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

Rumeet Billan

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

 

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

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

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

My proudest accomplishment is… still in the making.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next step is… here.

 

Read the announcement from our Co-CEOs »    |    Read the press release » 

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.”

 

Announcing the 2022 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Finalists!

Pour la version française, cliquez ici.

We are proud to announce the 2022 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards finalists.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the program which received over 10,000 nominations for women entrepreneurs from across the country. After an intensive judging review, 21 finalists were selected across seven categories. An additional five recipients were chosen to receive the Ones to Watch Award, which recognizes entrepreneurs who have launched businesses that have made an incredible impact in fewer than three years.

The women business owners and leaders in this shortlisted group were selected for their accomplishments in a wide range of industries including AI, Cleantech, Civil Construction, Food and Beverage and Cyber Security.

“This year as we celebrate the milestone 30th anniversary of the program, we are honoured to recognize the accomplishments of our 2022 award finalists,” says Alicia Skalin, Co-CEO, Women of Influence. “The awards celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of our country and the incredible women making it happen. Our finalists share a strong vision and a relentless passion in pursuing their dreams.”

The winners will be announced and celebrated in-person at the 30th Annual Awards Gala, on Wednesday, November 23. Women of Influence is thrilled to host this prestigious red-carpet event where nominees, corporate executives, dignitaries, and notable industry guests will come together once again for a delectable evening of inspiration, style, and meaningful connection with business leaders from across the country.

The RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards recognize women business owners from across Canada who make impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian, or global economy. These awards recognize businesswomen and leaders of non-profits from three major regions across Canada: East, Central, and West.

“For over 30 years, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneurs Awards has shone a spotlight on the incredible women business owners who are leading change in their industries, driving growth in their communities and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs,” said Greg Grice, Executive Vice-President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “This year’s program continues this tradition, uncovering countless stories of women-led innovation and achievement among our 2022 award finalists. We’re honoured to showcase and support this growing force of women entrepreneurs in Canada, and to be a part of this 30-year journey alongside Women of Influence and the remarkable women leaders who have made up the heart of this program.”

All nominees are required to submit thorough applications, which are reviewed and judged by a panel of prominent business leaders and subject to a due diligence review performed by KPMG.

For more information, view the press release.  |  Pour plus d’information, visitez le communiqué de presse

The 2022 Recipients of the Ones to Watch Award are:

The 2022 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award Finalists are:

Micro-Business Award
Start-Up Award
RBC Momentum Award
Social Change Award: National Impact
Social Change Award: Regional Impact
Innovation Award
Excellence Award

les finalistes des Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC 2022 sont annoncés

Nous sommes fiers d’annoncer les finalistes des Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC 2022.

Cette année marque le 30e anniversaire du programme, qui a reçu plus de 10 000 candidatures d’entrepreneures de partout au pays. Après examen approfondi, 21 finalistes ont été sélectionnées dans l’ensemble des sept catégories. Cinq autres candidates ont été choisies pour recevoir le prix Entrepreneure prometteuse, qui vise à récompenser des entrepreneures qui ont lancé des entreprises ayant connu un succès étonnant en moins de trois ans.

Les femmes propriétaires d’entreprises et les dirigeantes finalistes ont été sélectionnées pour leurs réalisations dans un large éventail de secteurs, notamment l’IA, les technologies propres, l’ingénierie civile, les aliments et les boissons et la cybersécurité.

« Nous avons reçu un nombre record de demandes en cette année qui marque le 30e anniversaire du programme, et nous sommes honorées de célébrer les réalisations de nos finalistes de 2022, a affirmé Alicia Skalin, cochef de la direction de Femmes d’influence. Les prix soulignent l’esprit d’entreprise de notre pays et la contribution de femmes incroyables. Nos finalistes sont des visionnaires et font preuve d’une détermination à toute épreuve afin de concrétiser leurs rêves. »

Les gagnantes seront annoncées et célébrées en personne lors de la 30e remise annuelle des prix, le mercredi 23 novembre. Femmes d’influence est ravi de présenter ce prestigieux événement, où des candidates, des dirigeantes d’entreprise, des dignitaires et des invités de marque de l’industrie se réuniront une fois de plus pour une soirée d’inspiration, de style et de relations significatives avec des dirigeantes de partout au pays.

Les Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC rendent hommage à des femmes propriétaires d’entreprise partout au Canada qui retiennent l’attention en raison de leur importante contribution à la vitalité des économies locale, canadienne ou mondiale. Les prix sont accordés à des femmes d’affaires et à des dirigeantes d’organisme sans but lucratif des trois grandes régions du Canada : l’Est, le Centre et l’Ouest.

« Depuis plus de 30 ans, les Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC mettent en lumière les incroyables femmes propriétaires d’entreprise qui changent leur secteur d’activité, stimulent la croissance dans leur collectivité et inspirent la nouvelle génération des entrepreneures, a déclaré Greg Grice, vice-président directeur, Services financiers à l’entreprise, RBC. Le programme de cette année perpétue cette tradition, en dévoilant d’innombrables histoires d’innovation et de réussite par nos finalistes de 2022. Nous sommes honorés de présenter et d’appuyer cette force grandissante d’entrepreneures au Canada, et de participer à ce parcours de 30 ans aux côtés de Femmes d’influence et des dirigeantes remarquables qui ont constitué le cœur de ce programme. »

Les candidates doivent présenter un dossier de candidature étoffé. Les candidatures sont ensuite évaluées par un jury composé de chefs d’entreprise réputés, et sont soumises à un contrôle diligent effectué par KPMG.

Pour plus d’information, visitez le communiqué de presse. 

Voici les lauréates du prix Entrepreneure prometteuse 2022:

Voici les finalistes des Prix canadiens de l’entrepreneuriat féminin RBC 2022:

Prix Micro-entreprise
Prix Nouvelle entreprise
Prix du dynamisme RBC
Prix de l’évolution sociale : Influence nationale
Prix de l’évolution sociale : Influence régionale
Prix de l’innovation
Prix de l’excellence

Struggling with difficult conversations? Here’s how to ease the discomfort.

Difficult Conversation

By Amanda Hudson

Having worked with many women business leaders while running A Modern Way to Work these past eight years, one thing is abundantly clear: we don’t love having difficult conversations. Not only would most of us do anything to avoid them, those who claim to do them well generally take an “I just tell it like it is” approach that doesn’t always get them the outcomes they’re after.

It’s tough to feel in control of your business when struggling to carry out difficult conversations while keeping them productive. So, if your aim is to become a more effective business leader, it’s worth taking a closer look at why some discussions are so difficult and what you can do to ease the discomfort they cause.

Why do we find certain conversations so difficult? 

Most difficult conversations are the result of one person wanting another person to change. Not only can it be tricky to handle such a proposition diplomatically, it almost always involves a breakdown in trust. This can make the stakes for getting the conversation right—and not breaking the relationship down even further—feel exceptionally high. 

Many of the women I work with also identify as ‘people pleasers’ who don’t like the idea of upsetting others. Mix all these factors together and it’s easy to see why a simple ask that someone improve their performance can turn into a difficult conversation pretty quickly.  

Is there a legitimate way to avoid having difficult conversations?

It’s not uncommon to avoid addressing an issue we have with another person the first time it happens. In fact, many of us secretly hope that by ignoring a certain situation, it will end up resolving itself. What happens in most cases, however, is that the issue persists while the conversation required to address it becomes increasingly difficult.

There is one legitimate ‘hack’ business owners and leaders can use to avoid having a difficult conversation that doesn’t involve ignoring the issue. The next time you’re faced with an uncomfortable discussion, try assuming the behaviour you want the other person to change is completely your fault. 

As leaders, it’s easy to blame others for outcomes we don’t like or want. By accepting 100% responsibility for those outcomes instead, you’ll likely discover that shifting some of your own behaviours will get you closer to the results you’re looking for. 

3 Tips for tackling difficult conversations you can’t avoid.

If you’ve determined that a particular difficult conversation is unavoidable, here are a few strategies for making your discussion more rewarding.

  1. Know your purpose. Many people initiate a difficult conversation because they’re unhappy or annoyed with someone and want an opportunity to air their grievances. It’s important that you only enter into a difficult conversation when you’re clear on its purpose and what you want to achieve.

You’ll know you’ve identified your purpose when you can articulate what you want the other person to change in a single sentence. If your ask is unclear, they’ll never be able to meet it, and your conversation will likely only increase any tension or frustration. 

  1. Focus on gathering—not giving—information. When we initiate a difficult conversation, it’s usually because we have a lot on our minds that we want to share. But what if you entered the conversation from a different place? 

You could, for example, assume the other person wants to do a good job—rather than telling them how they aren’t living up to your expectations— and acknowledge that it’s your role to find out what’s getting in their way. Then you could make it a point to gather great information by asking open-ended questions, listening—and then listening some more. 

The truth is that the better you can understand the other person’s situation and perspective, the more likely you are to craft your message in a way that will resonate with them.   

  1. Drop your assumptions. Most of us are very good at telling ourselves stories about why someone is acting a certain way—particularly when it’s not the way we want them to be acting! One of the many things we assume about other people’s distressing behaviour, in fact, is that it’s meant to be a personal attack. 

Taking the time to identify, label, and then drop your assumptions before entering into a difficult conversation will give you an unfiltered view of what’s really going on. This open-mindedness will serve you better in turn by making it easier to see potential pathways to achieving the outcome you want.

There will always be situations where having a difficult conversation can’t be avoided. If, however, you find yourself having the same discussion with someone over and over, there’s a good chance you’re not having the real conversation that will help get the issue resolved. 

In any difficult conversation, the key to communicating well is ensuring your message is clearly understood while remaining empathetic to the receiver. To help steer ritualistic exchanges in a more productive direction, make sure you go into every difficult conversation prepared to listen and armed with open-ended questions that will help the other person feel heard and acknowledged.

Amanda Hudson

Amanda Hudson

Amanda Hudson is the founder of A Modern Way to Work, an HR consultancy and antidote to outdated HR that delivers forward-thinking recruitment services, manager training and fractional HR. She and her team are also the creators of the Difficult Conversations Card Deck, a leadership tool for navigating tough conversations with ease.

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.”

Meet Tyg Davison, a former model and founder of CITIZEN AGENCY.

Tyg Davidson

Tyg Davison is a former model and founder of CITIZEN AGENCY, a full-service model and talent management agency based out of Toronto. With a modelling career spanning over a decade, Tyg has worked closely with some of the world’s most prestigious and revered designers, like Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs, and has shot campaigns for brands like Miu Miu, Maison Martin Margiela, Zara, Saint Laurent, Adidas Y-3, and Rick Owens. After gaining invaluable experience and perspective as a model, Tyg wanted to manage and empower the next generation of models and founded CITIZEN. 

 

My first job ever was… at 15 years old, assisting the Recreational Director of a retirement home. I helped facilitate the activities for seniors living there which was so much fun. I made wise friends, always eager to impart advice, listened to Elvis CDs on repeat, and learned how to play Blackjack from a fiery group of women. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… although starting a company comes with risks, I feel so much more secure and confident in my life and in myself by building something that I am responsible for and rely on. 

As a model travelling alone internationally, I became independent very quickly at a young age. I was represented by many modeling agencies around the world, but I was self-employed. It is a misconception that models are employed by modeling agencies. When I took my first position as an agent with an agency as a full-time employee in Canada, I realized how much I missed the feeling of building something with my vision that I can shape and take ownership of — and also making my own schedule!

I founded CITIZEN AGENCY because… after having modelled for a decade and then working as an agent, I had the rare opportunity of experiencing both sides of the business. I saw so much room for change and evolution in the way models are managed in the industry. I truly believe that to properly represent models, to protect them, to empower them, and to teach them everything they need to know, you need to have lived that experience. 

“I truly believe that to properly represent models, to protect them, to empower them, and to teach them everything they need to know, you need to have lived that experience.”

I’m passionate about creating opportunities for the future generation of models and talent because… I say it often, but modelling changed the course of my life. It brings me such a sense of accomplishment and joy being able to facilitate that for others. It’s a difficult industry to navigate, but with the right team of agents behind you, it teaches you so much about yourself and how to navigate the world with independence and confidence. 

An international modelling career forces you outside of your comfort zone, immerses you in new cultures, challenges you with language barriers, and introduces you to talented people you would have otherwise never crossed paths with. I am so passionate about creating those special moments for others.

One of the most important things I learned about myself during my time as a model is… that I can do hard things. It’s a simple statement, but even now when I’m faced with a difficult situation, I say to myself, “you can do hard things” over and over. I will get through it — whatever it is, it will pass. 

There’s so much rejection in the fashion industry that I learned not to internalize as a model, people to stand up to, uncertainties and lessons to learn, and I had to take care of myself as a self-employed teen girl travelling alone.

My proudest accomplishment is… My proudest accomplishment has been developing a roster of models and talent who really are beautiful humans — inside and out. I feel like I’ve connected with everyone I represent and am so grateful to each of them for trusting me with their management. I’m really quite proud and humbled that they chose CITIZEN so early on in the agency’s story.  

My biggest setback was… My biggest setback so far has only been financial. Money does not buy happiness, but it does buy opportunity! I started modelling when I lived in a women’s shelter with my mother and sister, and it sent me across the world. I’m so passionate about what I do and am committed to making it work because I wholeheartedly believe it will. However, bootstrapping every business move on your own sometimes makes you move at a slower pace you’d like. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t give up! I think deep down, we know if it’s going to work or not. If your idea or company is all you can see yourself doing in life, then it’s worth the risk. I often ask myself, “if I don’t do this, will the 99 year old me regret not trying?” Also, surround yourself with people who inspire you and support you. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… “Just relax.” 

The thing I love most about what I do is… The fact that there are no two days that look alike. I’m dealing with different people every day. All creatives, all inspired to collaborate, all interesting humans I feel fortunate to meet.

“I think deep down, we know if it’s going to work or not. If your idea or company is all you can see yourself doing in life, then it’s worth the risk.”

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… The reason I am where I am today is because of the people I have in my life. My partner is so incredibly supportive and pushed me to start CITIZEN AGENCY regardless of the uncertainty. I am beyond fortunate to have had someone so encouraging enter my life. He is exactly what I — and CITIZEN — needed. My family has cheered me on at every step and celebrated my growth. My friends have loved me through every doubt and dread. I am held up by my circle, and I owe everything to them. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… If you Google me, you’ll come across interviews in several different languages and good and bad photos of me in various states of undress, so it’s hard to come up with something that can’t be Googled! I suppose there are stories behind each of them: stories of hilarity, frustration, and often, absolute chaos! Those stories definitely can’t be Googled. 

I stay inspired by… Creating new opportunities and watching people grow, and it’s not just for the people I represent, but also for the community. I serve as a council member for Covenant House in Toronto, which I hold near and dear to my heart. Having stayed in a women’s shelter as a young teen myself, it’s so important for me to contribute ideas to an incredible organization like Covenant House for youth experiencing homelessness. 

The future excites me because… The future excites me because I work in an industry that is constantly evolving. I have so many ideas that I want to introduce not only in my agency, but the fashion industry here in Canada as a whole — but who knows what the industry will look like, even in the next year? That’s the exciting part, the inspiring part, the scary part. 

My next step is… My next step is a surprise. It’s phase two of CITIZEN AGENCY that I can’t wait to start working on when the time is right.

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

Shara Ally

| Photo by Charlotte Poolton Photography |

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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

Jackie Bouvier Copeland

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

By Kathryn Hollinrake | Photos by Kathryn Hollinrake

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

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

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

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

Tip #1: Breathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #5: Work with a professional makeup artist.

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

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

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

Tip #6: Keep jewellery simple.

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

Tip #7: Lean in. 

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

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

Tip #7: Lean in. 

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

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

Kathryn Hollinrake

Kathryn Hollinrake

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

As head of Kids Help Phone, Katherine Hay is helping the charity evolve with technology and culture.

Katherine Hay

By Karen van Kampen

 

When Katherine Hay was a teenager, her mother recertified her nursing credentials so she could continue supporting Katherine and her younger sister as a single mother. Katherine’s older brother had just died in a car accident at the age of 19.

“My mom was and is the epitome of strength, courage, and grit without ever losing her warmth or ability to cast a safe and loving family net,” she says. 

Katherine remembers volunteering with her sister in the chronic care ward where her mother worked. “Those were good early experiences that were anchored on some tough family times,” she says. “Young, early experiences shape a bit of the mettle you might take into your adulthood.”  

Volunteering was something they always did as a family, which Katherine carried on through her own family with her two children. When Katherine decided to make a career in non-profit, “It felt deeply satisfying for me,” she says. “I knew that I was going to move the needle in some way, shape, or form.” 

For more than two decades, Katherine has been driving social change. As President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital Foundation, she led record-breaking fundraising efforts to support women’s health. In her current role as President and CEO of Kids Help Phone, Katherine is advancing Canada’s mental health service for youth as a virtual health innovator that connects with young people online, by phone, and text. Katherine is an inspiring and passionate leader, and she is being recognized for her achievements. 

Katherine was the 2021 winner of the Social Change Award, National Impact, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an exceptional leader of a registered charity, social enterprise, or not-for-profit who is dedicated to their unique brand of social change.  

“I knew that I was going to move the needle in some way, shape, or form.” 

Katherine describes her journey toward her current work as a very wavy line — “I was amassing experiences,” she says — and she didn’t start out with a vision to work in the not-for-profit sector. Katherine left university and got a job as a bank teller. She worked her way up in the bank, taking on a management role and running branches. “I learned so much in those early days in banking about customer service and team experiences that I put into play, day in and day out,” she says. 

In the mid-nineties, Katherine’s journey took a different turn when she moved with her family to São Paulo, Brazil. With her kids at school and husband at work, Katherine thought about what to do next. She finished her BA in psychology and economics remotely from the University of Waterloo. Katherine approached the Consul General in São Paolo, offering to volunteer. They created the Canadian Foundation and Katherine was appointed president of the fundraising volunteer organization. The goal was to raise approximately $25,000 for HIV/AIDS. At the time, mortality rates were high and there wasn’t fundraising to help families impacted by the condition. Katherine approached multinational corporations doing business in São Paolo. The foundation raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It was incredible,” says Katherine, who describes her experiences in São Paolo as “transformational.” 

In 1999, Katherine and her family returned to Canada. After many years of volunteering, sitting on non-profit boards, and doing fundraising events, Katherine realized that she wanted to make a career of it, “knowing that the work I would do could very well enable something so much bigger than me or my world,” she says. 

Katherine began doing strategy work with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She remembers making $17 an hour and thinking, I am a paid professional in this sector. “I was very proud of that,” she says. Katherine gained experience working with Families and Children Experiencing AIDS (FACE AIDS) and University of Toronto Mississauga. In 2004, Katherine was appointed Director of Advancement at the University of Toronto. Then in 2014, she became President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital Foundation. 

“If you make decisions outside your values, outside your place, and it doesn’t work out, those are your mistakes.”

Reflecting on her journey, Katherine says that while there wasn’t a specific end result in sight, she had a clear feeling that she was taking the right steps for herself while also helping others, which was important to her. 

Katherine’s mother used to tell her, “Stand in the right place, and you’ll be ok.” If Katherine aligned herself with her values, then she would find her way. “If you make decisions outside your values, outside your place, and it doesn’t work out, those are your mistakes,” she says. If you get back to your values, says Katherine, most things will find their path. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know fully what you want, she says. But you should work hard to know who you are. 

Katherine has explored the values that are integral to who she is. “If I didn’t have them, I couldn’t be me,” she says. Katherine writes her values on the inside of every notebook and looks at them often, including before she goes into a tough meeting. 

Working in the not-for-profit sector requires a steadfast belief in what you are trying to accomplish. “This is not a job,” she says. “It has to be authentic and genuinely inside you.” When Katherine was appointed President and CEO of Kids Help Phone in 2017, she was compelled by the meaningful work of the organization, which was a pioneer in virtual health, as well as the youth mental health crisis. While there is an often-cited statistic that one in five youth face mental health challenges, Katherine believes that one in one young people are impacted, whether it be personally or through a friend or family member.  

When Katherine joined Kids Help Phone, it was a well-loved organization with a solid foundation. Yet maintaining a steady state was not an option. “We’d be the Kodak of the not-for-profit sector because we have innovation and technology right in our hands,” says Katherine of Canada’s 24/7 virtual mental health service for youth. The organization needed to evolve along with technology and the fast-paced world in which youth were navigating.

“We will continue to evolve and grow, and that’s what drives us.”  

Katherine drove a new strategic direction for Kids Help Phone, positioning it as an innovation technology driven charity with a razor-sharp focus on youth mental health. Kids Help Phone connects with young people where they are, including gaming sites, social media, online chat and peer-to-peer forums, as well as by phone with professional counsellors, and text with crisis responders.  

When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, Kids Help Phone was ready. “The world shut down,” remembers Katherine. “We did not go dark or silent. Not for one minute.” The organization went from 708 crisis responders to more than 2,230 responders active on the platform monthly. During COVID-19, Kids Help Phone trained more than 5,000 crisis responders, enabling the high number of crisis responders to be on the e-front lines. Since January 2020, Kids Help Phone has interacted more than 11.3 million times with young people in every province and territory in both official languages; a dramatic increase from its 1.9 million interactions with young people in 2019. Wait times remain on average five minutes. 

While COVID-19 has exacerbated young people’s anxiety and mental health challenges, there is a youth mental health crisis beyond the pandemic. Canada has the third highest youth suicide rate in the industrialized world and suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in Canada. The silver lining is Kids Help Phone, says Katherine. “Not only are we here,” she says, “they’re reaching out.”  

In the future, Kids Help Phone will continue to find innovative ways to connect with young people and provide mental health support. “We will continue to evolve and grow,” says Katherine, “and that’s what drives us.”  

Lessons Learned: My first year of building a business as a personal stylist.

Cheryl

By Cheryl Nomdarkhon

 

I’ve had a love of fashion since I was a teenager. I grew up watching Jeanne Bekker from Fashion Television interview the original 90’s Supermodels, trailblazing designers, and household names backstage during fashion week — New York, Paris, Milan, London — every week on CityTV

She would have access to the most coveted runway shows, and intimate conversations with everyone and anyone in the industry. Apart from watching FT, I collected numerous fashion magazines like Mademoiselle and Glamour. I especially liked the before & after photos and fashion do’s and don’ts.  

Fast forward 25 years to March 2020, and I found myself laid off from my full-time job for a global training & development company. It was a time to reflect and reinvent myself and start over. I’d worked in several industries, from IT to health and wellness, but nothing came close to what I wanted in a truly fulfilling career. I wanted to have a real work-life balance and a job where I could make a lasting difference with people.  

“It didn’t take too long to realize that the thing that I always wanted to do was create a career in fashion — specifically personal styling.”

While I was decluttering at the start of the pandemic, I found a black and white picture of my dad in my photo album. I was struck by memories of my dad, who passed away in December 2001. It was a photo of him sitting on a bench, probably at the time when he worked for the Jamaican Customs. He sat crossed legs, his pants starched and crisp, his black shoes polished and shined. 

I remembered his clothes, his closets. He always kept his clothes in immaculate condition even though he wore a uniform to work. On his days off, he always looked sharp. When we first moved to Canada, he took us to the Eaton Centre to go shopping. It didn’t take too long to realize that the thing that I always wanted to do was create a career in fashion — specifically personal styling. My dad significantly influenced my decision to embark on my new journey.   

Getting Started as a Stylist.

Starting my business, Uncover Your Style, during the pandemic meant that marketing and networking would look very different from my past business as a holistic nutritionist ten years ago. I made it my goal to share what I was up to with the people in my life — family, friends, past work colleagues, and my connections on social media. I attended weekly networking events over Zoom and had coffee Zoom meetings with other business owners and female entrepreneurs. Last year I joined an online organization for Black stylists called Black Women Who Style. Although I’m the only member from Canada, the group’s organizer, who’s been styling for five years, is very gracious. She’s created a platform where stylists help each other, not bring each other down.  

As the pandemic meant moving back and forth between lockdowns and re-openings, the most realistic way to conduct my business was virtual. The handful of clients that I had was through word-of-mouth. To gain experience, I practiced with family and friends doing consultations over Zoom, including closet/wardrobe edits. I had a few inquiries from my website, but nothing significant.  

“How I looked and how I sounded became critically important. I never had to contend with this when I worked in the corporate world as an employee.”

I also had to learn to navigate and use social media, like Instagram. Because what I do is visual, I had to learn how to present myself to people. How I looked and how I sounded became critically important. I never had to contend with this when I worked in the corporate world as an employee. I was always the one working behind the scenes in my job. There were opportunities for me to speak in front of large groups of people and present myself as someone professional and knowledgeable, but being out there and having people ‘watch and judge you’ anywhere in the world was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

I’m still not 100% confident and used to putting myself out there. I sometimes overthink what I will create on Instagram and TikTok and how I come across on camera. Is what I’m presenting educational, informative, and fun? Will people get it? Imposter Syndrome comes up a lot. Another pitfall is that I automatically compare myself to other stylists and how many ‘likes’ they get and how great their content is compared to mine.

My Lessons Learned. 

One of the biggest mistakes in my first year in business was signing up to advertise for a Yelp promo account. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I registered to use several hundred dollars in (Yelp credits) to advertise personal shopping for the holiday season.  After six weeks of ad promos, there were no new clients or leads. I cancelled right away when I saw my bill the following month. Sometimes things may sound enticing, but it doesn’t automatically lead to success for your business. I learned this the hard way financially. I still get solicited to advertise, and I politely decline the offer.

I made the other mistake of saying “yes” to everybody for styling. There were times when I said yes to working with a client who was very difficult. Early indications were that the client wouldn’t be fully ‘coachable’ or agreeable, but I ignored my inner voice. I now know the importance of vetting and interviewing potential clients before we agree to work together. 

My Goals For The Future.

One of my goals for the future is to create a one-stop-shop experience for clients — like a boutique image consulting service with other stylists, designers, make-up artists, and photographers.

Sometimes, I pinch myself and wonder how I got here. I’ve spent the past 18 months hustling — giving away my time, knowledge, and expertise to get somewhere. There are many times that I’ve been disappointed about not booking that client, not getting that opportunity on a grand scale. There are also days when I feel like giving up on my dreams. The conversation in my head is that “It’s too hard, nothing is working, nobody wants what I have to give.” The biggest challenge is having that winning mindset and keeping it going, no matter what. I belong to a Mastermind group and a meditation group that helps during those difficult times.

The truth is that I haven’t yet achieved the publicity, notoriety, and good client base that I want to commit to being financially and personally fulfilled yet. I’ve created action plans and revised my business plans and goals for 2022, and I continue to plant the seeds for the next chapter — and I’m looking forward to what I will harvest in the next few months.

Cheryl Nomdarkhon

Cheryl Nomdarkhon

Cheryl Nomdarkhon is a Certified Personal Stylist and founder of Uncover Your Style, a Toronto-based style consultancy offering both in-person and virtual services. After 10 years as a Training & Development Manager, Cheryl was inspired by her late father’s style sense and her own love of fashion to pursue her new career, launching her business in 2020. Believing it is never too late to reinvent yourself, her aim is to help people discover their style sensibility, and dress easily and confidently. Connect with her on Instagram and uncoveryourstyle.ca for style advice and to book a personal session.

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.”

Meet Traci Shepheard, founder of MeditationWorks, Canada’s first mobile meditation studio.

Traci Shepheard

Traci Shepheard is the Founder of MeditationWorks, Canada’s first mobile meditation studio: a 1972 vintage Airstream called the MINDSTREAM.. After working in her corporate career for over 20 years, Traci was accustomed to all that came with a fast-paced work life. To manage her stress and keep herself grounded, Traci often relied on her own mindful practice. In doing so, Traci had the idea of creating her own mobile meditation studio with a mission to share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness with as many people as possible. With this mobile studio, MeditationWorks creates an experience that is meant to disrupt people’s workdays — in the most positive way possible, they come to you for wellness at work.

 

My first job ever was… Working at Perino’s Pizza Parlor at age 14.   

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit with a plethora of ideas inside my head. For over 20 years, I have been percolating on how I could positively impact people while building human connection. 

In 2015, I bought a mini art piece that said, “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take” and placed it where I could see it every day, along with an excerpt from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford graduation speech: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary. I knew I had a unique idea; I decided to make a dramatic change and take the leap. 

I founded MeditationWorks because… I wanted to create a wellness experience that was aspirational, turnkey, and easy to connect people in a world that is so connected, yet disconnected. In 2018, I attended a “Passion to Purpose” workshop and a key ‘aha’ takeaway was that often, your purpose is something that upsets or angers you. I realized how true this was — the disconnection that social media causes infuriated me and I wanted to do something about it. Providing wellness at work fosters culture and team building while cross functionally bringing people together for the betterment of their health, happiness & wellbeing, which in turn prioritizes a healthy versus burnt out workforce; disconnecting to reconnect! 

I’m passionate about mental health and wellness because… your health is your wealth.  

My proudest accomplishment is… to echo similar sentiments as Gabby Bernstein, I am proud of my courage to go to the places that scared me the most so that I could heal, be, and feel.

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary.”

My biggest setback was… I was about to launch MeditationWorks, Canada’s first mobile meditation studio “The Mindstream” in April 2020 when the pandemic hit. My first corporate client was going to be Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) during the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors playoffs for all of their employees; obviously this never happened, and my whole concept had to be completely altered while keeping the same mission and purpose intact. 

I overcame it by… Turning the concept inside out and having the mobile experience outdoors —drive-in style— and taking it to the frontline healthcare workers at Ontario hospitals. We then tested a virtual model with employees working remotely, and have now brought to life over 600 workplace wellness experiences around the world, virtually and in person, since our launch on May 6, 2020. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Persistence and a positive mindset are your superpowers. When you get tired, learn to rest and not to quit.  

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Making rest and resetting a priority.  

The thing I love most about what I do is… Connecting with and helping our clients and participants around the world. I am continually humbled and exhilarated by the feedback we receive from our wellness experiences. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… My persistence.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was my high school mascot “Skippy,” the saber-toothed tiger, which originally was kept a mystery to students.

I stay inspired by… LIFE! If you can dream it, you can do it.  

The future excites me because… I believe a silver lining from the pandemic is that it elevated the importance of mental health and self-care; there is Power in the Pause! 

My next step is… Continuing to evolve and optimize the MeditationWorks workplace wellness offerings, while staying true to our core values and mission. We finally welcomed people INSIDE our mobile studio exactly 2 years from the day of our launch on May 6, 2022, and we look forward to welcoming many more people inside the Pause Lounge on board the Mindstream for wellness at work, the “constantly moving happiness mobile.”

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.”

How Janét Aizenstros turned her digital consultancy into one of the fastest-growing companies in the Americas.

By Karen van Kampen

 

Growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Janét Aizenstros was exposed to “a lot of goodness” within her community-focused hometown. “I grew up in an environment where I was free to be myself, which being a woman of colour, given the current social narrative, isn’t always true for many women of colour,” she says. 

As Founder and CEO of Ahava Digital Group, a women-led digital consultancy, Janét has built a conscious media company that provides ethically sourced and verified data to help companies connect with women consumers. What began as a one-woman operation in 2011 is now one of the fastest-growing companies in the Americas, with revenues over $1.5 billion (USD). 

Like other entrepreneurs she has connected with over the years, Janét discovered early in life that there was something uniquely different about herself. “In childhood, I felt very present,” she says. “That level of presence, that level of insight is what has been able to carry me through life.” Janét’s high level of empathy has benefits as well as detriments, she explains. “You feel things on a totally different level.” 

Janét was exposed to business in her teens when her mother started her own cleaning company. Janét would accompany her mother to commercial buildings and chat with owners about their business. “I was very fascinated by what they did,” she says. 

Moving to Toronto at the age of 17 cultivated Janét’s passion to become a business person. She graduated high school early and got a retail job at the Eaton Centre, where she worked alongside many strong women. “I spent a lot of time walking the streets, seeing the business people, the hustle and bustle,” she says. 

At 19, Janét completed a program called Master’s Commission, an intensive discipleship program. Her interest in spirituality began as a young child. “I was once an aspiring pastor,” she says. Yet Janét came to realize that entrepreneurship was the right path for her. 

“It started as a woman who had many gifts that she wanted to share with the world.”

After many years building a professional career in banking, management consulting, and advertising, Janét left the corporate world to focus on her family. For 18 months, she stayed home with her two children — both under the age of three. She launched her one-woman creative agency, Ahava Digital, from her basement. 

“It started as a woman who had many gifts that she wanted to share with the world,” says Janét, “And life circumstances — that I wanted to shift — which presented challenges that I would have to navigate and pivot cautiously through,” she says.

Influencers became interested in Janét’s work. Demand continued to grow as she worked with companies and then larger organizations. In 2013, as Ahava Digital focused on social media, Janét began connecting with her professional network. “This path led me to introductions to influential people I’ve known over the years that gave me an opportunity and opened doors for me,” she says. 

In 2016, Ahava Digital became more data focused as clients sought pinpointed metrics on their ideal customers. At the time, Janét was working on her dissertation for her PhD in metaphysical sciences while  simultaneously completing her executive MBA. While gathering data for her PhD research, Janét discovered an American data centre that was looking for an investor. In late 2017, Janét acquired the data company and its technology, and started on a growth path. Today, Ahava Digital Group has a presence in more than 15 countries with more than 550 employees, and their National Intelligence File contains data on 197 million American households — all ethically sourced and verified.  

Ahava Digital has gained the moniker of conscious business, which Janét embraces. “Canadian values are what shaped who I am as an entrepreneur, especially as an employer,” says Janét, which includes putting people first and focusing on environmental, social, corporate governance, and sustainable development goals.  

She carries those values beyond her company, too. In 2020, Janét established scholarship programs at the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo to support people from marginalized communities who wish to pursue careers in business and engineering. Money can be a barrier to entry, dissuading many people from even applying, she says, adding, “Money should never be the reason why somebody does not fulfill their dreams.” 

“We have to offer value in any situation that we walk into and understand that we should be expectant of receiving value as well.”

Janét says it’s important to focus on how we can give back in life — but it’s also healthy to expect reciprocation. “We have to offer value in any situation that we walk into and understand that we should be expectant of receiving value as well,” she says, adding, “Understanding those that pour out also need to be poured into.” 

For Janét, giving back also includes mentoring other women entrepreneurs through an American organization that focuses on leadership from a biblical perspective. It’s about leadership, wellness, and mindset. “Honestly, it’s the best work I’ve ever done in my entire life,” she says. 

Reflecting on a key takeaway for other women entrepreneurs, Janét says, “Successful women are not afraid of being themselves. I want to stress this concept to women.” In the beginning, Janét had people trying to steer her path, and if she had listened to them, Ahava Digital Group would not be what it is today. “It takes a very strong personality to stand alone and be that lone wolf,” she says.

Her approach has clearly worked. Among her many achievements, Janét’s company was ranked twelfth on Canadian Business’ 2020 Growth List, with Janét being the first Black Canadian woman sole founder to be recognized within the list’s top 20. That same year, Janét was also the first person of colour to win the Canadian Business Employer of the Year award. In 2021 she became the first Black woman to receive the Excellence Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has built and managed a successful business over a decade through timely innovation, strategic thinking, and smart execution.

Looking to the future, Janét is excited to focus on her legacy initiative — the institute that she created to support the wellness of women in business. The Wholly Living Research Institute focuses on emotional intelligence around business and explores leadership from a wellness perspective, providing a safe space for women to share experiences. 

“Leadership is the place I was meant to be,” says Janét. “I come alive when empowering women. It gives me joy.”

Lost rights, lost pride: My view of the Roe v Wade ruling as a young American woman living in Canada.

By Sarah Cassidy  |  Photo: Ted Eytan

 

As a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, I’ve struggled with identity. I was born and raised in the U.S. but am the daughter of two Canadians. 

Growing up I was exposed to American and Canadian politics, from what I learned in school to what I heard on the news and at home. In high school, I was taught politics from the American point of view, without learning much about the Canadian political system. When it was time for me to go to university, I decided to accept my offer to attend the University of Toronto. As a Political Science major, I took American political courses from the Canadian perspective, along with taking multiple Canadian government classes. 

Living in Toronto for the past 4.5 years, many of my experiences discussing politics have been met with negative reactions. People have commented “Your personality is very American” or “I can tell you’re from the U.S.”  While I often did not know whether to take these comments as mere observations or insults, for the most part, living through university and into my adult life in Canada, I have remained proud of my American citizenship and steadfast in my liberal beliefs.

But I no longer feel proud. 

Instead, I feel ashamed. 

Heartbroken. Furious. Disgusted. Afraid. Confused…The list goes on and on. 

On Friday, June 24th, the United States’ Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, stripping the immense progress women’s civil rights, reproductive rights, and healthcare have made over the last 50 years. 

The overturning of Roe vs. Wade has deemed a woman’s right to an abortion as “unconstitutional” and allows for states to ban the performance of the medical procedure immediately (I stress the word medical here because that is what an abortion is: a medical procedure meant to aid in the promotion of women’s health). 

“I’ve spent the past few weeks contemplating my life, my body, and what I can do to help. I have never before felt so powerless and irrelevant.”

What this means is that women living in the United States are no longer full citizens. We no longer have control over our own bodies or healthcare. We no longer possess the bodily autonomy necessary to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, nor to take care of our bodies and health. We are no longer considered equal to a man. And we are no longer free.

I’ve spent the past few weeks contemplating my life, my body, and what I can do to help. I have never before felt so powerless and irrelevant. I have never felt as hopeless, angry, confused, scared, or heartbroken as I do now. And I have never felt so alone. 

We have been betrayed by our government — the very institution meant to protect and preserve our human rights. Yet, those essential rights have been violated, even though the majority of Americans disagree with the decision

We can sit here and talk about the sheer hypocrisy of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the picking and choosing of the Biblical verse, “Thou shall not kill,” and deciding which issues to apply that to. Obviously, it was absent in their decision to strip states of their autonomy to enact gun-carrying restrictions, making it a Constitutional right to carry a gun outside the home (in a year with at least 314 mass shootings by Independence Day). 

I will never be able to explain or justify the malicious, uneducated, and illogical rulings of the five Republican Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade. I can name their names, scream “DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY,” ask “Where is our separation of church and state?” and wrack my brain to try to understand why this is happening. 

But the thing is: it happened. It already is happening.

No matter what we feel, abortion bans are already in place. Women are already at risk of death. We can’t go back in time and change what has transpired.

Instead, we must act. 

“This ruling affects more than half the population of the United States, but it is perhaps more importantly an example of a branch of government abusing its power to manipulate the Constitution to fit the minority’s wants.”

Over the past few weeks, I have seen videos of fellow Canadians, along with people of all nationalities, reacting to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in the same way I felt. Seeing this almost universal reaction brought me to tears. It made me feel like the world was coming to our aid, recognizing the unimaginable attack on our humanity, and standing in solidarity with us. It made me feel supported, cared for, and loved by millions of people who didn’t care if we were American. They cared that we had lost our basic human right to bodily autonomy.

This ruling affects more than half the population of the United States, but it is perhaps more importantly an example of a branch of government abusing its power to manipulate the Constitution to fit the minority’s wants. It is an example of the assertion of religious beliefs, that should be completely separated from state acts, being used to oppress millions of people. It is an example of how power can be abused by those who yield it, and it will likely not stop here.

I know I said I felt alone. And I did. And I know there are millions of people who feel the same as I do at this very moment. 

But we are not alone. 

There are millions of women who feel the same pain that we do, not only in the U.S., but across the world. No matter who we are, where we’re from, who we love, or what we look like, we all share in this fight together, this blatant attack on women, this war on human rights. 

 

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

Natalie Borch

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.