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.”

 

Wanda Costen is leading change in business education.

Wanda Costen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The army life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new vision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Collins

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next step is… yet to be written!

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.” 

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.”

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.” 

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.”

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.”

Divya Tulapurkar mastered analytics — and it accelerated her corporate career.

Divya Tulapurkar

By Hailey Eisen

 

Divya Tulapurkar was 25 years old when she came to Kingston, Ont. from Bangalore, India in the middle of a cold winter, and enrolled, nearly simultaneously, in two master’s degrees. Five years later, she’s one of the youngest directors at Scotiabank in Toronto. 

She attributes her success to her education and expertise in the field of data analytics. “So many people still find analytics to be intimidating,” she says, “but it doesn’t have to be. The need for this skill set in the corporate world is great, and there are tools and courses available to help simplify things.” 

Besides, intimidating isn’t something that has ever phased Divya. 

Having studied engineering and worked in technology solutions as a performance engineer in India, Divya says she knew early on she wanted to complement her technical skills with a business education. Interested in studying abroad, she chose the Full-time MBA program at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, because she liked the idea of a team-based learning model and felt it would offer a safe space to immerse herself in a new country and culture.  

Despite the bitter weather that greeted her in Kingston, and the experience of living alone for the first time, Divya says she quickly overcame the culture shock and found her groove in the MBA. She also realized early on that it was her technical expertise that really differentiated her from the other business students. She was eager to find a way to hold onto this skill set and expand upon it.

“That’s when I decided to enrol in Smith’s Master of Management Analytics program simultaneously,” she says, which made her the only woman at Smith to pursue two master’s degrees in different cities at the same time. “In order to complete both I had to travel back and forth between Kingston and Toronto every week. It was a challenge, but totally worth it.”  

“Analytics was required in every industry I explored, but I found that the financial services sector in Canada was doing really interesting work, and that stood out to me.”

In just over a year Divya completed both degrees, and upon graduating started her career with Scotiabank. “Analytics was required in every industry I explored, but I found that the financial services sector in Canada was doing really interesting work, and that stood out to me,” she recalls. “I met with a Smith alumnus from Scotiabank who introduced me to the right people, and I got my first job as a manager.” 

Within her first year, leading a small team of data scientists, she worked to build the analytics practice from the ground up for the small business banking vertical. The experience not only delivered value to the bank — it was also personally satisfying. 

“My first job in India was in coding — which meant sitting at a computer, day in and day out — but at some point, I realized I wasn’t able to see firsthand the value of what I was bringing to the table. In my first job with Scotiabank, I was able to make a difference by applying the technology to enable the discovery of key insights and strategies that would improve the customer experience.” 

Divya’s combination skill set has allowed her to rise quickly within the bank, moving into the area of global risk management. “There aren’t a lot of people who can translate the technical into business understanding, and what they’re looking for at the bank is how the tech will drive better decisions and value.” Every decision you see in banking comes from data analytics, she explains, because it can help highlight what’s working and what’s not, point out pain areas and act as an early warning indicator. 

And it doesn’t have to be complicated. “The easiest way to get started with analytics is through data visualization,” says Divya. “Just like the best presenters are storytellers, the best way to present data is also through stories. It helps you connect with your audience and explain a rather complicated analysis in a way people can understand. And the best part is you don’t need any coding experience to get started. Be it 10 rows of data or millions of them, you can easily visualize that data into charts and graphs to provide insights for decision making.”

Divya’s passion for the subject is contagious. And given all of her early successes, it’s hard to imagine her struggling with self-confidence. But as with many young professionals, she says it’s her inner voice that’s the hardest to contend with. “Back in India I had a lot of confidence, but that shattered when I arrived in Canada,” she recalls. “As a young, brown, immigrant woman working in the field of tech and analytics, it hasn’t always been easy. It has taken a village to get me to where I am today.” 

“I’ve learned that speaking up for yourself and bringing your diverse perspective to the table is a work in progress, and the more you do it the easier it gets.”

From mentors to family members, and especially her husband, Divya says she’s had a huge amount of support. She also credits the Smith MBA program with giving her an opportunity to build herself back up. “I spent that year learning to understand my value, and I can’t imagine being where I am today without that experience,” she explains. “I’ve learned that speaking up for yourself and bringing your diverse perspective to the table is a work in progress, and the more you do it the easier it gets.”

Divya is now passionate about mentoring young women in STEM, and encourages them to follow in her footsteps. Even today, there aren’t that many women in analytics — and for many, Divya explains, the journey starts with seeing someone like yourself in the field. “Every single time a woman gets to a leadership role within an organization, all women benefit.” 

She often shares the advice that she’s taken to heart over the years: “Don’t be afraid to take on something more, even if you think you’re only 30 or 40 per cent ready for it. Do it now, because if you’re 100 per cent ready, you should already be in that role. Take a chance, bet on yourself and go for it.” 

It’s this advice that helped her move into the director role at the bank after having only been a senior manager for a short time. “In my head I assumed I hadn’t been in the role long enough to apply for the director position, but my husband pushed me to go for it,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Don’t opt yourself out before you even try, what’s the worst that can happen?’” 

To her surprise, after a fabulous interview, Divya was offered the role. “You want to work with people who can see not just what you’ve done, but what you’re capable of doing. My boss took a chance on me and it worked out really well.” 

Looking ahead, she’s excited for what’s to come. “I hope I get an opportunity to make an even broader impact,” she says. “We are just scratching the surface with what’s possible in data analytics, and it’s going to grow in so many ways.”

How Suzanne Trusdale’s personal journey has shaped her small business role at TELUS.

Suzanne Trusdale

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

For the last year and half, entrepreneurs have faced numerous, varied, and entirely new challenges — all thanks to COVID. 

Suzanne Trusdale, Vice-President of TELUS Small Business Solutions, can relate. Early on in her career, she ran her own small business — a restaurant and catering company in Western Ontario. Now, she’s leading a team that not only provides everyday support to TELUS’ small business customers, but also creates initiatives and programs to enable entrepreneurs to thrive. 

Running her own business has brought her closer to those who want to follow an entrepreneurial path. “I always wanted to have my own business, long before university,” Suzanne says. “I went to Ryerson University in Toronto to study hotel administration and believed that one day I was going to have my own restaurant and hopefully a catering company.”

After graduating, Suzanne spent a few years working for a prominent restaurateur. When they announced they were going to sell one of their locations, she seized the opportunity to get her start as a small business owner. Alongside a business partner and team, Suzanne built a strong brand and continued to grow the catering side of the business enjoying every exciting moment and challenge of her journey. That was until the recession of the late 80’s hit. After months of trying to stay solvent and keep things afloat, she realized that she needed to make the very difficult decision to close the business.  

“This all happened before I was 30,” she says. “If you come from a place where you go from university to making your dreams come true to losing everything and then having to start all over again… it’s daunting.”

Ready to start again, she left Ontario for British Columbia, and eventually took on a role at BC Tel, a telephone company that merged with TELUS in 1998 to become the second-largest telecom company in Canada. 

“If you come from a place where you go from university to making your dreams come true to losing everything and then having to start all over again… it’s daunting.”

“I thought I would go there for a bit, but that I would eventually get back to what I was passionate about: hospitality and starting another business.” Instead, Suzanne was given the opportunity to grow her position at TELUS and to bring some of her passion for small business to the roles she took on. “I’ve been able to build a tremendous career for myself in a space I’m incredibly passionate about. Some may say I have the best of both worlds.”

Suzanne credits mentorship and sponsorship — having internal champions that helped guide her and connect her to opportunities — for playing key roles in her career growth. It’s become a passion point for her as well; she regularly volunteers her time with organizations that look to advance opportunities for women and girls, especially in STEM. She’s also taken on the role of global co-chair for TELUS Connections, a resource group that looks to empower and create development and leadership opportunities for women within the organization.

As of late, Suzanne’s focus has been on leading her team to help support small businesses as they navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic. “There was a lot of panic last March. What’s been so inspirational is how quickly the majority of small businesses were able to pivot. Some were able to move faster because they had great digital infrastructure in place, and we saw an influx of organizations come forward with products enabling small businesses to connect with their customers in new ways,” she notes. “TELUS is one of those key partners for small business owners. We’ve been able to offer tools and products to help small businesses and entrepreneurs go from brick and mortar stores to digital, or vice versa.”

Suzanne served a key role in advocating for TELUS’ small business customers through the ideation of the now viral campaign called #StandWithOwners. The initiative has done everything from surprising business owners with gift certificates to giving them the funds they need to enhance their digital presence or improve their advertising. Since mid-2020, TELUS has invested $1.5 million (and counting) in the entrepreneurial community.

“I am proud of so many things that we have done this year, but this one is near and dear to my heart,” Suzanne notes. “TELUS has done so very much to give back and that is so important to me as a team member, as a Canadian, and as a woman in business.”

“It takes a ton of courage to ask for help. But why not stick up for yourself? Why not be your biggest advocate and get in there and get involved and see who can help you?”

The “she-cession” — a term coined to describe the unequal impact COVID has had on working women — has been difficult for Suzanne to witness first-hand. “If you think about the pressure of balancing home and work, especially when the sectors that have been impacted the most are sectors led by women — everyone has a breaking point,” she says. “It’s been unfortunate to see so many women forced to choose between supporting their family and career. It’s the wrong direction we need to go in Canada.”

The two big things Suzanne wants women entrepreneurs struggling in these COVID circumstances to know is they are not alone, and “this too shall pass.” 

“I do think so many women entrepreneurs feel they’re alone, but they’re not. Women aren’t really great at saying ‘I’m on the cusp of giving up or shutting it down and I just need some help,’” she notes. “It takes a ton of courage to ask for help. But why not stick up for yourself? Why not be your biggest advocate and get in there and get involved and see who can help you?”

Her advice for small business owners is to take a step back and assess the stress of the times and the “tyranny of the now.” She says it’s always better to “stop, calm down, breathe, and step back for a second,” so you can figure out who to lean on for support. 

“If a person doesn’t have a mentor or coach and isn’t actively working with an organization that can provide education and advice — organizations like local chambers of commerce and Women of Influence — they need to start taking advantage of them,” she says. “There are so many people and companies that want to help small businesses and entrepreneurs. All someone needs to do is reach out and ask.”

How Tanja Perry is establishing trust between Indigenous communities and Scotiabank.

Tanja Perry

By Shelley White

 

Tanja Perry’s passion for allyship with Indigenous peoples has always come naturally. It stems from her upbringing, her friends and family, her environment, and her job. 

“I grew up in a very small town in British Columbia and went to school with many Indigenous kids my age. They were my friends, my neighbours, and I’ve always had very strong relationships with their families,” says Tanja, who is District Vice President for Alberta/Northwest Territories at Scotiabank. Tanja also met her Indigenous husband living in the north. “My children embrace their Indigenous heritage and it is my role as a parent to ensure it is valued and honored. And living in remote communities has always been in my wheelhouse. I love the remoteness, and all that it has to offer.”

Tanja moved to the Northwest Territories at a very young age to work as an apprentice mechanic. But her chosen career would take a turn when she was approached by a recruiter from a local bank. 

“They said I had the personality to talk to people, so why am I not in banking?” recalls Tanja. “Once I stepped into my role as a banker, I saw very quickly that there were a lot of challenges with credit and accessibility to banking in the Indigenous communities around me. And my passion and advocacy started there.” 

Now, with 30 years of experience in the banking industry, Tanja is a driving force for allyship and positive change in both her role as District VP and as Co-chair for the National and Prairie Region Indigenous Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Based in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Tanja has made it her mission to build trust and forge relationships between the bank and the Indigenous communities in her district and across Canada. She’s particularly passionate about improving relationships with those that are challenged geographically and lack access to banking services. 

“These are relationships that we need to repair as bankers, not the other way around.”

“These are relationships that we need to repair as bankers, not the other way around,” Tanja notes. “And I continue to try and show others what I do, how I work within Indigenous communities, and the relationships that I have been able to build.” 

Another passion of Tanja’s is financial literacy, or, as she prefers to call it, “financial fitness.” Over the past year, in cooperation with the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association, she helped to develop customized Financial Fitness modules specifically tailored to Indigenous community needs. The four modules — targeting Grades 3/4, Youth, Adults and Older Adults/Elders — will soon be making their way into Indigenous communities across Canada via trained facilitators. 

“We’ve selected 12 Scotiabank employees from across Canada to act as facilitators due to their outstanding work within their Indigenous communities,” she says. “They have all completed their facilitation training and as of September, they will be supporting our branches going forward to offer these great programs. So, I’m really proud of that,” she says. 

Tanja points out that the modules aren’t meant to be one-size-fits-all. They have been developed so that they can be adjusted based on an individual community’s needs. “We can really come in with something to offer that’s meaningful, to help individuals plan for their future. It will also allow us to be in our communities to listen, learn, and be partners.” she says.

Another important aspect of Tanja’s advocacy and community-building work has been through her work with the Scotiabank Indigenous ERGs, which are composed of both Indigenous employees and allies. “Employee Resource Groups are a fantastic way to grow opportunities for leadership, networking, and professional development,” she notes. 

The groups’ mandates include striving to recruit and retain Indigenous employees, strengthening partnerships with Indigenous-focused organizations, establishing and maintaining an inclusive banking experience for Indigenous customers, and acting as a key influencer to foster, support, and raise awareness of the bank’s National Indigenous People Inclusion strategy. 

“The collaboration, vision, and work that the Indigenous ERG team is doing is truly inspiring, and I am honored to be a part of it.”

One important project Tanja helped to create is the Indigenous Cultural Competency program, a mandatory learning course for all Canadian-based employees to further enhance their learning and allyship, she says. The Indigenous ERGs have also been increasingly exploring opportunities for collaboration with other ERGs at the bank, to great success. “The collaboration, vision, and work that the Indigenous ERG team is doing is truly inspiring, and I am honored to be a part of it,” she says.

Tanja notes that September 30, which will be the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, marks a critical step to honour survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities. “It is a time to learn and reflect on how we can do our part to eliminate racism and other forms of discrimination,” she says. “We must stand together to learn this history and take action to ensure it is not repeated — it is the only way forward.”

There is still much work to be done to repair and build relationships with Indigenous peoples, adds Tanja, and all Canadians can do their part to help support the healing process. “We must recognize the unique history, culture, and traditions of each community as a fundamental first step. Educate ourselves, be knowledgeable, empathetic, and respectful of Indigenous peoples,” she says. “The culture is beautiful, steeped with values, spirituality, and connections to the land. It is important we all develop a greater understanding, know what is important to them and what they will fight to protect.”

Tanja says she treasures her own connection to the natural environment. When she’s not at work in Fort McMurray or travelling through Northern communities, she and her family spend time in the wilds of British Columbia. “We have a 600-acre ranch where we enjoy our horses, developing our land, kayaking, quadding and taking in the breathtaking surroundings. It’s my happy place.”

In her role as a business leader, Tanja hopes to send a message to others in positions of power about the importance of an inclusive and diverse workplace, offering this advice to managers and executives looking to become diversity champions: “Lead by example by fostering transparency and two-way communication in which every opinion is valued. Embrace the uniqueness people bring to the table and ask yourself what perspectives and voices have not yet been heard,” she says. “Be a leader who creates an environment where individuals feel they can be their true authentic selves.”

Roots CEO Meghan Roach leaned into the challenges of the pandemic — and transformed the lifestyle brand.

Meghan Roach

By Hailey Eisen 

 

In January 2020, Meghan Roach was appointed interim CEO of Roots. The nearly-50-year-old Canadian outdoor lifestyle brand, known for its iconic salt-and-pepper sweats and beaver emblem, was underperforming. Meghan’s job? To improve operational efficiency and execute on profitable growth opportunities, while honouring the brand’s heritage.

A mandate that would have proved challenging under normal circumstances, Meghan’s task was compounded when the COVID-19 pandemic hit just months into her tenure. But for someone who admittedly thrives in chaos, the pandemic played to the 38-year-old’s strengths. “Honestly, it was one of the most invigorating experiences of my career,” she recalls. 

The obstacles facing the retail industry were unprecedented: store closures and layoffs, a pivot to e-commerce, upended work schedules, sweeping lockdowns, increased demand for safety protocols, and the repurposing of resources to provide PPE to those in need. 

The way things were always done would no longer serve. Meghan embraced a company-wide shift that included a focus on outcomes versus ‘face time’ or hours worked. She put trust in her large team — from head office to factories, distribution centres, and retails outlets — to do what needed to be done in a much more flexible format. 

With two small children at home, Meghan also had to adapt. “When COVID hit, we were living in a condo and my husband was also working from home,” she says. “My kids were literally running in and out of my meetings all day.” 

Developing the skill set and mindset needed to thrive in these unsettling times started at a young age for Meghan. She credits her family with teaching her the value of hard work and perseverance. It was her grandfather who sparked her interest in finance and investing when he gave her BCE shares as a child. An undergraduate degree in Commerce from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University allowed her to expand upon those interests and solidified what she wanted to do beyond school. 

“I am not the smartest person in the room and never want to be. If I am, then I’ve failed at my job. Working with others who are smarter or more experienced creates a better business — together.”

“It was unique at the time to have a four-year program in Commerce which focused on finance, investing, and marketing, among other things,” she says. “We focused on case studies, group work, and leadership skills, and learned to think on our feet, collaborate with others, and work to our own strengths.” 

After graduation, Meghan explored a variety of career paths, including accounting, investments, and private equity. She served on a number of boards, including a stint on the Roots board from 2015 to 2017. In the summer of 2019, she was brought on as Roots’ interim CFO, and come the New Year was promoted to interim CEO. The CEO title became permanent in May 2020 after she had proved herself in the early days of the pandemic. 

Meghan says there were times she felt like an “imposter,” being a young woman in her CEO role. But she’s held on to an important lesson from her business school days that proved helpful on her C-suite journey. “I am not the smartest person in the room and never want to be,” she says. “If I am, then I’ve failed at my job. Working with others who are smarter or more experienced creates a better business — together. That’s how we succeed.” 

Bringing in a variety of perspectives, deeply understanding Roots’ customers, and collaborating with local and grassroots partners have all been part of Meghan’s strategy over the past year. “Roots has done a great job creating high-quality, long-lasting, comfortable products, and we wanted to expand upon that legacy with a focus on diversity and inclusion, sustainability, and global impact, among other things. This includes looking at our corporate culture, suppliers, and marketing.” 

Meghan’s current focus is diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion in terms of campaigns, product development, and partnerships. “Being a well-known brand in Canada and internationally, I want to use our platform to amplify different voices and talk about issues going on today in a way that’s aligned with our values,” she says.  

“Having gone through a pandemic and come out stronger, we know that muscle is in us and we have the capacity to deal with challenges, whatever they may be.”

Under Meghan’s leadership, Roots has partnered with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in support of its “Dear Everybody” campaign to include more people with disabilities in ad campaigns; signed the BlackNorth agreement with the Canadian Council of Business Leaders; donated to Indigenous communities; and launched a limited-edition collaboration collection in honour of International Women’s Day, which saw a portion of proceeds go to Girls E-Mentorship (GEM), a program that helps high school girls overcome barriers in their transition to adulthood. 

Meghan has also embraced the idea of storytelling, ensuring a variety of voices are heard and represented within Roots — as part of the Diversity and Inclusion Council she leads — and through partnerships and campaigns aimed at developing unique products and spotlighting existing favourites. 

A self-proclaimed small-town girl, Meghan says her love of nature and connection to the Roots brand began as a child in Pembroke, Ont. Like many, she recalls getting new Roots clothing for back-to-school. She also developed an appreciation for outdoor sports while attending the 315-acre natural campus of Lakefield College School during her high-school years. These experiences shaped her into the ideal Roots customer and helped form connections she draws upon in her role as the brand’s CEO. 

“I am so grateful for the connection I have with the Roots founders, Michael Budman and Don Green, who met at Camp Tamakwa. Michael even recalls traveling through Pembroke on one occasion during his camp canoe trips,” Meghan says. “Michael and Don have lived the Roots lifestyle since its inception and their support has been invaluable as we move forward during these exciting times.” 

A strong connection to the past with forward momentum is what’s propelling Meghan these days. “Having gone through a pandemic and come out stronger, we know that muscle is in us and we have the capacity to deal with challenges, whatever they may be,” she says. “I have a lot of optimism for the future.”  

How Anique Asher is leveraging the advice of her mentors to pay it forward.

Anique Asher

As Executive Vice President, Finance and Strategy at Scotiabank, Anique Asher shares why and how mentorship is a mutually beneficial relationship, the ways her mentors impacted her career, and how she’s supporting others in their career aspirations. 

 

By Shelley White

 

Take a risk. Trust your instinct. Seek out mentorship. Work hard. 

These are the words of wisdom that Anique Asher has kept front and center while building an impressive career as an executive in the financial industry. Now, she’s passing along that advice and more to a new generation of go-getters.

“Mentorship is one aspect of my job that I really enjoy, because now I get to see it from the other side and provide advice that may help others in their own careers,” says Anique, Executive Vice President, Finance and Strategy for Scotiabank.

“When I say to someone I’m mentoring, ‘I don’t think you’re challenging yourself enough, I think you should take that risk,’ I see myself 10 or 15 years ago,” she says. “And it feels really good to know that you can help that person make an impact in their career.”

Anique is no stranger to taking risks and leaping into the unknown. Growing up on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean, she was the third generation in a family-owned and operated business, and spent her summers as a teenager working alongside her parents. 

“I always envisioned myself becoming an entrepreneur,” Anique says. “I never envisioned a scenario where I would be working in a large financial institution because it’s just not something I had ever seen growing up.” 

But her path would prove very different. Anique’s father had gone to university in Montreal, Quebec, and wanted to give his children the same opportunity. “My parents made the financial decision to enable us to go to a university that was outside of Trinidad. They felt that experience was important for us to expand our thinking and have different experiences,” she says.

“I never envisioned a scenario where I would be working in a large financial institution because it’s just not something I had ever seen growing up.”

Anique went to the University of Western Ontario in London, completing her undergrad and MBA at the Ivey Business School. Instead of pursuing a path of entrepreneurship, she took a position at a multinational financial consulting firm, working in mid-market M&A, eventually moving into investor relations for a major life insurance company. 

“Being in that role, I knew early on that I was going to have a significant learning curve,” she says. “What I needed to do to be effective was to build-out a strong team, to ask questions, to ask for help when I needed it, and to make sure that we were addressing the issues of the shareholders and the institutional investors.”

When Scotiabank approached her in 2018, Anique says she was initially hesitant to make the move, having never worked in banking. But she was enticed by the idea of a new challenge, and once again was encouraged by her mentors to take the risk of the new role.  

“What made this role very appealing to me was a couple of things: First, it was a much larger team than I’d ever managed — 100+ people. Secondly, it was a different industry, and one of the things I have prided myself on in my career is being able to get up to speed quickly, being able to be challenged and learn new things,” she says.

Anique joined the Scotiabank in 2018 in a Senior Vice President role, and in November 2020, she was promoted to Executive Vice President, Finance and Strategy. It’s a role she relishes because it encompasses varied sides of the business, she says. While she is responsible for the more traditional financial side of things, such as global financial planning and forecasting, Anique is also involved in formulating and articulating the bank’s identity from a strategic perspective. 

“It’s rare that you would see finance so well connected to strategy, and sometimes people scratch their heads and say, ‘It’s actually such a different skill set, why would you have the same person doing that?’ But the reality is that it’s such a valuable opportunity to connect those things in a way that will drive meaningful value for the bank and deliver value for our shareholders,” she says.

Throughout her career, Anique says mentorship has been invaluable. Sometimes, her mentors were people that she worked with. Sometimes, they were people that she worked for. And sometimes, they were people outside of her organization.

Anique says that one of the most valuable things she gained through being mentored is having others see things in her that she didn’t see in herself. 

“I remember having a conversation once about a role that I was contemplating taking. And the individual said to me, ‘I think you’re making a big mistake if you take that role, because I don’t think you’re thinking big enough.’ And it was the first time in my life that I’d ever thought, ‘If this person thinks I could do that, maybe I can.’”

“Early on in my career, I would say, ‘I really appreciate everything you do, is there something that I can do?’ And nine times out of ten when you ask that, you get an answer.”

Now, Anique is the one doing the mentoring, through both informal and formal programs like Scotiabank Inspire. She says that the best mentor relationships are reciprocal, with both sides benefitting. As mentees, people should always be asking how they can help their mentor, she says.

“Early on in my career, I would say, ‘I really appreciate everything you do, is there something that I can do?’ And nine times out of ten when you ask that, you get an answer,” Anique says. “Maybe, it’s helping them with a project that’s off the side of their desk, or maybe it’s dealing with an issue that they’re struggling with from a different perspective.”

As the leader of a large team, Anique says that diversity is essential in any organization. She notes that of the 100+ people on her team, more than 50 percent identify as women. “I feel very proud of that as a woman leader,” she says. 

It’s important for people in an organization to see women in leadership, Anique says.  It’s about role modeling, she adds. 

“My husband and I have two kids, 14 and 12. Many times, I’ll say to my team, ‘I have to leave now because I need to do something for one of my sons. I’m going to a baseball or hockey game, so I’m not available at this time.’ And I think that it’s important to role model these behaviors for the team.” 

Anique notes that there were times in her career when she was the only woman in the room, and she had to trust her instincts and ensure that she was heard. 

“I came back to work after my second maternity leave, very clear that I wanted to be promoted, and I was an advocate for myself,” she says. “But if I didn’t have strong women mentors that were supporting me and giving me the runway in which to do that, while still getting to be a mom where I could actively engage with my kids, that would have been a lot harder. I feel a responsibility, particularly within my own team, to be a role model so that people see that it’s possible to have both, just not always at the same time.”

Beyond gender, other aspects of diversity are essential to any successful team, Anique says, which is why it’s important to hire people with different perspectives, such as newcomers. “Because that was me. I was new to Canada and needed somebody to give me an opportunity,” she says. 

“If the person happens to be from a warmer country, I’ll send them a note at the first snowfall saying, ‘Don’t worry, don’t leave. It’s not that bad. You’ll get through it!’” she adds with a laugh.

“When I’m most challenged and I’m really struggling with something, I always think, there’s a path through. Maybe that means getting a different perspective. Maybe that means asking for help.”

Outside of work, Anique loves to travel, read, and play tennis, but most of all, she enjoys spending time with her kids, especially when they’re on the baseball field or at the hockey arena.  

“Both of my sons play competitive sports. I actually find it funny, because I go to these games and they can be so intense for other parents, but I find it to be a source of stress relief for me, because I was so terrible at sports growing up. It just amazes me that we’re genetically related because they are pretty good. And it’s so great to see them take on those challenges and learn how to win and lose as a team a valuable lesson that they can take with them as they grow up.”

While she can’t predict where her career will take her in the future, Anique notes that she’s always ready and willing to take on any new challenge that comes her way. 

“One of the things a mentor said to me is, ‘There’s always a path through, you just have to find the path.’ When I’m most challenged and I’m really struggling with something, I always think, there’s a path through. Maybe that means getting a different perspective. Maybe that means asking for help.”

Or maybe it comes down to those earlier words of advice: Take a risk, and work hard.

“Don’t feel you can’t do something because it’s not innate to you,” Anique says. “You can always figure it out.”

Rencontrez la femme à la tête du premier fonds de capital de risque dirigé par des Noirs et soutenu par du capital institutionnel au Canada.

Lise Birikundavyi

En tant que vice-présidente, Clients – Diversité à BDC, Laura Didyk dirige les efforts de la banque visant à comprendre et à relever les défis auxquels sont confrontés les entrepreneurs sous-représentés et mal desservis, qu’ils soient racialisés, qu’ils s’identifient comme femmes, qu’ils s’identifient comme membres de la communauté LGBTQIA2S+, qu’ils vivent avec un handicap ou qu’ils aient une combinaison de ces identités. Elle présente leurs parcours dans le cadre d’entrevues, et ce mois-ci, elle reçoit Lise Birikundavyi, directrice et gestionnaire de fonds de Black Innovation Capital.

 

Au Canada, moins d’un fonds de capital de risque sur dix est géré par une femme. En ce qui concerne les fonds soutenus par du capital institutionnel, on trouve une seule femme noire aux commandes : il s’agit de Lise Birikundavyi. Elle est directrice et gestionnaire de fonds de Black Innovation Capital, un fonds de capital de risque de 10 millions de dollars, soutenu par BDC Capital et lancé en juin 2021, qui investit dans des entreprises technologiques en démarrage dirigées par des Noirs. 

Avant de prendre la barre de Black Innovation Capital, Lise a travaillé dans le domaine de la finance internationale pour plusieurs institutions. Elle a grandi à Montréal, mais son parcours l’a menée en Argentine, en Chine, au Ghana, en Côte d’Ivoire et à Toronto (ce qui fait en sorte qu’elle puisse s’exprimer en français, en anglais, en espagnol et un peu en mandarin). Au fil de ses études et de sa carrière, elle a orienté son travail vers l’entrepreneuriat social et l’investissement d’impact. 

Lise croit fermement à la possibilité de mettre à profit les forces des marchés de capitaux pour générer une richesse plus inclusive et réduire la pauvreté de façon durable. J’ai rencontré Lise pour en savoir plus sur son impressionnant parcours, qui a abouti au récent lancement de Black Innovation Capital. 

Laura : Vous avez consacré une grande partie de votre carrière à la finance à but social. Quel a été le point de départ de ce cheminement? 

Lise : Tout a commencé lorsque je suis retournée au Burundi pour la première fois, à 18 ans. J’ai grandi à Montréal, mais je suis née là-bas. C’est un pays qui a connu son lot de problèmes, notamment la pauvreté, la guerre civile et les difficultés d’accès à l’éducation. Je ne savais pas à quoi m’attendre en arrivant, mais j’ai été émerveillée par la beauté du pays et l’intelligence de ses habitants. 

J’ai été également frappée par le fait que pour la plupart des gens la réussite passe par le travail dans une organisation internationale. Il y avait très peu d’entreprises locales alors que les opportunités semblaient multiples. Lorsque que je réfléchissais avec amis et cousins sur des compagnies qui pourraient voir le jour et régler certains problèmes, on me répondait souvent « c’est une bonne idée, tu devrais créer cela » ou « Oui, pourquoi tu ne viendrais pas commencer cette initiative? ». Et je me disais toujours : « Mais, je ne vis pas ici, pourquoi ne le faites-vous pas? ». Je me suis rendu compte de fil en aiguille que l’aide humanitaire avait son rôle à jouer, de façon bien involontaire, dans la diminution de l’esprit entrepreneurial.  

“J’ai réalisé qu’il s’agissait là d’une véritable autonomisation, qui soutenait la création de modèles dans différentes sociétés en donnant aux populations vulnérables les moyens de bâtir leurs propres solutions.”

Quelques années plus tard, pendant mon séjour en Argentine, j’ai découvert la notion d’entrepreneuriat social. J’ai lu Comment changer le monde : Les entrepreneurs sociaux et le pouvoir des idées nouvelles de David Bornstein et j’ai commencé à me renseigner sur l’entrepreneuriat et sur la microfinance. Cette idée de pouvoir faire le bien tout en renforçant les capacités et en gagnant de l’argent m’a plu. J’ai réalisé qu’il s’agissait là d’une véritable autonomisation, qui soutenait la création de modèles dans différentes sociétés en donnant aux populations vulnérables les moyens de bâtir leurs propres solutions. Cela aurait ensuite un effet d’entraînement au sein de leurs communautés, sans que personne ne se sente redevable puisque le bénéfice financier serait partagé. 

Laura : C’est génial. Je sais que vous avez commencé votre carrière dans les fonds spéculatifs. Comment vous êtes-vous ensuite orientée vers l’investissement d’impact? 

Lise : J’ai adoré travailler dans le monde des fonds de couverture, mais je savais que je pouvais faire quelque chose de plus, sans pour autant savoir comment accéder au domaine du développement avec cette perspective d’autonomisation. Une amie m’a parlé de l’investissement d’impact, puis j’ai commencé à me joindre à un groupe de femmes du secteur bancaire à Montréal qui organisait régulièrement des événements pour en parler et réfléchir à la façon dont nous pourrions développer ce concept au Canada. 

J’ai décidé de m’engager dans la voie de l’investissement d’impact en m’intéressant aux marchés émergents. J’ai fait mon MBA à Shanghai avec trois objectifs en tête : apprendre le mandarin, créer un réseau solide et mieux comprendre la relation entre la Chine et l’Afrique. Tout ce que j’ai fait là-bas tournait autour de l’investissement d’impact, et j’en ai profité pour élaborer soigneusement mes prochaines actions. 

Au début, je me suis concentrée sur les marchés émergents dans une perspective de développement. L’objectif était de faire en sorte que d’énormes problèmes puissent être résolus en donnant aux gens les moyens de le faire, tout en générant des revenus aux fonds pour lesquels je travaillais à l’époque. 

Laura : Qu’avez-vous fait après votre passage à Shanghai? 

Lise : Je suis revenue en Amérique du Nord. Puis, lorsque je suis tombée enceinte de mon premier fils, j’ai décidé d’aller vivre au Ghana pour y travailler pendant mon congé de maternité. J’avais toujours voulu vivre sur le continent africain et je supposais, naïvement, que je m’ennuierais en restant à la maison avec un bébé. J’étais prête pour une nouvelle aventure et je voulais poursuivre mon travail de sensibilisation. Au Ghana, j’ai appuyé Ingénieurs sans frontières, Canada. Nous avons trouvé une communauté là-bas et ce fut une belle expérience. Nous avons ensuite passé trois ans en Côte d’Ivoire, sur la côte sud de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, où je gérais un fonds de technologies éducatives pour la Jacobs Foundation.

Laura : Et ensuite, vous avez créé Black Innovation Capital. Comment avez-vous eu cette idée?

Lise : Lorsque j’ai décidé de me lancer dans cette aventure avec Isaac Olowolafe pour fonder Black Innovation Capital, cela me semblait similaire au travail que j’avais fait auparavant, bien qu’il s’agisse d’un marché complètement différent. Je travaillais auprès d’une population extrêmement talentueuse qui ne reçoit pas le financement qu’elle devrait, en vue de l’aider à créer de la richesse pouvant être réinvestie au sein de leur communauté. Pour nous, avec le Black Innovation Fund, il ne s’agit pas d’une communauté en opposition à une autre, mais plutôt d’une incitation à une plus grande participation de toutes les communautés au secteur du capital de risque. Il est question de diversité et d’inclusion, et de la contribution de chacun à un meilleur système. 

Le fait que BDC soit devenue notre investisseur principal a eu une contribution importante à la création du fonds. Nous avons apprécié l’expérience et le soutien que nous avons reçus, particulièrement au niveau de l’aide apportée aux nouveaux gestionnaires de fonds. Nous avons officiellement lancé le fonds le 7 juin de cette année et sommes actuellement en train de négocier nos premiers investissements. 

Laura : Quelle est la vision de Black Innovation Capital? Qu’est-ce qui le distingue des autres fonds de capital de risque?

Lise : Nos objectifs sont de contribuer à la création d’entreprises technologiques dirigées par des Noirs, d’offrir un rendement supérieur à nos investisseurs et d’accroître la diversité dans l’écosystème du capital de risque. Globalement, notre thème principal est donc la diversité. 

Toute entreprise dans laquelle nous investissons doit comprendre au moins 25 % d’actionnariat ou de cadres dirigeants noirs et être une entreprise technologique en phase de démarrage. Nous nous attendons à ce que les équipes viennent d’horizons divers, car même au sein des communautés noires, on observe généralement des origines et des perspectives riches et diversifiées. 

“Jusqu’à présent, nous avons constaté une résilience intrinsèque au sein des entreprises que nous examinons. Beaucoup d’entre elles ont eu de la difficulté à trouver des financements et ont dû faire preuve d’une grande créativité pour en arriver là où elles en sont aujourd’hui.”

Jusqu’à présent, nous avons constaté une résilience intrinsèque au sein des entreprises que nous examinons. Beaucoup d’entre elles ont eu de la difficulté à trouver des financements et ont dû faire preuve d’une grande créativité pour en arriver là où elles en sont aujourd’hui. Nous voyons également beaucoup de produits et de services inclusifs, qui résolvent les problèmes sous différents angles et perspectives. Et c’est exactement ce que nous recherchons : des entreprises en démarrage qui font les choses différemment, qui répondent à des besoins qui ne sont pas actuellement satisfaits et qui apportent de sérieuses améliorations à des concepts déjà existants. 

Laura : Alors, le Black Innovation Capital est-il un fonds d’investissement à impact? 

Lise : Pour moi, l’investissement d’impact consiste à faire le bien tout en ayant un retour sur investissement qui soit positif. Bien que Black Innovation Capital ne soit pas à proprement parler un fonds d’impact, il a néanmoins un impact qui me tient à cœur. Je comprends ce que c’est que d’avoir l’impression de devoir travailler plus dur que les autres, de ne pas être évalué selon les mêmes critères et de ne pas avoir le droit à l’erreur. En créant des outils qui aident à la création de richesse ou à l’autonomisation en général, je rêve d’un monde où nous n’aurons pas à avoir de telles conversations avec nos enfants et où la diversité deviendra la norme. Pour moi, c’est ça le véritable impact. 

Laura : Le financement par capital de risque convient-il à tout le monde? Qu’en est-il des autres options pour les entrepreneurs noirs, comme les prêts? 

Lise : C’est formidable de voir émerger davantage de soutien pour les entrepreneurs noirs, comme le Programme de démarrage pour entrepreneur.es noir.es ou le Fonds de prêts pour l’entrepreneuriat des communautés noires. Ces deux programmes offrent un financement et un mentorat, ce qui constitue une combinaison importante pour la croissance d’une entreprise. Le choix entre un programme de ce type, l’octroi de prêts, ou l’investissement en capital de risque dépend vraiment de l’entrepreneur et de son entreprise, car les deux sont assortis de conditions différentes et répondent à des besoins différents. 

Quand notre fonds investit dans une entreprise, nous devenons actionnaires et donc un partenaire d’affaires. Nous nous rendons disponible afin que l’entrepreneur puisse nous appeler  pour obtenir de l’aide lorsqu’elle ne sait pas quelle décision prendre. Nous restons présents sur le long terme car nous sommes des partenaires de croissance et nous assumons le risque avec l’entrepreneur. 

Il est important d’obtenir des conseils pour déterminer quel est le meilleur modèle de financement pour chacun. 

Laura : Nous savons que les entrepreneurs noirs ont de la difficulté à trouver des capitaux et des modèles inspirants. Quels sont, selon vous, les facteurs à l’origine de cette situation et comment envisagez-vous d’y remédier? 

Lise : Les raisons pour lesquelles les entreprises appartenant à des Noirs obtiennent disproportionnellement moins de capitaux sont nombreuses. Il est important de reconnaître que les préjugés inconscients existent dans tous les domaines, y compris dans celui de l’investissement. Les gens ont tendance à faire confiance à des personnes et à des concepts qu’ils connaissent bien, donc ne prennent pas toujours des décisions sur la base de leurs valeurs, de leur expérience ou d’une solide analyse de rentabilité. 

Nous avons également souvent vu des programmes de mentorat qui ne sont pas assortis d’un accès au capital. Or, le succès repose sur la combinaison de ces deux éléments. Nous nous efforçons de résoudre ce problème de mentorat excessif et de sous-investissement. 

“L’objectif est de changer la perspective des jeunes générations et de leur faire voir qu’il leur est possible de faire tout ce à quoi elles aspirent.”

On observe aussi parfois un manque de sensibilisation des entrepreneurs qui ne savent pas où ni comment trouver du soutient. Les communautés d’investissement sont cloisonnées et manquent souvent de diversité. Cela peut entraîner un manque de confiance chez certains entrepreneurs noirs. Même s’ils ont une bonne idée, ils ne croient pas nécessairement qu’elle intéressera d’autres personnes. 

Ainsi, le fait qu’Isaac et moi représentions un homme noir et une femme noire à la tête de cette initiative nous positionne comme un reflet de la population qu’on souhaite servir. L’objectif est de changer la perspective des jeunes générations et de leur faire voir qu’il leur est possible de faire tout ce à quoi elles aspirent. Nous investirons dans des entreprises qui finiront par connaître un franc succès et leurs dirigeants deviendront des modèles de réussite pour leurs communautés.

Laura : Quel conseil donneriez-vous aux femmes noires entrepreneures qui sont confrontées à des obstacles liés leur sexe et à leur race?

Lise : Mon conseil est tout simplement d’oser, de se concentrer sur son objectif et de connaître sa valeur. Beaucoup de femmes noires sont audacieuses, elles n’ont pas peur d’être plus fortes et d’aller là où elles ne devraient pas être. Donc c’est de garder cet esprit car nous n’avons rien à perdre. Je crois que nous devons apprendre à nos filles à s’instruire continuellement, à ne jamais avoir peur d’exprimer une opinion si elle est fondée sur la vérité, même si elle semble impopulaire, et à saisir les possibilités qui se présentent. Ce n’est pas parce que nous avons peu de modèles de réussite qui nous ressemblent dans un certain domaine que nous devons nous imposer des limites. Finalement, ne pas oublier de soutenir les autres tout au long du chemin! 

Laura : Dans cinq ans, qu’envisagez-vous pour le Black Innovation Fund?

Lise : J’aimerais voir beaucoup d’exemples de réussite, pour les entreprises dans lesquelles nous investissons, pour nous-mêmes et, surtout, pour le secteur du capital de risque en général. Nous nous efforçons également de modifier l’optique d’investissement en formant des professionnels noirs dans le domaine de l’investissement qui travailleront dans l’écosystème du capital de risque afin de renforcer la diversité au niveau de la prise de décision. Nous espérons que cette tendance devienne la norme, à la fois dans les entreprises qui recherchent des fonds d’investissement et dans celles qui réalisent ces investissements. Dans cinq ans, j’espère voir des fonds de plus grande taille pour les initiatives dirigées par des personnes issues de communautés diverses dans le domaine du capital-investissement et du capital de risque. J’espère que 15 à 20 ans plus tard, ces fonds n’existeront plus, parce qu’ils ne seront plus nécessaires et que la diversité fera partie du quotidien.

Meet the woman at the helm of the first institutionally backed, Black-led venture fund in Canada.

Lise Birikundavyi

As Vice President, Client Diversity at BDC, Laura Didyk is leading the bank’s efforts to understand and address the challenges faced by underrepresented and underserved entrepreneurs — whether they be racialized, identify as women, identify as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, be living with a disability, or exist within a combination of these identities. She’s sharing their journeys through conversations, and this month it’s with Lise Birikundavyi,  principal & fund manager for Black Innovation Capital.

 

In Canada, fewer than one in ten venture funds have a woman as a managing partner. Narrow that down to Black women and institutionally-backed funds, and there’s only one: Lise Birikundavyi. She is principal & fund manager for Black Innovation Capital, a $10 million VC fund that invests in Black-led tech start-ups, backed by BDC Capital, and launched in June 2021.  

Before taking the helm at Black Innovation Capital, Lise worked in finance internationally for a number of institutions. Raised in Montreal, her journey has taken her to Argentina, China, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and back to Toronto (picking up French, English, Spanish, and a bit of Mandarin along the way). Through her education and career, she’s steered her work towards social entrepreneurship and impact investing. 

Lise is a firm believer in using the forces of capital markets as a basis for the more inclusive wealth creation and sustainable poverty alleviation. I caught up with Lise to discuss her impressive journey, culminating in the recent launch of Black Innovation Capital. 

 

Laura: You’ve focused a lot of your career on finance with a social purpose. How did you get started down this path? 

Lise: It started when I was 18 and went back to Burundi for the first time — I grew up in Montreal, but I was born there. It’s a country that’s had its share of issues; poverty, civil unrest, and access to education are some of the main ones. I didn’t know what I’d find when I arrived, but I was amazed by the beauty of the country and the intellect of the people. 

One thing that really struck me is that most people’s idea of success meant working at a large institution or at an international organization. There weren’t many locally owned businesses. When I talked with people about their entrepreneurship ideas, they would always say, “you should start one,” or “you should do it.” And I kept thinking, I don’t live here, why don’t you do it? I realized that an unintended consequence of humanitarian aid was that it was weakening the entrepreneurial spirit.

“I realized that this was real empowerment — supporting the creation of role models in different societies by giving them the means to build something on their own which would then have a ripple effect in their communities.”

A few years later in Argentina, I stumbled upon the idea of social entrepreneurship. I found the book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein and began learning about microfinance. I liked the idea of doing good while building capacity and making money. I realized that this was real empowerment — supporting the creation of role models in different societies by giving them the means to build something on their own which would then have a ripple effect in their communities, without anyone feeling indebted as the financial benefit would be shared. 

Laura: I love that. I know you started out working in hedge funds, though — how did you steer your career into impact investing? 

Lise: I loved working in the hedge fund world but I knew there was something more I could be doing, I just didn’t know how to enter the development space from an empowerment perspective. A good friend started talking to me about impact investing, and I began to meet with a group of women bankers in Montreal organising regular events to talk about what it was and exploring how we could develop it in Canada. 

I decided I would try to create my own pathway in impact investing with an outlook for emerging markets. I went on to do my MBA in Shanghai with three goals: to learn Mandarin, to create a strong network, and to understand the China-Africa relationship. Everything I did there was around impact investing, and I took the opportunity to carefully craft my next steps. 

At the beginning, my focus was emerging markets with a development outlook. The goal was to make sure huge problems could be solved by empowering people to solve them, while making money for the fund I was working for at the time. 

Laura: What came next for you after Shanghai? 

Lise: I came back to North America, but when I got pregnant with my first son, I decided we should go live and work in Ghana. I had always wanted to experience living on the African continent and I assumed, naïvely, that I would get bored staying home with a baby. I was up for another adventure and wanted to continue my impact work. In Ghana, I worked supporting Engineers Without Borders, Canada. We found a community there and it was a beautiful experience. We then spent three years in Côte d’Ivoire, a country located on the south coast of West Africa, where I was managing an edtech fund for the Jacobs Foundation.

Laura: And then your next step was Black Innovation Capital. How did that come about?

Lise: When I decided to start this adventure with Isaac Olowolafe to found Black Innovation Capital, it felt similar to the work I had done in Africa — despite it being a completely different market. The fund was about economic empowerment, working with a population that is not receiving the funding it should, and wanting to help them create wealth that can be reinvested in the community. For us, it’s not about one community versus another, it’s about the greater participation of all communities in the VC space. It’s about diversity and inclusion and everyone contributing to a better system. 

Having BDC come on as our anchor investor really helped to bring the fund together; we’ve loved the experience and the support we’ve received in everything from working out the funding model to facilitating first time fund managers. We launched officially June 7 of this year, and are currently in negotiations for our first investments. 

Laura: What’s the vision for Black Innovation Capital? What sets it apart from other VC funds?

Lise: Our hope is to help build successful Black-led tech businesses, deliver returns to our investors, and increase the diversity in the venture capital ecosystem. So overall, our main theme is diversity. 

Any business we invest in must be Black-led — that’s at least 25% of ownership or executive management — and an early-stage tech company. We expect the teams will come from various backgrounds, because within Black communities you tend to see many different backgrounds and perspectives. 

“So far, what we’re finding among the companies we’re looking at is this embedded resilience. Many have had a hard time finding financing and have had to be really creative to get to where they are at now.”

So far, what we’re finding among the companies we’re looking at is this embedded resilience. Many have had a hard time finding financing and have had to be really creative to get to where they are at now. We are also seeing a lot of inclusive products and services, solving problems from different angles and perspectives. And that’s exactly what we’re looking for: start-ups that are doing things differently, addressing needs that aren’t currently being met, and bringing about serious improvements to concepts that already exist. 

Laura: So, is Black Innovation Capital an impact fund? 

Lise:  To me, impact investing is doing good while doing well — making money while creating a positive change in society. While Black Innovation Capital isn’t technically an impact fund, it does have an impact that’s very close to my heart. I understand what it is to feel like you have to work harder than the rest, that you’re not measured against the same standards and making a mistake is not an option. In creating tools that are helping with wealth creation or empowerment in general, I dream of a world where we don’t have to have these conversations with our children. Where diversity becomes the norm. To me, that’s the real impact. 

Laura: Is VC funding right for everyone? What about other options for Black entrepreneurs, like loans? 

Lise: It’s great to see more support emerging for Black entrepreneurs, such as the Black Entrepreneurship Startup Program or Black Entrepreneur Loan Fund. Both offer funding and mentorship which is an important combination for growing your business. Choosing between a program like these, extending loans, or VC investment really depends on you and your business — because both come with different terms and serve different needs. 

One of the biggest differences between venture capital and a loan is the loan is paid back on set terms. With venture capital, we mainly use equity, which means that we invest in your company and our return on investment generally depends on how well your company does, so the kind of partnership you have with a VC fund can often be a bit more hands-on. We’d expect you to call us for support when you don’t know what decision to make. We’re there for the long run, we’re partners in growth, and we really take the risk along with you. 

In any instance, what is most important is to get advice to determine what is the best financing model for you and your business. 

Laura: We know that Black entrepreneurs struggle to secure capital and find role models. What do you see as some of the issues causing this, and how do you hope to address them? 

Lise: There are many reasons Black-owned businesses aren’t getting capital. It’s important to recognize that unconscious bias exists everywhere, including in investing. People typically invest in individuals and concepts they are familiar with, not always based on their values, experience or a sound business case. 

What we often see are mentorship programs that don’t come with access to capital. To be successful, you need both. We’re trying to solve this issue of over-mentoring and under-investing. 

“From a role model perspective, it’s really nice that Isaac and I represent a Black man and a Black woman leading this initiative. The goal is to change the perspective for younger generations and make them see that it is possible for them to do whatever they decide to do.”

On the part of the entrepreneurs, there is also sometimes a lack of awareness — they don’t know where to go for help. The investment communities are siloed and often lack diversity. That can lead to a lack of confidence for some Black entrepreneurs. Even if they have a good idea, they don’t necessarily believe others will be interested in it. 

From a role model perspective, it’s really nice that Isaac and I represent a Black man and a Black woman leading this initiative. The goal is to change the perspective for younger generations and make them see that it is possible for them to do whatever they decide to do. We will be investing in companies that will eventually create massive success stories, and those leaders will become models of success as well.

Laura: What’s your advice for Black women entrepreneurs, who face barriers both because of their gender and their race?

Lise: My advice is simply to be daring, laser-focused, and know your value. A lot of Black women are actually fearless, not afraid to be louder and go where they should not be. Many feel they have nothing to lose. I want us to teach our daughters to educate themselves, to never be afraid to express an opinion if rooted in truth, even when it seems unpopular, and to seize opportunities when they present themselves. Just because we haven’t seen many others who look like us be successful in a certain field, it doesn’t mean we should put limits on ourselves. And, be sure to support others along the way! 

Laura: In five years from now, what do you envision for the Black Innovation Fund?

Lise: I’d like to see a lot of success stories, for the companies we invest in, for ourselves, and as importantly for the VC space in general. We’re also working to shift the investing lens by training Black investment managers who will be placed in the VC ecosystem to help create more diversity at the decision making level. We hope for that to be the norm — more diversity not only in the companies seeking investment dollars but in those making the investments. In five years, my hope is to see larger size funds for Black-led or BIPOC-led initiatives in the private equity and venture capital space. In 15-20 years, I hope they no longer exist because they won’t be needed anymore — that diversity will be business as usual.

Roxane Ducasse went from working in government to Walmart’s leadership program.

Roxane Ducasse

By Hailey Eisen 

Having a behind-the-scenes view of the frenzied buying patterns of Canadians during the early days of the COVID pandemic would have been interesting for anyone — but especially so for someone with a statistics background, and who likens supply-chain logistics to a puzzle ready to be solved. 

For Roxane Ducasse, whose career with Walmart Canada has spanned nearly five years, the pandemic provided indelible lessons in resilience and the ability to pivot on a dime. 

And, while she says she’s had great opportunities to learn over the past year, Roxane actually began to hone these skills earlier in her career — when she pivoted from a five-year job with the federal government, to a full-time MBA, to Walmart’s D.A.R.E. leadership development program.

“I completed my undergraduate degree in statistics in Ottawa and, like many in that city, I got a part-time job with the government,” she recalls. “Once I graduated, I was offered a permanent role with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in operations performance management.”

Part of Roxane’s role was the development of an operational forecasting model aimed at reducing processing times for citizenship applications — work she felt was rewarding. Still, a few years in, she began to think about her career goals and long-term plans. “Being so young, I didn’t want to stay in the public service forever,” she recalls. “As much as I loved it, I didn’t want to be boxed in.” 

It was around this time that she began to research MBA programs, thinking the degree might be a good way out of government and into the private sector. She attended a few information sessions and was quickly sold on Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. “I go for that gut feeling when making decisions, and I didn’t get that feeling from any other school,” Roxane recalls. 

“Being so young, I didn’t want to stay in the public service forever. As much as I loved it, I didn’t want to be boxed in.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to leave a permanent position and a pension. Roxane says many colleagues tried to convince her to take a leave of absence rather than quit her job to go back to school. But she knew leaving her job would propel her forward to finding her next career move. She resigned from the government and began the MBA in January 2015. “I didn’t want to have one foot out the door; I decided to pivot, and knew I would land somewhere else in the end.” 

During the year of her MBA, Roxane felt that she was at her physical and mental peak. One reason for that is she joined Smith’s Fit To Lead™ program — which emphasizes goal setting, fitness, healthy eating and balance. She came to realize just how many usable hours there were in a day. “From 7 a.m. boot-camp, to a day full of classes and team meetings, followed by running club, and social outings at 10 p.m., the program really pushed me and I experienced a tremendous amount of growth that year.” 

It was through an on-campus recruiting event that she discovered Walmart’s D.A.R.E. program. “What appealed to me about the program was that you learned from the experts on the ground floor — spending two years in the stores before going to work in the head office,” Roxane explains. 

When choosing between the Walmart program and a senior consulting role she was offered, Roxane says it came down to Walmart offering her the biggest personal growth opportunity — a people leadership role which both scared and excited her — and the fact that working in retail was nothing like any job she’d held to date. 

In her first year with Walmart, Roxane joined a store in Oshawa and learned everything from cashing out customers, to slicing deli meats, to unloading a truck. In her second year she co-managed a store in Whitby, her hometown. “I led an incredible team of 200 associates alongside my seasoned store manager and oversaw the operations of a $75M Supercentre — it was truly a life changing experience.”

Not only did she learn a lot about herself as a leader, but she also gained a tremendous amount of respect for associates at the store level in the retail industry. “Working alongside people who had been with Walmart for years, gaining their respect, and working as a manager for them to make sure they had the resources they needed to do their jobs effectively, that was a really important part of the job,” Roxane recalls.  

“Your reputation is your legacy — people will not always remember the numbers you put out or the details of the projects you worked on, but they will remember how you treated them and the impact you had.”

After two years in stores, Roxane moved to Walmart’s head office in Mississauga, Ont., where she did a few more rotations as part of the D.A.R.E. program. “I worked in pricing analytics, logistics, and supply chain. During that time, I took on a project analyzing Amazon’s pricing strategy and how Walmart’s online prices compared,” she explains. 

Roxane decided to pursue a permanent position in supply chain management, a role she’s held since July 2019. This landed her right in the middle of product shortages, out-of-stock suppliers, and empty shelves when COVID hit in early 2020. “There was a lot of pressure on the supply chain both in terms of keeping up with customer demand and readjusting to increase supply.”

Roxane says the pandemic taught her that you can never really take for granted what’s going to happen next. “We’ve all learned to think outside the box, push the envelope, and work in ways we once thought unimaginable,” she says.  

As a mentor to other young women within Walmart and as a member of the Smith School of Business alumni network, Roxane has lots of advice to share. “When you’re young, starting out in your career, you may be brought into a meeting and feel hesitant to speak up. What I was told 10 years ago, and what I tell other young women in the workplace is, ‘You were invited for a reason.’ Establish your credentials and your background, tell them why you’re an expert in the topic at hand, and then speak up,” she says. “Also remember, your reputation is your legacy — people will not always remember the numbers you put out or the details of the projects you worked on, but they will remember how you treated them and the impact you had. Always strive to have a positive impact wherever you go.” 

How this Scotiabank executive is responding to the pandemic’s impact on the gender gap.

Nicole German Scotiabank

by Shelley White

 

Like most working parents across the country, Nicole German has encountered ups and downs adjusting to the new normal of life during a pandemic. As a busy mom, she says balancing work and family can be challenging at the best of times, but the pandemic has taken it to another level. 

“I would say it’s really an ebb and flow,” says Nicole, VP & Head Global, Enterprise Digital Marketing & Growth at Scotiabank and Advisory Board member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. “On one hand, during the lockdown, I’m not driving to sports or having to race home after work. On the other hand, there are moments where I’m consumed with work and trying to juggle online learning and the emotional needs of my children. I also have older parents, and I want to make sure that they have access to all the resources they need and are in good health and spirits.”

To keep things on an even keel, Nicole says she consciously focuses on mental and physical well-being for herself and her family. “We’re trying to get outside as much as possible, and also making sure that we’re reaching out and making those connections with family and friends via video conferencing.”

While it’s likely that anyone can relate to feeling challenged during a global pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear that women have been particularly impacted during this unprecedented time. 

“We are seeing a disproportionate amount of extra load falling to women,” says Nicole. “If you have young people at home and older people you are looking after, it’s that idea of the ‘sandwich generation,’ and that’s especially compounded when women are working too.” 

Nicole says she’s been “astounded” to see how women have lost ground from an employment perspective during the pandemic. She points to a recent analysis by the National Women’s Law Center that found while women outnumbered men in the U.S. workforce a year ago, they accounted for 100 per cent of job losses in the country in December 2020. 

In Canada, the data has followed similar patterns. Global non-profit organization Catalyst pointed out that although unemployment for parents was near-normal by September 2020, 70 per cent more mothers — compared with 24 per cent of fathers — were working fewer than half of the hours they worked in February 2020.

“It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure. But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform.” 

Nicole considers the lasting impact to women COVID-19 may cause. “It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure,” she says. “But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform to support women to ensure we remove these inequities and challenges for women.” 

One of the ways Scotiabank is supporting business women through the pandemic is through the Digital Hub created as part of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. Launched two years ago, The Scotiabank Women Initiative is a comprehensive program helping women across Canada take their businesses to the next level through unbiased access to capital, financial services, education, advice, and mentorship.

The Digital Hub is an online platform and resource centre to help women-led businesses transform and thrive during these challenging times. Resources include everything from articles, stories, templates and training on topics like how to build a website and transact through e-commerce to how to use digital channels to promote and market your business. The Hub was developed in collaboration with some of the heaviest hitters in the tech world, including LinkedIn, Shopify, Facebook, and Google. 

Nicole says the idea for the Digital Hub was sparked pre-pandemic. Gillian Riley, President and CEO, Tangerine Bank, and executive sponsor and founder of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, engaged Nicole to create a digital toolkit that would help women entrepreneurs prosper during the challenging times of the pandemic. As a member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative Advisory Board, Nicole embraced the task at hand. 

“When COVID-19 hit, we thought about how we could take that online at scale for women-led businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic” she says. “How can we help women business leaders pivot to use digital as a channel to promote or fulfill their products and services? And so the idea was born.”

While going digital has, for some businesses, been the only alternative during an era of pandemic lockdowns, Nicole says this kind of digital transformation could really benefit many businesses long after the pandemic is over. “The thing about digital is that once you’re set up, it can be very efficient. It can lower your cost to sell or promote your product.”

“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection.”

With International Women’s Day approaching on March 8, Nicole says this year’s theme — Choose to Challenge — resonates with her. 

“To me, it’s about voicing when you see something is off or not right,” she says. “I think it’s about making the choice to step forward for something that you believe in more proactively with a louder voice.” 

While Nicole says that in her career, she has been fortunate to have been supported along her path, she knows that is not always the experience of women building their careers. For example, an August 2020 analysis by Catalyst showed that men hold over 90 per cent of C-level executive roles in Canada. There is clearly more work to be done, Nicole says. 

“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection. Look at your data on women in the workforce. You might think that you’re doing OK, but you don’t really know until you look at the data,” she says.

“The second part is about transparency. No matter where you sit in terms of the data, share that internally among your organization and then offer transparency to the public to say, ‘This is how we’re doing.’ The next step is agreeing to move the needle. And what are the steps that you need to take to do that?” 

Nicole says she hopes that in future, “we won’t need benchmarks and targets.” But in order to get there, our perceptions about what “work” is may need to change. 

“We’re seeing through the pandemic that in some cases women are having to leave the workforce because they’re having to care for kids in the home, or they have lesser pay than their spouse. But maybe once we’re in the ‘next normal,’ it will be different, maybe it won’t be a ‘nine to five anymore. Maybe there needs to be more flexibility, or better access to affordable childcare.”

Nicole says she’s curious to see how things will change with her sons’ generation. 

“I’m raising two incredible young men and I know they are advocates for gender equality because they are my biggest supporters, whether it’s at home or at work. I’m curious to see how it plays out for my guys, because no matter how you cut it, it’s a challenge to juggle.”

 

How this Spin Master executive embraces a digital-first marketing strategy.

Laura Henderson

When Laura Henderson was a kid, she had big expectations about what she wanted to do with her life. “I was the ultimate performer,” she says. “I was going to be a pop star.” Though she didn’t make it to centre stage, she did end up in a fairly incredible role — one her three-year-old self would no doubt be proud of. 

“I joke that I’m about to be the coolest person in my kid’s world,” Laura says of her position as EVP, Marketing at Spin Master. If you’re not familiar with the company, you may recognize the many brands it owns and represents: Paw Patrol, Hatchimals, Kinetic Sand, Gund, and many others. Since its inception in 1994, the award-winning Canadian company has come to dominate the world of children’s entertainment. 

Today, it’s Laura’s job to keep Spin Master’s brands top-of-mind with pint-sized and parental consumers, something that’s been a new  challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“COVID came at a time when the marketing world was going through a digital transformation,” she says, noting kids were already starting to spend more time on screens instead of in toy aisles. “It means we’ve had to pivot and get more creative about where and when we show up.” As opposed to creating one ad that would air on live TV, for example, she says marketing has become about combining the message and medium in creative new ways, delivering hundreds of contextually-relevant ads across many new screens: tablets, smartphones, and streaming services. “You can deliver experiences that are more relevant. Digital is real-time, it’s global, personalized, responsive, and it has a lower cost of delivery, so you can test and learn faster.” 

“My job as a marketer at its core hasn’t changed, but the need to be strategic is greater than ever.”

Digital-first may be a unique way to approach marketing, especially for those at larger organizations that still prioritize traditional campaigns, but it’s one Laura came to passionately embrace in her previous roles at Mondelēz and BuzzFeed. At the former, she helped transform the way the candy and consumer packaged goods company created content and promoted their products through platforms like Facebook and Google. At the latter, she helped popularize brands like Tasty and Worth It. 

“This role is really a combination of my past two lives,” she says. “Spin Master has the creativity and entrepreneurship of a BuzzFeed, but the scale of a Mondelēz. We have the heart of a startup, and the brain of a big company. My job as a marketer at its core hasn’t changed, but the need to be strategic is greater than ever.”

Her advice to marketers who are looking to cut through the clutter and tap into their digital audiences is to first define how marketing is tied to their business. “Is it share, sales, growth? What’s your metric for success?” From there, figure out who your core consumer is and meet them where they are. You can then align your goals to overcome challenges as they come up, much like Spin Master has done during COVID.

Laura also says it’s important for leaders to be empathetic to their teams’ needs and to realize pivoting to new approaches and tactics may not be as straightforward for some employees as others –– especially given the new challenges we all face while working from home. 

“I think it’s important as a leader to be vulnerable. I have a two-year-old at home, and I make a real effort to share that experience and to speak honestly about the challenges I face both with members of my team and senior executives. It’s important for me to set a tone that no one is going to be perfectly OK all of the time; and that’s not just for the people who have kids. Everyone is dealing with the impacts of COVID in different ways depending on their circumstances. We’re focused on getting through this together by supporting one another.”

“I realized what might feel like a detour on the career path to some may actually be something to open my mind. Having a healthy sense of openness and curiosity can propel you further.”

It’s also key for leaders to emphasize their own learning no matter how senior they get, and to be honest about what they don’t know. There is value in learning with your team. 

“Early in my career, I always wanted to present the perfect buttoned-up picture. Midway through, I realized that instead of pretending I had all of the answers, it was more productive to ask the right questions and come from a place of curiosity to help solve the problem. Today, I set up a team by saying, ‘you are the experts, and I am here to learn from you and make you as successful as possible.’ Throughout my career, even as I took lateral roles or positions in new industries where I had little knowledge, I realized what might feel like a detour on the career path to some may actually be something to open my mind. Having a healthy sense of openness and curiosity can propel you further.”

Lastly, like your favourite PAW Patrol characters Chase or Skye, figure out what your strengths are and lean into them. “Focus less on those things you need to improve upon and more on finding opportunities to apply what you’re good at. This will help you multiply your impact, and more fluidly move into unexpected roles versus following a rigid career path. It’s great for you and great for your company.”

How Patricia McLeod turned corporate governance into a full-time job — even though she didn’t fit the typical board member profile.

By Hailey Eisen 

The advice that Patricia McLeod likes to give — “Pick things you’re good at, because if you love what you’re doing enough you’ll find a path forward” — sums up her own journey over the past five years.  

Patricia spent 23 years as a lawyer and executive in Calgary and Vancouver before making an unusual career pivot. Armed with an Executive MBA, plus years of legal, privacy, compliance and corporate responsibility experience, Patricia began to expand on her volunteer experience. She took board positions with organizations focusing on community and economic development, arts, innovation, and vulnerable women and families. 

In 2015, she began to feel that her board work was more strategic than her job. The variety of challenges and opportunities was exciting. Patricia wondered if she could turn governance into her full-time career. She asked a handful of women directors for their opinions. 

Their responses were not reassuring. “I ended up with a long list of reasons why I wasn’t likely to be successful in corporate governance,” she says. “They weren’t being negative, they were just coming from a different place — C-Suite executives who’d been specifically tapped for their board positions.” 

As it was pointed out, Patricia wasn’t even 50, had never been a CEO, and wasn’t ready to retire. Plus, she had no experience in the oil and gas sector — a bit of a problem for someone wanting to serve on boards in Calgary. “I remember thinking: They’re right, but where am I in the board world? I’m the gap.”

Nevertheless, Patricia was undaunted. 

Within six months, she secured her first paid governance position and within 18 months, she was appointed as Chair of the Board of Calgary Co-op, one of the largest retail cooperatives in North America with annual revenues of around $1.2 billion and 440,000 member-owners. In two years, she resigned from her general counsel role, had a full portfolio of board positions and was making more money than she’d earned in her previous job. 

“I’m not a pioneer on boards because I’m a woman. Women on boards is now a much more well-known and supported concept. But I’m a pioneer because I treat my board work as a profession,” Patricia says. 

And following her passion has made her happy. 

“With board work, you’re doing strategy, leadership, issues management — all of which is so motivating to me,” she says. “And it’s a balancing act, like being a consultant.” 

Today, Patricia sits on a wide cross-section of boards, including Calgary Co-op, the Beverage Container Management Board, Alberta Innovates, and the Calgary Film Centre.

 “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills.” 

She says her prior board roles with First Air and Air Inuit proved especially satisfying. Based in Quebec and Ontario, the airlines operate passenger, charter and cargo services in Nunavik and Nunavut. “This was the first time they’d opened up the organization to non-Inuit board members, and there was a great deal of learning on both sides,” Patricia says. During her term, First Air merged with another Inuit-owned airline and Patricia brought her experience in governance, legal and relationship-building to the merger process. “It was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had.”  

But with no airline experience (or experience in many of the industries in which she now serves on boards), Patricia has had to market herself differently. “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills. For example, I worked in utilities, a highly regulated, high-hazard industry, which transferred nicely to the aviation industry.”

Patricia says she’s also needed a lot of self-confidence in applying for board positions — “for every ten interviews you’ll get one position” — and taking on a wide range of roles. She also needed to be willing to put her name forward for board leadership opportunities. She credits her Executive MBA with giving her the confidence to make the leap into governance and the success she’s having as a leader. 

With an undergraduate degree in business, a law degree, and years of work, Patricia went back to school in 2009 to earn her EMBA at Smith School of Business. “I knew I was a strong lawyer but felt the MBA would give me the business credibility I was lacking.” With two young daughters at home and a full-time job, Patricia joined the EMBA program from Calgary, with the strong support of her company. 

“The program not only helped me rethink the language of business writing, which was really important for me coming from a law background, it also put a huge emphasis on group work and leadership,” she recalls. “I literally use the skills from that program on a daily basis, when I’m chairing boards and leading groups, public speaking, leaning into difficult decisions and facing down big issues.” 

Completing the EMBA, she says, made her courageous enough to step into governance and gave her the skills to feel comfortable doing so. But first, it gave her the confidence to put her hand up at AltaLink, where she worked, to take on different roles beyond her existing scope. 

“Sometimes in an established career you are seen in a certain way, and you have to jar people out of that. You have to raise your hand and step outside of your comfort zone.” 

And staying just beyond her comfort zone is what keeps Patricia engaged. “It reinvigorates me, this board work,” she says. “I was recently offered a prestigious role back in legal, and while I was tempted, I decided to be brave and continue on the path I’m on.”

How Lulu Liang became CEO of Luxy Hair at 25 — and then started a side hustle.

Lulu Liang

By Hailey Eisen

 

At 25, Lulu Liang was named CEO of Luxy Hair, a global beauty brand with more than 300,000 customers in 165 countries. She had joined the company just three years earlier as an operations assistant. 

While such a quick leap up the corporate ladder may seem unusual, Lulu insists she joined the premium hair extensions e-commerce company with the intention of rising to the top. Now, just two years into her tenure as chief executive, Lulu has added a side hustle, with the launch of Evergreen Journals, an entrepreneurial collaboration with a friend and former colleague. 

She credits her drive and success to the way she was raised — though the entrepreneurial nature of her career was certainly not what her parents expected. 

“They had really high standards for me growing up,” Lulu says. “I lived in Beijing until I was seven, and in those days, my parents would quiz me on my multiplication tables every night over dinner.” 

When her family moved to Toronto, Lulu didn’t speak any English, but her math skills were beyond what was taught in the grade three class she joined. “They were multiplying four times five using apples, but I had already learned my times tables up to 12 when I was five years old.”

Not speaking English, however, made things tough for Lulu. Plus, her parents were starting over in a new country and were working constantly. “They couldn’t afford after-school programs or care, so I stayed home alone a lot,” Lulu recalls. “Those experiences helped me to become really independent.”

As she grew up, Lulu found her footing, working extra hard in school. “I once got an 88 per cent on a math test, and my mom told me I was hopeless,” Lulu recalls, laughing. Thankfully, her mom was wrong. And, while Lulu thought about becoming an optometrist, she found herself stronger in math than sciences and enrolled in the Commerce program at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business. 

In her first year, Lulu went to a recruiting event for consulting firms and decided that she too wanted to be a consultant. “I was sold,” she recalls. “My goal was to launch my career in consulting for a few years, then do an MBA at an Ivy League school before working in leadership in the beauty or fashion industry.” 

Her love of fashion came from the movies. “As a kid growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I’d wear the same outfit five days in a row. But I watched The Devil Wears Prada and fell in love with that lifestyle,” she says.  

“Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life. The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.”

At Queen’s, Lulu co-chaired the Queen’s Business Forum on the Fashion Industry (now the Queen’s Retail Forum), a student-run conference that explored the multifaceted world of fashion and retail from a business perspective. This hands-on experience, coupled with a summer internship at L’Oréal in Montreal, solidified her love of the industry. 

When Lulu secured a consulting job with Accenture at the beginning of her fourth year, it took the pressure off finding a job upon graduation. With that peace of mind, she decided to take on a more extensive course load. A year later, Lulu graduated with two bachelor’s degrees — the commerce degree and another full degree in math. “Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life,” she says. “The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.” 

After a summer of travelling in Asia and Europe, Lulu started at Accenture, expecting to thrive in her role. “I had always done well in school and I wasn’t used to failure,” she recalls. “I guess I had a big ego back then, but consulting certainly humbled me. And to be honest, I hated it.”

In the midst of what she referred to as a “quarter-life crisis,” Lulu realized that she’d been working so hard toward this one particular goal that she hadn’t stopped to consider what would happen if it didn’t work out.   

It was around this time, while watching “morning routine” videos on YouTube, that she discovered Luxy Hair. “I had been following Luxy’s co-founder, Mimi Ikonn, on her YouTube channel,” Lulu recalls. She watched all of Ikonn’s videos in two weeks, then reached out to learn more about the companies that Ikonn and her husband, Alex, had founded. 

“They were hiring for a social media position with their other company, Intelligent Change,” Lulu recalls. “But, as I got to know them, they decided they wanted to bring me on to Luxy Hair and train me for a GM role they needed to fill.” 

Leaving consulting for the new venture world was risky — but Lulu was ready for the change. Luxy had grown from a startup created to fill a gap in the market for quality hair extensions to a scale-up with a million dollars in sales in its first year. In 2017, Time.com named Luxy’s YouTube channel as one of the 15 best to watch. Today, with over three million subscribers, the company’s videos have accumulated nearly half a billion views. The Luxy Hair channel has become a go-to source for tutorials, hairstyles, hair hacks, extension tips and more. 

“When I started with Luxy, we were a small group working from a co-work space,” Lulu recalls. “Now we have a beautiful office and an amazing team and we’re world class in what we do in terms of people and culture.” The company was named one of the Top 50 Best Places to work in Canada, something Lulu is especially proud of. 

“While there may be a stigma attached to hair extensions, and it’s still a niche industry, I know that lipstick was once taboo, too,” Lulu says. “Our goal is to empower women to lift each other up and make it okay for any girl or woman to change up their hair, make it longer, fix a bad haircut, create a natural balayage look without dye, or do something special for an event.” 

In 2018, Luxy Hair was acquired by the American beauty conglomerate Beauty Industry Group, and Lulu, then the GM, led the company through the entire sale process. One stipulation of the sale was that she’d stay on as CEO, while the Ikonns left to start another business. “Overall, we run the business autonomously, but the owners are really supportive and helpful when we need it,” she explains. 

“I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day — the moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life, in fact your life is everything that happens in between.”

While 2018 was certainly a milestone year for Lulu (selling the business, becoming CEO, getting engaged and travelling a great deal), she says it was actually one of the most anxious years of her life. “I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day. The moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life. In fact, your life is everything that happens in between.” 

Lulu began to think critically about her own habits, and what she did have control over in her life. Then she and her best friend created a tool they could use to build better habits. With the entrepreneurial drive lit within her, Lulu decided to take this tool and create a product she could share with others. 

Together Lulu and her friend launched Evergreen Journals and their first product, The Habit Journal, in May 2020. “Our journal is available online and will be in the Goop holiday gift guide,” Lulu says. “It feels really good to have created something of my own, and we have more products and ideas in the pipeline as well.” 

Looking back on her career to date, Lulu is proud of her successes and excited for what the future holds. “I’m so grateful I hated consulting, because I don’t think that if I’d been successful I would have had the courage to take the leap,” she says. “My greatest lesson in all of that was, sometimes you have to let go in life. It’s important to have goals and work toward your dreams, but you also have to let go of expectations and focus on what you can control. And don’t take anything for granted.”

Engine for Change: How Sandra Odendahl is mobilizing social impact and inclusion for every future.

Scotiabank Vice President reflects on intersecting experiences as leader, professional engineer and woman of colour.

 

By Shelley White

 

During these challenging times, many in the corporate world are asking: are we doing enough to make things better? 

As Scotiabank’s Vice President of Social Impact and Sustainability, Sandra Odendahl thinks about that question a lot. She is constantly evaluating how the bank is embedding good environmental and community practices into its business and operations. 

“The biggest positive impact we can have on society is through our business: the people we employ; the way we provide products, services and advice to customers; and how we help the economy,” she says. “But our community investment activities also contribute to positive benefits to society, and our business thrives when communities thrive.”  

Sandra and her team divide their work between four key pillars: donations to not-for-profits and charities, academic partnerships, corporate sustainability, and overall corporate responsibility strategy. The pillars are part of an overarching goal to make a positive impact on the communities where we work and live.

“If we’re providing grants or creating charitable partnerships, we’re evaluating them by asking: what is the social impact of this partnership? But we also consider, is there an opportunity for a positive alignment to our business? Is there an opportunity for employee engagement and employee involvement in that partnership?“ Sandra says.

The events of 2020 have made Sandra’s team more important than ever. For example, after the killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, widespread protests were spurred across the U.S. and Canada and the focus on anti-Black racism gained momentum at the bank, Sandra says. Employees across different areas of the business wanted to do more to address racism and discrimination. 

“Some businesses were looking at renewed product or service offerings, while other areas of the bank were more interested in enabling our people by deepening learning to help them confront bias,” Sandra says. “There was so much great work going on, but it needed to have a shared direction, so I was tasked with leading the charge to pull it all together.”

Sandra was asked to lead the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) Inclusion Task Force at Scotiabank, a project that is nearing completion. 

“At the beginning, we looked at the results of employee surveys and executive listening sessions with employees on the topic of racism, and then studied best practices across different companies in addressing diversity and inclusion to determine where the gaps were in how we are dealing with racism. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we best honour our commitment to anti-racism when it comes to our employees, customers and business partners? How can we demonstrate it within our community?’” she says. 

Following the assessment and recommendations of the Task Force, Scotiabank’s Inclusion Council will determine an appropriate framework for the bank’s anti-racism actions, in order to “sustain thoughtful and strategic activity over time,” Sandra says. “We don’t want to lose momentum once it’s no longer front-page news. It’s something that we’re permanently building into the existing D&I framework.”  

As the child of a West Indian mother and a German father, Sandra says that her life growing up in Ottawa was a “typical child of immigrant parents experience.” She was one of very few women in her chemical engineering classes at the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto, and as a result, she formed strong relationships with her small cohort of fellow women students, some of which have lasted for 30 years. 

Sandra began her career performing environmental impact assessments for pulp mills, mines and hydroelectric projects in Indonesia and across Canada. She eventually found her way into the financial sector, where she was a resource sector analyst for one of Canada’s top five banks and then led one of the first environmental risk management teams on Bay Street. Her passion for environmental sustainability issues runs deep — she recently completed a five-year term as Chair of the Board for the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and is a Board Member of the Ontario Clean Water Agency and the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.

But while her workplaces were mostly male-dominated, Sandra says she feels fortunate that she didn’t encounter many barriers as a woman working in science and engineering.

“I know that I am really fortunate to have had many positive experiences as a woman of colour, and I realize that’s not always the case for people who struggle or feel alienated because of their race or gender.”

Having said that, there were moments “where I wanted to roll my eyes when someone said or did something ignorant,” she says. She remembers working at a petrochemical plant where an older male colleague put up a magazine centrefold of a nude woman in their shared workspace. (She moved it so she wouldn’t have to look at it.) And then there was the time as a grad student when a visiting international professor rudely asked her: “What’s with the hair?” 

“I don’t remember the exact words, but my hair was a little bit wild and unkempt — compared to someone with straight hair,” Sandra recalls. “I always wore my curly hair pretty much natural back then. So, I just laughed and said, ‘What’s with my hair? Well, it grows out of my head this way, just like your hair grows out the way it grows out.’ He didn’t pursue the conversation!”

Sandra thinks her pragmatic, no-nonsense attitude has served her well over the years in dealing with tone-deaf comments. 

When confronted with an uncomfortable comment or action in the workplace, Sandra’s advice is to assume positive intent, but to also stand up for yourself, “as politely and concisely as possible,” she says. 

“You can ask a question like, ‘I’m not sure what you mean by that — can you please elaborate?’ Sometimes you realize they didn’t mean anything by it. I think that’s really important.”

And when someone really does mean something by it? That’s when it’s time to speak up for yourself, speak out and raise your concern, Sandra says. “Sadly, there are ignorant people in the world, and you’ve just got to figure out how to go around them.” 

One of most effective ways to make a positive impact on diversity and inclusion in the Canadian workplace is to set a good example for the next generation, Sandra says. “As a successful woman engineer and professional, who is also a person of colour, I feel that it’s important to support and mentor young people.”

That’s why she volunteers with the University of Toronto’s engineering school and has also served as an advisor to Ryerson University’s Social Ventures Zone, where she mentored engineering students and advised student-founded startup companies. 

Representation matters, Sandra says. 

“It matters to see somebody who you can identify with doing something you may never have thought of doing,” she says. “I hope I am inspiring other women and people of colour to think, ‘Of course, there is a place for me in all this.’”

Farah Mohamed Reflects on Her Journey as a Social Entrepreneur

For Farah Mohamed, storytelling is a fundamental part of the human experience. “Stories help us understand, have compassion and see somebody else’s side; if we don’t share those stories all we will ever be faced with are facts and figures,” she says. “Sometimes I think that we’re in such a huge rush that we forget that everyone has their own story; everyone has their own path — no two people have experienced the same things and maybe that’s the most powerful way to learn, by learning other people’s stories.”

Globally recognized Canadian social entrepreneur, Farah has an impressive professional story. In 2009, she founded G(irls)20, an organization cultivating a new generation of leaders through education, entrepreneurship and global experiences — while working with G20 leaders to keep their commitment to create 100 million new jobs for women by 2025. Starting in 2017, she served two years as CEO of Malala Fund working alongside Malala Yousafzai, whose survival of an attempted assassination by the Taliban in 2012 for trying to go to school has blossomed into a global advocacy campaign for girls’ education. Now back in Toronto, Farah is Senior Vice President of the Toronto Board of Trade. 

Recognized for her service to Canada, she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She has also been recognized for her work to empower girls and women as a Top 25 Women of Influence recipient, plus BBC Top 100 Women, SALT 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World, and an EY Nominee for Social Entrepreneur of the Year and Diversity 50.

While her professional accomplishments and extensive list of awards are enough to leave most in awe, Farah’s success story is multifaceted. Born in Uganda, her family moved to Canada in 1972 to seek refuge when she was two years old, after Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Indian Ugandans. Resultantly, political justice and human rights issues have been the key themes in Farah’s life since her family moved to Canada. “It was part of my DNA,” she says. “I was raised by two people who got the short end of the stick when they had to leave their own country, but never let that pull them back. It gave them an appreciation for the fact that they then ended up in a country that was welcoming and provided opportunities that were safe and secure.”

Farah also credits her parents for teaching her the importance of charity and giving back to the community “from a young age, my sister and I were volunteering. My parents were like, ‘you can’t sit around the house and watch TV,’” she laughs. “I actually followed my sister’s footsteps and we used to volunteer at a nursing home. The reason she chose a nursing home was because we didn’t have grandparents around us and it was just a place that you could go and give comfort to someone and it didn’t matter what language you spoke or how old you were — these were people who wanted connection.”

We forget that everyone has their own story; everyone has their own path — no two people have experienced the same things and maybe that’s the most powerful way to learn, by learning other people’s stories.

Growing up Farah never pictured herself working in the nonprofit sector. “I always thought that I was going to be a lawyer — that I would go into criminal law, but I fell in love with politics at university,” she says. Before becoming the social entrepreneur she is today, Farah made her name working closely with some of Canada’s most senior politicians. She credits her success to Former Burlington MP Paddy Torsney, who gave her that first start in politics. “Paddy has been a real connector for me and not even just a mentor — she’s part of my family now,” she explains.

In 1993, Farah volunteered on Paddy’s campaign, which she went on to win. “It’s not just crazy that she won, it’s crazy that she was young and she won in a very conservative majority. She was a liberal, and it’s even crazier that a year later, she offered me a job and I moved to Parliament Hill. It is because of Paddy that I worked in politics for ten years. If she had not taken that chance on me, I certainly would not be sitting here having this conversation with you,” she says.

“I think the combination of my schooling together with my upbringing and then seeing politics work first-hand, put me on that path to social profit and social justice,” Farah explains. In 2009, Farah founded G(irls)20. “When I launched it, I had certainly hoped it would have an impact, but I definitely admit that I am really excited about just how it’s taken off,” Farah says.

After founding G(irls)20 and serving as the CEO for eight years, in 2017 Farah stepped down to take a new role as the CEO of Malala Fund. “For me, I felt that I had done everything I could to bring G(irls)20 to the point it was and that it needed new leadership and new energy and new thinking,” says Farah, reflecting on her decision. “It’s never easy to leave something but when you are going to leave, if you leave it in strong hands with a very strong foundation then it’s not hard to step away from it.”

Becoming CEO at Malala Fund brought about a lot of change for Farah — a larger team working in multiple locations and time zones, a new area of focus, and a new home in London, United Kingdom. “It’s always an incredible challenge to have this type of opportunity; it doesn’t come without a cost and those costs are not seeing your family and your friends, but on the flip side it’s getting closer to the people that you know here and making new friends,” she explains. “More often than not the glass is half full, rather than the glass is half empty.”

If you forget who you are in service to and you don’t remember why you are doing what you’re doing; it makes all those other things that you are doing pointless.

Pinpointing the highlight of her time at Malala Fund was really easy for Farah. “People expect me to say my highlight was speaking to Malala every day. It was absolutely a highlight to work with Malala and Zia,” says Farah, speaking of Zia Yousafzai, Malala’s father and co-founder, “but the real privilege was seeing the girls.”

“I’d say to people all the time, I don’t work in service to Malala or Zia or my even my board,” Farah says. “I work in service to those girls and I fundamentally believe that. I don’t work in service to any government or any partner we have, I work in service to those girls.”

She reiterates how important it is for all organizations — charities, social enterprises and businesses alike to remember who they are serving and remain true to that through and through. “If you forget who you are in service to and you don’t remember why you are doing what you’re doing; it makes all those other things that you are doing pointless.”

In Malala’s new book We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World, Farah shares her story to transform the conversation around refugees in Canada and beyond. “Malala gave me the opportunity to say ‘Hang on, wait a minute, don’t villainize and dismiss the contributions that refugees who leave their countries can bring to the countries that welcome them,’” she asserts. “I didn’t actually think I would ever share my story because it’s not my story alone, it’s my parents story and my sisters story and when Malala first requested that I be part of our book I was really really hesitant,” she says. 

To tell her story for Malala’s book, Farah had to have some very open conversations with her parents that they had never had before. “I learnt a lot of stuff about my parents. [In the book] I talk about my mom being assaulted by arm guards, I didn’t know that until I was in preparation for this book and so it’s very personal,” she says. “I realized that I can be quite a private person – so this is probably the most open I have ever been. I allow myself to be vulnerable, but it’s a good vulnerability to share in the context of refugees, they are not a drain on our system. Refugees – many if not all of them contribute to their countries and that’s why I shared it.”