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. 

5 minutes with Tessa Virtue on reinvention and resilience

Tessa Virtue is a household name not only in Canada, but around the world. Tessa and her ice dance partner, Scott Moir, first captured the hearts of Canadians at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, where they became both the first North Americans and the youngest ice dancers to be crowned Olympic Champions. They would go on to become the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history, earning five career medals — three gold and two silver — along with several other wins on the world stage. After 22 years as partners, they chose to step away from the sport. Now retired from ice dance, Tessa continues to be a strong advocate for women’s empowerment and works closely with FitSpirit, an organization whose mission is to raise public awareness around the problem of declining participation in sport among pre-teen and teenage girls. As an ambitious academic, Tessa now plans to pursue her MBA and channel her energy into her next challenge: becoming an entrepreneur.

We recently spoke with Tessa about her career journey and the transition she is making into entrepreneurship — and gathered some insights on balance, resilience, and the lessons she’s learned as a professional athlete.

You’ve grown up in the spotlight and are a household name as an Olympic champion. Following your retirement and through your career transition, what inspired you to pursue your MBA at Queen’s University?

I always admired my mom for getting her MBA later in life.  She talks about that time in her life with affection and gratitude – it offered her a chance to nurture her own identity outside of the prescribed roles of employee, mother, and wife.  I’ve always known education would play a major part in my life, and I’m eager for a new challenge.  I have been incredibly fortunate to dive into the corporate realm in a unique way for the last decade, but I want to develop a greater understanding from a macro level and earn some credibility as I venture forth in the next phase of my career.  I am keen to better understand how to use my platform by earning my stripes!

I want every single young girl and woman to feel limitless, and that begins by believing she is worthy of her dreams. 

Resilience is a very important skill for professional athletes. How has your resilience helped you navigate through some of the most challenging times during COVID? Can you offer any tips on staying resilient through obstacles and challenging times?

Interestingly, in preparing for every single possible scenario as an athlete, I also learned that it was important to be responsive, not reactive.  Being adaptable is key, and finding freedom within a regimented structure is a delicate balance.  I’d say my approach to COVID was mostly affected by the perspective it offered, and the gratitude that came with the realization that it’s the simple things in life (the things we so often take for granted) that make me happy.  I tried to find purpose each day, however small or seemingly insignificant, and do my best to contribute to meaningful causes.  

Following the completion of your MBA, what is your number one leadership trait you want to bring into your next role of CEO? 

Empathy and confidence (sorry, that’s two!). 

We recently spoke with fellow Olympian and gold-medal winner, Cassie Cambell-Pascall about the importance of sport, in the midst of the pandemic. As a strong advocate for women’s empowerment and through your work with FitSpirit, what is your take on continuing to use sport as a catalyst to develop positive change in the lives of children, youth and in communities during this time? 

There are so many important lessons to be learned through sport – including, but not limited to; embracing failure, making vulnerability a strength, delayed gratification, goal setting, and teamwork. It is incredibly easy, especially in today’s climate, to feel overwhelmed and insignificant.  What physical activity offers is a sense of purpose, a release of energy, and a surge of self-worth.  Moving our bodies through space – TAKING UP SPACE! – is valuable, particularly for young girls.  I want every single young girl and woman to feel limitless, and that begins by believing she is worthy of her dreams. 

To learn more about Tessa Virtue’s next chapter, join us for an immersive, digital experience at the Women of Influence Spotlight Series, in partnership with Scotiabank. Tessa will sit down for a candid conversation with CTV News Anchor Marcia MacMillan and reveal exactly what it takes to rise to the top of your industry – and how to transition into your next act when the time comes. Tickets on sale now.
Scotiabank is proud to partner with Women of Influence as the presenting sponsor of this Spotlight Series event with Tessa Virtue. Learn more about The Scotiabank Women Initiative™, supporting Canada’s women-owned, women-led businesses.

Five Minutes with an MBA recruiter on how the ‘ideal candidate’ has changed.

Teresa Pires is Associate Director of Recruitment and Admissions for the full-time MBA program at Smith School of Business. She travels the globe, finding and recruiting the most promising business leaders of tomorrow. Teresa has helped hundreds of women take the next step in their careers by helping them see what they can be with an MBA. Teresa can often be found at Women of Influence events and she always has her eye out for the next MBA recruit.  


By Hailey Eisen


What would you say has changed the most since you began recruiting for the MBA program? 

When I started 10 years ago, we had more traditional candidates with practical skill sets and engineering backgrounds. Now, we have many unique applicant profiles; people who have done a lot more before entering the MBA program and are looking to pivot or transition their career. We see more focus on making an impact today, not just on earning six figures. We see a big focus on individuals wanting to find and follow their passion — and that’s been a big shift. We especially see this among women. 

What’s an example of a non-traditional candidate? Any standout students who came to the MBA with a background you don’t often see to make a career pivot? 

For sure, there are many. Nicole Magda, for example, graduated with the class of 2018 and came to Smith with an undergraduate degree in Biology and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Having worked as an RN for a few years, Nicole was looking to pivot her career into healthcare consulting. The applicants we get with medical backgrounds tell us they’re lacking the business fundamental skills and looking to obtain those through an MBA. Interestingly, Nicole got into consulting upon graduation, working with Deloitte in healthcare transformation, but decided to make a second pivot, and now works as an Associate in Portfolio Management with Imperial Capital Group. 

Which other candidates stand out to you for their non-traditional backgrounds? 

In 2017, Divya Tulapurkar graduated with a dual degree MBA and MMA (Master of Management Analytics). She came to Smith with an engineering background, which is great because the market is looking for more women with technical skills. Divya had been working as a performance engineer with an American multinational IT services provider and had a wealth of professional expertise. But she also had volunteer and other experience that differentiated her in the application process. For example, Divya was a professional dancer and volunteered with non-profit organizations as a dance trainer. She was smart, personable, and had technical skills — I remember thinking, she’s the whole package. Like many women, Divya hit the ground running, becoming the VP of the analytics club at Smith, completing both degrees, and landing a job upon graduation with Scotiabank. Today Divya is the Director of Advanced Analytics with the bank. 


“What has always surprised me is how many women self-select out of the program before even beginning the application process. When they do take the time to have conversations with me, and others at Smith, they realize the value they’ll bring to the program, and often find the MBA is exactly where they belong.”


Do you find most women come to the MBA program knowing exactly what they want to get out of it, or are many surprised by the opportunities available to them upon graduation? 

I often speak to women who know 100 per cent what they want to do with their careers. But you don’t have to have your whole career mapped out in order to be successful. In fact, you may not be aware of the opportunities available to you until you start the program. Chloe O’Brien came to us with a background in photography, art history, and travel — not a typical path to business school. She didn’t know if the MBA would be the right fit for her because she didn’t have the technical skills people often assume they need. 

Chloe took advantage of every single opportunity that presented itself during the program. She went on two exchanges, she was named a Forté Fellow, and she served as President of the Women in Leadership Club (WIL). I use Chloe as an example of how the MBA really helps women become more well-rounded professionals, gain leadership, management, and networking experience, and realize skills and abilities they may not even have known they had. We create a safe space for students to grow and develop. The MBA is the only transferable degree that can really help someone pivot careers in such a short time frame. Upon graduation Chloe is heading to Deloitte where she’s secured a job in human-centric design and design thinking on a Human Capital team. 

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found over the past 10 years working in recruiting for the Smith MBA program?

I would say what has always surprised me is how many women self-select out of the program before even beginning the application process. When they do take the time to have conversations with me, and others at Smith, they realize the value they’ll bring to the program, and often find the MBA is exactly where they belong. I’m blown away by what women are able to manage once they’re in the program. Every year there are incredibly impressive success stories.  

What do you look for when evaluating MBA candidates? 

We consider the whole person and what they’ll bring to the program and the team they’re assigned to. This includes their work ethic, resiliency, and interpersonal skills, in addition to their academic and work experience. We’re also looking for what else they’ve done, beyond work, that makes them stand out — whether that’s volunteer work, a side hustle, or something else. We call this their “spike factor.”

We also look at what we call their “coachability” to understand how they’ll work in our team-based program. We evaluate the experience they’ve had working as parts of a team through work, sports, and volunteer roles. We also speak to their managers to see how they’ve been working as part of a team and how they’ve responded to feedback and coaching.

Five Minutes with Stephanie Dei, UN Women National Coordinator – WE EMPOWER Programme ​of the EU, UN Women and ILO

Stephanie Dei works for UN Women as the National Coordinator in Canada for the WE EMPOWER programme of the European Union, UN Women and International Labour Organization, encouraging deeper action in the private and public sector to advance women’s economic empowerment in Canada. Stephanie is the Non-Executive Director at global frontier markets risk firm DaMina Advisors and Vice President, Finance for the Board of Organization of Women in International Trade – Toronto Chapter. Stephanie holds a BA Honors in Political Science and Law from Carleton University, Canada, and an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from SOAS, University of London. Stephanie is a mother of four energetic and empowered kids. As proud allies of the #FlexForEmpowerment campaign, we caught up with Stephanie recently to discuss the initiative and what inspired it. 


Can you start by describing what the WE EMPOWER Programme does, and what your role is there?

I am the National Coordinator for the WE EMPOWER Programme in Canada. In this role, I help to set and implement activities for the year, liaise with the public/private sector and civil society to pull key themes and speakers to participate in our multistakeholder dialogues, advocate for companies to join the WEPs, and I liaise with the European Union delegation in Ottawa, UN Women headquarters in New York and our International Labour Organization counterpart in New York to ensure our programme in Canada is in line with larger global priorities.

The WE EMPOWER programme is a joint initiative of the European Union, UN Women and the International Labour Organization that focuses on responsible business conduct in G7 Countries. The EU funded programme is operating in Canada, Japan and the USA and we convene conversations about gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. Our overarching global programme theme is the Future of Work – we are looking at how the workplace is changing and how this will impact women’s economic empowerment. As part of this work, we encourage the use of the Women’s Empowerment Principles to help guide further change and action. 

When did you first realize that you wanted to work in the women’s advancement sector and how did you get into this line of work?

I only began to notice gender differences in work experiences after I started having children. This really hit me because we have been taught from childhood that we are all equal. We go through the education system and enter into the workforce with this belief of equality and equity and then the baby comes and it is apparent that the workplace has not evolved with the same values of equality and equity that we are taught in school. Issues around equal pay, work-life balance and women in leadership have sadly set the tone for many women’s working experiences.

I was a new mother reconciling the realities of balancing work life with family and I came across a posting for a UN Women role in Canada through social media.  As a student of political science with a very keen interest to work in international relations I eagerly read through the terms of reference and agreed with everything that was being asked of for the role and applied without hesitation. It was one of those moments where you feel like this job was tailored for you. The rest is history.

“I only began to notice gender differences in work experiences after I started having children. This really hit me because we have been taught from childhood that we are all equal.”

What are the Women’s Empowerment Principles?

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) are set of 7 principles set up in 2010 by UN Women and UN Global Compact and serve as a guide for businesses on how to empower women. The WEPs are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that businesses have a stake in, and a responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Today, there are currently more than 2,700 signatories to the WEPs globally. The WEPs cover 7 main areas of change:

  1. High-Level Corporate Leadership
  2. Treat all women and men fairly at work without discrimination
  3. Employee health, well-being and safety
  4. Education, training for gender equality
  5. Enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices
  6. Community initiatives and advocacy
  7. Measurement and reporting

The #FlexForEmpowerment campaign started Septemeber 2020, what inspired it? What is the aim?

Flex for Empowerment is an online engagement campaign designed to bring awareness to the Women’s Empowerment Principles and showcase good practices of women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. We kicked off the campaign during gender equality week and have had an overwhelming response and as a result, extended the campaign to the end of March 2020. We are encouraging men and women to share good practices of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. 

What would you say has been a highlight of the #FlexForEmpowerment campaign so far? How can people get involved?

The highlight of the campaign has been seeing companies rally behind the WEPs and share some of their good practices to support gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. I have been so encouraged by the enthusiasm of our allies to flex for empowerment and also by reading about new initiatives in the workplace, marketplace and community to support women’s economic empowerment —  this has given me hope that we are on the right track. You can get involved by becoming an ally here and start flexing for empowerment by:

  • Signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles
  • Host an event to showcase your best practices and policies for women’s empowerment in the workplace
  • Take to social media and tag @Empower_Women with your strongest policy and workplace policies
  • Write a story to highlight workplace changes and the impact in your community and share on under Stories
  • Send out a press release to your network/stakeholders to let them know what your office is doing for gender equality and encourage others to #FlexForEmpowerment
  • Create a Podcast, Blog or Video and share with our team about how your organization flexes for women’s economic empowerment

Complete this sentence: Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are crucial because…

we need to strive for a future that works for all!


5 minutes with communications expert Jennifer Stewart on building brand awareness

Photo by Michelle Valberg

Jennifer Stewart’s entrepreneurial drive and self-proclaimed “overconfidence” led to her opening her own PR and government relations firm at just 25 years old. Through vision, leadership, and a whole lot of hustle, she’s built Syntax Strategic into an internationally recognized communications and business strategy firm, working with clients in the public and private sectors on their communications strategies — and associated business impact. Regarded as one of Canada’s top communication leaders, Jennifer is CTV’s Communications Commentator, is often called upon as a media expert, and has received numerous awards and accolades. We spoke to Jennifer about building brand awareness — from what companies most often get wrong, to the best advice for getting it right.  


When you’re working on building brand awareness for a client, where do you start?

You need to start with who they are trying to communicate with, and why. Oftentimes, people aren’t telling the right narrative that will really reach in and grab their audience. Attention spans are short and are even shorter today than ever before.  

I like to begin with a process that is almost a forensic audit of what’s being done today, and whether it’s working, and how you can turn that on its head to grab more attention, have more impact and at the end of the day, build awareness and reputation for your brand.


What’s the biggest mistake you see companies making when it comes to their communications?

The biggest mistake is that companies assume what their audiences want to hear and develop an outreach campaign that isn’t targeted and is focused around the wrong messaging. Being nimble is important, but you also need to be highly thoughtful and strategic with who you’re engaging, and what is it about your brand or product that relates to them.

Just like with a relationship, building awareness is about filling a gap in someone’s life, and reaching them in a way that will help them, whether that’s as a professional, parent or individual looking for personal growth. 

“Entrepreneurs are notoriously bad at promoting their own brand because they’re busy hustling running their businesses.”


What’s the one thing every entrepreneur could be doing to get their brand known?

Entrepreneurs are notoriously bad at promoting their own brand because they’re busy hustling running their businesses. I would say take the time to promote yourself, treat yourself as a client and at the end of the day, always do this in a way that’s authentic to you. 

Five minutes with Labour Minister Patty Hajdu on offering free menstrual products in the workplace

On May 3, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu published a notice of intent,  initiating a regulatory process to make free menstrual products available in federally regulated workplaces. There’s now a 60-day consultation period to determine how to best implement the proposal, and the impact it will have on businesses —and about 480,000 women employees in the federal labour force. We asked her why this initiative is so important, and what everyone can do to help. 



How big of an issue is this with respect to women in the workplace? 

Well, we know for certain that women menstruate and that it definitely happens in the workplace. And I think most, if not all women have experienced unexpected menstruation. Those situations can be stressful and humiliating, especially in a male dominated work environment. Women in an unexpected situation like that are faced with having to improvise, leave work and find a drug store, or ask colleagues if they can borrow a tampon or a pad. Providing access to free menstrual products for those situations supports better workplace productivity and addresses issues of dignity in the workplace. Plus, a 2018 Plan Canada International survey found that one third of Canadian women under the age of 25 struggle to afford menstrual products, while 70% have missed work or school, or have withdrawn from social activities because of their period. Having these conversations will ultimately help reduce the stigma around periods which continues to persist despite the progress we have made towards gender equality.


What brought your attention to this issue? Why is this something you are passionate about supporting?

There is small but growing movement across Canada and in other countries that is calling for better access to menstrual products. I think of the United Way’s campaign in British Columbia, then the New Westminster school district that unanimously passed a motion proposed by Douglas College professor Selina Tribe to provide free menstrual products in all its schools. I had a chance to meet Dr. Tribe in Vancouver this past winter and was so inspired by her dedication to this cause.

It was great to see the B.C. provincial government take similar action and mandate that its public schools provide free menstrual products for students. In Ontario, in my colleague MP Peter Fragiskatos’ riding of London, Ontario, a call from Rachel Ettinger of Virgin Radio led to city councillors unanimously backing a motion to put menstrual products in the washrooms of all their public facilities. And the examples don’t stop there!

I wondered what I could do within my portfolio of Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to amplify the work of these leaders. Through changes in the regulations of the Labour Code, we are able to require that employers provide free menstrual products in federally regulated sectors. I look forward to the consultations and the changes that will result for women in federal workplaces across all sectors.


Menstruation is a fact of life — but it’s also considered a taboo subject. Tell me more about how this can remove some of the stigma and embarrassment surrounding menstruation.

We have started a consultation period with Canadians and employers that will prompt more conversations about menstruation. Our society has stigmatized conversations about menstruation. Many people feel very uncomfortable talking about this. Think of all the code names that we have assigned to this very normal and regular occurrence in women’s lives. ‘Getting a visit from Aunt Flo’, for example. It is time to talk openly about menstruation as a normal bodily function. Products like toilet paper, hand soap, and paper towel are already provided in washrooms. To me, this is no different. A woman does not decide when her period starts — ensuring free menstrual products in bathrooms indicates that female bodily functions are a natural part of life.


“It is time to talk openly about menstruation as a normal bodily function. Products like toilet paper, hand soap, and paper towel are already provided in washrooms. To me, this is no different.”


Do you have any concerns about pushback?

It’s normal for employers to have concerns when we make changes to workplaces’ requirements. That’s why it will be important to have a fulsome conversation during the consultation process and carefully consider how we implement this to get the goal of dignity for women in the workplace while also doing so in a cost effective way. Every workplace is different and we want to be sure that we get it right before changing the regulations. Other than that, whenever we ask people to have new conversations, things can be a bit uncomfortable at first. But I have been pleased to hear so much support from a variety of stakeholders, politicians and of course women, who say it’s time to address this inequity.


Is there any way individuals can help move this initiative forward?

Canadians across the country can be our partners in this quest! The more we talk about menstrual products and the more we consider how society has stigmatized menstruation, the more opportunity for change we will see. It will take many people to keep this movement going, but I am confident that Canadians are up for it.


Five minutes with Kirsten Bobbie, Manager of Operations and Logistics for the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games

Kirsten Bobbie started with Special Olympics Ontario in 2012 as a student intern. She continued on the team and over a few years transitioned into a leadership position, all while seeing the program grow — from 4 regional qualifiers to 80, and from 400 annual participants to 7,500. Now, as Manager of Operations and Logistics for the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games, she’s playing an integral role in bringing together 2,500 student-athletes from around the world to Toronto for four days this May. We spoke to Kirsten about why these games are important — and how our WOI Community can help.



Why do you feel it’s important that the Invitational Youth Games take place?

As is the case with generic sport and community driven causes, big ticket events have the power to bring people together and inspire like no other. The Invitational Youth Games are designed to do just that. Inspire a generation to promote inclusion, build communities, and showcase the strength, determination and abilities of young athletes with an intellectual disability like no event has done before.


Women of Influence is supporting the 2019 Invitational Youth Games with a fundraising drive because we share the same mission of inclusion. What does inclusion mean for your organization?

There is a shift in society all around the world right now; a shift to focus on inclusion. In Special Olympics terms, we call this the #InclusionRevolution, and it’s something we’ve been working towards for 50 years. In 1968, when the first Special Olympics event was held, it was the start of a dream of both co-founders of the movement: Canadian Dr. Frank Hayden, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Their dream? That people with an intellectual disability would have a place to be included in sport, and use the power of sport to grow, develop and gain the awareness needed to be included in all other areas of society.


What are some of the specific ways you are promoting inclusion at the Invitational Youth Games?

As a focus of the Invitational Youth Games, inclusion is felt in a number of different ways, one of which is Unified Sport. Unified Sport teams are comprised of athletes both with and without an intellectual disability who compete together, towards one common goal. In schools, Unified Sports bridge the gap between students of all abilities who can compete on the same team on behalf of their school. An opportunity that is monumentally impactful for both students with an intellectual disability and those without on the team. A chance for all athletes to compete as one — the perfect example of inclusion, and one we hope our athletes, coaches, volunteers and fans will take back home with them.


“An opportunity such as this one — competing on the International stage, travelling to an overnight competition, and even being a part of a high school team — did not exist for high school students with an intellectual disability before these Games.”


Why are the Invitational Youth Games important to you, as an individual?

Back in January 2012, fresh on the Special Olympics Ontario staff team as a College intern, I was fortunate enough to assist the team in their first year of the school competitions model, called Four Corners. Over the years the program grew; from 4 regional qualifiers to 80, and from 400 annual participants to 7,500. To have a front seat in watching a program and an idea grow from grassroots infancy to being showcased on the International stage has, and will continue to be, a highlight of my career.


What do you wish everyone knew about this event?

An opportunity such as this one — competing on the International stage, travelling to an overnight competition, and even being a part of a high school team — did not exist for high school students with an intellectual disability before these Games. Students from around the world may be getting on a plane or train for their first time, and travelling to Canada. The look on their faces, the opportunity they are being given, and the life-changing impact this will have on young adults from around the globe is something everyone needs to experience first hand.


How can individuals or organizations help these inspiring athletes?

You can fund an athlete’s journey to the games. Draft an Athlete or Draft a Team through the dedicated Women of Influence fundraising page, and challenge your network to do the same, individually or collectively. Every dollar raised in these Games goes towards ensuring that everyone can compete and that no athlete is left behind. Every dollar raised is impacting the life of a young adult with an intellectual disability and giving them the opportunity to participate, compete, and be included.


Help us send more athletes to the inaugural Special Olympics Ontario International Youth Games, taking place in Toronto from May 14 – 17. We’re asking our WOI Community to support making dreams a reality by donating today.

Five Minutes With Marie Harf, Political Analyst and Co-Host of Benson and Harf

Marie Harf had a successful political career during President Obama’s time in the White House, with key roles as senior adviser for strategic communication to Secretary of State John Kerry; national security and foreign policy adviser for President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election campaign; and analyst on Middle East leadership issues in the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Intelligence. In January 2017, shortly after the shift in presidential power, Marie joined FOX news as a contributor — even though her political opinions certainly differed, and still do. She currently serves as a FOX News Channel analyst and co-host of FOX News Radio’s Benson and Harf, for which she discusses the latest headlines emanating from Washington alongside her co-host, Guy Benson. 



Describe your journey to your current position, from C.I.A. analyst to White House communications advisor to political commentator. Looking back, could you have predicted this path?

I definitely would have not predicted it. I was in college on September 11th, 2001 studying political science. At that point I realized I wanted to study the Middle East and foreign policy. When I graduated I applied for only one job, at the C.I.A. as an analyst. Luckily I got the job, and moved to Washington, D.C. to start working at the non-partisan C.I.A. After three years or so I wanted a broader look at the agency, so, without any media training, I applied to be the media spokesperson. It was a time when the C.I.A. was trying to do more publicity and become more transparent. Then, since I loved politics, when the 2012 re-election campaign rolled around I left the agency to work for President Obama’s campaign, running the national security policy. I now tell everyone to work on a political campaign. It’s such an amazing experience, if you ever can, to get to go to work every day and fight for values that are important to you. When Secretary of State John Kerry became Secretary, I moved to the state department, and since at this point I had media experience, I became his spokesperson.


How did you know your latest move to FOX was the right step for your career?

I started at FOX the day after the Obama administration left the office, beginning on the TV side, and then earlier this year I started a daily radio show called Benson and Harf. The election of 2016 really taught me that more people needed to hear diverse voices. I thought it was important to have a Democrat with a progressive point of view working at the network, which gave me a platform and opportunity to bring my message to millions of viewers who don’t hear this point of view as often. I think it’s really important for people to hear different points of view, and to not just be in our own news silos. Not only that, more people watch FOX News than other channel, and the audience is not all conservatives and republicans. In terms of reaching an incredibly large audience, which is the reason you get into media and television, for me this made the most sense.


How do you handle the criticism that comes with being in the public eye?

No matter where you are in the public eye you get criticism. What I’ve found is that a lot of the feedback I get from people, people I don’t know, is “I don’t agree with you politically, but I appreciate your point of view and I’m glad to hear your perspective and I’m happy you’re on this platform.” It’s comfortable to be in our silos, but a lot of people now want to hear different points of view. We have a great team at FOX, and even though we may disagree on politics, we’re all supportive of each other. Social media is really important, but when you’re in the public eye you have to have a thick skin, which is okay because these are tough, important issues people care deeply about.


“The fact that I get to play a role in the debate in the U.S. and give my opinion and talk through complicated issues on a daily basis feels like a gift.”


What do you enjoy most about your job? What do you enjoy the least?

Politics is so all consuming right now, the fact that I get to play a role in the debate in the U.S. and give my opinion and talk through complicated issues on a daily basis — whether with my radio co-host, Guy Benson, or my TV colleagues — feels like a gift. Everyone has political opinions but not everyone gets to make their case on a platform like I do. There are times when I wish I could close my eyes and not think about politics. The negative and divisive politics can be hard, and those who came to Washington as idealists are having a tough time right now. But ultimately, it’s okay, it’s okay to say that “this is hard.” We will be okay. Every generation feels worse than ever, but of course that’s not true: in the United States we had the Civil War, segregation, etc, and we’ve come such a long way. The difference today is the impact of social media. We can do amazing things with it, like stream our programs and interact with fans, but it’s also where some of the difficulties of the country become amplified. That’s a challenge today that feels very different and we haven’t figured it out yet. It’s our responsibility to try to make things better.


How do you ensure your voice is heard, in political conversations where men’s voices are often the loudest and historically taken more seriously?

I think the idea that men’s voices are heard more is changing. Starting in the Obama administration, we had a lot of really strong women who played key roles, and their voices were certainly heard and contributed substantially to the conversation. I think that ultimately things have changed on FOX, too — for example, we have so many incredible, strong women on air, including Martha MacCallum and Dana Perino. A lot of women have stepped up to the plate saying, “We belong here and are a part of the conversation.”


What do you hope to be remembered by?

I think my party is going through a generational shift. The Democratic Party in the U.S. has to figure out what’s next, and what values we will represent, whether it be economic opportunity, equality, civil rights, etc. I want to play a constructive role in that conversation, and help the party I love transition into the next phase — how that happens, how we reach Americans and voters, and speak to them about what we represent, which is a reason I’m at FOX. We have a huge, dedicated, loyal audience, and when I meet a fan or someone on the street and they say they don’t agree with me but they appreciate my voice, they see I’m a normal person from Ohio with a family who likes college football. Humanizing the political opposition is important for governing but also for discourse, and I’m proud to play a tiny role in that.


Five Minutes With Katja Iversen, President and CEO of Women Deliver

Katja Iversen is the President and CEO of Women Deliver, a leading global advocate for investment in gender equality and the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women, with a specific focus on maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights. She is an internationally recognized expert on development, advocacy and communications, with more than 25 years of experience working in NGOs, corporations and United Nation agencies, including UNICEF, where she held the position as Chief of Strategic Communication and Public Advocacy. She has counseled and trained multiple Fortune 500 executives on cross cultural management and cross cultural communication. Katja is a member of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s G7 Gender Equality Council, and was recently named in the top 10 of Apolitical’s Top 100 Most Influential People in Gender Policy.



Can you start by describing what Women Deliver does, and what your role is there?

Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization. We started with maternal health, and women’s right not to die in childbirth, and what could prevent that. Today our mandate is much broader. We advocate for gender equality and the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women, including their ability to have control over their own bodies. We do it by driving specific investments that benefit women and girls, whether it’s economic, political or programmatic. We aim to show how the world — and everybody — wins when we invest in girls and women. That is what research shows, and that is what we know.

I have been involved in Women Deliver since the first Women Deliver conference in 2007, when the organization was established. I was at UNICEF at that time, but I became an adviser to the founder, and then at some point she came to me and said, “I want you to take over.” After a couple of those conversations, I said yes. That was four years ago. For me, working on girls’ and women’s health and rights, and really investing in women’s opportunities at all levels, is so key if we want to make the world a better place. I’m motivated to make change happen in the world, to create a more fair world, and a better world for all – that’s what gets me up and what makes me happy every day.


When did you realize your passion for these issues?

My grandmother played a big role. She was a remarkable woman: quiet, fierce, smart, wonderful, hardworking. She was born at the start of the last century, and so when she was growing up, there were not a lot of opportunities for her. After a couple of years of sporadic schooling, she was sent out to work as a maid, so that her brother could get an education. She worked seven days a week to get my granddad through college, and they knew, both of them, that one of them had to get an education, which meant that she couldn’t get pregnant. That was when her work in reproductive health and unmarried women’s access to contraception started. And that has always inspired me. The day I graduated college she cried tears of joy and asked me to go and do good in the world. So she’s my yardstick that change is possible. While I can’t say I always knew I would be in this line of work, I think the rights of women to have access to reproductive health, the need for education, economic freedom, to have your own room, as Virginia Woolf said, has always been important in my life. I was also lucky to be born in a country where women’s rights and women’s opportunities are treasured and invested in.


“Believe in yourself, and never stop dreaming. You have every right to be there and every right to be successful.”


Do you have any ideas on how corporations who aren’t necessarily focused on these issues can still make an impact and make a difference?

Companies should look at their own leadership – how are they being run? We know from experience that companies with more diversity and more women fare better, make more money, so it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the sound thing to do. So, invest in women’s leadership but also in supply chains. Invest and buy from female suppliers. You also can’t forget that you can’t be what you can’t see. If we look at a lot of marketing today, we see how women are depicted and how gender norms are shaped. If we only see scantily clad women, or women playing just secondary roles, or women only buying the washing powder, that is not facilitating a more equal society. It’s really important that companies invest in un-stereotyping. Why does it always have to be pink if it’s a girl and blue if it’s a boy? Why do the girls have to play with dolls and the boys get the engineer sets where they can build the machines? Stereotyping happens so early and continues through life. So, every corporation has a lot to do, both in terms of hiring and providing proper working conditions, whether it’s childcare, parental leave, or equal pay, but also in the ways they depict themselves and their products to the broader world. We work with a lot of corporations to make that happen, but we also work with companies or institutions to do research on this so that we have a bigger evidence base and a stronger case. And I always find the figures so astounding. The McKenzie Group conducted a big study on what the world would look like if we had gender equality in the workplace, and the world stands to gain $28 trillion US dollars, or 26% added to the annual GDP. That’s not pocket change. That is roughly the size of the combined US and Chinese economies.


Complete this sentence: “We support women and girls when we…”

We support women and girls when we invest in their health, rights, and well-being, including their ability to decide on their own bodies and their fertility. That is the bedrock of power and privilege for all. That is the bedrock of gender equality and prosperous societies. How many of us women in leadership positions today would be here if we couldn’t have access to modern contraception?


What would you tell young women and girls who have not yet started their post-secondary education or career who want to follow in your footsteps?

This is a very formative age. It’s an age when self-esteem and self-doubt can really set in. So, my message to the girl who wants to follow in my footsteps or in just making it and living her full life, would be: work hard, step up, speak up, don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, believe in yourself, and never stop dreaming. You have every right to be there and every right to be successful.


Five Minutes with Nathalia Del Moral Fleury, General Director, Yves Rocher North America

With its facilities still located in the Northern French village where the brand was born, cosmetics company Yves Rocher is deeply committed to staying true to its roots — still sourcing high-quality botanicals, employing locals, and remaining accessible to the average woman. This authenticity is what originally attracted Nathalia Del Moral Fleury to the company. Now, less than three years after joining, she is their first female General Director for North America, based out of Montreal — and the youngest person to ever hold that title.



Within three years at Yves Rocher, you’ve gone from Zone Marketing Director, North America to the General Director of North America. To what do you attribute this success and escalation?

Two things. First, passion. If you love your job, if you’re passionate about it, you’re going to enjoy doing it and you’ll do it well and it will show. People will see that you’re achieving things and moving forward. I love my job. Second, having a mentor. My boss was the General Manager before me, and I worked with him very closely. Three years ago, I would look at him and think: “I would never do this job.” It’s hard, and it’s very lonely at the top. Then, when he proposed the job to me, I was hesitant, but it ultimately didn’t seem that scary anymore. I was close to him, I saw how he worked and thought alongside him. He helped me gain the self confidence you need to have to say “yes I’m going to do it, I trust myself, and it’s okay.” If you fail, whatever! You also have to trust people — if they’re giving you this job, it’s because they saw something in you.


We talk a lot about the power of mentors, as well as the power of sponsorship. The difference being that a sponsor not only coaches you, they prepare you for the role and advocate for you when you’re not in the room. How do you feel that your mentor did that for you?

First, developing my self-confidence. He took on the role of coach rather than just boss, by asking the questions so that I had to think and come to the answer by myself. Giving me the positive reinforcement I needed so I understood I was doing well. Giving me the space to be myself. It’s really the type of leadership I’m trying to emulate. It’s not about me — I’m the boss, but it’s never about me. It’s about the team. You’re supposed to be there for the people, for the brand, for the company. If they’re doing well, you’re doing well. It’s like giving that platform for your team to present, to learn and to grow. He did that for me very well. He challenged me. He trusted me. He gave me space. When you know you’re good at your job, you can give space to other people. It requires a lot of generosity, caring for others, and being humble, but also a visionary, for the company and for the people. Knowing what that person you’re coaching can do, and helping them see it.


“You also have to trust people — if they’re giving you this job, it’s because they saw something in you.”


How do you intend to develop that same relationship with your team?

I have a team of seven people. When I took the job, I left a small hole behind me, so I promoted people, and that was really nice to give them the chance to grow and to be with them along that growth path. I myself have a coach right now, because in taking this new position I want to be sure I ask myself the right questions, and I take the time to step back. So I asked him, “How can I be not the boss that tells them what to do, but how can I leave the room being confident that they’re going to make the good decision?” I make sure I’m the one who speaks last, not first. I lead with questions. Instead of telling them what to do, I ask them, “Do you have everything you need to make that decision?” I try to coach more than be the boss. Feeling how they’re feeling, observing, being present. People often don’t say how they feel — yesterday, one of my team members looked really tired. So I asked what’s happening. She told me she wasn’t tired, she was mad. So we had a discussion, but only because I opened the door. If I didn’t care or hadn’t seen the difference in her mood, I wouldn’t have been able to see what was the problem and address it.


You have an all female management team in North America. Was that the result of intentional effort, or did it just happen?

My previous boss and I tried to avoid the filters of society that make us look at women differently than men. I have people on my team who are really shy, who don’t speak up for themselves. If you are observant, and see their strengths, you see they have the potential. It’s been a few years of promoting people that are doing their job really well, but aren’t necessarily speaking for themselves. So, while it was not planned, if you’re careful, and you really look at people and their strengths and filter out the female vs. male biases, you’ll have more women naturally moving up.



Five Minutes with three G(irls)20 Women Political Leaders Summit 2018 delegates


by Rebecca Heaton



This June, Western Union sent 21 young women to the Women Political Leaders Summit 2018 in Vilnius, Lithuania, with the goal of encouraging more girls to get involved in politics, increasing female representation in political and government roles and driving greater diversity of thinking in policy making and governance. Three of these young women — Pippa McDougall, Bailey Greenspon, and Claire Charness — are from G(irls)20, a Toronto-based organization dedicated to growing and celebrating building the next generation of female leadership. Learn about them and their experience at this monumental gathering of the most powerful women in politics below.  


From left to right: Pippa, Bailey, Claire




What were your goals for the summit? Did you achieve them?


Pippa – I had two personal goals. One was to learn from a diversity of opinion. I really like attending these conferences because they challenge my views and broaden my perspective. It’s also great to learn about the different ways in which parliamentarians are advancing the agenda in their respective countries. My second goal was to network and build connections for potential future collaboration. I achieved those goals and made a number of friends as well as important contacts I hope to keep in touch with.


Bailey – My goal was to expand my network and get to know an international community of women who are passionate about women’s issues, politics and democracy. I also had the opportunity to meet with women in the private sector who are passionate about these issues. I really wanted to understand women’s different paths to politics and their secrets to success. How have they gotten to where they are in a male dominated sector? One woman I spoke with told me she had to learn how to play golf because that’s where the fundraising happened in her community.


Claire – It was a great opportunity to get a chance to learn from and interact with female political leaders from around the world. What was so striking about the summit was how there was so much commonality of experience when you are a woman in leadership, but there is also so much difference in that lived experience as well. Being a woman in a high ranking position can differ in places like Mali, Malta, Botswana. I was looking for those shared experiences, but also those differing experiences.  



At the summit, you were connected with women in senior roles in government and the private sector. How did you know what career you wanted to pursue?


P – I think I’ve known for a few years that I wanted to pursue a career in government and politics. My end goal is to work in international development. Seeing all these strong women at the WPL Summit only reaffirmed these goals. I see elected office as an important avenue where we can enact progressive policies and create the change that I would like to see in the world.    


B – My career so far hasn’t had an obvious theme. I have really followed my passion and my instinct to weave through a few different industries. The common thread that has guided my work at G(irls)20 has been using my privilege and my position to create opportunities for other young people with incredible potential.  


“The common thread that has guided my work at G(irls)20 has been using my privilege and my position to create opportunities for other young people with incredible potential.” 


C – I didn’t and still don’t. There are people who know exactly what they want to do and there are people who take a longer time deciding. I’ve had the opportunity to consider different career paths that I may not have considered if I wasn’t open to new opportunities. Taking that route, I have learned so much.



Why do you think education, inclusion and connectivity are more important now than ever before?


P – Given that we live in a highly globalized society, there is a big disparity between between the rich and the poor. There are massive detrimental economic and social effects when worker’s wages can’t keep pace with inflation. Large portions of our society are feeling marginalized and this disenfranchisement is what’s paving the way for the occurence of Trump, Brexit and anti-immigration parties across Europe. I think education is one path that could address the increasingly widening gap in our society and provide opportunities to those who may not have benefited from globalization.    


B – I think they’ve always been important but right now we are becoming more aware of how important they really are. We live in a time where there is a lot of opportunity for people, and especially young people, to engage with decision makers because we have access to them through things like the internet. Education is incredibly important because we want people to understand that they can leverage these tools to influence decision makers.  


C – Education has always been outstandingly important. It’s not only a key to economic empowerment, but also political empowerment. Technological literacy, specifically, is changing things from the ground up. Education the most empowering tool for young women around the world.



Amidst the ongoing global social unrest, how do you think we can get people to mobilize around women’s rights and gender equality?


P – On a macro level, we can mobilize our government to enact gender progressive policies by pitching the economic argument. We know that gender inequality has massive economic costs. Research from the McKinsey Global Institute has indicated that if women were to participate in the economy identical to men, it could add as much as $28 trillion to the annual global GDP. If governments were to act in their best interests, they would act to mobilize around women’s rights and gender equality.   


B – I was at the Women’s March in Washington at the beginning of 2017. It was one of the most incredible and important days in my life. It showed me the power of what happens when you get out of your house and show up for a cause that you believe in. It also showed me what the potential is when we have women leading movements because it was entirely non-violent. It demonstrated solidarity across all of these different lived experiences. It was fun and joyous even though we were protesting.


C – They’re already mobilizing. We’re seeing movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up that are really galvanizing women. Young people are going to be what moves things forward. Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they’re the leaders of today. We have to listen to young people. We have to listen to a variety of voices. Women’s issues cannot just be regulated to one sector; it needs to be intersectional.


“Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they’re the leaders of today.”



What do the next five years look like for you? What do the next five years look like for women?


P – In five years, I’m not sure where exactly in the world I’ll be, but I hope to be adding value to an organization that has a mission to create positive social impact, whether that be at a NGO, social enterprise or private sector. As for women, I am quite optimistic about the next five years for girls and women. I know attitudes about gender are shifting and as are gender progressive policies. For example, on June 24, 2018, women in Saudi Arabia will legally be able to drive. This will have a massive impact on women’s autonomy in Saudi Arabia. I think we’ll also start to see even more women run for elected office and entering the political sphere. Women are increasingly becoming more empowered and are beginning to believe they have the capacity to make a difference. Their voices are finally being heard. And although I am quite optimistic, we really need to keep fighting for progress because progress is not linear. We can see how things can reverse quickly, so we can’t take gender equality for granted.


B – I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, which is providing opportunities to cultivate this new incoming generation of female leadership that is effective, smart, empathetic, intersectional and expresses itself in solidarity. Around the world, women have come so far and there is a lot of momentum, but we also need to take new threats and concerns seriously and be cognisant of them. In the next five years, we need to reckon with how cyber harassment and the mental health crisis disproportionately affects women.    


C – The next five years for me are going to be working in spaces that allow me to help bring out the best in other people. I love mentorship. I love the opportunity to work with young women, specifically, and bring out their potential. The next five years are going to be transformative for women’s issues. There is absolutely no doubt about that. We are already seeing that and I think we’re going to see that pace accelerate. With the rate things are going, I think we could see the first female president in 2020.  


Pippa McDougall is an ambassador for G(irls)20. She represented Canada at the 2016 G(irls)20 Summit in Beijing, and has experience in working at a local human rights organization in Botswana. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Political Economy of Emerging Markets at King’s College London.


Bailey Greenspon is the Senior Program Manager at G(irls)20. She is motivated by building leadership in passionate young people to tackle 21st century challenges. Bailey’s background is in politics and community organizing.


Claire Charness was the 2012 G(irls)20 Summit Canadian Delegate and has written on issues affecting girls and women. She also created a pilot program called “Walk in My Footsteps” that focused on storytelling as a tool for social change, and was a panelist for UN Women.  

Five Minutes With Amy Cross, Founder of Gender Fair

by Rebecca Heaton



Amy is a journalist, an entrepreneur, and a long-time cultural worker with a powerful ability to see the next big trend. She founded Gender Fair in 2016 to showcase companies that serve women well and promote gender equality through market-based solutions. Through one purchase at a time, Amy believes you can make the world fairer — and it’s about time we started. 





What requirements does a company have to meet to be gender fair?

The company has to excel in four major areas, which we call “LEAP”: Leadership, employee policies, advertising and philanthropy. Our metrics look at a company internally as well as externally. We measure 13 different data points in those areas and it’s a pretty accurate snapshot of how a company serves women. In all of those areas, a company has to do better than the benchmark averages on things like board membership and women managers. We also look at work/life integration policies, that help anyone, male or female. This includes flex work, telecommuting and employee benefits. We check to see if their advertising breaks any stereotypes such as a man reading to his children or a woman hiking alone. We also ask that the company does some philanthropy around women and girls. 


Why did you choose to adopt a market-based strategy in obtaining equality?

We’ve been talking about the problems for a long time. I’ve been an ethical shopper for decades and I buy Fair Trade, but I wondered why there wasn’t something like that for me. It made me feel like I don’t matter. I don’t matter? It feels terrible to not matter. The thing is, no one gives you power. You either have it, or you take it. And women have power! We have huge economic power. If we want to solve these problems I’ve been talking about my whole life, why not use our power? Using our market power might change our lives. And we know it works, there are already many great examples of what women consumers have done. There’s no reason why women can’t do this to push the needle forward. We’ve stagnated on women’s leadership in corporate America. We have got to keep our eye on the ball. 


“I’ve been an ethical shopper for decades and I buy Fair Trade, but I wondered why there wasn’t something like that for me. It made me feel like I don’t matter.”


What has surprised you most about the leadership practices of the companies you have analyzed?

I’m just astonished that women haven’t made more progress! My graduating year was the year women were half of all BA’s, so we’re coming in the pipeline, but we’re not coming out the pipeline. Clearly something is wrong and the machine is broken. What astonishes me is that companies have all these different employee research groups and leadership training. Women are having to spend all this time going to conferences and they’re losing time for their actual job. I say the people not sharing leadership should have to do all the work. It really doesn’t seem fair that people have to “fix” themselves to lead or be given an equal shot. 


To what extent are companies paying attention to equality and trying to do better?

We see a lot of companies increase parental leave and publish it. That’s one easy way to show they care about women. But it’s not really showing that they’re trying to create an equal playing field. More important is when they have things like parental leave and encourage men to take it. Companies that are really serious are making goals and tracking them. I believe Procter & Gamble says they want to be gender balance in the next few years — that’s pretty amazing! Advertising is also something that’s improving because it’s something that’s so visible and there’s so much attention to it. I even see companies adding more philanthropy focused on women’s economic power. Companies are realizing that being gender fair is a business imperative. If 75-80% of consumers are women, you better be pleasing women. The days of treating women not very respectfully and expecting their money are over. We’re finally flexing our market power.


“If 75-80% of consumers are women, you better be pleasing women. The days of treating women not very respectfully and expecting their money are over. We’re finally flexing our market power.”


What is the future of shopping gender fair?

We are hoping in the next few years we can get labels on products. I want there to be orange Gender Fair labels at stores across America. We’re in talks with retailers about getting labels online too in places like Amazon. Right now, people can find it on the app, but it can be confusing and we want to make it easy. It should be easy for women to make sure that every dollar we spend, whether it be a consumer dollar or an investment dollar, goes to a company that serves women well. If you care about equality and put any money into a company that doesn’t treat women well, you’re not helping your cause. Remember that your dollar gives you a voice, and every time you spend this dollar, you get a vote. And you can vote every day with your dollar for equality. So I encourage everyone to vote often. 

Five Minutes with Kavita Gupta, Founding Managing Partner at ConsenSys

by Rebecca Heaton

At ConsenSys, Kavita heads a unique VC-hedge fund, investing in next-generation blockchain technologies revolutionizing our current systems. Kavita is certainly an influencer in the investing space and is never just in one place. She has set up innovative investment funds across East Africa, Middle East, South Asia and recently in the US for past 16 years through World Bank, IFC, McKinsey and The Schmidt Family office. She is the Recipient of the UN Social Finance Innovator Award in 2015 for being an integral part of the founding green bond team at The World Bank. She is also on the board and is an advisor of various accelerators and foundations across the world like Google Accelerator Social Track, MIT Solve (Sr. Advisor), Vatican’s Right Now foundation for impact investments, Mandela Foundation etc.





How do you play a role in finding and nurturing female talent?

When I was growing up, I didn’t see a lot of women on big stages. I think sharing your journey is really important. Especially today with digital media, people can really learn and connect, and you can base your goals on what other women have achieved. I have always been really active on empowering women in sciences and venture capitalism, even before women in tech became the buzz word. I have been apart of Youth2Youth at the World Bank, which has over 3,000 members around the world, and we created a special women community to mentor women and help them explore their career options. 


Why is it so important to promote women in blockchain spaces?

First of all, supporting women in any field is very important. Blockchain is an increasingly interesting space because it’s a new technology and it’s attracting lots of young people. There is already an increased number of women in the space. I think if we start supporting women in the school and college system itself, we can start in the right place and in the future won’t have to be having the conversation we’re having now. We can set up a trend on how to be inclusive early on. 


What advice would you have for a woman in STEM seeking venture capital?

STEM gives you a kickstart because it gives you an analytical background. For women coming into venture capitalism, I would ask: Do you have a passion? Are you willing to dedicate a good part of life to be apart of it? It’s not always fun or glamorous. The other thing is, it has been traditionally a bro culture. It is changing for sure. But are you strong enough to stand by yourself? Are you willing to work a little extra to show you’re here for the long term? Working on a trading floor, I had no other women among me. We’ve got so used to having no women around and you just focus on yourself and keep going. You don’t want to feel different so you try to adapt. Every Thursday all the traders would go out for a steakhouse dinner and I was the only woman and vegetarian. I would go with them because I wanted to be apart of it. It was never a topic to discuss — they were never very accommodating. If we’re going to make it more accommodating by letting more diversity in, we have to keep working hard. You have to do the extra things to stand out so it’s not easy for them to pass you on. It is an interesting time because there is so much interest in the stories of women and the stories of women of colour, but I still think it will take another generation.


“Working on a trading floor, I had no other women among me. We’ve got so used to having no women around and you just focus on yourself and keep going.”


Managing a $50 million fund must be very stressful. How do you unwind at the end of the day?

I always say keep really good friends, mentors and family close, and at least do two activities or hobbies. I am very blessed to have some close friends across a couple of cities because I travel a lot. Music and reading books are the two things that zone me out. I try to block the day-to-day stuff out and not take calls. Right now, I am reading a book about a prodigal daughter who becomes the first woman president. 


So far in your career, you’ve worked around the world and have been recognized by the UN. What are your goals for the next five years?

Five years is too long of a time! In the next two years, we are announcing our second fund which is a $100 million fund, expanding the team, and I want to try and create a women in investment mentorship cycle and have an internship program. I think we should have a more defined program out there. We are also creating an education program with a big focus on women. I started the first program in India and I want to do it here. On a personal side, I hope to be able to pick up more hobbies.



Five Minutes with Maya Elisabeth, Founder of Om Edibles and CEO of Whoopi & Maya

by Rebecca Heaton



Maya is a cannabis industry veteran and self-proclaimed “ganjapreneur” (an entrepreneur in the business of selling marijuana in regions where it has been legalized). She founded Om Edibles, an all-female run collective dedicated to providing the highest quality of Medical Cannabis products to legal patients in California, in 2008 after working in a dispensary following her graduation from San Francisco State. In her latest venture with Whoopi Goldberg, she helped to create a Signature Line of medical cannabis products designed specifically for relief from menstrual discomfort. Check out the infused bath solution, topical rubs, tinctures and cannabis edibles at






What makes working in the cannabis industry different from traditional entrepreneurship?

Everything. First of all, it’s something that’s coming out of a prohibition, so it’s never been regulated legally before. These are the most uncharted waters.  


What initially drew you to pursuing a career in this industry?

Just a very deep love and passion for cannabis. One thousand percent cannabis love driven.  


What should people know about cannabis that they might not realize?

Well, everyone should look up the government patent on cannabis because right off the bat, you see that it’s patented by the government for having anti-oxidative properties and no protective properties. No protective properties is a large umbrella for protecting your brain, basically preventing you from having Alzheimer’s, dementia, MS, neurological problems. And anti-oxidative properties is an even broader umbrella because free radicals cause wrinkles and disease and anti-oxidants cancel out free radicals, so it is literally a cure all. It is our divine birth right to receive this medicine – we have receptors all over our body for it. 


Your company with Whoopi Goldberg, Whoopi and Maya, features a line of medical cannabis products designed specifically for relief from menstrual discomfort. How else can cannabis empower women?

First of all, a lot of women are working these days as professionals, and they get home and have to do their complete second shift. Which is cleaning the house, cooking and taking care of children. I mean, what stressed out person couldn’t use a medicated bath? Cannabis is a stress reliever and it helps people relax and most of the women I know, in fact all of the women I know these days, are pretty overworked and are carrying a great deal of stress. It’s also helpful for all types of pain and it’s a wonderful substitute for a cocktail of other things which are really not good for you. It’s much better for you than alcohol or other mind altering substances that can have negative side effects. 


What advice do you have for other women who want to stand out in their market?

Focus on your craft and don’t worry about the money. Worry about making the best product you can, and the money will be a side effect. 


What excites you the most about the future?

Everybody being able to access cannabis and finding a great balancing point where people feel comfortable working in this domain and creating the best medicine possible. 

Five Minutes With Patricia Schultz, author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”

Patricia Schultz is the author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and 1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die. A veteran travel journalist with more than 30 years of experience, she has written for guides such as Frommer’s and Berlitz and periodicals including The Wall Street Journal and Travel Weekly, where she is a contributing editor. Recently chosen as one of the 25 most influential women in travel, and named a Trafalgar Global Brand Ambassador, Patricia has a social media platform that includes over 4 million Facebook followers and executive-produced a Travel Channel television show based on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Her home base is New York City.




At what point did you realize that a typical 9-5 career was not in store for you?

I’ve led a very unconventional lifestyle straight out of the gate. Every time (and there were many) I heard a friend complain that work (the hours, the structure, the stress, the nightmare boss) was killing their joy was a confirmation to me that I needed to look elsewhere and create a different reality if I was to have a meaningful life. When I look back now I see that a more stable and traditional and perhaps corporate life path (routine-filled days with stagnant creativity and 2-week vacations dangled as the incentive to survive) would have suffocated me — I always understood that and knew intuitively that it was simply not for me. I always went with my gut but it took some time to figure out my plan of action. In the meantime, I kept exploring the world around me, whether within arm’s reach or across the world.


Did you face any challenges as a woman, not only travelling the world alone but also in what is regarded as the highly competitive and at one time male-dominated field of journalism?

If I encountered any challenges early on, I believed it was because I was younger than most and perhaps not considered serious enough. And if there were challenges later on, I felt it was because I wasn’t seen as experienced as my competitors — and set off to change that and get more experience under my belt. Life presents us with challenges every day and in every respect. But I always push the envelope and do what I can and if the door still doesn’t budge, I usually manage to find another one that can be opened far more easily. It’s important to believe there’s always something far more interesting that awaits once you redirect your energies and regroup. Failures and setbacks are part of the game and always make success sweeter.


What advice would you give to a young woman who is interested in embarking on a non-traditional career path?

I quote my (very German) father who told me to always follow my heart, but bring my brain with me. Whatever brings you joy and makes you smile should be at the heart of how and what you envision your career — and therefore your life — to be. Being creative was critical when it came to finances, and I found that I became a pro at never saying no to any work offer or suggestion. I understood early on that everything I did, every place I visited and every person I met was all part of the journey. It remains my mantra today.

“Whatever brings you joy and makes you smile should be at the heart of how and what you envision your career — and therefore your life — to be.”

Creating a life you want will absorb most of your waking hours, so you need to feel as much satisfaction as you do exhaustion at the end of every day. Seven-day weeks and insane deadlines are pretty much a given — I never, ever expected it would be easy to create this unconventional and profoundly rewarding lifestyle of mine, so the disappointments were always manageable and helped stoke my conviction to keep moving forward.

If you want anything enough in life, I believe we all have the means to make it happen. I avoided the naysayers and surrounded myself with people who supported me and who shared my convictions and curiosity about the world. I was blessed with parents who understood that everyone follows a very different path and to expect setbacks. All those twists and turns? They help create all the excitement. The finish line we all strive for is not always as clearly within sight as promised in the movies — but oh, what a journey.


One of your best-selling books is called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Is there someplace you have yet to see?

There are countless places I haven’t yet seen! And the more I travel the more my Bucket List grows in length. Wanting to revisit all the places I have come to love always creates complications — I am torn between wanting to return to a place that I know to be beautiful and special, but feeling more inclined to see places unknown and intriguing. My Short List of places I haven’t yet visited includes New Zealand and Laos, and way too many others to list here. The world is brimming with wonders both grand and unsung and I am aware that there are no guarantees. So Carpe Diem! There is no time like right now!


5 Minutes with Stacey Berry, Entrepreneur and Community Advocate

Stacey Berry is the founder and CEO of Bstellar Consulting Group, which provides soft skills and community development training, teaching practical tools for success. Prior to starting her own business, she worked for the Government of Ontario, as well as in private, non-profit sectors and gained federal policy experience in Washington, DC from America’s largest community development organization, Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

Stacey was appointed to the Toronto Board of Health and is a member of Maytree Foundations’ DiversityOnBoard. She was awarded the 2015 Outstanding Contribution to Student Experience from York University Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and the Young Leaders Award from Endless Possibilities of Hope.

Get to know what inspires her, and how her personal and professional journey led to her becoming one of the incredible women featured in 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women.






Why did you choose your field of work?

I wanted to work in a field that would allow me to monetize my skills, professional experience and talents. In my company, I wear many hats, such as workshop facilitator, consultant, event manager, project manager, public speaker and writer. Being an entrepreneur was not in my plan A, B, or C. My first career choice was to be a lawyer — I applied to law school but was not accepted. This led me to working in politics for about 5 years. While working as a political staffer, I was then motivated to become a policy advisor and obtained a graduate degree in Public Policy Administration and Law but I was unable to find a permanent job on the bureaucratic. I launched my company with the support of the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit Program, which provided me with the basics tools for starting my business, such as creating a business plan, marketing, budgeting, and business registration. My business allows me create job opportunities for myself by doing the kind of work I have done in the community for the last 15 years.



What education and training did you pursue?

I completed a college diploma from in Court and Tribunal Administration, as well as a certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Seneca College. I obtained a double major Honours degree in History and Law Society, as well as a Master’s degree in Public Policy Administration from York University. I also completed an internship at The Washington Centre for Academic Seminars and Internships in Washington. D.C., where I got experience in community development, federal policy, civic engagement and social advocacy.



Are there any elements of your upbringing that had an impact on your career choices?

I was inspired to pursue law originally due to a car accident that my late and beloved mother Winnifred Berry survived when I was in grade one. She did not have strong legal representation and had to change lawyers a couple of times. This bothered me so much at a young age that I was motivated to become a lawyer who would help others and protect them from being taken advantage of.

I was surrounded by books and educational board games as a child. Both my parents spent quality time with me and provided a caring, loving, faith filled and warm environment for my sibling and I. We had lots of family gatherings and birthday parties growing up. My mother and older sister went the extra mile by being involved in my studies and intervening when I was diagnosed with having a learning disability. They spent lots of time building my confidence and self-esteem. I was surrounded by supportive friends of my mother who treated me like their niece and provided me with strong mentorship. My mom instilled in me the love of learning and value of education. She inspired me to believe that I can do or be anything I desired. She was the most supportive and nurturing mother anyone could ask for. She would stay up with me until 4am editing my papers for while I was a student in university and college. She taught me the so many words of wisdom that she grew up with in Jamaica: “Labor for learning before you grow old; For learning is better than silver or gold. Silver and gold will vanish away, But a good education will never decay.”



How did you move from one position to the next?

Getting to the next level in business is based on who’s in your network. Make diverse connections with people from a variety of sectors, but ensure you know experts that can help you grow your business, such as accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, and graphic designers and videographers. Do not try to be good at everything or work alone. Delegate tasks to the experts.

If you want to know what it is like to be a CEO or journalist conduct an informational interview with people who are in that position. This is something I did while I was a student. I conducted several informational interviews of lawyers, a former CEO for General Motors, an Awarding winning American news anchor. The lessons I learned from each interview is priceless, like the importance of striving for excellence in all that I do, and how to select people for your team if you are the CEO of a company. The advice I received from these informational interviews is helping me so much today, especially now that I’m an entrepreneur.



What mistakes have you made and what did you learn?

Ignoring my artistic gifts and not investing in them. Only my immediate family know how much I love to sing but I keep it hidden. Since everyone expected me to be a lawyer this is what I focused on becoming. Take time to invest in your gifts and grow your talents, then you will become who you were born to be and not what or who you think you should be.



What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about singing, song writing and making a difference in the community. I am involved in supporting many non-profits, including the Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation, which builds and funds basic schools in Jamaica. I am a mentor and member for Inspire North, a non-profit that hosts free speaker series at Universities across Ontario. I volunteer as the Event Co-Chair for The Olive Branch of Hope’s annual We Believe Charity gala. The Olive Branch of Hope is a non-profit that provides educational workshops, awareness programs, resources and financial support for women of African Ancestry battling cancer. I am also a member of Black Pearls Community Service Inc., which provides scholarships and community development work for women of African descent.



Out of all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of?

Being appointed to a municipal health board in 2015, where I apply what I learned in grad school and the grass roots health initiatives that I was involved in. Being on a health board, gives me the opportunity to bring my perspective on how to improve the health challenges facing the people of the Toronto. It allows me to be a voice for oppressed or equity seeking groups whose health needs may not at the decision table. I am also applying the governance training I completed through DiverseCity OnBoard a program that seeks to get more women and people of colour on government boards, agencies and commissions.



What would you like to be known for contributing to the community, industry or world?

I hope to be known as someone who is compassionate, innovate and genuine. I want to be known in the community for leaving a legacy that positively impacts the lives of others, especially the professional and academic development of youth. I want to be known in my industry for changing unfair public policies, being a voice for the voiceless and elevating those who are economically disenfranchised. Most importantly, I want to be known in world for living according to the motto of my company, which is “Helping People IGNITE their Inner Essence.”



Stacey Berry is one of the women featured in 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women, a book that aims to bring to light the accomplishments of Black Canadian women across every industry, from government to entertainment, celebrating the success stories, the trailblazers, and the posthumous heroes who have helped shape our country to date. Learn more about one of the authors here.

5 Minutes with Dauna Jones-Simmonds, co-author of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women

Born in St. Kitts, Dauna Jones-Simmonds migrated to Canada almost forty years ago and has first-hand experience navigating the roadblocks and challenges encountered by new Canadians — particularly those of colour. Today, as the President of DEJS (Diversity) Consulting, she shares her accumulated knowledge through consulting and diversity training activities, and providing mentorship and assistance for young Black women looking to advance their careers.

She is currently the Chair of the Board of Directors for ACCES Employment, a past Board Member at SKETCH, and has been the only Black female member in the Rotary Club of Toronto.

Get to know what inspires her, and how her personal and professional journey led to her becoming one of three co-authors of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women.


What inspired you to get involved in the writing of this book?

At our regular husband and wife Sunday morning breakfast, Dr. Denise O’Neil Green shared her frustration about finding Black female talent in leadership positions and turned to me for an answer. Embarrassingly, my response was so slow, and I knew immediately that I had to fix that response gap. Our husbands suggested that perhaps we should write a book about Black women. We then approached Hon. Dr. Jean Augustine, since she knows so many people in our community, to help us in our quest to spotlight our accomplished Black women. The rest as they say, is history.

Is there a particular story that inspired you in the book?

The stories in the book are very different, yet equally inspiring, so it would be unfair for me to point out one particular story. What I would say is that every women to whom I spoke was very humble. Their consistent response included –“who me?” “I didn’t do much” and “I have never been recognized before”. Each time we spoke to them, we gained more nuggets about their accomplishments.

Why did you choose your field of work?

Being an author was not my chosen field. I started off in banking and later on in life moved on to Human Resources. It is the field of Human Resources where I gained tremendous exposure to diversity issues in the workplace. I also recognized that people of colour had very little opportunity to maximize their potential and showcase their talent. I found out very quickly that “people don’t know what they don’t know” — if they don’t know that there are talented people in our community, they will not seek creative opportunities to find them.

What education and training did you pursue?

Apart from my basic university education, I attended conferences and took courses that were relevant to my passion. For example, I was interested in training, so I pursued a master’s level of facilitation – this would come in handy for developing and facilitating diversity workshops. I also focused on building my communication skills, completing courses to strengthen my written and oral communication. The point is, if you are to succeed in your career, you have to invest in yourself. You have to be the best that you can be! This is advice I have given to all my mentees.

What do you wish you had known when you started out?

My biggest regret before co-writing this book is that I had not been so deeply engaged in my community sooner. If I had known that so many women had made such impactful contributions in our community – and to Canada at large – perhaps the start of my career would have been different. Who knows?

What are you passionate about?

I have two passions – supporting people with disabilities, and helping our Black youth succeed in their career goals. I have never turned down the opportunity to provide some words of advice when sought, or to link that individual to a potential opportunity, be it a mentor or job opportunity.

What would you like to be known for contributing to the community, industry or world?

 I have always been and continue to want to be known as a person who quietly, yet strongly through my words, helped people with disabilities. In addition, I want to be known as someone who was passionate about participating in recognizing and documenting the efforts of accomplished Black Canadian women. Their work is critical and must be part of the Canadian history books, particularly as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Ultimately, it’s not about me, but that our future leaders and youths will know about, learn from, appreciate and share the historic stories of these incredible women.

Five Minutes on Mentorship with Dr. Samantha Nutt, Founder of War Child

Dr. Samantha Nutt is an award-winning humanitarian, bestselling author, and founder of War Child Canada and War Child USA. A respected authority on the civilian impact of war, international aid and foreign policy, she has worked with children and their families on the frontlines of many of the world’s major crises — from Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone to Darfur, Sudan. She has not only been a mentor to many women within her organization and out, she has also benefitted greatly from mentorship in her own career. Dr.Nutt shares her advice for women looking for their own mentor, including what qualities to look for.  





How can mentorship impact your career?

Mentorship at different times in my life and my career have made the world of difference. We all need someone who believes in us — people who are willing to invest in you, have confidence in you, support you unconditionally, and make you believe in yourself. There are many examples that I could give you, that started in adolescence and went into medical school, and professionally in the international work that I do.


What advice would you give to a woman looking for a mentor?

I firmly believe that you have to seek those people out, and sometimes that can be hard. I’m not talking about randomly sending off emails to solicit mentors — it tends not to work that way! It’s about looking around yourself as you go through your career and identifying those people that you believe in, that have achieved the kinds of things that you would like to achieve, or that have skills and strengths that are very different from yours, in areas where you may want to grow and improve. Really try to make those introductions, start cultivating a relationship, and hope that becomes something deeper and longer term. Whether you are formally calling it a mentorship, and acknowledging it as such — or maybe it’s informal, just the occasional email, coffee conversation, or phone call that helps provide some perspective and support when you really need it.


What are some of the qualities of an effective mentor?

Fundamentally, a mentor is someone that you feel that you can trust, that you can can be painfully honest with, that you can reveal your deepest insecurities to, and that will give you honest, non-judgmental advice. For it to work effectively, you are putting yourself out there and being boldly honest about where you want to go in life and what you think your strengths and your weaknesses are, or what’s holding you back — your fears and insecurities. And so you want someone who is going to take that information and understand what to do with it and understand how to help you work through it.


In what ways does War Child support mentorship in the organization?

We are very much an organization that believes in the advancement and promotion of women all around the world, and so mentorship and helping and supporting other women is absolutely critical to everything we do. Many of the organizations we partner with are female-headed, local civil society organizations. So making sure we are nurturing their leadership, their potential that we are mentoring them in this work so that their own organizations can grow and thrive, even outside of their relationship with us as a partner, that’s part of our philosophy as an international organization. Our entire development philosophy has an element of mentorship, capacity building, and leadership development for people in all corners of the world affected by war, and the vast majority of those would be women and girls.


10 Questions for Karen Kain

The elegant and refined prima ballerina tells us about her career and inspirations along the way.

Photography by Tom Sandler, Story by Cytlalli Ruiz-Chapman

Having graced stages around the world for decades, with her elegance and charm, Karen Kain has established herself as one of Canada’s leading artistic icons. Although no longer performing, Kain continues to inspire and motivate women across the country.As the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada and an advocate of the arts in Canada, she has opened the door for many dancers and artists, all the while continuing to put Canada on the map internationally. Despite numerous accolades and accomplishments, the prima ballerina maintains a sense of humility. Here Kain shares some thoughts on her inspirations and challenges. She spoke at the Women of Influence Luncheon Series event in Toronto on April 30, 2010.

What did you share with the audience at Women of Influence?
KK: I decided to touch on challenges and mentors: people that helped me throughout my career, paying tribute to them by giving the reasons as to why they helped me, supported me, educated me and enlightened me. Nobody gets anywhere without a lot of people supporting them.

Who are some of the people who supported you?
KK: My journey starts with my training, so I start with Betty Oliphant, Celia Franca, who was the artistic director of the National Ballet and who also helped found Canada’s National Ballet School, Rudolph Nureyev and Erik Bruhn. These were all people that I worked with and who I learnt a great deal from.They helped me in my career in many different ways, with inspiration but also practical information, giving me opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. James Kudelka, who was the artistic director before me and a choreographer, I had worked with quite a bit. I was also trying to give information about what it’s like to be a performing artist and to be at a ballet company, what the process is. I think a lot of people don’t really know.They only see the performance on stage.They don’t really know the challenges that go along with that. I don’t think anybody really knows what my job is now.

What exactly is your job now?
KK: Well, I’m the artistic director of the company, so I’m responsible for the repertoire. I am responsible for all the choices that we put on stage. I’m also responsible for the choices of the choreographers, working with them on casting. I oversee a very large organization, one that creates sets and costumes.We have a whole orchestra. There are a lot of people, a lot of detail that is involved.

That sounds like a lot of work! Describe the transition from being a dancer to an overseer?
KK: When you are performing, it’s all about your own performance. It’s all about how you contribute to the big picture.You have your contribution and it’s your role in the big production.To be overseeing all of that is like having a bird’s eye perspective, instead of being down on the ground. It’s very different. It takes a long time to understand how it all works. There are a lot of financial challenges to keep it going. There is a lot of fundraising to be done. It’s a very complex job, but it’s a great job, it’s fascinating. If you are trying to keep an organization that you love and that you believe is vital to the city and the country, you have motivation to keep it first of all as excellent as it can possibly be, and as healthy as it can possibly be. As a company that has given me the opportunity to have an incredible career, I feel very motivated to work very hard to keep it strong and healthy.

How have you been able to foster artistic initiatives?
KK: It’s been challenging and frustrating at times,because there always seems to be things that are more important. But I truly believe that if you keep producing something excellent, keep showing it to people and reaching out to people by letting them see what it is you are doing, eventually they understand what it is to see works of art at this level.To see this particular art form, practised at the highest level, people do appreciate it.We have a lot of barriers to people seeing it because it costs a lot to produce. It’s not something that you create and then just sell it. It’s made out of living, breathing human beings that can only do it for a certain amount of time. It is a very temporal art form, so it has to be viewed in that context. It’s fleeting, intangible, but it’s very special and I think that as long as we all keep showing people how wonderful it is, they will get it and appreciate it.

Where do you see Canadian ballet going from here?
KK: It’s progressing with every generation, with every choreographer who is stretching the limits. It is progressing right here, right before our eyes.Anybody who comes to see it can see that the level of technique, the level of virtuosity, the level of inventiveness just continues to grow with every generation. What I would like to see is that the National Ballet of Canada, which is a company that is among the best in the world, be seen more on the world stage. I mean, in my day we got to be seen in New York and in London, but these days (it is too costly to move) a ballet company showing. I think we are one of the most creative companies in the world. We are doing more work and more interesting work that most companies are daring to do. I would like to be able to show that. But that is a very costly undertaking.

What were some of the hardships you experienced, being a woman in your career?
KK: You know there are a lot more men running ballet companies and a lot more men choreographing. I think that it is slowly changing, but it’s still pretty much a man’s world. It’s changing, but women are changing too.They are more confident and boards of directors are more confident in selecting women to take on these roles. I mean, a number of the mentors that I talked about (during my speech) were women. So there have always been women pioneering in the arts. But if you look around the world there are probably four women that run dance companies, and the rest are all men.You will see that there are a lot more women choreographers show. There used to be hardly any. And a number of women that are getting recognition are Canadians and I have invited some of them back to create works for us.They are really talented and really fantastic. So you know it’s changing, the world is changing.

What advice do you have for women who want to follow their passion and dreams?
KK: I would never tell women that there aren’t tradeoffs and that you can have it all, because I don’t think you can. Nobody can have it all. I don’t know how anyone could do the job that I’m doing and have three kids. That’s from my point of view. It could be different, maybe if you had a lot of money and could afford all the help. I think you have to make your choices in life and you have to follow the path that you think is the ight path for yourself.You have to define what is meaningful for you, and you know it’s different for everybody — what drives you, what is meaningful to you, the kind of life you want to have. I always say to my dancers, I don’t want anyone to look back on their career and have regrets and ask:Why didn’t I take that opportunity or why did I blow that opportunity? You know sometime you just have to pick a road and you have to go down it, because there are a lot of roads to choose from. I don’t think that my advice is going to be applicable to anybody else’s choices in their life. I had a passion and I followed it to a lot of things, and I was fortunate along the way. I have no complaints.

You are a true inspiration for many. What is it like to have such admiration?
KK: All I ever feel is fortunate to still contribute, and that just because I can no longer dance it doesn’t mean that I can’t contribute, that I can’t make the future of this company stronger by building foundations here, helping others to achieve their dreams, and keep this company vital. Keep it in the public eye. All those things are important to me.

How do you stay inspired and motivated?
KK: I get really tired sometimes, but I’m used to that. As a dancer there were times where you really didn’t feel like dancing, but if you are a pro you do it anyway.You learn discipline and you learn to do stuff that you may not really want to do sometimes. And there are lots of parts of this job that aren’t my favorite parts, but you just get on with it. Like in any job, you can’t love every bit of it, and you can’t love it everyday, but for the most part as long as you feel motivated than that is good. I’m motivated by the people I work with and I’m motivated by the people who come and visit us. All the artistic collaborators that I get to work with, the designers or the choreographers, all those things are at least never boring. It can be stressful, but never boring here.