Ishita Aggarwal

In 2016, Ishita founded Mom’s the Word (MTW), a non-profit that hosts free prenatal workshops for homeless and low-income pregnant women to fight health illiteracy, maternal poverty, and infant morbidity. Working with a network of volunteers, healthcare professionals, and community partners, MTW has hosted over 65 community workshops, teaching more than 800 impoverished women how to have a healthy pregnancy. In 2019, the program took big strides to expand its reach. In January, Ishita digitized the MTW workshops — creating an online, evidence-based prenatal module that has been completed by over 2,100 women. They also launched KitCare, a service which delivers the world’s first “Maternal Health Self-Aid Kit”(composed of prenatal vitamins, maternity wear, plus prenatal and mental health guides in pictorial form) to low socio-economic status pregnant women globally. To date, 405 kits have been distributed in Brazil, India, and South Africa.

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu, Professional Tennis Player

 

Mississauga native Bianca Andreescu discovered her love for tennis at age seven when her family briefly moved to Romania. When she returned to Canada she decided to pursue the sport more seriously. Could she envision the success she would have today? At her peak, Bianca has ranked number four in the world, and is the highest-ranked Canadian in the history of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. She is the reigning champion at the US Open and the Canadian Open, having defeated Serena Williams to win both titles in 2019. The accomplishment made her the first Canadian tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title, and the first to win the Canadian Open in 50 years.

Jann Arden

Jann Arden, Singer-Songwriter, Actor, Producer, Author

 

In March 2019, Jann premiered on CTV — a sitcom co-created by and starring award-winning singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a fictionalized version of herself. To debut a women-led comedy on national TV is an accomplishment in itself (especially one that’s obviously committed to showcasing diversity), but it is what’s going on behind the scenes that makes it truly extraordinary. For starters, she shares the co-creators title with Leah Gauthier and Jennica Harper, and the three women are also executive producers. Many of the department heads and nearly half the crew are women as well. With a successful first season under her belt, production on Season 2 kicked off on October 1, 2019 — and we see many more to come.

Marion Buller

Marion Buller, Chief Commissioner, National Inquiry into Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls

 

Being of Cree heritage and a member of the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan, Marion Buller has been a leading force in Indigenous rights advocacy throughout her career. In 2006, she was instrumental in the initiation of the First Nations Courts in British Columbia. Her most recent role will serve as a critical tool in the continued fight for the restoration of Indigenous rights and freedoms. In June 2019 — led by Marion Buller — the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its findings in a two-volume report, with 231 “Calls to Justice” directed at governments, institutions, social-service providers, industries, and Canadians as a whole. Following its release, the federal government has announced it will release its national action plan to respond to the inquiry by June 2020.

Gina Cody

Gina Cody, Engineer & Business Leader

 

Born in Iran, Gina Cody immigrated to Canada in 1979, with $2,000 to her name and the goal of pursuing a graduate degree in engineering. She ended up at Concordia on full scholarship for her master’s, and later went on to complete her PhD in building engineering — the first woman in Concordia’s history to do so. Nearly thirty years later, she scored another first, when she became the only woman in Canada to have an engineering faculty named after her (and one of only a few worldwide). She was given the honour after donating $15 million to her alma mater, a gift made possible by a very successful career at Construction Control Inc. (CCI), an Ontario-based engineering consulting company. In addition to the rebrand as the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, Gina’s generosity will enable several annual scholarships, and $250,000 has been earmarked to increase the presence of women and minorities in the faculty.

Taya Cook

Taya Cook, Director of Development, Urban Capital

 

After being frustrated with an article that came out at the end of 2018, which featured the “Condo Kings” behind Toronto’s boom (as the name suggests, the list included 20 men, zero women), Taya Cook took it upon herself to put together Canada’s first all-women designed and developed condominium project. She brought partner Sherry Larjani on board, secured a site, and assembled a team. From the architects, to the structural, mechanical, electrical and civil engineers, to the planners, construction manager, lawyers and sales team — it was all women. Their family-friendly residential project, called Reina (which aptly means Queen), was announced in the summer of 2019. More than just a building, the project is creating visible role models for women, not the least of which is Taya herself: a mother to a lively three year old, she has been taking an MBA on the weekends, has held a volunteer position for the last 20 years, and has blocked off three time slots a week for coffee dates with women who have requested to meet for career advice.

Nathalie Crosbie

Nathalie Crosbie, Director of Artificial Intelligence Strategy, BMO Financial Group

 

In May 2019, when Nathalie Crosbie was hired by BMO to play a key role in creating and executing their Artificial Intelligence strategy, it would have been easy for her to focus solely on, well, AI strategy. But before the year was out, she’d pitched and obtained support for three new concepts for enterprise-wide women’s leaders circles to connect, support and grow women leaders at BMO; she’d made numerous public appearances promoting diversity and AI; and she’d taken on the role of startup coach for Ryerson University’s Social Ventures Zone Startup Incubator. No stranger to using her platform as a leader to inspire and create opportunities for others, Nathalie has also spent over three years as the director of the Toronto Chapter of Lesbians Who Tech, a global organization of 20,000 LGBTQ+ women-identified people and allies.

Rola Dagher

Rola Dagher, President, Cisco Systems Canada

 

In 2019, just ahead of #BlueMonday (the third Monday in January, often credited with being the most depressing day of the year), in an op-ed published by The Globe & Mail, Rola Dagher publicly shared her deeply personal mental health struggles as a young woman growing up in the chaos of the Lebanese civil war. It was a call to action for greater support for those struggling with mental health challenges, and the official launch of an authentic and personal mental health narrative at Cisco, and beyond — combined with follow-up interviews, her story reached 3.5 million. While leading the charge in Canada, Rola encouraged Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins and his Executive Leadership Team to begin the conversations at a global level in company-wide forums shining a light on mental health, which prompted Cisco to offer internal webinars as a support mechanism for employees. She continues to champion the cause through unwavering advocacy, vulnerability, and allyship.

Teara Fraser

Teara Fraser, Founder & CEO, Iskwew Air

 

Teara discovered her passion for aviation at age 30, on a trip to Africa when she experienced her first flight in a small plane. On her return home she decided to pursue her new passion, and in less than a year, she obtained her commercial pilot’s license. During the 2010 winter Olympics, Teara had the idea to establish an airline that could support Indigenous tourism by providing access to small, remote First Nations communities in British Columbia. Nine years later she turned her dream into a reality, officially launching Iskwew Air in Vancouver on International Women’s Day 2019. Iskwew (pronounced IS-KWAY-YO) is a Cree word for woman; the name was chosen to celebrate the first Indigenous woman owned airline, all women, and all those lifting women.

Shari Graydon

Shari Graydon, Founder & Catalyst, Informed Opinions

 

Women currently make up just 27% of all voices quoted in the Canadian media — just 5% higher than two decades ago. While the story itself sometimes dictates who gets quoted (the company spokesperson; the individual victimized by crime), journalists often have choice in the experts they ask to provide context or analysis, and those people remain overwhelmingly male. Shari Graydon is aiming to change that with the non-profit organization she founded, Informed Opinions. With a mission to amplify the voices of women in the media, they have a goal of achieving gender balance by 2025 — but you can’t fix what you can’t measure. The solution: The Informed Opinions’ Gender Gap Tracker, built in partnership with Simon Fraser University, and officially launched in February 2019. It measures the ratio of female to male sources quoted in online news coverage across some of Canada’s most influential national news outlets, and provides real-time results, readily available on their website.

Joanna Griffiths

Joanna Griffiths, Founder & CEO, Knix

 

Three days after Joanna Griffiths gave birth, she took a photo during a hospital visit with a lactation consultant. She was struggling to breastfeed, and feeling like a failure — amplified by the fact that every image she’d seen of breastfeeding featured women looking natural, at peace, and happy. She shared the photo and her sentiments on Instagram, and was overwhelmed when over 100 people responded with their own struggles. In that instant, the idea for the Life After Birth Project was born. The goal: to create something that changed the narrative of the postpartum experience, encouraging honesty, acknowledgement, and support. Knix put out a call for submissions in July, and in August 2019, opened the doors on the first Life After Birth Project gallery in New York. The travelling exhibition of over 250 intimate photos of postpartum journeys came to Toronto in September, and Los Angeles a month later. The conversation continues on Instagram @lifeafterbirthproject.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson, Professional Golfer

 

Brooke Henderson’s passion for golf came at an early age, and she has come a long way since picking up her first club at three. Dubbed Smiths Falls’ gift to the golfing world, Brooke has more professional titles than any other Canadian in history. Her win in June 2019 pushed her past the trio of George Knudson, Sandra Post and Mike Weir as the winningest Canadian golfer on the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) or Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tours. Off the course, Brooke was voted as a winner of the inaugural People’s Choice Award by Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, and her peers on the LPGA Tour voted for her as the winner of The Founders Award, given to someone who embodies the spirit of the LPGA Tour.

Amanda Jetté Knox

Amanda Jetté Knox, Writer, Public Speaker & LGBTQ+ Advocate

 

When her child came out as a transgender girl in 2014, Amanda Jetté Knox refocused her writing on LGBTQ+ rights and education. But it was still a challenge when, months later, her spouse came out as a transgender woman. She began to look for examples of marriages that had made it through this transition, and when she found none, she made a new goal: for her family to become the role model she had been searching for. Published in July of 2019, Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family is a candid story of their journey, and an example of what it means to be an ally, lead with love, and learn together.

Candies Kotchapaw

Candies Kotchapaw, Founder & Executive Director, Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT)

 

Inspired by the systemic roadblocks she encountered while completing a Masters in Social Work — from feelings of isolation to financial hurdles, and a lack of mentorship — Candies Kotchapaw developed Young Leaders of Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT), a Black focused leadership incubator program, geared towards changing the socio-economic outlook for this marginalized community. Since 2016, Candies has worked tirelessly to bring about the vision of DYLOTT by creating several programs which provide Black youths with mentoring opportunities, leadership skills and exposure to career opportunities. Last year marked a significant expansion, with a new program to provide Black professionals, ages 19-35, a ten-month program that prepares them for internships or full-time jobs in highly sought after positions in business administration, STEAM-related fields, public affairs, structural social work, education, and law.

Brandi Leifso

Brandi Leifso, Founder & CEO, Evio Beauty Group

 

Brandi Leifso’s entrepreneurial journey has been unconventional and truly inspiring. She was living in a women’s safe house in Vancouver when she decided it was time to pursue her dream of launching a makeup line. Just 21 years old, with no experience in business and $15 to her name, Brandi had to be resourceful. She learned PhotoShop and web design via YouTube videos, and created a catalogue for a beauty line with a twist — one dollar of every sale would go to women’s causes. Seven years later, she remains one of the youngest CEOs in Toronto with a company valued in the millions. In 2019, she launched a new direct-to-consumer sustainable beauty collection, Evio Beauty, plus an innovative hemp and cannabis-infused skincare line, Evio Skin. And she’s still donating a dollar from every product sold to her not-for-profit partner, Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Caro Loutfi

Caro Loutfi, Executive Director, Apathy is Boring

 

As executive director at Apathy is Boring, Caro Loutfi works on a national scale and in a non-partisan manner to engage Canadian youth in democracy. In the lead-up to the 2019 Federal Election year, she worked on building and restructuring the organization to grow the not-for-profit’s impact — and the results showed. It was the organization’s largest Get-Out-The-Vote campaign to date, reaching 2.4 million Canadians directly. Last year also marked the expansion of The Rise Program — a unique, youth-led community-organizing program — from a pilot phase in three communities, to now offering ongoing youth service experiences for diverse communities in Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver and Nunavut. And there’s certainly more growth to come under Caro’s leadership; she’s already increased the organization’s revenue 12-fold, and grown the team from 2 full-time staff to over 25 employees, primarily placing young and diverse women in decision-making roles and in positions of influence in their communities.

Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner & Clean Water Activist

 

In April 2019, at the age of 14, Autumn Peltier became the chief water commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation. We interviewed her and featured her on the cover of the Women of Influence Fall 2019 issue, and since our first encounter, the now 15-year-old clean water activist has gained an overwhelming amount of support and international recognition for her advocacy. She is not a newbie in the environmental movement, however; her fight for clean water in Indigenous communities began at the tender age of eight. At such a young age Autumn is already a powerhouse in the fight to protect water in Canada, and she is just getting started.

Rina Rovinelli

Rina Rovinelli, Co-Founder, Speaker Slam

 

Rina Rovinelli is best known for Speaker Slam, Canada’s largest inspirational speaking competition that she co-founded in 2016, and that now boasts monthly sold-out audiences and millions of video views from around the globe. What does one do with all that knowledge and experience? If you’re Rina, you launch Platform — a program that empowers marginalized individuals to claim their voice and reframe their narrative, so that it’s not about what happened to them, but who they are now because of it. The first cohort ran from September to December of 2019, with a group at Eva’s Place for homeless youth in transition. Offering speaking training and mentorship, Rina’s program is helping people to see the power in their own life experiences, and enabling them to share their stories in an inspiring way.

Hanadi Saad

Hanadi Saad, Human Rights Activist & President, Justice Femme

 

Hanadi Saad founded Justice Femme after the Parti Québécois made their first attempt to legislate the banning of religious symbols in 2013. The then-minority government failed to pass their new “Charter of Values” — and Hanadi continued to run her non-profit organization dedicated to combatting all forms of discrimination against women from diverse backgrounds. Then came Bill 21. Quebec’s new secularism law was passed in March 2019, and Justice Femme leapt into action, offering legal and psychological support to Muslim women. Among her efforts, she has created and distributed pamphlets to educate women on their rights as well as how to navigate the rise in Islamophobia, and she’s organized workshops for Muslim women to discuss the issue and get better informed. Her organization has also been tracking incidents of harassment and assault on Muslim women, reported to them via Facebook, phone, email and website — providing important evidence of the impact of the new law.

Vivene Salmon

Vivene Salmon, Lawyer & President, Canadian Bar Association

 

In September 2019, Vivene Salmon was named president of the Canadian Bar Association, which represents over 37,000 lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers, and law students from across Canada. What made the achievement extra remarkable? Vivene was the first person of colour to take the helm at the 123-year-old Association, and only the second to come from the in-house counsel community (she’s also the vice-president, country compliance manager, global banking and markets compliance at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Toronto). A key focus of her one-year tenure has been to bridge the gap between generations in the legal profession; to that end, she kicked off a podcast series, Conversations with the President, in November 2019, and began vlogging on Twitter. 

Louise Sertsis

Louise Sertsis, Founder, Advanced Freedom

 

After being diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis (MS) over twenty years ago, Louise gradually saw herself having to relinquish her independence. Determined to maintain a level of personal and financial freedom, she decided to start her own business tackling some of the challenges of mobility, comfort, and safety that wheelchair users face. Her debut product, the Handi Pac, is the first front-facing, two-part, secured and accessible wheelchair bag that is large enough to carry a variety of goods. In June 2019, Louise launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $15,000 (that she met and exceeded) to assist with manufacturing and marketing, and the Handi Pac became available for active wheelchair users to purchase soon after. Her company, Advanced Freedom, is dedicated to offering more innovative products in the years to come.

Keisha and Teagan Simpson

Keisha and Teagan Simpson, Co-Founders, Live Life Unfiltered

 

Social media can be a catalyst for negative comparison, particularly for young women. Recognizing it would be better if we all could relate rather than compare, twin sisters Keisha and Teagan Simpson set out to shift the social narrative, founding an Instagram movement in 2018 called Live Life Unfiltered (@livelife_unfiltered). Pairing personal stories that typically wouldn’t be discussed on social media with a photo of the storyteller that is not photoshopped, edited or filtered, it’s a reminder that we all have insecurities and bad days, despite what Instagram portrays. In 2019, they launched the #AsSheIs Instagram Challenge to encourage even more women to show vulnerability and share their real unfiltered truths — and it reached over 100 million people, with participants from more than 60 different countries.

Donna Strickland

Donna Strickland, Physicist & Professor, University of Waterloo

 

When Donna Strickland was handed the Nobel Prize in Physics in December 2018, she became the first Canadian woman to receive the award — and only the third woman, ever, in the category of physics. Widely considered the most prestigious award in science, Donna earned the Nobel for her work in laser physics, which she completed during her PhD in the early 1980’s (though it’s having a big impact today, having laid the groundwork for corrective eye surgery). Her win was not only a reason to celebrate for Canada and for women, but also a reason to reflect — throughout the Nobel’s 118-year history, there has been a lack of representation for women researchers. In the year that followed her award, Donna embarked on a new chapter as a role model, taking speaking engagements in more than 11 countries, and advocating in the media to encourage a broader engagement with science in Canada.

Sue Tomney

Sue Tomney, CEO, YW Calgary

 

Through her role at YW Calgary, Sue Tomney supports and advocates for gender equity, healthy relationships, and a safe community where women thrive. In 2019, she opened the doors to YW Calgary Hub facility, the organization’s first new home since 1970. With a purpose-built and trauma-informed design, the Hub provides transitional housing, counselling, language instruction, employment resources, childcare and parenting supports. A co-ed public fitness centre and community kitchen generate revenue to support the core work. Under Sue’s leadership, Calgary has become a leader in the YW national movement — challenging conventions, disrupting the status quo, and testing new models of social innovation. Whether it’s creating an organizational culture (and launching a new brand) that is feminist-based and intersectional or provoking a national conversation around changing board bylaws to enable gender-diversity on YW Calgary’s board, Sue leads with conviction and courage. 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2018: Chanèle McFarlane

 

 

 

Chanèle McFarlane

Founder, Do Well Dress Well

As the founder of Do Well Dress Well, Chanèle McFarlane believes in bridging the gap between competence and confidence for millennial women. Through content, community and opportunities focused on personal branding, networking, style and professional development, her goal is for every woman to live confidently and remarkably. In March 2018, McFarlane launched Confidence Through Conferences, an initiative to help get more women into conferences and networking events by minimizing the financial barrier. By partnering with event organizers, she provides complimentary and discounted tickets, with priority given to women of colour. By bringing to light the issue of affordability and access to professional conferences, McFarlane has inspired other female business owners in the city to become mindful of privilege, and as a result many have stepped up to donate complimentary tickets or simply spread the word about the initiative.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2018.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2018: Kristin Agnello

 

 

Kristin Agnello

Chair of the Commonwealth Women in Planning Network

This year, Kristin Agnello was appointed Chair of the Commonwealth Women in Planning Network, a subsidiary committee of the The Commonwealth Association of Planners, which seeks to focus and develop the skills of urban and regional planners across the Commonwealth to meet the challenges of urbanisation and the sustainable development of human settlements. An industry many of us take for granted, Kristin hopes to elevate the role women play in designing our cities and communities. But for Kristin, the best is yet to come for her career: in October 2018, she will present a manifesto for gender equality in planning to be ratified by planning professionals from across the Commonwealth. She is also organizing a global mentoring program for female planners and developing partnerships with UN Women, Women in Cities International, Women Transforming Cities, and other international organizations.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2018.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2018: Jennifer Bernard

 

 

Jennifer Bernard

President & CEO, Women’s College Hospital Foundation

This summer, Women’s College Hospital Foundation announced its new President & CEO, Jennifer Bernard. With over 20 years of experience as a fundraising executive, as well as the role of Vice President of Development for McMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation and stints at Ontario Science Centre, Royal Conservatory of Music and Trillium Health Centre Foundation (now Trillium Health Partners Foundation) under her belt, the Foundation is excited to see Bernard continue advancing health for women and revolutionizing healthcare for everyone’s benefit, as well as maintain a two-year track of record-breaking results.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2018.