Thinking of exporting? Three Canadian women business owners share details about their export journey.

When it comes to exporting, you don’t need to have a big business to benefit. From growing your customer base to creating new revenue streams and increasing resiliency, expanding to foreign markets can have a substantial positive impact—no matter your company size.    

To better understand the opportunity, we spoke with three small business founders—Muna Mohammed of Eight50 Coffee, Felicia Lekan-Salami of Milton Food Group, and Shivani Dhamija of Shivani’s Kitchen—about the benefits they’ve realized from exporting. 

Their journeys all started with the iLaunchHERproduct program. Developed by de Sedulous Women Leaders, an organization committed to empowering, mentoring, supporting, and educating immigrant women in management and entrepreneurship, Export Development Canada (EDC) was a sponsor of the 2021 year-long program. It was designed to help Black women, women of colour, and immigrant women entrepreneurs who are retail-ready receive the necessary training, support, and tools to connect with buyers and grow their business.

It’s just one way EDC is deepening its impact on inclusion, diversity, and equity through a dedicated strategy to further engage with women entrepreneurs who also identify with other dimensions of diversity—and who face even more barriers when scaling a business. 

Here’s what Muna, Felicia, and Shivani had to say about their exporting journey and the valuable insights they’ve gained from working with de Sedulous Women Leaders and EDC.

Muna Mohammed | Eight50 Coffee

Tell us about yourself and your business…

Eight50 Coffee is a purpose-driven coffee company with deep coffee roots. We named our business after the year 850 AD when coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia. To continue a family legacy in coffee and pay homage to my late grandfather, who was a coffee farmer, Eight50 Coffee was born in 2020.

After working in various organizations and leading marketing teams for 15 years, I decided to take a leap of faith and leverage my knowledge of coffee and expertise in marketing and branding to launch Eight50 Coffee. My passions include sharing ancient coffee traditions, discussing coffee’s origins, and working with coffee farmers and local artisans to create various sustainable coffee byproducts. 

From flexible subscription options to brewing method resources, we also provide an array of premium, functional, and meaningful home, lifestyle, and coffee equipment products—from specialty brewing tools to traditional Ethiopian coffee cups—to complete the home brewing experience. Our focus is to provide responsibly sourced specialty coffee from around the world, all locally roasted here in Ottawa, so customers can truly enjoy our single origin and unique blends at home.

 

How has exporting impacted your business, and what’s next for you?

Exporting allowed us to access more diverse business partners and also broaden our product offering. Exporting has also helped increase sales and volume which allowed us to work with larger manufacturing partners, resulting in a decrease in production costs. We’ve been fortunate enough to grow our business from online sales and move into retail stores, gaining the interest of large retailers in the last two years while also growing our business opportunities in the U.S. market. This shift has been a game changer in how our business has grown and will continue to scale.

Training sessions, business seminars, specialist trade services, and support provided by EDC and organizations like WeConnect International and the de Sedulous Women Leaders iLaunchHERproduct program have been critical. There were some great workshops we accessed while working with iLaunchHERproduct where we learned about tools of the trade. 

Accessing the resources and information EDC shared about international markets helped me  make more informed decisions when assessing to work in international markets. Learning about EDC services definitely gave me more confidence to access markets I had not previously considered due to risk and lack of knowledge around the benefits of exporting. There are a number of untapped international trade opportunities we’ll be exploring, and building strong export strategies for each of those markets will be key to our ongoing success.

 

What advice would you share with other small businesses looking to export?

Begin by connecting with resources available to businesses through organizations, like EDC and your local Board of Trade available in your city. Work on creating an international marketing plan with clear objectives, and seek advice and help to discuss the legal and tax implications of going global with professionals early on. 

The U.S. can be a great start for exporting, but being open-minded about exporting to markets overseas where your business may have additional potential for growth is key. By diversifying your reach outside of North American markets, the benefits can far outweigh the risks.

 

You were selected as one of the 25 iLaunchHERproduct entrepreneurs. What did you learn from the program?

The program challenges you to think in-depth about your business and capability when approaching large-scale suppliers. I learned about the power of collaboration between businesses as an entrepreneur, that you’re never too big or too successful to join new accelerators/business programs, and that there’s always something new to learn. 

This program also prepared me to successfully pitch to buyers in ways I hadn’t previously done, and it led to successful outcomes for our company. Additionally, there’s a unique dynamic created when you bring 25 different women with successful businesses together—don’t take any of it for granted. Programs, like this, allow you to build deep business connections and a strong network of support.

Felicia Lekan-Salami | Milton Food Group

Tell us about yourself and your business…

Milton Food Group is a Toronto-based health-conscious snacking company that I founded in 2020. I started with Milton Pies, offering sweet and savoury options using traditional family recipes. Later in the year, after struggling with an intolerance to gluten and dairy, I discovered Galt Bakery and their gluten-free, dairy-free, and additive-free cookies. I knew that I had found the right products to promote and added them to the Milton Food Group portfolio. We have grown more than 20% every year since our inception. 

Currently, with Galt Bakery, we have five cookie flavours and are rapidly innovating and increasing our product lines. This summer, we launched our super seed crackers in five flavours, debuting online at Costco. Our goal is to keep providing healthy snack options for our consumers nationally and internationally as we expand into the U.S. in October 2022 and launch our frozen pies as part of the Milton Pies brand in the spring of 2023.

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How has exporting impacted your business, and what’s next for you?

Exporting has opened us up to a new growth engine as we develop this avenue for revenue, and it has given us the opportunity to discover new consumer needs that are inspiring us to innovate for the years ahead and scale. We’ve experienced increased interest and uptake for our brands in not only Canada, but also the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and three African cities. What is critical to our ongoing success is increased production capacity to cater to our expansion goals and consumer demand across markets.

Through de Sedulous Women’s iLaunchHERproduct program, we were introduced to EDC’s exporting solutions, which we’re now exploring for further growth and expansion. One of the EDC webinars, How to build a winning export strategy, was very helpful as well; this helped identify the most effective and profitable exporting approaches to consider. 

 

What advice would you share with other small businesses looking to export?

Start by researching your product’s unique market needs and define how you can creatively cater to them. You can get feedback from potential customers—which will help you streamline profitable opportunities—by participating in sampling at trade shows, pop-ups, and store demonstrations. Lastly, be bold and confident enough to reach out to foreign channels, and when you do, be clear on what you can offer and how you can add value and diversity to their portfolios.

 

You were selected as one of the 25 iLaunchHERproduct entrepreneurs. What did you learn from the program?

Networking is gold—together, we all can achieve more and better! Also, I learned that rising by lifting others is possible.

Shivani Dhamija | Shivani’s Kitchen

Tell us about yourself and your business…

I moved to Nova Scotia in 2011 with a diploma in public relations from Fanshawe College and tried working at various media and PR companies, but had no luck. It was while working at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax, NS, that a friend of mine told me that a trucker friend of hers was missing home-cooked Indian food and wanted someone to make food for him to take on his trips. He was my first client. I created a Facebook page publicizing my meal delivery services and got a tremendous response—people tried my food and wanted to learn to cook it as well. I created cooking classes as the second offering in my business in 2015. 

Another opportunity presented itself after listening to the feedback from the cooking classes. People absolutely loved the classes, but found it difficult to find the spices to prepare the meals at home. Understanding the needs of my customers, we launched spice blends in 2016 and ready-to-use sauces in 2018. Just like our spice blends, our sauces are salt-free, gluten-free and have no preservatives. Now, my products can be found in The Real Canadian Superstore, Sobeys, online at Walmart, and on our website.

 

How has exporting impacted your business, and what’s next for you?

Many people, government agencies, and non-government organizations helped me and my business. Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI) assisted me, both by providing training and financial support. Additionally, the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) is a great resource for immigrants to build their life in the province; they’re so committed to their clients and helped start and grow my business. Now, I work with them as a mentor and try to do my social responsibility by supporting new immigrants, who have an eagerness for entrepreneurship—women, in particular. Additionally, I have had support from EDC. When I go out for conferences and meet any big retailers, I know I can tell them EDC is there to support me if they make this deal.

At Shivani’s Kitchen, we’re trying to export our products across the world. We just started by exporting to parts of the U.S. and Asia. Exporting means more revenue, but it also means more work on the marketing side. From my perspective, marketing and having adequate knowledge about our target market are essential to keep the business going smoothly.

 

What advice would you share with other small businesses looking to export?

It’s important to search and find your target market’s needs, recognize potential customers, and have an awareness of your competitors.

 

You were selected as one of the 25 iLaunchHERproduct entrepreneurs. What did you learn from the program?

Maintaining your ambition, self-confidence, and trusting yourself and your abilities. Also, believe that your dreams don’t have an expiration date.

I am a woman because I do womanhood.

By Junia Joplin

 

“To be fully alive is to act… I understand action to be any way that we can co-create reality with other beings and the Spirit… Action, like a sacrament, is the visible form of an invisible spirit, an outward manifestation of an inward power. But as we act, we not only express what is in us and give shape to the world, we also receive what is outside us, and reshape our inner selves.”

Parker Palmer

Upon reading those words as quoted in a bell hooks book last spring, you might say I better understood my identity. But I won’t say that, because I’m not using that word like I used to.

Like other trans women, I will point out I don’t identify as a woman. Rather, I am a woman. Somehow, rightly or wrongly, identity has come to connote a kind of disembodied, decontextualized totem of sorts.

Maybe it’s because of that tired, transphobic joke that goes “I identify as an attack helicopter.” Now, claiming to be an attack helicopter is absurd, but claiming identity is unrelated to experience, that it’s somehow akin to playing make-believe, is harmful. Language evolves; sometimes it evolves because of prolonged abuse.

I came out and socially transitioned more than two years ago. What I mean when I say that is, as of June 14, 2020, I stopped living as a man in every way I could conceive. To borrow Parker Palmer’s language, I made it known that I was dedicating my aliveness and action to my womanhood. From that day forward, I have been working full-time with pretty much everybody in my life to co-create this reality.

“Even though I didn’t understand it at the time, I’ve been doing womanhood throughout my life.”

Yes, my action aligned with an inward power. It was, and is, a visible form of an invisible spirit. And I guess you could call that inward power, that invisible spirit, identity. But the action  the outward, world-shaping expression of what’s inside — is important to me.

I am a woman because I do womanhood. And even though I didn’t understand it at the time, I’ve been doing womanhood throughout my life.

Like when I was a child everyone perceived as a boy, but who constantly dreamed of being a girl.

Or when I was a teenager trying on dresses in secret.

Or that awkward moment when a Cracker Barrel server asked me “Can I top off your coffee, ma’am?” even though I hadn’t transitioned yet.

Or those times when, even though I wasn’t ready to come out to everyone yet, a handful of trusted friends greeted me with an inconspicuous “Hi, June.”

Or even when, in my ignorance, I spent decades unhappily accepting I was just a man who wanted to be a woman, but who couldn’t possibly be trans.

In my limited but experienced perspective, it’s easy now to affirm that I am a woman because I do womanhood. And while universalizing one’s experience can be problematic, I will offer that a woman is a person who does womanhood.

I will say that a woman is someone who womans.

When someone suggests I’m not a real woman, or gets up in arms about my chromosomes, or refuses to get my name or pronouns right, or insists it’s wrong for my kids to call me mom — and each of these things has happened to me this year — it does sting a bit. There is no place for this type of transphobia in the world.

But then, it’s also hard to take this stuff seriously.

Because my youngest child isn’t going to stand in front of his class and say “Actually, everybody, that extra Mother’s Day card I was so proud to make back in May was just a lie.”

And because that friendly couple who said, “You remind us of our granddaughter” that time I visited an out-of-town church didn’t pause to add “on second thought, we should walk that back until we’ve seen your birth certificate.”

And because the hospital nurse who mistakenly paged me using the boy’s name on my outdated records didn’t say “What brings you in today, Mr. Joplin?” when I sat down at her window. Instead, it was “I’m sorry, miss, but you’re not the person I just paged.”

And because the people who find me attractive — be they straight men, gay women, bisexual or pansexual folks — aren’t checking me out with the type of microscope they’d need to see my chromosomes.

“Some women — cisgender and transgender alike — will have their womanhood disputed no matter how they woman. This happens all the time, sadly.”

I know there are lots of ways a woman can dedicate her action to womanhood. I know there are lots of ways for a woman to woman. I know some of those ways are more societally acceptable, and some less.

I know gender is neither as binary nor as fixed as many of us have been taught.

And I know, even if none of the experiences of womanhood I’ve recounted had happened, I’d still be a woman.

Because even though what you do is an important piece of who you are, it’s not the only piece. And because no two women woman exactly alike.

Some women — cisgender and transgender alike — will have their womanhood disputed no matter how they woman. This happens all the time, sadly.

Sometimes it happens when a woman has broader-than-expected shoulders or shorter-than-expected hair. Sometimes it happens when a woman demonstrates assertiveness or strength. Sometimes it happens when a woman hasn’t transitioned as fully as she wants to, or as fully as others expect her to.

Not every woman can count on society’s help in rightly co-creating her reality. But when this happens, it’s not a failure at womanhood — it’s a failure of society.

I understand a woman to be a person who womans. Womanhood isn’t some academic tenet or philosophical kernel. It’s not an ethereal, imbued, deterministic spark. It’s not even a biological category — not exclusively, anyway. Womanhood is simply what women do.

Womanhood is what I do. I’m grateful — and let’s face it, privileged — to report that it is what my world cooperates with me in doing. It is a reality every single person in my life — except a few who are devoted to hateful, ignorant ideology — joins me in co-creating.

This longer-than-I-expected article notwithstanding, I don’t really want to dedicate much of my energy to elaborating on my womanhood. I guess I’m just too caught up in doing womanhood to care about debating womanhood.

To borrow words from that famous quote by that famous dancer Isadora Duncan, I’m not going to explain the dance; I’m just going to dance the dance.

Hey Siri… play Lizzo.

Junia Joplin

Junia Joplin

Junia Joplin (she/her) spent most of the first year of Covid speaking to faith communities around the world about authenticity, grace, and welcome. In March 2021, she joined the clergy team at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto – a vibrant, inclusive, and progressive faith community and human rights church. Junia was recognized among WOI’s Top 25 Women of Influence in 2021, and she is a past recipient of the Canada 150 Leadership award. A stirring communicator, Junia draws from her own experiences of vulnerability, perseverance, and joy to inspire others to take their next step of faith. She loves playing a good tune on her banjo, reading poetry, and waking up early enough to watch the sunrise.

Struggling to demonstrate your value as a board member? Develop your readiness for a crisis.

By Kristi Honey

 

On May 21, 2022, a devastating tornado touched down in the Township of Uxbridge in Ontario, with wind speeds capable of downing trees, toppling power lines, and tearing roofs off buildings. Within minutes, the Township’s Emergency Operations Centre was activated, putting into effect plans that we had practiced only weeks previously. All our emergency preparedness work allowed the municipality’s senior staff and council to mobilize at a moment’s notice. Everyone knew their roles, and our approach to communications was aligned with our practiced plans.

We are fortunate that we rarely have to face an emergency at an organizational level. But when it happens, the most effective responses are from organizations whose senior leadership and board have planned for the crisis, providing a clear understanding of the organization’s role and each individual role within the emergency response. 

As a board member, being asked to step up in an emergency and put your plans and preparations into effect can be a fulfilling part of your journey on a board, one that allows you to develop and demonstrate leadership. But before a crisis happens, there’s also an opportunity to develop and demonstrate your value as a board member, through a commitment to readiness — knowing your role in the event of an emergency, understanding the organization’s enterprise risks and response plans, and going the extra mile to help optimize both.

As an experienced board chair, I’ve spent years figuring out that extra mile. My goal now is to help other women compress the learning curve (from getting on a board to succeeding once there). If you want to better understand how you can practice good governance to optimize your and your organization’s readiness for a crisis — and quickly demonstrate your value to the board — read on for my best advice. 

Know your board, know your role.

First, take the time to understand your board, and your role as a board member. You should have clarity on your board’s model is it an advisory board, an elected board (or council), a not for profit, or a corporate board? Also, what governance model has been adopted is it a traditional, hybrid, or policy-based governance board? 

To learn this, thoroughly read the board’s by-laws, committee structures and mandates, and the boardroom rules of order.  Be sure you are familiar with the board’s Directors & Officers (D&Os) insurance and indemnification agreements, to limit your personal liability. Knowing your role is essential to good governance. If you lack governance experience, seek formal education such as the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD) Director’s Education Program, and Women Get On Board.

At the Township of Uxbridge, our council orientation is essential to onboarding new members.  Further, our council is governed by the Municipal Act. Ongoing annual training is essential to ensuring our council members understand their roles and the segregation of duties between staff and the mayor and council during regular operations, and how authorities change when we declare a state of emergency.

Understand your organization and its approach in a crisis.

Success in your board journey requires a solid understanding of your role and the organization. Do you know the organization’s vision, mission, and values? Have you read their annual report and strategic plan? Do you understand the organization’s financial position? Are you current on competition and industry drivers that need to be addressed in the strategic plan? These are all essential to your onboarding journey.  

To become an effective contributor, be sure you go beyond the basics and seek to understand the organization’s:

  • Enterprise Risk Management Framework & Ongoing Monitoring:  Review the board work plan and be sure it includes enterprise risk assessments and reporting to the board. Understand what committee is responsible for ongoing monitoring and board reporting. As a board, are you clear on what risks the organization has mitigated, outsourced, insured, or accepted? What level of risks are reported to the board, and what triggers a requirement for board reporting when incidents occur?
  • Crisis Communications: Who can speak on behalf of the board (hint: the Chair!)? Does the organization have a communications plan with pre-written responses approved by legal counsel or insurer to address foreseeable controversies or crises? Who is monitoring what is being reported about your organization on various forms of media?  Are tools in place to monitor the sentiment of your brand? How and when are these regularly reported to the board?
  • Crisis & Disaster Preparedness Scenarios and Tabletop Exercises: Ensure role clarity ahead of a crisis. Does your organization conduct scenarios or tabletop exercises for emergency preparedness, if so, what role can the board play to support readiness? Be clear on your role in a crisis or emergency (if any). A board should contemplate issues that might come to the board for decisions ahead of an emergency, and have contemplated ramifications (legal or insurance, reputational risk, communications) ahead of an emergency. You don’t want the first conversation on critical issues — such as the board’s position on paying ransomware — to be during a crisis. Good planning, including scenarios and tabletop exercises that involve the board, ensure better focus during a real event. 

Be sure the Board Chair is familiar with the skills and experience you can contribute at the committee or board level, and particularly what expertise the organization may want to rely upon during an emergency or crisis.

During our Township of Uxbridge weather emergency, I was able to pull in key capabilities of our councillors to help us respond. We have a comprehensive emergency response plan, pre-written crisis communications, and had recently (only two weeks before) conducted additional refresher training. This ensured we could focus on what was most important in our response. We were able to work with the local paper, the COSMOS, to have an early edition printed and distributed to over 8000 homes to get critical information into the hands of our residents at a time when the local radio station was down, and many of our residents were entirely without power, internet, or phone systems.

Prioritize relationship building.

Demonstrating you’ve arrived at the boardroom table well prepared — understanding the organization, your role, good governance principles, and of course, that you have thoroughly read the agenda materials and actively listen, will help you build credibility with your boardroom peers quickly. 

I have had the opportunity to mentor several new directors during my tenure as chair of multiple boards. While it does involve an investment of time, it builds relationships and creates a safe space for new directors to ask questions, seek guidance, and find their voice faster at the table. It accelerates their inclusion and ability to fully contribute to the team. 

Relationships are at the heart of our ability to contribute effectively, particularly in times of crisis:

  • Build relationships with the Chair, other board members, and senior management.  
  • Seek clarity on the organization’s key vendors on contract for emergency preparedness.  Does the organization have contracts with the expertise required under a number of foreseeable scenarios such as legal, insurance, negotiators, public relations and crisis management teams? 
  • Make sure the board knows your area of expertise and how they can lean on you to support board goals or in an emergency (cyber security, legal, human resources, public relations, government lobbying).
  • Seek a mentor and offer to be a mentor in an area where you have expertise. 

Relationship building means taking the time to learn, socialize and network together. Take the time to arrive early to board and committee meetings — getting to genuinely know your boardroom peers makes a difference. Attend the social events. Attend the optional learning or educational sessions, and facility tours. Let people know who you are and what expertise you can offer.  

Knowing your board, your role, and your organization is essential to onboarding to a new board.  Building relationships ahead of an emergency or crisis dramatically improves an organization’s ability to respond. In fact, aside from our extensive emergency planning, our rapport was the only thing that truly mattered when the Township of Uxbridge put a call out during our community’s most dire hours of need. The tremendous response ensured no loss of life, the safety and security of all, and a community united.

 

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey is the Chief Administrator for the Township of Uxbridge and a governor on the Trent University Board. She is the former Chairperson of the Durham College Board of Governors and College Employers Council Board. Kristi built and sold several tech start-ups, and is a globally recognized cyber security, risk management, and governance expert. Kristi is a champion for human rights, the environment, and the economic empowerment of women and communities.

How to combat long-term exhaustion.

By Rumeet Billan, Ph.D.

 

For many of us, stress became a lifestyle. Beyond the glamourization of hustle culture, society normalized the body’s warning signals as the price you pay to be successful and we accepted it as a collective.

But then we hit our tipping point, and no you’re not imagining it. Something is different. People are more irritable. Your colleagues are less conversational — even more so if they were forced back into the office. You may have even noticed a change in your ability to concentrate, stay focused or complete a task. Believe me, you are not alone in this. According to a recent poll by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 48 per cent of moms are reaching their breaking point, and a staggering 67 per cent said they were concerned about their mental and physical health. I can raise my hand and say that I fell into this category the past few months, which necessitated a break.

These are the consequences of a society stretched too thin, and the behavioral changes we are witnessing are to be expected in the third year of the pandemic. Stress moved into exhaustion, and we’re feeling it as a collective. According to the World Health Organization, symptoms of exhaustion costs the global economy $1 trillion dollars each year. It’s time to change that.

Stress or Exhaustion?

First, what is exhaustion, and how is it different from the daily stress we’ve become so accustomed to? For starters, stress is generally directed at an event or a deadline. As a result, there’s a foreseeable end where life can return to our routines. However, with exhaustion, the symptoms are more subtle, progress gradually and have a cumulative impact on our well-being. Exhaustion is the product of months, or perhaps years of compounded stress.

According to health professionals, symptoms of exhaustion may include:

  • Depression
  • Difficult concentrating
  • Low motivation
  • Nervousness or general anxiety
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stiff shoulders
  • Whole-body tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Alienation

Exhaustion also has a longer recovery time. When I went on my break with my son, I slept 30+ hours in the first three days. I didn’t even know I needed that. Psychologists suggest it may take up to five years to heal all exhaustion-related symptoms. The key to combating the triggers and environments that lead to burnout and exhaustion is prevention. It starts with identifying the causes and implementing better systems. Something I am working on personally, and really thinking about professionally.

Building Better Work Environments

For employers, creating a healthy work environment starts with acknowledging all the various ways the last three years have affected their team. It’s also understanding that we may have no idea what someone on our team has experienced during that time. Your colleagues have experienced loss in its varying forms – loss of loved ones, loss of time, certainty, opportunities, and in some cases perhaps a loss of identity. Ignoring that is not an option. Here’s are some suggestions for employers:

  • Get to know your employees again. Ask questions, but then (actually) listen. Ample studies show that employees are happier in workplaces where they feel included, supported and have a sense of belonging. Research also shows that 77 per cent of employees have suffered from ‘zoom fatigue’ since the beginning of the pandemic. Take the time to have conversations with individual team members and facilitate opportunities for co-workers to get to get to know one another again. We’ve gone through a lot.
  • Be flexible. After 2+ years of working remotely for most of us, being back in the office can be a big adjustment. While some employees may be excited to be back in a structured space, others are anxious. Be considerate.
  • Reduce workplace stress. There is so much to say about this, and the study I co-led on Happiness at Work in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, showed that we needed to reduce workplace stress even before the pandemic. We needed to adjust workloads before the pandemic, and this still applies today. A few practices employers can implement include: making sure employees are taking regular breaks (and their full lunch breaks), encouraging taking time off, and not expecting responses to emails/messages after work hours.

The consequences of ignoring the exhaustion that is plaguing many right now is dire. Research shows that the effects are cumulative. It doesn’t matter if an employee’s stressors are occurring outside of the workplace, they carry it with them regardless of its source and it shows up in how we are able show up each day. That means employees are carrying the stress of the past 2+ years into the office with them, especially if we haven’t had the opportunity to process what we’ve experienced. Compassionate and empathetic leadership is required, and the pandemic has shown us there are multiple ways of doing things. That’s a lesson I believe we can continue to apply as we continue to tackle exhaustion in the workplace.

Rumeet Billan, Ph.D.

Rumeet Billan, Ph.D.

Dr. Rumeet Billan completed her PhD at the University of Toronto and has designed award-winning programs, courses, and training sessions across industries and sectors. She led the groundbreaking national research study on Tall Poppy Syndrome which reveals the impact of the silent systemic syndrome on women in the workplace. In 2020, she co-led the Canadian Happiness at Work study, in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association. Named one of Canada’s Top 100 Health Leaders in 2021, Canada’s Top 10 Power Women in 2020, and twice named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women, she serves on the Board of Directors of CODE and Fora Network.

On December 1, 2022, Rumeet will be taking the helm of Women of Influence as CEO and owner, and she's looking forward to leading the organization into its next chapter.

Meet Dr. Rumeet Billan, Incoming CEO of Women of Influence.

Rumeet Billan

Dr. Rumeet Billan is an award-winning, internationally recognized researcher and expert on workplace culture. As the Founder and Chief Learning Architect of Viewpoint Leadership, she has designed and facilitated programs, courses, and training sessions across industries and sectors — transforming workplaces to enable trust, foster belonging, and build resilience. Rumeet is passionate about creating platforms that encourage women, youth, communities, and organizations to envision what could be possible, and she’s dedicated her time to support causes and lead initiatives that promote human welfare. A serial entrepreneur, Rumeet will be bringing almost two decades of leadership experience to the helm of Women of Influence. She takes over the role of CEO on December 1, 2022. 

 

My first job ever was… on an assembly line, working in a factory, packaging bags of chips. Something you would not see on my LinkedIn or on my resume, but played a significant role in the trajectory of my career.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… someone believed in me. I accidentally became an entrepreneur at the age of 21, and this stemmed from a conversation that I had with a friend at the time. Funny enough, my High School Guidance Counsellor suggested that I should pursue a career in Human Resources, which I tried, but entrepreneurship is where I landed. Over the last 18 years, we have not only made profit, but more importantly, we’ve been able to make an impact.   

I’m passionate about my industry because… I am driven to help transform workplaces through research, training, and development. I love that I get to share knowledge that can potentially change someone’s experience and/or viewpoint. I also get to make an impact in ways that can help others not only reach their potential, but exceed their own expectations. 

My proudest accomplishment is… still in the making.

A challenge I faced as a (racialized) woman in business isthat I was constantly underestimated early on in my career.

I overcame it by… letting people underestimate me without letting it impact me. I decided that I would let my work speak for itself. 

“I am driven to help transform workplaces through research, training, and development… I get to make an impact in ways that can help others not only reach their potential, but exceed their own expectations.”

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… time is your only real currency. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… the importance of intermittent recovery. Taking time to rest and recover throughout the year. I’m working on it!

The thing I love most about what I do is… meeting incredible people and hearing about their experiences. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… setting clear boundaries and not apologizing for them.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m an introvert. I need personal time to recharge. I also don’t know how to wink, but wish I did!

Work-life balance is… not my goal. The goal is work-life enrichment.

I stay inspired by… my six-year-old son. His curiosity, determination, negotiation skills, rationalizations, ability to bounce back, and kindness inspire me. I learn so much from him and absolutely love being his mama. 

The future excites me because… of the impact we are going to make together.

My next step is… here.

 

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Meet Dr. Shara Ally, founder of NEUROorganics Inc, a mental health company incorporating Eastern approaches.

Shara Ally

| Photo by Charlotte Poolton Photography |

Dr. Shara Ally is the Founder and CEO of NEUROorganics Inc., a mental health company that incorporates Eastern approaches to care — inspired by a conversation Shara had with the Dalai Lama. She’s also Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Lotus Medical Community Clinic in California, and Mental Health Consultant and Strategist for RogersTV and KRS Home Care Inc. Shara sits on multiple health-focused boards, and is an accomplished researcher, lecturer, and international speaker. In addition, Shara added Ms. Canada United World 2022 to her titles and is now competing for the international crown, Ms. United World 2023. 

 

My first job ever was… making my first cup of coffee at Tim Hortons! 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it is an inspired space that allows for creating solutions to everyday problems that are innovative, novel, and unconventional. 

I founded NEUROorganics Inc. because… I wanted to share the lessons I received from the Dalai Lama through a mental health platform that cultivates an innovative approach to education and consultation to strategically help individuals fuel their pain from their past into their future purpose.   

I’m passionate about mental health because… I believe your mind is the greatest asset you have. In NEUROorganics, we teach our clients that just as you have physical health you have mental health, and it is essential to nourish it for internal wellness that is then exuded externally. 

My proudest accomplishment is… helping my clients in NEUROorganics get to the other side of suffering. This achievement demonstrates the importance in the work NEUROorganics provides as it helps to shape healthier individuals, families, and communities. Mental health and wellness is not to be underestimated, nor can you ever graduate from it. The NEUROorganics methods of fueling your pain from your past into a your future purpose, allows you to live with improved self-awareness, self-worth, and confidence. 

My biggest setback was… caring too much about what others thought of me. As a result, I overexerted myself and my resources to try to impress them and hope to gain their approval. This within itself will deter you from success, guaranteed. 

“The quality of the relationships you have with yourself and others will determine the quality of your life.” 

I overcame it by… surrounding myself with the right mindsets that fill my cup in my personal and professional lives. I tell my NEUROorganics clients all of the time that the quality of the relationships you have with yourself and others will determine the quality of your life. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… learn to love being uncomfortable. Entrepreneurship does not follow a specific methodology, nor is it linear. However, there is incredible learning and intrinsic value that comes with the entrepreneur lifestyle. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… the incredible and empowering transformation my clients experience in NEUROorganics. They are no longer victims to their mind; rather they have learned how to use their mind as an asset. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my failures! Failures, mistakes, and setbacks create a synergetic opportunity for learning, refining, and synthesizing your idea.   

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I have 48 allergies! 

I stay inspired by… a quote I subscribe to by Denzel Washington which is, “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.” This is a great reminder to keep pushing forward when it’s hard, and not to settle when things are easy. 

The future excites me because… I have the opportunity to fuse my pageant, business, medical, and entrepreneurship platforms to create solution-orientated mental health solutions for individuals and communities. The cross-pollination across these industries felt out of reach at one point, and have simultaneously come together in an effective and meaningful way. 

My next step is… to optimize the mental wellness journey of my clients and empower business development to serve larger audiences to accelerate NEUROorganics. I also plan on engaging my Ms. Canada United World 2022 platform to support women and their mental wellness. If I win the Ms. United World 2023 crown, this will allow for a shift from national to international impact for women and the audiences I touch through this incredible platform. 

Meet Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland, an award-winning social and environmental justice activist.

Jackie Bouvier Copeland

Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland is an award-winning multidisciplinary innovator, educator, artist, and activist. She is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund (WISE), an organization that facilitates a network and connects donors and social financiers to underfunded activists, technological innovators and other stakeholders invested in finding solutions to the environmental crisis. In addition to her work with WISE, Dr. Copeland has also founded Black Philanthropy Month, an initiative dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness around Black giving and philanthropic efforts. Recognized as a HistoryMaker and included in the Congressional Record for her civic contributions, Dr. Copeland has been working in the social and environmental justice space for 40 years, with her work efforts reaching at least 20 million people. 

 

My first job ever was… My very first job was as an administrative assistant with the Navy in the Naval Aviation Engineering Services Unit at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, specifically in its Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Unit. It was a great introduction to the good, bad, and ugly of the work world, and it was part of the Mayor’s summer youth employment program.  

I became interested in pursuing social and environmental justice as part of my work because… I lived through many injustices starting in childhood. I always wanted to do what I could so that people in my community, the nation, and the world did not have to suffer these same challenges. 

I founded The Women Invested to Save Earth (WISE) Fund because… Innovators from all backgrounds can help us address the most compelling challenges facing our community in the world; unfortunately, women and people of color only receive one to two percent on average of philanthropy and investment support for their nonprofits and their businesses. 

My hope with The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund is that we can create a new model for how all innovators, regardless of background, can be supported for their merit, qualifications, and the potential their innovations have to address social issues and the climate change challenge facing our entire world. 

I created Black Philanthropy Month becauseI created Black Philanthropy Month 20 years ago for several reasons: to celebrate and raise public awareness that giving is written into the DNA of every Black culture worldwide; to educate about innovative, diverse forms of Black giving; to build global Black unity and community impact through collective giving; and lastly, especially as of 2020, to promote fair access to all forms of private capital for economic justice — the last frontier of Black civil, racial, liberation movements. 

Black Philanthropy Month advances a global movement to advance Black giving and social finance innovation in all forms for the betterment of our communities everywhere and the planet we share for all people.

“I have absolutely no doubt that I have done my best to be good in the world.”

My proudest accomplishment is… Being a mother and supporting the development of my now 32-year-old child, an accomplished artist and activist. Also, I’m proud of my leadership role in my family and my community. I am blessed to be recognized as a HistoryMaker for my 40 years of civic contributions, including my early contributions to Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance initiative, as well as Black Philanthropy Month, Reunity, and now WISE founder. It is also a miracle that, with much support, I launched my first album, Blachant, as both executive producer and singer-songwriter — an almost lost personal goal.  

My biggest setback was… There have been many setbacks, but I think of life in terms of overcoming. Poverty, dramatic family troubles, workplace discrimination, and health challenges are a part of my story, but I’ve been blessed to overcome these challenges and grow through difficult experiences too. I’m still here, thriving, leading, and serving with my joy and faith intact, stronger than ever.  

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… I’m much better at it now, but the one piece of advice I definitely have trouble following is to care for myself while caring for others. I work harder now to live with “radical self-care,” although that’s still a work in progress. Becoming a master life coach now helps, as it encourages me to be a better self-care role model.  

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… If I had an extra hour in a day, I’d spend it hiking, praying, meditating in nature, catching up with loved ones, writing fiction, poetry, and songs, or creating my wellness movement practice.

The thing I love most about what I do is… I have absolutely no doubt that I have done my best to be good in the world. I can document it. I can almost count the number of communities and people I’ve touched. What motivates me and partly why I think I’m on the planet is to do my utmost to heal people, society, the planet we share, and in the process, myself.  

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a certified Zumba instructor and a global Black home chef. I’ve even won awards for my African Soul Collard Greens, mixing how I learned to cook low country cuisine with West African cooking. Dancing and cooking for friends are two of my favorite social activities. 

The future excites me because… Even in the midst of struggle, we all need to find ways to hold on to joy. I stay inspired by the challenges we face and the prospect of making life better for many people today and for future generations. My faith, life purpose, and stories of past and present social justice leaders gives me inspiration and strength. The future is daunting but inspiring because we have many opportunities to create a better world for all — together.

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

By Kathryn Hollinrake | Photos by Kathryn Hollinrake

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

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

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

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

Tip #1: Breathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #5: Work with a professional makeup artist.

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

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

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

Tip #6: Keep jewellery simple.

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

Tip #7: Lean in. 

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

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

Tip #7: Lean in. 

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

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

Kathryn Hollinrake

Kathryn Hollinrake

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

Meet Natalie Borch, founder of body-positive fitness space, The Pink Studio

Natalie Borch

Natalie Borch is an entrepreneur, dancer, and advocate for body acceptance and inclusivity. Having grown up in the competitive dance world, Natalie never truly felt like she fit. She spent years as an adult learning to accept and love her body. She rebuilt her life after deciding to leave her marriage in 2015 with a 4-year-old in tow. After walking through the fire of divorce, Natalie found her voice and opened The Pink Studio Dance + Fitness because she wanted to create a body-positive and inclusive fitness space that celebrated all bodies and abilities. In addition to running the daily operations of the studio, Natalie is a speaker for retreats, corporate events and on TV about the power of body confidence. 

 

My first job ever was… I taught dance classes for kids at a community centre in Vancouver where I grew up. I loved choreographing routines!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…  I wanted to do things differently. I was tired of seeing weight loss as the sole focus of fitness studios, and I was done feeling intimidated walking into a yoga studio or dance class because I didn’t have a certain body type. I wanted to be loud and proud about what I stood for.

I founded The Pink Studio because…  I want everyone to feel like a dancer. Dance needs to be more accessible and I wanted a space where people of all ages, sizes and gender expressions could learn to dance. Many adults share their experiences with me of quitting dance as a young person or not even starting because they didn’t have a “dancer’s body.” We see a lot of folks coming back to dance in their 40’s and 50’s and finding their love for dance again. 

Why pink? Definitely the most common question I get asked! Reclaiming the colour pink has been a marker of modern-day feminism and something that I was very intentional about as an entrepreneur when creating our branding. For me, pink is a powerful colour and it makes a statement. I want to challenge the idea that the statement it makes is one of weakness or timidness. Pink is still regarded as a feminine colour and anything feminine is still seen, by both men and women, as holding a lower status. We applaud young girls who learn to code, love Spiderman and playing baseball. We don’t celebrate as much when young men want to wear lace, do ballet and play with Barbies. 

Maintaining an environment where the members feel comfortable, welcomed and supported will always be very important to me. 

I don’t believe pushing girls to be more like boys is the answer to gender equality. Instead of making masculine tendencies the ideal standard, shouldn’t we hold the “girly” qualities to the same high regard? It has also been interesting to see how often people assume the studio is “women’s only.” Some have asked “Well aren’t you afraid you are off putting to men with all this pink?” Um… how do I say this nicely? Not even a little bit. But seriously, this was also a deliberate choice because I wanted men to know they are always welcome here. However, I only want men in our classes who feel comfortable in a very femme-positive space. Maintaining an environment where the members feel comfortable, welcomed and supported will always be very important to me. From day one, we have always been a place for all gender identities and gender expressions. 

I’m passionate about adult dance and body positivity because… I’ve experienced how life-changing body confidence is. When I hated my body, that insecurity seeped into every area of my life. It’s hard to live a BIG life when you’re constantly trying to make yourself smaller. When I learned to love myself and love my body, it changed everything. I left an unhappy marriage, I applied for a new job where I could start to hone my business skills, I started making plans to open my business, and I finally felt worthy of it all. All of this while parenting a young child. 

My proudest accomplishment is… Opening the doors to The Pink Studio. There were a lot of barriers and many reasons that could’ve held me back, but I actually did it and I could not be prouder. Opening this business was harder than giving birth and going through a divorce so sometimes I still can’t believe I did it! There was a circle of people around me who helped make this possible. 

My biggest setback was… The pandemic. I had survived the first two years in business. What I thought was the hardest part. We had just started to become profitable and then the world changed. The fitness industry has been closed for longer than most, and we have been hit hard. 

I overcame it by…  Gratitude and a lot of help from my brother. Grant is my brother and also co-owner of the studio. The first 5 days in lockdown in March 2020 we worked harder than we did when the business first opened. We had to create a whole new online platform, figure out how to teach 30 classes a week online, and lead our team of teachers and staff through the process. It was overwhelming, but we did it and that’s how we have survived the past two years.

People have been redefining what a “fit” body looks like and that’s super exciting.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  Surround yourself with the right people. Find other entrepreneurs to be friends with, and mentor each other. Find a partner who believes in your dreams as fiercely as you do. Spend time with those who lift you up and challenge you. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Don’t take things personally. I take everything personally because it feels like my business is so personal, but that makes it hard for me to make objective decisions or see the big picture sometimes. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… Hearing from clients about how our classes impact their whole lives. I’ll never forget the woman who told me after taking a month of Beginner Beyoncé classes with us, that her co-workers pointed out to her that she was raising her hand more in meetings and seemed more confident. And there was another woman, the only client who’s every made me cry, even though she didn’t realize it. She was 62 years old and came in giggling one day for her ballet class, so excited to show me her brand new ballet shoes. She told me that she dreamed of having ballet shoes since she was a little girl, and that she had assumed that dream has passed her by. I had to excuse myself to go cry in the bathroom because the whole thing just made me so emotional! 

I stay inspired by… Seeing so much diversity and representation now in dance and fitness. People have been redefining what a “fit” body looks like and that’s super exciting. 

My next step is…  There is another business idea brewing right now that I’m really excited about. It’s adjacent to the idea of The Pink Studio, but not the same. More performance based, and it will definitely celebrate all bodies, ages and genders!

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.

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

Nia Lee

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My biggest setback was… Being a perfectionist! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie and Melissa

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

 

My first job ever was… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a muffin tin taught me about working mom guilt.

Cupcakes with "Best Mom" on them.

By Tammy Heermann

What do you think of when you look at a muffin tin? Go ahead, get the image in your head. What images, associations, or memories come to mind? For me, it was the smell of my mom’s homemade baking. The kitchen filled up with the scent of oatmeal, bran, and butter. Fond memories of childhood, homecooked meals, canned and frozen produce from the farm and garden. 

I used muffin tins when I was on maternity leave and when my daughter was young. I whipped up healthy, modernized versions of the classics. Heart-healthy fats and shredded vegetables replaced the oily version of the Morning Glory Muffin past. What a great mom I am. But then I advanced at work, started traveling more, and the muffin tins got tossed aside. They were replaced with boxed granola bars… and guilt.

Once a symbol of nostalgia and comfort, the muffin tin had become a reminder of all the ways I was failing. 

The making of mom guilt.

Both men and women feel guilt; however, numerous studies have found that women are prone to feelings of guilt across all age groups. 

My house is a disaster. I haven’t called my mother in weeks. Should I eat more vegan meals? I didn’t exercise again. Am I progressing in my career enough? My kids are getting too much screen time. I’m not taking enough time for myself. I am taking time for myself, and it feels selfish. I still haven’t responded to my team’s email. 

And if you are a working parent, at home you feel guilty for not doing work. And when you’re at work, you feel guilty for not being at home. It’s a relentless, inescapable cycle of guilt. 

Girls have been socialized to take care of the physical and emotional needs of others. This dynamic has been given a name: the human giver syndrome. The term, initially defined by Kate Manne, an associate professor at the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University, describes how women are more conditioned to believe they have a moral obligation to fulfill the needs of others at the expense of their own needs. 

The resulting guilt and anxiety lead to physical and emotional exhaustion. Are you a human giver who has given so much that nothing is left in the pantry for yourself? Are you ready to tell yourself a different story — a story that you get to receive too?

Reclaiming the muffin tin.

Imagine you’re stuck in a long-running Zoom meeting. Your stomach is growling because you skipped lunch again to finish an urgent task. It’s the witching hour — kids fighting, dogs barking. You’re angry at your colleagues because they won’t stop talking. You’re angry because dinner will be late again. Your guilt sets in. Why didn’t I leave out the frozen chili that I made for hectic moments like this? 

Your mind starts spinning out of control. You recall the perfect meals from your childhood. You hear the voice of an acquaintance who said, “Oh, no, we have a hot meal on the table every night.” You tune back into the meeting and realize you missed a critical comment; go figure. You feel increased dread as the seconds tick on.

We’ve all been there many times. The guilt, shame, embarrassment, anger, resentment — take your pick, you’ve felt it. I sure have. Then I remind myself of a fellow working parent who told me to cut myself some slack and stop making things so hard. She shared a tip that could save not only a single night’s dinner, but years of meal guilt. It was the muffin tin dinner. 

My colleague’s tip wasn’t just about making a quick dinner. It was about cutting myself some slack, seeing there was another way, lightening my mental load. 

The muffin tin returned! Could I rekindle my love with this kitchen staple? Reframe my resentment? 

She told me to open the fridge and cupboard. Fill each hole in the pan with vegetables, fruit, protein, or dairy. Crackers or pita; dips or sauces. Leftovers, hot or cold. Anything goes. Save a hole at the top for a drink. A small glass, sippy cup, or juice box fits in perfectly. The last spot is for a yummy treat that must be eaten last. That’s the only rule. 

Spread out a blanket and have an indoor picnic or place the tray on your kid’s lap for a midweek movie night or a pretend flight to an exciting destination of their choosing. Watch as they zigzag through the holes in the tin or follow an orderly path. There’s a personality test hidden in there somewhere, I’m sure. They will love it. My daughter is a teen and still asks for muffin tin dinner. 

My colleague’s tip wasn’t just about making a quick dinner. It was about cutting myself some slack, seeing there was another way, lightening my mental load. 

Muffin tin dinner was now a metaphor for all the small acts that helped me rewrite my stories of guilt. Tonight, I’m not failing; I’m exceeding expectations by doing something fun. (And healthy and easy and fast, but they don’t need to know that; they just know I’m awesome.) 

Tips for reframing mom guilt.

The burnout and emotional exhaustion that women experience are about more than dinnertime struggles and will not be fixed with a single muffin tin dinner. Obviously. This story highlights a critical component to tackling this age-old guilt challenge: self-compassion. And self-compassion has been shown to have the most significant impact on our happiness, resilience, and ability to deal with stress. What stories do you tell yourself? Do you criticize and judge instead of having compassion for yourself? If you do, it’s okay; we all sometimes do. Try these ideas for reframing guilt and making your head and heart lighter. 

Understand where guilt stems from.

When you feel guilt, you need to determine where it’s coming from. My meal-time guilt stemmed from not living up to my “homemade slow-cooked” childhood. Looking at the unused muffin tin not only triggered guilt but also triggered anger some days. It conjured up images of the 1950s housewife in a shirtwaist dress and apron, donning triangle-shaped hair made immoveable by Spray Net. She made pot roasts in a Corningware casserole, Betty Crocker muffins, and martinis on demand for her husband when he got home. My association with the fondly remembered muffin tin turned sour and jaded. The muffin tin became a symbol of inequality. I needed to modernize the muffin tin because I needed to modernize motherhood for myself. That’s where my reframing began.

Realize your guiding values.

I benefited from a conversation early in motherhood with a mentor of mine. When I described my idyllic childhood with a stay-at-home mom, her guilt radar kicked in, and she reminded me that I learned many great lessons from my mom that have shaped me. If I decided to return to work, I would teach my daughter lessons too — not better ones, not worse ones, just different ones. That realization was transformative for me. I could honor and pass on many values and qualities from my upbringing and shape new ones.

Remind yourself of the benefits.

Being a working mom can have positive impacts on children that outweigh the benefits of staying home. A Harvard study undertaken by Kathleen McGinn and her colleagues found that daughters of working mothers grew up to be more successful in the workplace than their peers. They earned more and were more likely to take on leadership roles. Sons of working moms were more likely to grow up making a more significant overall contribution to childcare and household chores. Furthermore, children under fourteen exposed to mothers who worked for at least a year grew up to hold more egalitarian gender views as adults. Remind yourself of the role model you are and the benefits that your children experience.

Do a guilt check.

Guilt is an emotion we feel because we’re convinced we’ve caused harm. Guilt comes from many triggers: something you did (I ate the entire cake myself); something you didn’t do but wanted to (I forgot the school fundraiser again); something you think you did (Did my comments make him angry?); something you didn’t do as much as you could have (I should donate more to that charity; they send me so many blasted beautiful return address labels I will die before I use them all up — I know because I’ve done the math based on my average yearly mailing consumption); or something you receive instead of someone else (Janet’s been here much longer than I have, she deserves the promotion more than me). Check-in with your manager, partner, kids, parents, or friends about what you worry about. Are you really letting them down? Are the expectations you think they have of you aligned with the expectations you place on yourself? If not, reset expectations — yours or theirs. Make a plan to address or let it go and tell yourself what a great job you’re doing.

Avoid passing on the guilt.

Guilt takes its toll on our mental health and our performance. It can also impact our family, leading them to feel guilt too. Here’s some ways I have learned to reframe my thinking and avoid passing on the guilt.  Instead of telling my daughter that I wished I didn’t have to go on a business trip, I tell her about all the exciting things I’ll do when I’m there and how I can’t wait to share them with her when I’m back. Instead of complaining about another networking event, I teach her the importance of getting to know people and making friends. Instead of lamenting how I missed yet another opportunity to volunteer at a school function, I helped her give the best darn presentation on her school project because that’s my strength. Instead of feeling shame over not having a hot homemade meal every night, we make the best 5-minute homemade granola bars with creative custom labels.  

Swap guilt for gratitude.

When guilt creeps in, catch it quickly with a gratitude reframe. My house is messy, but I’m grateful my family is healthy and happy. You missed that bake sale? Oh well, put the next one in your calendar and pick up cupcakes or donuts. Be grateful you remembered. Haven’t responded to your team’s request yet? Tell them you’re thankful for their work and their patience. Stop apologizing while you’re at it too. Late to the meeting? Don’t apologize; say thanks for your patience or nothing at all. No excuses, no apologies, no guilt — just gratitude.

The muffin tin is my metaphor for self-compassion. My love-hate-love journey with the trusty tin is a reminder to drop the guilt and give myself a break. What story do you need to reframe?

This article contains excerpts from chapter 7 (Lighten Up, Brain!) of Tammy’s book Reframe Your StoryReal Talk for Women Who Want to Let Go, Do Less and Be More—Together.
Tammy Heermann

Tammy Heermann

Tammy Heermann is an award-winning leadership expert. She’s the author of Reframe Your Story: Real Talk for Women Who Want to Let Go, Do Less and Be More-Together. For over twenty years, she has helped change thousands of mindsets around what it takes to lead, both self and others. Tammy transforms her audiences with alternating moments of humor and heartache as she shares stories of her own journey from senior consultant to senior vice president.

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

Assel

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathryn Plouffe

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nadia Ladak

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachael Newton

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristi Honey

By Kristi Honey

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

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

I had to learn this myself too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Grow your network by supporting others.

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

3. Get involved in your community.

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

4. Invest in your own learning.

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

5. Be a mentor.

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

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

 

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey

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

Meet Justice & Nia, sisters building a platform for scalable social impact.

Justice Faith Betty and Nia Faith Betty

Justice Faith Betty and Nia Faith Betty are sisters and the founders of Révolutionnaire, an online platform for young changemakers that are passionate about having a positive impact on the world. Initially, Révolutionnaire was first created to revolutionize dance apparel after Nia spent years not being able to find dancewear that complimented her complexion and decided to design her own line. After disrupting the dance world with her inclusive apparel, Nia’s sister Justice — a woman equally passionate about social change, the racial wealth gap, access to education, and youth empowerment —  was inspired by Nia’s journey and presented her with an idea: what if more young people had the access, support, and resources to make necessary changes in this world? Together, these sisters worked together to transform Révolutionnaire into a resource passionate activists can utilize to scale their impact. Accompanied by a team of 30 Gen Z activists, organizers, and community leaders, Justice and Nia launched Révolutionnaire in June of 2021, and it is now a multi-pronged apparel and social change platform that focuses on food and housing insecurity, environmentalism, racial equity, anti-gun violence, and criminal justice reform. In 2022, they were honoured with our Top 25 Women of Influence Award

 

Our first job ever was being the co-founders of an e-commerce cupcake company, Cupcakes by Nia

Before my work with Révolutionnaire, I was…. a management consultant (Justice) and a ballerina (Nia). 

We founded Révolutionnaire because… as a ballerina, Nia spent countless hours dyeing dancewear to match her skin tone because there were no apparel options for dancers of colour. In 2019, Révolutionnaire launched as Canada’s first apparel company catering to dancers of colour. Inspired by Révolutionnaire’s impact within the dance industry and our passion for social change, we made it our mission to build Révolutionnaire into a platform to address a range of causes and empower others to make a difference. 

Our proudest accomplishment is… launching Révolutionnaire as the destination for young people who want to make a difference and have access to the network, tools, and information they need to scale their impact across causes.  

“Faith is literally in our names, and we attribute our successes thus far to maintaining our faith and belief in our dreams and power to make a difference.”

Our best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… join Révolutionnaire to find content, conversations and community around the causes that you care about and tactical ways to make a difference. 

If we were to pick one thing that has helped us succeed, it would be… unwavering faith. Faith is literally in our names, and we attribute our successes thus far to maintaining our faith and belief in our dreams and power to make a difference.  

One of the ways we spend our downtime is… painting (Justice), and pilates and spin classes (Nia).

One person we are inspired by is… Deborah Cox. Deb has been an incredible supporter and source of inspiration. She is not only an immensely talented force, but she is also a trailblazer, a testament to the power of dreams, and an individual who has used her platform for decades to spread joy, hope, and optimism. 

A podcast we think everyone should know about is… Flowers & Crowns. This new podcast with host Bryan Lattimore is a celebration of Black Excellence and is dedicated to creating a little extra love and light in our world. Featuring guests like Misty Copeland and Steve Pamon, the podcast also gives listeners a chance to honor inspirational figures by giving them digital flowers on the F&C website.

One thing that we think could help change the course of history is… young people embracing their power and potential to make a difference. We created our platform to support that vision by building youth power because young people are experts in our experiences and deserve a voice in crafting solutions to the problems we all face.

Meet Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo, a banker-turned-entrepreneur supporting BIPOC founders.

Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo

Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneurship consultant, a business coach, and an advocate for women entrepreneurs who is passionate about encouraging, empowering, and supporting women to use entrepreneurship as a tool for leadership and economic advancement. She’s the CEO of Simply Ejibola Inc., the Founder and Principal Consultant at de Sedulous Women Leaders, and has also been the lead creator of several entrepreneurship initiatives like femImmiGRANTS, a grant specifically for BIPOC female entrepreneurs in Canada, the iiNTEGRATE NEXT program for newcomers in Canada, the iLaunchHERproduct, a program aimed at connecting women-owned businesses with big box retail stores in Canada, and the Rise Up Pitch Competition, a national grant program for Black Canadian women entrepreneurs. Ejibola has been recognized for her work by several organizations like the Grande Prairie Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Immigrant Magazine, Diversity Magazine Canada, 2022’s 100 Accomplished Black Women, and she is also one of our 2021 Top 25 Women of Influence Awards recipients.

 

My first paid job ever was… a Country Manager position at the West African Capital Market School (WACMS) in Lagos, Nigeria, where I was responsible for both operations and administration of the company. I remember on my first day of work, I got my fancy little office bag stolen from me on my way to the office (on a bike); it was not a pleasant first day at my first job. On the other hand, my first unpaid job ever was helping to manage my Mum’s convenience store in my junior and senior high school days after school at the popular Number 5 in Lagos, Nigeria. Those were full of pleasant memories.

Before my work with Simply Ejibola and ilaunchHERproduct, I was… a Senior Business Advisor at Scotiabank helping small and medium enterprises with their business growth needs. I had a portfolio of business clients assigned to me to manage their financial and investment interests. I paid particular attention to my business clients at that time because I was gradually becoming an entrepreneur myself. This led to my curiosity and inquisitiveness as to why I’d always get businessmen booking appointments with me for their funding needs, and I hardly saw women inquiring about the bank’s financing products for businesses. I eagerly wanted to understand more about the entrepreneurship ecosystem beyond financial support for entrepreneurs, so I stepped out of banking and got into the field.

“As a banker who was skilled at putting together a business plan, I couldn’t even get the attention of another banker to go through my plan without them stopping at the name of my business on the cover.”

I founded ilaunchHERproduct because… I became an entrepreneur and got to realize the several challenges associated with running a business, particularly as a woman, and most especially, as a Black entrepreneur. As a banker who was skilled at putting together a business plan, I couldn’t even get the attention of another banker to go through my plan without them stopping at the name of my business on the cover. 

I faced other challenges like not being able to get approved for a business credit card for four years; the numerous “no’s” I got from big box retail store buyers got me asking myself questions like, if a woman like myself cannot access a business credit card of just $1,000, how do I begin to build business credit to help me access more funding to grow my business? If I can’t access enough funding, how can I increase my inventory to scale my business? If I’m able to use personal financing to increase inventory volume, how can I assess where the demand will be for my product, like retail stores, if buyers are not giving me a chance? 

There were lots of questions, and I felt it was time to make a change, to disrupt the status quo I’d experienced in conventional banking, to diversify the retail shelves and get more Black-owned, immigrant-owned, women of color brands on the shelves. I drafted all of these challenges and put them together to create iLaunchHERproduct. 

iLaunchHERproduct is a solution to help solve the challenges faced by women-owned businesses in growing and scaling their brands, using retail channels as a tool. Getting them approved for a $1000 business credit card by our TD Bank partner to help these women build business credit was one of the solutions. Having the women work with partners like EDC, BDC, TCS, and WEKH was one of the solutions in educating and providing them with the tools required to scale their business through retail, and getting WEConnect International to connect these women with big box retail store buyers in their database was another solution. iLaunchHERproduct is a total package that has the potential in creating not only business growth, but also economic growth.

The thing I love most about what I do is… the joy and the celebration of the little wins that comes from the women as a result of engaging in our programs, or receiving the femImmiGRANT to add a new product line to their brand offering, or getting a call from TD Bank that they’ve been approved for a business credit card because they’re an iLaunchHERproduct applicant gives me so much happiness. 

Being able to help women-owned businesses build a solid business structure, redefine their business model, draft a growth strategy plan, rebalance their cash flow structure, and for me to actually receive an email from the women testifying to their brand’s improved business operations is what I love most about what I do. It feels so refreshing, so satisfying.

I’m excited about the ilaunchHERproduct program because… I cannot wait to see the products from our top 25 sit on the shelves of big box retail stores across Canada; I want to be able to say loudly, “Her Product, Her Story, On Shelves.” I’m particularly excited about this program because of the two research reports coming forth from it. The first report — led by one of our partners, EDC — will be based on the 158 applicant responses to the survey registration; the second report, led by another one of our partners, WEKH, will be based on the top 25 applicants, particularly on the ultimate outcome (quantitatively) of getting connected and having their products on the shelves of big box stores.

“When it seems like there is no way, or the doors are not opening up for you to spread your wings, build the exact table you’d like to sit at and lead that table towards the cause you are so passionate about.”

My best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… be inspired by your own vision. Be mentally ready to sacrifice a lot by stepping out of your comfort zone in achieving every dream that keeps you up late at night and that makes you daydream of how the world would be a better place with the solution you’re presenting. 

It’s not going to be easy, but you will have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and when it seems like there is no way, or the doors are not opening up for you to spread your wings, build the exact table you’d like to sit at and lead that table towards the cause you are so passionate about. Let your imagination be your form of courage, let it be your strength, and I’ll see you at the top — the place where we all belong.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… there are several things that have helped me succeed, but if I were to pick just one thing, that would be my fears. Over the years, I have found that it is when I am fearless in the midst of my fears that I start to act on pursuing my dreams; that I begin to have the audacity and unstoppable energy to keep going. My fears have challenged me to push, move, and build like I have a deadline to meet. My fears have pushed me out of my comfort zone to perform at my very best.

One of my favourite ways to spend my downtime is… watch movies with my family, go on a drive with my family irrespective of the distance, and sleep (I usually end up daydreaming).

The people I’m inspired by are… Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

A book or podcast I think everyone should know about is…  Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson,  Higher Is Waiting by Tyler Perry, and the Dave Ramsey Show podcast.

One thing that I think could help change the course of history is… getting a complete cure to all forms of cancer would help change the course of history — so many talented, creative, innovative people have left us as a result of this illness, depriving them a chance to fully share their potential with us. Lots of unused talent in the grave as a result of this illness. 

Meet Candies Kotchapaw, a non-profit founder developing future Black leaders.

Candies Kotchapaw is the founder of Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT), a youth-centred organization that creates programs that develop future Black leaders. Through providing mentorship opportunities, training, skills development, and industry-specific knowledge, Candies’ goal is to strategically dismantle entry point barriers and socio-economic inequities that have faced Black communities in Canada for far too long. For this work, Candies has been recognized as a 2021 Top 75 Canadian Immigrant finalist, 2021 G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Canadian delegate, and 2021 Alumna of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor’s Leadership Program. She is also one of the Top 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women and one of our very own 2020 Top 25 Women of Influence Awards recipients.

 

My first job ever was… working as a customer service representative for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Princess Margaret Home Lottery.

Before my work with DYLOTT, I was… struggling to find work in my field of social work. I had several short-term contracts as a Constituency Assistant. I also worked as a cashier at No Frills grocery store. 

I founded DYLOTT because… I was tired of the narrative of only accepting traditional industry, precarious work as the status quo for brilliant Black young people. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… I get to have a hand in positively impacting the lives of Black young people, when systemic barriers suggest it shouldn’t be possible; and I get to see this legacy happen in real time. 

I’m excited about the ​​Permanent Forum for People of African Descent because… this is another means to advance the human rights of continental Africans and people of African descent globally. It’s also a way to hold decision-makers around the world accountable to meaningfully create sustainable pathways for economic, environmental, and legislative justice.

My best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… be committed to the cause you believe in, even when momentum hasn’t swung in your favour…yet!

“We have more worldly wealth than ever imagined, technology to solve major problems, and activists and advocates who are more easily accessible thanks to social media. We are contributing to our history now, so with all these resources, let’s manifest the positive change we want to see now.”

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… reminding myself that “greatness is embedded in my very DNA.” A mentor of mine reminds me of this every time I hit a milestone or feel stuck.

One of my favourite ways to spend my downtime is…watching the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation TV show and the Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible movies. I love learning about new ways to solve problems, so these movies give me inspiration.

One person I’m inspired by is… the Prime Minister of Barbados, Honourable Mia Mottley. Her passionate call to action on behalf of Caribbean Island states during COP26 — the UN Climate Change Conference — made me even more excited and proud to be a Black woman changemaker. I hope to meet her one day soon!

A book I think everyone should know about is… Poised to Emerge, a book written by the late Bishop Iona E. Locke, and Don’t Drop the Mic: The Power of Your Words Can Change the World by Bishop T.D. Jakes.

One thing that I think could help change the course of history is… Using the tools and opportunities we now have at our disposal as a force for our collective good. We have more worldly wealth than ever imagined, technology to solve major problems, and activists and advocates who are more easily accessible thanks to social media. We are contributing to our history now, so with all these resources, let’s manifest the positive change we want to see now.

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

TELUS Mama Bears Founders

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

by Angelica Victoria & Kate Evans

 

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back, here’s what we learned:

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

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

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 Minutes with Laurie May: Co-Founder and Co-President of one of the largest independent film distribution companies in Canada.

By Olivia Buchner

Laurie May has been in the film business for over twenty years. She is currently the Co-Founder and Co-President of Elevation Pictures, one of the largest independent distribution companies in Canada with award-winning titles such as The Imitation Game, ROOM, and Moonlight. She is also an Executive Producer on the recently released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. Prior to Elevation, Laurie served as Executive Vice President of Entertainment One and Alliance Films and was Co-President and Co-Founder of Maple Pictures where she was involved in many notable releases including Academy Award winners Crash, The Hurt Locker, and The Cove.  

Laurie began her career in film as the Senior Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Lionsgate, where she also sat on the board of directors from 2005-2010. She received her law degree from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, practiced corporate and entertainment law at Oslers, and was an adjunct professor of Entertainment and Sports Law at Western Law School. She has also acted as a mentor for Women in Film & Television and in 2010 was the recipient of the WIFT Outstanding Achievement Award for her accomplishments in the Canadian film industry. In 2017, Laurie became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We spoke with Laurie about her career journey, releasing films during a pandemic, and her advice for women who want to follow in her footsteps. 

You have a very impressive and diverse background in film, from legal affairs to being an Executive Producer on the newly released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. What drew you to film and what do you enjoy most about the industry?

I love the creative energy of the film industry. Early in law school I got interested in entertainment law, which was a great path into the film business. I worked on corporate, production and distribution work at Lionsgate, and transitioned that into a more business role running Maple Pictures (the Canadian arm of Lionsgate), which sold to Alliance Films, then Alliance Films sold to Entertainment One, and we launched Elevation which has become the largest independent English distributor in Canada. What I especially love about film is the passion for storytelling, from working with writers and directors, producers, sales agents, and talent; this is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together. 

Having worked in the film industry for over 20 years, is there a specific project or accomplishment you are most proud of? 

There have been so many projects that I am proud of, at Elevation winning the TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards for our films The Imitation Game, and ROOM, and Academy Award Best Picture wins including for our film Moonlight, highlighted that we were succeeding in what we set out to do, which is bring elevated content for audiences. On a personal level, my greatest accomplishment in the industry was becoming a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2017. 

 

Film is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together.

 

Elevation Pictures debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, and since then, has had many major achievements including multiple Academy wins and two TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards. What inspired you to launch Elevation Pictures and what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your journey?

There was a lot of consolidation in the Canadian film industry, so there was an opportunity to create a new Canadian distributor, to focus on a slate of “elevated content”, supporting Canadian filmmakers, and working with international partners to bring the best independent films to audiences. There have been many valuable lessons, but the most valuable one is it’s all about teamwork. We have an amazing dedicated team at Elevation, from my Co-President Noah Segal who spearheaded our production arm, producing amazing films like The Nest in theatres this Friday, and French Exit which is closing night at the New York Film Festival, to everyone who works at Elevation, who share the passion for film and drive to succeed. 

Elevation Pictures had a number of titles at TIFF 2020 including one of this year’s most anticipated films, Ammonite. How did you prepare for this year’s festival season in comparison to previous years? 

We are very proud to have three films at TIFF,  two prominent distribution titles: Ammonite starring Kate Winslet (who won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Saorise Ronan to be distributed by Neon, and The Father starring Sir Anthony Hopkins (who also won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Olivia Colman to be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which both launched into the start of awards season. We also had one of the buzziest sales titles, I Care A Lot, directed by J. Blakeson and starring Rosamund Pike (who is a TIFF Ambassador) and Peter Dinkledge, which got an amazing reception and stellar reviews. The planning was a little different, more focused on the new screening plan including digital screenings, and how to engage audiences without the buzz of red carpets and big events, but overall I think TIFF did a great job and we are very pleased with how all the films played. 

The film industry is traditionally a very male-dominated industry. What advice would you give to other women interested in pursuing a career in film?

Yes, the industry has been traditionally very male dominated, but I was always inspired by the strong female role models in the industry, from Sherry Lansing who ran Paramount Pictures to Phllis Yaffe at Alliance Films. The industry has been shifting towards inclusivity and diversity, including making room for women in front of and behind the camera, as evidenced by the TIFF initiative, Share Her Journey. Women have a strong role to play, so go network, find a mentor, find your passion, and go for it. Everyone has obstacles along the way, it’s about muscling through them and learning from them that makes you stronger, so you can make a positive contribution and hopefully inspire others along the way.