Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Jennifer Keesmaat

 

 

Jennifer Keesmaat

Former City of Toronto Chief Planner

While Jennifer Keesmaat has chosen to step down from her position as City of Toronto Chief Planner effective September 2017, she spent her time in the role proving herself to be anything but a typical bureaucrat. Lured from a successful entrepreneurial planning venture (her role as Chief Planner came with a 40% pay cut), she has a blog and a sizeable Twitter following that she diligently updates with news and personal opinions. She was less concerned with politics than with sticking to her planning ideals: advocating for liveable density, high walkability, improved transit options, affordable housing, and plenty of green space. In 2017, dozens of large-scale projects were underway that followed her vision, including Bloor’s bike lanes, a transit- and pedestrian-friendly redesign of King St., and plans for the massive Rail Deck Park. Jennifer did not just picture a brighter future for North America’s fourth largest city — she helped get it done.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Shahrzad Rafati

 

 

Shahrzad Rafati

Founder and CEO of BroadbandTV Corp

Shahrzad Rafati founded BroadbandTV in 2005. The Vancouver-based digital media and technology company now operates the largest multi-platform network in the world — with 30 billion monthly video views from its thousands of network partners. They pioneered both the technology and business model that enabled big entertainment entities, like the NBA, to profit from rather than persecute unauthorized video content being uploaded by fans. In January, the European media conglomerate that owns a majority of BroadbandTV’s stock announced it was up for sale, with an expected price tag in the range of $1 billion. For Shahrzad, the company’s largest minority shareholder, it could lead to quite the payday.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Sarain Fox

 

 

Sarain Fox

Actor & Activist

Sarain Fox has worked in film as an actor, had a successful career as a professional dancer, and modelled in her spare time — but it is her activism that makes her unique. Of Anishinabe lineage, she has long been a passionate spokesperson for her community north of Toronto. In 2017, her circle of influence expanded greatly when she landed the host role for the documentary series RISE, which premiered on Viceland in January. The series followed Sarain as she traveled to indigenous communities across the Americas to meet the individuals and groups working to protect their homelands. It gave a voice to a marginalized people, and a platform for Sarain — who hopes that her own visibility and success can open new doors and opportunities for Aboriginal youths.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

 

 

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

Founder, theBoardlist and Founder & Chairman, Joyus

Since moving to Silicon Valley twenty years ago, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy has founded two companies, headed up Google’s Asia Pacific and Latin American operations, taken on the CEO role at multiple organizations, served on several boards, and become an angel investor. She’s been recognized on many other lists over the past decade, notably the Top 100 People in the Valley by Business Insider (2012, 2016), a “Woman to Watch” by Forbes (2014), Fortune (2008) and Ad Age (2010), and one of the Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company (2017). What earned her a spot on our Top 25? Launching theBoardlist in Canada in April. The online talent marketplace enables qualified female candidates to be endorsed and discovered, connecting board-ready women leaders with opportunities to serve on private and public company boards. It is a tool addressing a very real issue; not only are women grossly underrepresented at the board level in both the U.S. (where she originally launched theBoardlist) and Canada, but, according to a recent study, the reason cited by most male board members for the lack of gender parity is a lack of qualified female candidates to fill positions. Thanks to Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, that problem (or should we say, excuse) has a simple solution.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Gigi Gorgeous

 

 

Gigi Gorgeous

Transgender Activist, Actress, Model, & Social Media Influencer

Between YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, Giselle Loren Lazzarato — known online as Gigi Gorgeous — has a social media following surpassing five million. The Toronto-based icon first came out as transgender in a YouTube video in December 13, after having already achieved a degree of vlogger fame as the openly gay Gregory Gorgeous. Her transition was chronicled online for her fans, and in January, her story made it to the big screen, with the documentary film This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous. Directed by two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Koppl, the biopic premiered at the Sundance Film Festival — but you can now watch it, fittingly, on YouTube.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Samantha Bee

 

 

Samantha Bee

Host, Full Frontal

When Toronto-native Samantha Bee’s news satire show, Full Frontal, premiered in February of 2016, a lot of the buzz surrounding it was focused on the fact that she was the only woman in late night. Now in its second season, the conversation has shifted to the quality of the content — which Samantha is admittedly grateful for. That content is dominated by passionate take-downs of President Trump and his policies (often with a creative slew of insults), and comprehensive coverage of stories traditionally seen as women’s issues, presented in a way that can make her entire audience, male and female, constructively angry.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Mary Ann Turcke

 

 

Mary Ann Turcke

President, Digital media and NFL Network at the National Football League

An engineer by trade, Mary Ann Turcke began her career as a district manager for the Ministry of Transportation in her hometown of Kingston, Ontario. A move to Toronto and a series of management positions in the private sector followed, until she joined Bell Canada in 2005. While there, Mary Ann took on executive positions in customer experience, operations, and sales before being named president of Bell Media in 2015. Less than two years later, in a move many weren’t expecting, it was announced that she would be taking over the role of president of digital media and the NFL Network at the National Football League. The career shift represents not only an international relocation (from Toronto to Los Angeles), but a top-tier position at an organization largely recognized as being male-driven. With responsibilities including leading the operations of the NFL Network, as well as overseeing NFL-owned and operated media assets such as NFL Films, NFL Digital and NFL.com, we’re interested to see the impact a woman at the helm can have on the league’s often beleaguered reputation.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Maayan Ziv

 

 

Maayan Ziv

Photographer and Accessibility Activist

Growing up with spinal muscular atrophy, Maayan Ziv knows firsthand the frustration and challenges that a lack of accessibility can cause. So in 2015, she created the AccessNow app to help solve the problem. It uses crowdsourcing to pin the accessibility status of locations on an interactive map, enabling users to search for specific places or browse what’s nearby, as well as add information and ratings to listings. In the summer of 2017 — having already reached over 10,000 pins in 31 countries — AccessNow partnered with Icon Wheelchairs and Google to map the 85-kilometre Pan Am Path, enhancing access to outdoor spaces for people of all abilities.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Jen Agg

 

 

Jen Agg

Restaurateur

Jen Agg officially became a star on the Toronto restaurant scene with the opening of The Black Hoof in 2008. She’s now the owner of three more popular locales in the city, including Cocktail Bar, Rhum Corner, and her latest, Grey Gardens, as well as Montréal’s Agrikol restaurant. This level of success is not a common feat for a woman in the industry — a fact that Jen is well aware of, and highly vocal about. Already prolific on social media with her opinions on the industry’s treatment of women, in May she published her first memoir, the aptly named I Hear She’s a Real Bitch. It comically chronicles her life, from childhood to her professional career, and includes the steps she has taken to create an equitable work environment at her own establishments. In an industry where women need an advocate, Jen has gladly taken on the role.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Robyn Doolittle

 

 

Robyn Doolittle

Investigative Reporter

Robyn Doolittle first rose to journalistic fame at the Toronto Star, when she helped bring the Rob Ford crack-cocaine scandal to light. That big break in her career led to a rushed book deal and the Canadian bestseller, Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story. Shortly after its release, she moved to The Globe and Mail as an investigative reporter, continuing with the Rob Ford beat in her early days, and reporting on smaller-scale scandals. And then on February 3, 2017, her Unfounded series debuted on the front page. The name comes from the term used for sexual assault cases that are dismissed because investigators determined that no crime occurred. During the 20-month-long investigation that Robin led, The Globe and Mail gathered data from more than 870 police jurisdictions, accounting for 92 per cent of the country’s population. It was revealed that police close about one in five sexual assault cases as “unfounded” — and they are not reported to Statistics Canada, giving a false impression of the extent of the problem. The investigation also uncovered serious flaws in how cases are handled. The result of Robin’s work? Several police forces committed to reviewing their unfounded cases, Statistics Canada announced it would resume tracking them, politicians promised to allocate more funding to these crimes — and a national conversation about sexual assault began.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Marie-Claude Bibeau

 

 

Marie-Claude Bibeau

Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

The federal government launched Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy in June, outlining a bold and focused vision that would begin to position Canada as a leader on gender equality in its aid programming. Spearheaded by the Honorable Marie-Claude Bibeau, she’s still working hard around the Cabinet table to increase the funds allocated to it. And as the Trump administration slashes foreign aid, she’s also putting pressure on her American counterpart, particularly their cuts to family planning and abortion — an area that Bibeau has, sometimes controversially, not shied away from defending.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Arlene Dickinson

 

 

Arlene Dickinson

CEO of Venture Communications and District Ventures

Arlene Dickinson earned her fortune through her marketing agency, Venture Communications, but it is her foray into venture capitalism that is her latest success. A Canadian household name thanks to her role on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, Arlene took a two-year pause from the show to launch District Ventures, a fund and accelerator focused on early-stage food and health businesses. In 2017, the Calgary-based venture fund reached a major milestone, surpassing its $25 million goal in raised capital. Arlene is returning to the Den this fall — with plenty of money to spend.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Palbinder K Shergill

 

 

Palbinder K Shergill

Justice to the Supreme Court of British Columbia

Palbinder Kaur Shergill started the year an accomplished woman. She was a trial lawyer with her own firm in Surrey. An advisory board member of the Sikh Feminist Research Institute. And she had spent over 25 years providing pro bono legal counsel to the World Sikh Organization (WSO) of Canada, her work lauded as “instrumental in helping shape human rights and religious accommodation law in Canada.” So said the federal government news release, announcing her appointment to the B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster in June. It made Palbinder the first female turbaned judge in Canada — and an inspiration to Sikh’s across the country.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Margaret Atwood

 

 

Margaret Atwood

Novelist, Poet, Essayist

Already a Canadian icon and an internationally recognized novelist, Margaret Atwood made another big splash on the world stage in 2017 with the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Her bestselling 1985 dystopian novel featuring an American theocratic dictatorship was given a modern reboot — with Atwood herself involved in the production. It has drawn comparisons to today’s reality; the Handmaid’s iconic red modesty costumes have popped up in protests in the U.S., and in a New York Times Op-Ed, Atwood reflected on what The Handmaid’s Tale means in the age of Trump. For many, it’s a warning sign of where things could be headed, and hopefully, a way to ensure that they don’t.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Olivia Nuamah

 

 

Olivia Nuamah

Executive Director, Pride Toronto

Pride Toronto became caught in a storm of unexpected controversy when Black Lives Matter staged a protest at the 2016 Pride Parade. In the aftermath, they saw the departure of most of their staff, including their Executive Director. In February, Olivia Nuamah was brought on to take over the lead role — and tasked with rebuilding the organization, managing turbulent community relations, and organizing a $4 million festival in just a few months. Fortunately, the 45-year-old Toronto native was ready for the challenge. Not only does she have nearly 25 years of experience working in both the non-profit and government sectors, as a black female member of the LGBTQ community, she also has a heightened perspective on the marginalised groups seeking more inclusivity with the Toronto festivities. She successfully led Pride 2017 amid the continued controversy around banning uniformed police participation (which included a heated May debate in city council to pull funding on account of the decision), and for future years, she is committed to putting processes in place that align the reason Pride exists and people’s expectations of it. By establishing trust and building bridges between the many communities that come together for Pride Toronto, Olivia is certainly leading the organization in a bright direction.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Huda Idrees

 

 

Huda Idrees

Founder & CEO, Dot Health

Huda Idrees was only 12 when she started her first business, building websites using skills she learned at school in Saudi Arabia. Now 27 and a University of Toronto industrial engineering grad, she has become a tech start-up veteran with several high-profile roles to her credit. Her latest venture, Dot Health, launched in the spring. For a low monthly fee, the service provides individuals with easy online access to all of their disparate patient health records — eliminating a normally tedious and expensive process. It’s tackling a challenging problem that others have tried and failed to solve, but we think this entrepreneurial wunderkind is the right woman for the job.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Katherine Hay

 

 

Katherine Hay

President & CEO, Women’s College Hospital Foundation

Kathy Hay leads the team responsible for generating the majority of funding for Women’s College Hospital (WCH) in Toronto. Funds that not only enable WCH to deliver excellent care, but also to conduct groundbreaking research that impacts the health and treatment of women across Canada. Early in the year — largely in thanks to the efforts of Kathy — WCH announced that philanthropist Peter Gilgan and the Canadian Cancer Society would be providing a collaborative $12 million gift to establish The Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, which will further research, education, and innovation in the field. The vision Kathy is helping to realize: to empower patients and their families by transforming care for women’s cancers nationwide.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Farah Mohamed

 

 

Farah Mohamed

CEO, Malala Fund

Farah Mohamed has been a longstanding advocate for girls and women around the world. As founder and CEO of G(irls)20, she built an organization focused on cultivating a new generation of female leaders using education, entrepreneurial training, leadership, and global experiences. The experience prepared her for her next big role: Farah took over as CEO of the Malala Fund in June, after her official appointment was announced earlier in the year. Moving her home-base from Canada to the UK, she’s now overseeing efforts to invest in girls’ education programs, and advocating for the resources and policy changes needed to give all girls a secondary education.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Catherine Reitman

 

 

Catherine Reitman

Creator, producer, writer, and star of CBC’s Workin’ Moms

Already an accomplished actor with myriad roles to her credit, Catherine Reitman is on our list on account of her latest project: bringing a daringly honest story of working mothers to network television. Inspired by her own experience, Catherine is the creator, executive producer, writer, and star of Workin’ Moms, which had its first season run between January and April on CBC. Highlighting the lives of four Toronto women juggling careers, motherhood, and relationships, it is as raw as it is funny — and no subject is off limits. By showcasing moms with work ambitions and a need for self-identity, Catherine is bringing a welcome fresh perspective to the usual TV mom narrative.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Jessica Ching

 

 

Jessica Ching

CEO & Co-Founder, Eve Medical

Only one-third of Canadian women get regular Pap tests, even though they can be critical in the early detection of cervical cancer — a disease that four Canadians are diagnosed with everyday. Why? Screening is uncomfortable and time-consuming, and for some, travel distance or lack of childcare options are issues. Enter the Eve Kit, a screening kit that you order online, self-administer at home, and then ship to a lab for results. Depending on the version selected, the kit can detect HPV, which can be a precursor to cervical cancer, or chlamydia and gonorrhea, two common sexually transmitted infections. This simple solution to screening barriers is the brainchild of Jessica Ching, who remarkably has a background not in health, but in industrial design. The Eve Kit officially became available in Canada in March, after six years spent refining the design and delivery. It’s already selling on the global stage, with kits in more than a dozen countries, but Jessica has lofty goals: she’s set a target to be screening five million women worldwide in 2020. By making HPV and STI screening convenient, painless, and reliable, Jessica Ching is addressing a preventable gap in women’s health, in Canada and beyond.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Megan Anderson & Laura McGee

 

 

Megan Anderson & Laura McGee

#GoSponsorHer Initiative Founders

According to a study by Harvard Business Review, women are 54 per cent less likely than men to have a sponsor — and it’s limiting our ability to advance. It was this gap that inspired Megan Anderson and Laura McGee to start the #GoSponsorsHer initiative at the beginning of the year. The campaign asks senior executives to identify a high potential female in their organization or industry, then make a social media pledge to help support her career. By tagging a few fellow leaders, they can challenge others to become sponsors to women as well. Starting a campaign with visibility and a viral nature, Megan and Laura have found a modern way to tackle an old problem.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Ginella Massa

 

 

Ginella Massa

CityNews Toronto Journalist

On November 18, 2016, Ginella Massa was asked to fill in as the late anchor on CityNews Toronto. The broadcast made major headlines in Canada and internationally — including Vogue, The Guardian, and The Washington Post — because it made her the first woman in hijab to anchor a major Canadian newscast. This year, she’ll continue inspiring generations of Muslim women to break through expectations by appearing as a reporter and regular fill-in anchor on CityNews Toronto. You can read more about Ginella’s inspiring journey here.

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.

 

 

Top 25 Women of Influence 2017: Chrystia Freeland

 

 

Chrystia Freeland

Minister of Foreign Affairs

After a Cabinet shuffle on January 10, Chrystia Freeland ended a fourteen-month term as Minister of International Trade to become Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It was a pivotal time to take over the role, with Donald Trump sworn in as President of the United States just ten days later. In the months that followed, Freeland has faced attacks on NAFTA, a border tax proposal, a softwood lumber dispute, and other protectionist policies — not to mention the uncertainty of dealing with a volatile and inexperienced politician prone to leading via Twitter-rant. She’s responded with a firm stance. In a much-discussed and often-quoted speech to Parliament in June, Freeland outlined what she saw as Canada’s need for a new direction, openly calling out the United States without mentioning Trump’s name. “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership,” she said, “puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course.” Facing a future where Canada can no longer rely on the U.S. to fight for once-shared ideals, Chrystia Freeland is helping to plot our own way forward. 

 


 

Who else are we honouring? See the full Women of Influence Top 25 list for 2017.