommodations simply because I am a racialized Muslim woman and an immigrant who was afraid to speak up for herself, and who wasn’t aware of her rights in the workplace. 

Now, I lead a program at Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto, called Sister2Sister. The program aims at building leadership capacity and civic engagement for multi-ethnic immigrant and refugee women of colour. 

We take the sisters into a self-discovery journey where we talk all things identity exploration, and sense of belonging and purpose. We together build sisterhood and a safe space for them to share their own stories and learn how to break down barriers, overcome obstacles, and empower one another. We create pathways to advance their leadership, and provide a platform for them to construct, deconstruct, and negotiate multiple intersect identities as immigrant women of colour, while also talking about their experiences of exclusion, alienation, and marginalization in Canadian workplaces, and the compounded barriers they face to career advancement as well as challenges to assume leadership roles. 

We talk about how as immigrant women of colour we can develop resilience, resistance, and acts of solidarity strategies to create our own safe spaces and sense of belonging. Based on my own experiences in Canadian workplaces, and based on a decade spent advocating for immigrant women’s rights and advancing their leadership, I designed a leadership model for the Sister2Sister program that consists of three pillars: self-advocacy, self-empowerment, and self-actualization:

Figure 1: Leadership model Source: (c) Copyright 2019 Sara Asalya

Audre Lorde, the Black feminist writer and civil rights activists says, “If I don’t define myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” We are redefining leadership for immigrant and refugee women because leadership for us is different. Immigrant women of colour bring a plethora of knowledge, skills, and rich culture to our workplaces. We are an untapped resource and deskilling us is an absolute waste of talent. We definitely don’t need to be trained on how to speak, communicate, dress, network with others, or on what is workplace etiquette. What we really need is a formula that allows us to speak up against violence, abuse, exploitation, and violations of any basic human rights. What we need is to learn about our rights, to be able to advocate for ourselves and our needs, and to simply be able to see ourselves in leadership roles — representation matters! I am still having difficulties visualizing myself in leadership roles when I don’t see people who look like me in politics, media rooms, board rooms, and in leadership roles. 

In my capacity as the Founder and Executive Director of the Newcomer Students’ Association, I lead a national grassroots, membership-driven organization working at the intersection of migration, education, and social justice, and a platform committed to promoting inclusion and equity for post-secondary newcomer, immigrant, and refugee students. My team and I recently launched the Immigrant Women National Network (IWNN), a network led by and for immigrant and refugee women. The network aims to amplify the voices of immigrant and refugee women, advance their leadership, create transformative and empowering experiences, optimize their civic and political participation, and champion their rights. The network is looking into strategies to educate and engage employers in conversations and an ongoing dialogue about creating meaningful leadership opportunities for immigrant women — that allows them to thrive and be their authentic self. Employers shouldn’t have expectations that immigrant women will assimilate to other cultures or dilute their original identities or betray their own personal values to pleasure and follow Western culture norms. 

The network also offers a diverse set of programming and initiatives that focus on building leadership capacity for immigrant women, starting with educating them about their human rights and providing anti-oppression and gender-based violence training. We are changing public narratives and discourses around immigrant women and debunking the myths and stereotypes about us not being capable or worthy of being in leadership roles. 

Here are some recommendations for systemic change to support immigrant women’s leadership and career advancement in Canadian workplaces:
  1. Create safe spaces for immigrant women to talk about their needs and aspirations. Appreciate their diverse needs and lived experiences.
  2. Understand that immigrant women already have the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to be in leadership roles. You just need to believe in them, provide them the platform, and champion them. 
  3. Develop culturally sensitive leadership development opportunities such as mentorship and sponsorship programs.
  4. Be inclusive when planning networking opportunities and spaces as many immigrant women can’t afford the luxury to participate in networking programs outside work hours or subscribe to additional non-work-related programs at their own cost.
  5. Be aware of how to apply an intersectional approach when creating advancement opportunities for immigrant women. Immigrant and refugee women are not a homogenous group. 
  6. Don’t tokenize us in the name of equity, diversity, and inclusion. If you want to give us a seat on your decision-making table, you must provide us with tools and resources to thrive, and actively listen to and amplify our voices. 

It is crucial for us to use empowering approaches when building leadership capacity for immigrant and refugee women. We need a paradigm shift when talking about settlement and integration of this segment. The conversation needs to be about economic empowerment and leadership for immigrant and refugee women, rather than short-term settlement solutions that limit the potential of these women. Here is an opportunity for us to reimagine what economic empowerment looks like for immigrant and refugee women. 

Empowering Approaches to Building Leadership for immigrant and Refugee Women 
  1. Invest in immigrant and refugee women talent.
  2. Focus on building and advancing their leadership development.
  3. Promote their mental wellbeing in the workplace.
  4. Prioritize long-term integration, advancement, and inclusion strategies for this segment.
  5. Operate from an-anti oppressive framework and use a strength-based approach when working with these women.
  6. Build their confidence, resiliency, and self-authorship.
  7. Create safe, brave, and empowering spaces for them to share their stories and lived experiences.
  8. Make them experts in their own issues, needs and experiences.
  9. Centre their voices by intentionally engaging them in decision-making processes. 

There are so many strategies and opportunities for employers and workplaces to support and promote immigrant women and advance their leadership. Jessica Ketwaroo-Green reminds us that we first need to understand systemic oppressions and structural and institutional inequalities that continue to marginalize us and make us vulnerable to exploitation, deskilling, and underemployment. Systems of oppression continue to fail and exclude us, and we continue to be largely not represented in these spaces. My hope is that this action-oriented article with strategies for systemic change will be a starting point in our continued effort to create leadership opportunities for immigrant and refugee women.

Sara Asalya

Sara Asalya

A Palestinian immigrant, award-winning leader and human rights advocate. Sara has a long track record of developing and managing programs targeting immigrant and refugee women internationally and in Canada, with a particular focus on building and advancing their leadership and economic empowerment. Sara was named one of Canada’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants and Top 25 Women of Influence. From promoting civic engagement to empowering women, Sara works to mobilize, activate and galvanize immigrant communities to take action for social change. Sara is the Founder and Executive Director of The Newcomer Students’ Association, and the Senior Manager of Programs and Strategic Initiatives at Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto. You can connect with Sara via Linkedin and Twitter.

Sara Asalya

Sara Asalya

A Palestinian immigrant, award-winning leader and human rights advocate. Sara has a long track record of developing and managing programs targeting immigrant and refugee women internationally and in Canada, with a particular focus on building and advancing their leadership and economic empowerment. Sara was named one of Canada’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants and Top 25 Women of Influence. From promoting civic engagement to empowering women, Sara works to mobilize, activate and galvanize immigrant communities to take action for social change. Sara is the Founder and Executive Director of The Newcomer Students’ Association, and the Senior Manager of Programs and Strategic Initiatives at Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto. You can connect with Sara via Linkedin and Twitter.

How this Scotiabank executive is responding to the pandemic’s impact on the gender gap.

Nicole German Scotiabank

by Shelley White

 

Like most working parents across the country, Nicole German has encountered ups and downs adjusting to the new normal of life during a pandemic. As a busy mom, she says balancing work and family can be challenging at the best of times, but the pandemic has taken it to another level. 

“I would say it’s really an ebb and flow,” says Nicole, VP & Head Global, Enterprise Digital Marketing & Growth at Scotiabank and Advisory Board member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. “On one hand, during the lockdown, I’m not driving to sports or having to race home after work. On the other hand, there are moments where I’m consumed with work and trying to juggle online learning and the emotional needs of my children. I also have older parents, and I want to make sure that they have access to all the resources they need and are in good health and spirits.”

To keep things on an even keel, Nicole says she consciously focuses on mental and physical well-being for herself and her family. “We’re trying to get outside as much as possible, and also making sure that we’re reaching out and making those connections with family and friends via video conferencing.”

While it’s likely that anyone can relate to feeling challenged during a global pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear that women have been particularly impacted during this unprecedented time. 

“We are seeing a disproportionate amount of extra load falling to women,” says Nicole. “If you have young people at home and older people you are looking after, it’s that idea of the ‘sandwich generation,’ and that’s especially compounded when women are working too.” 

Nicole says she’s been “astounded” to see how women have lost ground from an employment perspective during the pandemic. She points to a recent analysis by the National Women’s Law Center that found while women outnumbered men in the U.S. workforce a year ago, they accounted for 100 per cent of job losses in the country in December 2020. 

In Canada, the data has followed similar patterns. Global non-profit organization Catalyst pointed out that although unemployment for parents was near-normal by September 2020, 70 per cent more mothers — compared with 24 per cent of fathers — were working fewer than half of the hours they worked in February 2020.

“It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure. But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform.” 

Nicole considers the lasting impact to women COVID-19 may cause. “It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure,” she says. “But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform to support women to ensure we remove these inequities and challenges for women.” 

One of the ways Scotiabank is supporting business women through the pandemic is through the Digital Hub created as part of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. Launched two years ago, The Scotiabank Women Initiative is a comprehensive program helping women across Canada take their businesses to the next level through unbiased access to capital, financial services, education, advice, and mentorship.

The Digital Hub is an online platform and resource centre to help women-led businesses transform and thrive during these challenging times. Resources include everything from articles, stories, templates and training on topics like how to build a website and transact through e-commerce to how to use digital channels to promote and market your business. The Hub was developed in collaboration with some of the heaviest hitters in the tech world, including LinkedIn, Shopify, Facebook, and Google. 

Nicole says the idea for the Digital Hub was sparked pre-pandemic. Gillian Riley, President and CEO, Tangerine Bank, and executive sponsor and founder of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, engaged Nicole to create a digital toolkit that would help women entrepreneurs prosper during the challenging times of the pandemic. As a member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative Advisory Board, Nicole embraced the task at hand. 

“When COVID-19 hit, we thought about how we could take that online at scale for women-led businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic” she says. “How can we help women business leaders pivot to use digital as a channel to promote or fulfill their products and services? And so the idea was born.”

While going digital has, for some businesses, been the only alternative during an era of pandemic lockdowns, Nicole says this kind of digital transformation could really benefit many businesses long after the pandemic is over. “The thing about digital is that once you’re set up, it can be very efficient. It can lower your cost to sell or promote your product.”

“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection.”

With International Women’s Day approaching on March 8, Nicole says this year’s theme — Choose to Challenge — resonates with her. 

“To me, it’s about voicing when you see something is off or not right,” she says. “I think it’s about making the choice to step forward for something that you believe in more proactively with a louder voice.” 

While Nicole says that in her career, she has been fortunate to have been supported along her path, she knows that is not always the experience of women building their careers. For example, an August 2020 analysis by Catalyst showed that men hold over 90 per cent of C-level executive roles in Canada. There is clearly more work to be done, Nicole says. 

“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection. Look at your data on women in the workforce. You might think that you’re doing OK, but you don’t really know until you look at the data,” she says.

“The second part is about transparency. No matter where you sit in terms of the data, share that internally among your organization and then offer transparency to the public to say, ‘This is how we’re doing.’ The next step is agreeing to move the needle. And what are the steps that you need to take to do that?” 

Nicole says she hopes that in future, “we won’t need benchmarks and targets.” But in order to get there, our perceptions about what “work” is may need to change. 

“We’re seeing through the pandemic that in some cases women are having to leave the workforce because they’re having to care for kids in the home, or they have lesser pay than their spouse. But maybe once we’re in the ‘next normal,’ it will be different, maybe it won’t be a ‘nine to five anymore. Maybe there needs to be more flexibility, or better access to affordable childcare.”

Nicole says she’s curious to see how things will change with her sons’ generation. 

“I’m raising two incredible young men and I know they are advocates for gender equality because they are my biggest supporters, whether it’s at home or at work. I’m curious to see how it plays out for my guys, because no matter how you cut it, it’s a challenge to juggle.”

 

A Simple Formula for Retaining and Supporting Black and Racialized Young Women At Work

When I graduated from Ryerson University with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Governance in 2018, I was ready to take on the world. But graduation was bittersweet; I was excited at the prospect of limitless opportunities, but frightened that nothing would enter my purview. 

Contrary to many of my peers, I had strict criteria for job applications because I was steadfast on putting my degree to work right away. My application filters limited my opportunities significantly, but that did not damper my attitude. I, like many other high performing racialized millennial women around me, wanted satisfying work. I wanted a role that would help move the dial and shift the narrative on racial and gender equity. 

I blocked out a lot of corporations or large institutions that were calling my name, using various seemingly inclusive tactics to attract young women like me. But I was adamant about not taking on a role that did not fit my personal values, which is an increasingly familiar pattern among young women who often hear horror stories of systemic discrimination and erasure about working in large institutions. From being silenced to pushed out when they speak up, Black, Indigenous, and racialized women are often dissatisfied with taking on roles in institutions that were not created to serve us. This was not a culture I, or many of my racialized young peers were interested in participating in, or changing. We had bigger, more complex issues we hoped to address.  

I eventually stepped into a project manager role at a small nonprofit serving youth. While most of my work was done independently, I often co-chaired meetings and had the final say on a lot of decisions. But that didn’t come without its own challenges. In this position, I was spoken over and spoken down to, and had my ideas dismissed often. Like many women, my first instinct was to internalize that external behaviour thinking “what am I doing wrong?”. I tried changing the language I used, the clothes I wore, and the way I presented myself in meetings. But none of it helped.

White people have a hard time processing my grief because I don’t express my emotions as openly compared to white women in public or professional settings. This makes it harder for them to empathize with my pain, because I’ve been conditioned to hide it all my life.

The nonprofit sector is primarily run by women, a fact that applied to my workplace as well. This meant that my negative experiences came from women, who were supposed to be my mentors and champions. It’s easy to forget that women too are capable of perpetuating patriarchy and sexism. Gender alone does not absolve someone of their oppressive behaviours; so regardless of your gender, you have to make a conscious decision to be anti-oppressive, to act in ways that uplift those around you, especially the ones who are facing multiple systemic challenges. For me, it was not just that I was a woman, it was also that I was a racialized young woman starting off my career, and brought a different perspective into the workplace, something my colleagues were not prepared to make room for. 

I had one manager who constantly berated me by telling me that “I never took ownership of my mistakes,” without offering any feedback or detailed explanation of what those mistakes were. After the challenging search for a job that fit my personal values, I was living a workplace horror story that left me confused and doubting my own knowledge and skills. What my manager really meant was that because I didn’t process mistakes in the same way she did, she could not accept that I understood that I made mistakes. I processed mistakes internally and wasn’t prepared to be vulnerable with her, which was totally okay. I had my boundaries and I wished to just get on with my work, which did not satisfy her.

This incident felt all too familiar. 

White people have a hard time processing my grief because I don’t express my emotions as openly compared to white women in public or professional settings. This makes it harder for them to empathize with my pain, because I’ve been conditioned to hide it all my life. We know that Black women are often viewed as “aggressive” or “difficult” when we display emotions or discomfort in the workplace, and that is something that I wanted to avoid in my career; but this double-standard was making it difficult for my manager to connect with me. 

The interaction with my manager isn’t unique to the nonprofit sector. In fact, this same incident felt like the moment when my experience of sexual violence was dismissed due to my lack of emotional displays — an issue that has been heavily documented and studied as it relates to Black women reporting experiences of sexual violence to law enforcement. That was when I realized that my “composure” was read as indifference, and my emotions were read as burdens. This cycle continued until I left the organization, unable to tolerate the misogynoir, a term coined by Moya Bailey to describe the intersection of sexism and racism experienced by Black women. 

My story highlights a few key elements which contribute to a high turnover among racialized young women employees, why we leave when we see red flags and why we avoid working with organizations whose values seem to differ from us.

But how can we ensure that we support young Black, and racialized women at work as colleagues and employers? I’ve come up with a simple solution and even simpler acronym: ELAT. Engage, Listen, Act, Thank.  

Engage 

Engage Black and racialized young women in decision-making and form meaningful relationships with them. Move away from tokenism, and move towards having their thoughts, opinions and points heard. 

Listen 

Once you have built a meaningful connection, listen. I mean, really listen. What is this person saying — how can what they’re saying apply to your work? Consider their perspective and find ways to integrate their ideas in your work, and of course, give them credit.

Act 

If the first two steps are done well, you’ll find something of value to act upon. This step is simple, act on the idea, initiative or position. 

Thank 

Far too often the contributions of young women, and more specifically Black, Indigenous, and racialized young women, are overlooked. In meetings, in public or between colleagues, it’s important to recognize the work of young women and openly thank them for their contributions. I’m not speaking about letters of participation, I’m talking about significant achievements that are overlooked, and often attributed to others.

ELAT is a great starting point for engaging Black and racialized young women, but there’s a particular skill that you’ll need to really put this into practice; emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the key to understanding how to better support your racialized colleagues in the workplace. It will allow you to better connect with and understand the motivations and experiences of everyone in the workplace. 

Another key component of supporting racialized women is understanding systemic oppression. Without understanding how social identities intersect with one another, and shape the experiences of racialized young women, you cannot fully implement the ELAT model or the emotional intelligence skill set. Understanding systemic oppression will help you better implement the aforementioned frameworks and make meaningful contributions to the career journeys of young racialized women. 

With these simple engagement techniques and a commitment to understanding structural inequities, you can attract and retain racialized millennial women in your organization and avoid early workplace departures. 

About Jessica Ketwaroo-Green

Jessica Ketwaroo-Green is a gender equity and anti-racism advocate working to advance the social, political and economic position of women in Canada. Currently a project coordinator at WomanACT, Jessica is on a mission to reduce high-risk domestic violence in Toronto and in communities across the country through multi-disciplinary action and policy change. She is also the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce where she works strategically with non-governmental partners, community organizations and governments to influence policy, including crafting the first national child care strategy to ensure that all communities have access to affordable childcare.

The New Face of Learning & Development

By Dr. Rumeet Billan

Last year, much like everything else, the Learning and Development (L & D) space was forced to change. As a result of the pandemic, the mode of delivery for professional development quickly switched from classroom learning to online. However, for the most part, the structure and content for training and leadership programming was left unchanged. As a result, many learners experienced frustration, exhaustion, and pressure to balance the demands of work, life, and the expectation to develop further. 

L & D teams were reactive, as they needed to be at the beginning of pandemic, especially in the face of so much uncertainty. Many questions arose as to whether people wanted professional development during this time, whether there was capacity, and if it should even be a priority. 

The focus remained on managing time and modes of delivery versus priority management and the transfer of knowledge. We continued to perpetuate our traditional understanding of what L & D is supposed to look like, instead of what learning is supposed to feel like. 

The issue is that we were asking the wrong questions and forgetting the core purpose and function of learning. The question we were asking shouldn’t have been whether people wanted professional development or not during this time, because it was already happening.

Throughout the pandemic, including real-time world events, learning has been, and continues to occur for all of us. We are continuing to acquire new understanding, behaviours, skills, attitudes, and preferences, as a result of what we were experiencing. We are continuing to challenge our own perspectives, and change how we work, live, and interact. Whether we label it as L & D or not, it’s happening. Learning is occurring.

The trends for 2021 that L & D experts have laid out include upskilling and reskilling, the rise of microcredentials, a focus on essential skills (I refuse to call them ‘soft skills’), and of course virtual and digital learning. These are trends that we’ve been hearing about for quite some time – even before the pandemic. Interestingly, the trends haven’t changed, even though the world has.  

“It is important for L & D professionals to understand that it is a privilege for us to have a learner take time out of their day to join a session — especially with all that we have endured this past year.”

One of the key issues is that these trends continue to overlook the foundation of transformative learning which necessitates us to focus on experience. I have created award-winning leadership programs for organizations, and the success of these programs is directly related to the experience we create for participants. I am known to completely change a full day of training curriculum within 24 hours of notice. I have done this because something happened in our world, and I know our learners would be deeply impact by it, and it needs to be addressed in a way where they feel safe and can trust the experience. There is nothing cookie-cutter about leadership development. 

It is important for L & D professionals to understand that it is a privilege for us to have a learner take time out of their day to join a session – especially with all that we have endured this past year. What we do with that time is critical.

When content does not reflect real-time world events and does not respond to what learners may be experiencing, we are doing a disservice. Our content will not land, and knowledge will not transfer. A learner is giving up their time to attend a session, and as L & D professionals, it is my position that we need to ensure that we make that time valuable to them. We do this by creating transformative experiences.

Transformative learning is an art. Designing a training session is choreography – it’s a sequence that makes the learner reflect, feel, and draw connections that are applicable and practical to them. It’s an experience. 

Instead of labelling them trends, here are my L & D thoughts for 2021, and they are simple:

  1. Learning is happening whether we are planning for it or not. We have an opportunity to shape it.
  2. We don’t know what a learner may be experiencing personally and/or professionally. 
  3. Real-time content, design, and delivery is non-negotiable.
  4. Content is content. Focus on the experience. 

If we want to get really nitty gritty, if I may for a moment, I will add that webinars should not be longer than 45 minutes, long gone are the days of the single 15 minute break in between 3 hours of training, and professional development sessions should end no later than 3:00 p.m. (and I am being generous with 3:00 p.m.). Backed by research and experience, but for another time.

The future of learning should look and feel different. We should be intentionally redefining the traditional notion of L & D, how we design and deliver content, and how a learner experiences training and development. Just as Disney creates a beautifully choregraphed, exclusively curated, and brilliantly executed experience for their visitors, L & D teams should be at the forefront of creating these types of experiences for their learners, too.

About Dr. Rumeet Billan

Dr. Rumeet Billan is the Chief Learning Architect at Viewpoint Leadership Inc. She completed her PhD at the University of Toronto and has designed and facilitated programs, courses, and training sessions across industries and sectors. She led the groundbreaking national research study on Tall Poppy Syndrome and co-led the Canadian Happiness at Work study in partnership with CMHA. In 2020, Dr. Billan was named one of Canada’s Top 10 Power Women. Learn more at  www.rumeetbillan.com

Mentoring as a Pathway to More Equitable Organizations

January is Mentoring Month across Canada, presenting the opportunity for leaders at all levels to reflect on the impact of mentorship in their organizations. 

Through my work at Accelerate Her Future, a career accelerator for Black, Indigenous, and racialized women (BIWoC), pursuing early-careers in business and tech, I’ve been reflecting deeply on one question: How can mentorship have the power to transform organizational culture and offer a pathway to creating more equitable organizations for women? This question matters to me as a racialized woman, changemaker and a researcher whose work over the last ten years has centred on racialized identities and equity and inclusion in the workplace through postcolonial and intersectional lenses.

While women are experiencing greater career progress, they continue to grapple with systemic barriers and workplace cultures that don’t fully cultivate a sense of belonging.  This is especially true for BIWoC. 

Women’s Experiences with Mentorship in the Workplace

Women continue to face inequities in workplaces exacerbated by the pandemic. A recent national study by Diversity Institute illustrates a persistent gender gap in Canada’s corporate leadership across eight cities. An intersectional lens shows that “in Toronto, non-racialized women outnumber racialized women by a ratio of 7:1 in board positions across all sectors”, a disparity that exists in varying degrees across the country. 

While the benefits of mentoring are clear in helping mentees advance, access to influential networks is a critical barrier for women and racialized groups. Research shows that individuals who look and sound like the dominant culture have greater access to mentoring and sponsoring relationships as well as informal networks within organizations. 

According to Leanin.org, women receive less support from managers and have less access to influential networks. This gap is most persistent for BIWoC, 60% of whom report never having had an informal interaction with a senior leader. As a result, BIWoC tend to have mentors at lower levels with less power and influence. Giscombe has explored mentorship experiences of women of colour citing a Catalyst study that found 62% of those with mentors indicated the lack of influential mentors and sponsors as a barrier to advancement compared to 39% of White women.  

Sponsorship as an Extension of Mentorship is Critical for BIWoC

Mentoring programs can provide critical access to power structures. According to a 2016 HRB study, formal mentoring programs that focused on racialized populations boosted advancement and representation in leadership positions which are critical for shifting power imbalances that have historically led to exclusion. 

One of the more powerful models I’ve come across is by Herminia Ibarra who provides a robust continuum model that positions sponsorship as an extension of mentorship. At one end lies classic mentorship as a private and more passive approach to support, advice, and coaching a mentee. On the other end lies classic sponsorship as public and active advocacy for promotion and advancement of a mentee. In between these points lies a developmental journey toward more active relationships (see Ibarra’s graphic visual). 

Ibarra’s model normalizes active sponsorship and intentional advocacy behaviours as critical, and can be greatly enhanced by considering intersectionality,  anti-racism and the mentor and mentee dynamic as part of this journey, particularly within the context of advancing BIWoC into leadership.

Reconceptualize Mentoring toward Greater Equity 

Equity is ultimately about ensuring everyone has the full range of opportunities and benefits to flourish and thrive. Equity work requires courage and dedication to affect the type of changes needed to create more inclusive and just organizations and systems. Mentorship programs are a powerful pathway to creating more equitable organizational cultures, when approached and designed with intention, data-driven insight and deeper understanding of equity issues.

About Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi

Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi(she/her) is the Founder of Divity Group Inc. and Accelerate Her Future, one of the leading career accelerators in Canada dedicated to advancing BIWoC pursuing early-careers in business and tech. She holds an MBA from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business and a Doctor of Business Administration from Athabasca University with research focus on racialized identities, immigrant labour market settlement, and decolonizing diversity, equity and inclusion.

5 Key Ways to Expand How We Approach Accessibility

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). The world has observed this day since 1992, when the United Nations established it to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. In celebration of IDPD, Women of Influence invited Darby to share her expert advice on the topic.

By Darby Lee Young

I come to the topic of accessibility with skin in the game. I was born with mild cerebral palsy, and I run an accessibility agency. This subject is my bread-and-butter. Working to ensure a more accessible world for everyone, leaving no one behind, is both personal and professional to me. Accessibility is complex and it would take a whole book to cover the basics. However, in my daily conversations around kitchen tables and boardroom tables, there are profound points that come up all the time. They are often overlooked, and I wish everyone understood these points better. Here are five of them.

1. There’s more to accessibility than the wheelchair.

You cannot tell if someone has a disability just by how they look, or by talking to them. Some disabilities are not immediately apparent, nor do they need be — it’s just that the presence of a wheelchair is more in-your-face. And although accessibility is usually represented by a wheelchair icon, keep in mind that it’s just an icon. It cannot capture the spectrum of wheelchair types or other devices, let alone the full range of disabilities. Consider that accessibility in a space doesn’t just mean accessible for someone in a wheelchair.

You’d think this was pretty obvious, but that’s not always the case. I’ll get to that.

2. Consider the details.

It’s not just the big things that make a big impact on accessibility. It’s the little ones, too. For example, carpet. When designing a space, it’s important to consider colour contrast and direction of the carpet pile. Have you ever smashed your face into a glass window, or tripped on a step you didn’t see? Exponentiate that. There needs to be contrast between the colour of the walls and the floor. And heavily patterned carpets make it needlessly difficult for people with visual disabilities to wayfind. Picture how a dark square shape in the carpet pattern can appear like a gaping hole or a step, making it unnecessarily more difficult for someone with vision loss to assess depth. Or long hallways in hotels or airports, and the ability to reduce friction resistance pending the direction of the carpet pile.

3. Think — and build — beyond the code.

In North America in 2020, we are working with regulatory guidelines that are old and outdated. Building just to codes misses the big picture. First, we’ve come a long way since the time these regulations were articulated. They were designed with the idea of ‘accommodation’ in the built environment, not with design stewardship at the forefront.  Factoring in code standards is a good start, but because the principles of design are not integrated at the beginning of the design process, operating this way falls short in a myriad of ways and becomes costly to integrate after the fact. That affects people with disabilities, and businesses’ bottom line. I’ll get to that a little later. 

Some architects might posit that we cannot build to perfection, with the underlying sentiment that “perfection is the enemy of the good”, and that building to code is good enough. But try saying that to someone in a scooter who is in the public space you designed and cannot make a turn from the hallway to access the washroom. Checking the boxes for code doesn’t cut it after the fact, and by that time it’s too late. Designing a space with the idea of ‘accommodation’ as a separate, piecemeal treatment to a built environment is far from ideal. It’s not even good enough. It does not consider most people from the get-go.

Leaving no one behind in accessibility requires design stewardship and not just sticking to what’s been done before, what’s good for some, or what’s good for now. That thinking, and that way of building, leaves out most people with disabilities and it needs to go the way of the flip phone. 

Instead, let’s design spaces that truly work well for everyone. Let’s change not just carpets, but how we approach accessibility, diversity, and design differently how we relate to each other. It’s a fundamental change for the better in how we use and move through spaces, leaving no one behind, while promoting active and healthy communities.

4. Think Human (Centered Design Approach)

If building to code doesn’t cut it, what does? Universal Design comes close.

Human-Centered Design goes one step beyond Universal Design, by engaging people with diverse lived experiences into the design process. Human-Centered Design is premised on the understanding that for design to truly serve the people it proclaims to serve, the design needs to be informed by research and interactions with real users, in addition to the traditional processes of evaluating and auditing existing products and facilities. 

That’s because we are human, and as such, our individual understanding is subjective and fragmented. Every person is limited in what they know. Each one of us perceives issues from our own perspective. and until diverse opinions and experiences are invited into the design processes, people will never know what they do not know. That’s why we need to figure things out together. 

The lived experiences of neurodiverse people and persons with disabilities — the nuances of barriers that we experience in everyday life — cannot be understood through empathy, theory, or the adherence to regulatory checkboxes alone. In accessible design, a human-centered approach regards people with disabilities not only as end users, but as drivers of design. That means people with disabilities must be integrated into key decision-making processes within a project cycle.

5. Drive design differently.

To improve how we approach accessibility, we need a fundamental shift. Factoring a range of perspectives builds synergies and drives design that works for everyone.

But there’s more to it than that. Think about public washrooms, for example. We can do better than making a few of the washrooms accessible. It’s about making all stalls functional for everyone. Designing healthy, active communities from the ground up will make a difference to everyone’s quality of life, no matter their age, ability, or life circumstance.

We are at the threshold of a massive opportunity for leadership. Let’s expand our thinking. Canada can maximize the flexibility and robustness of our guidelines, and step up to be positioned as an international leader in accessibility.

To do that, we must be willing to go above and beyond compliance to the traditional confines of regulatory standards. We have to transcend the systems that inadvertently label and disable people. Human-Centered Design destigmatizes disability and other diversities by finding shared commonalities. Instead of reaffirming disability by designing through code compliance and accommodation, let’s envision opportunities to enrich our social fabric, considering the entire ecosystem.

Architects and policy makers, I urge you to design differently, and make accessibility integral in your work. Factor in accessibility consultants and people with lived experiences of disabilities as part of early design processes of new builds and retrofits. You’ll be better positioned to envision not only what accessible design looks like, but what equitable and integrated design for all will mean for future generations.

You won’t know what you don’t know about accessibility — until you do.

What is at stake? 

What can happen when we don’t approach accessibility in depth? 

If we don’t consider the big picture, and recognize accessibility as integral to design from start to finish, we’re not just impacting the lives of people of all ages, abilities, and community groups. We’re also closing the door on opportunity and potential for active, healthy cities. 

And beyond the opportunity cost, failure to factor in accessibility and accessibility consultants can result in millions of dollars in losses to businesses’ bottom lines. One recent example is the San Francisco 49ers football stadium class action lawsuit. It’s something we can learn from.

Tamara’s short-term disability presented unique challenges — here’s how her employer enabled her to overcome them.

By Shelley White

Tamara Mungal’s life changed in the blink of an eye. 

It was December 2018, and Tamara had recently been promoted into a new role as Senior Consultant, Talent Acquisition for Retail and Small Business Banking at Scotiabank. On what was otherwise an ordinary day, things changed when Tamara fainted. Though she doesn’t remember exactly what happened, “I must have hit a doorknob or something on the way down,” Tamara says.

Her brother found her bleeding and unconscious on the floor and took her to the hospital, where tests revealed she had a concussion. After getting the diagnosis, one of Tamara’s first concerns was her new job.

“I remember contacting my director and saying, ‘The doctor said I have a concussion, so maybe I can return to work next week.’ He replied, ‘Why don’t we wait and see what the doctor has to say,’” Tamara recalls. “I thought, give it a week, I should be fine. I had no idea I would have to go on short term disability for a total of eight months.”

Although each individual’s experience is different, concussions can cause a range of symptoms that can persist for a year or more. Tamara says she experienced dizziness, nausea and vomiting, as well as pounding migraine headaches, crippling fatigue, and brain fog. 

“There was some memory loss in the beginning,” she adds. “I’d have conversations with people and I would find myself forgetting parts of the conversation. I was unable to drive long distances because that would exacerbate the nausea, dizziness and the headaches. I wasn’t able to watch screens or monitors for an extended period of time because I had sensitivity to light. I also had a loss of balance and coordination, difficulties concentrating, mood swings and sleep disturbances.”

Moreover, Tamara had a persistent feeling of guilt about missing work. 

Even though I was aware my leave was medically justified, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.

“This was a drastic change for me. I’d never been on a medical leave before,” she says. “Even though I was aware my leave was medically justified, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I was also partly afraid of how my peers might respond or interpret my absence since my concussion was not visible.”

Tamara says that another contributing factor to her guilt and fear stemmed from her upbringing. Born in Trinidad, Tamara moved to Canada with her family at the age of 10. 

“Coming from an immigrant household, we’re very aware that many immigrants struggle to find employment, and it’s something not to take for granted. I was raised to feel like it was wrong to take too many sick days, because it could create a negative perception in the eyes of the employer,” she says.

Slowly, Tamara’s condition improved, with the help of physiotherapy, acupuncture, massage, counselling, mindfulness practices and meditation. Six months after her fall, Tamara got in touch with the Bank’s Workplace Accommodation (WA) team to discuss returning to work.

“I told them, ‘I’m ready to come back, I’ll just assess my progress and see how it goes,’” she says.

To ensure Tamara was cleared to return to work and would be properly accommodated in the office environment, the WA team asked for assessments from her physiotherapist and an occupational therapist to determine what her return to work should look like. 

Tamara was cleared for a gradual return to work in August 2019, with regular check points to assess her progress. One of the assessment recommendations for Tamara was to work in a private room to avoid migraines that could be caused by too many lights in an open, shared workplace. This recommendation would also help to reduce distractions that could disrupt her concentration.  In connection with this recommendation, she was advised to take frequent screen breaks throughout the day.

And though she understood these accommodations were for her benefit, they once again stirred up feelings of guilt and shame.

“My team, for the most part, sat together in an open workspace and I would be sitting alone in a private room. I sometimes felt like I needed to explain myself to avoid being perceived as antisocial because I was sitting alone,” she says. “I also felt like the accommodation was hindering my presence and visibility in the workplace.”

To help ensure she felt valued and included, Scotiabank provided opportunities for Tamara to participate in multiple special projects, such as delivering Inclusive Hiring Training across all regions and launching Talent Acquisition’s Onboarding Program. 

“I really appreciated these opportunities, because it allowed me to have the exposure I felt I was missing. It allowed me to build relationships, form connections, and build a brand for myself,” she says.

Anna Zec, Senior Vice President, Global HR Services at Scotiabank says that Scotiabank is committed to providing accommodations for employees (and prospective employees) with disabilities, so that people are able to realize their full potential in the workplace. “Aligned with this policy, the Bank has a dedicated Workplace Accommodation (WA) team who works with employees on their accommodation needs,” she says. “They work together to help recognize barriers and determine solutions.”

Zec says that when employees like Tamara return to work from a leave of absence, the WA team may work with the employee, the employee’s healthcare team, management and other parties as needed to implement accommodations to facilitate a safe and sustainable return to work. And over the past few years, Scotiabank has expanded mental health benefits to build and align with an overall philosophy of “Total Wellbeing” — an effort that has been especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The global pandemic has created not only a physical health crisis, but many are now referring to the resulting mental health crisis as the silent second wave,” Zec says. “These measures were put into place to provide support to employees so they can bring their best self to work, and to life, every day. The Bank recognizes that everyone’s needs are different, even more so during these challenging times, and offers comprehensive and flexible programs that are available to employees when they need them.”

Like many on her team, Tamara currently works from home, and while she still gets migraines and must be careful to limit her screen time, Tamara says she is following the recommendations of her healthcare providers and her condition continues to improve as she utilizes the total wellbeing benefits offered by Scotiabank.

I’m able to relate to others in different ways — as a woman, as a woman of colour, as an immigrant, and as someone who had a short-term, non-visible disability.

The theme of this year’s 2020 International Day of Persons with Disabilities — which is observed on December 3rd each year — is “Not all Disabilities are Visible.” For Tamara, this day is about removing stigma and promoting understanding and support for the rights of persons with disabilities.

“Through this experience, there’s another layer to my intersectionality. I’m able to relate to others in different ways — as a woman, as a woman of colour, as an immigrant, and as someone who had a short-term, non-visible disability. We want to be a workplace of choice for the diverse communities we serve, so having these unique lenses really help not only strengthen me as an individual, but professionally I am able to have a multi-dimensional outlook as a member of a winning team.” 

While the past two years have been challenging, Tamara says she has been surprised to recognize the positives in her experiences.

“I did have feelings of shame and guilt in the past, but looking back and reflecting on it, I see it differently. I see resilience. I see strength in my story”.

Meet Dr. Sarah Saska, CEO of DEI Consulting Firm, Feminuity

As the CEO of Feminuity, Dr. Sarah Saska (Sher, Her, Hers)  partners with leading technology startups through Fortune 500s to build diverse teams, equitable systems, and inclusive products and company cultures. Before co-founding Feminuity, Sarah led pioneering doctoral research at the intersection of equity, technology, and innovation. Her research highlighted the need for companies in the technology and innovation sector to centre ethical and equitable design and became the inspiration for Feminuity.  

My first job ever was… offering conflict resolution sessions to kids during recess in elementary school.

I decided to be an entrepreneur… out of necessity. When I was in grad school, I led research on the importance of equity and inclusion in the design of technology and innovation. In the process, I found gaps, biases, and blatant inequity in some of the technologies and innovations that are intended to make our lives easier, and better. These technologies weren’t inclusive or accessible for some, and were actually harmful to others. Some common examples include facial recognition software that doesn’t detect racialized people’s faces, natural language processing (NLP) that doesn’t recognize different dialects, and risk assessment algorithms that disproportionately assign high crime risk scores to Black people. In the midst of my Ph.D., I took a pause and joined MaRS Discovery District to translate my research into practice, and that’s how Feminuity came to be.

Tech companies must prioritize diversity and inclusion because… we’re at a critical moment in history where technology can either exacerbate existing inequities, or make things a heck of a lot better. Right now, many tech companies have more political, economic, and social power than entire countries. They are out-pacing law and policy and playing in the proverbial grey in ways that are having real, tangible effects on issues relating to equity and human rights. If left unchecked, we know that technological and innovative solutions will continue to hide, speed up, and deepen various forms of exclusion, discrimination, and inequity. A small sliver of the population should not be able to determine and design technologies that impact the majority of us; technology will be most powerful when everyone is empowered by it.

My proudest accomplishment is… my relationships.  

My boldest move to date was… turning down offers that while seemingly secure, financially lucrative, and optically prestigious, just weren’t right for me. They didn’t fit the type of life I want to live, the type of person I want to be and the kind of impact I want to have in the world.

I surprise people when I tell them… that we turn down clients whose values do not align with ours and that we’ve never raised money.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… to get really good at identifying and taking the advice that’s right for you and what you’re building, and to have the guts to leave the rest behind.

My biggest setback was… younger versions of me that had limiting beliefs in my own abilities.  Also, being in romantic relationships that didn’t support my vision. 

I overcame it by… doing the work and building an incredible support system. I now know and believe that I am resourceful and resilient enough to handle anything and it’s made all of the difference. It’s become clear to me from our work that the characteristics and qualities of entrepreneurs quickly become a core part of an organization’s culture, whether for the better or for the worse. So it’s up to us to continue to do the work to lead in more human, ethical, and equitable ways. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… read more! I usually have 3-4 books on the go at any time and I crave more time to read each day. I am currently reading: Ramesh Srinivasan’s brilliant research as detailed in Beyond the Valley,   Annie Jean Baptiste’s game-changer, Building for Everyone, and re-reading Esther Perel’s State of Affairs.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… when it’s best to outsource and pay other people to do something and when it’s best to invest in my own learning and development. We cannot do it all.

I stay inspired by… people’s stories.

My next step is… to launch an e-learning course to share everything we’ve learned about the diversity, equity, and inclusion practice over the past decade. I’ve been overwhelmed with requests from newly minted diversity and inclusion leads and Chief Diversity Officers to support them in their role, and it’s become really clear  there isn’t a practical, applied, and actionable program for new leaders to learn from.  It’s a gap in the market. We’re going to share everything from how we collect and analyze data using an intersectional analysis, to how we design equitable diversity and inclusion strategies, to how we develop custom metrics and evaluation, and more.  It’ll be another labour of love, but it’ll also be awesome to open-source this work.

It’s time to do more than just ditch ‘The Bad Apple Defense.’

Four years ago, I wrote what felt like a strongly worded open letter to the newly elected President Trump. I did not hesitate to call out his racism or misogyny, or mask my disappointment that America had failed to elect its first woman leader, who was — love her or hate her — unquestionably more qualified to lead the world’s biggest superpower.

And I remember thinking at the time, have I gone a tad too far? Am I giving in to emotionally-driven hyperbole?

Oh, Stephania of 2016, how naive you were. It’s been four years of “Did that really happen? How could this possibly get worse?” followed quickly by, “This, this is how it gets worse.” I am now beyond eloquent rage. A list of all the ineptitude and horror delivered by Trump and his regime during his first term would take up an entire article (if that’s too triggering, try this delightful song version instead); in the last week alone, we’ve seen police pepper-spraying peaceful voting marches and a Trump caravan attempting to run a Biden campaign bus off the highway.  

And someone, somewhere, is rationalizing that these are the acts of a few bad apples, and not indicative of his supporters as a whole.

It’s an excuse I’ve heard far too many times over the course of 2020. In a year in which we’ve had a nearly global reckoning on institutional racism, and plenty of proof of the toll it takes, there has been no shortage of talking heads explaining that the issue is actually just a few bad apples. Trump himself said it in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, and again during his visit to Kenosha after the shooting of Jacob Blake

And before I let Canadian exceptionalism rear its ugly head, let’s be clear that politicians and other public leaders have made the same claims here, and some have been relying on this defense for a long time. There’s plenty of evidence to show, as one recent survey did, that Canadians themselves “are more likely to view racial discrimination as the attitudes and actions of individuals, not a systemic issue embedded in Canadian institutions.” That’s fancy talk for ‘blame the bad apples.’ 

It’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous to assume that the problem is contained to this small group — and you only need to look as far as the origin of the saying to see why. For the past few decades, ‘bad apples’ have become most often used to denote a handful of people behaving unacceptably, thereby negatively affecting the reputation of the community or institution they belong to. That entirely eliminates the latter half of the phrase, which points out that these bad apples have the capacity to make an entire bunch rotten. (If you want to really dig into the history, the first recording dates all the way back to 1340, written as “A rotten apple quickly infects its neighbor.”)

There’s been plenty of think pieces written about how the ‘bad apples’ saying has morphed over the years, but here’s the part that I don’t think we pay enough attention to: pointing out how the meaning has morphed is about as effective as saying ‘the system is the problem’, as if stating what should be obvious is somehow the solution. 

It doesn’t matter if we recognize that a few bad apples can spoil the bunch, if we don’t actually take that as a call to action to change the system so that it no longer allows for bad apples to thrive or survive. 

Take the case of Donald Trump. It is not hyperbole to say he is one of the most rotten and infectious apples we’ve seen in modern times. (If you think his putrefaction is contained to the US, let me tell you about what it was like to watch a caravan of maskless Canadians, waving QAnon and Trump flags, drive down Yonge street.) If the community he belongs to does not vote him in the trash heap where he belongs, I shudder to think of what will happen to the world in the next four years (or more, if you listen to Trump). 

 

Meet Aminka Belvitt, Social Innovator and Founder of tech start-up, Wofemtech Solutions

A versatile leader and problem-solver, Aminka Belvitt is simultaneously a tech founder, advocate, mentor, and strategist. With a passion for innovation and advancement, both on the technical side and human side of the technology and inclusion sectors, Aminka is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible when we take a human-centred approach to planning and design. She is the founder of Wofemtech Solutions, an online virtual collective empowering professionals and businesses through  video conferencing and online course creation services. Aminka is also the founder of ForUsGirls Foundation, An international community organization provides skills-based, leadership, and mentorship programs for marginalized girls in Canada, the United States & the Caribbean. 

My first job ever was… a dishwasher at St.Jerome’s College at the University of Waterloo. I was 14 and wanted to be able to buy my own things and not ask my parents for money. 

I became an Innovation Equity & Inclusion specialist because… I was working in the tech industry while becoming an advocate for community development, youth programs and women and girl’s empowerment. I recognized that it was necessary to innovate and create equity-focused outcomes across these industries. I was experiencing challenges as a Black woman working in corporate tech and noticed the systemic lack of work and future readiness among members of the Black, Indigenous, and people of colour; and I wanted to ensure that these communities don’t experience further marginalization, as our society progresses toward even more digitization and automation. That is what defines the work I do with my corporate, academic, and not for profit clients. There are gaps that schools do not recognize they are not filling, for example, the fact that they have a low number of girls especially girls of colour in their STEM programs. I unveil the bias and provide tangible solutions to solve and fill these gaps with solutions. 

The best thing about what I do is… seeing that ‘aha!’ moment. Seeing a young person realize that they can do better, and have their teacher or employee recognize that as well. It’s an eye-level connection to the incredible things we can do when we are given that extra spotlight. It’s incredible! 

The most challenging thing about what I do is… working around systemic barriers. As much as corporations and governments are changing and doing the work to create more inclusive opportunities for BIPOC, it is still a long road. When you’re introducing new technology there is a push back.

My proudest accomplishment is… the ability to award young Black women from my hometown with scholarships to support their university and college education.

My boldest move to date was… creating and launching a social tech enterprise in New York City.

I surprise people when I tell them… I’m the Founder of my own tech company with a video conferencing platform.

The once marginalized, underrepresented and forgotten are inventing and creating solutions to the world’s most challenging issues and offering ourselves as the solutions we need for ourselves, community and the world.

My best advice from a mentor was… to always be ready. Be ready to pitch at anytime and kindness will open doors where your resume will not.

I would tell my 25-year old self… start sooner than later. Eliminate launch delays. Launch, build, improve, pivot and grow.

My biggest setback was… being overwhelmed at the beginning of creating and launching Wofemtech. I took a pause to focus on my two not-for-profits, my full-time marketing job, and side consulting contracts.

I overcame it by… taking a break. Creating a newer version with a stronger server with increased functions, sleeker design and during a world pandemic which provided us an added business opportunity. I believe the market was not as ready for a start-up video conferencing platform led by a Black woman in 2017, as it is now in 2020 post the uprising for racial equity and justice.

While social distancing, I’m spending my time… on morning coffee & talks with my mom and yoga on our family deck.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… prioritize yourself.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m a homebody. I like intimate settings, deep conversations and local initiatives, being outside in nature or on the beach.

I stay inspired by… listening to podcasts, reading interviews of other entrepreneurs and talking to my generation Z mentees. They also push me to do and be more. 

The future excites me because… we are creating it! The once marginalized, underrepresented and forgotten are inventing and creating solutions to the world’s most challenging issues and offering ourselves as the solutions we need for ourselves, community and the world. This is what’s most interesting. Beyond the continual advancement of technology the human development aspect is what’s really exciting me. It’s truly going to be the best of times.

Meet Larissa Crawford, Founder and Managing Director of Future Ancestors Services

Larissa is a published Indigenous and anti-racism researcher, award-winning ribbon skirt artist, restorative circle keeper, and proudly passes on Métis and Jamaican ancestry to her daughter, Zyra. She is the Founder of Future Ancestors Services, a youth-led professional services social enterprise that advances equity and climate justice through lenses of ancestral accountability and anti-racism. Larissa is a CohortX Climate Justice Fellow, Action Canada Fellow, and a 2019 Corporate Knight’s Top 30 Under 30 in Sustainability.

I founded Future Ancestors Services because… I spent six years seeking to understand the sector, its gaps, and the opportunities to ethically create something new. One thing I was taught in my undergraduate International Development Studies program, and later in working in the non-profit granting sector, was that non-profit and humanitarian sectors are driven by a capitalist understanding of competition. There is an over saturation of organizations doing relatively the same things, thus raising the competition amongst them for sparse grant and sponsor dollars. Work may be rushed, may be done inappropriately, and the impact may be inflated in recognition of this competition. 

In being taught this, I was very conscious of not wanting to start something before I knew it addressed a need that wasn’t being addressed by another organization doing really good work. Furthermore, I wanted to find a way to contribute to a necessary shift of the influence competition has on how organizations and people working for social and environmental justice operate. 

After being offered one too many contracts that were clearly not a fit for me (and were likely being offered simply because I was the only Indigenous or Black speaker a client could find), I made the conscious decision to build my former business, Larissa Crawford Speaks, into something more. Instead of competing against other diverse service providers, who too face disproportionate barriers and are working to achieve the same goals of climate justice and equity, I saw the opportunity to shift our approach and business model from the traditional understanding of competition. Yes, we have a small team to deliver services directly under Future Ancestors Services, and yes, one of our support services, the Future Ancestors Constellation, promotes and supports service deliverers that would be our expected competitors; but, by uplifting their voices and their services, I understand this as contributing to our shared goals of creating more spaces that are equitable and that contribute to climate justice in what is currently Canada and around the world. This is social innovation in the interest of the well-being of our future generations and Mother Earth.

I knew what kind of leader I wanted to be; I knew how I wanted to treat my team. I knew that I wanted Future Ancestors Services to be a space of employment where we could feel respected, honoured, and when we didn’t feel that way, to feel like we could say something about it and it would be acted upon.

The best thing I’ve done for my business so far isnot prioritizing Western business education, and trusting in the direction I receive from my cultural communities and self. While facing ageism, racism, sexism, and ableism in most of my previous employment experiences, I got through that time by always taking note of what I appreciated and did not appreciate about how I was managed, how our teams were structured, and how the organization operated. When I left my last job in November 2019, I knew what kind of leader I wanted to be; I knew how I wanted to treat my team. I knew that I wanted Future Ancestors Services to be a space of employment where we could feel respected, honoured, and when we didn’t feel that way, to feel like we could say something about it and it would be acted upon. 

Some things we do differently stem directly from root causes that fostered undesirable workplace environments. For example, we prioritize a decolonized experience of time, where we are encouraged to set clear boundaries about our available time and capacity to meet aggressive deadlines. Like many of the ways we operate, I trusted in myself and my team to formulate a new way of doing business that we haven’t necessarily seen or experienced before. We carry wisdom through our lived experiences, and our business model is a direct result of our collective efforts to harness, act, and again, trust that wisdom.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… don’t do it alone. Group projects in school and work had me convinced I would never enjoy working in a team as much as I enjoy working independently. My first step to checking that assumption was to critically reflect on my deficit skills and personality traits, especially of ones that I could imagine being valuable and even necessary in starting a new business. The next step was looking in my network at people who are just as committed to me about the mandate I’m founding my business on; in my case, this was equity and climate justice. Finally, I sought to build relationships with my team members before approaching them to work with me, and after I did approach them I prioritized getting to know them as people. I am now working with the most phenomenal team I’ve ever had, a team that has become a support system, friend group, and a source of accountability.

We carry wisdom through our lived experiences, and our business model is a direct result of our collective efforts to harness, act, and again, trust, that wisdom.

My biggest setback was… being diagnosed with a chronic pain disability at 23 years old. My chronic pain definitely became my biggest barrier to my work, with a lack of understanding about and outright resistance to reasonable medical accommodations from my employers leading to working conditions that triggered hospitalizing pain flares and deteriorating physical health. But I also played a role in my deteriorating health… In November 2018, I delivered a Tedx Talk about being intentional about one’s impact and self-care regime. The irony of this was that I left at the staircase to the stage my cane, which I was using amid a pain flare that was brought on by my inability and outright resistance to honour my body’s need to rest. Up until my diagnosis of chronic pelvic inflammatory disease in August 2018, I was accustomed to an energy-intensive, jet-set schedule. My resentment to the perceived failure of my body only fueled my desire to prove that I could return to ‘normal.’

I overcame it by… Several hospitalizations, two surgeries, and months of recovery later, I find myself in a place of more peace and self-awareness. I put into practice what I preach with the recognition that I cannot be the best mother, daughter, sister, partner, and community member if I am not my best self, and that I too am worthy of the care and love I afford to those around me. With this understanding, I will continue to actively engage in the following practices while seeking new opportunities to grow this list. One of these practices includes land-based fitness; through therapy sessions and Elder hours I have come to understand that sharing land-based fitness activities with my family and friends is a significant determinant to my mental and physical health. I honour this need by regularly engaging in long-distance runs, walks, and hikes in the prairies and mountains, and in showing my gratitude through ceremony and meditation. 

There are better realities for future generations, and we can play a role in shaping those realities.

I stay inspired by…  the frontline activists and organizers advancing climate justice and ensuring that climate action is not separated from Indigenous sovereignty and racial justice. These people carry immense power in shaping the public, economic, political discourse and expectations, and they’re using this power to hold people, business, and states accountable to honouring people and Earth by any means necessary. While I participate in rallies and protests, I respect and actively support the labour of leading and organizing the frontline movement. They are required to be expert event planners, social service providers, and so much more, all while being unpaid in most instances. Witnessing and partaking in the fruits of their activism keeps me grounded in my own work, and in ensuring that my contributions to climate justice remain centered in land, community, and radical systemic change. 

The future excites me because… I find a great sense of empowerment and hope in understanding history, specifically the history of the emergence of ‘race’ and racism as we know it. It is not a universal truth that humans have always organized along racial hierarchies of superiority and inferiority; ‘race’ was not evident in ancient English texts, and its emergence coincided with the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. In understanding the colonial and capitalist interests in rationalizing groups of people as ‘less than,’ and in realizing that it is not inherent or natural for humans to divide ourselves in the way we experience now, I find power in our collective agency to imagine realities beyond what we know today. There are better realities for future generations, and we can play a role in shaping those realities.

My next step is… building out the internal infrastructure of Future Ancestors Services to meet the surge in demand we’ve experienced in our first four months of operations. We are currently managing about 100 clients and have tens of thousands in our online community, and because our team is so committed and pretty great at what we do, from the outside I think it seems like we’re working with a lot more than we actually have! My next step is to seek out more human support, like an Executive Assistant, and the financial resources to ethically compensate these administrative roles. One of my most cherished mentors, Meredith Alder from Student Energy, knows my life well and the Executive Assistant comes as her number one recommended next step!

Why authentic representation matters — and how this impacts our future generations.

I am privileged to be a mom of three and the CEO of Thunderbird Entertainment, a multifaceted entertainment company that employs over 1,000 animators, creators, directors, crew members, and more across Canada and the US. At Thunderbird, our focus is on creating meaningful, diverse, and world-changing content that helps shift the status quo and places the spotlight on stories that might otherwise remain untold. And, in an unprecedented time in history where people are consuming more content than ever, it has become even more important to create and tell stories that uplift and authentically represent visible minority groups and strong, fearless women.

I love stories, and the immense impact they can have. Stories have the power to influence and can be used as a force of good to share experiences, broaden perspectives, and inspire change.

At Thunderbird, we produce stories that have the potential to change and impact our world. I’m fortunate to work alongside people who collectively believe that authenticity is a critical element in storytelling. Authenticity matters on so many levels. Simu Liu of Kim’s Convenience, tells the story of how growing up he could be any superhero that wore a mask – and didn’t directly show his face. Why? Because before he was cast as Marvel’s superhero, Shang-Chi, there wasn’t any Asian superheroes. 

What’s more, the statistics don’t lie: in a world where the business of streaming is becoming increasingly competitive, diversity and inclusivity are becoming bedrocks of new content — especially so when it comes to content created for kids and families. In fact, children are likely to go elsewhere for entertainment when they do not see themselves, their cultures and lifestyles reflected on television, which is why the lives we have already been able to touch and change through positive and accurate representation of Indigenous culture on the animated children’s series, Molly of Denali, is just the tip of the iceberg. Creating content for children and youth, and all audiences for that matter, is a huge responsibility and we are 100% committed to getting it right.

Making diversity a non-negotiable aspect of our business makes complete and total sense.

Aside from prioritizing authenticity being the right approach, it is also good for business. According to The Ticket to Inclusion, an analysis of the top 1,200 films released from 2007-2018 found that films led or co-led by people of color generally net more revenue than those with white leads/co-leads. The bottom line? Diversity sells

As an advocate for women in the workplace, a champion for underrepresented voices, and someone with a deep-rooted passion for people, making diversity a non-negotiable aspect of our business makes complete and total sense. But, it’s easier said than done. Yes, we are committed to diversity, and not just in a token form. Instead, we are committed to making our content as authentically, and with as much intentionality as possible. This includes everything from the early stages of development and research (for Season One of Molly of Denali, over 60 Alaska Native actors, writers, advisors, producers and musicians were involved across the production!), to the final casting and acting process (in our commitment to authentic representation, we cast and recast the lead character’s role in Hello Ninja in order to find the right fit: a pre-teen Japanese-American voice actor to play Wesley), to the make-up of our 1,000+ employees (our kids and family division is 40% female, 50% male, and 10% gender fluid). 

The power and privilege that comes with creating and telling a good story simply cannot be understated. Stories can help us see a situation from a different perspective, and even shift our core beliefs. 

So how do we ensure we are creating and telling stories that are a force for good and that not only entertains, but also empowers and inspires? Here are four practical takeaways that serve as key principles in my own life, that help guide me in my own journey as a mother and a leader on a mission of doing what I can to make the world a better place, and that I hope will help you, too: 

Have an attitude of gratitude and good things will come your way.

I say this to my kids all the time. Who you surround yourself with is who you are, and you are personally accountable for everyone in your circle. For me, kindness and integrity are non-negotiable and I surround myself with people who align with these values. Telling stories of diversity and inclusivity are what matters at Thunderbird, which is why we have intentionally built a culture of people who align with this mission.

If you can see it, you can be it. 

I was fortunate to have strong role models in both my parents. They empowered me to not only seek out the career I have today, but also to keep pushing myself to grow and achieve new milestones throughout the years. My parents taught that “you get what you put in” and I put this into practice in whatever I am doing. More importantly, they led by doing. My father was a CEO and my mother was a Clinical Research Director. As a result, I witnessed leadership. I also witnessed firsthand that details matter, and they often make the difference. From this, I adopted the “if you can see it, you can be it” mentality — and this bodes well for where my career has taken me — and my leadership role at Thunderbird. I want my children to know that they can earn a seat at the table through hard work and resilience, and have worked hard to demonstrate to them that a woman doesn’t have to choose between having a career and family. I also intentionally surround myself with other strong female leaders who are intelligent, capable, and inspire me every day to keep growing and learning as my career continues to evolve. 

‘If you can see it, you can be it’ relates to what we see on the screen as well. Our industry is fortunate because it can make changes in real time through the stories we tell, and characters we cast. At Thunderbird, we strive to challenge stereotypes and to tell stories with diverse and authentic characters that serve as inspiring role models for the next generation of leaders, regardless of their background. This includes strong girls like Molly of Denali, a 10-year-old Athabascan girl that uplifts the diverse and traditional values of Alaska Native people in mainstream media by debunking stereotypes about their beautiful culture. This also includes characters like Japanese-American Wesley from Hello Ninja, the Asian-led cast of Kim’s Convenience, and Twin-Spirited Massey Whiteknife of Queen of the Oil Patch, an Aboriginal businessman in Northern Alberta’s oil sands by day and Iceis Rain, a free-spirited female recording artist by night. 

You can’t truly relate and connect to a story if the story is never about you, and never an accurate portrayal of who you are and where you come from. People need to see themselves reflected in the media they consume in order to believe their stories matter and to achieve their goals, whatever they may be.

Your voice and influence matters.

As the CEO of a content creation company, I have a desire to change the lens through which we tackle representation and diversity, but also a social obligation to shift the paradigm. At Thunderbird, this means honouring the untold stories of underrepresented groups and telling them authentically and with intentionality. It means ‘walking the talk’ and using our platform as content creators to amplify the voices of those that have been historically untold by mainstream media.

I hope to set an example of strong female leadership for not just my own children, but children everywhere: to show them that the voices and stories of every child, regardless of their race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and/or other differences, deserve to be heard. Molly of Denali may be the first nationally distributed children’s series in the United States to feature an Indigenous lead character, but she certainly won’t be the last.

People are always more important than the bottom line.

My passion for people is what led me to where I am today. Putting people first is what cultivates a happy workplace, it’s what draws the best talent to our company, and it’s what ultimately builds the billion-dollar company. The power of genuinely caring for people coupled with a ‘yes’ attitude is what I firmly believe is a recipe for success. I feel a deep sense of obligation to everyone on my team and their families, and it’s what drives me to show up every day and to do my best, and I will always strive to create a culture where my people are above the bottom line. 

It’s up to us to change the narrative surrounding diversity and inclusivity. The more we all do our part to raise up new, diverse voices, the more amazing, inspiring, impactful stories will be told. People from all cultural backgrounds deserve to be seen and stories like Simu Liu’s and Massey Whiteknife’s not only deserve to be told, but enrich our communities when they are.

About Jennifer Twiner-McCarron

Jennifer Twiner-McCarron is the CEO of Vancouver-based Thunderbird Entertainment Group , a global multiplatform entertainment company creating award-winning programming for the world’s leading digital platforms and broadcasters. Jennifer is also an award-winning producer, and has led production on multiple popular titles including the Emmy-winning Beat Bugs for Netflix, Cupcake & Dino for eOne and 101 Dalmatian Street for Disney+.

How Dream Maker Inc is making entrepreneurship more inclusive

Isaac Olowolafe Jr., President of Dream Maker Inc, a Toronto-based asset management firm, started his entrepreneurial journey at just 22 years old. Now at 36, he credits the support of his parents, wife and his community for his success — and he’s paying it forward, with venture capital investments and philanthropic support guided by a diversity and inclusion mandate.

 

by Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

 

 

At 36 years old, Isaac Olowolafe Jr. has experienced great success in business at the helm of Dream Maker Corp., a diversified asset management company with divisions in real estate, development, property management, and insurance. He’s also contributed greatly as a philanthropist and is an active champion of diversity and inclusion. Isaac, however, won’t take personal credit for any of it — attributing all of his success, instead, to his upbringing and the unwavering support of his family and community.

“My parents moved our family to Canada from Nigeria when I was 4,” he recalls, “and I grew up in a rough area of Toronto.” When Isaac was 15 his family moved again, this time to Woodbridge, a large suburban community north of the city.

“Being one of the only black students in a primarily Italian community was certainly a culture shock,” Isaac recalls. And, while he recognized that he was outside of his comfort zone, he realized he had a choice to make — focus on the negative and sulk in the corner for the rest of high school, or make the most of it.

Being optimistic by nature, Isaac chose the latter path and quickly found inclusion into his new community through sports. “There are certain things that make people colour blind and one of them is sports,” he says. “It’s a great equalizer.” So, Isaac joined the soccer team and learned to play Bocce Ball. He made friends and focused on all the positive things his new community had to offer — including a strong work ethic and business sense.

“I was exposed to a lot of the businesses built out of Woodbridge, such as real estate, development, and construction,” Isaac says. “And, my dad was also a real estate broker, so I was exposed to real estate not only from my environment, but also from watching my dad. I saw real estate as a tool to create generational wealth, not only to take care of your family but also to build up a community.”

At just 22 years old, and in his second year at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, he launched Dream Maker Corp. — then, just a real estate investment company. Eight years, and a lot of hard work later, he added real estate development to his growing company. His first project was a $40 million mixed-use condo development across from Yorkdale Mall. “I wasn’t a typical developer, and many lenders said ‘no’ right away,” he recalls. Throughout the project, he faced many roadblocks — but he also received much support. In the 16 years since he set out as an entrepreneur, Isaac’s business has grown substantially. He’s remained committed to his roots, however, crediting his connections and contacts with opening doors and helping him overcome roadblocks.

With a realization that the technology ecosystem is what continues to drive the real estate and development sectors, Isaac became interested in providing support and funding to tech entrepreneurs — especially those from diverse backgrounds. He launched Dream Maker Ventures Inc. (DMV), the investment arm of Dream Maker Corp., to fund early-stage startups in this space.

 

“Nothing good comes easy, regardless of you being a woman, or from the black community, or from any type of diverse group, with enough hard work, you can crack through and achieve your goals.

 

As a venture capitalist, he believes that those companies that work with Dream Maker Ventures are innately open to different viewpoints — and he brings that to the table, no matter who he’s working with. “We work with the companies we fund to bring a diverse perspective to hiring and product development, among other things,” he says.

Their latest initiative takes this a step further. Through the recently-launched “Diversity Fund,” Dream Maker Ventures will make early-stage, seed, and Series A investments in tech companies with founding teams inclusive of persons of colour, women, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, and indigenous entrepreneurs.

Isaac’s goal through this fund is to help change the narrative around entrepreneurship. It also makes good business sense, he says. “Statistics show that diversity not only creates a more positive work environment, but can also help companies build better products overall.”

As a philanthropist, Isaac has, for the most part, focused his efforts on inclusion in the startup space also. Through the Dream Legacy Foundation, Isaac’s philanthropic arm, he gives back to the community by supporting programs and initiatives that help entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities, and provides access to key resources that are critical to long-term success. This essentially creates a pipeline of diverse entrepreneurs within the ecosystem that are suitable for future investment by Dream Maker Ventures and other venture capitalists. Such programs include the DMZ Black Innovation Fellowship, based out of Ryerson University; Fierce Founders, a bootcamp program for female entrepreneurs; and Access to Success, which supports future business leaders with disabilities, among others.

“The challenge most entrepreneurs of any diverse group face, is access,” Isaac says. “Access to mentorship, funding, and resources.” The access he was given when he was starting out is what he hopes to provide for others. The Black Innovation Fellowship, for example, is the first fellowship program in Canada to provide startups led by Black entrepreneurs with mentorship, events, industry connections, capital, and an alumni network to support growth.

“This is a five-year initiative, and I hope that in five years there’s no need for a program like this — that it will be normal to go into any incubator and see black-led, female-led, and other diverse population-led startups,” Isaac says.

In the future Isaac envisions, his daughters, now 4, 6, and 9, won’t face challenges specifically because of their gender or race. For now, however, he’s focused on teaching them about the value of hard work. “Nothing good comes easy,” he says. “Regardless of you being a woman, or from the black community, or from any type of diverse group, with enough hard work, you can crack through and achieve your goals.”

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

 

Knocking down physical walls to help demolish barriers to inclusion

Can changing a physical workplace foster inclusion? Barbara Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer at Scotiabank, explains how an “Activity-Based Working” approach to their office design created a space that enables all employees to work when, where, and how they choose — demolishing barriers, increasing engagement, and ensuring everyone is enabled to be their very best.

 

By Barbara Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank

 


 

 

The workforce has never been more diverse than it is today — a “one size fits all” approach to both physical workplace and workplace policies is no longer acceptable. 

Out of the available labour market, 52 per cent are women, more than 30 per cent are visible minorities, 10 per cent are people with disabilities, we have four generations now represented, along with greater diversity in sexual orientation and gender. The variety of perspectives this mosaic brings leads to richer solutions, greater creativity and ideation, and demands that workplaces be more inclusive. It also means a widely varying set of expectations and needs for employers to consider in order to attract and retain the best possible talent. 

At Scotiabank, an effort began a few years ago with the initial objective to decrease costs by reducing our real estate our employees occupied. What quickly emerged in our research in looking at other organizations outside of Canada was that we could learn from them and move well past the typical densification options, like hoteling. We had an opportunity to build a physical workplace, with accompanying “how to use” policies, that delivers a wonderfully enhanced employee experience to all employees. At the root of that experience was a simple concept — choice.

Several months of surveying our downtown Toronto population revealed what we already knew but hadn’t built a workplace for — employees are human. They have preferences, pet peeves, personal requirements, and unique quirks. They’re more than the sum of their tasks. And, if we put the responsibility in their hands to plan their day and where they’d like to work, then they would be truly enabled to perform at their very best. 

 

Employees are human. They have preferences, pet peeves, personal requirements, and unique quirks. They’re more than the sum of their tasks.

 

Enter Activity-Based Working (ABW) — an approach that recognizes that people perform different activities in their day-to-day work, and therefore requires the right technology and variety of spaces in order to complete that work in the most effective way possible. It’s a workplace that equips you with the tools needed to work when, where, and however you choose. 

We introduced training for managers on how to manage their teams remotely, allowing for more opportunities to work from home, and our spaces range from ergonomic chairs and standing desks to private offices, quiet zones, alone in silence, or somewhere where there’s a bit of a buzz. The spaces are equipped to be accessible by design in order to make the work environment more comfortable, user-friendly, and easier to navigate for persons with disabilities. ABW helps build an inclusive culture by offering everyone the same experience regardless of seniority.

To date, we have more than 6,000 employees working in ABW space. There is equal satisfaction amongst represented genders with the new space and we saw a significant boost in engagement amongst women working in ABW compared to those who are not, most noting they were far more engaged as a result of greater opportunity around flex working hours and working from home. More than 80% say they would never go back to their old way of working.

How employees use their space is their personal choice, and those preferences inform how we build. The future of the employee experience is one they design for themselves.

 

How Jeff Perera is using support — rather than shame — to guide men towards a new idea of manhood

Jeff Perera credits his upbringing — and the negative male role models in it — for leading him towards his current career: as a speaker, writer, and facilitator focused on a modern view of manhood. His approach avoids shaming men for their learned biases, and instead encourages them to support each other as they build their ‘empathy muscles’, celebrate their differences, and set themselves free from the stereotypes they grew up with.

 

by Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

 

 

Jeff Perera has spent more than a decade working to inspire a shift in what it means to be a man in today’s society. “Quite simply, our ideas of manhood are outdated and are no longer serving us,” explains the 44-year-old speaker, writer, and facilitator who has delivered keynotes, talks, and workshops to tens of thousands of people across North America.

“I aspire to breach conversations in a brave way,” Jeff says, “to build a bridge between the genders and provide opportunities to support one another as we move toward the awakening of modern men.”

He traces the roots of his passion back to his childhood. Raised in Canada by Sri Lankan parents who emigrated via the UK, Jeff recalls having a staunchly ‘Canadian’ upbringing. “I grew up speaking English, eating mac and cheese, and watching hockey,” he says. “My parents experienced a great deal of racism in England and wanted a different experience for me here in Canada.”

Part of his understanding, and critique, of manhood came from his own father’s abusive behaviour toward his mother. “My mother was an extreme example of what women and girls endure, but I learned early on that my father was broken,” he says. “And I was seeing similar behaviours in the socially and emotionally challenged community I grew up in.”

As a man of colour, Jeff says, there were additional stereotypes he had to navigate. “Whether it’s the negative ones, the narrative that group X is lazy and group Y is smarter, or other stereotypes that feel complimentary, like this group is more athletically inclined or this group is more hard working — they’re still treating you as ‘other than’,” he says. 

As a teenager, Jeff rejected a lot of the traditional stereotypes that were pushed on him. But it wasn’t until he was in his thirties and went back to school to study social work at Ryerson, that he realized how he could take his beliefs and put them into action. 

As a mature student, Jeff got involved in human rights work on campus and joined White Ribbon, the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls. For years he co-chaired the White Ribbon Campaign on campus and organized events and facilitated workshops. This led into a full-time role with White Ribbon, followed by a position with Next Gen Men, a non-profit organization that promotes positive masculinities, healthy relationships, and gender equity. He eventually started his own freelance business — spreading a message of healthy versus harmful ideas of manhood — which he’s been running successfully for four years.

 

“For most boys, there’s a moment of trauma where childhood ends and they’re encouraged to ‘man up’, but when they enter their first romantic relationship, suddenly they’re expected to contribute emotionally and don’t have the tools to do so.”

 

Today, he’s speaking and facilitating workshops to help create a map of modern manhood that’s more inclusive, accessible, and puts equity first and foremost. “As a collective society, we’ve instilled traditions and ideas of masculinity that don’t serve us in a lot of ways. There’s the hunter-gatherer narrative, there’s manhood measured by dominance, what we own, what we demonstrate or produce, and our access to power,” he says. “But what I always say is the measure for manhood should be how we give and how we live.”

Through his work, Jeff is tackling the stereotypes that he grew up with — and more. Be it gender, ethnic or cultural background, or disability, “what we really want to do is to recognize those differences and celebrate them,” Jeff says. “We want to be able to say, ‘like you, I am different.’”

But what about those men who aren’t ready for that message? We may find ourselves feeling defensive or reactionary if our differences are challenged rather than celebrated — but shaming others for their learned biases isn’t going to change them. Real change begins, Jeff says, when we have more living examples of what manhood should look like, and role models leading the way. This is what he’s set out to do, and he’s encouraging other men to join the conversation via his website, Higher Unlearning.  

From a corporate perspective, Jeff urges companies to think about more inclusive hiring and to “dip your toe into the pool and try to see what it will feel like for a woman, or a gay man, or a person of colour.” It’s about becoming aware of your blind spots and doing what you can to change those. This includes stepping up as a champion and contributing to a culture of caring. 

“We have to ask ourselves, what can we do to ensure our work environments are more inclusive?” This can be impacted by simple things such as the language that’s being used, the activities chosen for team building, the culture of respect being garnered, and the focus on listening to what women, and others, have to say.

Jeff believes that most men need to work on building their “empathy muscles,” which tend to get stunted in childhood. “For most boys, there’s a moment of trauma where childhood ends and they’re encouraged to ‘man up’,” he says. “But when they enter their first romantic relationship, suddenly they’re expected to contribute emotionally and don’t have the tools to do so.” 

To build empathy, Jeff says, men need to go back to the metaphorical gym and work on the muscles they want to grow. “Men also need to step up and spot one another in this process,” he says. “As I always say, compassion without action is just observation. If you want change, you need action.”

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

 

How a corporate leader is advocating for entrepreneurs

As Director of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, Ingrid Devin oversees a global community of women business owners — ensuring they have access to the networks, capital, knowledge, and technology they need to excel. It’s a great fit for a life and career that’s been defined by advocacy. She shares what she’s learned on her journey so far, and what excites her about the future.

 

By Ony Anukem

 

We all have defining moments in our lives, Ingrid Devin says. “One of the things that always stuck with me was that my dad died when I was quite young, so I had a very strong mother.” The last born of six children from an Irish family, she also learned the art of self-advocacy at a very early age. “I come from a large family where if you didn’t speak up, you didn’t get heard. If you weren’t quick, everyone else took the good things.” 

Today, it’s not just herself that she is advocating for, but women entrepreneurs around the world. Ingrid is Director of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN), a global community that was established by Dell Technologies a decade ago to connect women entrepreneurs with networks, capital, knowledge and technology. These women are at the heart of everything that DWEN does — they are committed to adding value to their members personally, professionally, and in business.

One key element of the network is the annual summit, a three-day event that brings members together in a different city each year. In 2018, it took place in Toronto, Canada. This year marked the 10th DWEN summit, and on behalf of Women of Influence, I travelled to Singapore to take part, collecting the stories of some of the inspiring attendees hailing from every corner of the globe.

“There are three things we aim to achieve at DWEN. Access to technology, access to funding, and our third is access to a global network, and I think that for the women, all three areas are really important,” Ingrid says. “However, the real magic of the DWEN summit is the women — the friendships, mentorships and business opportunities that come out of them connecting.” 

While the summit is the centrepiece of the network, “we are way more than just the summit,” Ingrid explains. DWEN members enjoy several other benefits, including a DWEN app, educational webinars, regional events, and tech consultations.

Constantly surrounded by successful women entrepreneurs, Ingrid feels she’s become more entrepreneurial. “My role is like running a small business,” Ingrid says. “From looking to attract new members to thinking about budgets, or even developing the team. I have more of a security because I know I will get paid at the end of the month, but I certainly think as you work with entrepreneurs, you begin to think a little more like them.” 

Reflecting on the biggest entrepreneurial lesson she has learned in her current role, Ingrid says “a lot of people set up businesses and they have a great business idea. But the absolute crux is, you’ve got to be looking at finding a solution to a problem.” When I ask her if she sees entrepreneurship in her own future, she laughs. “Will I set up my own business someday? Maybe. Never say never.” 

 

“For any business, you need diversity in your team. But it’s not just about diverse hiring. If you don’t create an inclusive culture, inclusive environment, it’s hard for your team to be successful.”

 

Advocating for women entrepreneurs is not the only type of advocacy Ingrid has led during her time at Dell. Prior to her role as Director of DWEN, she spent over a decade as Dell’s EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Lead. “At the time I started, it wasn’t like what it was now,” she says,  pointing to  “the gradual shift from equality alone, to a greater focus on inclusion.”

And that means moving beyond just diversity. “For any business, you need diversity in your team,” explains Ingrid, “but it’s not just about diverse hiring. If you don’t create an inclusive culture, inclusive environment, it’s hard for your team to be successful.” 

She says her biggest challenge was ensuring that people saw the value of diversity and inclusion. “One of the things we did to overcome this was, I would find senior leaders who understood the value of diversity and inclusion, and I would get them to share the message.”

Turning to the future, we begin to discuss the importance of collaboration in women’s career advancement in the next ten years. “Every time we talk about gender diversity, we have got to include men,” she says, adding, “a lot of organizations are focusing on the issue of gender balance, a lot of governments, a lot of corporates, but the more we work together over the next ten years, the more powerful we can be.”

Ingrid is a strong believer in the power of mentorship and role models, citing the popular phrase “if she can see it, she can be it.” But she reminds us that role models can come in many forms, “I am really motivated by different people for different things,” she says. “In Dell, in the entrepreneurship network, through my friends, and women who may have been facing similar challenges to me.”

She’s also quick to point out the importance of introducing the topic of entrepreneurship to girls at a much earlier age. DWEN does this through its complementary program for girls aged 13-18, Girls Track, that runs simultaneously with the annual summit. Girls Track participants join certain elements of the summit and then have their own exclusive breakout sessions where they focus on key business topics such as how to go from an idea to a business plan, goal setting, and budgeting. Their program culminates with the girls pitching business ideas they have developed to the entire DWEN delegation on the final day.   

“My advice for young girls is to dig around to find what you’re really passionate about and try to find a career,” Ingrid says. “It’s important to teach yourself to be authentic and think about what you want. Is it money? Is it status? Is it a cause you’re passionate about? Is it a type of role? Is it travel? The world is changing so incredibly, the careers that are here now may not be here in 10 years. There are so many jobs out there we don’t know and the future is so exciting.”

How the CTO of Sun Life is using technology to create a more inclusive workplace

The job title of Chief Technology Officer isn’t usually associated with diversity and inclusion initiatives — but Rahul Sekhon, CTO at Sun Life, sees things differently. A passionate advocate and ally for women, people of colour, indigenous people, and individuals with disabilities (among others), Rahul is using tech to contribute to a broader strategy of promoting inclusion. Through his role — and his own actions — he’s playing an important role in attracting and retaining top talent.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

As Sun Life’s Chief Technology Officer, Rahul Sekhon’s responsibilities include cloud transformation, employee experience, DevOps, and global infrastructure services. And while his education and experience align perfectly for this position, it’s the informal roles and responsibilities he’s taken on within Sun Life that really cause him to stand out amongst other male executives. 

“People who know me would tell you I’m a relentless activist for equality,” Rahul says. And it’s through this lens that he sees all his roles and responsibilities at Sun Life. In fact, he has made it his mandate to support women’s advancement in the workplace, with a particular focus on recruiting more women into technology to support diversity, and increasing the percentage of women entering science, technology, engineering and math-related fields. 

“Throughout history, Sun Life has taken pride in being an employer that supports fairness and a safe environment,” Rahul explains. “We also recognize that we must move beyond the traditional and continue to evolve to attract and retain the best talent in the industry — operating like a tech company in the insurance space.” 

In an effort to better understand their clients and create products without bias, about five years ago Sun Life began looking at Diversity and Inclusion internally as part of an overall sustainability strategy. They began with unconscious bias training, looking for gaps in the talent pipeline, and re-writing job descriptions to ensure they include gender-neutral language. This year, they partnered with six other insurers to launch the Women in Insurance STEM (WIISTEM) program in Canada, offering female coop students in STEM undergraduate programs work terms with Toronto-based insurance companies. Sun Life has also sponsored several technology advocacy and recruitment events, such as the 2019 Girls Learning Code Day, WomenHack Toronto, and the Move the Dial Summit. And these efforts are paying off — there’s a great culture across the technology area, where men and women are treated fairly and equitably, and opportunities are available to everyone.

With a background in technology, Rahul is especially interested in how tech can be used as part of this broader strategy to improve the employee experience and promote inclusion. He’s using technology to design for an experience where employees are free to be productive in ways that best suit them, and are encouraged to be open and honest about their needs and desires. 

“We’ve actually begun to simplify our technology use to create a frictionless experience — allowing people to work from one system to the next without losing productivity, and keeping in mind people with disabilities and our employees who are based all over the world,” he says. 

Looking to amplify the voice of each employee, Sun Life has leveraged Workplace by Facebook, an online team collaboration tool that brings together its offices across 26 countries. With a similar interface as Facebook, it allows the organization to connect employees across the globe with town halls and other Livestream events, and provides a common space for individuals — from entry-level to executives — to share company news, personal stories, and feedback broadly, and comment and engage readily. It not only increases the frequency and authenticity of communication, but it also ensures everyone feels included and heard, even if the feedback is challenging. 

“We launched the platform with the aspiration to bring our organization together,” says Rahul, noting the #ReachOutAndDiscover hashtag that employees were encouraged to use, “and we’ve seen example after example of how it’s enabled us to move to a truly open and inclusive culture.”

 

“Being authentic is more than how we dress up, it’s ensuring that we lead in our day-to-day actions around driving inclusion, whether it’s allowing people to speak up and voice views that are different, or amplifying the voices that get suppressed.”

 

Like when Dan Fishbein, President of Sun Life U.S., began to use the tool to share personal anecdotes and observations with employees. “He demonstrated that it’s OK to open up and be vulnerable, and encouraged others to share their stories and experiences as well.” 

With a corporate culture focused on bringing your authentic self to work, Rahul has made every effort to follow suit. From small things, like using Zoom meeting and turning his camera on, to empowering his teams to choose how and when they work — he encourages leaders to be authentic and empathetic. “Being authentic is more than how we dress up,” he says. “It’s ensuring that we lead in our day-to-day actions around driving inclusion, whether it’s allowing people to speak up and voice views that are different, or amplifying the voices that get suppressed,” he explains. 

Coming from a place of authenticity, Rahul says, has always been extremely important to him. Born and raised in India, he admits he has experienced discrimination first-hand. But he hasn’t always been the ally and advocate that he is today. “My personal journey began many years ago, with the self-awareness and recognition that I needed to shed my own biases before I could influence others.”

Rahul began by participating in learning opportunities to engage with women and other minorities, to understand the challenges they were facing. “At first, I wasn’t a huge contributor, because I was trying to build my skills as an active listener,” he says. “But, in 2017, I took a personal risk and participated in a series of unconscious bias videos to share my own story. That’s when I realized I was in a position to influence change and new behaviours, and made it my mission on a daily basis to do so.” 

While Rahul sees the value in large gestures, he believes real change takes place on a grassroots level, and that small, conscious actions have the most impact. As an engineer by trade, he says he’s generally inclined to want to ‘solve’ things, but in this case, it’s more about making subtle changes in how you act and how you show up, and, in doing so, influencing others to do the same. Leading by example, Rahul makes it a priority to actively mentor and sponsor women, create awareness about bias and discrimination, and volunteer on a regular basis.

As such, Rahul’s commitment to inclusion has always been part of his home life as well. “My wife and I have always taken turns in our careers, to raise our daughters while still allowing each other to grow professionally,” he says. It’s these beliefs that he’s ingrained in his daughters, too, who are now 13 and 17, and active diversity activists in their own right. 

The advice he offers his girls — and other young women — is the same advice he has had to heed himself over the years. “As immigrants, my wife and I consciously chose not to let go of our identities when we came to Canada,” he says. “This advice translates to women as well. Don’t be someone else, be yourself, focus on your personal brand, be authentic and curious — and never settle for second best.” 

As a strong advocate of the role that men need to play in driving equality, his advice for young men is around respecting women and building courage to stand up against bias. “Supporting women is not about giving up your spot, rather it’s about making room by being an ally,” he says. “It’s ok for men to show their vulnerability and still be passionate about what you stand for. But we need to be accepting of other views, and most importantly, we need to take accountability for our actions.” 

While he believes nothing is going to be fixed overnight, Rahul is prepared to keep pushing for change. “We are trying to undo 15,000 years of damage, and we need to dig our heels in and commit to achieving equality for the long term,” he says. “It’s less about a revolution, and more about evolutionary change. It’s how we show up and how we acknowledge the other 50 percent of the human race. And how we become their allies. Equality is not optional.” 

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.

 

How Matthew Jefferson and Jordan Hart are lending their privilege to help others

Coined by Anjuan Simmons, the term ‘lending privilege’ describes using your own position or power to help underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. What does it look like in action? We spoke to Matthew Jefferson, who walked from BC to Newfoundland to raise awareness on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, and Jordan Hart, who completed 100 days of busking to raise money and awareness for people with intellectual disabilities. Here’s how they are using their own privilege to help others.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

Anjuan Simmons has travelled the globe speaking about diversity and inclusion, but his focus remains on ‘lending privilege’ — a phrase he coined with the intention of galvanizing action. The Texas-based technologist, speaker, and author believes that every single person has the ability to use their own position or power — no matter how great or small that may be — to help others. 

“The term ‘lending privilege’ means the willingness to take two actions,” he explains. “First, you have to be willing to recognize your own privilege, that is to understand how your gender, race, level of physical ability, and other factors provide access to resources. Second, you have to be willing to share your privilege with others.” 

While lending privilege isn’t exclusively done by men — there are many examples of women lending privilege in extraordinary ways every day — Anjuan says men, given their traditionally inherent power, have a vital role to play. 

“I always encourage men to recognize the power they have by changing how they think about justice,” he says, and that includes recognizing the systemic bias and barriers women face. “These experiences limit the job opportunities women can pursue, the promotions they receive, the salaries they are paid, and even how safe they feel walking down the street. If men can see that unfair system and care enough to create a better experience, then they can do their part in changing the system.”  The result actually makes the workplace — and home life — better for all genders.

To make real change, there are a number of simple actions individuals can take. Lending privilege can be as easy as nominating someone for recognition or a particular assignment, inviting junior colleagues to meetings with leaders, sharing information with individuals who don’t have the same access you do, standing up for the equal pay or rights of a colleague, joining a campaign like 30% Club Canada with a focus on gender-balanced leadership, or stepping into the role of mentor or champion.

Matthew Jefferson is a man who has taken the concept of lending privilege one step further. Or, more like a million steps further. On June 25th of this year, Matthew completed a year-long, 8,275-kilometer walk — from Victoria, BC to Cape Spear, Newfoundland — with the intention of bringing awareness to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada. 

As a man who ‘presents white’ (on account of his New Zealand-born father) but is also full status indigenous, Matthew is committed to lending privilege to bridge indigenous and non-indigenous communities, open the channels of communication, and raise this often ignored issue to the broader public agenda. 

 

“You never really know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself, I second-guessed myself every single day and even when I reached my final destination, I didn’t feel elated or done — this is just the beginning of my work and my journey.”

 

On October 14, 2017, Matthew’s aunt, Frances Brown, disappeared while mushroom picking in a forested area north of Smithers, BC. Local search and rescue crews from around the province were called in, alongside RCMP and volunteers — but the official search was called off eight days after it began. 

“If I were an indigenous woman, or even looked more like an indigenous man, then you probably wouldn’t be having this conversation with me,” Matthew said from North Sydney, Nova Scotia. “As you can imagine, it’s a privilege to be who I am, and I am using that as a tool to deliver our message.” 

Speaking in front of community groups, to the media, and most importantly, he says, to school-aged children, Matthew has been educating Canadians about residential schools, day schools, ‘the sixties scoop,’ and aboriginal child welfare — aspects of Canadian history that until recently had been brushed over in school curriculum. “Young people are this country’s future elders,” says Matthew. By educating them, he hopes they, in turn, can educate others. 

Matthew is a staunch advocate for women’s rights — both indigenous and non-indigenous women — and while he says his talks across the country were mostly attended by women, his goal is to have more men engaged in these conversations. “Women are sacred, they are life bringers, water carriers, and an integral part of our societies,” Matthew says. “I want to see more non-indigenous women stand up for indigenous women, and more men stand up for all women.” Matthew is also a supporter of the Moose Hide campaign, a grassroots movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and boys who are standing up against violence towards women. 

While his walk proved excruciating at times, leading to physical injury, illness, and emotional trauma, Matthew says he realized a great deal about himself over the course of the year. “You never really know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself,” he says. “I second-guessed myself every single day and even when I reached my final destination, I didn’t feel elated or done — this is just the beginning of my work and my journey.”

 

 

A welder and carpenter by trade, Matthew continues to commit his time and energy to championing this cause. “While I was walking I was able to meet with tens of thousands of people across our nation, laying the groundwork for what I’m about to do next.” On June 1st, 2020, Matthew will be leading a sponsored bike ride from B.C. to Newfoundland, raising funds for all indigenous communities in Canada that have missing family members. “I’ve connected with many people over the past year and through this bike ride I get to test their commitment to really wanting change.” 

While Matthew was nearing the final leg of his journey, another Canadian man was just setting out on his own personal mission to lend a voice to those whose voices have traditionally been silenced.  

This past spring, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Jordan Hart completed a 100-day busking challenge — serenading strangers on the streets across Toronto to raise money and awareness for L’Arche Canada, an organization that creates communities for people with intellectual disabilities.

Jordan was born into a musical family and says that he spoke music before he could speak words. Graduating from an arts high school in Edmonton and having completed a summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Jordan chose busking as the route to musical fulfillment. In 2013, he set out to travel across North America as a busker, beginning in Vancouver. “Almost immediately I was connected with influential people in the industry, including producers, and I decided to stay and see where those connections would take me.” 

 

“You know, as humans, we have this preconceived notion about someone’s value based on their capabilities, which tend to revolve around money or talent.”

 

A few years later he followed his music and connections to Toronto, where he spent time in the studio with producer Michael Sonier (who has worked with Alessia Cara, Mary J Blige, and more) and the multi-platform, Grammy-nominated production/songwriting group Kuya Productions (their credits include Alessia Cara, Drake, and others), creating a five-song EP that blends acoustic, roots soul with alternative R&B. 

“I spent a lot of time in the studio and was ready to get back to the streets,” Jordan says. But rather than focusing on self-promotion, he took the opportunity to lend privilege to an organization and cause that was extremely close to his heart.  

“My dad was the executive director of L’Arche in Edmonton and has been on the board of L’Arche Canada for some time, and from a young age I was in touch with the community, spent time visiting houses, and had relationships with residents and assistants,” Jordan says. “What I experienced in those communities was inspiring and unique. I had never seen such unconditional love and acceptance in my life.”  

Jordan dedicated every Sunday of his 100-day challenge to L’Arche, raising funds, and more importantly, awareness. “What I felt I could really offer was exposure of L’Arche to a younger generation,” he says.  Jordan brought core members from L’Arche communities out with him to speak, dedicated his social media posts to the cause, spoke to the media, handed out information, and had one-on-one conversations with people who came to watch him perform.

The results were more than he could have ever imagined. “You know, as humans, we have this preconceived notion about someone’s value based on their capabilities, which tend to revolve around money or talent,” Jordan says. “And you look at someone with intellectual disabilities and they don’t possess these things and so they’re often overlooked. But when you sit down with them, you realize that value is not attached to that at all — what matters most is being in the moment and being human together. And, you realize that your worth actually never had anything to do with what you’re capable of. That understanding left a huge space in my heart to love myself for who I am — and a desire to share this realization with others.” 

What surprised and delighted Jordan most was how many young people he met while busking who wanted to learn more and get involved. “I’ll never forget the moment a young man came up to me, saying he’d moved to Toronto to pursue a job, and while he was doing well financially, and all his goals had been met, he was feeling unsatisfied. He needed to reconnect to community and he was drawn to what I was saying about L’Arche and wanted to know what he could do to help.” 

As Jordan continues his musical journey, he plans to continue to involve L’Arche directly. Next up is a showcase that will include music as well as other art forms. “I would like to have artists of all backgrounds collaborating to create a multi-sensory experience where you can feel the openness and inspiration to become who you are and celebrate that,” he says. The project is in the works now, with the aim to have it ready by late summer or early fall. 

While lending privilege certainly doesn’t have to be the grand gestures made by Jordan and Matthew, which are two completely different examples, it does require the realization that our privilege gives us benefits that others can’t easily access. It’s what you do with that realization — how you step into your power and use it to advance the voice, or the career, or the well-being of another person or group of people — that really matters. Whether that means making an introduction to someone in your network, bringing a junior employee into a meeting, or choosing to be a mentor or sponsor, there is likely a small action you can make immediately that will have a long-term impact on someone else’s life or career.

 

What is the role of men in gender equality? Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore this question. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.