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


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.

What a muffin tin taught me about working mom guilt.

Cupcakes with "Best Mom" on them.

By Tammy Heermann

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

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

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

The making of mom guilt.

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

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

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

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

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

Reclaiming the muffin tin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for reframing mom guilt.

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

Understand where guilt stems from.

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

Realize your guiding values.

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

Remind yourself of the benefits.

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

Do a guilt check.

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

Avoid passing on the guilt.

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

Swap guilt for gratitude.

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

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

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

Tammy Heermann

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

What I learned launching a successful tech company as a woman in the 90s.

Carol Latham

By Carol Latham

When I quit my job at British Petroleum, I learned a handful of very important lessons. Coming from a (degrading) male-dominated work environment in the early 90s, where success did not seem possible for someone like me, I dared to set out on my own — creating a company based on a technology I discovered for cooling silicon chips in computers and the like. The scenario could best be described as building a business in the face of the five no’s: No products. No employees. No customers. No physical facility. No money. 

My value proposition was to provide the electronics industry with a means of miniaturizing while increasing speed and functionality without the limitations of heat. I didn’t think of myself as a feminist, out to break through the glass ceiling — I was simply determined to take my technology to market, based on my own merits and on my own terms. I had something valuable to bring to the table, not just my technology but my presence in the industry. I never let on that I was operating in survival mode (which I was). In the process, I learned many lessons, not the least of which were the following:

Focus on what you bring to the table. 

As the only woman in the boardroom, I never concerned myself with the demographics of my audience. Even though I was always surrounded by men, I did not let it change my demeanor or my mission. My business interactions, whether with colleagues or competitors, rested purely on my own merits. I let my presence and my product speak for itself. 

We all bring a unique perspective to the table — each one enhancing the other. It has been my experience (and subsequent success) not to focus on who is in the boardroom, so much as my purpose for being in that boardroom. Demographics will change from boardroom to boardroom and operation to operation. Mind your purpose, respect and appreciate your people, and remember that the rest is just details.  

Don’t worry about titles. 

Rather than tout myself as the “founder” and “CEO,” I traveled the world as the “technical director” of my own company. It worked like a charm. Think about it: What product design engineer wants to talk to the CEO?

In other words, don’t get hung up on business titles. 

Funny story: One day two young technicians walked into my office. They needed to order business cards for an upcoming business trip, so they asked, “What title should we give ourselves?”

To which I replied, “Whatever title you would like.”  

Both men stared at me in disbelief.  The truth is it did not matter to me what they called themselves. I trusted their judgement. Titles are lost on me. In my opinion, they inhibit creativity and often get in the way of genuine collaboration. What matters more than what you call yourself, is how you present yourself. 

Be wary of people bearing gifts. 

In the early days of Thermagon, I was offered workspace in a small testing laboratory. In exchange, I cleaned bathrooms. I later discovered that the owner, who I assumed was a good Samaritan, had ulterior motives. I learned to use discretion when people offered me an investment of time, money and/or other resources. 

These sorts of business deals and arrangements must always be “win-win,” not one side taking advantage of the other. Most off-the-cuff financial offers are designed for the benefit of the donor. Therefore, only accept financial investment into your company using carefully drafted legal documents, so as to protect both parties. Even conversations with competitors can’t hurt. In fact, they often provide valuable information and knowledge about the competitors themselves. Just don’t give away too much of your business in the process.

Just be yourself. 

Being authentic is the secret sauce to success. As a woman operating in a predominantly male environment, I never tried blending into the background. I set myself apart, projecting confidence and power. I wore a red flannel skirt suit to meetings. I told blonde jokes. I laughed at myself, and they laughed with me. 

Just be yourself. Let your presence stand apart based on who you are at your core. Go confidently into the boardroom on your own terms. And don’t forget to have fun! The whole point of taking your product to market is to stand apart from the herd, lest you got lost in it. Shakespeare said it best, “Above all things, to thine own self be true!” That was Hamlet giving advice to his young student. Suffice it to say, stay true to you!

Carol Latham

Carol Latham

Carol Latham’s passion became taking discoveries from the idea phase to a successful product in the marketplace, leading to her founding of Thermagon, Inc. Her company became an international success producing high thermally conductive materials used to cool the chips in computers. Along with her business success, Carol created a corporate culture that strove to boost the quality of life of all her employees. Check out her recent book, “A Chip Off the Silicon Block – The Power of Entrepreneurial Thinking” for valuable life lessons.

Simone Giesen on how to keep reinventing yourself in life and business.

Simone Giesen

By Simone Giesen

Did you wake up in the wrong life today?

I know what that feels like: a couple of years ago, I had lost my way and found myself stuck in the wrong career. I could not help but wonder how I had gotten myself into this mess and where exactly I went off track. 

I’m a planner — to the degree that I schedule tasks for exact times. Of course, I had safely mapped out and planned my future. I thought I had done “everything right,” but why did the life I had envisioned for myself feel so bad?

After training as a banker in Germany and completing my degree in International Business Administration in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States, I started my career in the finance sector one month after graduation — while most of my friends from Business school were struggling to find a job. 

Three years in, I felt not only lost and out of place, but uninspired, unfulfilled, and miserable. One day, the suffering became unbearable and I was desperate for a change. So I quit my job without a plan B, and within six months I started over: I moved from Germany to Switzerland, pursued a new education, jumped into a new field, and landed my first job that would finally put me on my path to becoming a coach. 

When making that leap, you do not have to do such a drastic switch like I did. The stakes are high, and there are constraints like financial implications or losing status — but it is your life and you deserve to be happy. 

If you are contemplating a career change as well, here’s what I have learned.

LESSON #1: Always trust your gut feeling.

When I signed my first employment contract, my gut feeling told me something was off. It just did not feel right, even though on the surface, I had landed a good entry-level job in a well-known and reputable company. Deep down I knew that this was not right for me and that I was settling. I chose the alleged security and financial stability that this job would provide over an unknown future and the stress of an on-going job search, which scared me at that point. So I ignored that nagging feeling, not knowing that feelings are designed to alert us to pay attention to potential dangers — but also opportunities. Research suggests that your gut-feeling draws on experience and intuition and can help you make a bold decision, if you listen to it. 

LESSON #2: Do a thorough reality check.

Make sure the vision you are following is really your own, and it is truly aligned with your passion, talents, and personal preferences. We are constantly influenced by the media, friends, and family — and it can be overwhelming to choose from all the options that are available to us. It is important to raise above the noise level and make sure that the path you are following is yours, rather than somebody else`s idea of a great life for you (even though they might mean well). For the people pleasers among us: this is your kind reminder that you are not here to fulfill other people’s expectations. Know yourself, accept yourself, then decide what you want and go for it. 

How do you know what’s right for YOU? Follow the energy! What really excites you?  What are you passionate about? What is the topic you could talk about all day long? When do you feel most alive? When do you lose track of time? 

The answers to these powerful questions might be some indicators to point you in the right direction. Then, do your homework. Research as much as you can, and talk to people in the field you want to work in. The new career might look very glamorous from afar, but what would an ordinary day in this line of work really feel like? 

LESSON #3: Manage the process and prioritize self-care.

While you are figuring out your next move, you will experience some uncertainty, insecurity, and most probably some anxiety. It is important to be gentle and patient with yourself in the process. 

Keep your inner monologue positive, and show yourself some compassion. You are doing the best that you can. Set realistic and achievable goals for yourself. What could you do today that will bring you one step closer to your goal? This transition phase might be a good time to put some healthy self-care routines in place to keep your energy levels up and keep you sane along the way. 

LESSON #4: Be your own cheerleader and celebrate every tiny victory.

In his book, Choose Yourself, James Altucher stated: “We’re taught at an early age that we’re not good enough. That someone else has to choose us in order for us to be… what? Blessed? Rich? Certified? Legitimized? Educated? Partnership material?” 

The truth is that you do not need anyone’s approval to do what you love. Show up for yourself and cheer yourself on. Every single day. Your mindset is your most precious asset. A strong sense of self-esteem combined with an unwavering belief in yourself will define how you face the world. 

It’s not about being arrogant, it is about having a realistic and healthy self-image that does not need constant approval from the outside. Stop waiting for anyone to choose you. Step forward and claim your spot. Whether you are dreaming of becoming an artist, a writer, a designer, an entrepreneur, or — fill in the blank — you already ARE that person. Give yourself permission and start showing up as her!

LESSON #5: Authenticity — own your story.

It’s your life and it’s never too late to course-correct. In my career, I have interviewed and assessed hundreds of people and have come to the conclusion that an apparent “rupture” in a CV is rarely a deal-breaker, if explained well. The skills that were acquired in one field in combination with life experience and your personality are transferable. As Steve Jobs put it, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.” Be true to yourself and own your experiences! 

I hope you could find some inspiration in my story. For those of you who feel stuck or lost, please keep searching. Things will eventually fall into place when you are on your path. How you feel about work and your career rubs off on your mental health and well-being, your relationships, and the way you show up in life. Never stop learning and thriving. We all will have to reinvent ourselves many times in life, but that’s really the point isn’t it?

Simone Giesen

Simone Giesen

Simone is an executive coach & organizational development (OD) consultant based in Zurich, Switzerland. Over the last 12 years she has worked in the field of leadership development for multinational companies in the finance, hospitality, technology and engineering sector. She now runs her own business, SGC Simone Giesen Consulting — specialized in personal & leadership development, coaching, and change management. Simone works with individuals, leaders and teams around the globe to empower them to reach their highest potential in life and business.

Lauralee Sheehan on the parallels between being a rock star and an entrepreneur.

Lauralee Sheehan

Lauralee, Founder and Chief Creative Officer oDigital 55 explains how standing out from the crowd and maintaining an edge as a musician helped her achieve entrepreneurial success in digital media and STEM.

By Lauralee Sheehan

Rockstars and entrepreneurs are idolised in society because they are considered “exceptional,” and maybe even superhuman since they represent a small percentage of the population. Similar to musicians, entrepreneurs represent the risk-takers who humbly work towards their goals everyday, without ever knowing whether things will lead to success. They need to be all-in on whatever they’re doing and not be afraid to express abstract ideas. This kind of passion and commitment is inspiring to the public eye, and serves as the fuel that keeps me going everyday. Many assume that the rock star life couldn’t be further from that of a digital entrepreneur, but in my experience, the two are eerily similar and intertwined with one another. 

The Art of Continuous & Incremental Risk-Taking

During my early band days in the indie duo Lovely Killbots, we were essentially entrepreneurs — we had to build everything from the ground up from music to media (lots of modular development), experience design to marketing and social media and it was all about taking incrementally bigger risks. I learned a lot from the idea of building slowly and pushing further as you go and this meant building not only a band but a brand. 

Over time, this transformed me into a digital entrepreneur running Digital 55, a media agency focused on producing knowledge-based, social purpose content, edutainment and learning experience design (LX). It started off as a one-woman show, but things quickly grew and now I’m leading a growing core team of 6 people and an ever-expanding collaborator roster who work closely with us on our portfolio of projects. 

I’ve also been learning to maintain my edge as the company grows. As you grow it’s easy to forget the ethos of what you were trying to build, so I like to think about bands and labels that were able to always “keep it cool” no matter how much exposure they got or how the industry changed around them. 

“In a song, you have layers upon layers of concepts and ideas and I think building a business is the same.”

Follow the Rules to Break the Rules

Another thing that translated from band days to entrepreneurship is the idea of following rules and patterns to eventually break them. In music, you have boundaries you work within like time signatures and beats per minute (BPM), but from these boundaries you are able to create the art and abstraction of songwriting through melodies and lyrics, riffs and licks. 

I think entrepreneurs do a similar thing in terms of setting up a business, working within industry regulations and taking on a lot of responsibilities — but you have to colour in the lines first in order to paint outside the lines later. In a song, you have layers upon layers of concepts and ideas and I think building a business is the same. Recently, we wrote a song, Bliss and Nothing Less, that is about the Toronto indie scene circa 2008. We layered musical patterns, sounds, textures and lyrics and I think that idea is similar to how Digital 55 was built and continues to grow. It’s a little bit technical, a little bit abstract, a little bit badass.

Discipline Daily

Everything starts with daily habits. I’ve always considered exercise and fitness an important aspect of my life then and now. I exercise and walk daily to get my endorphins in. Pre-pandemic, I’d go boxing four times a week — this was my analog, no tech time.  I think getting physical and spending some time with your thoughts without the distractions of social media, tech and all other things that might allow you to avoid thinking about things that are uncomfortable, uncertain or not immediately satisfying is a huge way for me to dedicate some time for growth in my mindset. 

During my band days, performing in front of a live audience was a workout in itself — lugging gear, jumping up and down on stage and singing my heart out takes dedication and physical and mental stamina. Nevermind all the behind the scenes work that people don’t see, like rehearsing three times a week, using vacations to work on band strategy (and now business strategy), practising scales, listening to music constantly from a research and inspo perspective. If it weren’t for the grit, work ethic, and unending determination instilled in me from my early band days, I wouldn’t be where I am with Digital 55 today.

“I used to think that the most important aspect in running Digital 55 was to become known for producing fresh, innovative digital design and interactive media — but its true value comes down to the original stories we are putting out into the world and the content we get to produce.”

Standing Out From the Crowd with Social Purpose

Rockstars and entrepreneurs are educators who share diverse perspectives of the complex human experience and storytell in a compelling and provocative way. I used to think that the most important aspect in running Digital 55 was to become known for producing fresh, innovative digital design and interactive media — but its true value comes down to the original stories we are putting out into the world and the content we get to produce. 

Like a rock star, the meaning of the lyrics is what resonates in the hearts and minds of your listeners and gets you indie darling status. Whether I’m composing a new single or leading my team to produce digital content across subject matters, the intention is the same — to “leave everything on the stage” and tell a great story that leaves a lasting  impression that connects experiences, cultivates understanding, provides access to knowledge, and ultimately, to influence social change. 

It is arguable that the pandemic has shifted what society traditionally admired about celebrity culture — excess, glamour, beauty, and social influence based on “non-essential” talents. As a result of lockdown restrictions, people struggling to make ends meet, businesses being shut down all around us, and our world forever changed, the pandemic has humbled us all. Now more than ever, we’ve put a greater emphasis on older values such as community, local living, mental health, wellness, humility and the gift of time. Most recently, Digital 55 produced several digital courses with PowerED by Athabasca University: Navigating Extraordinary Times and Digital Wellness 101: Optimizing Your Time & Energy which covers the aforementioned values in the context of wellness during the global pandemic. 

Considering the rise of our dependence on technology which has only been accelerated during the pandemic, digital entrepreneurs and content producers are the new rockstars of our time. The public’s attention has now shifted towards what used to be seen as an unassuming group of brilliant nerds who live online — a.k.a. tech entrepreneurs.  Although I agree that tech has taken over our lives and will be the future of business and life in general, music will always have a place in my heart. 

It will forever influence how I show up as an entrepreneur and has a profound impact connecting with people on a deep and personal level in an inexplicable way. I’ve paid my dues in my past life as an indie-famous rocker, and I wouldn’t be who I am today, leading the award-winning team at Digital 55 if it weren’t for my rock star days. Being a musician taught me how to pour my heart and soul into projects that wouldn’t be understood by the mainstream, develop genuine self-confidence after experiencing failure, and adapt in an ever-changing digital world. These formative experiences shaped me into the fearless businesswoman that I am today, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. 

Lauralee Sheehan

Lauralee Sheehan

Lauralee is passionate about instigating societal change towards diversity and inclusion, anti-discrimination, and advocating for women in STEM and digital media. As the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Digital 55, she leads her rapidly-growing agency to address these issues through producing digital content, cross platform media and digital learning course modules to educate, entertain, inspire critical thinking and instigate social change.

My journey as a STEM entrepreneur — and the lessons I’ve learned on the way.

When people ask me how I got my start in reproductive medicine, I often tell them about my childhood. I was 7 or 8 when my fascination and love for biology started to develop. My dad was a scientist and taught reproductive biology. In the summers, I remember going to the lab with him and watching him work. He explained to me how to nurture a seed until it sprouts and grows into a strong healthy plant, and how a plant bears fruit like a woman bears babies. 

I was excited about science — I’ve always been fascinated by biological systems — so I knew I would study STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and that it would be medical school all the way. I am lucky to have been very supported by my parents and other people in my life. The reason we got cable when I was in elementary school was so that I could watch the first open heart surgery be performed. In high school, during a library period, we learned about the 10th birthday of Louis Brown, the first IVF baby, and I found an article about ‘the future of medicine’ that I must have read a dozen times. The meeting of science and technology, and how this would be needed for assisted human reproduction, had me hooked. 

Barriers: They exist, but belief goes a long way

While I may have always had a clear vision for my education and career path, that doesn’t mean it was a smooth journey. I was lucky that the people that surrounded me, believed in me. While some did joke that I should be a lawyer because I’m quite a vocal person — I didn’t want to study law, I wanted to be a doctor.

One area that I did hesitate was about how I was going to learn everything I needed to learn to be the doctor I wanted to be. I was guilty of serially and consistently underestimating my abilities, which unfortunately women do too much of. My male colleagues never seemed to express or show the same hesitancy while learning: I think our tendency for self-reflection to lead to self-doubt is a major chasm for women to overcome, particularly in STEM fields.

“There is something we need to do along the education journey differently, so that girls and women believe that their place is in STEM. To reinforce that their place is to have tremendous skill.”

Education: How can we prepare our children

Speaking of education, I am so supportive of how accessibility has improved. While there are still incredible gender biases that exist, there are also concerted and systemic efforts to address this and change the outcome for the future generations of women in STEM.

On the flip side, I believe that the immediacy of knowledge in the upcoming generations poses its own problems. I have three beautiful children (through IVF!), and when I watch them access Google and the wide world of the internet to get an answer to whatever it is they are thinking about or working on at that moment, it scares me a bit. They get their answer, and then they move on. It is not a piecing together of different learnings to create a whole picture, which I am concerned is stunting the curiosity-related skills that work to slowly build knowledge over time, and deep understanding of systems. 

While my love of science came from my dad, other characteristics that define me today I know that I developed through my mother and our community of ‘aunties’. The women who surrounded me, who were significant players in my life when I was growing up, were heads of university departments, leading government offices; women who were in charge in important positions. It was never a concept for me that I couldn’t be a leader, that I shouldn’t be outspoken. I had the good fortune of having a family filled with boisterous, inquisitive, well-spoken, thoughtful women — who at the same time could be kind, loving and nurturing aunties.

Mentorship & collaboration: Doing my part

I see it as part of my role as a female leader in a STEM field to act as a mentor to other women. If you see a spark, light the flame. There are no set roles for women. Girls are amazing, we are inquisitive, we are vocal, and we are scientists. Let’s tap into it, and encourage more women through mentorship to excel in STEM, in business, and in their personal lives — and especially when you dare to do it all.

You have a responsibility to set an example for the next generation of women. It is hard to be a woman. As a female CEO and single mom to three children, I have different responsibilities. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I have to make conscious choices and yes, certain sacrifices. 

“We have so much to gain from working collaboratively, building community and encouraging each other. When you find great people, nurture that relationship and strengthen your network.”

That’s another area where I have faced critique along my journey. Being a Medical Director & CEO, I have to set aside time for the business while performing my duties as a physician. I also have to set aside and protect time for my children. They need to know that they are a priority to me, even as they see me work long and odd hours. They get to see me as a tremendously fulfilled, successful woman, who is not afraid to say that what I do is my passion and it brings me joy — just as they do. 

We have so much to gain from working collaboratively, building community and encouraging each other. When you find great people, nurture that relationship and strengthen your network. Everyone has their genius — celebrate it, don’t be intimidated by it.

I’ll leave this question here: why are so many men practicing women’s health and infertility? Fertility clinics for the most part are private clinics in Canada, and women should lead more of them. Women should make more decisions within them, working together collaboratively. We can provide the medical care, and run the business. 

So what can all this be boiled down to? I guess at the end of the day I would like to encourage other women to:

  • Dream big. Once you’ve finished, amplify it exponentially — and go for it. 

  • Be strategic, make a plan, and work your tail off.

  • Don’t underestimate yourself, or other women, and don’t under-aim.

Thank you for letting me share my story, and until next time — get out there, encourage each other and dare to thrive.

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

TELUS Mama Bears Founders

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

by Angelica Victoria & Kate Evans


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

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

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

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

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

Looking back, here’s what we learned:

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

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

Pandemic, Parenting and Process

By Marly Broudie

Between parenting, working from home, and a pandemic — things have shaken up over the last year, that’s for sure. Routines have been kicked to the curb and schedules have become interesting. Workplaces have adapted to remote work schedules, while simultaneously schools and child-care have closed, reopened, closed, reopened and closed again; and let’s not forget social distancing restrictions that have been put in place. Unless you have live-in care for your children, life has become a juggling act. 

Many working parents are maintaining employment and working from home with children at home with them. With intermittent access to school/camp, babysitters, playdates or grandparents, what are parents relying on to get through the day? 

Time management, process, and scheduling have become more important in our personal lives, and these skill sets serve us all well in our professional lives. I, for one, have spent my entire career finessing my project management and time management skills and now I am implementing those skills in my personal life, and let me tell you — there is a method to the madness. It is not a perfect solution, and it is definitely far from smooth sailing, however, there are a few strategies and techniques that you can implement to make your at-home situation a little easier.

Routines – Get back on them!

A daily routine helps everyone in the household. Though for a short time, routines were out the window in our house, we found that once we got back on them, everyone was actually much happier and more productive.

While my children are at home with my husband and I, daily schedules got us through. Write out a schedule, include times and who is on parenting duty during such times. Build in learning time (or school time) for the kids, and use the tools and tasks provided by your children’s school/teachers. If remote learning and tools have not been provided, there are a bunch of free resources online for children of all ages.

We even built in “rest” time or “free” time when we all got 60 minutes to do whatever we wanted – and yes, in that time, my children got to watch TV or iPads. This is a great lead up to the next point.

Schedule in Breaks (with kids and without)

Schedules are not the typical 9 to 5 any more. I think most people are now working a bit earlier in the morning or a little later at night – and break times are happening more frequently during the day. We need to make children lunches, give them snacks (a million times per day) and be present for their remote learning if they have any questions.  Schedule breaks in the day, both with your kids and without. Breaks with kids can be fun – go for a walk, play a game, do an activity, get outside!

As important, schedule some you-time. It is not an easy feat to parent and work from home, so, make sure you take some time for yourself to recharge. Time block even 30 minutes for yourself. Read a book, exercise, go for a walk, call a friend or just lay in bed for 30 if you want to!

Communicate – with your boss and co-workers

This time is unlike any time ever experienced in the past. We all need to be understanding of each other’s schedules and personal circumstances. At SocialEyes, some of our staff have multiple children at home. Adjusting the work schedule or accommodating people’s at-home schedules has become very important. This is not a personal situation – this is a global health crisis that we are responding to. Clearly communicating with your team will assist everyone.

Lower the expectation and do not feel bad about your personal situation. We have all seen children on zoom calls, babies crying in the background or interruptions of some sort over the past year. Sometimes, the break in team meetings to say hi to our little friends puts a smile on everyone’s face. 

Children Make Choices Too

This is a very unusual time for children (whether they are 4 or 16). They are home learning, watching their parents work all day, are not socializing, and in many ways, this is taking a major toll on them. Giving them the choices to make some of their own decisions is very important for self-esteem and independence. 

Give them the autonomy to make decisions – pick their own snacks, games, activities, which friend they were going to FaceTime, or what show they were going to watch at the end of the day. 

Boundaries and Balance

Not easy to do, but boundaries and balance are very crucial elements. Let your family know when you need to focus on your work at hand and use clues to enforce that time. Close your door, put a sign on it, or wear a hat to signal that mommy/daddy are busy right now. You can also create areas in your home where your children get to engage in specific activities – the basement or their bedroom is for louder fun, whereas the living room is the quiet zone. In the living room, they can do a puzzle, read a story, or draw.

This situation is new and not ideal – it is a lifestyle we are all getting used to. We need to work together as a family, and as a workplace, to understand each other and help each other do the best that we can do!

Marly Broudie

Marly Broudie

Marly Broudie is the Founder and President of SocialEyes Communications Inc., a digital marketing and business development consulting firm based in Toronto. Marly’s career started in 2011 at a downtown litigation firm as a legal assistant. There, she transitioned into Business Development and Marketing where she honed her skills in social media marketing, content creation and Business Development strategy. Marly launched SocialEyes Communications in 2015 to help businesses and professionals broaden their opportunities through the power of online marketing. Marly’s goal-oriented approach and ability to help clients develop a vision to drive growth is her fuel for success and consequently, the success of her clients. As a young female entrepreneur with a vision and passion, and as a mother of 2 very young children (1 and 2 years old), Marly’s moto remains: “There are enough hours in a day to accomplish growth and success…there just needs to be a method to the madness.”

5 lessons from getting my business acquired by Arlene Dickinson.

Joanna Track

By Joanna Track

One of the reasons I’m such an avid non-fiction reader is that not only do I learn something about the world and/or someone who lived in it, but I get the added thrill of knowing it really happened. People often say, “the truth is stranger than fiction,” but in this case, I can say it’s better.

Once upon a time (about nine months ago) there was an Average Jo, musing about life in my eponymous newsletter, when a message landed in my inbox from the one and only Arlene Dickinson. It said, “I really enjoy your blogs and news approach. I’m a fan.”

After looking up, down and all around to see if I was being Punk’d, I let out a very eloquent, “What in the actual f**k?!”

I played it cool for all of 17 seconds. I then expressed my gratitude for her kind words and encouragement. Little did I know it was the beginning of a fairy tale (dragons and all).

Like most entrepreneurs, and humans around the globe, 2020 had me on one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. With more downs than ups, it was enough for even a seasoned entrepreneur like myself to feel more than a little unsettled. Couple that with my then-impending 50th birthday and I was up to my eyeballs in an existential crisis. 

“Who am I?”

“Where am I?”

“What do I want to do with my life?”


And other deep questions filled my mind.

Then, December came. It was cold, dark and gloomy. We were back in lockdown. Many of our clients who had crawled out of the woodwork in the fall went back into hibernation. My energy, motivation and bank account were dwindling. I was tired — mentally, physically, emotionally. 

And then, “Ping!” My entrepreneurial inspo slid into my DMs: “How’s biz?”

“Funny you should ask…,” I thought. But in that moment, I had a choice. I could put on a brave face and pretend I was fine. Or I could be vulnerable. Open up and speak the truth, and maybe, just maybe, admit that I didn’t have all the answers.

I did just that.

I felt I was at a crossroads and needed to make some decisions about my future. I valued her opinion, so I asked if she would be open to a discussion in order to get her perspective. And she said YES!

I spent the next few days preparing. In order to ready myself for the meeting, I rewatched episodes of Dragons’ Den, watched interviews, read articles, and spoke to people who knew her. I documented my own story and figured out my asks. And let me be clear, I was not asking for money. A word of advice to anyone and everyone who ever gets a moment like this with someone they respect and admire — there are many things more valuable than money, like sound advice, perspective and encouragement. That was what I was after. 

In this particular fairy tale, I hit the treasure trove. It was an intense and insightful conversation that led to us discussing an alternate route: a prospective partnership and an opportunity that I could have never imagined.

And the rest is history… in the making. I see it as a reinvention — for me, for my brands, my team and for Arlene’s ecosystem of companies. It will not be without its ups and downs, its twists and turns. But like I said to her on the day of the announcement, “It’s like having a baby! Hard, but so worth it.”

Part of what attracted me to this merger was the opportunity to learn from someone I wholeheartedly admire. In the short time I’ve gotten to know Arlene, I’ve already reaped the benefits of seeing her as a leader, a negotiator, a mentor, and an entrepreneur. I see so much of myself in her. Not only who I am now, but who I want to be as I continue on this journey. And while this post is not intended to be a romance novel, I want to acknowledge and share my gratitude for her support, encouragement and belief in me. The next chapter will be incredible!

While I look forward to what’s ahead, I’ll never forget what I’ve learned along the way. I could go on for pages, but who’s got the time? I’ve got a boss now! (You’ll have to wait for the book.) In the meantime, here are a few thoughts that I hope may help you if you’re finding yourself at a fork in the road:

Keep on keeping on.

Not the most original phrase, but in this instance, it’s so important to remember. If you create a good product, habit, relationship, or whatever, keep investing in it. Consistency and integrity are key. For almost five years, my team has given blood, sweat and tears to ensure The Bullet arrived in your inbox every day with just the right amount of news and humour. It was the product that caught Arlene’s eye, not my devilish good looks. 

It’s more important to be kind than nice (but be nice when you can, too!).

Even though being an entrepreneur can be lonely at times, there is no success without an amazing team. I’m blessed to have the best in the business. They are the most dedicated, hard-working, passionate group of people and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am. (I’d also be a lunatic laughing to myself all the time.) I’ve always treated my relationships with great care. I can’t always tell them, or give them, what they want, but I’ve always been committed to kindness, transparency and opportunity. If there’s something in it for me, I make sure there’s something in it for them. I make myself open and available to them and expect the same in return. If not for those guiding principles, they would have jumped ship long ago. But I’m so glad they stayed for the ride.

You always have a choice (even if you don’t like the options).

In almost every instance, you are where you are based on your own choices. And you can stay where you are, or change where you are, depending on what YOU choose. You may not like the options, but there are always options. And every choice comes with pros and cons. You need to determine what you can live with and what (or who) you can’t live with. Doing nothing is also a choice but will most likely lead to nothing. Choose wisely.

Let yourself be vulnerable (sometimes).

I’m not implying that you should open up the kimono every single day (c’mon, you need to leave some things to the imagination), but you need to give a little to get a little (or a lot). You need to consider what’s the worst that can happen and then go in prepared for it. You might be pleasantly surprised. Or not. But you don’t know until you try.

Lady luck is just around the corner, you just need to look (and be prepared).

The saying goes, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” I was prepared by delivering my product, looking at all my options, and putting myself out there. And I seized the opportunity of meeting with Arlene appropriately. I was prepared and humble and I made the best use of the precious time. 

Over the past few months, many people have said versions of the following, “It’s amazing how the universe works, how Arlene came just when you were hitting rock bottom,” blah, blah, blah. I’m not belittling talk of the “universe” or “signs,” but it got me thinking. I believe the universe is always sending us signs, but it’s when we’re feeling down that we’re more apt to look for them. We open our eyes (and ourselves) to new possibilities.

So, don’t wait for the universe to send you a sign, go look for it. I found mine: it’s a Dragon and she’s on fire.

A Behind-The-Counter View of Covid-19

By Dr. Linda Dumas


If the past year has taught me anything, it is the ability to make career pivots quickly and without overthinking. 2020 started out as most New Year’s do in the pharmacy; changes in insurance cards, new drug formularies, and those deductibles kicking in again. As a seasoned pharmacist, these changes are to be expected and manageable.

I distinctly remember the first time I was asked a question about the coronavirus. It was in early 2020, and by one of my regular patients who happened to have family living outside of Wuhan, China. The question was in regards to building up your immunity, something along the lines of “What can I tell my family to take to prevent them from catching this virus?” 

At the time I was aware of a virus there, but there hadn’t been much publicity about it yet. I could see he was distraught so I tried to offer him some reassurance, reminding him that usually viruses come and go. I gave him my usual list of products that help increase immunity; vitamin c, zinc lozenges, elderberry syrup. 

Except that this virus didn’t go, and in fact a couple weeks after I answered that question I saw on the news that the U.S. had the first case of the novel coronavirus. From that point on I don’t think a day has passed where I am not thinking or speaking about COVID-19. The questions rolled in on a daily basis and it seemed like overnight my shelves were empty of commonly used over-the-counter products. 

“What do you recommend?” I still hear this question in my sleep.  

On a usual day, during normal “non-COVID” times, I would be asked questions occasionally. As the pandemic picked up speed, and stay-at-home orders were slowly being implemented, I recognized the need for a trusted resource. This prompted me to establish Apothea, my pharmacy consulting business. If my everyday patients were having these questions, I can only imagine that people everywhere were asking the same thing. I launched my business three months into the pandemic, and focused on spreading reputable and clear information about the pandemic from a pharmacy standpoint. 

My biggest career pivot was the release of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. My pharmacy was the first in the area to receive the vaccine, and as you can imagine everyone wanted it.

Back in the pharmacy, the volume continued to increase. Patients were looking to stock up on their maintenance medication in three-month supplies. Understandably they were concerned about a complete shutdown, and they didn’t want to risk exposing themselves to the virus by making monthly trips to the pharmacy. 

This introduced the next phase of the pandemic: the drug shortage period. There were national limitations on medications shown in early studies to reduce the mortality rate of patients diagnosed with COVID-19. As these medications became difficult to acquire, this changed our practice as we now had to have documentation of COVID-19 before dispensing specific medication. It was a difficult time; often these medications also treated other conditions, such as Hydroxychloroquine for rheumatoid arthritis.  

My biggest career pivot was the release of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. My pharmacy was the first in the area to receive the vaccine, and as you can imagine everyone wanted it. The calls came in fast and furious as the news released information about pharmacies carrying the vaccine. Following the company policy, we strictly followed the executive orders from the governor in regards to who got the first doses of the vaccine. Again, a difficult time, as our workload increased and the emotional toll it took on everyone.

The pandemic marks a shift in my career as I’ve had to learn to:

  1. Lead a Team during unprecedented times. Like everyone else I wasn’t sure what the next phase of the pandemic looked like. I provided my team support and reassurance that we were doing everything we could given the information we had at that time. 
  2. Be Flexible. There were quite a lot of micro and macro changes during the pandemic. I’ve learned how to ebb and flow with these changes as needed. 
  3. Become a Resource. When the doctor’s offices shut down, the pharmacies continued to stay open. I was answering a lot of questions and helping patients transition to telehealth. 
  4. Delegate. As we move into the next phase of the vaccination program, pharmacy technicians will be able to help administer the vaccine. This will greatly reduce the pressure on the pharmacists, and will scale the vaccination program to the next level. 
  5. Grow a Team. I quickly recognized a need to add more technicians to my team. During the pandemic I interviewed a lot of candidates but was persistent in looking for the right people. 

When the pandemic is over (hopefully sooner than later), I will forever remember these experiences, I have been truly changed personally and professionally. One day I will tell my children (and grandchildren) the stories I’ve heard and the impact I was able to make. 

Dr. Linda Dumas

Dr. Linda Dumas

Linda Dumas is a Pharmacist & Consultant with over 10 years of Practical Pharmacy Experience and leadership. After successfully managing three pharmacies for two major corporations, I founded Apothea, a pharmaceutical consulting company. My passions include; empowering patients, serving the public, and approaching pharmaceutical topics from a friendly and nurturing perspective. I practice as a Courtesy Assistant Pharmacy Professor & Onsite Preceptor for the University of Florida, as a way to give back to the next generation of pharmacists. I graduated from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, Massachusetts in 2010, and have been working in leadership for my entire career. I feel strongly about educating individuals about their health, as well as moving the profession of pharmacy forward. Recently I have been very involved in the Covid-19 immunization efforts in the state of Florida.

4 stress-free tips for getting comfortable discussing your pricing

By Marly Broudie

As a woman in business, I can say based on my personal experience that we care about providing value, and are willing to mentor each other so we all win. But one thing many of us struggle with is talking about our fees and pricing. When we’re opposite a male client or business owner, proving the monetary value of our products or services feels even more challenging. Why?

According to society’s gender norms, women are expected to be modest when talking about our accomplishments and our value. This standard stretches to our bank accounts; any mention of monetary worth could even be seen as bragging, thus making it taboo. Not to mention that for decades, finances have fallen under ‘the man’s role’ at home and in business. 

Why It’s Important to Get Comfortable Talking About Pricing

Although this is how generations of women have been taught to act around money, it is not what we want for the next generation of capable, smart, and innovative women rainmakers — so it’s important to get comfortable talking about our worth, our value, and our pricing.

The are many benefits that come out of this: 

  • You will communicate clearer with potential clients, effectively weeding out the ones who will waste your time.
  • When you understand how your value translates into pricing, you will be mindful of both overdelivering and underdelivering. 
  • Your negotiating skills will improve, as will your ability to hire top talent and retain them.
  • You will be more confident seeking investment and raising capital.

The “money” topic touches every aspect of your business, so the sooner you get comfortable talking about it, the sooner your waves will get larger, stronger and superior. 

4 Stress-Free Tips to Help You Discuss Pricing

Changing generations of money-shame won’t happen overnight, but here are 4 tips that have helped me get better at it: 

1. Separate Your Worth

There’s a common phrase used among women entrepreneurs: know your worth and add tax. While the sentiment is nice, we must separate our moral worth from our monetary worth. 

Your worth as a woman never changes; you are always worthy. If a potential client says you’re charging too much, they are not saying that you, as a person, are not worthwhile. They are saying that what you’re charging for what you’re offering doesn’t add up. Understanding this difference will allow you to remove the mind-drama many women experience when setting their prices.

2. Get Clear on What You Offer

When you know exactly what value you bring to the table, you will feel more comfortable charging for it. Break down your service offerings and list all the ways you are adding value. If you can, give them monetary values. When you are clear on what you bring to the table, you can communicate your pricing easily. 

3. Start Practicing

Start by writing on a piece of paper “I charge X dollars for X service because…” and fill in the blanks. Then, practice saying it out loud in the mirror. Notice your posture when you say it. Stand up straight, shoulders back, and take a deep breath. If you have done your research on pricing your services effectively, you can feel confident in what you charge. Your body language should reflect that.

4. Practice with Other Women

You are certainly not alone in this struggle, and there are likely thousands of other women entrepreneurs in your area that would like to get better at this as well. Join women’s entrepreneurial groups through Facebook and LinkedIn and start the conversation. You will likely find other women entrepreneurs who are interested in practicing talking about money and prices with each other. 

Marly Broudie

Marly Broudie

Marly Broudie is the Founder and President of SocialEyes Communications Inc., a digital marketing and business development consulting firm based in Toronto. Marly’s career started in 2011 at a downtown litigation firm as a legal assistant. There, she transitioned into Business Development and Marketing where she honed her skills in social media marketing, content creation and Business Development strategy. Marly launched SocialEyes Communications in 2015 to help businesses and professionals broaden their opportunities through the power of online marketing. Marly’s goal-oriented approach and ability to help clients develop a vision to drive growth is her fuel for success and consequently, the success of her clients. As a young female entrepreneur with a vision and passion, and as a mother of 2 very young children (1 and 2 years old), Marly’s moto remains: “There are enough hours in a day to accomplish growth and success…there just needs to be a method to the madness.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This incident felt all too familiar. 

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

About Jessica Ketwaroo-Green

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

Five lessons learned from being onboarded virtually to a new job.

Woman working from home

If you told me at the start of the year that I would begin a new job virtually, I would have laughed you out of town. But then again, so much has happened this year that I could never have expected or prepared for. I was lucky enough to have had flexible jobs in the past that allowed me to work from home often, but the idea of working 100% remotely seemed like a distant dream. Fast forward to July 2020, and I’m starting a new role as an Advocacy Manager at a non-profit, from the comfort of my home. 

Usually, when I start at a new company, I have a good idea of tasks that I will do in my first few days: familiarizing myself with my new surroundings, setting up my desk, reading company policies and handover notes, trying to get to know my new colleagues — the usual. This time I didn’t know what to expect; I was walking into the unknown. I wanted to make a good impression on my first day, so I spruced myself up and put on a semi-formal shirt. In the end, I only had one meeting that day, and it lasted a little over an hour; then I set up my email address and gained access to the drive, and I started my designated reading. 

If I’m honest, it was quite lonely and anti-climatic. The next day was better. I met the rest of the team, got a better sense of my responsibilities, and started getting stuck in. It’s been an interesting journey, with bumps, adjustments and some wins — but three months in, and I finally feel fully integrated. Here are some lessons I learned along the way:

1. Find time to bond with your new colleagues

One thing I took for granted was the importance of casual conversation with coworkers when establishing a rapport. In this not-so-new normal of virtual meetings, phone calls, and occasionally the odd voice message — communication is a lot more direct and mostly work-focused, making it harder to form bonds. How I miss small rituals, like taking coffee breaks with colleagues and discussing upcoming weekend plans. These things are often seen as insignificant and unproductive. However, it’s in the small details that connections are formed, and team bonds are strengthened. In-person, these informal office interactions happen organically; for many, these moments are almost effortless. In a virtual setting, recreating these moments requires intention. 

I quickly realized that two one-hour team meetings a week were not going to cut it when building relationships. I decided to schedule individual meetings with the whole team, asking them questions about their roles and getting to know a little about what they liked to do outside of work. These one-to-one check-ins weren’t a one-off. I didn’t have a rigid schedule in place, but periodically I would catch up with my teammates. Slowly those discussions morphed from small talk to meaningful conversations and personal anecdotes. I cracked it. 

2. Take notes during your introductory meetings

Now, I’m not talking about wishy-washy half-written notes; I’m talking about comprehensive notes that you can refer to when you get stuck. I’ll admit this one I learned the hard way around. I’ve never been the best live notetaker; I like to give people my full attention, and I find that I become distracted when taking notes. In your first few weeks in a new job, it can feel like information overload — and though, in person, you can quickly clarify any points of confusion without too much disruption, in the virtual space, getting clarification on something can take a lot longer and leave you feeling disempowered. 

I soon sharpened my note-taking skills with the help of the note-taking tool, Google Keep. Each meeting, I would capture the date, who I was meeting, any context that I needed to remember, step-by-step instructions for critical processes, and any resulting actions. Before, when I used to capture notes, I would feel pressured to hear everything once. This often led to incomplete and sometimes tricky to understand notes. To improve the quality of my notes, I had to stop being afraid to interject and ask for something to be repeated or clarified. Eventually, I started taking better notes, and they soon became tools of empowerment when getting on with independent work. 

3. Create a designated workspace 

In my previous job, I had been working from home permanently since mid-March, and I didn’t have a designated workspace. I didn’t feel I needed one — I knew my job like the back of my hand and could get on with my tasks anywhere. When I started my new job, I realized this wasn’t the same. When you are processing lots of new information, it’s helpful to be in a controlled environment with all the resources you need in close reach. While I had my ‘home office’ set up in the corner of my living room, it wasn’t a great spot for natural light. After a little reshuffling of my living room, I found a new area for my workspace that had a clear and aesthetically pleasing backdrop for video meetings and adequate natural light to get on with my work.

4. Set healthy boundaries to avoid burnout 

As a new employee in an uncertain job market, eager to please is an understatement, but it’s important to remember the well-known quote: start as you mean to go on. While it might feel tempting to burn the candle at both ends, it creates unsustainable expectations and rapidly leads to burnout. I decided to create a daily routine; each morning, I start the day with some form of physical exercise, have a coffee and read the news before logging on for the day. I wanted to avoid that all too famous wake-up and rush to the computer; I didn’t want my life to feel subsumed by work. It’s not always feasible due to working with colleagues across time zones, but I also try to take a clear lunch break and get some fresh air.

Having a designated workspace also made it easier to hold myself accountable to draw an end to the day. I deliberately placed my TV out of sight so that I couldn’t have it running in the background, reducing productivity and lengthening the workday. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I definitely appreciate being able to log off while there are still a few good hours in the day.  

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your team

The last and arguably most important lesson I have learned is not to be afraid to ask for help from your team. As a new team member, it’s easy to feel like you are overloading your colleagues with questions when you are face-to-face in the office, and since you talk less in the virtual world, every email, instant message, call or text can make you feel like you are being a nuisance. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. Sometimes we have to fight the instinct to figure everything out alone to avoid making unnecessary mistakes and improve our productivity. That said, it’s important to be mindful of people’s time and their preferred style of communication. Early on, I made a note of my colleague’s preferred time for meetings, how I should contact them for in-the-moment questions and issues, and also in the event of emergencies and urgent matters. This helps to shake off any feelings of guilt and gives you the answers you need to do your job and do it well. 


How to empower women in business during the pandemic — and beyond

While just about every business has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, some organizations found themselves in more critical situations than others.  Start-ups and small businesses felt the impact most acutely. Statistics Canada recently reported that it was small businesses that were most likely to see a drop in revenue, have to lay off employees, and seek credit just to cover operating costs during the pandemic. 

From what I have observed, conducting business through the coronavirus outbreak, I would say that even among those struggling small businesses, the hardest hit were women entrepreneurs and their women-led businesses. 

Women entrepreneurs in Canada have been the most deeply affected by the pandemic because women-led businesses have always been more vulnerable to economic downturns and have had to struggle harder to launch and to stay afloat. As with most aspects of business, it comes down to money. 

Women entrepreneurs often don’t have access to the same funds available to their male counterparts. VCs, investors, the business community at large have a — not surprising — tradition of putting their money in projects that are familiar to them, business leaders they can identify with and relate to. And even with the number of women-owned businesses on the rise globally, only 2.7% of total capital invested in the US were allocated to companies with a women CEO. Because the financing community remains largely male dominated, all too often this means bankrolling other men. 

So, we need to support each other. 

Women need to use their voices to lift and empower other women. Because that is the only way it is going to happen. 

Let me give you a couple of examples of the alternative as I experienced in a single recent meeting. I was reached out to by an investment firm because my company had recently done work, great work I might add, for one of their portfolio clients. I met in their board room with three male and one women executives representing the firm.  

In this particular encounter, I wasn’t looking for financing, but to initiate a partnership. As we have with many other leading investment firms.

When I addressed a question to the women member of their team, one of the male execs answered on her behalf, explaining, “She’s only here because we couldn’t have three men in a closed room with a woman.” 

I didn’t know what to say. It was a shocking admission. Not only was the only other woman in the room a symbolic gesture — just there because she was a woman with no actual input or impact on the decision making — but they also didn’t have the decency to at least pretend she was an equal participant. 

Blatantly telling me — in front of her — that she was merely a token woman, invited because I was a woman, disempowered us both. Men couldn’t meet with me alone because… Because what? I don’t even know. They seemed to be under the impression that something bad would happen. However, there wasn’t even a woman leader to include in the discussion, so they brought along a placeholder. A mute, powerless, non-participating team member to tip the gender balance. 

Believe me, that does not tip the balance. 

The meeting did not end well. I think their exact words were, “I wanted to let you know that we won’t be working with you; our clients tend to be on the conservative side, and you just have too much personality to be a good fit.” 

I can’t imagine this captain of industry telling a successful male entrepreneur, a CEO of an award-winning agency, that he wouldn’t recommend him to colleagues because he had “too much personality.”

That is only one example of a pattern I have noticed throughout my career. Conversations that should be peer-to-peer that aren’t. This wasn’t founder-to-founder etiquette. It wasn’t business-leader-to-business-leader dialogue. It was a man-to-woman speak. We hear it all the time.

It seems not to be any particular aspect of my character that is a negative, merely the fact that I display a discernable one at all. Or perhaps the issue is that my personality is different. Woman. Not powerless, non-participating, not fearful, or a token. 

We need to use our voices. Here are three ways to get started. 

Expect more

Expect more from those who want your business or want to work with you. Ask tougher questions. Ask potential clients, partners, or vendors what their commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is. What have they done to demonstrate their commitment? What are they doing to empower and support women and BIPOC? Who do their teams consist of? What about their leadership? Do this to determine if they will be worthy of your time and effort. 

Speak up and Reach out. 

If you yourself are a leader, reach out to women entrepreneurs. Show your support. Show up for them. How can you as a leader positively impact your team members and others around you? 

We all have a voice — and I don’t mean just on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. 

It’s about how we network, run our businesses, and choose our partners. Think about what you and your business can do to empower women leaders. 

My advice for other women business leaders is to reach out to your peers. Ask other women entrepreneurs, “How can I help you? How do we support each other? How can I promote your products or services to my network?” 

Show Empathy. 

Leadership starts with empathy. Understanding the challenges of our collaborators, colleagues, and clients is the key to successful sales, effective marketing, and generally conducting good business. Empathy and understanding are fundamentals of my personality, and I suspect this is true of many women — perhaps even more so than men. Throughout this COVID-19 crisis and down the long road to recovery that will inevitably follow, I suggest that we embrace this difference. Women need to reach out and back each other. Factor this support into our business decisions. 

The rebuilding of the economy will be an opportunity to implement change. And I submit that it is better to conduct business with too much personality than with too little character. 

About Jamie Hoobanoff

Jamie Hoobanoff is Founder of The Leadership Agency , the recruitment partner of choice for North America’s fastest-growing startups. With a mission to help build the most impressive companies of our generation, The Leadership Agency helps startups find and hire best-in-class talent. With years of impressive leadership in HR and recruitment, Jamie continues to contribute her expertise to notable publications such as Forbes, CBC, The Globe and Mail, Inc., and HRD Magazine.

How to transition from employee to entrepreneur.

The first time I realized what I wanted to do career-wise I was 10 years old. I vividly remember accompanying my father to open houses, his dutiful right-hand woman, eager and ardent. 

I idolized my father back in those days and was in total awe of how he would move from room-to-room, giving each person the liberty of envisioning their own lives in each house he showed. I loved how personable he was and so easy to like. An honest man, with an enviously laid-back, calm, cool, and collected demeanor. He was fervent about his job and looking back, I owe my passionate nature to him. 

As a young girl, I admired — and still admire — how he allowed me the freedom of the script. At his open houses, I would greet guests, hand them the feature sheet and parade them through each room. We would end the tour in the second bedroom, which was always the makeshift office where he would “close” the deal. 

This sentiment is something I carry very close to my heart as a business owner today. I think of my dad each time I hire a consultant or team member that may not have the most experience but just needs the opportunity to take a run at it. Like my father was, I’m always there to catch my teammates when they fall, and I’m willing to let people make the mistakes they need to make in order to flourish and succeed. 

When I was 10, what inspired me the most about real estate was the people I encountered along the way. It was the symbolic nature of buying a first home, upsizing to a second, or downsizing to a third, that was most electrifying. It was the glimmer of excitement, the way they scanned their eyes from wall-to-wall, envisioning their own selves living in that very place. 

Sometimes my “tours” were met with disapproval. Perhaps the kitchen was too outdated, or the rooms were too small. I knew at that very moment that “home” is something different to everybody. I knew then that the real estate industry was where I wanted to plant my flag.

I worked at a real estate consulting company for nine years before I decided to venture off on my own. One evening I was on a call in my condo living room, dealing with some personal items that had been causing me quite a bit of stress for a while with my previous company. All of a sudden, a large hawk started hovering over my balcony, facing directly towards me. I’m a spiritual person, and admittedly a big believer in “signs,” and I took this as one that was intended to offer me clarity and strength. 

The choice to leave my previous role and start my own business was a very spontaneous decision, and that one moment was how I determined to set the wheels in motion. I am nearing almost two years in business with Hirsch + Associates, and I can’t say I know everything, but in hindsight, I do know that transitioning from being an employee to an entrepreneur was a tough one. 

I faced two major challenges when I started. The first was that I’m a big team player and love to work with people. I wasn’t able to hire staff right off the bat, so I focused on working alongside my clients even more. This satisfied the “team” feeling that I was missing, and also allowed me to stand out amongst the crowd. 

The second was that I had expenses — and lots of them. I find the biggest apprehension with young entrepreneurs is that they don’t know where the money will come from for them to support their lifestyle and commitments. At 24, I had bought my first condo, so I feared not being able to make payments on the house I currently live in while supporting a mortgage at my other investment should I encounter any vacancies. I am thankful that in both situations I faced my fears and challenges headstrong. It wasn’t easy, but it has definitely been worth it. 

I’ve rounded up my top five tips below for how to transition from being an employee to an entrepreneur: 

Determine what you want to do and what your values are, not only as a business owner but as a brand.

It goes without saying that the journey you embark on must first be marked with a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish, and what you and your brand bring to the table. As an employee, you work under the guise of a brand ethos that was created before you got there. As an entrepreneur, you define this for yourself at the outset. Without intention, you’ll have no merit. 

A strong sense of self-worth and belief are the pillars of any successful person. Your hopes and dreams are the lighthouses that will guide you, even when times are tough. 

Take your time. Slow and steady wins the race.

Many of us want to embark on entrepreneurship and jumpstart our way to success overnight. Unfortunately, it usually takes some time. Success is many small moments of triumph that compound over time into something bigger. I like to see time as something that is on my side, rather than against me. Time affords us unique perspectives. Time allows us the opportunity to become seasoned and to become experts. Slow and steady always wins the race. Trying to fast track leads to burn out, and from my experiences, dropping the ball. 

You will face challenges, but don’t let them set you back. Learn from them and move forward.

A successful individual is someone who tried just one last time. Mistakes, challenges, failures — these are all a part of the journey. Embrace them head on, allow them to teach you something, and go forward better equipped and more confident than ever before. 

Be humble. Celebrate your victories with your team. Have an “US” mentality vs. a “ME” mentality if you want to build a strong team. 

With entrepreneurship, you won’t have senior team members dictating decisions on your behalf, or more junior colleagues to pick up the more meticulous tasks you weren’t used to doing at your previous job. I find remaining down to earth is key when it comes to starting a business, and believe me, when I say, it will humble you in ways you’ve never imagined. Never forget where you started. Never lose sight of who you are. Always be the genuine, team player you once were and you’ll be sure to have a positive impact on all those around you. 

About Cara Hirsch

Cara Hirsch is the 32-year-old founder of Hirsch + Associates , a leading real estate consulting firm in Toronto founded in January 2019. With over 10 years of experience in the Toronto market, she has sold 7,800 units and has launched 30+ successful projects to date. In her first year of business with her namesake brand, she impressively launched two large developments just shy of 1,000 units, selling just under $1 billion in revenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you can see it, you can be it. 

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

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

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

Your voice and influence matters.

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

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

People are always more important than the bottom line.

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

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

About Jennifer Twiner-McCarron

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

The 3 big “Wish I would Have Knowns” all working moms need to know

By Janet Winkler

On our journey to create Hacking Sophia, a digital platform designed to deliver career and life wisdom and solutions to time-starved working moms, we heard dozens of “I Wish I Would Have Knowns” from the more than 150 in-depth interviews we conducted with working moms. 

Things like: “I wish I would have known that despite all the little screw-ups, all the moments of self-doubt, all the times I asked myself if I was doing the right thing, my kids were going to turn out ok, because they did.”

This lesson, like all the rest, was unfortunately learned in hindsight. 

I too wish I had known them. There were too many nights that I laid in bed, after keeping it together for my kids, admitting to my husband “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” I had founded my own business, grown it to a company that serviced global clients with a best-in-industry reputation, worked with an incredible group of inspiring, committed, brilliant women and men — and I also had 3 children, a husband, and in time, a dog. I often felt like I was busting at the seams.

I knew all too well the challenge of being a working mom and navigating two competing time-consuming worlds — work and family. For my next chapter, I was determined to help all women, but with an emphasis on working moms living in, what we call, the Cram it all in Years, the years where career acceleration and babies and young children collide. 

Out of all the “I Wish I Would Have Knowns” that inspired the wisdom we share with the Hacking Sophia community, three big jewels emerged consistently as the foundations to prioritize, to help the shift from ‘post-baby just hanging on’ to living life more fully. Most of our Sophia Contributors learned these through challenges, often (also) experiencing a “can’t do this anymore” moment and wishing they would have known and acted on these pieces of wisdom earlier. Personally, I really wish I would have known and acted on these three early on. I know I would have saved myself a lot of hardship. 

1) Define Your What Matters (and you’re ‘not so much anymore’).

“It took me until my second child to really think through what mattered most to me. It was my immediate family, my career and my well-being. Full stop. The rest of the shit I was doing, that I thought was really important or gave me joy, just couldn’t fit anymore.” — A Sophia Contributor

Early on, everything that used to matter is still there plus add in a baby, then maybe children, and things quickly get overwhelming. Deciding what you really care about as it relates to baby/children/family, life and work in your new reality is essential. If how you spend your time doesn’t align with the core of what you really care about, your world is out of sync and you’re left feeling frustrated and certainly exhausted. Here’s how:

  • Define the big categories of things that matter most to you. Think about where you want to spend your energy, and in the Cram it all in Years think in shorter windows, like a 6-month horizon. Categories could include: immediate family, career, self-care, social time, creative outlets, etc. Just jot them down.
  • Distill your big categories of “what matters most now” list down to a top 5 and identify and define what doesn’t matter so much to you anymore. Choose your top 5, and by default, deprioritize what is less important to you. It can help to assign a value, a simple 1 – 10, to force choice.
  • List your Supposed To’s: Get these off your chest, your mind, your conscience! We’re overloaded with “I’m supposed to’s” whether it’s from social media, assumptions about what others think you should be or do, or other expectations that you accumulate. List your supposed to’s so you make the invisible visible, eliminate what doesn’t serve you and hold onto what’s important to you. Examples include: being my extended family’s ‘go to’ for advice, serving homecooked meals to my family, returning to my pre-baby fitness level, and more.
  • Write your clarity statements: For your top 5 categories, assisted by your list of ‘supposed to’s,’ add in your “why” these matter as a reinforcement and a check that you’re prioritizing for the right reasons (for you, for your family) and what you want to achieve (how). Here are some examples:

(What) Spending time with my immediate family is important to me (why) because one of my greatest joys comes from being a mom (how) so I’m going to make sure I invest quality time with them when I can be most present.

(What) Advancing career is a priority for me (why) because I enjoy the stimulation that comes from applying my skills and I want to continue to advance upwards (how) so I’m going to make sure I focus on what is going to drive my career forward, minimizing ‘other distractions” while I’m working. 

“There were too many nights that I laid in bed, after keeping it together for my kids, admitting to my husband “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” … I often felt like I was busting at the seams.”

2) Fierce Prioritization and Ruthless Boundaries.

You’ve done the hard part — the choices around how you spend your time and energy. Turn these “top 5 matters” into activities and actions, assigning time and get them in your calendar. This is what you fiercely protect and communicate to others, unapologetically. Continuing with the above two examples:

Immediate Family:

  • Spend quality time with my family: 
    • Be home by 6:30 pm 3 nights a week to bath and put my baby/kids to bed. 
    • Be fully present with them during that time; no emails, texts during that time.
    • And, relax my ‘supposed to’s’ around homecooked meals.


  • Advance my career:  
    • Ruthless focus on career advancing priorities by defining the 3 business critical priorities that will demonstrate success in my role. 
    • Defining the associated action steps to make that happen, the resources/support required, determining what to delegate and what to eliminate that doesn’t fit.

3) Assemble Your Team (Personal & Professional)

I wish I had leaned on my tribe more. You need an outlet of realness. You need a friend who you can call and say anything to without judgement. — A Sophia Contributor

We can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. Action it. Start by choosing which people are most critical to you and give yourself time to find them. It’s not a race!

Here are some examples that emerged as the early important ones:

Life: Childcare Team, 911 Friends, Trusted Advisors, Moms who have your back,
Work: Got Your Back Peers, Advocates, Mentors, Investors

Remember, as you consider the above, perfection is the enemy of done! Get started so you make choices. 

While I wish I would have known that despite the many screw-ups and agonizing periods of self-doubt of whether I was a good mom and business leader, I’m happy to report that I have three amazing adult children, each accomplished in their careers, each in healthy relationships, the same loving husband and a career that I can honestly say, “Wow, I got to do that!”

Janet Winkler

Janet Winkler

Janet is an experienced leader, entrepreneur and marketing specialist. Janet founded in-sync, an insights-based brand consultancy which was acquired by Publicis Groupe where she was appointed Group President, Publicis Health. Following her retirement from Publicis, Janet became a Senior Advisor at McKinsey & Company. However, Hacking Sophia was calling. It was born out of a desire to help working moms thrive in personal and professional lives.

3 Lessons Learned From Emotional Burnout Last Year

First off, let me say that I’ve had enough of performing, perfecting, proving and pleasing. They’ve all been UN-invited to my 2020 New Year, Better Me party. 

Problem is, they have a tendency to show up uninvited — especially in my field of work as an Inclusion Strategist, Neuro-Life and Emotional Intelligence Coach. Helping organizations have braver conversations around inclusive workspaces, deconstructing heavy and uncomfortable “elephants” like internalized racism, white privilege, microaggressions, and microinvalidations, is at the core of what we do. 

There are days I get home and ask myself: “Did you just spend the day proving why you and racialized people should have a right to equitable workspaces?”

These are the days I wish I didn’t have to prove to the masses that when you speak about gender without adding race, most of the conversation, solutions, speakers or stats being shared will reflect only white women, and will most likely only benefit white women as well.

And while the research shows that racial discrimination is a common experience in Canada, it seems that many do forget that Black, Indigenous, and Women of Colour (BIWOC) face an emotional tax daily in the workplace. As an entrepreneur, I wish I could say that the entrepreneurial journey is different — but it’s not. 

Proving is where I burned out. Proving that emotional tax is real, and that Women of Colour experience this on top of racism and sexism. Proving that representation has to be more than a hashtag or a communication strategy, and that the most underrepresented should be prioritized. Proving that inclusion begins with I (the individual) and must start from the top to trickle down to workplace culture. These are the lessons my burnout taught me: 


LESSON # 1: Setting emotional boundaries is a holistic process

Lack of emotional boundaries at work led to me deprioritizing my needs in the pursuit of doing what matters to me the most. Reflecting back, I did take things personally at a huge International Women’s Day event last year, where the lack of diversity on and off stage was glaring. Or when conferences I attended did not bother to have diverse speakers, quote stats, or address the “elephant in the room” — that Black, Indigenous, self-identifying women of colour are the most underrepresented when talking about women’s advancement. I learned that I need to check in with my emotional bank account and determine whether I have the bandwidth to attend that event, comment, or leave if I didn’t feel welcome.


There are so many brilliant leaders representing with excellence and we know that representation matters — you can’t be what you can’t see.


LESSON # 2: Emotional burnout blocks your superpowers (AKA, your intuition) 

Emotional burnout is exhausting. It amplifies stress-like symptoms and so can feel “normal”.  Performing, perfecting, pleasing and proving can rob us of our greatest wins and our ability to make better decisions, leading to disconnection from our authentic selves and our intuition. Am I surprised that I ended the year with a flu that lasted for almost a month? Not at all. 

LESSON # 3: Burnout is an entry point to braver conversations at work, home and in life

In my work, we remind our clients that wellness is a leadership strategy — but I forgot to put on my own oxygen mask in this case. This burnout gave me an opportunity to reflect on my activities, how I chose to respond and interact in spaces where I didn’t feel safe or welcomed, and revisit what my life would look like in 2020 & beyond. This led to braver conversations in my business, teams, marriage, family, friendships, and my inner self. I had to re-prioritize my needs and face my truth: Who did I want to become? 


This is why I am excited to tell more stories about Black women and women of colour in 2020. Last year, we worked with an amazing group of women on the soft launch of AmplifyHer — a self-funded, grassroots movement that is designed to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous and self-identifying women of colour. There are so many brilliant leaders representing with excellence and we know that representation matters — you can’t be what you can’t see. This year, we’re partnering with Women of Influence, using their platform to share the stories wider, and we’re looking to grow with other like-minded organizations.

I hope my lessons offer some insight, or remind you to set boundaries in your life. Everything we go through is designed to help us grow to our next leadership opportunity — be it at work or at home. Truly everything is designed to help us get closer to realizing our full potential.

Finding Leadership Success by Overcoming Industry Barriers

C. Esther De Wolde is the Chief Executive Officer at Phantom Screens, North America’s leading provider of retractable screens. Esther is an experienced strategic leader who prides herself on giving back and using personal values as a foundational element for leadership. Esther focuses on Phantom’s corporate commitment and objectives on truly enhancing the lives of homeowners across North America and the local community.



By C. Esther De Wolde



You must know yourself before you can lead others. As a company founder turned CEO, nothing rings truer than this statement. For me, holding personal values close in the workplace not only leads to professional success but also personal fulfilment. 

I work in an industry where women are the minority, making up only 28% of manufacturing jobs and I am frequently asked, “What is it like to work in a male-dominated industry?” The truth is that I aim to succeed because of who I am and I don’t spend time considering my gender. However, we, unfortunately, do live in a world where inequality still exists and many are faced with discrimination in the workplace. So how can those who face inequality barriers further their professional success?


Focus on your Strengths

I never allow my gender to dictate what I can or cannot do, both on a personal and a professional level. I focus on my core strengths in order to be the best that I can be as an employee, leader, and individual, regardless of my gender. 

At Phantom Screens, we value employees for what they bring to the table as individuals and I consistently emphasize to them the importance of working in a business with clear cultural values for inclusivity and diversity. 


Stay True to Your Values

My upbringing has driven me to not only become the person that I am, but has significantly shaped the leadership style I exude. Being raised by Christian parents, early in my career I decided that, regardless of what industry I was working in, I wanted to honour my faith by pursuing the dream of improving the lives of my customers, employees and partners.

This is how I established the foundation for my leadership style and I have since learned valuable lessons throughout my career. I confess there have been times I made value missteps. But, these helped me recalibrate and recommit to the saying, walk the talk. It is a sad truth that devoting to personal values may be criticized in the workplace, especially if they are based on religious beliefs. However, we all hold our own worldview that is shaped by religion, politics or the culture we grew up in. Staying true to your values is not about imposing beliefs on others, but rather reflecting on what you truly value in yourself and in those around you.


Apply What You Learn

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in maintaining my values while breaking through inequality barriers in the workplace:

  • Take time to reflect: First and foremost, reflect on where you’ve been, where you are and what you ultimately want to achieve. Honestly ask yourself if your present workplace and career correlates with how you define your life’s purpose and deeply held values.
  • Fulfil your potential: I often get asked in reference to the adversity I’ve faced in my career as a woman of faith: “Has it all been worth it?” The simple answer is yes. Seeing every employee pursue their potential and bloom where they have been planted has made it all worthwhile and nothing brings me more joy than that, whether it’s at Phantom Screens or another organization.
  • Hold yourself accountable: Three years ago, I created a formal advisory board in order to keep me and my team accountable. I never want to be in a position of complacency. I want to be pushed and challenged to continue to grow the company, the team and myself to keep striving to fulfil our full potential.

From my perspective, the best measure of success comes down to staying true to what you believe in and the impact you have on improving the lives of others. Operating from the foundation of your personal values in the workplace and pursuing your fullest potential, regardless of industry barriers, will ensure you are fulfilled by your career, and in who you are as a team member and as an individual.

Why I started a book club for in-risk teen girls


Tanya Marie Lee is the founder of A Room Of Your Own book club, offering teen girls living in poverty a safe space to find their voice, see their potential, and discuss issues they might face — with monthly meet-ups that include the author of the book they’re reading. Inspired by the sanctuary the library provided during her own traumatic childhood, Tanya launched the program in 2017 and has served over 600 students in Toronto so far. With no stable sources of funding, she relies on donations to continue her work. We asked Tanya to share her story.


By Tanya Marie Lee



When you think of a library, what is the first thing you think of? Books? Librarians? How about a sanctuary? What about a home away from home? How about a road to recovery? When I think of a library, these are the indomitable words that come to my mind.

My name is Tanya Marie Lee and I am the founder of “A Room Of Your Own Plus+” (AROYO) book club for teen girls living in poverty. Hosted in the Lillian H. Smith Public Library in Toronto, our primary focus is on giving young women a space for self-exploration, access to anti-oppression information, and a voice in society, while supporting their mental health and wellness. Girls from 13 to 18 years of age, from all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, abilities and sexual orientations, meet monthly for a discussion — with the author in attendance. We create safe spaces to encourage these young women to express their curiosity, ambitions, hopes, fears, needs, concerns, and frustrations.

How did I know a book club could offer so much? Libraries and books have always been a lifeline for me. Growing up in a very abusive household, my life was filled with conflict and trauma.


“I felt that abuse and struggle was just a way of life for me. No matter how much I prayed to God, the abuse never stopped — that is, until the moment I entered a library.”


I was physically, emotionally and spiritually abused. I was sexually abused by numerous people in my life, as a young child and into my teen years. I felt as if I couldn’t catch a break. Not only was I abused, but I witnessed abuse when my mother physically and verbally abused in front of me. I wasn’t valued at home for being a girl child either. I had no self-esteem and no sense of my potential. I felt lost, isolated and forgotten.

At school, I was bullied. As a mixed-raced girl, racism was ever present. I felt that abuse and struggle was just a way of life for me. No matter how much I prayed to God, the abuse never stopped — that is, until the moment I entered a library. The library was like heaven on earth for me. The library was a place of salvation, my lifeline. Books were my sustenance. When I walked into a library, I was no longer someone’s prey. I was me, Tanya Marie Lee. I was whole. I could be anything, or anyone, the moment I picked up a book and started reading. I wasn’t a victim or a survivor when I was reading a book. In books, I found everything I needed to survive, and eventually triumph.

Unfortunately, as a result of the abuse I endured, I now also live with an invisible disability. I live with PTSD and Bipolar II Disorder. When you look at me there are many things you do not see. You do not see my past nor what is happening to me in the present moment — both the good and the struggles. My identities include being an empowered, mixed-raced, Jewish woman who is a Life Skills Coach and a parent to an LGBTQ+ child. This rings true for young marginalized women as well. The layers of their identities are often unknown or dismissed.

I started “A Room Of Your Own” book clubs for girls in high priority areas (low income neighbourhoods) of Toronto, because I wanted to help them see their potential and shine brightly despite their struggles. This is the driving force that propels me to do this amazing work. It’s devastating to think it might come to an end.


Each month, A Room of Your Own needs about $2000 to pay for books for all of the girls, their lunch, and the travel expenses of authors. With your donation, this program can continue providing at-risk teen girls a safe space

What leading teams has taught me

With a breadth of marketing and strategy expertise, Virginia is known for building and scaling high-performing customer-focused teams. A Business Strategist and Marketing Partner at ELIM5, a Toronto-based digital media company, she’s a valued member of the Women of Influence Advisory Board and an American Marketing Association mentor.



by Virginia Brailey






Leads are through the roof. Our customers love us. We doubled our revenue. Some of the best moments in my career have been successes resulting from the work and collaboration of teams I have had the privilege to build, scale and lead. There is no denying how great it feels when things fall into place and results surpass expectations. 

My most rewarding experiences, however, have actually been during the tough times. Years ago, I was leading marketing and strategy at a mid-sized organization facing growing competition, shrinking margins and integration challenges from recent acquisitions. The company’s sales were down, we couldn’t seem to get the new products delivered on time and employees were tired from putting in long hours. We needed to transform our product lines and our company in the face of disruption and figure out our new North Star. The President had built a strong leadership team — lots of skill and grit and collaboration — and was adept at helping us manage increasingly demanding shareholder expectations, but we were also stretched. 

Stress was getting to the team, and we were starting to see some bad behaviour. As part of the strategic planning program, I suggested engaging our employees to get their input and to help operationalize the strategy. In the end, it was not just their great input, but also their attitude that helped us gain support from our board to get the additional investment we needed to transform our business. Ultimately, the company doubled its revenue. 

It is not the moment of achievement that stays with me, but rather the willingness of the employees to pitch in to help develop the aspirational goals as well as the programs that put the strategy in motion. It sounds so simple and straightforward now — involve your team in setting out and achieving the destiny of your company — but it was not easy to chart the course and keep the revenue coming in at the same time. There were things I learned during this time that I won’t soon forget. 

Leadership is an obligation

You owe it to the company you work for and all of those you are leading to hold yourself to a higher standard of behaviour and accountability. Leadership is no easy task, and you need the resolve to successfully lead others — not just during the easy times, but the make-or-break moments and times of disruption, as well. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about leadership as an obligation to read Vince Molinaro’s book, The Leadership Contract

Stay true to yourself during tough times. 

There are always going to be tough situations — how you respond is what matters most. Stick to your core values, and if you find yourself in a negative situation where taking a stand is not possible, you can leave the room and keep your integrity intact. I think, however, leaders have an obligation to not only steer the ship in the right direction but also call out bad behaviour. That usually means staying in the room when it is really tough to do so. 

Believe in the good in people, seek to understand. 

No one goes to work wanting to do a bad job. As a team leader, you owe it to your employees to set them up for success, with the right structure and programs to facilitate teamwork and inclusion. I have generally found that people act inappropriately or underperform because of complicated corporate structures or difficulties in their personal and work lives. This doesn’t excuse the bad behaviour, but being open to understanding the context can help you to resolve it. 

To me, there is really nothing like that moment when a team comes together to chart a new course, venture into new territory and challenge to improve the outcome. A lot goes into setting up teams for success and I am thankful for the lessons I have learned myself, for all those who share their learnings so willingly, and for all the amazing teams and team leaders I have had the privilege of working with.


A new view of boys being boys

As Senior Vice President, Global Engagement for Women of Influence, Jan Frolic has the privilege of connecting with people who are doing the work to advance women and are looking to do more. Passionate about inclusion, she’s also the founder of boypro-ject, offering in-school curriculum to encourage youth to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity.



by Jan Frolic



I was just recovering from a year-long depression over Trump becoming President when I found myself at my desk, being turned inside-out, watching Christine Blasey Ford testify in the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. I listened intently as she began to turn her life into a circus for the greater good of humanity. I was concentrating on her tortured face when my 16-year-old son approached me, holding out his phone with some image on the screen, and asked me point-blank: “Why is this me?”  

I could feel it and see it in his eyes — a cross between sadness and hurt and anger. What he was showing me was Shannon Downey’s cross-stitched rendition of “boys will be boys,” with the final “boys” stricken out and replaced by held accountable for their fucking actions.  This craft has gone viral twice, once with Trump and again with Kavanaugh.  

I had no answer for my son. No good answer, at least. Part of me was cheering on the inside, but my heart also felt like it was stopping and I couldn’t breathe because I hurt so much. And I was scared. 

I have a passion for advancing women, and advocating for girls — and the deepest desire to help my boys navigate this world safely and respectfully, and to be good humans. I want them to be successful in their own right. I want them to be champions of women and considerate of their female friends, but I want them to thrive in their masculinity as well. 

But what does that mean? What is masculinity? I was still listening to Christine Blasey Ford’s stoic account of sexual assault in the background. My brain was on overload, empathetic tears streaming — and at the same time, I’m trying to understand how suddenly my son feels like he is being held accountable for Kavanaugh’s actions.

How, as a society, have we created a narrative where boys are blamed for men like Kavanaugh and Trump?

Over the next few days, I researched online and listened harder to parents talking to their sons. I quickly realized just how often we use the word “boy” in a positive manner. We don’t. We call our boys “young men” and we call our baby sons “my little man.” In doing so, we bypass their childhood, their right to being boys, and make them adults long before their time. Not only do we strip them of their childhood titles, but we also use those same titles to demean and insult men, with reprimands of “boys will be boys,” or the negative connotations of the “old boys’ club.”  

We infantilize our men and adultize our boys. Men do it. Women do it. And we are teaching our children to do it. We are breeding a misunderstanding and distrust of the masculine. It is harmful for both boys and girls — and consequently, men and women. 

So how do we support girls, advance women, and have healthy boys who will grow into men who are naturally empathetic, equitable and happy? How do we create sustainable change, with gender equality at every level? 

Answering these questions was the origin of boypro-ject. It’s about starting at the beginning. Teaching our children a new language and a new way of interacting. Creating new paths to understanding each other early.   

My partner, Jennifer Johnson, and I are equally devoted to inclusion and equity and we have created an organization that builds out an inclusive in-school curriculum to encourage young people to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity. Our signature program is called Captains & Poets, which helps all genders understand modern masculinity. We are focusing on lifting the limitations we have all placed on masculinity. There is a Captain and a Poet in each of us as human beings, and our lessons are designed to recognize and access these archetypes in ourselves and to give permission for our peers to access both of these within themselves.   

With the right support, we believe the next generation will be in a unique position to bring forward a new form of masculine identity — one that is authentic and inclusive, that will organically create equitable home, work and social environments.


The Pressure of Performing

As CEO of G(irls)20, Heather Barnabe’s career has been built around improving the livelihoods of women and girls, both at home in Canada and around the world. With over a decade of experience in the not-for-profit sector, Heather knows what it means to manage complex, multi-country interventions.


By Heather Barnabe, CEO, G(irls)20




“On rit pour ne pas pleurer” was the refrain commonly used by my high school French teacher. We laugh to not cry. He’d typically deploy it when his students flubbed the French language and being the terrible French student that I was, I was often on the receiving end of that phrase. He would take a deep breath, close his eyes and, whisper “Barnabe, on rit pour ne pas pleurer.” And then he’d laugh, correct me and move on. I watched him do this for years with his students and did not appreciate the importance of what his phrase meant until recently, when I needed to deploy it regularly. 

I have had the privilege to lead G(irls)20 since June of 2017. G(irls)20 is a non-profit organization that focuses on leadership development in young women to change the status quo and help cultivate the next generation of female leaders. Each year, ahead of the G20 leaders’ meetings, we host a global summit and invite young female delegates from around the world to participate in workshops and meaningful discussions surrounding women’s rights and global issues. The delegates work together to create a communiqué that incorporates a female youth perspective on the topics of the summit. The communiqué is then presented to the G20. The delegates also create a post-summit initiative that helps change their communities. It’s an incredible job and I feel lucky to do but, like any great opportunity, the pressure to execute is anxiety-inducing. 

In May, we hosted our 10th annual summit in Japan. For a number of reasons outside of our control, G(irls)20 had to prepare our Summit in a very short timeframe, operating in overdrive to pull everything together and implement an impactful event. 


Having a strategy to tackle workload-related anxiety is necessary to succeed in our high-performing professional environments. With a dash of humour added, you will be able to navigate just about anything.


At G(irls)20, we struggle over the decision about who we choose for our programs, because, simply put, the world is full of dedicated, talented young women, deserving of opportunities. In the lead up to Summit, there was a week where our keynote speaker had pulled out, one of our delegates was declined a visa, and another delegate called me up distressed as she was potentially unable to attend. Layered with numerous other issues that arose, the pressure of implementing a global summit with what felt like a lack of human capital, resources and time was already keeping me up at night. That day, anxiety kicked in and felt overwhelming. And I’m not alone — a recent Ipsos Reid poll found almost half of Canadians find the workplace the most stressful part of their life. Of those Canadians, half indicate workload is the biggest cause. 

So how do we navigate workplace anxiety caused by pressure and workload? I try to reframe the anxiety and follow these steps: 

  1. Take stock. Write down the details of the issue, list out the possible next steps, outcomes, and associated pros and cons.
  2. Reach out. Who in your network can help with this issue?
  3. Take action. You have to make a decision, so once you have run through steps 1 -3, be decisive and move forward.
  4. Prepare. What possible outcomes did you determine in step 1? Prepare for those outcomes with mitigating strategies.
  5. Step back. In looking at the bigger picture, is this issue truly significant or are there other factors influencing your anxiety?  
  6. Move on. I did not appreciate that for my French teacher, that refrain of ‘on rit pour ne pas pleurer’ was his gentle way of reminding himself of seeing the bigger picture and then moving on. Yes, his students were incorrectly conjugating a French verb, but they were still learning French, a language he adored. It’s good to be reminded that the best plans go awry in our professional lives —but we can stay the course. 

That particular day, I found comfort in his phrase and laughed at the absurdity of the multitude of issues coming at once. And then we did what we needed to — the G(irls)20 team kicked into action, going through the steps, and ultimately executing a notable global summit for young female leaders. Having a strategy to tackle workload-related anxiety is necessary to succeed in our high-performing professional environments. With a dash of humour added, you will be able to navigate just about anything.

The power of finding — and following — your passion

After four years building and leading Deloitte Canada’s Diversity & Inclusion Consulting practice, Carolyn Lawrence is now Deloitte Global’s first ever Inclusion Leader. Passionate about creating inclusive cultures, Carolyn previously spent ten years at the helm of Women of Influence, growing the organization’s reach, offerings, and impact.



by Carolyn Lawrence






“I want to influence women’s advancement.” That’s what I wrote in a graduate school application essay some 20 years ago. It was a pivotal moment. You know the kind. When you’re working through your thoughts; exploring, testing, sounding out and seeing what sticks. And then I wrote that and everything became clear. 

I mapped out my action plan to pivot from my marketing and communications in financial services background and follow my passion. This led me to join and subsequently run Women of Influence. It was a dream creating events, magazines, and courses, all to advance women! Things couldn’t get better. 

But throughout those highs came a number of strength-building “opportunities” — and some real lows. I faced not only the stresses of entrepreneurship amidst a recession, but also the sudden loss of my father.

What helped me most was that I knew I had found my purpose. I’ve said it many times before, and I will say it many times more: find your passion. This has been my compass and a burning fire lit from within. Still, I knew I needed change. I was tired, stretched, and feeling a need to learn, grow, and, quite honestly, have a little less entrepreneurial stress. 

I also saw that the representation of women in leadership wasn’t increasing fast enough. It was time to shift my focus away from helping women advance, to advancing corporate culture instead — guiding them to hire and promote women.

That led me to Deloitte, where I joined the Human Capital consulting team to build a Diversity & Inclusion practice. It took significant effort to learn how to be a consultant and navigate the hundreds of bosses in the partnership, plus a good amount of resourcefulness to create a new service offering (thankfully with helpful and bright minds, global thought leaders, and strong allies on my side). 

To be rated a high performer, I had to supplement the practice with substantive revenue and hit billable hourly targets. It was a challenge to keep up with the pace and volume. I was working from 4 am to 6 pm, spending time with my son, and then often crashing right after I got him to bed if there wasn’t an urgent proposal on the docket. I had some great wins, and learned some invaluable lessons about my work — but I wasn’t connected to my purpose, and therefore wasn’t getting fuel. It felt more like running on empty.   


“What helped me most was that I knew I had found my purpose. I’ve said it many times before, and I will say it many times more: find your passion.”


Then a funny thing happened: I got some negative feedback on a presentation. It was hard to hear, but it was also the push I needed. It was time to look in the mirror.  

Was I being true to my purpose? Nope. Did I want to be a badass again? Yes! Here’s how I moved back towards passion and authenticity: 

Pivot when it’s not working. There was a meeting planned in front of a panel of partners where I had to share my business case for advancement. I knew I couldn’t keep on the course I was on. I prepared, sought counsel, and designed my case. Would they give me some runway to figure out how to declare my focus? I shared my passion and expertise, and my ideas for how I could make it work. I thought through their perspective and all of the questions they might ask. The meeting went well. They were appreciative of my honesty and that I had framed it with the business in mind.

Be Brave. I risked my career in that moment. I’d spent many years keeping my mouth shut when things weren’t going accordingly (at home and at work). No longer. I do wait for the right moment and thoughtfully and strategically script myself, but I do it. 

Stay true to yourself. As a result of my bold move, I was realigned to the work that I loved: designing gender pay gap methodologies and groundbreaking research, all with inspiring people. Our report, The design of everyday men, shares a new perspective on how culture is getting in the way of gender equity, including the “always-on, always available” barrier I encountered.

Fast forward, and that recent work — the work where I was aligned to my passion — has led me to being rewarded with my current role, Deloitte Global’s first-ever Inclusion Leader and our report was just honoured by Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Award!


Stephania Varalli: The three things I learned about leadership

Leadership is a complex ideology, with so many different forms and approaches. It’s common to worry about whether or not you are an effective leader —  however, with an array of tools and resources at our fingertips, we can lay those anxieties to rest, and be the leaders we were born to be. Stephania Varalli is Co-CEO of Women of Influence, and oversees the organization’s media offerings, including the website, social media channels, newsletters, partnered content programs, and Women of Influence magazine. She recently completed the Queen’s Leadership Program at Smith School of Business and shares three very important lessons that she learned. 



By Stephania Varalli



Until recently, when people would ask me what I did for a living, my standard response was always: “I work for an organization called Women of Influence.” The statement wasn’t incorrect, but it took my husband being in earshot to point out that something was wrong. 

“Why don’t you ever mention that you are Co-CEO?” he asked me one day. 

I didn’t have an answer. Yes, I did the work of a Co-CEO. I had a team. I made key decisions. I considered the big picture and the company’s future. I was a leader. But was I a good leader? Or maybe a terrible one? Was I transformational? Authentic? Inclusive? Any other buzzword? And that was the problem: I referred to myself as just one of the gang, because I didn’t really know who I was as a leader.

 Which is why I chose to sign up for the Queen’s Leadership Program at Smith School of Business. It appealed to me because it wasn’t just designed to teach you about great leadership, or provide tools for leading effectively (though it did do both). The intensive, five-day course offers insights on you — your strengths, your weaknesses, and how you, specifically, can become a better leader. 

In June of this year, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my three-year-old daughter, my 18-month-old son, and my very supportive husband, and boarded a train to Kingston. Over the course of the week, I would completely change the way I think about leadership, and gain clarity on how I was perceived as a leader. Here are the three key lessons I learned.


  1. It’s about you

Prior to leaving for Kingston, I completed the Attentional and Interpersonal Style (TAIS) questionnaire online. The assessment is a deep dive into who you are and how you perform, especially under stressful conditions. It provides insights about the way you work, how you view yourself, and how you interact with others. We received the results one morning, and were given time for some quiet reflection as we read through the report. 

I liken the experience to looking in a mirror for the first time. There wasn’t anything surprising — I could recognize this was me, with all my strengths and faults — but seeing my personality mapped on 20 different scales brought me to a level of self-awareness I had never before reached. All my unique traits, and how these elements worked together, were suddenly clear. Most importantly, it helped me to see how my behaviour was impacting other people. 

The point was hammered home all week, by our professors and in one-on-one sessions: to be a great coach and a successful leader, you have to know who you are. 

  1. But it’s not about you

Knowing who you are, however, is only the first step. We were challenged to ask ourselves if we were observing the impact we were having on others — and taking responsibility for it. For me, the most difficult part of this exercise was coming to the realization that other people were seeing things that I didn’t think they’d see. I have a tendency to start solving a problem before someone’s finished explaining it to me, which means my listening brain exits stage left halfway through a conversation. And I had to admit to myself, my team sees this. Not to mention, solving other people’s problems by providing them with the answer isn’t what I should be doing. As a leader, my role is to develop learned optimism, not learned helplessness.

“People are remarkably sensitive to the way in which they are treated — and will respond accordingly,” said Dr. Julian Barling, one of our session leaders, and a renowned expert on leadership. 

“Great leadership can seem a little out of reach — a pedestal for the likes of Nelson Mandela — and realizing success could come from developing a few traits and focusing on key moments made it feel much more attainable.”


Fortunately, I also received direct insights on how my team felt they were being treated. Another part of my pre-work for the program was the 360 Degree Feedback process, which involved gathering input from my peers and direct reports through confidential questionnaires. In one of my coaching sessions, we compared my own perception of my leadership skills with how others saw my effectiveness in my role. 

The good news? I was doing pretty well. As the kind of person who isn’t content with doing pretty well (yes, that was in my TAIS report, too), I wanted to fix everything. But that would go against the biggest lesson I’d learned all week. 


  1. It’s about the little things

The first Julian Barling quote I wrote down (of many) came on our first day: “It’s a course on leadership, not sainthood,” he said. 

The point? You don’t need to be perfect to be a great leader. In fact, after the class had listed off all of the hallmarks of effective leadership, Dr. Barling advised us to pick a few that we were good at, and focus our energy there. 

He went on to explain that demonstrating these traits doesn’t have to be about grand gestures. The best of leadership, he said, is about moments. The small and routine interactions that you have with your team. And so he asked us, repeatedly, “What are the smallest things that you can do?” 

I was thankful to have this perspective early on in the program. Great leadership can seem a little out of reach — a pedestal for the likes of Nelson Mandela, whose quotes we heard often — and realizing success could come from developing a few traits and focusing on key moments made it feel much more attainable. 

The sentiment was echoed throughout the week. Dr. Peter Jensen — another impressive session leader, and founder of Performance Coaching (now called Third Factor) — continued to remind us that coaching is all about the little things. We heard the same words from our guest speaker on crisis leadership, Darby Allen — fire chief for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, who led the largest evacuation in Canadian history when he safely guided 88,000 residents out of Fort McMurray during the 2016 Alberta wildfires. An undertaking of that scale, he said, requires the efforts of many people to come together like a jigsaw puzzle, and “all the little things that they do will make the difference.”

Theory is much more powerful when you are able to put it into practice, and our daily small group sessions offered that opportunity. Our team quickly bonded as we rotated through roles: sharing a personal problem, helping that individual to explore the issue, and observing the process. Each role provided a unique perspective and learning; not only did I work on my active listening and coaching skills, I was able to hone in on what I needed to do as a leader to address stumbling blocks at work. 

Thanks to these group meetings — plus the class sessions, one-on-one coaching, and more self-reflection than I ever thought possible — I came out of the course with specific goals to focus on (but, as advised, not too many). 

I also received my Queen’s Executive Program Certificate, having now completed enough Executive Education courses (I did it through a personalized combo of two week-long programs at Queen’s, and some two-day, new-mom-friendly courses at their Toronto facility). I’d been working toward this goal since 2016, when I took my first course as a very pregnant new business owner. 

But if you ask me about my biggest accomplishment that came out of the program? This fall marks my fifth year as Co-CEO of Women of Influence, and it’s a title I now confidently share with others.


Two experts share how to successfully build your online profile

At a time when the next best option is just a few simple clicks away, building a
successful online profile is critical for companies and the entrepreneurs behind them. Jess Hunichen and Emily Ward, co-founders of Shine PR and Shine Influencers, share their proven advice for creating a brand image.




By Jess Hunichen and Emily Ward




When we started the Shine PR brand, we were told we were “too girly” to succeed. We launched the business loudly and yet lightly, with a decidedly less corporate- feeling vibe than what people were used to from public relations agencies at the time. Our tone and branding were fun and vibrant, with an Instagram account filled with quotes and colourful imagery — it had a bit of Kate Spade-esque aesthetic to it. The page gained traction, the business began to take off and our refreshing embrace of femininity actually helped us rather than hindered us.

In 2015, we expanded our business with the creation Shine Influencers, and now help our roster define their own brands. Competition has never been fiercer; at a time when the next best option is just a few simple clicks away, building a successful online profile is critical for companies and the entrepreneurs behind them. Whether you have sights of becoming the latest and greatest influencer or are starting a small business and are the face of the company, your personal brand image is a first impression you convey to the world.

Here’s how to get it right:

Conduct an Audit.

If you already have a social media presence, building a successful brand requires a good hard look at your current accounts; they’re probably in need of cleaning up in some capacity. Odds are, at least a handful of photos — perhaps from your younger and clearly more naïve years — will get deleted or relegated to your Instagram “archive” folder. Ask yourself if a photo or status update truly correlates with the image you’re trying to portray. The videos of your sorority sisters chanting their anthems may be cute to you (and your sisters), but perhaps best left as a throwback on a group chat. For an objective eye, ask someone for an honest opinion of your existing social media content.

Do Your Research.

Like any successful endeavour, a strong online presence requires a little initial research. Look into the workings of the ever-changing Internet: ways to gain traction and exposure, how to build databases and followers, and strategic posting times. Define who you want your ideal audience to be (and why) and familiarize yourself with people or brands that engage a similar demographic. What type of content are they creating and what is resonating the most with their audience? Although the last thing you want to be is a copycat — being your unique and authentic self is part of the strategy — studying successful brands and people who have come before you offers valuable insight.

Know the Feel.

Some of the most successful brands are intentional in their “feel,” which keeps followers coming back time and time again for that daily hit of that emotion. When building and maintaining your online brand, consider how you want your audience to feel when consuming your content. Do you want them to feel inspired? Motivated? Curious? Identifying this will help you develop and curate content that is congruent with the core purpose of your personal brand. Once you identify this, consider how everything from your imagery to your tone will reflect this.

Establish Your Voice.

It’s important to have a distinctive voice — and use it. Your voice could be intellectual, inspirational, motivational, sassy, funny, sarcastic, lighthearted or spiritual. Whatever your voice is, it’s important to try to be consistent online across all of your platforms — having multiple personalities won’t do you any favours. In addition to a uniform voice, your social media name or handle should be as consistent as possible across all of your social media accounts both for brand cohesiveness and so others can find you easily.

Consider Content Structure.

Having consistent content pillars is the final component. While it’s great to try new things and grow with your community of followers, it’s also beneficial to articulate what topics you’re covering and make them your staples. For example, if you’re a nutritionist, perhaps every Monday you post about a different fruit or vegetable, explain the health benefits and give a recipe on how to incorporate it into your week. Followers will find the content helpful and start to come back consistently to see what the next week’s recipe will be.

Build Your Personal Brand.

Have a clear focus as to what your brand represents; the easiest way to do so is to focus on what you’re knowledgeable and passionate about, whether that means travel, sports, entertainment or mindfulness. It seems self-explanatory, but it couldn’t be more important. Don’t become an “overnight expert” in something you clearly aren’t well versed in; the online world can sniff out that type from a mile away. Your community will appreciate the relatability of you discovering a new passion more than you trying to know more than you do. People follow personal brands because they want the real experience, so remember to be honest and recognize your faults if you make a misstep. In general, remember that your social channels are an extension of you; not the other way around.


Melbourne native Jess Hunichen launched her entrepreneurial career in 2008 with
Honey PR, an influential boutique agency. After a successful stint in TV, she arrived
in Canada in 2014 and became an independent communications consultant before
launching the Shine brand in partnership with Emily Ward that same year. Emily is
a public relations consultant with fifteen years of agency experience, working with
brands like Pilsner Urquell, Sol Cuisine, Vegas Tourism, Ontario’s Finest Hotels, Inns
& Spas, and Kraft Foodservice.

Lessons Learned: How a senior executive is redefining “having it all” by making peace with compromise

The topic of “having it all” can quickly spark debate — not only about whether or not it’s possible but also about the unrealistic expectations just discussing this goal can impose on women. But, whether we talk about it or not, many of us are still experiencing the struggle of balancing work and life. Shemina Jiwani, a tech executive and mother of two, has found her own approach to having it all, centred around compromise. These are the lessons she’s learned.




By Shemina Jiwani


Can a woman have it all? I grapple with this question all the time, as I attempt to find balance in my own life between being a mother to two young children and a Chief Operating Officer for a FinTech company. I believe the answer first lies in how you define “having it all” and being realistic about it. I believe that I can have it all, with one caveat: having it all comes only when we are able to make peace with the trade-offs and compromises necessary to do so.


We Need Female Executives

There are countless studies which find direct correlations between a company’s profitability and the presence of women in executive and senior leadership positions, most notably McKinsey & Company’s “Women in the Workplace 2018” report. Clearly, we as women are doing our part.

Women are earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, we are asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rate as men, and we are staying in the overall workforce at the same rate as men.  So why do women represent only 15% of executive or senior management positions?

Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to stand on equal ground.   


Eliminating Unconscious Bias

I recently took a business trip to London, England for four days, leaving my husband to care for our four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son solo. I was flying with a male colleague whose kids are the same age. I jokingly asked him if he was in trouble for leaving, as I had multiple friends, colleagues, and even my own mother tell me I shouldn’t be leaving my children. He was surprised. He replied the only opinion he was given on his trip was a pub recommendation.

Both men and women can harbour unconscious biases when hiring and evaluating for the promotion of women. Often these biases focus on women’s motherhood or even potential motherhood.  For instance, it may be assumed that a woman between the ages of 20 and 40 will inevitably take maternity leave, or if she is a mother that she will prioritize family before career. Yet, even hard-working women who try to prioritize their careers will still be subject to judgements about being a bad mom or working too hard.  It’s a frustrating catch-22, and it is a bias because these assumptions are not commonly made for men of the same age group.

The antidote to unconscious bias may very well be empathy. Start a dialogue by sharing your experiences with your colleagues; you may help them see things from a different perspective.


Find a Work-Life Balance

It was very difficult for me to find balance; I couldn’t unshackle myself from my own guilt and the opinions of others, even if it meant sacrificing my own happiness. This is not sustainable. Flexibility, boundaries, and self-care are essential to “having it all.”


Here are some good places to start:

  • Ask for what you want: I was lucky enough to adopt my son from Morocco, which meant living there for six months. Before, I would have assumed taking maternity leave was my only option. Instead, I worked remotely and didn’t lose any momentum in my career progression. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.


  • Establish rules of engagement: Set boundaries for yourself and others that help you be more present. For example, I leave the office at 4 PM every day, and I don’t check my phone again until the kids are asleep at 7:30 PM. For you, it might mean working from home more often, establishing flex-time, or setting a monthly travel-limit.


  • Find a support system: Maybe we can have it all, but we can’t always do it all. It’s also important to remember that raising kids is not only a mom’s job. I have an amazing husband who shares the load with me. Single moms may need to consider amending co-parenting plans, enlisting the help of family, or even hiring childcare. Every family is different but remember you don’t need to do it alone.


  • Ditch the guilt: Inevitably, you’ll miss something: a recital, a game, a meeting, a deadline… accept it and move on. Own your choices and mistakes: you’re a human being. Guilt is not productive, nor is placing too much stock in the opinions or judgements of others.  


  • Find a Tribe: With so few women in upper management, it can get lonely. I was lucky enough to find a group of like-minded women from an accelerator program called Rise Up. I now have a network of 35 women that can truly relate to me, empower me, and help me stay on track.


You probably can’t be an effective CEO and a PTA president, but you can have it all as long as you are at peace with the compromises you need to make to do so.   


Shemina Jiwani is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at AscendantFX, a technology-based payment provider. Shemina is an experienced strategic leader with a focus on aligning people with technology. Shemina is an inaugural member of Money 20/20’s Rise Up Program, a global accelerator program for women in finance and technology. Follow her on Twitter @sheminajiwani