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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Eleanor Lee and Angel Kho

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sarah Kelsey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanda Costen is leading change in business education.

Wanda Costen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The army life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new vision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sarah Kelsey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And most importantly, do something that inspires you. 

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

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

Vanessa Marshall

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

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

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

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

And that’s how Jack59 was born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Hay

By Karen van Kampen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Permalution Tatiana Estevez

By Sarah Kelsey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Callery

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meigan Terry

By Sarah Kelsey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elbia Castillo

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Reynolds

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Isidean

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Curtis Ferrera

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jill Nykoliation

By Chris Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerful signal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlocking potential

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

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

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

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

Jill Nykoliation

A Queen’s family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tall grass

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

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

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

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

Jackie Wang

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is something that’s very important to Jackie. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Audrey Tugwell Henry

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chloe O’Brien

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alida Pellegrino

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How a telecommunications executive is making healthcare more accessible.

Juggy Sihota

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole McLaren développe sa boîte d’abonnement axée sur les autochtones – et aide ses fournisseurs à prendre de l’expansion en même temps.

Nicole Mclaren

Lorsque Nicole McLaren a créé son petit club de lecture sur son lieu de travail, au sein d’une grande société minière de Vancouver, son objectif était de faire participer ses collègues à la réconciliation en utilisant la littérature pour les sensibiliser aux effets dévastateurs des pensionnats sur les peuples autochtones du Canada, ainsi qu’aux problèmes de société actuels.

Nicole, qui a des origines mixtes et des racines autochtones, s’est concentrée sur les auteurs autochtones pour aider ses collègues à mieux comprendre les choses. Réalisant qu’elle voulait toucher un public plus large que celui d’une seule entreprise, Nicole a créé l’entreprise Raven Reads, une boîte d’abonnement à des articles cadeaux et à des livres autochtones. En 2017, elle a lancé son entreprise depuis sa table de sa cuisine en ayant quelques abonnés seulement – et un objectif d’inspirer, d’éduquer et de créer un espace sûr pour le dialogue.

Aujourd’hui, les choses sont bien différentes. Grâce aux milliers d’abonnés et à sa portée beaucoup plus large, Nicole a pu transformer une activité secondaire en une entreprise florissante, ce qui lui a fourni des conseils précieux à transmettre. Elle agit maintenant à titre de mentor et de coach pour sa vaste chaîne d’approvisionnement d’entreprises appartenant à des Autochtones. Nicole élargit même ses activités pour y inclure des activités d’exécution des commandes. 

J’ai rencontré Nicole pour en apprendre davantage sur l’entreprise Raven Reads et sur sa mission permanente visant à soutenir et à renforcer l’économie autochtone en restant fidèle à ses valeurs et en travaillant en étroite collaboration avec sa vaste chaîne d’approvisionnement et ses investisseurs. 

 

Je sais qu’il n’est pas facile de transformer un projet qui nous passionne en une entreprise commerciale prospère. Pouvez-vous me parler des débuts de Raven Reads et de la façon dont vous avez commencé?

En arrivant dans le monde des boîtes d’abonnement, je me suis sentie un peu en retard. La plupart des grosses pointures ont démarré vers 2006 et 2007, mais aucune entreprise ne se concentrait sur les livres ou les articles cadeaux autochtones. À l’époque, je devais faire un trajet de quatre heures en bus et en train. J’ai donc augmenté mes données et passé tout ce temps à faire des recherches sur les boîtes d’abonnement et à rédiger un plan d’affaires. 

De plus, je me suis abonnée à d’autres boîtes et j’ai tout analysé – la qualité de la boîte, l’épaisseur du carton, le nombre d’articles et la façon dont ils étaient expédiés. J’ai ensuite demandé l’aide de l’entreprise Small Business BC pour résumer mes projections financières, laquelle m’a aidée à accéder à des fonds de démarrage par l’entremise d’une institution financière autochtone locale, Futurpreneur Canada, et de BDC. 

En septembre 2017, j’ai fait un prélancement, et lors du Cyberlundi, j’ai été interviewée par l’émission Unreserved de la CBC Radio. Du jour au lendemain, nous sommes passés de 20 à 200 abonnés. 

À cette époque, vous aviez une idée très précise – une boîte d’abonnement contenant un livre et deux cadeaux par période – et maintenant, vous travaillez pour encadrer, soutenir et promouvoir votre propre chaîne d’approvisionnement d’entreprises appartenant à des Autochtones. L’entreprise a-t-elle évolué dans cette direction de manière organique?

L’entreprise Raven Reads, qui représentait au début la quintessence de la boîte à outils pour la réconciliation, s’est transformée en une plateforme destinée à promouvoir les auteurs et les entrepreneurs autochtones, et ce changement s’est fait de manière organique. 

J’ai toujours été consciente du risque de me heurter à un mur en matière de capacités de fabrication des fournisseurs. Les fournisseurs ne manquaient certainement pas, et bon nombre d’entre eux faisaient preuve d’une plus grande créativité dans leurs offres. Cependant, il y a environ deux ans, j’ai commencé à réfléchir à la possibilité de développer une intégration plus verticale tout le long de la chaîne d’approvisionnement. Il s’agissait d’une approche de gestion des risques. Au cours des 18 derniers mois, nous avons examiné la façon de mettre en place un système plus intégré qui soutiendra les fournisseurs et nous aidera à diversifier et à faire croître notre entreprise. 

En ce qui concerne l’encadrement, nous aidons nos fournisseurs sur le plan des pratiques exemplaires pour la croissance, de la vente en gros, de l’expédition et de l’emballage, entre autres choses. Certains de nos fournisseurs sont devenus des amis proches, et nous essayons également de leur proposer des idées concernant les produits. Par exemple, SheNative est une créatrice et fabricante d’articles de maroquinerie qui est située à Saskatoon, et nous travaillons actuellement avec elle en vue d’élaborer un produit personnalisé qui sera exclusif à Raven Reads. Je suis toujours à la recherche d’occasions de collaboration comme celle-ci. 

“Du point de vue du consommateur, nous offrons certainement un moyen pratique d’accéder à des produits authentiques. Je sais qu’au cours de la dernière année, on a pris conscience de l’importance de vérifier l’origine des produits et de savoir qui les produit.”

Je suppose que les consommateurs utilisent votre boîte d’abonnement comme un moyen d’en apprendre davantage sur les entreprises et les produits appartenant à des Autochtones. Pouvez-vous surveiller le comportement des consommateurs pour voir si la boîte favorise la croissance des ventes de vos fournisseurs?

Nous sommes en train d’examiner la façon dont nous pourrions surveiller la boucle de rétroaction. Ce mois-ci, nous inclurons dans la boîte un code de réduction unique pour chacun de nos fournisseurs. Ainsi, si vous aimez quelque chose qui se trouve dans la boîte de ce mois-ci, vous pourrez utiliser le code pour acheter d’autres produits sur le site Web, et nous pourrons commencer à faire le suivi des ventes de manière plus quantitative. Nous savons que nous contribuons à faire connaître les marques et les auteurs autochtones. 

Du point de vue du consommateur, nous offrons certainement un moyen pratique d’accéder à des produits authentiques. Je sais qu’au cours de la dernière année, on a pris conscience de l’importance de vérifier l’origine des produits et de savoir qui les produit. Nous fournissons cette transparence afin que nos abonnés sachent qu’ils peuvent faire confiance aux produits que nous offrons. 

De nombreuses organisations lancent des programmes de diversité des fournisseurs dans le cadre de leur engagement à l’égard de la diversité, de l’équité et de l’inclusion. Pensez-vous que ces programmes pourraient avoir un impact? 

Je pense certainement que ces programmes pourraient avoir un impact. Toutefois, d’après les observations que j’ai faites en travaillant avec d’autres femmes autochtones essentiellement au Canada, je constate un certain fossé entre l’offre et la demande en ce qui concerne les programmes de diversité des fournisseurs. 

De nombreux fournisseurs souhaitent y participer, mais il y a un retard dans les mesures d’orientation et de soutien qui sont mises en place pour leur permettre de fabriquer des produits susceptibles d’être demandés par un grand nombre de ces programmes. De plus, si un fournisseur a un produit susceptible d’entrer dans cette catégorie, il ne disposera peut-être pas de la capacité de fabrication ou du capital requis afin de produire les quantités nécessaires pour passer les commandes. 

Selon vous, quelle est la solution à ce problème?

Il faudra davantage de financement. Il existe beaucoup de financement pour aider les gens à démarrer leur entreprise, mais je vois beaucoup de collègues et de fournisseurs qui sont en situation d’attente. Ils ne peuvent pas profiter de ces possibilités de mise à l’échelle massive en raison du manque de capitaux pour obtenir le matériel nécessaire à cette fin, ou parce que la perturbation de la chaîne d’approvisionnement entrave leur capacité à obtenir des matériaux d’emballage ou des matières premières. Par conséquent, ils sont sollicités par les acheteurs qui veulent obtenir différentes choses, mais ils doivent refuser leurs demandes. 

Je sais que vous avez obtenu des fonds dès le début, y compris de BDC, pour lancer Raven Reads. Avez-vous éprouvé des difficultés à trouver d’autres sources de financement pour votre entreprise?

À mon avis, il est beaucoup plus facile de trouver des fonds de démarrage. Lorsque vous êtes en phase de croissance, vous devez prendre des décisions importantes quant à vos besoins de financement et au type de financement le mieux adapté à ces besoins. 

Pour moi, l’examen des options dilutives a été une grande courbe d’apprentissage – c’est quelque chose que je ne connais pas très bien. Selon mon expérience, l’investissement en actions est encore assez nouveau pour les femmes autochtones propriétaires de petites entreprises. L’idée de renoncer à une partie de ce que l’on possède peut être assez intimidante. Plus vous en verrez, plus ce sera facile pour vous et moins vous aurez peur. Le fait de se mettre au travail et d’apprendre comment cela fonctionne constitue un investissement en temps. 

“En tant que propriétaire d’une marque axée sur les impacts, je recherche des investisseurs axés sur les impacts, des partenaires qui cadrent avec nos valeurs.”

Je comprends que vous êtes actuellement à la recherche d’une autre ronde de financement. Quelles sont les prochaines étapes pour Raven Reads en termes de plans de croissance?

Nous étudions actuellement la manière d’assurer l’expansion de l’entreprise Raven Reads. Nous avons des exigences opérationnelles, et nous devons innover et nous améliorer afin d’y répondre. La pandémie nous a finalement obligés à quitter notre sous-sol en octobre dernier, et nous avons déménagé dans un entrepôt – lequel est déjà devenu trop petit pour nous. 

Nous avons un plan de croissance ambitieux pour Raven Reads afin d’occuper une plus grande place sur le marché nord-américain du commerce électronique par abonnement. En même temps, nous cherchons également à lancer un réseau logistique entièrement intégré pour les marques autochtones et les autres marques sous-représentées de l’Ouest canadien. Ce réseau comprendra un entrepôt de 100 000 pieds carrés, une fabrication en sous-traitance, et une entreprise de logistique ici en Colombie-Britannique. Il est donc certain que nous avons des besoins en capitaux importants. 

De mon côté, je tente de mobiliser des fonds simultanément pour ces deux aspects. Nous voulons pouvoir répondre aux besoins de Raven Reads et de ses fournisseurs en matière de logistique et d’exécution des commandes, tout en proposant une composante de fabrication en sous-traitance qui permettrait aux clients de confier la production de leurs produits à une entreprise appartenant à des femmes autochtones. Cela leur permettrait de produire des quantités plus importantes et de pouvoir ainsi tirer parti des commandes des grands détaillants. 

En tant que propriétaire d’une marque axée sur les impacts, je recherche des investisseurs axés sur les impacts, des partenaires qui cadrent avec nos valeurs. 

Grâce à votre entreprise, vous êtes devenue mentor pour de nombreuses autres femmes entrepreneurs autochtones. Quels conseils leur donnez-vous généralement lorsque vous les encadrez?

J’ai l’impression que les femmes entrepreneurs autochtones ont tendance à être timides lorsqu’il s’agit de formuler leurs objectifs les plus ambitieux, que ce soit en raison de leur culture ou de la façon dont elles ont été élevées. Elles hésitent à dire « Je voudrais créer une entreprise de plusieurs millions de dollars », et le fait de parler de « sorties » peut aussi les rendre mal à l’aise. Je les encourage donc à être plus transparentes, à planifier leur croissance et à accepter d’être des propriétaires d’entreprises ambitieuses. Je trouve également que bon nombre d’entre nous cherchent à offrir une vaste gamme de produits, et mon conseil serait de ne pas trop vous éparpiller en ce qui concerne la diversité de votre offre de produits. Vous devriez plutôt vous concentrer sur l’établissement d’une offre de produits de base et de le faire vraiment bien.

En parlant d’une offre de produits de base, votre engagement à présenter des livres en tant que principale composante d’une boîte d’abonnement de Raven Reads s’est-il affaibli au fil du temps? Je suis également curieux de savoir comment vous choisissez les livres et les auteurs à présenter. 

Le livre demeure le fondement de Raven Reads car il permet d’apporter un apprentissage concret et d’accroître la sensibilisation. J’ai lancé la boîte dans la foulée de la publication des rapports de la Commission de vérité et réconciliation, et l’appel à l’action a été immédiat. Le livre de Tanya Talaga intitulé Seven Fallen Feathers est le premier que nous avons choisi, car il s’agissait d’un livre essentiel pour lancer le projet. Depuis ce temps, nous n’avons pas choisi beaucoup d’œuvres non romanesques. Nous recherchons toujours des livres qui ont été publiés au cours des 90 derniers jours afin d’éliminer le risque qu’ils aient déjà été achetés, et nous essayons de rester à l’affût des nouveautés des auteurs autochtones canadiens et américains. 

Pour les personnes qui commencent leur aventure dans la littérature autochtone, quels sont les cinq livres les plus importants que vous leur recommandez de lire en premier?

Mon étagère est remplie de livres que je recommande, mais les cinq livres suivants sont particulièrement bouleversants. In Search of April Raintree de Béatrice Mosionier, Indian Horse de Richard Wagamese, Birdie de Tracey Lindberg, The Break de Katherena Vermette. Et, bien sûr, Seven Fallen Feathers, que je recommande toujours comme un bon point de départ. 

This executive is taking an intersectional approach to leadership — guided by her own personal struggles.

Rebecca Ehrlich

By Hailey Eisen

 

In 2017, Rebecca Ehrlich hit a major career milestone: her first Vice President role at Scotiabank. That same week, two of her three high school-aged children received mental health diagnoses. 

“I had this incredibly demanding assignment and was often working under tight timelines at work, and at the same time I had to do all this research to find the support and treatment my kids needed,” recalls Rebecca. “Some people in my life actually expected I would take a leave from work, but knowing myself, I knew being busy at work would be a good distraction from my worries at home.” 

She credits her leadership team and the bank’s support — allowing her to work whenever and wherever she was able — with her ability to navigate that difficult time in her life. “No one gives you a playbook to support your family when they’re struggling, and often it takes a lot of time and energy to find the right tools and resources,” she says. “Watching their resilience has made me more understanding of others going through similar struggles and the impact great support can really have. I always want to be able to provide that support from a leadership perspective.” 

This wasn’t the first obstacle Rebecca faced during her more than 20-year career in financial services. “I’ve had a visual disability since I was six, and it’s always made things extra challenging.” From not being able to spend extended periods of time looking at a screen to needing to find alternate ways to look at presentations and documents, Rebecca has had to adjust her work accordingly. “When things are projected on a screen I have to go up close to see them, which can be awkward.” 

But Rebecca’s own struggles haven’t stopped her — they’ve made her a more empathetic and better leader. She’s had the opportunity to work on a number of large transformational projects which involved bringing various groups together, with an emphasis on people and what each individual can bring to the table. This is what really gets Rebecca excited. She’s committed to understanding the perspectives individuals bring to the table and making sure they’re heard. 

“By recognizing people’s differences and the challenges and disadvantages they may face as a result, we are better able to support them through their career journey.” 

Now with over 14 years at Scotiabank, Rebecca has had a number of roles in a variety of business lines — from risk, audit, and security, to information and data management, to the development of strategic opportunities. In July, she started her current role as Vice President, Financial Crimes Risk Management, and in early 2021 Rebecca joined Scotiabank’s Employment Equity Committee, which allows her to consult on strategies around the equitable representation of People with Disabilities at the bank by amplifying their voices, reducing barriers, and elevating opportunities for improvement. 

One of the big focuses of the committee this year is intersectionality, a term first introduced in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to explain how Black women experience overlapping layers of discrimination on account of their race and gender. Today, the term has grown to represent how each of us holds an individual range of identities — such as race, disability, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more — some conferring advantages, with others resulting in disadvantages. This multifaceted understanding of identity is encouraged at Scotiabank, because it enables individuals to bring their whole selves to work — and that’s when inclusion happens.  

“By recognizing people’s differences and the challenges and disadvantages they may face as a result,” explains Rebecca, “we are better able to support them through their career journey.” 

Sharing her personal experiences, she says, often allows others to open up to her and share about themselves and their experiences and struggles. “As a leader you often want to problem solve for others, to step in and find solutions, but sometimes the best thing you can do is to listen, validate their emotions, understand their needs, and then work together to take action.” 

Understanding that no two people will ever have the same experience, Rebecca says the key to creating more inclusive workplaces is making these connections. “I always make time for one-on-one meetings where I welcome others to share information in a safe environment,” she says. 

“I love the complex problem-solving side of business, but even more important to me is the impact I have with people — making them feel included, empowered, successful and happy.” 

Helping others is something Rebecca has been passionate about for a long time. In fact, when she was applying to university, Rebecca says she was torn between a career in mental health and one in business. Unable to settle on one focus, she opted for a double major in Psychology and Economics. While she went on to pursue a career in business and has worked in the financial services sector for 20 years, she says her greatest passion is still people. 

“I love the complex problem-solving side of business, but even more important to me is the impact I have with people — making them feel included, empowered, successful and happy,” says Rebecca.

She’s also found a way to connect her work-life with her personal passion of fitness and wellness. Having always relied on exercise as a way to balance her own mental health and well being, she recently became certified as a group fitness instructor to share her passion with others. Now she hosts morning and evening virtual fitness classes with her team at work. “It’s been a great way for us to come together while we’ve all been away from the office.” 

Beyond the workplace, Rebecca works as a parent engagement volunteer with Lumenus, a non-profit organization that provides families with mental health, developmental, autism and early years intervention. 

“My family is very fortunate and privileged, and I know not everyone has the same opportunities we’ve had to access support,” she says. “There were times, even still, when I felt helpless, heartbroken, and alone and so I wanted to help others navigate these challenges and contribute and make a difference in a real way.”

These food entrepreneurs went from their kitchen to national grocers while focusing on nutrition and sustainability.

Remix Snacks began in a home kitchen with an idea for a recipe and a desire to make a change in the industry. And while co-founders Jamie Lee and Isabelle Lam were cooking up their idea for nutritious and sustainable treats, they were also students in McGill University’s Bachelor of Nutritional Sciences, Dietetics program. 

“Through our education we recognized two gaps in the food and beverage industry. First was the lack of healthy snack options that contained protein and fiber, and the second was the amount of food waste being produced by this industry,” Jamie explains. “When Isabelle and I chatted about wanting to start a business, we agreed that anything we developed had to focus on nutrition and environmental sustainability.” 

At the time, their idea was more of a project than a business plan. “We thought it would be fun to start a business, but we never imagined that it would take off in the way it has,” Isabelle says. 

In 2018, Jamie and Isabelle, who were roommates at the time, started playing around with recipes for a trail mix product that would contain dehydrated beans, fruit, and chocolate. “Beans were new in snack foods at the time, but they had a great nutritional profile with protein, fiber, and iron,” Isabelle said. 

In class, they learned that 58 percent of food produced in Canada is wasted and 45 percent of that comes from imperfect produce. Eager to solve this issue, Jamie and Isabelle decided that their product would use upcycled fruit – the stuff with bumps and bruises that often finds its way to the landfill. “In the early stages we’d go to farmer’s markets and ask to purchase the items they typically couldn’t sell, and then we’d take them home, cut them up, and dehydrate them ourselves,” Jamie recalls.

“In the early stages we’d go to farmer’s markets and ask to purchase the items they typically couldn’t sell, and then we’d take them home, cut them up, and dehydrate them ourselves.”

Being students at McGill helped Isabelle and Jamie access a few invaluable opportunities that propelled their project forward. They entered McGill’s start-up competition, Dobson Cup, and their snack idea won two innovation prizes which helped fund their first year of business. 

They also followed a lead to audition for a student themed episode of CBC’s Dragons’ Den, and not only did they get onto the show, they even received an offer from two of the Dragons on air. They later decided not to go through with the offer because they were at such an early stage of their start-up, and had found other forms of funding that allowed them to keep full ownership of the company, rather than giving over 35 percent.  

The early days of Remix were very hands-on, with Jamie and Isabelle doing everything themselves. They ordered packaging from amazon, designed a logo on Canva, printed stickers at a local print shop, and assembled snack bags one by one. Their friends were their taste-testers. 

Since then, the product has had 10 to 12 iterations, taking it from a homemade bag of trail mix to where it is today – professionally prepared and packaged chocolate bark made with dark chocolate, a proprietary black bean recipe, and upcycled fruit. 

Remix Snacks went from a home kitchen project to being produced in a commercial kitchen with a small production team to using a co-packer to do their manufacturing. The product was first sold in a few Montreal stores that the duo reached out to and managed directly and is now available across Quebec and Ontario in Loblaws, Metro, and some Sobeys stores. Despite their growth and plans to keep growing, they’ve stayed committed to their original values when it comes to sustainability. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of new challenges came up for Isabelle and Jamie, but overall, it has not deterred them. When the first lockdown hit, they were en route to a food expo. “We literally had to turn around after spending a night in the hotel, and forfeit the fee for that event,” they recall. “Everything changed after that.” 

“Since COVID, we have shifted our focus to mindful snacking — encouraging people to pause and take a break, tune in to their bodies, and focus on what they’re eating.”

From there, the way they marketed their product began to shift. “Much of our sales came from interacting with buyers and customers and offering samples,” Isabelle says. “We had to pivot from in-person marketing to e-commerce, focusing on ads and social media – but we adapted.” 

With more people working from home and snacking on the rise, having a healthier option for chocolate with nutritional benefits proved to be a very good thing. “Since COVID, we have shifted our focus to mindful snacking – encouraging people to pause and take a break, tune in to their bodies, and focus on what they’re eating,” they explain. “This is something we really believe in, and it’s become our third mission after nutrition and the environment.”

They’ve used the same practice of mindfulness to grow their business, one step at a time, focusing on small actions to achieve results. And while it hasn’t always been easy, they’ve remained committed to making it work. 

“Within the food industry, many of the big players happen to be older, white men – and so coming in as young, Asian women was challenging in that we had to build a rapport and have the others believe that we were a business to be taken seriously, not just a student project,” Isabelle explains. “Thankfully, with COVID, there seems to be more support for women and BIPOC-led businesses like ours available. And we’ve been connected with some great grant programs willing to support us and give us that extra leverage.” 

Most recently, Remix Snacks was chosen as a recipient of a $10,000 grant through the BMO Celebrating Women Grant Program — an initiative that gave $120,000 in grant funding to 18 Canadian, women-owned businesses that are contributing to social, environmental, or economic sustainability outcomes. “We are so thankful for programs like this that have helped us fund and grow our business.” 

Another opportunity that came about during the pandemic was an accelerator led by York University’s YSpace to help Ontario business owners with products in the market to scale up rapidly during COVID. “Working with nine other companies all going through similar challenges as we were, helped us learn so much and answer so many questions as we continued to grow,” Jamie explains. 

“You don’t want to worry about comparing yourself to other businesses — which can be hard in the age of social media — but rather, trust that it’s your own journey and you get to choose what’s best for your business.”

Jamie also credits her dad’s entrepreneurial journey with providing inspiration for Remix Snacks. “My dad moved to Canada from Hong Kong and started a food company, and in a way, I feel like I’m walking in his footsteps. He’s always been a big mentor to me, and we’ve asked him a lot of questions along the way.” 

For other entrepreneurs looking to make a go of it, Jamie and Isabelle have lots of advice to share. “Don’t let fear get in the way, and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Isabelle says. Jamie agrees, “Something we’ve come to learn and practice is that when an opportunity presents itself, there’s no harm in going for it, even if you’re not sure what will come about as a result.” 

And while they’re so thankful for all the advice they’ve been given along the way, they emphasize the importance of not getting too caught up with what others are doing. “You don’t want to worry about comparing yourself to other businesses – which can be hard in the age of social media – but rather, trust that it’s your own journey and you get to choose what’s best for your business.” 

Nicole McLaren is scaling her Indigenous-focused subscription box — and helping to grow her suppliers along with it.

Nicole Mclaren

When Nicole McLaren began her small workplace book club in a large mining company in Vancouver, her goal was to engage her co-workers in reconciliation — using literature to educate them on the devastating impact residential schools had on Indigenous people in Canada, and the societal issues present today.

Nicole, who is of mixed heritage and Indigenous roots, focused on Indigenous authors to help her co-workers gain understanding. Realizing she wanted to reach more broadly than one company, Nicole developed Raven Reads, an Indigenous literature and giftware subscription box. She launched from her kitchen table in 2017 with just a handful of subscribers — and an aim to inspire, educate, and create a safe space for dialogue.

Today things look quite different. With thousands of subscribers and a much broader reach, her experience growing a side-hustle into a thriving venture has provided her with invaluable advice to share. Nicole has become a coach and mentor to her vast supply chain of Indigenous-owned businesses. She’s even expanding into fulfilment operations. 

I sat down with Nicole to learn more about Raven Reads and her on-going mission to support and elevate the Indigenous economy by staying true to her values and working closely with her extensive supply chain and investors. 

 

I know it’s not easy to turn a passion project into a successful business venture. Can you tell me about the early days of Raven Reads and how you got your start?

Coming into the subscription box world, I felt a bit late to the game. Most of the heavy hitters got their start around 2006 and 2007, but there was nothing with a focus on Indigenous books or giftware. I had a four-hour commute by bus and train at the time, so I jacked up my data and spent all of that time researching subscription boxes and writing a business plan. 

I subscribed to other boxes and analyzed everything — the quality of the box, the thickness of the cardboard, the number of items, and the way they were shipped. I then sought help from Small Business BC to wrap up my financial projections, and they helped me access start-up funds through a local Aboriginal financial institution, Futurpreneur Canada, and BDC. 

I did a soft launch in September 2017, and on Cyber Monday I was interviewed by CBC Radio’s Unreserved. We went from 20 subscribers to 200 overnight. 

At that time it was still a very focused idea — a subscription box with one book and two gifts per season — and now you’re doing work to coach, support, and promote your own supply chain of Indigenous-owned businesses. Did the business evolve in that direction organically?

Raven Reads started as the quintessential reconciliation toolkit and it has evolved into a platform for amplifying Indigenous authors and entrepreneurs — and that shift was organic. 

I was always aware of the risk that I would hit a bit of a wall in terms of suppliers’ manufacturing capabilities. There was certainly no shortage of suppliers out there, and many were getting more creative with their offerings, but about two years ago I started to think about integrating more vertically throughout the supply chain. It was a risk management approach. What we’ve been examining over the past year and a half is how do we build out a more integrated system that supports suppliers and supports us to grow and diversify. 

In terms of coaching, we help our suppliers with best practices for growth, wholesale, shipping and packaging, among other things. Some of our suppliers have become close friends and we try to offer suggestions on product ideas as well. One example, SheNative, is a leather goods designer and manufacturer from Saskatoon and we’ve actually been working with her on a custom product that will be exclusive to Raven Reads. I’m always looking for collaborative opportunities like this. 

“From the consumer perspective, we certainly offer a convenient path to accessing authentic products. I know over the past year there’s been a heightened sense of fact checking where products come from and who is actually behind them.”

I imagine consumers use your subscription box as a way to learn more about Indigenous-owned businesses and products. Are you able to track consumer behaviour to see if the box drives sales for your suppliers?

We are in the process of looking at how we can track the feedback loop. This month we’ll be including a unique discount code for each of our suppliers in the box. So, if you like something in this month’s box, you can use the code to buy more goods from their website, and we’ll be able to start tracking sales in a more quantitative way. We do know that we are helping to raise awareness of Indigenous brands and authors. 

From the consumer perspective, we certainly offer a convenient path to accessing authentic products. I know over the past year there’s been a heightened sense of fact checking where products come from and who is actually behind them. We offer that transparency, so our subscribers know they can trust the products we include to be authentic. 

Many organizations are launching supplier diversity programs as part of their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Do you see these programs making an impact? 

Certainly, I can see these programs making an impact — but in my observations of working with other Indigenous women primarily across Canada, I see a bit of a gap between supply and demand when it comes to supplier diversity programs. 

There are a lot of suppliers keen to participate, but there’s a lag in terms of guiding and supporting them to be manufacturing products that are likely to be in demand by a lot of these programs. And, if they do have a product that’s likely to fall into scope, they may not have manufacturing capability or capital to produce in volumes needed to take on the quantity required to make the purchase orders.  

What do you see as the solution for this?

What’s needed is more funding. There’s a lot of funding to get people started, but I see a lot of colleagues and suppliers who are in a holding pattern. They can’t take advantage of these massive scaling opportunities because of the lack of capital to get the necessary equipment to do that, or because supply chain disruption is hindering their ability to get packaging or raw materials. So they’re getting approached by buyers for various things and having to turn them down. 

I know you accessed funding early on, including some from BDC, to launch Raven Reads. Have you faced challenges getting funding beyond that?

It’s much easier to find start-up funds, in my opinion. When you’re in the growth stage, you have to make some big decisions around what you need the funding for and what type of funding would be best for that type of need. 

For me, looking at dilutive options has been a big learning curve — it’s something I don’t know much about. In my experience, equity investment is still fairly new to Indigenous women small business owners. The idea of giving up a piece of something you own can be quite intimidating. The more you see out there, the easier it will be and it will become a little less scary. It’s an investment of time to put yourself out there and learn in order to find out how it works. 

“As an impact driven brand, I’m looking for impact-driven investors, partners who are aligned with our values.”

I understand you’re currently looking to raise another round of funding. What’s next for Raven Reads in terms of plans for growth?

We are currently looking at how to scale Raven Reads. We have operational demands and we need to innovate and improve in order to meet those. The pandemic did finally force us out of my basement last October, and we moved into a warehouse — which we’ve already outgrown. 

We have an ambitious growth plan for Raven Reads to take up a bigger space in the North American subscription e-commerce market. In the same breath, we are also looking to launch a fully-integrated logistics network for Indigenous and other underrepresented brands from Western Canada, which will include a 100,000 square foot warehouse, contract manufacturing, and logistics venture here in BC. So, we definitely have big capital needs. 

What I’m doing is simultaneously raising funds for both. What we want to be able to do is support the logistics and fulfilment needs of Raven Reads as well as our suppliers, while also offering the component of contract manufacturing that would allow clients to outsource their product production to an Indigenous-owned, women-owned business. This would make it possible for them to produce higher volumes and therefore be able to capitalize on purchase orders from major retailers. 

As an impact driven brand, I’m looking for impact-driven investors, partners who are aligned with our values. 

Through your business you’ve become a mentor to many other Indigenous women entrepreneurs. What advice do you typically share when coaching them?

I feel like Indigenous women entrepreneurs, whether it’s cultural or the way we are raised, tend to be shy about articulating our most ambitious goals. There’s a hesitancy to say, ‘I want to build a multi-million-dollar business’ and talking about exits can also feel awkward. So, I encourage them to be more transparent, to plan for growth, and to come to terms with being ambitious business owners. I also find many of us chase broad product offerings, and my advice would be to not spread yourself too thin in terms of the diversity of your offering — to instead focus on establishing a core product offering and doing that really well.

Speaking of core product offering, has your commitment to featuring books as the main component of a Raven Reads box wavered over time? Also, I’m curious, how do you go about choosing books and authors to feature? 

The book is still the foundation of Raven Reads, because that’s where the concrete learning and awareness building happens. When I launched the box, it was on the heels of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports, and the call to action was immediate. We went with Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga as our first book because it was a critical book to kick things off. We have not done a lot of non-fiction since. We always look for books that have been released in the last 90 days to help eliminate the risk that they’ve already been purchased, and we try to stay ahead of what’s coming up from Canadian and American Indigenous authors. 

For those beginning their Indigenous literature journey, what are the top five books you’d recommend people start with?

My bookshelf is filled with books I’d recommend, but these five are especially poignant. In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier, Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, The Break by Katherena Vermette. And, of course, Seven Fallen Feathers, which I always recommend as a good place to start.  

Venture capitalist Brittany Davis is helping underestimated founders get funded.

Brittany Davis

If you ask Brittany Davis how she chose her career — she’s a General Partner at Backstage Capital, a venture fund investing exclusively in women, people of colour, and LGBTQ founders — she’ll point to the systemic barriers these entrepreneurs face in accessing capital. 

However, her origin story is a lot more personal.  

While doing her undergraduate business degree, Brittany completed an independent study project on Black Wall Streets: prosperous enclaves of Black Americans, served by and supporting Black-owned businesses. The one in Tulsa, Oklahoma was well known on account of its size (more than 35 square blocks, with hundreds of businesses) and its demise (The Black Wall Street Massacre, one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States, which had its 100th anniversary this year), but Brittany learned there were several Black Wall Streets operating in the early 20th century, including one in her home state of North Carolina.  

“The takeaway from the project was that we do need to have a concerted effort on funding,” says Brittany. “There were a lot of Black business owners that had really thriving businesses, and they were able to get them up and running with that first infusion of capital. I wanted to be that person that could catalyze other businesses.” 

At the time, she wasn’t thinking specifically of venture capital — she knew about it structurally, but didn’t know anyone that had a career in the field — but saw the need for a separately managed pool of equity or debt-based financing for Black-owned businesses. She brought her pitch to Bank of America, where she ended up working for five years in a traditional finance role. 

Then, after earning an MBA from Harvard, Brittany launched her own startup building AI software for fashion ecommerce. Runway Technologies ultimately failed, but it sparked an interest in supporting other people’s visions — she kept meeting fellow founders of color that were struggling to get funded and felt compelled to help.

“There were a lot of Black business owners that had really thriving businesses, and they were able to get them up and running with that first infusion of capital. I wanted to be that person that could catalyze other businesses.”

“That’s when I was actually looking for roles in venture based on this diversity thesis. I was interviewing with a lot of mainstream funds. Just coming out of Harvard Business School, I had a company, I worked in finance, I also spent some time in tech. These are all of the things that I’m explaining that I can do. I have that background, but what’s going to make me unique is that I’m bringing a lens of let’s invest in more women and people of color,” explains Brittany. “I interviewed quite a bit without finding a real landing. Most VCs I did not hear back from after I explained, ‘This is what I’m trying to focus on at your fund.’”

It was a long road. Brittany interviewed for about five months, eventually finding her way in by focusing less on big, traditional funds and moving to more early stage investments. Arlan Hamilton, the founder of Backstage Capital, had a similar story. “The reason she started the fund was that she could not find a job in venture, even as an apprentice” says Brittany. In fact, she sent over 100 emails applying to apprenticeship roles, and got no’s from all of them. “Her road was actually trying to find a job.”

Brittany first met Arlan in 2016, when they were both on the judging panel for a Black founder’s pitch competition. At the time, Brittany was working at a fund called Village Capital. Though her role didn’t have an explicit diversity lens, their model allowed for a personal focus on finding and investing in more women and people of color. 

Arlan, on the other hand, was just getting started with Backstage Capital, which she had launched in September of 2015. “I’d heard about this woman putting together funds for underrepresented founders,” says Brittany, “but this was Arlan before she started doing public speaking. She was very reserved and quiet.” 

At the end of the competition, Arlan ended up investing in the top five founders. It was a lightbulb moment for Brittany.  

“I thought I had to do it within funds, and then to see how her approach was, ‘Let me actually get some funds and do it myself,’ I was like, ‘Okay, that fast forwards my plan of having to work for years and years and see if I can change the industry from the inside,’” explains Brittany. “I remember thinking, one way or another I’m going to find a way to work with this woman, because this is exactly what I’m doing.”

That opportunity came in early 2018. Arlan was looking to build out the investment team, and she brought Brittany on as Head of Deal Flow. In a typical venture firm, a lot of that role would be finding new companies to invest in. At Backstage, the deals were coming to them. In addition to having built a strong brand and presence in the ecosystem, Backstage had launched open applications for investment through a form on their site. It was a groundbreaking idea within venture, explains Brittany, because the model had always been that you had to network your way in. 

Over a thousand founders applied. Brittany oversaw that inbound deal flow — not only managing the investing that Arlan wasn’t doing herself, but also figuring out how to build a framework that captured the way Arlan thinks about investing, so that Backstage could scale beyond its original founder. 

“I was really passionate about figuring out how to take those unique things that I loved — a lot of the investing that Arlan was doing was a lot of the same companies that I would have invested in — and create a basic framework that other people could learn and adopt, but with the freedom to bring in their own perspective.” 

“She explained some of her first investments, and how she thought about deals,” says Brittany. “I was really passionate about figuring out how to take those unique things that I loved — a lot of the investing that Arlan was doing was a lot of the same companies that I would have invested in — and create a basic framework that other people could learn and adopt, but with the freedom to bring in their own perspective.” 

Using the criteria she identified, Brittany and her team went from seeing about 450 companies to investing in five. Her next big project, the Backstage Accelerator, added another 24 companies to the portfolio. Launched in the spring of 2019, the 12-week development program worked with founders in four cities — Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, and London — to help build their community and network and prepare them for future investment. 

“The core of our thesis is investing early with underrepresented founders, so that we can catalyze their progress in getting additional capital,” explains Brittany, adding that they’ve been the first investor for over half their portfolio. “A lot of times we’re catching them before they have something to really evaluate in a quantitative sense; a lot of it is thinking about future potential.”

That means their investing framework must be less metrics-driven (x number of users, or x dollars of revenue, for example). The evaluation used by early-stage funds often includes criteria like who is on the team, what’s the potential market size, and what makes the product unique. Many investors also use pattern matching, which means looking for similarities with founders that have already been successful, such as the schools they went to or the companies they worked at. 

“When you hear the term pattern matching, it’s always usually looking for that Mark Zuckerberg type,” says Brittany. “That’s just going to get you more of the same. Arlan used to say she pattern matched for grit.”

So, Brittany added grit into their scorecard, which enabled recognition for what the founders had accomplished with the limited resources they’d had. She even added that gut feeling — the spark or connection with a founder — because it was something Arlan often described when talking about her investments. 

“We’re really talking about some of this stuff because for a lot of our founders, the journey can be a long one, especially not getting adequate resources,” says Brittany. “We look for where they can push past those things, and the founders that have done the best in our portfolio essentially have demonstrated a lot of that grit. I was trying to build that into how we think about investing so that we’re not just using the same standard metrics. We’re using something very specific to Backstage, and so it’s authentic to us.”

“Yes, we really are just getting started. There’s a lot of work we can do to help diversify who’s investing and who gets investment.”

Creating a scalable version of Arlan’s investing process was foundational for Backstage — but it was just the beginning. Brittany wants to build a firm, not just a single fund, and ultimately enable more people to get involved in venture.

“I think that’s core to the end outcome of getting more resources to the founders,” she says. “That’s something that I’m always thinking about and was passionate about to begin with in my career. I have seen that journey through Backstage, and yes, we really are just getting started. There’s a lot of work we can do to help diversify who’s investing and who gets investment.”

The work they’ve already done to provide access, resources, and education for people who are interested in investing has been varied, from sharing lessons through Arlan’s book, It’s About Damn Time, to offering an introductory course on Investing as a Catalyst, to helping with a Harvard Business School case study that, in Brittany’s own words, sends a message to the world about who business leaders are and who they can be. In October they launched a pilot Apprenticeship Program, bringing on 20 would-be investors for a three-month stint working with the investment team on deal flow review, as well as being taught the Backstage philosophy on investing, how to build a fund from scratch, and more. 

Their biggest effort, however, came earlier this year, in the form of a crowdfund. Recognizing the need for operational capital — Backstage now supports 180 companies — as well as the potential of an engaged community that understood the importance of their work, they saw an opportunity to not only bring in resources, but also to further their mission of exposing a broader group to venture capital investing.  

Typically, a fund raises capital from accredited investors, which limits the pool to about 2% of the wealthiest individuals. In 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought in a rule called Reg CF, or Regulation Crowdfunding, that opened the door to non-accredited investors. In their first crowdfunding round, Backstage reached the max of $1 million in about eight hours — the fastest equity raise ever on Republic, the investing platform they worked with. In March, the SEC changed the rules of Reg CF to allow for up to $5 million annually, so they opened it up again. A total of 6,755 investors — Brittany included — purchased the equity available, the majority of whom had never invested in venture or private companies before. 

“That was the best way to share a piece of what we’re doing with the people who really want to help build the organization that we have,” says Brittany. “Then they in turn get a lot of exposure to venture. Long-term, hopefully, they’re getting a return on this too, and I believe that they will, but I do think the huge benefit is the exposure to venture.” 

And that is the long game — a more inclusive population investing will result in more inclusive investment, whatever the source. On that front, things are looking up: Since Backstage launched a little over six years ago, several other funds with a diversity-focused mission have entered the space (over 70 in the US, by Harlem Capital’s count), and they often come with a collaborative attitude — which all serves to reduce the time of getting resources to founders.

In the broader venture capital ecosystem, Brittany says the biggest change over the last few years has been a growing awareness of and conversation around the issues that underrepresented founders face. “One thing that’s helping is data points. I’m seeing a lot more of the numbers being shared,” she says. “I couldn’t actually point to the lack of venture capital in dollars for different demographic groups when I was starting.”

I still think we have a ways to go with creating that real fear that you’re missing out if you’re doing what you did 5, 10 years ago — which is just looking around you, most likely at people in similar networks, similar schools, similar demographics as you.” 

There’s also more data on the opportunity cost, whether that’s studies highlighting the benefits of diverse leadership teams, or estimations of the amount of money being left on the table (according to Morgan Stanley, the inequity in funding for multicultural and women business owners is costing the US about $4.4 trillion in GDP annually). 

“It hasn’t fully moved the needle on the outcomes. Black founders still get less than 2% of venture capital; women founders are the same,” Brittany points out. I still think we have a ways to go with creating that real fear that you’re missing out if you’re doing what you did 5, 10 years ago — which is just looking around you, most likely at people in similar networks, similar schools, similar demographics as you.” 

Brittany believes the missing piece for more traditional VCs is representation at the success level, which would essentially create the opportunity for a new pattern match. “But I want people to understand what it takes to get to the Mark Zuckerberg point. If you’re not getting resources early on, it’s really hard to get there.” 

Simply put, these underrepresented, underestimated, and underfunded founders have a longer road to returns compared to those who haven’t faced the same barriers. 

“The timeline might not be the same, but I think the outcomes could actually exceed some of the businesses that are getting more funding,” says Brittany. “It’s just that there is a bit of time for them to get the capital and get to work. There’s a starting runway that you need that these companies didn’t have.”  

That leaves a chicken and egg situation; the founders need proven success to get mainstream funding, and they need funding to achieve big success. So, what happens in the meantime? 

“You have people like Arlan who are saying, ‘I can do this, and whether you believe it or not, I’m going to take the steps and prove a thesis.’ She’s doing the things that a lot of people told her she couldn’t do,” says Brittany. “Being successful with what we have, I think we’ve proven a lot.”

 

Shazia Zeb-Sobani made it to a VP role by knowing when to rebel — and sticking to her values.

Shazia Zeb Sobani

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

Shazia Zeb-Sobani learned at an early age she would have to rebel against the status quo to get where she wanted to go. 

“I grew up in Pakistan and went to an all-girls boarding school. There were always separate rules and social norms for girls and boys,” says Shazia. “I became passionate about challenging those norms. I didn’t see my values or what I wanted to be doing reflected in many of the things I was being offered.”

Those values — respect, equity, and curiosity — are things Shazia has used to guide her career decisions ever since completing a marketing degree at the University of the Punjab. It was following her MBA from the University of Calgary (where she now lives) that she accepted a role at TELUS. Today, after 15 years with the organization, Shazia is Vice President of Customer Network Implementation, accelerating fast and high quality broadband connectivity to minimize the digital divide while motivating a team of almost 600 people. She encourages them all to do what she did: challenge the norm. 

“Because of my tech-oriented position, I am very often the only woman at the boardroom table, whether that’s at an international conference or a stakeholder meeting,” she says. “But that also means I’m now in a position where I can advocate for change and the support of marginalized groups, and to create a level playing field.” 

Shazia says her position at TELUS has also given her the opportunity to create solutions that will establish technological equity for two distinct population groups within Canada: those living in rural areas and the Indigenous. Her team is at the forefront of two projects that will see the company’s Purefibre technology brought to millions of previously underserved individuals. 

“Everyone has to have access to high-speed internet, so we are rolling up our sleeves to close the digital divide,” she says. “It’s been infeasible in the past to bring connectivity to these areas, but if we don’t invest we are handcuffing these communities to forgo participation in the global economy, which is something that will have tangible impacts on their social and economic well-being.” 

“If you let yourself be yourself you will showcase your energy and passion, which will open up opportunities that allow you to make your next career move.”

This is just one of the projects that allows Shazia to break down barriers for others — while also affording her the ability to challenge herself on a daily basis. She’s an advisor to the TELUS Diversity & Inclusion council, a coach and mentor at the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and the University of Calgary, and on the board of Women in Communication and Technology. In all her efforts, Shazia encourages younger generations to dream about going into roles they’ve only seen previously held by men. “They can aspire to be engineers and data scientists.”

Curiosity is key, too; Shazia believes having a growth mindset can help women evolve their careers and move into positions where they inspire and spark change. Women leaders also need to embrace who they are and to stand up for their values, regardless of what those may be.

“We need to learn to be ourselves. We have to stop trying too hard to fit in and eschew stereotypes that women are too emotional or can’t make decisions,” says Shazia. “If you let yourself be yourself you will showcase your energy and passion, which will open up opportunities that allow you to make your next career move.”

Shazia also advises that developing a support system will help women leaders persevere through challenging times, like COVID, “because whether anyone likes it or not, women are still expected to do too many things — from managing households to running teams and even taking care of friends and family.” Relying on similarly situated peers you respect and confiding in them when things get to be overwhelming will help you sit more comfortably with the idea that no one can do it all. How and where you need to direct your energy day-to-day will constantly change, she adds. 

“There are still those stereotypes that women need to be perfect. That successful and highly accomplished women must do it all. At the end of the day, we’re all human. No one is perfect.” 

Don’t try too hard to fit in or be perfect,” Shazia says. “There are still those stereotypes that women need to be perfect. That successful and highly accomplished women must do it all. At the end of the day, we’re all human. No one is perfect. One day your family will have to be a priority; another you might have to devote more time to your career. We always need to weigh the tradeoffs and ensure what we’re doing aligns with our values.”

Most importantly, she encourages any woman — especially those seeking a career change post-COVID — to do a deep dive into what matters to them on a daily basis before taking a leap. This will ensure their next move lets them create the change they want to see, both personally and professionally. 

“What are you passionate about? What do you value most in life? Does the work you would be doing keep you close to your values?” she asks. “If something doesn’t align with the things you value most, it might not be the ideal role. Be intentional with your choices. Don’t rush. Focus. This will help you do what you love while helping others around you.”

The Co-CEO of femmebought is helping solopreneurs access the resources they need — and a community.

Kirsten Ramos

By Hailey Eisen

Being a solopreneur can be a lonely endeavor. Without a leadership team or co-workers to bounce ideas off of, many women founders end up doing most of the heavy lifting on their own. 

“Essentially, you become your own tech support, accountant, marketer, and HR,” explains Kirsten Ramos. Prior to starting her own training and development consultancy, Kirsten worked for a large digital media company — so she knew what was missing when she entered the solopreneur space. For the past five years, she’s owned and operated Chicago-based Elevate Performance Solutions. In May, she also became Co-CEO of femmebought, a role that came to her thanks to her own search for community and support. 

At an event in February 2020, Kirsten met Sophia Ruffolo, the founder of femmebought, a strategic hub and virtual space for experienced women business owners. femmebought allows founders to connect with like-minded women for skill-building, mentorship, education funding, strategic planning, expert advice, and networking for business growth. 

“Sophia’s passion for helping women business owners attracted me to the organization,” Kirsten explains. “When I joined femmebought as a member, it gave me an avenue to connect with other entrepreneurial women, share advice and skillsets, and create the sense of community I had been lacking.” 

What Kirsten didn’t anticipate when she joined femmebought was that 16 months later, she’d be stepping into the role of Co-CEO of the organization — and President of femmebought’s Impact Accelerator program. 

“I was a very active member when I first joined and quickly realized that I could help Sophia with the backend of Zoom events — since I’d been working virtually long before COVID — and could step in as a facilitator of mastermind sessions when she was unavailable,” Kirsten explains. 

One thing led to another, and the opportunity for a leadership position was soon presented to Kirsten. “Sophia had built this amazing organization very quickly, and she was looking for some fresh eyes to move it forward,” Kirsten recalls. 

“As we saw reported in the fall of 2020, more than 800,000 women have left the traditional business world because they were faced with challenges resulting from the pandemic, be it childcare or eldercare, or both.”

Along with her now co-CEO, Kristine Givens, Kirsten realized that it would take two women to do the work that Sophia had been doing on her own. “We were excited to team up to take femmebought into the future,” she says. “Both of us had our own businesses that we planned to continue running, so it was great to know we’d be able to work together in this role.” 

Along with femmebought’s board of directors, which includes Sophia, the co-CEO’s plan to embark on many new opportunities and programs going forward. They’ve been polling their current members and evaluating the existing programs to determine the future of the organization. With members across Canada and the US — mostly in Toronto and Chicago — the opportunities for collaboration and expansion seem to be endless. 

And in the current climate, an organization like this is needed more than ever. “As we saw reported in the fall of 2020, more than 800,000 women have left the traditional business world because they were faced with challenges resulting from the pandemic, be it childcare or eldercare, or both. Many women are still making less than their male counterparts, so they were the ones who stepped away from jobs and opted to stay home,” Kirsten says.  

What’s come from all these women exiting the workforce, however, has been a surge of women-owned startups. “When women go out on their own, they need support. And we know they’re typically less likely than men to ask for help and to gain access to mentorship and funding.” 

That’s where femmebought comes in. What sets it apart is its multifaceted approach to supporting women entrepreneurs. Membership within femmebought includes workshops, meetups, and a listing in the femmebought directory. 

Members include product and service-based companies, primarily solopreneurs, who are looking to access education, share expertise, and collaborate. There’s a social media strategist, a photographer, a purveyor of delicious toffee, and a practitioner who’s set to launch a line of products. There are financial experts, coaches, and jewelry makers. There are women who have been in business for years and some who are newer to the entrepreneurship journey. 

“People are certainly more conscious now in their buying and hiring habits, and many are looking to support local businesses and shop women-owned when possible.”

Through femmebought’s global directory, business owners and consumers can access an extensive list of these women-owned companies and service providers. “People are certainly more conscious now in their buying and hiring habits, and many are looking to support local businesses and shop women-owned when possible,” Kirsten says. “For me personally, I’ve used the femmebought directory a number of times, most recently to connect with a Canadian website developer who helped me redesign my website.”  

Taking the support of women entrepreneurs one step further, earlier in 2021 femmebought launched and successfully ran its first Impact Accelerator, a 6-month program that allowed 15 self-identifying women entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses with the help of expert advisors, peer group accountability, and strategic resources. 

As part of this program, seven members of typically underrepresented and minority communities were able to access scholarships provided by BMO. “Thanks to this extremely generous scholarship program, these women, who were both Canadian and American, were able to participate in the Accelerator program and gain invaluable support as they worked to scale up their businesses,” explains Kirsten. 

“As we know, women are typically underrepresented in the entrepreneur space, and the intersectionality of women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, and those with disabilities further delineates that inequality,” Kirsten says. “That’s why the program had such a tangible impact on the participants.” 

In fact, many of the women who participated in the Accelerator have already come back to femmebought looking to be mentors going forward. “The participants have this great attitude of paying it forward, and many have stayed on as part of our community since their experience was so valuable,” Kirsten says. 

In a time when community and connection have never been more important, femmebought is poised to continue giving many solopreneurs what they wouldn’t have access to otherwise — a network focused on learning, growth, problem solving, and support. 

“We are excited to continue elevating women-owned businesses in new ways while helping to ensure it’s not so lonely for those on the solopreneur journey.”