An emergency pushed this sole breadwinner to seek financial advice — here’s what she learned.

By Sarah Kelsey

 

Like many of us, Heather, an executive at an insurance and financial institution, was raised to keep financial discussions in the vault. Her mother and father are in their late-80s and -90s and kept financial matters private. 

Then her mother, the manager of the household finances, had a stroke. Heather was left scrambling to untangle a complex web of puzzle pieces — from powers of attorney impacts to bill payments and bank statements — that needed to come together quickly.

The situation was amplified given that Heather is a longstanding single parent to twins and was in the middle of contemplating a career change. 

“I realized if something were to happen to me, I wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of and the details were communicated to my children,” Heather says. “I had to work with someone to get everything organized.” 

Enter Jamie Keenan, a Wealth Advisor and Portfolio Manager at BMO. Heather was introduced to her through friends at the International Women’s Forum. 

“Heather is an incredibly successful professional who climbed the corporate ladder while raising twins on her own,” says Jamie. “I noticed from the get-go she was very disciplined in her savings and budgeting approach. Despite being diligent, Heather needed advice on how to put the pieces of her financial puzzle together.” Her estate plan was also out of date — something that Jamie says is very common — and it made sense given all of her financial obligations at the time. 

Together, Heather and Jamie worked to “peel back the onion layers” of Heather’s finances. They spoke candidly about what was needed for Heather to feel more organized with managing her money and Jamie asked her questions about what she wanted for her next chapters in life beyond working. From there, they laid the foundation and set a path that would allow Heather to accomplish all she wanted to do smartly and in a financially safe way. 

“We completed a comprehensive financial plan so she could maintain choice, oversight, and independence on a potential career change and her eventual retirement. Our action items were clear and achievable.” 

“My first goal with Heather was to get a sense of her financial situation. We completed a comprehensive financial plan so she could maintain choice, oversight, and independence on a potential career change and her eventual retirement,” says Jamie. “Our action items were clear and achievable.” 

One goal, for example, was for Heather to update her will and powers of attorney. Through seeking advice, listening to alternatives, and creating her financial framework, it showed Heather she could maintain autonomy and get things done. 

Slowly and surely, Heather says she started to feel more confident in her financial plans. She also started to have open discussions with her kids about money and what that meant for them. 

Today, she says she has an annual “meeting” with her twins where she walks them through everything from her assets to her will. She’s also introduced them to Jamie.

“Single women have the autonomy to make their own financial decisions. When you don’t have to worry about a partner who has different spending or savings goals, you can create your own financial destiny. It sounds dreamy, right?” says Jamie. 

The only problem is when her clients put the financial needs of others before their own — which is very common — they tend to shoulder too much. They need to ask for help and do as Heather has done: surround themselves with a solid “board of directors” to guide them through must-have legal and financial documents. Jamie was in full support to work with Heather’s accountant and helped her secure a strong estate lawyer.

“Gather the courage to ask for help and make a business decision like you would anything else. It will give you that peace of mind and alternatives. Why wouldn’t you have someone join your team?”

“Jamie recognized it was hard for me to let go because I was accustomed to making all the decisions as the single point of accountability in our family,” Heather says, adding that it took time, but they eventually built the trust required for her to embrace the financial planning process. “Gather the courage to ask for help and make a business decision like you would anything else. It will give you that peace of mind and alternatives. Why wouldn’t you have someone join your team?”

She adds: “You can’t go back, but I wish I had met Jamie sooner. I wish I had had guidance when I was making money decisions earlier in my career — the tax implications and what things are good investments. I also wish I had changed the status quo and talked more about money with my family.”

Heather says she’s still in chapter one of her financial plan. Her long-term goals include taking care of her elderly parents and being in a position to help her kids with housing. She’d also like to travel, a personal passion.

Looking back on her financial journey, she offers two final bits of advice. 

First, interview a couple different advisors before you settle on one. She knew Jamie was “it” when their convo left her feeling like she “walked into the perfect home while house hunting.” Jamie also asked questions that “provoked some thinking” Heather hadn’t thought of.

Second, it’s never too late to make sense of your finances. “You can do things the ‘right’ way. You need to ask for help — and to be open to support. And you need to start talking openly about your finances with the right people. You can chart your own course.”

How Anya Schnoor is breaking down barriers for women through mentorship and education.

Growing up in Jamaica, Anya Schnoor says there was an absence of women working in the financial services industry, so when she started her career, she didn’t have a lot of women role models. “It was difficult to break through, it was difficult to get your seat at the table,” she says, looking back, “but once I got through the door, I wasn’t going to stop.” Now, after a nearly 30-year career in the industry that she’s always been passionate about, Anya is undoubtedly a role model herself.

In 2020, Anya was appointed Scotiabank’s Executive Vice President for the Caribbean, Central America & Uruguay (CCAU), a region that provides financial solutions and services to over 2.2 million customers across 11 countries. In her role, Anya leads the development of the overall strategic direction for the Bank’s personal, commercial, corporate, wealth, and insurance operations in the region. She reached her current leadership position through a series of calculated risks that led to progressively senior roles and a path that has taken her from Jamaica to Trinidad and Tobago and then to Canada, where she’s currently based. 

Anya’s career journey began after she graduated from Florida International University in Florida. Returning to Jamaica, she began her financial services career with several years in asset management, followed by investment banking and treasury management. She eventually transitioned to the operational side of banking to broaden her experience. “It was a COO role, where technology, operations, and marketing all reported to me,” says Anya. “It really taught me the nuts and bolts of banking.” 

During her time at the boutique financial services firm, she managed the merger and acquisition of three other banks, as well as a system integration to convert a core banking platform. She became known for asking for the tough assignments — a practice that helped shape her career. “I was always the one that put my hand up, even when everyone else was running for the door,” recalls Anya. “There are times when you have to get uncomfortable and take a chance.”

“I was always the one that put my hand up, even when everyone else was running for the door. There are times when you have to get uncomfortable and take a chance.”

That next big chance came when she got a call from Scotiabank. They were looking for a leader to expand their wealth and insurance division.

“Scotiabank in Jamaica is the leading bank. It’s one of the banks you aspire to work at,” says Anya. “When they called and said, ‘Would you like to come work for us?’ I jumped at the opportunity.”

She joined Scotiabank in 2006 and led a significant acquisition in wealth management. “Integrating two different cultures is very difficult and always interesting,” she recalls. Over the next five years, Anya turned her division into one of the leading wealth businesses in the country, all while managing continued growth of the insurance operations. 

Her success did not go unnoticed, and she was tapped for a developmental program at Scotiabank in Canada, with the goal of broadening her career beyond Jamaica. That led to another life-changing move: relocating to Trinidad and Tobago to become the Head of the South and East Caribbean Region. 

Anya knew leaving her home country would be challenging, “I had to take the chance, and I had to believe that I could be an example — not only to other Scotiabankers, but also to women across Jamaica, who maybe never thought they could.” 

The bold move paid off. “I learned to operate outside of my comfort zone, meet new people, build connections and a network. All of those experiences made such a difference as I progressed in my career,” she says. “I think that’s one of the strengths of the Bank, giving you the opportunity to come out of your comfort zone.”

The opportunity came again in 2017, when she was promoted to Executive Vice President, Retail Products in Canadian Banking. “Retail is, by far, one of the biggest areas of the Canadian Bank,” explains Anya, adding that the Bank was about to embark on a digital transformation. “It was a huge challenge, but also a huge opportunity for me.”

In that role, she spearheaded major critical initiatives in digital and product development to transform the way Scotiabank serves its retail customers in Canada. It was transformative for Anya, too — growing her understanding and experience, and bringing new opportunities to the forefront.

“I never would have done it if I wasn’t able to say, ‘Believe in yourself and try new things.’”

“I never would have done it if I wasn’t able to say, ‘Believe in yourself and try new things,’” says Anya. “Give yourself the opportunity to learn something new, take risks and challenge yourself by doing uncomfortable things. This is the key to growth and to a successful career journey.”

Anya has extended her leadership to support the Bank’s women customers through her support of the Scotiabank Women Initiative (SWI) as the Executive Champion for the roll-out of the program to International Banking markets. With the mission of breaking down barriers to increase economic and professional opportunities for women. Through the program, Scotiabank has been able to create a community with outreach, mentorship, education, and funding, addressing the challenges women traditionally face — from financing their business to becoming ready to serve on a board.

“The success has really been beyond anyone’s imagination. We put the structure and resources in place to make the initiative successful,” says Anya. “In Canada, more than 15,000 women have gone through these various programs, and it’s been really heartwarming to see the feedback, to hear what they have felt, and have garnered from it.” 

When Anya moved into her new role leading the CCAU region two years ago, one of the first things she did was advocate to expand the Scotiabank Women Initiative to other countries. 

The idea was met with instant support. The Scotiabank Women Initiative expanded to Anya’s home country of Jamaica at the start of 2022, launched in Costa Rica in March, and Chile in August. “We’re so excited,” says Anya. “There are many more countries to come, but the initial start is really to anchor those three markets and then use them as a blueprint for the expansion to other countries.”

One of the initiatives of the SWI program that Anya is particularly proud of is preparing women for board roles. Spearheaded by Scotiabank’s Global Banking and Markets business, the program delivers a specialized, in-house training program that takes a unique approach to board readiness. 

“It’s not a traditional corporate governance training — we’re having real conversations about the challenges women face when they get on boards,” explains Anya. “Typically, you are going to be a minority on a board. That in itself brings different conversations, different things that you have to think about to get your voice heard.”

Another area she’s passionate about supporting is education. “I realized education is often the big differentiator between someone who is successful and someone who isn’t,” says Anya. “Through the Bank, we sponsor fifteen scholarships annually for students at The University of the West Indies. If you give somebody the ability to pursue education, that can be transformative.”

“Giving back is something that’s ingrained in being a Scotiabanker. From day one, we’re taught that this is a part of our job. It’s a part of who we are.” 

Anya gets great personal fulfillment giving back to the communities she works in, and she advises others to find, just as she has, an organization to work for that shares their belief system. “Giving back is something that’s ingrained in being a Scotiabanker,” she says. “From day one, we’re taught that this is a part of our job. It’s a part of who we are.” 

Anya has also extended her leadership to support the Bank’s employees as the Executive Champion of Scotiabank’s Caribbean Network, an Employee Resource Group aimed at advancing the development and inclusion of Caribbean employees and their allies. She became an Executive Champion in November 2020 and since then has been supporting various initiatives as a strong advocate of the Caribbean Network’s mission and values.

Outside of Scotiabank, Anya is involved with the International Women’s Forum (IWF), an invitation-only organization that builds connections between more than 7,000 women from 40 countries around the world. In 2010, she became a founding member of the Jamaican chapter. Members have the opportunity to share experiences, ideas, thoughts, and networks, and to meet people from all over the world through IWF’s international conferences. 

“I think it’s very important for women to find opportunities to come together, however they do that,” says Anya. “We now have over 50 members locally, from across all industries. It has become a safe space for us to have conversations about our journeys and our individual life experiences.” 

Anya sees these connections and conversations as vital to career development. “It was later on in life I realized how important having role models are, and having connections with other women,” she says. “Learning about their experiences made me realize that so many things I felt, were not unique to me. It’s through role models and hearing the stories of others that we learn, and we get the confidence to believe in ourselves and trust that we can achieve whatever we want.”

Now that Anya has a career full of achievements behind her and far more success ahead, she’s committed to paying it forward — sharing her own story as a role model and offering guidance and advice as a mentor. 

As for the male-dominated environment she started her own career journey in? “A lot has changed over the last thirty years,” Anya says. “We have a great woman CEO of the Bank in Jamaica. And since I had the opportunity to work at Scotiabank in Canada, so many other great Caribbean leaders both women and men, have been able to come up and are succeeding, and that makes me incredibly proud,” says Anya. 

And for the ones that are still on their path to success, she has one last piece of advice: “Just go for your dreams. And dream big.”

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Years of deceit left Dana in extreme financial trouble — here’s how she worked through it.

By Sarah Kelsey

 

What do you do when you realize the person managing your company’s finances has been lying to you? Worse yet, what do you do when that person is your spouse and they’ve also been unfaithful?

That’s what happened to Dana, VP of business development at a tech company, on Easter weekend four years ago. Overnight, she became the person responsible for cleaning up a very sticky financial situation — her husband hadn’t filed her business’ taxes for several years, and she owed upwards of six figures to Revenue Canada. She also became the sole provider for two kids.

“It was a long weekend, so I gave myself a few days and allowed myself to cry and drink wine, then I realized I had to get going,” Dana says. “For the first month, I focused on getting my affairs in order: new wills, insurance beneficiaries, etc. Then, I moved to the finances. I met with my accountant and he referred me to John.”

Dana connected with John Sacke, an Investment Advisor and Portfolio Manager with BMO. His focus is on helping women step into their own as money managers.

“Dana had a lot of concerns with respect to paying her bills and keeping current with her finances. She was living with a lot of uncertainty as a result,” John says. “I have numerous clients going through marital discord. The notion of taking baby steps is very important. I told her to expect emotional turbulence.” 

Dana says she and John worked together to figure out a step-by-step plan for her to not only repay the debts she inherited as a result of her marital situation, but also how to ensure she and her kids were taken care of long-term. 

“The way he went about asking me what I wanted to achieve short- and long-term was never patronizing. He helped me build a new strategy for a way forward based on my goals.” 

Today, through the analysis and the work they did as a team, Dana is months away from paying everything she owes in taxes and has been able to provide for both of her kids, helping her daughter achieve her dream of becoming a skateboarder with Team Canada and assisting her son in a big move to New Brunswick with his girlfriend for new jobs. She now has a holistic tax strategy that’s setting her and her family up for success. 

“The way he went about asking me what I wanted to achieve short- and long-term was never patronizing,” she says. “He helped me build a new strategy for a way forward based on my goals.” 

Naturally, that doesn’t mean the process was always easy.

Dana admits to being frustrated over putting too much trust in her ex-husband and for how long it took to reset her finances; John says he had to gently remind her to trust the BMO process — things take time, but they work out.

“First, I always suggest we do a financial plan, which is a core part of my services. Without cost or obligation, it sets out the vulnerabilities in one’s financial tapestry,” says John of the steps he uses when dealing with these kinds of situations and new clients. “Second, I’m a big believer in consolidation, meaning the less accounts one has, the better one can plan a strategy.” Lastly, he counsels clients to take a holistic look at their finances and to think about what that means long-term.

Dana now says she wouldn’t have been able to survive the past few years if she hadn’t been open to accepting help and finding some space to re-evaluate her life.

“Nobody anticipates that this will happen. Taking steps doesn’t make you disloyal — it makes you smart.”

“I don’t think anyone gets married thinking they’ll get divorced. You have a vision and goals and you picture yourselves in rocking chairs on the porch. When that’s taken out from under you, you need to take time to think about what you want,” she says. “When things exploded, I remember sitting there wondering what I wanted. I was so caught up in bills and working and I didn’t take enough time to take a breath and say, ‘this is your new reality. What do you want to do, where do you want to live, work, and do with your personal time?’”

To help, she began journaling, keeping a good journal for her wins and triumphs and a bad one that she now describes as an “outpouring of feelings and raging on paper.” “Both journals allowed me to get things out of my head and helped me remember and celebrate the wins,” Dana says.

Dana says her biggest learning and piece of advice is to get on top of your finances early, regardless of your marital situation. 

“You should know what you need to do in any situation. If you get an inheritance from your parents, keep it in your name because then it doesn’t become co-mingled with your partner’s finances,” she says. “Literacy and knowing your rights in comparison to your obligations is key.” 

She adds: “Nobody anticipates that this will happen. Taking steps doesn’t make you disloyal — it makes you smart. I wish I had taken a better beat and understood things from the outset. But hindsight is what it is. I’m so lucky I am where I am now. I’ve moved on and am looking forward to what’s next.”

Eleanor Lee and Angel Kho grew LOULOU LOLLIPOP from a side hustle to an international brand. Here’s how.

Eleanor Lee and Angel Kho

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

What’s in a name? If you’re a small business owner—a lot. But its importance goes beyond the moniker of the company as Eleanor Lee and Angel Kho, co-founders of LOULOU LOLLIPOP, found out. 

When it came time to expand their sustainable baby accessories company beyond Vancouver, BC, they ran into issues because of their intellectual property (IP)—or lack thereof. 

“When we were coming up with the company name, we liked lollipop because it was like a soother, or a candy as a sucker. It was sweet and very fitting,” says Angel. “But it was too generic. We liked French style, and anything related to France, so we started looking for extra inspiration.” 

The duo landed on the word LouLou, a common French term of affection for children. “The name kind of rolled off the tongue.” 

The only problem was, despite the uniqueness, various individuals owned the rights to use the name in Europe and China, meaning the sisters had to “buy the branding” so they could sell internationally. What ensued was a three-year legal battle, a whopping price tag, and a key takeaway for fellow entrepreneurs: “Make sure you register your IP and the trademark early,” says Eleanor. “Do the research and dig deep. Sometimes a name can be taken in other markets. Make sure the name is protected.”

Before the sisters dealt with branding, exporting, and the legalities of intellectual property, LOULOU LOLLIPOP began as many other businesses do—with an entrepreneur trying to solve their own problem. It was in 2015, when as a first-time mother, Eleanor noticed her teething daughter enjoyed tugging and chewing on her necklaces. 

“I started to realize I didn’t know what they were made of,” Eleanor explains. She began searching for teething products that were silicone and free of harmful chemicals and couldn’t find any. “Out of necessity, I started to look into creating something for myself.”

“We knew we could make an impact; we could respond to a need for all parents. So, we bought $100 worth of supplies and began beading.”

Realizing she had stumbled onto a unique business idea, she brought it to her twin sister, who immediately saw the potential in the concept. “Even though my kids were older at the time, I found the idea intriguing. When my kids were young, there was nothing like that on the market,” says Angel. “We knew we could make an impact; we could respond to a need for all parents. So, we bought $100 worth of supplies and began beading.”

The duo made their first product, a pastel-coloured doughnut teething necklace, as a sort of side hustle. Eleanor worked on LOULOU full-time, and on her days off from her part-time job, Angel worked on the business. While both women were busy juggling mom duties, they’d start their “shift” with a “Tim Hortons coffee and a doughnut” until they had enough product to start selling on Etsy and at local pop-up shops. 

“It was so much fun in the beginning because we were working so hard together on traditional things, like cold calling. It all came naturally,” says Angel. And then the pair received their first big purchase from West Coast Kids. “It was unreal. We were so excited. We worked all night to fill seven large boxes for the company. Our husbands were happily forced to join in the building of everything,” laughs Eleanor. 

Interest and demand for their products grew and today, LOULOU LOLLIPOP can be found in 37 countries and thousands of stores, including major retailers like Nordstrom, Anthropologie, and Crate and Barrel. Traffic on their online store has also exploded, prompting the sisters to expand their product lines with sustainable Tencel Lyocell kids apparel and eco-friendly silicone tableware. 

Impressively, every item LOULOU LOLLIPOP sells is made of earth-friendly, non-toxic materials. A big part of the twin’s mission is to make sure their business has minimal impact on the planet, especially for the children who use their. They also ensure the factories that supply their items are Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) compliant, ensuring fair wages, ethical business practices, and healthy and safe working conditions. 

“We’ve heard from others that ‘it’s so easy and all you did was string some beads and sell products at a pop-up,’ but starting a business is more than that,” says Angel. “We may have made it seem simple, but what we achieved was not an overnight success. There were many late nights and heartaches and challenges.”

“There will be challenges and mistakes along the road, there were for us. They’re stepping-stones. Don’t dwell on them.”

Eleanor adds, as entrepreneurs, failing is a part of the process. “There will be challenges and mistakes along the road, there were for us. They’re stepping-stones. Don’t dwell on them.” The sisters maintain this mindset: “Learn from what sucks.” 

They also advise entrepreneurs to tap into organizations and networks that offer resources, webinars and coaching on how to build a business from scratch. For them, that meant leaning on Small Business BC and WeBC when they were first starting, and then Export Development Canada (EDC) when they were ready to branch out into global markets. 

EDC offers knowledge and financial solutions and partners with the Trade Accelerator Program (TAP), which provides a series of online workshops with trade and industry experts to help enterprises unleash their export potential. This support was essential for Eleanor and Angel to build relationships in key markets. Even today, the sisters rely on EDC for financial and knowledge support, as well as its resources such as webinars

“LOULOU LOLLIPOP is a great example of the creativity and innovation driven by Canadian women-owned and -led businesses in the retail sector,” said Catherine Beach, National Lead, Women in Trade, EDC. “To support its rapid growth, the company turned to RBC, who in turn tapped into the Trade Expansion Lending Program (TELP). This program, offered in collaboration by EDC and the company’s financial institution, helps exporters access additional working capital so they can take advantage of international opportunities. EDC is proud to partner with financial institutions including RBC, to enable high-growth companies to maintain their momentum, and to help develop Canada’s export trade.”

Their ultimate goal is to build LOULOU LOLLIPOP into a world leading baby accessories brand. They want to strengthen their position in markets by expanding their sustainable product collection even further, and they want to be a Canadian brand people recognize globally.

“Whether in the United States or Australia, we want people to recognize our children’s products as trusted, safe and sustainable,” says Eleanor. “We want to be a global children’s brand. We want our brand and name to stand out.”

How Julia Currie-Love is driving positive change within Indigenous communities and Scotiabank.

By Sarah Kelsey

 

Growing up in Marathon, a small community in Northern Ontario, Julia Currie-Love was acutely aware of the lack of services available to her and her family. 

When I look at the things I didn’t have access to, simple things like an optometrist or mental health support — even when I had braces, I had to drive three-plus hours to Thunder Bay to get them checked. It was so hard,” the Val Caron, Ont. Scotiabank Branch Manager says. “Those experiences have really helped shape my focus on supporting remote communities.”

Having an Indigenous family and growing up in Northern Ontario, Julia knew at an early age that she wanted to bring awareness to some of the challenges she experienced as a resident of a remote community. Through her current role, she’s had opportunities to help meet that goal — but she landed in banking by happenstance.

After taking a year off between high school and college, Julia noticed the bank across the road from her house was hiring a casual customer service representative. She got the job and eventually spent several years with the organization. She trained her way up, receiving financial licences, then moved to another financial institution where she transitioned into account management and client care roles, eventually becoming an assistant branch manager. Julia started with Scotiabank in 2019, making a strategic lateral move to become the assistant branch manager for their Elliot Lake location. She was promoted to branch manager in May 2021.

“One thing I’ve learned is that none of the banks are the same,” Julia says. “In order to succeed professionally, you have to find the bank that has the same culture and values you have.” 

“In order to succeed professionally, you have to find the bank that has the same culture and values you have.” 

She knew Scotiabank had the drive to improve things for its customers and her community. Julia’s time with the company serendipitously coincided with the launch of a few of its major diversity and inclusion programs, including renewed Diversity, Equity & Inclusion goals, and  Effective Allyship campaign, an initiative that has seen the Bank dive deep into creating and affirming a welcoming environment for equity-deserving groups. Employees are encouraged to access the learning tools and resources available to support their ongoing journey of becoming active allies 365 days of the year

Julia has taken on several roles within the organization to help advance inclusion of Indigenous Peoples, including the role of Partnerships Director for the Indigenous Network Employee Resource Group and Co-Chair for the Ontario Mental Health and Wellness Employee Resource Group

Her goal is to help inform and educate employees about the unique needs Indigenous Peoples are facing. “Retail banking employees have specific cultural training to better understand the needs of Indigenous people, as well as team meetings that focus on Scotiabank’s enhanced advancement of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging for all equity-deserving groups. That includes strengthening our education on Indigenous Finances, such as understanding how to successfully complete credit applications for an Indigenous person who is earning income tax-free — that’s important,” Julia says.

The educating she’s doing goes beyond understanding just the financial barriers Indigenous Peoples may encounter, however. Part of her job is to remind people about the historic lack of support and resources Indigenous communities face. Access to services is still a major issue.

“Current support structures and access to necessities in remote locations aren’t really geared toward communities that need them.” 

“The people who need resources outside major city centres don’t have the ability to access things, even when technological advances are involved. You still, generally, have to pay costly fees to access things in remote areas,” she says. “Current support structures and access to necessities in remote locations aren’t really geared toward communities that need them.” 

But she doesn’t despair. She knows the work she’s doing from within Scotiabank is having a positive impact on her community and is valued by her team. Pride and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation are days that everyone on her team recognizes as important for acknowledgement and continued learning, for example. “The best days are the days I get to do work with Scotiabank and these groups. It’s how I can create change, and change is happening.”

Julia says her next big professional goal is to continue to expand the number of Indigenous organizations Scotiabank partners with on an external level. Personally, she wants to find time to do more volunteering now that COVID restrictions have loosened. 

“I’m passionate about Northern Ontario and providing resources to my community. I am currently asking myself: ‘How can I make a bigger impact on more people and more communities?’ My drive to participate is to ensure that there are better resources, supports, and an understanding of the specific needs of Indigenous Peoples and those living in remote areas. I want my family to have what they need in order to succeed in the future.”

Wanda Costen is leading change in business education.

Wanda Costen

A tremendous change is underway in business. Technology is altering how organizations operate. COVID-19 continues to test governments, institutions and businesses. Companies are being called upon to address racial injustice and pressing societal issues like poverty and climate change.

Business needs are changing as a result. As the Dean of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, Wanda Costen is working to ensure that organizations have access to the talent they need to succeed. 

“At the end of the day, we’re providers of talent. As business needs change, talent must also evolve,” Wanda explains. “Business education must adapt its curricula, research and student experience to meet these changing needs.” 

Wanda is helping to lead that change in business education. She sees three key areas in which schools must adapt.

The first is recruitment. Are schools enrolling the right students to meet global talent needs? It’s an important question. The business world is diverse and graduates can expect to work with people from many different backgrounds, countries and cultures. The classroom experience should reflect that diversity—both in its students and professors.

“It’s not enough to simply graduate good corporate citizens.”

Second, schools must rethink how they teach. “We must focus on the competencies and skills that employers need going forward,” Wanda says. Core business skills are important, but students need to learn how to navigate the world, solve problems and engage with others.

Third, business schools must become leaders in making a positive difference in society. Through research and partnerships, business schools can contribute to solving the world’s biggest issues. At the same time, they must use their considerable resources—including faculty and student expertise—to improve their own communities.

“It’s not enough to simply graduate good corporate citizens,” Wanda says. “We must prepare students to be leaders who understand their role in society regardless of the sector: business, government, entrepreneurship or not-for-profit.”

The army life.

Wanda’s life and career make her well-suited to guide Smith through this evolution. 

As a child, Wanda moved every three to five years. Her dad was a U.S. soldier; her mom worked for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the military’s retail arm. Postings took the family from Texas to Kansas to Oklahoma, and back to Texas again. The family’s first significant trek was to Germany.

“It was a very different experience for a 12-year-old with two younger brothers, but we weren’t worried because my parents—working-class people from the Northeast—were excited about it. They fell in love with Germany. They embraced the language and told us to learn the culture. I think that taught us not to be afraid of new cultures and new experiences,” she recalls.

After high school, Costen attended the United States Military Academy at West Point.

“Most people expect to hear that I grew up in a military family and followed those footsteps, but that is not what happened,” she says. It was her Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. high school elective that inspired her to join the Army.

I took [JROTC] and was good at it. By the time I moved into my senior year, I was the battalion commander for the entire school, and I realized that all the people ahead of me who had been in that role went to West Point,” Wanda says. 

The experience taught me a lot about the evolution of a historic, traditional institution, how people’s experiences can differ, and what it means to be welcomed, invited in and treated equally.”

She was in West Point’s seventh class that included women. “The first class entered in 1976. I graduated in ’86, so we were the 10-year anniversary of women just being at the academy.” Wanda recalls “a lot of backlash against us from male cadets, and we didn’t understand why that was happening.” But she adds: “The experience taught me a lot about the evolution of a historic, traditional institution, how people’s experiences can differ, and what it means to be welcomed, invited in and treated equally.”

After graduation, Wanda served as a platoon leader and military police officer. Following that, she moved into business, working at PacTel Paging, Xerox, Pepsi, Greyhound and Aramark. “I developed a background in sales, moved into operations and then human resources.”

Her pivot into academia came while visiting universities in her role as an HR director with Aramark. “One of my responsibilities was to recruit new talent. I would be invited into the classrooms at Washington State University where I would guest lecture and meet the students. The director of the program kept saying to me, ‘We need people like you in post-secondary,’” she recalls. “The next thing I knew, I had an offer to teach as an instructor and get my PhD.” 

While earning her executive MBA from Pepperdine University, Wanda read a book called The Path that changed her life. “I’ll never forget it. It helps you write a mission statement for your life. At the end of the book, it asks: Are you living your mission statement? My answer was: kind of, but not really…so I just took a leap [into academia],” she says.

With teaching, she’d found her calling. “I fully believe this is what I’m put here to do. I loved every job I had, but when I got in the classroom, it just fit,” she says. “It’s about impact. It’s about passion. It’s about love. It’s about integrity. It’s about helping people achieve their best.”

A new vision.

Wanda joined Smith in July 2021 from MacEwan University, where she was dean of the business school. She’s now leveraging her skills from a 35-year career spanning the military, private industry and academia, and her lived experience of the challenges of lack of diversity in business and education, to contribute to Queen’s University’s strategic vision.

“I wanted to be part of an organization that is ready to do things differently, that’s ready to position itself for what I believe business education is for the 21st century,” she says. 

In her first year on the job, Wanda has spent considerable time talking to business leaders locally, nationally and internationally. A common theme has emerged: the need for talent that not only possesses strong core business knowledge, but also has an understanding of the importance of a business’ societal impact. Companies want proven abilities in teamwork, communication, cultural competence and social skills. 

“We have to recognize that today raw talent looks differently, presents differently, has different experiences.”

Meeting these new organizational expectations not only requires business schools to transform how and what they teach, but also broaden who is taught and who gets to teach.

“We have to recognize that today raw talent looks differently, presents differently, has different experiences,” she says. “Business education must be accessible to people from different backgrounds. In a global business world, students benefit when they learn from professors with varied experiences from around the world,” Wanda says.

Wanda notes that Smith is working from a foundation of strength, with faculty, staff and alumni who support her commitment to providing a transformative, innovative and inclusive approach to business education.

“We can impact the global business education sector, and as such, impact global business. I intend to take us there.”

Thembi Bheka founded a digital marketing agency without a business background — here’s how.

By Sarah Kelsey

 

Thembi Bheka is on a mission to empower one million women by 2025. 

“Our studies have shown that if you empower one woman, they, in turn, empower those around them,” Thembi says. “And the best way to eliminate and reduce poverty is not just to educate, it’s to empower. With hard work, we will reach this goal.”

The “we” Thembi refers to is the team she’s built as the founder of Digital Marketing on Demand (DMOD), a unique organization that seeks to connect talent from developing countries with global work opportunities, specifically in the digital marketing space. 

A service provider can reach out to DMOD for assistance on any number of needs, including creating high-converting landing pages to managing website updates. An assessment of the company’s needs are performed at the outset by DMOD, and the specific task is then assigned to a team member with the right set of skills to deliver the project on time and on budget. All of this is done virtually by someone in the developing world, mostly Africa. 

To date, more than 4,200 services have been completed by the company’s team members. 

“These women didn’t have the confidence to search for or apply to jobs, even after extensive education, so I thought, ‘I’ll connect them with opportunities.’” 

The idea for DMOD came to Thembi after she immigrated to Canada as a refugee. Originally from Zimbabwe, she fled an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship, eventually settling in Montréal with her daughter. Though she studied and worked as a registered nurse, she continually felt the pull toward entrepreneurial opportunities. She dipped her toe into the entrepreneurial world as a real estate investor and even founded a course, Real Estate Real Riches, that taught women how to invest in housing. As her real estate business grew, she found herself in need of assistant-level help, and instead of hiring in-person, she turned to a virtual assistant (VA) in Kenya for help.

“At the time, no one knew what a VA was or what they did,” she says. “I found mine on Upwork and eventually returned to Zimbabwe, realizing there was an opportunity to train people to be VAs. I started to meet incredible women — lawyers, doctors — who were all unemployed and in abusive relationships, similar to my situation before I left for Canada.”

She adds: “These women didn’t have the confidence to search for or apply to jobs, even after extensive education, so I thought, ‘I’ll connect them with opportunities.’” 

That’s how DMOD was born. Today, Thembi and her team have been recognized for the work they’re doing by a number of high-profile organizations, including Stanford’s Seed Transformation Program. Thembi was also selected as a Coralus (formerly SheEO) Venture in 2021, giving her access to the financial support and coaching needed to expand her business. 

“I have a podcast where I interview women entrepreneurs, and one of my speakers asked me whether I had heard of SheEO and convinced me to apply,” Thembi says. “Until then I had been bootstrapping my business. I had even started to sell my real estate holdings to accelerate the growth of DMOD. Being selected as a SheEO venture not only gave me the funding I needed to build my business, but it also connected me with a community.”

That community, she says, is something she leans on regularly for support when facing challenges in her business, joking, “your friends don’t want to hear about that employee issue you have, but like-minded leaders do.” 

“When you do what inspires you, you can empower people. That can help them better themselves and rise above any situation they face.”

The funding was also valuable because, as an immigrant, Thembi says she found it hard to access funding through traditional means. 

“When you’ve been in Canada for a long time, you’ve learned the system, like what a credit score is or even how to register a company. Most people don’t live in cultures where business is done like it is in Canada or North America. Education is key.” 

She says that until she joined SheEO, she didn’t even know that she had to pay herself a salary. “There needs to be more and greater educational supports to help immigrants and refugees learn certain systems so they can succeed.” 

That’s also one of her lasting messages for women who want to dip their toes into entrepreneurial life: get educated. 

“I didn’t have a business background, nobody taught me how to be a businessperson. I’ve had to learn as I’ve grown. I’ve struggled with management and leadership. I’m not a born leader, but I’m now mentoring people,” she says. “Just do it. Don’t wait. There are so many things I waited on. I look back and think about having been able to do stuff. Whatever you want to do, just do it.”

And most importantly, do something that inspires you. 

“When you do what inspires you, you can empower people. That can help them better themselves and rise above any situation they face.”

Vanessa Marshall turned a hobby into a business that has kept more than 500,000 plastic bottles out of landfills.

Vanessa Marshall

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

When Vanessa Marshall decided to launch her now highly successful sustainable haircare company, Jack59, in 2015, she was wrapping up a degree in dentistry. After some reflection, her instincts swayed her away from this path and towards an entrepreneurial one, despite not having any formal business training. 

It all started when she stumbled into the world of soap-making after watching her sister create sudsy bars in her spare time. “I started researching how to do it myself, learning the chemistry, and recorded myself making my first batch,” Marshall recalls. “It was a disaster, but it was thrilling. I was hooked.”

It was during a trip to Mexico that her “very expensive hobby” turned into something more. A fan of the sustainability of shampoo bars, she was travelling with one from an all-natural brand — but it was making her scalp so dry, itchy, and irritated that she had to go purchase a bottle of liquid shampoo. Later, while lounging on the beach, she had an aha moment: The pH level of the soap bars had to be off. If she could balance the pH, she could make and sell shampoo and conditioner bars that everyone would love. 

And that’s how Jack59 was born.

When she returned home to Edmonton, AB, Marshall bought a bunch of ingredients to make her first paraben-, silicon- and cruelty-free hair care products. The company now offers a broad range of sustainable and effective hair products using unique combinations of natural proteins, oils, and extracts, all based on slight variances in the pH levels of different hair types. 

“You don’t get to choose to be an entrepreneur,” Marshall jokes. “When you talk to an entrepreneur like me, they likely can’t stop talking or thinking about their business — no matter how out there their ideas may sound. And my idea may have seemed pretty out there to some.”

“Jack59 is now recognized as a unique, sustainable, and Indigenous-owned and woman-led beauty brand.”

And as for the ‘out there’ name? It’s in honour of a lost dog that wandered into the family’s yard, and was named Jack59 by her then four-year-old daughter. A year later, when Marshall was getting her company ready for launch, her daughter asked if she could call it Jack59 in remembrance of the stray. She realized the name embraced the reason she wanted to be an entrepreneur in the first place — to be able to spend more time with her family. 

Jack59 is now recognized as a unique, sustainable, and Indigenous-owned and woman-led beauty brand. “Our mission is simple,” says Marshall. “Increase the number of good hair days you have while decreasing your carbon footprint. From the responses we get from our customers, to how we’re helping the environment — I know we’re having an impact.” 

The proud owner says her company has prevented more than 500,000 plastic bottles from clogging landfills because of its wasteless, plastic-free packaging — their bars are so long-lasting, they can replace about three traditional liquid shampoo bottles or five liquid conditioner bottles. Jack59 also has a 100 per cent plastic-free production process, and uses 100 per cent recyclable packaging. From a social good perspective, Vanessa has built the company so it gives each employee the work-life balance she wanted when she was initially raising her kids.

“When you’re a child, you’re given the ability to dream. And there are no limitations to that. Whatever you saw yourself being, you believed you could do it, you believed in daydreams,” she says. “And at some point in our lives, there are fears and expectations that get instilled. There’s self-sabotage. If you can fight your way through that, you can do anything. You can make a dream a reality. I have.”

Access to capital is one of the main barriers to growth of women-owned and -led businesses. To level the playing field, targeted programs and support exist for women entrepreneurs to address the unique needs of their businesses.

Two organizations that have helped Marshall along her journey include Coralus (formerly SheEO) and Export Development Canada (EDC)

Selected as a 2022 Coralus Venture, the honour came with a zero per cent interest loan, coaching, and access to a global community of support. Coralus connected her with a network of “radically generous” women and non-binary people, who helped her with resources to grow her company — from finding the right accountant to supporting distribution and marketing. 

EDC taught her how to expand her business into other countries, put her in touch with other trade partners, including the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), by facilitating an introduction to a local trade commissioner, and increased awareness about grants she could apply for.

Organizations such as Coralus, EDC, and the TCS exist to help entrepreneurs realize their potential — the key is gaining awareness of the available resources and tapping into them.

“At a certain point, I realized I wasn’t going to be good at that stuff. It was essential I put the right people in place to do those things for me, so I could focus my attention elsewhere.”

Today, Marshall helps other entrepreneurs narrow down their company’s philosophy, so they can focus on generating results and solving problems quickly. She also suggests they figure out their weaknesses early on in the start-up process, so they can outsource tasks that eat up their time and mental capacity. 

“I have no managerial experience, for example, and I don’t have business experience,” Marshall says. “Before I built my team, everything was about putting out fires, learning how to do taxes, etc., and at a certain point, I realized I wasn’t going to be good at that stuff. It was essential I put the right people in place to do those things for me, so I could focus my attention elsewhere.”

Today, Marshall and her team of 10, including her sister who’s the company’s chief operating officer, are working hard to make Jack59 a household name. In addition to their own storefront in Edmonton, they are in various boutiques and retail locations across Canada and into the United States, and they ship globally through their online store.They’re focused on creating new products and looking to expand the business into more countries. 

Marshall says she knows there’s an incredible opportunity for the products they make given the current concerns about the climate and sustainability. By expanding more, not only will she be able to help others and educate them about how to choose environmentally sustainable products, she can employ more people on a local level and expand economic growth in her community. 

“We already sell internationally through e-commerce. We’ve had orders in Oman and Europe. I want to break into South America next — largely because I love the people and culture. It’s very exciting.” 

When reflecting on her journey, Marshall offers up this piece of advice to entrepreneurs: “If your dream scares you, it’s probably worth doing. Especially, too, if it scares other people when you tell them about your idea. Trust the journey and the road you’re on. It’s always worth it.”

Shannon Pestun went from “being bad” with numbers to one of Canada’s most sought-after finance consultants.

By Sarah Kelsey

 

Traditional systems for funding a business, from bank lending to venture capital, weren’t built with women or Indigenous business owners in mind. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see tides are turning within the financial industry, especially here in Canada. Paving the way is Shannon Pestun, a former banker turned entrepreneur, financial educator, social justice advocate, and senior advisor to the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH).

Shannon, a Métis woman who grew up in the Treaty 7 area of Alberta, says she stumbled upon her career as a financial barrier breaker by happenstance. In fact, she has a vivid memory of a junior high school guidance counsellor telling her to avoid doing anything with math because she “wasn’t good at it” — an experience which understandably left her fearful of numbers. 

Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, Shannon pursued a career in marketing. Ironically, her marketing career led her to work at an Alberta-based financial institution, where she was encouraged to start a new career as a business banker. It was during that time that she began to see the cracks in the financial system’s approach to the funding of women- and Indigenous-owned businesses. 

“A woman was trying to buy a daycare, and I remember seeing all of the hoops she had to go through to prove her business case and thinking things would never have been as hard if she was a man.” Shannon also noticed there were no women in the portfolio of entrepreneurs she managed. 

“That was a moment of awakening for me. When you see something, you can’t unsee it. I became relentless about understanding the gender gap in entrepreneurship and seeking meaningful ways to close it,” she says. 

Shannon began to educate herself by looking at the research — and going deeper into the frontlines. Under an anonymous twitter handle, A Girl’s Biz Banker, Shannon started new conversations with women entrepreneurs and innovators to better understand their needs as entrepreneurs. She also looked to banks from around the world to identify best practices for meeting the needs of women entrepreneurs. The deeper she went, the more she saw how and where the financial system was failing women. 

“Canada’s banking system was never designed with women in mind. Today, women remain the single largest underserved group of customers in the financial services sector.” 

Working inside the financial system, Shannon knew that there was opportunity for change. The challenge, however, was finding a way to drive that change forward. “Canada’s banking system was never designed with women in mind. Today, women remain the single largest underserved group of customers in the financial services sector.” 

Shannon’s passion for change led her to be one of the first women in the country to lead a women’s banking strategy. “It was a role I lobbied for,” says Shannon. ”Not everyone was supportive of the work I was leading.” But tenacity and a desire for change kept Shannon on her path to reimagine banking for women, which included helping women access the financial capital they needed to start and grow their business, connecting them to networks and professionals, and building learning opportunities to support them in their journey. 

While Shannon’s work included creating new funding models, such as introducing a cohort-based, rewards-based crowdfunding initiative, she also introduced a new training for frontline team members to better understand the gendered differences in money and entrepreneurship, and brought together team members from across the bank to create a holistic value proposition that was centred on breaking barriers and closing the entrepreneurial gender gap.

“The most cited barrier for women entrepreneurs is financial capital,” says Shannon, adding that on a funding level, more needs to be done to address the way risk is assessed and how that shapes lending and investing decisions. Her lived experience was validated by much of the research led by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. According to The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada 2022 from WEKH, the processes used to make decisions about financing — the “five C’s” (capacity, collateral, capital, character, and conditions) — are based, to a large extent, on historical patterns that disadvantage women and other underestimated groups.

In 2018, Shannon was appointed to serve on a panel supporting Canada’s women entrepreneurship strategy. In 2020, she became an entrepreneur herself, with a focus to deepen her work in closing the entrepreneurial gap as a financial consultant. From there, she became WEKH’s Senior Advisor – Business and Finance, where she has helped the organization develop research and networks to improve women’s access to financial, social, and entrepreneurial capital. Shannon notes that her lived experience not only enables her to inform research, policies, and practices, but also helps her connect with other entrepreneurs.

“On an individual level, many women entrepreneurs are socialized, just like I was, to believe they aren’t good with money or numbers.”

She has also brought her skills and experience to a new venture — co-founding The Finance Cafe, Canada’s first gender-focused business financial learning program designed to help women entrepreneurs — and those who support them — explore what’s behind the numbers to find greater confidence and build greater capacity in financial decision making. Over 200 women entrepreneurs and advisors have gone through the program.

“On an individual level, many women entrepreneurs are socialized, just like I was, to believe they aren’t good with money or numbers,” so they shirk responsibility for the monetary management of their businesses to someone else, Shannon says.”But that’s not true. If you can understand the numbers better and beyond just reading a financial statement, you can shape your own financial story.” 

Recent reports from WEKH show that while there are societal and organizational barriers, one of the individual level barriers to success for women with small businesses is financial literacy and confidence. Organizations like The Finance Cafe and WEKH are expanding how they support these groups. New bursaries (including one created by Shannon for Indigenous women entrepreneurs) and funding opportunities are being granted by the government, and financial institutions are waking up to the gender gap within the entrepreneurial space. 

There’s still work to be done, but Shannon is optimistic. “A lot has changed since I started this work. Things are still changing. But there’s more ahead,” she says. “I care deeply about this work, and I’ll continue working towards a more inclusive financial system — and building new ways for women to navigate a system that wasn’t designed by them, or for them.”

Meet Karen Collins, Chief Talent Officer for BMO Financial Group.

Karen Collins

Karen Collins is the Chief Talent Officer for BMO Financial Group, the 8th largest bank (by assets) in North America — with 12 million customers, and over 43,000 employees. Joining the bank in 2005, she held progressively more senior leadership roles across the organization, and now has enterprise accountability for Talent Management; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; Leadership & Succession Planning; Executive Development; and Organization Design & Effectiveness. Karen serves on the Perimeter Institute Board of Directors and as a member of the Boulevard Club’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. She is a proud wife and mother, has two beloved Labrador retrievers, and enjoys travelling with her family and staying active.

 

My first job ever was… babysitting for kids in my neighbourhood.

I decided on a career in human resources because… I’m passionate about helping leaders achieve their potential and I love to unlock tough issues related to human and team dynamics and change.

I’m passionate about my current role because… I have had a chance to impact BMO’s culture, talent, focus on inclusion and people ecosystem during one of the most interesting periods in history!

My proudest accomplishment is… most recently, how BMO supported our people during the pandemic — we kept people safe and working and feeling personally cared for. Over my career my proudest accomplishment has been helping other leaders grow, thrive and achieve their goals.

My biggest setback was… working for a company where I realized the values of the organization did not align with my personal values.

I overcame it by… seeking a change to move to a new company (BMO!) that did align with my values and learning a lot from the experience — it was one of the most formative learning experiences in my career. 

“As we come through the pandemic into the next chapter there is so much new and bold thinking about the new ways of working.”

My advice for aspiring HR professionals is… think of yourself as a business person first; while you may be focused on human capital most of the time, it’s really important to understand how the business works — focus on products, technology, systems, revenue as well as people.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… create work-life balance and take real breaks from work… I am getting better at this, I think!

The thing I love most about what I do is… working alongside my team, my colleagues and the bank’s leadership team.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… learning agility — being excited by new things, taking in feedback and learning from it, seeking out new perspectives and being resilient. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am an introvert.

I stay inspired by… surrounding myself with mentors, leaders, colleagues and team members who inspire me on a regular basis.

The future excites me because… as we come through the pandemic into the next chapter there is so much new and bold thinking about the new ways of working.

My next step is… yet to be written!

Tatiana Estevez Carlucci’s cleantech startup is revolutionizing where we can get our water from.

Permalution Tatiana Estevez

By Sarah Kelsey

 

If you’re like most people, when you see a cloud of fog rolling in, you probably think about waterproofing your wardrobe for the day. But if you’re someone like Tatiana Estevez Carlucci, all you see is possibility. 

“It was right after graduation and it was my dream to go backpacking in California, so I landed in San Francisco,” she says, arriving at a time when the state was going through a historic drought, costing the economy billions and devastating the mental health of farmers. “I was looking out the window of my Airbnb, and as I watched the fog roll in, it hit me: fog is a huge source of water. What if that water could be harnessed to solve problems like drought?”

The result of that brainwave is Permalution: a revolutionary cleantech organization devoted to creating and leveraging technology to harvest water droplets from fog. Tatiana’s goal is to support local ecosystems and contribute to environmental conservation. 

“By definition, fog or clouds are made up of tiny particles of water that are suspended in the air, so we developed technology that allows us to predict where fog will occur, the amount of water one can yield from a specific fog patch, and collect water droplets from fog as it passes over one of our units,” Tatiana says. 

“We want to democratize fog as a new water source, and we need to introduce the technology in a way that allows everyone to access it.”

The fireproof, ready to assemble modules have an integrated IoT system and allow her team to collect 150 to 400 litres of water per day — or an amount that can support a family of four to six.

“We want to democratize fog as a new water source, and we need to introduce the technology in a way that allows everyone to access it while abiding by the water regulations in each state, province, and country,” she says. 

Based in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the first-of-its-kind fog organization has received several recognitions and grants since launching in 2015, including one of BMO‘s Celebrating Women Grants in 2021

Tatiana says she’s eternally grateful for the support and recognition, especially because she had no formal business or engineering education when starting her company. She took some electives in environmental engineering in university and went on to teach herself about all things sustainability; what she knew was that she ultimately wanted to work with water and in the cleantech space. 

“I started little by little,” Tatiana says, adding that every small step has led her to the road she’s currently on, from landing in Silicon Valley for a period of time to working with the Canadian Government on environmental matters. 

“The support of others, patience, and tenacity has been key to getting Permalution where it is today,” she says. Believing in the end result of what the technology can offer the world has also been key. “All entrepreneurs need to believe what they’re bringing to the table is very important and worth taking the risk and chance on.”

“What we’re doing really has the power to change the world.”

Tatiana keeps a book of accomplishments to flip through when she feels she or her organization have hit a wall; this empowers her to move forward when it feels like the universe is against her. 

“Women need to get rid of the fear of failing in order to get to where we need to go. We have to fail fast and hard, but keep going,” she says. 

Up next for Tatiana and Permalution is a new website so the organization can make more noise (a dream would be to attract attention from the likes of Greta Thunberg) and an advancement of plans to commercialize their products. Tatiana and her team want to increase output and recently started working with the University of Toronto to develop and launch a backpack-sized module that will, hopefully, bring water to displaced populations.

“We’re working on so many cool innovations that will help us bring this technology to where there is no fog or even few clouds so we can address the climate and water challenges of today,” she says. “What we’re doing really has the power to change the world.”

Katie Callery couldn’t find maternity clothes to wear — now she owns her own brand that constantly sells out.

Katie Callery

By Hailey Eisen

 

When Katie Callery found herself pregnant and unable to find anything nice to wear, she did what many an entrepreneur had done before her — she solved her own problem. Sonday the Label – a Toronto-based company that designs contemporary maternity and nursing wear – was born out of Katie’s frustration with maternity clothing and the desire to do better by expecting and new moms. 

“I’ve always loved fashion and been interested in it as a consumer, and when I started shopping for maternity clothing, I was kind of shocked at how hard it was to find pieces that were stylish, functional and comfortable,” she recalls. 

Katie grew up in a house with two successful business owners as parents. Sonday wasn’t her first foray into the world of entrepreneurship either — it followed a three-year stint running a bed & breakfast in Prince Edward County. 

“I started talking to a lot of pregnant women who, it turns out, felt the same way I did about the maternity category,” Katie says. “I decided that the best solution would be to design a few pieces myself.” 

Katie didn’t know how to design clothing, but that didn’t stop her. It was 2020, she was on mat leave with her son, and the COVID pandemic had hit. The timing was right for Katie to take up a new project — one that would become more successful than she’d ever imagined.

She enrolled in online fashion and sketching courses, and enlisted the support of notable Canadian designer Linda Lundström, who would go on to mentor and consult with her virtually for the better part of that year. “Linda taught me everything about fabric, sourcing, sketching and sizing, and she opened my eyes to how intricate the design process is,” Katie recalls. 

In the Spring of 2021, Katie launched a two-piece collection, a small run that included a functional black v-neck dress and T-shirt, both which could be worn while pregnant and nursing. “I wanted to find out if there was a market for these pieces which were more versatile, thoughtful, chic and affordable,” Katie says. 

Her first run sold out quickly, as did her second. “It was then that I decided to sell my B&B and put everything I had into our first collection.”

“I had always wanted to see if I could do something on my own, so I decided to look into programs that would help support that dream.”

Katie credits her success with Sonday in part to the experience and access to expertise she gained while completing the Master of Management Innovation & Entrepreneurship (MMIE) program at Smith School of Business. 

She’d been working in marketing for nearly a decade when she felt what she describes as an ‘itch’ to go out on her own and start a business. That was 2016. “I had always wanted to see if I could do something on my own, so I decided to look into programs that would help support that dream.” 

The MMIE program at Smith was only a few years old at the time and proved to be exactly what Katie was looking for. She describes it as a crash course in everything from finance, to marketing, to operations, with a focus on corporate innovation and entrepreneurship. “I left my job with BMO and moved to Kingston to start the program,” she explains. “It was such a great year in so many ways.” 

Upon graduation, Katie went to work for a fintech start-up, gaining experience in grassroots marketing and working closely with the company’s founder. “I was taking everything I learned at Queen’s and applying it, but I still had that bug,” she recalls. 

In the MMIE program Katie says she was exposed to many entrepreneurs, most of them  Queen’s alumni of varied degrees that went on to start their own businesses. “Many of those entrepreneurs have become my network…through their stories, I came to believe that this could be done.”  

Katie became familiar with Prince Edward County during her time travelling between Toronto and Kingston for the one-year program. So, when she came across an old property for sale, she decided to take her first stab at entrepreneurship. “It was 2017 and I spent the summer renovating that property with help from friends and my folks,” she says. “We were busy from the get-go, and I also found it really interesting navigating the regulatory side of things. I got really involved in the County.” 

When she became pregnant in 2019, she recalls needing clothes that would allow her to attend meetings feeling both comfortable and confident. She was excited to go shopping for maternity clothes, but what she found were outdated styles, ill-fitting pieces and busy patterns. And the items she did find that were trendy and chic were quite expensive. The idea to launch a venture focused on re-imagining maternity and nursing wear began to percolate.  

“We are a Toronto-based, Canadian-made, female-founded company, and we continue to listen to women and moms and make decisions based on their needs and wants.” 

The name of the business came to Katie a few months prior to the arrival of her son, Sam, who was due on a Sunday. “Sunday is a nostalgic day from my childhood. It was always family day, we’d go for breakfast and long drives, and with my son being due on a Sunday, the name just came together.” 

Her clothing line is still quite small, extremely versatile, and true to Katie’s commitment of being priced as reasonably as possible. “We are a Toronto-based, Canadian-made, female-founded company, and we continue to listen to women and moms and make decisions based on their needs and wants.” 

The Sonday line is manufactured at a sister-owned studio in Scarborough and all of the fabric comes from a supplier in Vancouver. “Pricing has been one of my most interesting challenges given the price of fabric has gone up three times since last August,” Katie says. That being said, she’s committed to supporting local production and jobs and is willing to pay a little more to continue doing so. “It’s a constant balance.” 

Only a few new pieces are put out each season and Katie is intentional when choosing what to design next. “We aren’t trying to be at the forefront of trends. We want to create pieces that work for women now and extend for the long-haul, that they can wear through multiple pregnancies and after as well.” 

And when Katie isn’t sure what direction to take with a design, she taps into her community. “In designing a sweater for the winter, I wasn’t sure if we should do a crew neck or a cardigan, but hands down the cardigan was people’s favourite, so that’s what we are going with. The response we’ve had has been beyond incredible.” 

Most recently, Sonday signed on with two Toronto retailers. “Carry Maternity in Yorkville just started selling the Sonday line a few weeks ago, and already they’ve re-ordered more items,” she says. “The mother-daughter duo who run the store told me that they have women fly in to shop with them from the east coast of Canada and as far as Bermuda, all because they simply don’t have maternity options where they live. That just shows how hard it really is to find good pieces when you’re pregnant.” 

“Whether you’re going to work for yourself or just make a huge career leap, it’s a big personal decision, and while many people will step up to offer advice, you really need to take time with yourself in order to really go with your gut.”

While she says she was nervous making the pivot into fashion, and at times felt a bit like an imposter, Katie is feeling more and more comfortable and confident in her brand. “Honestly, becoming a mother is such a beautiful but difficult challenge, but it gave me a lot of confidence as well.”

For now, Katie is doing almost all of the work for Sonday on her own: packing orders, designing, marketing and sales, with help from one part-time virtual marketing assistant. Her girlfriends are her models for photoshoots, her family has been wildly supportive, and she still relies on the network she formed at Queen’s for advice and inspiration, as well as access to pitch competitions and funding opportunities. 

“Whether you’re going to work for yourself or just make a huge career leap, it’s a big personal decision, and while many people will step up to offer advice, you really need to take time with yourself in order to really go with your gut.”

For Katie, the decision was quite obviously the right one, and she’s very excited to see what’s next. “In many ways, the pandemic was the perfect storm for change; it really shook things up and allowed for flexibility in new ways,” she says. “I’ve been in my basement for the past two years, and now coming out into stores and seeing the confidence others have in what we’re doing, that’s been a lovely and welcome surprise.”

Andrea Casciato embraced change throughout her career — now she’s the Head of Digital Investing with BMO.

By Sarah Kelsey

 

“I always say I feel like I grew up at BMO,” Andrea Casciato, Head of Digital Investing, BMO InvestorLine, recounts. “I’ve been a customer since I can remember and used to get my mom to grab extra withdrawal slips whenever we did a withdrawal or deposit so I could play banker in our basement.”

Today, Andrea helms the team that helps clients reach their financial investment goals with online investing options. BMO InvestorLine is ranked in the top three in the Globe and Mail’s 2022 Digital Broker Ranking, and since March 2020, online investing has seen a significant growth.

“I joined the Customer Contact Centre as Head of Wealth, right as we were entering the pandemic — a time when we experienced a massive demand for digital investment services. This meant placing a huge focus on driving our Digital First agenda forward, to deliver speed and scale to drive progress for our customers and unlock the power of our people,” Andrea says. She worked with her managers to prioritize tasks and respond to business needs and pulled on many of the skills she learned over her career at BMO to connect with staff. 

“I doubled my empathy to understand how my team was really doing. I’d tell them to forget about work and ask how they were and how their family was. I was concerned about everyone’s mental health because at the very beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty.”

Looking back, she says the way she and her team navigated the increase in business and personal stress is a testament to the way BMO trains its leaders and cultivates a culture of support and growth. 

“It can seem super daunting when you make a major change or try something new. Be open and say, ‘I want to know more.’ It’s empowering and it’s how I’ve gotten to where I am today.”

Andrea’s time with BMO began in university when she took an internship at a branch as a stop-gap to “figuring out what she wanted to do.” She eventually took an interest in Human Resources, and did what she encourages every woman to do when they want to try something new: “I remained curious and asked questions like, ‘How do I get your job? What do I need to do?’ I literally asked for what I wanted. Then I had a roadmap of what I needed to demonstrate to get to where I wanted to go.”

The questions also showed leadership that she wanted to evolve her career within the organization. After having her son, she decided she wanted to move from HR into business leadership roles and realized that to do that, she needed an executive MBA — something BMO went on to sponsor. 

“You never think you’re going to end up at one company, and I’ve ended up with 10 careers in one place. Why would I go anywhere else?” she says. “It can seem super daunting when you make a major change or try something new. Be open and say, ‘I want to know more.’ It’s empowering and it’s how I’ve gotten to where I am today.”

In a society that still operates with biases and glass ceilings, many women doubt themselves or question their potential. Andrea adds that this leads to too many women counting themselves out for roles or opportunities before someone has said they’re not a fit — “but they can’t let doubt or fear hold them back.” Her advice rings true for those who are hesitant to dip their toes into the world of investing, too.

“Now is the time to learn about managing your investments and plan ahead.” 

“Taking charge of your finances can be an uncomfortable thing to do and discuss but, for women, at some point you will be managing your own money. If you’re not single now, you are likely going to be at some point in your life,” she says. “Fifty percent of you will get divorced or you will outlive your spouse. Now is the time to learn about managing your investments and plan ahead.” 

Her advice? Take the first step and open an online investment account with an amount of money you’re comfortable experimenting with. Once you overcome the initial fear, companies like BMO have programs that can help teach you the ins and outs of investing. Depending on where you’re at in your investment journey, Andrea mentions that there are a number of valuable services available through BMO to help you manage your funds, including a suite of commission-free ETFs (exchange-traded funds) available through the BMO InvestorLine platform.

InvestorLine Self-Directed is the perfect digital tool for those who want to invest in stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds on their own,” says Andrea. “If you’re not quite ready to jump right in, adviceDirect is a hybrid platform that provides digital advice for your trades, with the assistance of a human advisor, and SmartFolio is all about hands-off digital investing where BMO does all of the heavy lifting.” 

Andrea takes advantage of these programs herself, specifically adviceDirect, saying she now loves learning more about her investments, but has help from an advisor because despite playing banker as a kid, she didn’t intend to go into finance.

In the end, she says it’s all about taking the first step. “While it’s the hardest thing to do, whether it’s in your career or banking, the payoff is always worth the initial legwork.”

 

Self-Direct and adviceDirect are products of BMO InvestorLine. BMO InvestorLine Inc. is a member of BMO Financial Group. ®Registered trade-mark of Bank of Montreal, used under licence. BMO InvestorLine Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of Montreal. Member – Canadian Investor Protection Fund and Member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. BMO InvestorLine Inc. is a member of BMO Financial Group. ®Registered trade-mark of Bank of Montreal, used under licence. BMO InvestorLine Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of Montreal. Member – Canadian Investor Protection Fund and Member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.
An adviceDirect account is a non-discretionary, fee based account which offers investment recommendations. adviceDirect does not provide portfolio management by a portfolio manager. The client makes their own investment decisions and manages their own investment portfolio. adviceDirect does not offer discretionary, managed accounts.
BMO SmartFolio is a product of BMO Nesbitt Burns. A BMO SmartFolio account is a discretionary fee based account which offers Digital Portfolio Management service. BMO SmartFolio matches clients to a managed ETF portfolio that aligns to their investment objectives.
“BMO (M-design)”, “BMO” and “BMO (M-design) Wealth Management” are registered trademarks of Bank of Montreal, used under license. “Nesbitt Burns” and “SmartFolio” are trademarks of BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. and BMO InvestorLine are wholly owned subsidiaries of Bank of Montreal.

Meigan Terry believes in purpose-led work — here’s how she’s leading Scotiabank’s major social impact programs.

Meigan Terry

By Sarah Kelsey

 

“Every person needs to have a purpose,” Meigan Terry, the SVP and Chief Sustainability, Social Impact and Communications Officer at Scotiabank, says. “I’ve been able to realize mine in part by working with companies that are committed to doing good for the communities that they serve.”

Meigan says she discovered her desire to affect change at an early age through participation in student government. The experiences taught her confidence to use her voice and helped her uncover key issues she was passionate about. She also learned how to stay calm under pressure, weave a storyline to encourage engagement among followers, and communicate effectively. 

These are skills she now leverages every day in her role at Scotiabank. 

“My team plays a key role in that we align a multitude of stakeholders, inside and outside the Bank, to create positive outcomes for the communities that we live and work in. When we do our jobs well, that work helps to build pride in our employees while also making our customers feel proud that they bank with Scotiabank,” Meigan says. 

Upon joining the team in 2018, her first task was to solidify the organization’s purpose. The result was a singular focus that now acts as a “red thread” for the 190-year-old institution: for every future. “It works for the Bank on many levels. Collectively, we’re here to enable every future. We also need to be ready for every future, including pandemics, climate change and so much more. But on an employee level, it can be bespoke and personal to every Scotiabanker depending on the individual contribution you make every day for the Bank.”

From there, she played a leadership role in launching three of the company’s social impact programs: ScotiaRISE, Allyship, and the Bank’s Sustainability program.

“We live in a country that is welcoming, supportive, and so multicultural, but not all systems are set up to help all people thrive.”

ScotiaRISE is a 10-year, $500 million initiative to promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups so they can actively and successfully take part in the economy. 

“We live in a country that is welcoming, supportive, and so multicultural, but not all systems are set up to help all people thrive,” Meigan says. “Communities face systemic challenges not just in Canada, but across Scotiabank’s footprint, and our ScotiaRISE initiative is designed to help remove these barriers and provide disadvantaged groups the support they need to participate fully in society and the economy. It works to open up opportunities and to help more people realize their potential across all the communities in which we operate.”

The Bank’s commitment to Allyship was developed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the discovery of unmarked graves surrounding residential schools in Canada.

“We realized there was more to do to build employees’ understanding of the role they can play as allies and to ensure that all equity-deserving groups feel included at Scotiabank. We established a framework to ground our inclusion efforts: Listen, Educate, Act and Sustain, and a deliberate focus on enhancing our capabilities as allies,” Meigan says. 

Working with many partners across the Bank, Meigan’s team built the Allyship program with the help of experts from the Centre for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at New York University and hosted an Allyship Summit for Change in January for 90,000 Scotiabank employees. Following the Summit, the team focused the Bank’s annual calendar of inclusion events on enabling employees to become better allies year-round. 

“Everyone can be an ally and everyone can benefit from allyship. That’s part of why our commitment to allyship works — it’s inclusive and supportive and a program that brings our winning teams together at their highest levels to advance our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. “We have to listen, get educated, and ask questions, so we can show up for one another in meaningful ways.”

Finally, Meigan and her team worked with partners across the bank to deliver Scotiabank’s Sustainability program. Addressing and mitigating the risks associated with climate change is the most important and pressing challenge for future generations but, she acknowledges, it can’t be done by one person, one company, or one government. It requires collaboration. Not only is Scotiabank committed to mobilizing $350 billion in climate-related capital by 2030, the Bank’s leaders also now work to ensure the business and their initiatives — from the clients they take on to the output within their buildings — will transition to net zero emissions. “Businesses can show up in a way that mitigates climate risk. We have to work together for everyone’s future.”

“There is an opportunity to make your own positive impact in everything you do, whether that’s in student government, parent council, or by volunteering for a committee at work.”

Prior to Scotiabank, Meigan’s dedication to purpose — ensuring others find theirs, living hers, and bringing it to an organization — made her a sought-after leader on an international level. She began her career as a director at Hill & Knowlton in London, UK, then moved to BlackBerry where she held marketing, communications, and corporate affairs roles across Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. She also worked alongside Sir Richard Branson as the Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications at Virgin Atlantic Airways. 

Throughout her extraordinary career, Meigan says there are a few guiding principles that have helped her achieve success, both personally and professionally. 

“Look for the opportunity to make your own impact in every new task and challenge, and avoid being a skeptic by default. There is an opportunity to make your own positive impact in everything you do, whether that’s in student government, parent council, or by volunteering for a committee at work. People should never let fear hold them back. Fail fast and fail early. You’re only going to grow and learn so much.” 

The second is to believe in and support the success of others as though it is your own. “Nothing happens in silos,” Meigan notes. “Be an ally for someone else’s success and take people along with you in your own success. We don’t live in a zero-sum world and there is always more opportunity when we align together than we first realize alone.”

Finally, “be right at the end of the meeting, not the beginning,” she advises. “When it comes to partnership and collaboration, going in with an open mind is absolutely essential. If you use all of your energy to advocate for your own viewpoint without actively listening to those around you, you will miss out on key learnings and opportunities to do things bigger and better.”

And of course, “start with your purpose — it will be your guidepost for your big decisions and a powerful gauge for impact and accomplishments. That’s where you will make your mark.”

Elbia Castillo made her voice heard in finance — and is helping women and LGBTQ+ employees do the same.

Elbia Castillo

By Hailey Eisen

 

The story Elbia Castillo shares about the start of her career is almost too good to be true. In the mid 1990s, Elbia graduated with a degree in Economics from the University of Lima in Peru. At the time, she says, people of her generation in her country didn’t have a lot of choice when it came to career opportunities. “If an opportunity appeared, you’d take it,” she recalls. 

So, at 21 years old, armed with a lot of passion and big dreams, Elbia accepted a job on the stock market trading floor with Scotiabank Peru. “There I was, working in the stock exchange with 100 other people, 95 of whom were men. They didn’t even have a women’s washroom, but that’s a story for another time.” 

After the first week, Elbia had hardly closed any transactions, and realized that if something didn’t change she would lose her job very quickly. The issue — quite literally — was her inability to be heard. “The volume of my voice was the problem,” she says. “To close transactions, you had to be very loud.” 

Her father provided some wise advice, which in many ways set the stage for the rest of her career. “Translated roughly from Spanish, he said: ‘You’re a smart woman, you have a lot of dreams — you need to present yourself in a way that they’ll hear you.’ ” 

The next day, Elbia appeared in the stock exchange with a chair, climbed up onto it, and made them notice her. “I only needed that chair for a few days, and after that I started completing transactions, and shortly after, I became one of the best traders in the country.” By 24, she had become Head Trader of a Brokerage House.

“Often all that people need is an opportunity, and they are going to shine.”

To this day, Elbia leverages this example when she’s talking about the experience women and LGBT+ people often have when trying to advance their careers. “Often all that people need is an opportunity, and they are going to shine,” she says. For years, Elbia has been committed to helping  make those opportunities a reality. 

Until 2008, Elbia stayed in trading. When her third child was born and required special medical attention, Scotiabank offered her a one-year maternity leave. This was not the norm at the time in Peru and she felt very grateful for the time off to focus on her family. Through it all, Elbia says the most important thing to her has always been her kids. “My three kids, now teenagers, are my main achievement — they’re my everything.” Looking back, she feels very fortunate to have had leaders and an institution that provided a great deal of support, making it possible for her to do the work she loved while caring for her family at the same time. 

Upon returning to work, Elbia stepped into a new role and a new area within the bank, focusing on Internal Audits. Over the years, she continued to thrive in her career, holding a number of management positions; she loved the opportunity for learning and growth that it provided.

Most recently, Elbia and her family (her three teenagers, her husband, her mother, and their dog) left Peru for Mexico City so that Elbia could take on the position of SVP, Internal Controls & Information Security & Data Officer with Scotiabank Mexico. It was a big decision and a big move — one that they spent a lot of time thinking through. But in the end, Elbia says it was a great opportunity for all of them. 

“I’ve always been a learner, there’s just too much to learn — I can’t stop.”

Over the past 25 years, as Elbia’s career has evolved, she’s continuously made education a priority.  “I’ve always been a learner, there’s just too much to learn I can’t stop,” she says, explaining that at any given time, she has a book in her purse and one in her car, and has often set a goal to read at least 50 books in a year. 

At a quick glance, Elbia’s LinkedIn profile confirms her commitment to learning, revealing more than 20 lines of educational experiences. Some of these credentials include an MBA from ESAN in Peru, a CRM (Certified Risk Manager) accreditation from the International Institute of Professional Education and Research (IIPER), and programs in Ethical Leadership from Harvard University, Leadership from Duke University, and Leadership for Women from Columbia University. She has also completed postgraduate studies in neurosciences with a focus on leadership, communications, and learning, and is currently studying psychotherapy. 

Everything Elbia learns through her studies, she finds ways to incorporate into her work and leadership. Most recently, these studies have influenced and guided her commitment to diversity and inclusion — an area that’s extremely important to her professionally and personally. 

As Chair of Scotiabank’s Corporate Inclusion Committee for the past six years, Elbia says she’s put the topic of DEI on the table, not only for the financial industry in Peru, but across industries as well. “The day we have equal rights and equal access, will be the day we don’t have to talk about this anymore and that will be a much better world,” she says. “Until then, we have to talk about it, and train our people, and continue to do the work.”

Along with four other companies, Elbia and Scotiabank were at the forefront of founding Pride Connections, a network of organizations that promote inclusive work environments for the LGBT+ community in Peru, creating connections and fostering respect. 

“From the Bank’s perspective, our customers are at the centre of everything we do, and we must reflect the diversity of our customers within the bank and in our practices and services.” Sponsoring Scotiabank’s award-winning campaign Bienvenidos todos (Welcome All) was an important part of Elbia’s focus on inclusion. 

Inclusion, according to Elbia, is knowing and understanding that everyone is not the same nor should they be. In order to achieve real change, an organization must provide extensive training in DEI, examine unconscious biases, and change the promotion process to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity. “Scotiabank has for sure influenced a lot of othe companies in this region, and we continue to share much of what we are doing to influence change.” 

“When amazing women achieve big roles and positions, they change the world for the better. Women need to ask for what they want, they need to raise their voices, and they need to make themselves heard.” 

Elbia has also committed to the advancement of women within the organization through her work on Empowering Women, a program designed to increase the representation of women in senior positions through listening sessions, webinars, and networking. 

To bring this program to life, she drew upon her experience in the Women in Leadership program she participated in at Columbia University in New York. “I was the only woman from Latin America in this course,” Elbia recalls. “And when I arrived back in Peru, I turned to my advisors, my two daughters, and I asked them, why do you think girls and women are not achieving their goals in this country? And, they said to me that the first issue is that women aren’t often being heard and the second is they don’t have the networks or connections needed to get ahead.” 

Armed with this information and everything she’d studied in her course, Elbia helped launch the program, which began to alleviate some of these barriers for women. “More than 300 women took this course in Peru, and now it’s available in different countries where Scotiabank operates. I’m extremely proud of the impact it’s having.” 

In mentoring other women, Elbia finds true joy — during her career she says she’s personally mentored around 200 talented professionals. “I’m so lucky to have mentored so many women who inspire me to be a better person, to contribute to my community, and to lead with happiness on a daily basis,” she says. To all women, she offers this advice: “Anything is possible, you have to believe that. When amazing women achieve big roles and positions, they change the world for the better. Women need to ask for what they want, they need to raise their voices, and they need to make themselves heard.” 

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

Jennifer Reynolds

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Isidean

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotiabank’s Global Chief Marketing Officer believes in using marketing as a force for good.

Laura Curtis Ferrera

By Hailey Eisen

 

In late 2014, Laura Curtis Ferrera picked up the phone and made a cold call to Scotiabank.

Having had a rich and dynamic strategic marketing career with wealth management brands, Laura says she was eager to work with an international bank and was impressed with how Scotiabank interacted with Canadians and its customers.

“I had always thought the bank was optimistic, approachable, friendly, confident, and knowledgeable when interacting with its customers,” she says. “That’s what brought me to the bank and has kept me here ever since.”

Her cold call worked, and in February 2015, Laura was hired by Scotiabank into the role of SVP, Marketing. Her first job was to help launch the Scotia Wealth Management brand, which represented several of the bank’s wealth management businesses.

“When I came to the bank, I came in as a specialist in wealth management and asset management marketing. So even though I knew my craft and I had industry experience, the bank was exciting and new, and it was also mildly terrifying,” Laura says. “In my background, I have worked at start ups, family-owned businesses as well as large global companies. But coming to one of the largest banks and largest companies in Canada was a whole new challenge — operating in multiple cultures, in multiple languages, in multiple offices with a matrixed structure was largely new to me.”

Laura went on to add Global Business Banking and Canadian Retail Marketing to her repertoire prior to September 2020 when, in a significant career milestone, Laura was named Scotiabank’s Global Chief Marketing Officer. 

“When you ask what the highlight of my career has been, I have to say I’m living it right now,” Laura says. “To come to work every day and be the steward of the bank’s brand — that’s my bliss.”

“There’s now an enormous obligation for us as marketers to show up as a force for good.”

With a huge emphasis on not only marketing for growth but also marketing for good, Laura says she feels proud of the work she’s doing and the team she’s leading. Under Laura’s leadership, the marketing team at Scotiabank is focusing on advancing the bank’s global brand to be an inclusive ‘Bank of Choice’ — through everything from advertisements to partnerships. 

What’s changed the most over the past seven years, Laura says, is the focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Not only internally — “we must walk the talk,” she says — but also in all aspects of marketing. 

“There’s now an enormous obligation for us as marketers to show up as a force for good,” she says. “Our focus is how we can help communities and society at large by ensuring we remove racial and gender stereotypes and biases and represent all Canadians in an authentic way. For us, it’s about using the power of our dollar to do things that are not just going to be promotional in nature, but actually helpful for the communities we serve.”

An example of one such program which Laura was instrumental in launching — and means a lot to her personally — is Hockey for All. A sponsorship and partnership program, Hockey for All aims to make “Canada’s game” more diverse, inclusive, and accessible to everyone, breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of true inclusion and diversity.

“What makes me especially proud is that it is a platform for consistent change with programming and funding and partnerships versus a campaign that merely highlights the problem,” Laura says. “I love that we are part of the solution in a long-term way. I believe that as marketers and bankers, it is our obligation to use our positions to be a force for good in society. And with Hockey for All and its Latin American equivalent, Everyone on the Field, I think we have accomplished something so special.”

The program involves everything from supporting and partnering with grassroots initiatives, funding community hockey leagues, mentoring young girls interested in hockey and supporting the Hockey Canada Foundation Assist Fund which makes the sport more accessible to Black and Indigenous youth and young People of Colour. 

“I wanted to eliminate the assumption that banks weren’t being good partners to women entrepreneurs.”  

Laura has also had the opportunity to work on the launch and roll out of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, which breaks down barriers to increase economic and professional opportunities for women now, and in the future. “One insight I had always found very troubling was that women were not going to banks when they needed to borrow money for new ventures — likely because they assumed they’d be turned down, even if that wasn’t the case,” Laura says. “I wanted to eliminate the assumption that banks weren’t being good partners to women entrepreneurs.”  

Through the program, Scotiabank has been able to create a community with outreach, mentorship, education, and funding — breaking down the problems women traditionally face and creating a program that solves for each of them.

From small business owners, to women running established companies, to executives looking to get onto boards, to those in receipt of large wealth transfers, Laura says the program hasn’t stayed in one lane, but rather works to respond to a variety of client needs.

“I love that the program has changed dramatically over the past few years and we keep adding to it,” she says. “This type of program makes me feel like I really have a purpose and value in the work I’m doing.”

Through Laura’s leadership, Scotiabank has also committed to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) #SheHer mission which aims to increase accurate portrayals of women and girls in the media. The group developed the Gender Equality Measure (GEM) to track progress and the marketing effect of removing unconscious bias from content. Scotiabank is also a member of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, a cross-industry initiative established by the World Federation of Advertisers to address the challenge of harmful content on digital media platforms and its monetization via advertising.

“I feel like I have a huge obligation to help communities be better off. And that goes beyond reflecting where we’re at now as a society. I don’t see why we can’t reflect the society we want to live in — the world we’d like to see.”

“As a bank, we are very critical of ourselves and our commitment to move beyond stereotypes in all of our marketing efforts when it comes to gender and race,” Laura says. “I feel like I have a huge obligation to help communities be better off. And that goes beyond reflecting where we’re at now as a society. I don’t see why we can’t reflect the society we want to live in — the world we’d like to see.”

One of the earliest lessons Laura learned after joining Scotiabank was, “in order to thrive in a large organization, you must find your people who make the large feel small,” she says. During the last few years of the pandemic, she says what she missed most was the camaraderie of these natural interactions. In fact, she believes the obstacles she faced during COVID were, in many ways, the most challenging of her career. Looking back, Laura says she’s learned a lot about herself as an individual and a leader. 

“I’ve come to the realization that I’m an extrovert, and while I used to think of myself as more of an introvert, I truly get joy from working with my marketing peers and partners,” she says. Finding this joy while working from home was actually harder for Laura than she expected it to be.

“My team was highly productive during the pandemic and they transitioned really well to working from home — but I’m not sure I did such a good job of it.”

In better understanding herself, Laura was able to make some changes and open some doors that may not have otherwise been opened.  “I’ve actually decided to go back to school — both as a student and as a teacher,” she says. As a student, she’s joining CMO’s from around the world for a 12-week Leadership Program through the Institute for Real Growth, and as a teacher, she’s been providing guest lectures for MBA schools across Canada on ‘metrics that matter.’ “Both of these came from the realization that I needed to do something to spark my curiosity and creativity,” she says. 

Beyond work, Laura has always followed her passion and committed time to causes and organizations that matter to her. She was a former director, and now a board member, of Hot Docs,  and currently volunteers with the Children’s Aid Foundation. As a mentor, she’s worked with Next Canada — completing what she refers to as “the triangle” of being a teacher, a student, and a mentor. A network of academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and founders, Next Canada has allowed Laura the opportunity to work with young entrepreneurs providing insight and support. “It feeds my soul,” she says.

Looking back, she says there was a time in her career when she felt selfish for wanting to be a marketer. “I envied those people in careers that were in service to others,” Laura recalls. “But, at this point in my career, I realize I can be a marketer and make a difference. It doesn’t have to be so binary, and I feel truly honoured and proud to be part of projects that continue to have real and lasting impacts.”

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

Jill Nykoliation

By Chris Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerful signal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlocking potential

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

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

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

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

Jill Nykoliation

A Queen’s family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tall grass

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

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

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

How Jackie Wang built a career in procurement that’s helping her challenge bias in supplier selection.

Jackie Wang

By Hailey Eisen

 

When Jackie Wang was 19, her father encouraged her to leave China and move to the United States for college — something that was far less common in the early 1990s than it is today. In order to get a visa to study in the US, Jackie had to secure a full scholarship, which she managed to do at a small college in Boston. 

As she was deciding if she had the courage to leave home, her father offered some sage advice: “If you choose to stay, what is in front of you is your world; but if you choose to leave, the world will be in front of you.” 

With that in mind, Jackie packed up two suitcases and took a leap. She’s been taking risks and making big moves ever since. 

After one semester at school in Boston, Jackie realized that she’d need to make a transfer in order to get the education and exposure required to secure a job in the US upon graduation. She got a partial scholarship to a more well-known school, the University of Houston, and then made a final transfer to complete her degree in Consumer Economics and Policy Management at Cornell University. 

From there, Jackie went on to work for Procter & Gamble (P&G), the Coca-Cola Company, and Rio Tinto — living in Ohio, Germany, Switzerland, Atlanta, Utah, and Montreal. In 2018, she moved to Toronto for a job with Scotiabank. In her role as Senior Vice-President & Chief Procurement Officer, she has been championing an overhaul of the Scotiabank procurement process to be more effective and inclusive — increasing diversity, and tackling bias.

“The higher up you are, the less it is about functional skills and the more it’s about people skills.” 

As a leader, Jackie is working on developing and nurturing soft skills — the skills that she believes real success comes from. “The higher up you are, the less it is about functional skills and the more it’s about people skills,” she says. “How you listen, communicate, build and manage relationships, resolve conflicts — all of these are critical for career success.” 

But she wasn’t always this confident in herself or where her career would lead her. Looking back, Jackie says none of her many pivotal career and life milestones were planned. Each one came about almost by chance — coupled with a lot of hard work — and led to the right experiences and opportunities to propel her forward.  

Her first job was the hardest to come by. “As an international student, options for work were limited. I was introverted, lacked confidence, and was competing with an outstanding group of Ivy League classmates,” she recalls. “I didn’t fit the profile of a consultant — so that wasn’t an option.”

Jackie’s boyfriend at the time (now her husband) had interned at P&G as an engineer the summer prior to her graduation, and he’d loved the work and culture. There were two jobs with P&G that Jackie applied to, one in sales and one in procurement. 

“I knew nothing about procurement, but it was the first job I was offered, and so I accepted it.” Little did she know that this decision would lead to a rich and diverse career in the field. At the time, she was glad to have a job.  

“While I prayed that my assignment would be in marketing procurement, the job P&G offered me was in chemical procurement,” explains Jackie. “As an economics major who chose to go into arts instead of sciences because of my inability to excel at chemistry and physics, suddenly I was in charge of buying chemicals for billion-dollar brands.” 

“As an economics major who chose to go into arts instead of sciences because of my inability to excel at chemistry and physics, suddenly I was in charge of buying chemicals for billion-dollar brands.”

The learning curve was huge, but turned out to be exactly what Jackie needed. “There could not have been a better category to learn about strategic sourcing than chemicals, which was a dynamic and challenging market with dominant suppliers and complex supply chains. It was also a white male-dominated industry — which posed many challenges and taught me a lot.” 

It also prepared her for the work that was to come. Today, with a focus on unconscious bias and diversity, she draws upon those early experiences, and others she’s had throughout her career as a Chinese woman and a new American — often the only one at the table. 

For 14 years Jackie worked for P&G and honed her skills to become a strategic sourcing professional. From chemical procurement she moved into the team that launched the Swiffer brand, and had two international assignments in Europe which helped provide a more diverse perspective and leadership style. 

A few years in, Jackie was asked to take on the role of Global Fabric and Home Care Supplier Diversity Manager. When her VP approached her with the position, she already had a full-time role, and he asked her to take this one on as well. “It was essentially two full time positions, but I didn’t know how to say no, so I said yes,” she recalls. “In two years I doubled our chemical supplier diversity spend and received many awards.”

Her success in that double assignment, Jackie says, led to her advancement into a director role, just six years after graduating from college. In 2012, Jackie made another big move to join the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, and after a few years in this role, she joined the global mining company, Rio Tinto where she stayed until she was recruited to join Scotiabank. “While I loved the challenges and opportunities afforded to me in that last job, I was struggling with the company culture. When I was approached about leading Scotiabank’s global procurement services, I was excited.”

Jackie is now accountable for the bank’s worldwide acquisition of externally purchased products and services, with a focus on enterprise-wide strategic sourcing, expense reduction, category management, supplier management, and third-party operational risk management. 

“Each and every one of us has a role to play in being a steward of the environment and the community we live in. Procurement can impact environmental stewardship, social inclusivity, and governance.”

One of her key focuses has been to re-engineer the procurement process and approach by developing a best-in-class responsible procurement program. “Responsible procurement ensures that the products and services we buy have the lowest environmental impact and the most positive social results,” she says. 

This is something that’s very important to Jackie. 

“Each and every one of us has a role to play in being a steward of the environment and the community we live in,” she says. “Procurement can impact environmental stewardship, social inclusivity, and governance.” 

In fall 2021, Scotiabank launched a new Supplier Diversity Program under Jackie’s leadership. In the three years prior, her team assessed the Bank’s procurement spending to inform the development of the program which helped the Bank to better understand its business relationships with companies owned and led by Indigenous Peoples, members of the LGBT+ community, People of Colour, and women, which in turn enabled it to identify potential suppliers for inclusion in future sourcing initiatives. 

As a result of these assessments, the Bank has designed its Supplier Diversity Program to improve access to procurement opportunities by addressing sourcing, partnerships, outreach, monitoring, and metrics for diverse suppliers. That includes engaging with potential diverse suppliers to build a database in order to introduce them to procurement initiatives where possible. Importantly, the Scotiabank supplier management program enables suppliers to not only get a foot in the door, but continue to develop and partner with Scotiabank to achieve long term sustainable successes.  

“Look around at the country we’re living in,” she continues. “This is the most diverse country I’ve lived in and the most diverse environment I’ve worked in. If our business practices don’t reflect the customers we serve, they’ll leave us. Who wants to do business with an organization that doesn’t support and reflect their community?” 

It’s an exciting time for Jackie to be focusing on something she’s so passionate about. She approaches her work with a focus on unconscious bias, something that’s been top of mind for years. 

“It’s a behaviour change, above all else,” she explains. “When evaluating a supplier, don’t just look at how established they are, when evaluating an individual don’t judge them only by their experience — read the potential. Don’t always look for familiarities or information and data that supports your prior beliefs — always consider the other side, or the other opinion, and ask yourself, ‘what if.’” 

 

How the President & CEO of Scotiabank Jamaica is supporting women — from employees to entrepreneurs.

Audrey Tugwell Henry

By Hailey Eisen

 

“Sometimes as a woman, you are seen, but your voice is not heard.” This experience, Audrey Tugwell Henry says, is not unique to her, but it’s something she’s had to contend with working in banking in Jamaica for most of her career. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the minority as a banking executive — but I’ve never been concerned or daunted by that. I focus on the task at hand and press towards achieving my goals. I make my voice heard,” she says.  

Audrey came to her career in an unusual way. Starting out as a teacher of English literature and Phys-Ed in Montego Bay, Audrey loved working with young people, helping them focus on the results and outcomes of their hard work and physical activity. She likely would have remained a teacher if it hadn’t been so hard to find full-time work. 

When her contract was coming to an end and the local school didn’t have any other teaching positions available, Audrey says her friend directed her toward a bank in town that was looking for a teller. “I assumed I would work in the bank until another teaching position came available. It was more of a chance than a calculated decision — but once I started the job, I knew it was where I wanted to be.”   

Fast forward 34 years, and Audrey is now President & CEO of Scotia Group Jamaica Limited, and Senior Vice President of Caribbean North & Central. She’s responsible for the growth and profitable development of corporate, commercial and retail banking, insurance, and wealth management through a network of branches and subsidiary companies across Jamaica, as well as the North and Central Caribbean islands.

Most recently, Audrey and her team brought The Scotiabank Women Initiative (SWI) into Jamaica, supporting small business and commercial women clients.  

In Jamaica, the program is aimed at advancing women-led and women-owned businesses. The three-pronged program includes access to capital (Scotia has committed to $3B Jamaican Dollars in funding over a three-year period), bespoke education, and advisory services and mentorship. SWI is expected to have a big impact on the island’s business ecosystem — the small business and commercial SWI program in Canada has already helped close to 7,000 participants to grow their business, further develop their business acumen, and hone their leadership skills. 

“In the early days of my career, I had people — especially other women — support my professional growth and take chances on me. I was fortunate to be given opportunities that I raised my hand for, even when I didn’t tick all the boxes.”

“This launch is especially significant because in Jamaica, women are increasingly facing challenges when seeking funding for their businesses,” she says. “Having an initiative focused on women-led and women-run businesses will not just have commercial impact on the businesses themselves but will also translate to creating and strengthening women who will have a broader impact and can be part of decision making at various levels.” 

For Audrey, education and mentorship have both been essential parts of her career advancement over the years. “In the early days of my career, I had people — especially other women — support my professional growth and take chances on me,” she recalls. “I was fortunate to be given opportunities that I raised my hand for, even when I didn’t tick all the boxes.”

And while her latest promotion to President & CEO felt like a natural transition — Audrey has nearly 20 years of experience at the executive level — it hasn’t always been easy. To get to where she’s at today, Audrey had to make a number of calculated decisions and moves. 

“After working for a year-and-a-half as a bank teller, I realized that I couldn’t move up in the bank the way I wanted to unless I had further education in business,” Audrey recalls. With this in mind, she left Montego Bay for Kingston, where she enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Management degree while continuing to work for the bank.  

Upon graduation, Audrey accepted an 18-month contract with a different financial institution, and her career began to progress. “I landed a position as a teller supervisor, and that’s when I really started to come into my own — to feel confident about what I could achieve,” she recalls. 

Over the next few years, Audrey worked her way up in the banking world, taking on a variety of management and executive roles while also earning her MBA from the Mona School of Business and Management in Kingston. In 2017, she took on a VP role at Scotiabank Jamaica, and has been with the institution ever since. 

Audrey is proud to report that 50 percent of deposit-taking institutions in Jamaica are now run by women, which she says is a significant shift from when she started in the industry. “We are still seeing some gaps in the boardroom, as we aren’t seeing female board chairs or directorship at the level we’d like. But we have come a long way.” For her part, Audrey serves as a director on a number of boards. 

“The bank is seen as an industry outlier in Jamaica, because we have fairly balanced representation on our board and we are currently led by a woman at the executive level.”

With Scotiabank, Audrey says, she’s found an institution that shares her commitment to seeing more women in leadership roles. “The bank is seen as an industry outlier in Jamaica, because we have fairly balanced representation on our board and we are currently led by a woman at the executive level.” In fact, she adds, “at this time, we have more women on our leadership team than men.” 

For Audrey, this is also the first time since she began working in senior leadership positions that she has a woman boss: Anya Schnoor, Executive Vice President of Scotiabank Caribbean, Central America and Uruguay, and executive sponsor of the International SWI expansion. “Anya has been a great mentor, supporter, and champion, and when I raised my hand to bring SWI to Jamaica, she helped us to get that done,” she says. 

Having stepped into the role of country head in January 2021, Audrey found herself at the helm of a major bank in a tourism-dependent country in the middle of a pandemic that greatly impacted travel. “It’s been a very challenging time — both personally and professionally,” she says. “Despite the pandemic, we knew we had to continue creating value for our shareholders, supporting our customers, and ensuring our teams were connected.”

Over the past year, she’s had some great opportunities for learning and growth which have included better appreciating the value of being agile, resilient, and able to pivot. “I learned that we had to remain curious and find new ways to reach and meet our objectives without excuses,” she says. “And I believe we’ve done that very well.”  

Personally, Audrey says meditation has been her saving grace. “In the early days of COVID, I was extremely anxious for personal reasons, and I drew upon my faith and supplemented that with a meditation app to achieve stability.” 

As a mother of three, she says she has great empathy for what families have been going through during the past two years. She believes strongly in the power of government support for women, especially in countries like Jamaica where family support isn’t always available. “I know that childcare is one of the weaknesses of our society, and it’s also one of the drawbacks and challenges many women face as they try to advance their careers.”   

Her ongoing goal is to continue to support women both through mentorship as well as through programs like The Scotiabank Women Initiative. “I will continue to give my attention to the needs of women in this country and do what I can to help support women as they try to advance their careers.”

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

Chloe O’Brien

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her daughter was teased for having a Deaf mom — so she created a business to build inclusive connections.

Andrea Zackary

By Hailey Eisen

 

Andrea Zackary grew up hard of hearing. Born in Jamaica, the Brampton, Ontario-based entrepreneur and mother of five relied on hearing aids and amplifiers for many years of her life. She studied Hotel and Hospitality Management and worked in hotels as a front desk agent. 

At the age of 25, her entire world went silent. 

“I grew up part of the hearing world and my signing skills weren’t great, so finding out my hearing was gone completely was extremely hard,” Andrea recalls. “And then I lost my job.” 

Since she was young and had never had a hard time getting a job before, Andrea assumed she’d find another one. “I didn’t know the challenges I was about to face as a Deaf person looking for work,” she recalls. Having filled out countless resumes and interviewing for many jobs she didn’t get, Andrea says she began putting the pieces together. “No one would hire me.”  

With a young daughter at home and her entire career ahead of her, Andrea knew giving up wasn’t an option. She made what would be her first pivot — going back to school and studying to be a PSW (Personal Support Worker). Upon completion of her studies, she quickly found employment with the Bob Rumball Organization working with Deaf seniors. 

But something was missing. “I realized I wanted to do more for the Deaf community,” Andrea says. “I wasn’t fulfilled in the work I was doing.” 

Around the same time, Andrea’s daughter was being bullied at school. “I was part of the parent council and was involved in my daughter’s school,” Andrea says. “But when the other kids would see us using ASL [American Sign Language] they would give her a hard time on the playground, bullying her for being a CODA [Child Of Deaf Adults].”  

“My daughter needed to know she wasn’t alone. She needed to know there were other kids like her with Deaf parents.”

“My daughter needed to know she wasn’t alone. She needed to know there were other kids like her with Deaf parents.” This was the inspiration Andrea needed. An idea was brewing that would start out as a side hustle offering a solution to a problem she saw in her community, and that would eventually grow into an award-winning business.   

In 2014, it began with an “old-fashioned,” family day event, with games and activities, bouncy castles, and a BBQ — all accessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community and their families. “At the event, Deaf individuals had access to ASL — something that’s not always available to them — and their hearing family members had an opportunity to connect with others in the community,” Andrea recalls.  

Events like this one were so greatly needed in the Deaf community that Andrea’s business took off organically.  Over the next few years, Andrea worked to build out her brand, hosting a variety of different events from farm trips, to paint nights, to summer BBQs, and more. 

Today, Def Events & Beyond Inc. (DEB) has a mandate of building connections between the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Hearing communities within the GTA, through inclusive, family-friendly social events. Andrea’s tagline for the business is Play. Laugh. Socialize. Bringing Diverse Communities Together — and she has successfully managed to bridge a gap between a number of communities. 

In the years since DEB’s inception, Andrea has been featured on CTV News and received a Young Professional of the Year Award, a Brampton Board of Trade Top 40 Under 40 Award, and a Brampton Accessibility in Business Award. Andrea is also featured among 1,000+ other successful, award-winning entrepreneurs in the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub’s See It. Be It. Database.

But none of her success came without challenges and roadblocks. 

With no prior business experience, Andrea decided to seek further education in marketing, business planning, and entrepreneurship in 2016. She enrolled through the Brampton Entrepreneur Centre in a number of free workshops and business seminars. But for Andrea, participation in these courses required access to an ASL interpreter.  

“Most often, the Entrepreneur Centre didn’t have funds to provide me with interpreters, and though I went to the classes, I ended up missing a lot.” Andrea says her peers did offer to take notes, which they shared willingly, but she could have gotten so much more out of the program with the right supports in place.  

Advocating and fighting for accessibility has been on Andrea’s radar ever since. And while she says things are slowly starting to improve, accessibility is still a huge issue for the Deaf community. 

“My dream is to build a Deaf Hub, which would be a multi-purpose space for social events, parties, meetings, and a café, where Deaf folks can meet and work and feel connected.”

With this in mind, her goal for Def Events & Beyond has grown into something much larger than an events business. “My dream is to build a Deaf Hub, which would be a multi-purpose space for social events, parties, meetings, and a café, where Deaf folks can meet and work and feel connected.”

In the meantime, she’s working on figuring out what her event business will look like in a post-pandemic world. As with many in the event space, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a major hurdle for Def Events & Beyond. “COVID came at us full on and other than my relaunch that I hosted in the fall of 2021, I haven’t had any events in two years,” Andrea says. 

She did use the pandemic as an opportunity to work on her business, re-designing her branding materials and re-formatting her business model to include a membership platform. She also co-created a calendar planner with a local Deaf artist and educator, Leah Riddell. “I gave birth to my fifth daughter in January 2020, so in some ways, COVID also gave me the opportunity to take care of my home business,” Andrea says. Over the past two years, she says, the greatest lesson she’s learned is patience. 

In 2020 Andrea also had the opportunity to participate in the Rise Up Pitch Competition for Canadian Black women entrepreneurs, winning in the business service category. “This was such a rich experience for me and also a great experience for Rise Up to learn how important accessibility is,” she says. “I know in the past I’ve been rejected from competitions when I brought up my needs, but they were absolutely ready and willing to accommodate and were nothing but positive throughout the whole experience,” she says. 

To prepare for the pitch, Andrea said she had to spend a great deal of time with her interpreter. “I wanted him to know who I was and what my style was, so that would come across in the presentation,” she says. “The whole thing was such a beautiful experience and I learned so much about myself through the process.” 

First established by the Black Business & Professional Association, CASA Foundation for International Development, and de Sedulous Women Leaders in 2021, the Rise Up Pitch Competition is an opportunity for Black women entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses for the chance to win thousands of dollars in financial awards and resources. The competition not only helps women entrepreneurs participating in the competition, but resulted in Canada’s largest study of Black women entrepreneurs. Rise Up: A Study of 700 Black Women Entrepreneurs, published with research support from the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, found that the overwhelming majority (78.5%) of Black women entrepreneurs stated that access to financing was an issue. It also reinforced previous research suggesting experiences of workplace bias and racism often pushed them to start their own businesses. The report highlighted the need to support Black women entrepreneurs across Canada with general business guidance, mentorship, funding, and staff and team assistance. 

“You truly never know where your journey will go or where it will end. So, the best thing you can do as an entrepreneur is just get started and figure the rest out later.”  

For Andrea, any challenges she faced as a Black woman working to build her own business have been amplified by her disability. “Full disclosure, a lot of the organizations in the Deaf community are run by Deaf white people, so I’ve never fully felt like I fit in,” Andrea says. “I feel like I’ve had to work harder to get those organizations to recognize me, and in all honesty, most of my recognition has been from the hearing community as opposed to the Deaf community.” 

That being said, she’s not afraid to lead the way for others, hoping her trailblazing will have an impact and inspire future entrepreneurs. As such, she’s working as a founding member of Black Deaf Canada, a non-profit organization that she and four other Black Deaf women are working to get off the ground. 

Everything she does, she does in hopes of inspiring her own daughters. They’ve seen her through successes and failures and supported her through it all. Two of her daughters have already started their own small businesses, following in their mother’s footsteps. 

While Def Events & Beyond Inc. is a for-profit business, Andrea remains committed to supporting the International Deaf community, where she says there is often even less support in place. To date she has made donations to Deaf organizations in Jamaica, Haiti, and Guyana. “The more people who come to our events and support our projects, the more chance we have to give back,” she says. 

Giving back, rising up, reaching out, and making a difference — Andrea is committed to the work she’s doing and is excited for what’s to come. “You truly never know where your journey will go or where it will end,” she says. “So, the best thing you can do as an entrepreneur is just get started and figure the rest out later.”

The research proves entrepreneurial stereotypes are negatively affecting women — but progress is possible.

Wendy Cukier

If you were asked to name an entrepreneur, who would be the first person to come to mind?

According to Dr. Wendy Cukier, Founder of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University, most people will name Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Jeff Bezos. 

“There is a tendency to associate entrepreneurship with men and the technology industry,” Wendy explains. “But one could just as easily name Kylie Jenner, Oprah, or Celine Dion.” 

This is just one example of the prevailing stereotypes of entrepreneurship facing women and other disadvantaged groups. These systemic biases are powerful, deeply embedded in our culture, and according to Wendy, they’re negatively impacting women in both their ability and desire to enter the entrepreneurial space, and their success within it. 

As one of Canada’s leading experts in disruptive technologies, innovation processes, and diversity, Wendy has been working for decades to promote the participation and advancement of underrepresented groups, including overturning the assumptions and barriers facing women in both the technology and the entrepreneurial space. In November 2020, she co-authored a research paper for the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub entitled See it. Be it. Women Entrepreneurs Beyond the Stereotypes, where she dives into these stereotypes and the dramatic impact they’re having.  

“The stereotypes of entrepreneurship are so prevalent in the ecosystem that they shape women’s expectations, they shape policies, and they pose significant barriers when it comes to accessing funding, loans, and government programs, among other things,” Wendy explains.

Take, for example, venture capital funding. “Research shows that women who pitch to VC investors are asked more questions about their track-record as opposed to their potential, compared to male counterparts, and are less likely to be granted funding as a result,” Wendy says. “Many first-time women entrepreneurs, therefore, don’t even apply, because they know what they’re up against going in.”

“Most of the programs and funding models are still created for men, by men, and those come with a certain set of assumptions baked in.”

In an attempt to change the landscape, we are starting to see the emergence of grants and programs targeting women and women-identifying individuals directly, as well as newer approaches to women-centered strategies for growing entrepreneurs — but they still represent a small slice of the ecosystem. 

“Most of the programs and funding models are still created for men, by men, and those come with a certain set of assumptions baked in,” Wendy says. “The goal isn’t to have to create special streams of funding for women or minorities only, the goal is to drive inclusion throughout the ecosystem, and reduce the barriers and biases to access mainstream funding.” 

Currently, many entrepreneurial support programs focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), but only 15.6% of SMEs, or about 110,000, are majority owned by women. On the other hand, nearly 1 million women are self-employed in Canada — representing 37.5% of this group — but self-employed individuals are often ignored by these support programs. 

There’s also an imbalance in industry focus. “While entrepreneurship is still strongly associated with the manufacturing and technology space — both in the media and in research — women entrepreneurs are less likely to be in technology,” Wendy says. “Many instead focus on important sectors such as services, health and beauty, retail, social, and cultural — which tend to lack traditional exposure.” 

Women also tend to have multiple goals for their businesses, such as sustainability and social impact, that go beyond the prevailing culture of entrepreneurship that values growth and profit. 

“This culture comes straight out of Silicon Valley and is reinforced by shows like Dragons’ Den, which can be alienating to women,” Wendy says. “The notion that the ‘pitch’ is the be all and end all, and that starting a business is a cut-throat competition, and the ethos of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ — this doesn’t always work for women.” 

Many women are more likely to identify with those social entrepreneurs who want to make the world a better place, rather than just raking in millions. “We must recognize that being an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making money for yourself. Raising money for a charity, a social initiative, that’s still entrepreneurship and it matters,” Wendy says. “So, whether we reappropriate the word ‘entrepreneur’ or just focus on calling people ‘changemakers,’ it’s important that we shine light on those women who are making an impact.” 

The way things are now, Wendy finds it challenging to encourage women to consider entrepreneurship, especially in North America. “The culture seems to be set against them,” she says. And the issues are amplified when you look at women with multiple layers of identity. “The barriers are even higher for racialized, Black, Indigenous, and other diverse women entrepreneurs — compound that with systemic discrimination at every stage and you’ll see just how much harder it is to be successful.” 

Wendy likens the intersectional entrepreneurial experience to a famous quote by former Texas Governor Ann Richards. “She said, ‘After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.’ To be successful, these women need to be twice as good and work twice as hard — which is why we need to keep telling their stories,” Wendy says. 

“What we aren’t seeing in the mainstream media is women entrepreneurs featured as part of regular news stories. And we’re especially not seeing Black women entrepreneurs and Indigenous women entrepreneurs.”

Reshaping beliefs can be a slow process, but it must start with the messaging girls receive from a young age, and continue through educational institutions. The media, at all levels, also has a significant role to play in challenging the stereotypes which shape the aspirations of women as well as the ways in which they are treated.

“What we aren’t seeing in the mainstream media is women entrepreneurs featured as part of regular news stories. And we’re especially not seeing Black women entrepreneurs and Indigenous women entrepreneurs.” While they are profiled in specific stories about diversity, they aren’t included in mainstream business media. That echo chamber, as Wendy calls it, must change to make room for more perspectives — and to ensure young girls see themselves in the stories being told. It’s the reason behind WEKH’s ‘See it. Be it.’ efforts. But it’s only one part of the solution.  

“The only way to do things differently is to take a systems approach, set targets, maintain accountability, and not accept good intentions in the place of real action,” Wendy says, adding that everyone has a role to play. What she’d like to see is more accountability and transparency when it comes to financial institutions — specifically who they’re giving loans to and what their rates are. Organizations that say they support diversity and inclusion should put their money where their mouth is and invest in diverse procurement. She’d also like to see the government funding of incubators to be tied to gender and diversity commitments. And we, as consumers, can also do our part.

“Consumer choices still have a huge role to play in all of this,” she says. “What businesses are you supporting, where are you buying things from, and how can your spending continue to ensure women led businesses can remain successful?”

Despite the challenges, Wendy remains hopeful. Real action is happening, from small steps to big measures. “Canada has become a global leader with the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy and the 50-30 Challenge, and our new childcare policy is transformational — that is one of the most significant investments in women’s equity that we’ll ever see,” she says. “I’m actually more optimistic now, despite COVID, than I have been for quite some time, that change is possible.”

A Scotiabank expert on small business loans shares how women entrepreneurs can better understand their finances — and why it’s so important.

Alida Pellegrino

By Hailey Eisen

 

Having worked in the financial services sector for 30 years, Alida Pellegrino is familiar with the biases that women have traditionally come up against — both in the workplace and as business owners. 

“During the more than 20 years that I was a commercial banker, I would say that 80 per cent of the businesses I interacted with were led by men,” she says. “But things are definitely starting to change, and that’s why The Scotiabank Women Initiative is so important to me.” 

Alida has been helping to address the challenges women face in her current role as Vice President, Credit Adjudication Canada at Scotiabank, and as an advisory board member with The Scotiabank Women Initiative. Providing information, education, and financing, The Scotiabank Women Initiative is committed to dismantling barriers for business owners who identify as women or non-binary, empowering them to take their businesses, careers, and financial futures to the next level. 

“Gillian Riley, President & CEO of Tangerine Bank and Founder of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, created the program after learning first-hand about some of the challenges that women experience when starting their own businesses. For example, it is more challenging for women to access capital than their male counterparts, and she wanted to help women overcome those barriers,” Alida says. “Because I oversee Scotiabank’s small business loan adjudication team, we are able to help small business owners meet their financing needs through assessing loan applications.” 

“Oftentimes, entrepreneurs have a passion, and they jump right in with the resources they have available to them. It’s not until they realize they are ready to grow and need more money to do so that they truly think about finances.” 

Alida personally provides financial education to The Scotiabank Women Initiative clients, and always stresses that a solid understanding of your finances is a critical factor for long-term business success. 

“We know that business owners are typically experts in their trade but having a good handle on your finances is also an essential part of running a successful business,” she says. “Oftentimes, entrepreneurs have a passion, and they jump right in with the resources they have available to them. It’s not until they realize they are ready to grow and need more money to do so that they truly think about finances.” 

If it’s an area you’re unsure of, she adds, there are many simple steps to take to get more comfortable with and take charge of your finances. 

“The very first step is to understand your cash flow,” Alida says. That includes knowing what you’re spending and bringing in each month and following a budget to support the financial management of your business. She also advises that entrepreneurs understand the seasonality of their business, and how that impacts cash flow and to plan for it. 

“I’ll give you an example,” Alida says. “Ramping up for the holiday season, a company producing a product has to buy inventory and start production a few months or quarters in advance— but they won’t have the cash flow from the sales of those products until November or December. Also, to take advantage of other sources of financing such as trade credit from your suppliers which female entrepreneurs tend to shy away from” 

“Remember, it’s ok not to know. It’s those areas of uncertainty where you can really leverage other professionals to support you along the way.” 

For clarification of your financial needs, you must also be able to identify what stage your business is in — start-up, sustainment, or growth — and how you should support it at each stage. Unsure? When it comes to finances, the more questions you ask and information you seek, the better. This is where a relationship with your accountant and banker can be especially beneficial, Alida advises. 

“Knowledge is power. Don’t just meet with your accountant once a year to prepare your financials,” she says. “Befriend them so you can leverage their counsel throughout the year. The same goes for your banker.”

Alida’s favourite part of working in commercial banking over the years was getting to know her clients, learning their stories, and working with them through their challenges and successes- there are few jobs in the world where a business owner shares their trade secrets, info about their clients, suppliers and industry. “As a business owner, you can confide in your banker, tell us about your business and your plans, and we can assist you with your needs and wants and ensure we are a key partner in your success.” 

If you’re hesitant to ask questions, “Remember, it’s ok not to know,” says Alida. “It’s those areas of uncertainty where you can really leverage other professionals to support you along the way.” 

Relationships, in general, are also key to business success, and networking is something Alida advises all women entrepreneurs to spend more time doing. That’s one area The Scotiabank Women Initiative can really help with, she adds. 

“We’ve been able to bring like-minded women together who might not have had the opportunity to connect — in person or virtually — and talk about their challenges, what’s working and what’s not, and build that network which can often prove invaluable,” Alida says. “Through workshops and education, mentorship opportunities, and networking, so far we’ve engaged more than 6,000 women entrepreneurs across the country.”  

Providing access to capital and tailored financial solutions is another key focus of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, and since its inception three years ago, more than $3 Billion in capital has been deployed to women-owned and women-led businesses in Canada. Now, that help is needed more than ever. 

“Women-led businesses already face unique challenges, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the ripple effect on the economy has put added pressure on women entrepreneurs,” says Alida. “In order for the Canadian economy to grow, we need to support all types of businesses, led by a diverse group of entrepreneurs, because diversity of thought is where true success comes from.” 

 

This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not to be relied upon as financial, tax or investment advice or guarantees about the future, nor should it be considered a recommendation to buy or sell. Information contained in this article, including information relating to interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change without notice and The Bank of Nova Scotia is not responsible to update this information. References to any third party product or service, opinion or statement, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or approval by The Bank of Nova Scotia of any of the products, services or opinions of the third party. All third party sources are believed to be accurate and reliable as of the date of publication and The Bank of Nova Scotia does not guarantee its accuracy or reliability. Readers should consult their own professional advisor for specific financial, investment and/or tax advice tailored to their needs to ensure that individual circumstances are considered properly and action is taken based on the latest available information.

How a telecommunications executive is making healthcare more accessible.

Juggy Sihota

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

“Right now, some five million people don’t have access to a regular family doctor across Canada,” says Juggy Sihota, vice-president of Consumer Health at TELUS. “That varies from province to province. It’s a pretty disturbing stat.”

The pandemic has shone a light on the inequity of access to healthcare, but Juggy knows the issue has been around for decades — with COVID-19 exacerbating it. When you take into account wait times to see a specialist or mental health professional, the current state of healthcare, especially for those living outside of urban centres, is untenable. 

It’s an issue Juggy is committed to help solve.

Having worked at TELUS for many years and in charge of the consumer health division, she’s the person who has been behind the rapid expansion of the company’s virtual care app. By using TELUS Health MyCare on a smartphone, a user from anywhere in Canada can connect to a doctor, mental health counsellor, or dietitian to seek medical care. The service can be used for all non-emergency services, and if the caller has a regular family GP, the information discussed will be securely sent to them. In short, it breaks down barriers to care.

“It’s become emphatically clear what we’re doing is vitally important,” she says. “We want to improve healthcare for all Canadians — and we can, and we are.” 

Since the start of the pandemic, Juggy says there’s been an almost 10-fold increase in demand for the service. It’s pushed her entire department into rapid acceleration mode; her teams have been extremely busy hiring physicians and clinical staff while expanding to other provinces.

“It’s become emphatically clear what we’re doing is vitally important,” she says. “We want to improve healthcare for all Canadians — and we can, and we are.” 

What’s even more inspirational about this growth is it’s all being propelled by a diverse team, with 73% of team members identifying as women and 47% identifying as a member of the BIPOC community. Juggy admits achieving such diversity was no easy feat, but it was a task she was passionate about as a BIPOC woman, and having been the “first” in so many situations. 

“I always say as soon as you are in a position of authority, you need to make the changes you know needed to be made before you got there,” she says. “As I ascended in my career and my influence increased, I quickly did that. I’m really proud of how diverse we are. We are now far more representative of the markets we are serving.” 

Beyond just being diverse, the team works together to create an inclusive environment. She has men on her team who have been some of the most amazing champions of women, and women who support BIPOC men. The end goal is about creating teams that help build momentum to support the DEI movement — only then will it multiply and amplify as new leaders enter organizations. 

One way to make this task easier, Juggy says, is to hire people who share your values and who are driven by the purpose of your team and organization. “Seek out people who have shared values. Their values should align with where you work, too,” she says, adding you don’t need to be a VP to spark change. There are often resource groups within companies — TELUS has many of these including Connections for women-identified employees and Reach for Black team members — where shared experiences can be discussed and ideas can be voiced. 

“Don’t let perfection be an enemy of the good or let that be the reason you don’t start pushing for transformation.”

“If you’re in an organization that lacks these groups, start one and demonstrate the value they bring to employee engagement and progress.” 

Juggy knows many feel trepidation about starting something new or pushing for progress and change — both are scary when you aren’t sure who supports your ideas. In the early days of her career, she struggled with the notion that success is often at odds with a person’s need to be right. The latter, she learned, can be alienating. 

“Don’t let perfection be an enemy of the good or let that be the reason you don’t start pushing for transformation,” Juggy advises. “You’ll feel good about starting and can just tweak your idea and scale it and make it better as you move along. Force yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and learn.”

In the end, she says, we should all be striving to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. 

“I believe in social capitalism and so does my organization. I am purpose driven; I want to leverage my own leadership to do as much social good in the world as I can. My team is purpose driven to make healthcare more accessible for Canadians. TELUS is purpose driven to solve this public health challenge,” Juggy says. “I think we are living in a historic time and great things can come from tragic circumstances like COVID-19 — society can become stronger and better if we are willing to work together for that.”