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.”

 

Meet Jenna Caira, an Olympic medalist who is now helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

In her 27-year career in amateur and professional sport, 12 of which were spent in high-performance environments with Team Canada, Jenna Caira helped to lead her teams to success at every level, earning 10 international medals, 4 national championships and a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as co-captain of Softball Canada’s Olympic bronze medal team. She still managed to find time to excel in her professional life, working in corporate communications and partnerships, and as a motivational speaker and performance coach. In early 2022, she was appointed head of franchise recruitment for Laser Clinics Canada, bringing decades of training in high-performance teams, leadership, and success in diverse, high-stakes environments to her new position. 

 

My first job ever was… assisting with softball pitching lessons when I was 12 years old. I found the more I had to explain the dynamic pitching motion to others, the more I understood my body and its potential. It also increased my curiosity in asking “what else?” It enhanced my training by pushing me to meet smarter, more experienced people, which helped shape who I am today. 

My Olympic aspirations started when… I was 4 years old. I always had a passion for softball and aspired to playing at the highest level. I was fortunate to have a few role models and mentors in my life who guided me along my journey for 27 years. I focused on maintaining a growth mindset, but more importantly, I always competed and embraced the uncomfortable moments of pressure, regardless of the outcome

Transitioning from amateur sport to the business world has been gratifying! While these two worlds may seem so different, there are many parallels when it comes to goal-setting, leadership, team culture and work ethic. We all have transferrable skills that we can bring to different work environments, and it has been empowering to learn new skills every day in my role at Laser Clinics Canada. 

I’m passionate about my current role because… while I may not be throwing a ball and working towards an Olympic medal anymore, I am using my skills within an environment that can help other people achieve their dream of being small business owners

My proudest accomplishment is… winning a bronze medal for Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

“There is just one “you” on this earth, so show the world what you can do.”

My biggest setback was… myself. As an elite athlete, we constantly try to find ways to get better, stronger, and smarter. I had never participated in the Olympics before, and at one point I began questioning my abilities as to whether I was good enough to be a significant contributor to my team. I know many entrepreneurs starting their own businesses can relate – you’re in unknown territory. 

I overcame it by… choosing to be adaptable and remembering the “why” behind waking up every day to work towards making this dream a reality. I also learned it was okay to ask for help, and that having the support of my teammates and coaches helped me grow. That’s part of the reason why I enjoy working with Laser Clinics Canada. The unique 50/50 business model means we’re in it together to help make each clinic location a success. 

My advice for anyone changing careers is to give yourself credit for being courageous enough to try something new. When I accepted the role at Laser Clinics Canada in Franchise Recruitment, it wasn’t feasible to expect myself to have all the answers about the business right away. However, I could control asking good questions and being invested in my team every day. We must be open to feedback and willing to be open-minded as we pursue new opportunities. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is read non-fiction books and listen to podcasts! Get inspired by others because knowledge is power. My favourite book right now is “It Takes What It Takes” by Trevor Moawad.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… to just be yourself.  There is just one “you” on this earth, so show the world what you can do.  

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m now in starting rotation in my co-ed slow-pitch league! 

I stay inspired by… our Laser Clinics Canada leadership team. They encourage us to be creative, think outside the box and lean on each other to help bring this great business model to the Canadian market. 

The future excites me because… what I am contributing to at LCC will help create jobs, offer more opportunities for entrepreneurs who are passionate about the advanced beauty industry and provide a space to make selfcare a greater priority for everyday Canadians. 

My next step is… to build my professional relationship with Women of Influence! I follow this great network, and Laser Clinics Canada is incredibly excited to connect with other inspiring women! I will also connect with entrepreneurs who are looking to do something new with their careers and who recognize the power of being part of a trusted, award-winning brand like Laser Clinics.

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

Eleanor Lee and Angel Kho

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sarah Kelsey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanda Costen is leading change in business education.

Wanda Costen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The army life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new vision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Dr. Shara Ally, founder of NEUROorganics Inc, a mental health company incorporating Eastern approaches.

Shara Ally

| Photo by Charlotte Poolton Photography |

Dr. Shara Ally is the Founder and CEO of NEUROorganics Inc., a mental health company that incorporates Eastern approaches to care — inspired by a conversation Shara had with the Dalai Lama. She’s also Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Lotus Medical Community Clinic in California, and Mental Health Consultant and Strategist for RogersTV and KRS Home Care Inc. Shara sits on multiple health-focused boards, and is an accomplished researcher, lecturer, and international speaker. In addition, Shara added Ms. Canada United World 2022 to her titles and is now competing for the international crown, Ms. United World 2023. 

 

My first job ever was… making my first cup of coffee at Tim Hortons! 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it is an inspired space that allows for creating solutions to everyday problems that are innovative, novel, and unconventional. 

I founded NEUROorganics Inc. because… I wanted to share the lessons I received from the Dalai Lama through a mental health platform that cultivates an innovative approach to education and consultation to strategically help individuals fuel their pain from their past into their future purpose.   

I’m passionate about mental health because… I believe your mind is the greatest asset you have. In NEUROorganics, we teach our clients that just as you have physical health you have mental health, and it is essential to nourish it for internal wellness that is then exuded externally. 

My proudest accomplishment is… helping my clients in NEUROorganics get to the other side of suffering. This achievement demonstrates the importance in the work NEUROorganics provides as it helps to shape healthier individuals, families, and communities. Mental health and wellness is not to be underestimated, nor can you ever graduate from it. The NEUROorganics methods of fueling your pain from your past into a your future purpose, allows you to live with improved self-awareness, self-worth, and confidence. 

My biggest setback was… caring too much about what others thought of me. As a result, I overexerted myself and my resources to try to impress them and hope to gain their approval. This within itself will deter you from success, guaranteed. 

“The quality of the relationships you have with yourself and others will determine the quality of your life.” 

I overcame it by… surrounding myself with the right mindsets that fill my cup in my personal and professional lives. I tell my NEUROorganics clients all of the time that the quality of the relationships you have with yourself and others will determine the quality of your life. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… learn to love being uncomfortable. Entrepreneurship does not follow a specific methodology, nor is it linear. However, there is incredible learning and intrinsic value that comes with the entrepreneur lifestyle. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… the incredible and empowering transformation my clients experience in NEUROorganics. They are no longer victims to their mind; rather they have learned how to use their mind as an asset. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my failures! Failures, mistakes, and setbacks create a synergetic opportunity for learning, refining, and synthesizing your idea.   

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I have 48 allergies! 

I stay inspired by… a quote I subscribe to by Denzel Washington which is, “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.” This is a great reminder to keep pushing forward when it’s hard, and not to settle when things are easy. 

The future excites me because… I have the opportunity to fuse my pageant, business, medical, and entrepreneurship platforms to create solution-orientated mental health solutions for individuals and communities. The cross-pollination across these industries felt out of reach at one point, and have simultaneously come together in an effective and meaningful way. 

My next step is… to optimize the mental wellness journey of my clients and empower business development to serve larger audiences to accelerate NEUROorganics. I also plan on engaging my Ms. Canada United World 2022 platform to support women and their mental wellness. If I win the Ms. United World 2023 crown, this will allow for a shift from national to international impact for women and the audiences I touch through this incredible platform. 

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

By Sarah Kelsey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And most importantly, do something that inspires you. 

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

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

Vanessa Marshall

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

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

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

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

And that’s how Jack59 was born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon Pestun went from “being bad” with numbers to one of Canada’s most sought-after finance consultants.

By Sarah Kelsey

 

Traditional systems for funding a business, from bank lending to venture capital, weren’t built with women or Indigenous business owners in mind. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see tides are turning within the financial industry, especially here in Canada. Paving the way is Shannon Pestun, a former banker turned entrepreneur, financial educator, social justice advocate, and senior advisor to the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH).

Shannon, a Métis woman who grew up in the Treaty 7 area of Alberta, says she stumbled upon her career as a financial barrier breaker by happenstance. In fact, she has a vivid memory of a junior high school guidance counsellor telling her to avoid doing anything with math because she “wasn’t good at it” — an experience which understandably left her fearful of numbers. 

Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, Shannon pursued a career in marketing. Ironically, her marketing career led her to work at an Alberta-based financial institution, where she was encouraged to start a new career as a business banker. It was during that time that she began to see the cracks in the financial system’s approach to the funding of women- and Indigenous-owned businesses. 

“A woman was trying to buy a daycare, and I remember seeing all of the hoops she had to go through to prove her business case and thinking things would never have been as hard if she was a man.” Shannon also noticed there were no women in the portfolio of entrepreneurs she managed. 

“That was a moment of awakening for me. When you see something, you can’t unsee it. I became relentless about understanding the gender gap in entrepreneurship and seeking meaningful ways to close it,” she says. 

Shannon began to educate herself by looking at the research — and going deeper into the frontlines. Under an anonymous twitter handle, A Girl’s Biz Banker, Shannon started new conversations with women entrepreneurs and innovators to better understand their needs as entrepreneurs. She also looked to banks from around the world to identify best practices for meeting the needs of women entrepreneurs. The deeper she went, the more she saw how and where the financial system was failing women. 

“Canada’s banking system was never designed with women in mind. Today, women remain the single largest underserved group of customers in the financial services sector.” 

Working inside the financial system, Shannon knew that there was opportunity for change. The challenge, however, was finding a way to drive that change forward. “Canada’s banking system was never designed with women in mind. Today, women remain the single largest underserved group of customers in the financial services sector.” 

Shannon’s passion for change led her to be one of the first women in the country to lead a women’s banking strategy. “It was a role I lobbied for,” says Shannon. ”Not everyone was supportive of the work I was leading.” But tenacity and a desire for change kept Shannon on her path to reimagine banking for women, which included helping women access the financial capital they needed to start and grow their business, connecting them to networks and professionals, and building learning opportunities to support them in their journey. 

While Shannon’s work included creating new funding models, such as introducing a cohort-based, rewards-based crowdfunding initiative, she also introduced a new training for frontline team members to better understand the gendered differences in money and entrepreneurship, and brought together team members from across the bank to create a holistic value proposition that was centred on breaking barriers and closing the entrepreneurial gender gap.

“The most cited barrier for women entrepreneurs is financial capital,” says Shannon, adding that on a funding level, more needs to be done to address the way risk is assessed and how that shapes lending and investing decisions. Her lived experience was validated by much of the research led by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. According to The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada 2022 from WEKH, the processes used to make decisions about financing — the “five C’s” (capacity, collateral, capital, character, and conditions) — are based, to a large extent, on historical patterns that disadvantage women and other underestimated groups.

In 2018, Shannon was appointed to serve on a panel supporting Canada’s women entrepreneurship strategy. In 2020, she became an entrepreneur herself, with a focus to deepen her work in closing the entrepreneurial gap as a financial consultant. From there, she became WEKH’s Senior Advisor – Business and Finance, where she has helped the organization develop research and networks to improve women’s access to financial, social, and entrepreneurial capital. Shannon notes that her lived experience not only enables her to inform research, policies, and practices, but also helps her connect with other entrepreneurs.

“On an individual level, many women entrepreneurs are socialized, just like I was, to believe they aren’t good with money or numbers.”

She has also brought her skills and experience to a new venture — co-founding The Finance Cafe, Canada’s first gender-focused business financial learning program designed to help women entrepreneurs — and those who support them — explore what’s behind the numbers to find greater confidence and build greater capacity in financial decision making. Over 200 women entrepreneurs and advisors have gone through the program.

“On an individual level, many women entrepreneurs are socialized, just like I was, to believe they aren’t good with money or numbers,” so they shirk responsibility for the monetary management of their businesses to someone else, Shannon says.”But that’s not true. If you can understand the numbers better and beyond just reading a financial statement, you can shape your own financial story.” 

Recent reports from WEKH show that while there are societal and organizational barriers, one of the individual level barriers to success for women with small businesses is financial literacy and confidence. Organizations like The Finance Cafe and WEKH are expanding how they support these groups. New bursaries (including one created by Shannon for Indigenous women entrepreneurs) and funding opportunities are being granted by the government, and financial institutions are waking up to the gender gap within the entrepreneurial space. 

There’s still work to be done, but Shannon is optimistic. “A lot has changed since I started this work. Things are still changing. But there’s more ahead,” she says. “I care deeply about this work, and I’ll continue working towards a more inclusive financial system — and building new ways for women to navigate a system that wasn’t designed by them, or for them.”

Seven tips to prepare for and get the most out of your professional portrait.

By Kathryn Hollinrake | Photos by Kathryn Hollinrake

As a professional photographer, I’ve learned there are so many little things that can impact the success of a portrait. Fortunately, some of these things are fully in your control. 

No, I don’t mean with Photoshop. It’s true almost anything can be fixed in post-production — with a certain budget. Not only is that budget rarely available for difficult problems in corporate portrait-land (my current specialty), I think it’s a waste of time and money to fix something that could have been avoided in the first place with some care and planning. 

To help you prepare for and get the most out of a professional portrait session, I’m sharing guidelines based on what I’ve encountered over 25+ years as a photographer and retoucher. I am sure some will seem, and in fact are, relevant only to some — and I hope nobody feels excluded or offended. (If you’d like a broader range of tips, you can find them on my LinkedIn and my blog.) 

I also know, from the many times I’ve been the one in the photo, that it’s not easy to just wear the right clothes, have the perfect hair and makeup, and project nothing but confidence with your pose. But with a bit of prep (and help from the right photographer) getting a shot you want to share with the world is possible. I know you will look great for your next shoot — especially if you follow all of my suggestions!

Tip #1: Breathe

Once you arrive at your photo session, breathe. Why would I say this? Because people filled with dread hold their breath. I work with people all the time who come to portrait shoots geared up for what they anticipate will be a fairly short but painful nightmare, “knowing” they are unphotogenic and they will probably hate the results. Determined to get this thing over with (and make it count!), they stop breathing.

Remember it’s your photographer’s job to help you find your way through and past this first and very real obstacle. I encourage you to embrace the idea that you are in good hands, take a deep breath or twenty, and keep breathing. Slow down, listen, and trust. When people stop breathing they tend to tense up, their shoulders go up, their neck tendons flex, and they positively, silently scream “uncomfortable!” Nothing can suck the power out of a portrait faster than the appearance of overwhelming and unmitigable discomfort. 

Tip #2: If you wear a suit, make sure that it fits. 

A portrait in which the suit fits perfectly will outshine a portrait featuring a lumpy suit every time. This might seem obvious, but for many of us it can be incredibly difficult to find a jacket that doesn’t bunch and pull in various spots. I have photographed myself to illustrate blog posts and articles for years now, and I always start with a jacket I’m pretty sure fits fine — but often discover it does something in a photograph that I consider distracting and unacceptably imperfect. You can try posing and pinning to mitigate wrinkles, but sometimes it is impossible to get rid of them. They make successful retouching too difficult and time consuming to be practical, especially if the suit fabric is textured or patterned.  

How do you know if it fits? Make sure you can comfortably do up a button. You will look more polished and pulled together with a neatly closed jacket. You will feel more confident if you are comfortable and you know you look good. And if your portrait is cropped as a head and shoulders image, your face will be nicely framed by the ‘v’ of the neckline. If you are not sure what works best, and time allows, bring options for your shoot. 

Tip #3: Higher necklines are always the safer option.  

Ideally a neckline will be fully contained within the frame of a portrait. This way your wardrobe helps to frame your face and the viewers eyes aren’t pulled off the edge of the frame. It is not terribly unusual to find that the neckline of a top that seems business appropriate in real life disappears off the bottom edge of a typical head and shoulders portrait crop. This can catch people by surprise, as can the apparent disappearance of the top under a jacket when that jacket is closed; we generally want the jacket closed to make a nice ‘v’ to frame the face. 

My advice is to play it safe and opt for a higher neckline, and remember, you can think beyond tops. If you have a dress that works — even if it’s one you’d never wear to work — try wearing that. With a head and shoulders portrait nobody cares what’s going on below the crop. 

Tip #4: Wear long sleeves for head and shoulders portraits.

If you plan to wear a dress or top without a jacket, avoid short sleeves for head and shoulders portraits. Why? The crop is probably going to be somewhere above your elbow. As such, it can be a bit distracting for viewers if the bottom left and right corners feature the skin of your arms, especially if your skin is noticeably lighter or darker than your clothing. 

As for sleeveless dresses or tops, it’s pretty universally advised to avoid them for business portraits. Some companies’ corporate photo guidelines even expressly forbid them. Long sleeves will almost always be the most flattering and most professional looking option. 

Tip #5: Work with a professional makeup artist.

There are typically three options for portrait makeup: DIY (free), department store makeup counter (token product purchase), and professional makeup artist (professional fee). Whichever option your budget allows, remember what you are trying to do: Show your best authentic self to the world, refreshed and maybe a bit enhanced. You don’t want to end up looking unrecognizable. 

In my experience, a professional is worth the investment to meet that goal. A good make-up artist (paired with good moisturizer and communication!) can help you show up as your best self while still looking like yourself. That means wearing just the right amount of make-up for you, wherever that is on the spectrum — from full glam to practically none. 

With the same goal of authenticity in mind, try to avoid getting a haircut from a new stylist right before you get a new portrait done. A professional make-up artist may be able to rescue you, but if not, I think most people know the potential for distress and disappointment here. I have seen it! 

Tip #6: Keep jewellery simple.

Unless you are a jeweller looking to advertise your work via your business portrait, then the general guideline is to stick to more understated jewellery. I acknowledge the welcome movement towards people bringing their whole, unique, authentic selves to work, personal style and all. But the most consistently you part of you is your face. So to a large extent that’s where you want people’s focus. The added advantage of wearing subtler jewellery is that it will be less likely to date your portrait when styles change. While Fashion magazine’s May 2022 issue said that “statement necklaces are back in style,” I suggest that this be considered less relevant to us in business portrait world. Avoiding wearing trendy jewellery or wardrobe is one good way to stave off having to do a new professional portrait every year.

Tip #7: Lean in. 

Yes, this one’s really simple. Particularly when someone is really not excited or is, more accurately, filled with dread at the idea of being photographed, but is also committed to doing their best to get through it. Their default posture can be rigid, back straight up and down, chin sucked in, at attention! But this stance can make people look timid, uptight, and freaked out. You may be all these things, but you don’t want to look like it!

You can make great headway towards appearing to be the total opposite by merely leaning in. You want to look relaxed, confident, and engaged, and step one to appearing to be those things is a bit of a tilt forward, back still straight, shoulders back, hinging from the hips, allowing the chin to come forward a wee bit so the angles of your jawline will be nicely defined above your tension-free and extra-chinless neck.

Tip #7: Lean in. 

Yes, this one’s really simple. Particularly when someone is really not excited or is, more accurately, filled with dread at the idea of being photographed, but is also committed to doing their best to get through it. Their default posture can be rigid, back straight up and down, chin sucked in, at attention! But this stance can make people look timid, uptight, and freaked out. You may be all these things, but you don’t want to look like it!

You can make great headway towards appearing to be the total opposite by merely leaning in. You want to look relaxed, confident, and engaged, and step one to appearing to be those things is a bit of a tilt forward, back still straight, shoulders back, hinging from the hips, allowing the chin to come forward a wee bit so the angles of your jawline will be nicely defined above your tension-free and extra-chinless neck.

Kathryn Hollinrake

Kathryn Hollinrake

Kathryn Hollinrake has been “making people and things look pretty” as a professional photographer for over twenty-five years after graduating at the top of her class with a Bachelor of Technology in photography from TMU (then Ryerson). During her long and diverse career she worked briefly for Kodak, then started her business as a commercial and editorial photographer shooting everything from food to dogs to people, shot weddings, produced and exhibited fine art, acted in TV commercials and finally found her tribe in corporate and portrait photography where she collaborates with businesses and individuals to make their branding imagery shine. To learn more about Kathryn’s work, connect with her on LinkedIn or find her online at hollinrake.com.

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

Permalution Tatiana Estevez

By Sarah Kelsey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Callery

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Janét Aizenstros turned her digital consultancy into one of the fastest-growing companies in the Americas.

By Karen van Kampen

 

Growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Janét Aizenstros was exposed to “a lot of goodness” within her community-focused hometown. “I grew up in an environment where I was free to be myself, which being a woman of colour, given the current social narrative, isn’t always true for many women of colour,” she says. 

As Founder and CEO of Ahava Digital Group, a women-led digital consultancy, Janét has built a conscious media company that provides ethically sourced and verified data to help companies connect with women consumers. What began as a one-woman operation in 2011 is now one of the fastest-growing companies in the Americas, with revenues over $1.5 billion (USD). 

Like other entrepreneurs she has connected with over the years, Janét discovered early in life that there was something uniquely different about herself. “In childhood, I felt very present,” she says. “That level of presence, that level of insight is what has been able to carry me through life.” Janét’s high level of empathy has benefits as well as detriments, she explains. “You feel things on a totally different level.” 

Janét was exposed to business in her teens when her mother started her own cleaning company. Janét would accompany her mother to commercial buildings and chat with owners about their business. “I was very fascinated by what they did,” she says. 

Moving to Toronto at the age of 17 cultivated Janét’s passion to become a business person. She graduated high school early and got a retail job at the Eaton Centre, where she worked alongside many strong women. “I spent a lot of time walking the streets, seeing the business people, the hustle and bustle,” she says. 

At 19, Janét completed a program called Master’s Commission, an intensive discipleship program. Her interest in spirituality began as a young child. “I was once an aspiring pastor,” she says. Yet Janét came to realize that entrepreneurship was the right path for her. 

“It started as a woman who had many gifts that she wanted to share with the world.”

After many years building a professional career in banking, management consulting, and advertising, Janét left the corporate world to focus on her family. For 18 months, she stayed home with her two children — both under the age of three. She launched her one-woman creative agency, Ahava Digital, from her basement. 

“It started as a woman who had many gifts that she wanted to share with the world,” says Janét, “And life circumstances — that I wanted to shift — which presented challenges that I would have to navigate and pivot cautiously through,” she says.

Influencers became interested in Janét’s work. Demand continued to grow as she worked with companies and then larger organizations. In 2013, as Ahava Digital focused on social media, Janét began connecting with her professional network. “This path led me to introductions to influential people I’ve known over the years that gave me an opportunity and opened doors for me,” she says. 

In 2016, Ahava Digital became more data focused as clients sought pinpointed metrics on their ideal customers. At the time, Janét was working on her dissertation for her PhD in metaphysical sciences while  simultaneously completing her executive MBA. While gathering data for her PhD research, Janét discovered an American data centre that was looking for an investor. In late 2017, Janét acquired the data company and its technology, and started on a growth path. Today, Ahava Digital Group has a presence in more than 15 countries with more than 550 employees, and their National Intelligence File contains data on 197 million American households — all ethically sourced and verified.  

Ahava Digital has gained the moniker of conscious business, which Janét embraces. “Canadian values are what shaped who I am as an entrepreneur, especially as an employer,” says Janét, which includes putting people first and focusing on environmental, social, corporate governance, and sustainable development goals.  

She carries those values beyond her company, too. In 2020, Janét established scholarship programs at the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo to support people from marginalized communities who wish to pursue careers in business and engineering. Money can be a barrier to entry, dissuading many people from even applying, she says, adding, “Money should never be the reason why somebody does not fulfill their dreams.” 

“We have to offer value in any situation that we walk into and understand that we should be expectant of receiving value as well.”

Janét says it’s important to focus on how we can give back in life — but it’s also healthy to expect reciprocation. “We have to offer value in any situation that we walk into and understand that we should be expectant of receiving value as well,” she says, adding, “Understanding those that pour out also need to be poured into.” 

For Janét, giving back also includes mentoring other women entrepreneurs through an American organization that focuses on leadership from a biblical perspective. It’s about leadership, wellness, and mindset. “Honestly, it’s the best work I’ve ever done in my entire life,” she says. 

Reflecting on a key takeaway for other women entrepreneurs, Janét says, “Successful women are not afraid of being themselves. I want to stress this concept to women.” In the beginning, Janét had people trying to steer her path, and if she had listened to them, Ahava Digital Group would not be what it is today. “It takes a very strong personality to stand alone and be that lone wolf,” she says.

Her approach has clearly worked. Among her many achievements, Janét’s company was ranked twelfth on Canadian Business’ 2020 Growth List, with Janét being the first Black Canadian woman sole founder to be recognized within the list’s top 20. That same year, Janét was also the first person of colour to win the Canadian Business Employer of the Year award. In 2021 she became the first Black woman to receive the Excellence Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has built and managed a successful business over a decade through timely innovation, strategic thinking, and smart execution.

Looking to the future, Janét is excited to focus on her legacy initiative — the institute that she created to support the wellness of women in business. The Wholly Living Research Institute focuses on emotional intelligence around business and explores leadership from a wellness perspective, providing a safe space for women to share experiences. 

“Leadership is the place I was meant to be,” says Janét. “I come alive when empowering women. It gives me joy.”

Meet Natalie Borch, founder of body-positive fitness space, The Pink Studio

Natalie Borch

Natalie Borch is an entrepreneur, dancer, and advocate for body acceptance and inclusivity. Having grown up in the competitive dance world, Natalie never truly felt like she fit. She spent years as an adult learning to accept and love her body. She rebuilt her life after deciding to leave her marriage in 2015 with a 4-year-old in tow. After walking through the fire of divorce, Natalie found her voice and opened The Pink Studio Dance + Fitness because she wanted to create a body-positive and inclusive fitness space that celebrated all bodies and abilities. In addition to running the daily operations of the studio, Natalie is a speaker for retreats, corporate events and on TV about the power of body confidence. 

 

My first job ever was… I taught dance classes for kids at a community centre in Vancouver where I grew up. I loved choreographing routines!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…  I wanted to do things differently. I was tired of seeing weight loss as the sole focus of fitness studios, and I was done feeling intimidated walking into a yoga studio or dance class because I didn’t have a certain body type. I wanted to be loud and proud about what I stood for.

I founded The Pink Studio because…  I want everyone to feel like a dancer. Dance needs to be more accessible and I wanted a space where people of all ages, sizes and gender expressions could learn to dance. Many adults share their experiences with me of quitting dance as a young person or not even starting because they didn’t have a “dancer’s body.” We see a lot of folks coming back to dance in their 40’s and 50’s and finding their love for dance again. 

Why pink? Definitely the most common question I get asked! Reclaiming the colour pink has been a marker of modern-day feminism and something that I was very intentional about as an entrepreneur when creating our branding. For me, pink is a powerful colour and it makes a statement. I want to challenge the idea that the statement it makes is one of weakness or timidness. Pink is still regarded as a feminine colour and anything feminine is still seen, by both men and women, as holding a lower status. We applaud young girls who learn to code, love Spiderman and playing baseball. We don’t celebrate as much when young men want to wear lace, do ballet and play with Barbies. 

Maintaining an environment where the members feel comfortable, welcomed and supported will always be very important to me. 

I don’t believe pushing girls to be more like boys is the answer to gender equality. Instead of making masculine tendencies the ideal standard, shouldn’t we hold the “girly” qualities to the same high regard? It has also been interesting to see how often people assume the studio is “women’s only.” Some have asked “Well aren’t you afraid you are off putting to men with all this pink?” Um… how do I say this nicely? Not even a little bit. But seriously, this was also a deliberate choice because I wanted men to know they are always welcome here. However, I only want men in our classes who feel comfortable in a very femme-positive space. Maintaining an environment where the members feel comfortable, welcomed and supported will always be very important to me. From day one, we have always been a place for all gender identities and gender expressions. 

I’m passionate about adult dance and body positivity because… I’ve experienced how life-changing body confidence is. When I hated my body, that insecurity seeped into every area of my life. It’s hard to live a BIG life when you’re constantly trying to make yourself smaller. When I learned to love myself and love my body, it changed everything. I left an unhappy marriage, I applied for a new job where I could start to hone my business skills, I started making plans to open my business, and I finally felt worthy of it all. All of this while parenting a young child. 

My proudest accomplishment is… Opening the doors to The Pink Studio. There were a lot of barriers and many reasons that could’ve held me back, but I actually did it and I could not be prouder. Opening this business was harder than giving birth and going through a divorce so sometimes I still can’t believe I did it! There was a circle of people around me who helped make this possible. 

My biggest setback was… The pandemic. I had survived the first two years in business. What I thought was the hardest part. We had just started to become profitable and then the world changed. The fitness industry has been closed for longer than most, and we have been hit hard. 

I overcame it by…  Gratitude and a lot of help from my brother. Grant is my brother and also co-owner of the studio. The first 5 days in lockdown in March 2020 we worked harder than we did when the business first opened. We had to create a whole new online platform, figure out how to teach 30 classes a week online, and lead our team of teachers and staff through the process. It was overwhelming, but we did it and that’s how we have survived the past two years.

People have been redefining what a “fit” body looks like and that’s super exciting.

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  Surround yourself with the right people. Find other entrepreneurs to be friends with, and mentor each other. Find a partner who believes in your dreams as fiercely as you do. Spend time with those who lift you up and challenge you. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Don’t take things personally. I take everything personally because it feels like my business is so personal, but that makes it hard for me to make objective decisions or see the big picture sometimes. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… Hearing from clients about how our classes impact their whole lives. I’ll never forget the woman who told me after taking a month of Beginner Beyoncé classes with us, that her co-workers pointed out to her that she was raising her hand more in meetings and seemed more confident. And there was another woman, the only client who’s every made me cry, even though she didn’t realize it. She was 62 years old and came in giggling one day for her ballet class, so excited to show me her brand new ballet shoes. She told me that she dreamed of having ballet shoes since she was a little girl, and that she had assumed that dream has passed her by. I had to excuse myself to go cry in the bathroom because the whole thing just made me so emotional! 

I stay inspired by… Seeing so much diversity and representation now in dance and fitness. People have been redefining what a “fit” body looks like and that’s super exciting. 

My next step is…  There is another business idea brewing right now that I’m really excited about. It’s adjacent to the idea of The Pink Studio, but not the same. More performance based, and it will definitely celebrate all bodies, ages and genders!

Women online are facing harassment — the #ToxicHush campaign is addressing it.

By Shari Graydon

The TV reporter was telling me over the phone that he needed someone to interview who was not a beauty contestant. I qualified. 

It was 1992 and I was serving on the board of MediaWatch, a national organization working to improve women’s representation by the media. The reporter thought my view on the cancellation of the Miss Canada pageant might differ from the perspective of the previous winners he’d also interviewed. 

I looked into his camera and said how encouraged I was that a contest treating women’s bodies like cattle at an auction was no longer popular enough to attract advertisers. My sound-bite aired between equally brief clips of Miss Canada 1991 and Miss Canada 1992. 

But I had a lot more to say about how society objectifying women makes it harder for us to accept our physical imperfections, or be taken seriously at work. So I channeled the rest of what I thought into a newspaper commentary. 

Its publication emboldened me. I began regularly scanning the news looking for opportunities to write about the stuff I knew and cared about. As a result, I did lots of commentary on CBC Radio and TV, and for three years, wrote a weekly column for the Vancouver Sun. These experiences led to a 13-part TV series, a job in the BC Premier’s Office, and many invitations to speak. 

What I learned was that when you have a public voice, it’s much easier to get your phone calls returned, to convince people to fund the causes you believe in, or to change policies to reflect your research. And this realization inspired me to start Informed Opinions to support other women to increase their influence. 

The newspaper column also gave me experience dealing with hate mail. The envelope of the very first letter sent to me care/of the Vancouver Sun was addressed to “Shari Graydon, Bitch of the Year club.” Inside, my correspondent continued, “You are a dog-faced slut.” 

“The envelope of the very first letter sent to me care/of the Vancouver Sun was addressed to ‘Shari Graydon, Bitch of the Year club.’ ” 

Other readers sent me religious tracts making clear I would roast in hell for supporting gay marriage or for demanding action on women missing from the Downtown Eastside. One male columnist called me “feminazi”; another — employed by my own paper — publicly described me as the kind of person who “can’t stand to see others have fun.”

So I thought I knew what it was like for women targeted by ugliness. But I was wrong.

Two years ago, Informed Opinions convened a roundtable discussion with a group of accomplished women with intersectional identities featured in our experts database for journalists. I told them we were tracking how well we reflected Canada’s diversity and asked how we might better reach out to and support others in their communities.  

“We don’t want to invite women in our networks to join your database,” they told us. “It’s brutal out there. Can’t you do something about the toxic hate we’re getting?”

They shared stories I wasn’t capable of imagining about un-repeatable insults, physical and sexual threats, and despicable lies, all pouring onto their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or into their email inboxes by anonymous trolls bent on shutting them up. And their experiences reflect international research findings that Black, Indigenous, Asian, Muslim and immigrant women, those who identify as LGBTQ+ or live with a disability, are much more likely to be targeted than their white, cis, hetero sisters. 

Because these high-achieving women had careers they’d fought for, families they cared about, and reputations they needed to protect, sometimes the trolls succeeded. Sometimes the emotional and psychological impact of the degrading, sexist, racist, homophobic, or anti-Islamist assaults they were receiving became physical and financial, costing them not just productivity and mental health, but the ability to travel or the willingness to take on new opportunities.

That’s why Informed Opinions has invested in measures to address the unique hate speech specifically aimed at women. Last year we released our #ToxicHush Action Kit to provide a free, online resource to support those targeted in knowing how to respond and where to complain.  

“Sometimes the emotional and psychological impact of the degrading, sexist, racist, homophobic, or anti-Islamist assaults they were receiving became physical and financial, costing them not just productivity and mental health, but the ability to travel or the willingness to take on new opportunities.”

And in June we streamed “A People’s Tribunal: Every Woman’s Right to Speak Free from Online Hate” to draw attention to the human rights abuses affecting thousands of women every day, and to encourage change. The event featured moving testimony from courageous women speaking to their experiences in the context of their work in journalism, advocacy, politics, and healthcare.

In opening the Tribunal, the Honourable Marci Ien referenced the nastiness she’d received as a result of her visibility as a Black woman in television and politics. 

Award-winning Indigenous journalist Brandi Morin quoted a gut-punching death threat in her email inbox, and affirmed her intention to use her voice “for those who cannot speak.” 

And prominent human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby spoke of having been threatened so often that she’s met with police and installed a security system. 

“The fear of being attacked on social media and for that hatred to spill into real life,” she said, “means that I have to often second-guess myself about what I say online in case it is used against me… to justify hate and violence.”

Senator Kim Pate, in her role as one of three ‘Citizen-Judges’, gave legal context to help inform the action we’re urging the government to take. She spoke of the constant assault on women’s rights to participate freely and fully in public debate. 

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she noted, “does not guarantee a carte blanche freedom of expression… There is no constitutional right… to threaten to rape or kill a woman because you disagree with her politics.” But she also observed that in the absence of any formal regulation, the default practice is that anonymous attackers can say whatever they want, while the impact on women is “speak at your own risk.’ ”

The event was moving, illuminating, and infuriating. And as part of our #ToxicHush campaign against online hate, we’re complementing the Tribunal’s powerful stories with data gathered from many others about how they’ve been targeted, where, and what impact the abuse has had on how they feel and act. 

So if you’re affected — or know someone who is — help enrich the stories our data can tell by completing this simple survey.

“Unchecked online abuse threatens not only to stymie much-needed progress, but to actually reverse decades of equality gains.”

To date, 76% of the 270 respondents say they’ve seen an increase in online hate over the past two years, with Twitter and Facebook cited most often. More than half are being targeted with insults and slurs, and almost 20% have received threats of physical or sexual violence. 

Individual attacks retraumatize survivors of sexual assault, and the cumulative impact of having your mobile phone transformed into a delivery vehicle for abuse becomes a serious deterrent to women who might otherwise be willing to share their insights publicly and increase their visibility and influence. 

Indeed, unchecked online abuse threatens not only to stymie much-needed progress, but to actually reverse decades of equality gains. Despite the advances made, Informed Opinions’ Gender Gap Tracker shows that Canada’s most influential news media continue to quote men almost 70% of the time. 

We’ve devoted the past 13 years to bridging that gap, amplifying the voices of women and gender-diverse people, connecting them with journalists, supporting them to increase their impact. Because we all understand the truth behind “if you can’t see her, you can’t be her…” 

And if women’s realities and experience-informed perspectives aren’t part of our public conversations, helping to set agendas, shape policies, and impact spending, the resulting imbalance will continue to profoundly undermine our democracy.

Shari Graydon

Shari Graydon

As a print and broadcast columnist, best-selling author and award-winning women’s advocate, Shari Graydon has spent 30 years using media to draw attention to issues she knows and cares about. Now she motivates, trains and supports others to do the same. Since founding Informed Opinions, she’s helped thousands of subject matter experts share their knowledge in engaging and persuasive ways, and built a database of diverse, qualified sources to make them easier to find. She previously taught communications at Simon Fraser University, wrote speeches for cabinet ministers and the governor general, and was president of two national women’s organizations.

Meet Nia Lee, founder of a social marketing agency and a skincare subscription box.

Nia Lee

Nia Lee is the Founder and CEO of Socialee Media Agency, a boutique social media marketing agency that helps beauty and lifestyle businesses create high-performing, visionary content for their social media channels. After gaining experience working for several notable brands like Bite Beauty, NYX Cosmetics Canada, Shea Moisture Canada, and DECIEM: The Abnormal Beauty Company, Nia launched her own beauty brand, Oilee Skincare with a mission to promote skin health instead of skin perfection. Oilee Skincare is the first-ever subscription box that helps people with oily, acne-prone skin discover new skincare products from indie & BIPOC-owned brands. Since then, Nia and her business have partnered with brands like Province Apothecary, Skin Actives, Dermala and The Body Shop.

 

My first job ever was… I always say it was Tim Hortons, but actually, it was doing my local paper route back when I was 14 years old, living in Markham, ON, making $40/month. I wanted a job really badly, so I remember applying for a bunch, but never hearing anything back. 

My cousin was doing the paper route at the time, and I used to help him out until he quit and I decided to take over. I remember dragging my cart through the snow; my hands used to be so gray and ashy afterwards — what a time! But, I made my $40 every month, and I could buy whatever I wanted with it. That made me feel good until I turned 16 and got to apply to a job that paid me at least minimum wage!

Before Oilee Skincare, I was… Passionately helping beauty and lifestyle brands make their mark on the world with visionary content for their brand’s social media within my boutique social media marketing agency, Socialee Media Agency

I founded Oilee Skincare because… I wanted to create a brand and community that focused on stopping the stigma of having oily, acne-prone skin, because I’ve had oily, acne-prone skin since I was 18 or 19 years old and I hated it when I was younger. I would do everything to stop my oiliness from showing, and it made me super self-conscious. Fast forward to the pandemic; I wanted to shop more intentionally with indie and BIPOC-owned brands in mind, especially those that catered to my skin type and tone. I fell in love with these brands, their products, the way they made me feel, and knew that it wasn’t about getting rid of my oiliness but instead, taking care of it. 

From there, I spent a lot of time researching. Seeing that a lot of people were also feeling self-conscious about their oily and acne-prone skin, I knew my ‘Why’ for creating Oilee Skincare had to be about embracing it and taking care of it, focusing on skin health over skin perfection, and changing the narrative around having oily, acne-prone skin because it’s nothing to be ashamed about! Making the decision to feature indie and BIPOC-owned brands came down to me having the pleasure to work with and use a lot of these brands over the years, and with new brands launching every day with innovative products, it was no brainer.  

“There’s going to be a lot of times in your journey as an entrepreneur when life, your business, and everything around you may knock you down, but you have to be willing to get back up.”

One of the most important things I learned about myself in my time as an entrepreneur is… To never stay down no matter how many times you get knocked down. There’s going to be a lot of times in your journey as an entrepreneur when life, your business, and everything around you may knock you down, but you have to be willing to get back up. Have a moment to feel all the feels, but get right back up because tomorrow is a new day! 

My proudest accomplishment is… Getting the opportunity to work with some really notable brands over the years, both within my agency and my brand, like Bite Beauty, Shea Moisture Canada, DECIEM: The Abnormal Beauty Company, Province Apothecary, The Body Shop, and even Canva! 

I’m a child of a Jamaican immigrant, I don’t come from money, and I don’t have endless connections — all I have is my ability to be myself, work hard, and give everything I do my best shot. I’ve been incredibly blessed, and I am beyond grateful for each and every opportunity. 

My biggest setback was… Being a perfectionist! 

I overcame it by… Realizing that not everything in life needs to be perfect right then and there. In the words of PR and Brand Strategist and Sakita Holley, “done is better than perfect.” 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t be afraid to start over, change your mind, fall 100 times, and experiment. Oh, and remember to HAVE FUN. It’s not always going to be a cake walk, and you will have your hard days, but enjoy the journey and try your best to celebrate your wins (I’m working on this myself!).

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Celebrating my wins! I don’t know what it is, but I just never take the time to smell the roses. My brain is always going a mile a minute, but when something amazing happens, no matter how big or small, I try my best to acknowledge it. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Spend more time with my friends and family. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… The fact that I get the opportunity to meet and connect with dope beauty founders every day. I love hearing their stories about how they built their brands, which may allow us to build a genuine relationship that may lead to us working together some day!

“When you are building a visionary and innovative brand, it’s going to take a long time for people to recognize that. You just have to buckle up and be patient; everything will happen in due time.” 

The one thing I wish I knew when starting Oilee Skincare is… How building a brand from the ground up is going to take a long time — especially when building a community that is safe for those with oily, acne-prone skin is such an important part of what we do. I can be impatient sometimes, wanting everyone and their mom to know about Oilee Skincare overnight, but I know at the end of the day, when you are building a visionary and innovative brand, it’s going to take a long time for people to recognize that. You just have to buckle up and be patient; everything will happen in due time. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I played the flute for seven years, from grades 6-12, and I was pretty darn good! 

I stay inspired by… Tapping into content from my favourite content creators, podcasts and business owners, including Ronne Brown, Kontent Queens, To My Sisters, The Financial Diet, MILLION DOLLAZ WORTH OF GAME, David Never Sleeps, Adella Afadi, Kennedy Johnson, Fab Socialism — trust me, the list goes on! 

The future excites me because… Every day there’s an opportunity for something amazing to happen, and the simple fact that I am blessed enough to be able to do at least one thing a day to work towards moving the needle, make someone’s day, or be inspired by others around me,  makes the future very exciting. 

My next step is… Finding a business partner and building a team to help grow Oilee Skincare. I know I cannot do it all by myself, and frankly, I don’t want to either! There’s so many more smart people out there that I know could really help Oilee Skincare become a household name and help shift the beauty industry to ensure that we always value skin health over skin perfection. If you’re reading this and that is you, feel free to connect with me!

Meet Bonnie and Melissa, co-founders of Creamery X, a vegan ice cream shop in Toronto.

Bonnie and Melissa

Bonnie and Melissa are the founders of Creamery X, a business specializing in frozen custards and vegan ice cream in Toronto. After working in corporate roles for many years, they decided to leave their jobs and embark on an entrepreneurial journey centered around their love for desserts. Though starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic proved to have its difficulties, Bonnie and Melissa have remained committed to their passion, making people happy, and giving back to local communities. 

 

My first job ever was… 

Bonnie: A group of friends and I all got jobs at the same fast food restaurant.

Melissa: I did babysitting for many years and then was a cashier at a grocery store. Typical teenage job stuff!

We founded Creamery X because… We were looking for a change from the corporate world, and we both had always wanted to own a small dessert type of business. With COVID, we had lots of time to explore ideas and test recipes! With Bonnie’s love of ice cream and Melissa’s passion for baking, this was a natural fit.

We’re passionate about the work we do because… We get to make people happy every day, and we love to see their faces when they try something they’ve never had before. We also love meeting and working with other small, local businesses. Through our Charity Flavour (a different monthly flavour with a portion of proceeds going to local charities or nonprofits), we are able to give back to causes that are important to us.

We decided to create our designated “Charity Flavour,” a different monthly flavour with proceeds going to charity because… It is important to us to work with small, local charities and nonprofits making a real difference in our communities. We have the privilege of sharing these organizations with our customers, highlighting the work they do, and raising awareness. We work with and contribute to a range of organizations: dog rescues, LGBTQ+ nonprofits, eating disorder treatment centers, and more. 

Our proudest accomplishment is… For both of us, it would be building our business from scratch. We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.

Our biggest setback was… We’ve had lots of setbacks! Ice cream machines have broken down, we’ve had flavour disasters (comes with the territory), and we’ve been declined for funding by major banks due to the seasonal nature of an ice cream shop. 

We overcame it by… Persevering even when it seemed impossible. We kept churning ice cream even when it meant staying up all night or sleeping in shifts to get it all done (true story). We believed in our unique product and vision of creating a community hub. 

“We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.”

“We had no funding or industry contacts, and were unknown in the culinary world. Through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears), we remained committed to our vision. We knew if we just stuck with it we could make our dream a success.”

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…  

Bonnie: Believe in yourself and your vision no matter what. No matter how many no’s or disasters, pick yourself back up and keep moving! 

Melissa: Figure out what sets you apart and lean into it. Embrace what makes you unique or weird and share it with the world.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… 

Bonnie: Slow down and take breaks. When I get going, I can’t stop until the task is done. Melissa always calls me a whirlwind.

Melissa: Don’t overthink it! We come up with perfect flavours and I can’t help but think of just one extra thing to add over and over. It’s a blessing and a curse.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… We both feel that having each other has made a huge difference. Being able to create something so exciting and fulfilling with your partner has been amazing. We both bring different skill sets that work together really well. 

Having a background in business has also served us well — it has given us skills in contract negotiation, customer service, marketing, and finance.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… 

Bonnie: I’m a sucker for a self-help book. I love learning about human behaviour and how to interact with different types of people.

Melissa: I have always been a visual artist. Now I get to express my creativity through flavour creation and cake decorating.

We stay inspired by… We get inspiration from so many places and people. The wonderful folks from the charities we work with inspire us to continue to build our platform and stay appreciative of what we have.

The future excites us because… We have so many plans for the future! We are growing and building something we believe in. We are learning all the time and meeting incredible people. We can’t wait to see what’s in store next for Creamery X!

How Michele Romanow is equalizing access to funding with Clearco — a global leader in the venture capital industry.

By Karen van Kampen

 

For 15 years, Michele Romanow has disrupted industries with her innovative business ideas. At 28, the serial entrepreneur became the youngest Dragon on Dragons’ Den. By 35, she had been named to Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list, and had six business launches under her belt. Her latest venture, Clearco (formerly Clearbanc), has been shaking up the venture capital industry with its revenue sharing model since 2015. The tech unicorn is the world’s largest e-commerce investor, with a valuation over $2.5 billion. 

“If you want to change something in this world, the best way of doing that is becoming an entrepreneur,” says Michele.

As Co-founder and CEO of Clearco, Michele was the 2021 winner of the Innovation Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours a forward-thinking entrepreneur who has demonstrated outstanding leadership within her company and industry while setting standards for originality, quality, and successful management.  

Michele has been leading change since launching her first venture in 2006 as an engineering student at Queen’s University. Curious about sustainability in business, she decided to take a high margin product like coffee and see if she could remove all of the waste. Michele used giant composters with red wiggler worms — that eat 10 times their body mass every day — and sold the soil from the coffee grounds to local farmers. Everything was biodegradable or compostable. The Tea Room was North America’s first zero-consumer-waste café. 

“Running a small business and running a big business are really not that much different.”

It was an amazing learning experience — from building the café, to hiring, managing, and motivating 80 student employees, and responding quickly to crises. “Running a small business and running a big business are really not that much different,” says Michele. 

In spring 2008, Michele had just graduated from her MBA when she discovered the worldwide supply of caviar was down by 95%. With approximately $100,000 in winnings from business plan competitions, Michele and her business partners, Anatoliy Melnichuk and Ryan Marien, launched Evandale Caviar. They drove to Canada’s East Coast and built a fishery from scratch, “which is everything it sounds like,” says Michele. “Boats, Fisherman. My hands knee-deep in fish.” 

Then in the fall of 2008, the recession hit. “I’m 21 years old and I’m selling the world’s most unnecessary luxury product,” she says. Michele took a job for a year as director of strategy for a large retailer. Then in 2011, Michele co-founded the e-commerce platform Buytopia.ca. Two years later, she co-founded Snapsaves, an app that she sold to Groupon in 2014. It was her first big break as an entrepreneur. 

In 2015, Michele became the youngest judge on Dragons’ Den, bringing a unique perspective on potential investments. “I am the closest to the picture, because I am still starting and building businesses,” she says.  

Michele began to question why founders were using equity, the most expensive capital, to fund ads and inventory, which had a fixed return. It sparked an idea: Instead of taking 10% of the company, she suggested 10% of revenue until her capital was paid back, plus 6%. “We invented the category of revenue sharing,” says Michele, which disrupted the venture capital industry. 

This became the first Clearco deal. Today, Clearco has invested $3.2 billion in more than 7,000 different founders in 10 countries around the world. 

Michele understands how difficult it is for founders to secure capital. For the first 10 years, she says no one would fund her. With the Clearco 20-minute Term Sheet, no personal guarantee is required — the numbers speak for themselves. Rather than going through the lengthy fundraising process, founders are provided a term sheet within minutes that sets out the amount and terms of capital. 

“The narrative has always been women don’t build enough companies or their companies are not successful. What we’re showing is if more than half our portfolio is women, they are out there and they are building great businesses.”

The process eliminates bias in the venture capital decision-making process. “We are just using data to make our decisions. We don’t hear your pitch. We don’t know what gender you are,” says Michele. “As a result, our portfolio looks so much different than the conventional VC portfolio.” 

A third of Clearco founders are BIPOC, and a large percentage of its founders do not have a post-secondary education. “We really believe that if you have data and a great business, then you should have democratized access to capital,” says Michele. 

Clearco backs 25 times more women than the VC industry average. “The narrative has always been women don’t build enough companies or their companies are not successful,” says Michele. “What we’re showing is if more than half our portfolio is women, they are out there and they are building great businesses.” In 2017, Michele co-founded the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative — with Sir Richard Branson as the entrepreneur-in-residence — which encourages and supports women entrepreneurs.  

In addition to founder-friendly capital, Clearco provides business-building tools and resources to help companies grow. This includes ClearX, that introduces founders to potential buyers. Clearco has sold 12 of their founders’ companies within their portfolio.

Michele’s passion for entrepreneurship is also passed on to Clearco employees — approximately 20 companies have been launched by former staffers. “We call our onboarding school Founder School,” says Michele. “We believe that when you come to Clearco, you should learn everything it takes to be a founder. Our mission is to help founders win.” 

Michele’s best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Start now. It’s never going to feel like you’re perfectly ready,” she says, comparing launching a business to jumping into a swimming pool. “You know you’re going to jump in that water, and it’s going to be cold. And you have to jump. You have to be cold, because as soon as you start swimming, you figure out how to do it.”

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

Elbia Castillo

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Reynolds

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Isidean

By Hailey Eisen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Assel Beglinova, Co-Founder and CEO of tech start-up, Paperstack

Assel

Assel Beglinova is the co-founder and CEO of Paperstack, a platform that provides working capital for e-commerce sellers. At 18, she moved to Canada from Kazakhstan as an international student without any connections. She went to school to study accounting, and pursued a career in the banking industry. When Assel got laid off during the pandemic, instead of looking for another job, she decided to take everything she learned and launch a company. She met her co-founder, Vadim Lidich, at Tea Club Toronto — a community Assel founded to help other founders with startup challenges. In the first year, the pair closed a pre-seed round of funding, and in the span of a few months, they were accepted into three prestigious tech programs: Google for Startups, Communitech’s Fierce Founders, and Techstars.

 

My first job ever was… as a volunteer at a student association. I remember it being so hard to get my first job because I didn’t have any experience and I just arrived in Canada — plus, my English wasn’t great at that time. My responsibilities were simple, like promoting upcoming events and handing out flyers, but it was so much fun, and it pushed me to speak English with so many strangers! I am so grateful that I had this opportunity.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to build an amazing product that will empower millions of people around the world. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! I knew the stats and data were against me — less than 3% of VC funds go to women, plus I am an immigrant. I knew from the beginning that the journey will not be easy and there will always be wins and losses, but I have such a supportive community that has my back. I am so grateful for such tremendous support!

I founded Paperstack because… I love helping e-commerce founders succeed! I felt like they deserve better and more flexible solutions. It is so humbling and thrilling to receive messages from our customers who tell us how we are helping them meet and exceed their goals — that is success to me.  

I’m passionate about the tech industry because… It unlocks so many opportunities and options for many people from many different backgrounds. I think it’s amazing how you can build a solution in North America and somebody in a different part of the world will integrate it into their day-to-day operations. Tech also allows us to discover talented individuals around the world and build something powerful with them.

My proudest accomplishment is… being able to take steps to make my dream a reality: Moving from Kazakhstan to Canada, and changing my career from banking to a tech entrepreneur without a computer science background. It wasn’t easy; living thousands of miles away from family is very hard! Of course, I miss friends and family, but I’m so grateful for tools like Whatsapp that bring me closer to those most important to me.  

I was laid off exactly one year before we closed our pre-seed round of funding. That experience taught me that life can be a roller coaster — hang tight and enjoy the ride!

My biggest setback was… I didn’t have any connections in Canada when I started. I had to build my network from scratch! It was a lot of cold calling and outreach — I’m so grateful to networks like Women of Influence and so many more who bring together dreamers and doers!

I overcame it by… reaching out to people every day. I remember setting the goal of 10 calls per day. I remember printing my resume and going to 10 places with it every day in Toronto, or sitting in the library and applying to 10 jobs every day. After many attempts, one person said ‘yes,’ which led to our first customer and the first investor!

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… learn how to not let one ‘no’ affect the rest of your day. Another thing I think is important is to filter the advice you follow by considering whether or not the person has done it themselves. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… not letting every ‘no’ get to me — I’m not a robot! There are, of course, people I really want to work with; when I don’t get that ‘yes’ it can be disappointing, but I’m pretty resilient. 

The thing I love most about what I do is… connecting with people everyday: Our amazing team at Paperstack, our valuable customers, our supportive investors, our advisors, and our champions in the ecosystem.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the ability to move forward no matter what, even if 10 people told me not to do it.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was laid off exactly one year before we closed our pre-seed round of funding. That experience taught me that life can be a roller coaster — hang tight and enjoy the ride!

I stay inspired by… listening to podcasts and meeting with strong people who were able to overcome obstacles in their lives.

The future excites me because… I can create it by doing something today.

My next step is… being relentlessly focused on how I can continue to bring even more value to my customers every day. This is what I think about when I wake up and until I go to bed!

Meet Nadia Ladak, founder of FemTech start-up, Marlow.

Nadia Ladak

Nadia Ladak is the founder of Marlow, a FemTech start-up that has developed the first-ever tampon and lubricant designed to be used together for a smoother, less painful insertion experience. She is passionate about empowering a generation of menstruators to prioritize their menstrual and sexual health by sparking conversations around these topics that are often awkward — although they shouldn’t be. Before launching Marlow, Nadia worked as a management consultant at KPMG, where she worked across a number of retail clients in go-to-market strategy, customer experience, and e-commerce projects. Nadia is also committed to giving back to her community through her role as a catalyst board member at Holland Bloorview Children’s Hospital, and as a mentor for the Junior Achievement Company Program where she provides weekly coaching to high school students as they operate their own small businesses.

 

My first job ever was… working as a receptionist at a yoga studio.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… of the impact you can make. Entrepreneurs are working on the world’s to-do list by solving pressing challenges we are all facing. It is so inspiring to connect with these individuals and to see the passion and determination they have to change the world for the better. 

I founded Marlow because… I want to empower menstruators to live life on their own terms, not by what is dictated by the time of the month. Inserting tampons can be an uncomfortable process for those who are new to using them, who have pelvic floor conditions like vaginismus, who experience vaginal dryness, or for those who have a lighter flow, especially at the beginning and end of their cycle. Our lubricated product creates a smoother insertion process to allow menstruators to continue to live an active lifestyle while on their period. Through education and innovative products, we can help people get off of auto-pilot and take their menstrual health into their own hands. 

I’m passionate about the menstrual care market because…I believe it is an important part of our overall health. In the last decade, we’ve seen a surge of companies excel at physical wellness and mental wellness, and now it’s time to look forward towards menstrual and sexual wellness. In order to have holistic wellness, we need to prioritize all aspects of our health. 

My proudest accomplishment is… hearing the stories from our community about how our products & education have empowered them in their lives. Our mission is to change “The Talk” about menstrual and sexual health for the next generation from uncomfortable to refreshing — it’s incredible to read the comments and DM’s from our community, sharing that they turn to Marlow to learn more about their bodies. We can actively change the narrative around these topics, one conversation at a time. 

My biggest setback was… navigating the Health Canada process during the pandemic when they were quite busy managing COVID vaccines and approval. 

I overcame it by… partnering with a research lab and regulatory consultant who helped us build our strategy and path forward. Often it is nerve wracking asking for help, but it’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and to partner with experts who can help drive your business forward quickly, because as a start-up, speed is your biggest advantage. 

“Action cures fear, so at the beginning of each day, pick three realistic priorities that you can accomplish to drive your mission forward.” 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… find a low cost way to test your idea before jumping all in. Start by sharing your idea with your friends and family to get initial feedback. Then, you can do a customer survey to understand the problem space before building some initial prototypes. Entrepreneurship is all about continuous learning and iteration, so be open to building, learning, measuring, and adjusting accordingly.

The thing I love most about what I do is… having the opportunity to create change in a space that impacts 50% of the population at some point in time. Every day, I wake up energized and excited to empower menstruators with the products and education they deserve. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the support of the people around me. Whether it be my family, co-founders, advisors, or investors, I have been so lucky to receive support and mentorship as I embark on my entrepreneurship journey. They put up with the late night rants, they celebrate my wins, and they’ve taken the time to learn way more about tampons than they could have probably ever imagined! 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I started my university career in music. Growing up, music was always a huge part of my life. I was in choirs, participated in musical theatre, and played guitar and piano. I went on to study music in my first two years of university before pursuing the Ivey Business School program at Western University. Entrepreneurship has been the perfect career path for me, because it allows me to combine the passion and creativity I learned in music school with the analytical & financial management skills I learned in business school. 

I stay inspired by… taking things one step at a time. There’s a million things you could be doing, but it’s about finding ways to make the minimum viable progress everyday. Action cures fear, so at the beginning of each day, pick three realistic priorities that you can accomplish to drive your mission forward. 

The future excites me because… of the rise in mindful menstruation and the overall boom in FemTech. Pinterest released their 2021-2022 trends report that shows that terms like ‘period care’ are up 3x in search volume. Gen Z and millennials are increasingly looking to prioritize their menstrual health — we want Marlow to be at the forefront of this movement.

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.

Why our working hours should match our kids’ school schedules.

mom working with child

By Ellen Joan Nelson

As a working mother, have you ever fallen into a heap on the floor, in tears, because the ‘wheels have fallen off’? You have miraculously organised to fit everything in, but then the unexpected occurs and your perfect plans become unraveled; a child becomes sick, a plumbing emergency happens at your house, or your boss needs you to stay late. Have you ever thought to yourself that being a working mum is extraordinarily tough? 

As a manager, are you struggling to attract and retain the best talent? We are in the middle of the Great Resignation, and getting good staff is tough. Have you noticed that your staff are super stressed, especially those who have children? And further, do you have a good handle on how that stress is negatively impacting their performance? 

What if there was a way to improve the experiences for working mothers at the same time as improving organisational metrics? 

Following speaking engagements discussing my PhD research, which focused on the authentic leadership experiences and social well-being of women in the workplace (with the case study examining women in the New Zealand Army, and the research being listened to, and acted on, by the NZ Army), I conducted — unintentionally — further research focusing on the experiences of working parents, primarily mothers. During 2020, 82 corporate sector working mums reached out to share their experiences with me. When I kept hearing the same story over and over, I couldn’t help myself from applying my ‘research hat’ and note the findings. 

I now share this information with pretty much anyone who will listen to me, and I now have supporting data from more than 500 (and growing) further working parents (mostly mums, and some dads), across NZ, Australia, UK, US, Singapore, and Canada. 

The stories from these parents fall into two broad categories, with a relatively even split between the two. Parents either: 

  1. Return to work full-time and resent the fact that they barely see their children during waking hours in the week, as well as the associated financial cost of childcare. 
  2. Or they negotiate some kind of part-time arrangement, working less hours to spend more time with their children. They might become a 0.8 or 0.6 FTE (full time equivalent), for example, which comes with a corresponding reduction in their pay. 

What happens in practice for (b) though, is that their workload or outputs are not reduced, so these parents often work on their day(s) off, or in the evening — or, most prominently, they become far more efficient at their job, completing their work in fewer hours. In fact, when their manager agrees to ‘allow’ them to work less hours, the response inevitably goes something like this: “Yes, sure, happy to support your desire to spend more time with your kids, just as long as you still get all of your work done.” The parent responds with, “yes, yes, of course — thank you so much.” 

The parents who proceed with this second option all speak about how lucky they feel, and express gratitude for being able to work in an organisation that allows a reduced-hours contract. After hearing this story over and over, my rage set in. There is nothing lucky about getting a pay cut to do the same job — it is an absolute con! 

I knew there had to be a better way, so I did some more research about the construct of work, and realised that it is hugely archaic. The concept of ‘9 to 5’ is just made up. That’s right — it was literally dreamed up 200-ish years ago, around the time of the industrial revolution, and was cemented 100 years ago, in line with Henry Ford’s car manufacturing era. 

“The ‘9 to 5’ construct is based on the assumption that workers do not need to tend to children. The father goes to work, and the mother takes care of the children. However, the demographics of our workforce today are vastly different.”

At that time, women were barely in the workforce and men were barely in the home force. The ‘9 to 5’ construct is based on the assumption that workers do not need to tend to children. The father goes to work, and the mother takes care of the children. However, the demographics of our workforce today are vastly different. Most parents work. Most households do not have a parent dedicated exclusively to childrearing. Workers are responsible for looking after children, as well as their paid role. 

The heart of the issue became glaringly obvious to me. The societal mismatch between work being ‘9 to 5’ and school being less than that is absolutely bonkers. Why on earth would we operate in a modern society where the schedule of the adults is different to the schedule of the children? This means that every single working parent — and around 80% of people do become parents — have to stress about “what the heck do I do with the kids after school, and what the heck do I do with the kids during school holidays?” 

Working parents are experiencing significant and enduring stress, every single day, spanning over approximately two decades of their working life, because of this misalignment, and because they are missing their kids. Young people who are not yet parents are already stressing about this potential future conundrum. This is a huge concern for our society. 

Introducing #workschoolhours. 

Why not try and align the two schedules, by reducing the workday for all staff (without reducing salaries), and making more accommodations over the school holiday periods? 

Now, this is where things get really exciting. This is not just a ‘pie in the sky’ idea, aimed at making things better for staff (parents and non-parents), as well as wider society — which it would do. There is actually a business case to do it. 

The business case for change.

There is plenty of research to support that outputs can be achieved in less than 40 hours. For example, the 4-day-work-week movement is already demonstrating this increase in productivity. The most productive members in the workforce are often part-time workers, as they are already completing their workload in less time. 

Further, if the stress regarding the misalignment of work and school could be taken away from working parents, just imagine how much happier they would be at work, how much more innovative and creative they would be, how much better their focus and concentration would be? We know that staff well-being is important, not just because we care about our staff (which we should), but because it also impacts organisational performance. Happier staff generate more profits. 

Given the current pandemic, flexible working is now mainstream. Many staff now expect this to be a basic condition of their employment. Imagine the competitive advantage you could achieve, by being able to attract and retain the most talented staff, if your organisation operated within school hours? This doesn’t just apply for current working parents, but you would also be able to attract the best people, regardless of their parental status. 

Did you know there are already organisations doing this? There are, and they are raving about the positive impact it is having on their organisation. My latest research project is now collating data about these case study examples, to determine the most effective ways to implement and operate within this new #workschoolhours paradigm (if your organisation is already doing this, I’d love you to participate in this research project).

How to get started.

I now help organisations to understand how they could implement #workschoolhours. It doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ approach. 

Talk with your staff 
  • Find out if they are actually interested in working this schedule. 
  • Ask for their input regarding how this could work in your organisation. 
  • You might be surprised by the creative ways staff can increase productivity, to do the same in less hours, when they are sufficiently motivated! 
Phasing 
  • I don’t, necessarily, recommend switching to #workschoolhours schedule overnight. 
  • Try finishing in time for school collections 1 or 2 days per week. 
  • See how that goes, test, adjust, progress. 
Measuring outputs 
  • Get clear about the outputs you want your staff to achieve. 
  • It’s important to be able to measure these 
  • Instead of focusing so much on paying for staff inputs, (hours), we want to pay for their outputs. 
Scheduling 
  • Work out, as a team, when you genuinely need to be connected with each other. 
  • Determine the requirements for team meetings and co-working periods, and only set them within the school schedule. 
  • Stop setting 4pm team meetings! 

I am convinced that transitioning the work schedule to align with the school schedule is not a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’. Get on this bus, and experience the significant benefits to staff, organisations, and society as a whole.

Ellen Joan Nelson

Ellen Joan Nelson

Dr Ellen Joan Nelson is an ex-army academic business mum, with deep expertise and experience in leadership, well-being and the future of work. Her research focuses on the experiences of women in the workforce. Convinced the working world can, and must, be better, Ellen started the #workschoolhours movement. Ellen helps organisations, including the NZ Army, to remove structural barriers facing women and parents, while simultaneously improving organisational metrics such as: wellbeing, retention, leadership, productivity, innovation and business performance. ellenjoannelson.com

Five tips to position yourself for a board seat — from the chairperson of two boards.

Kristi Honey

By Kristi Honey

As chairperson of two boards, I’m often asked: “How do I get started in governance?”

When I get questions from ambitious women about how to position their profile and professional brand, and see more success in their professional lives, “giving” is often my answer. It pays dividends to give back to the community and those around you, and provides a way to build your professional circle and brand. I suggest people examine their own communities for opportunities first. In today’s virtual age, there are still numerous ways to contribute, while also building your own portfolio.

I had to learn this myself too.

In my 20’s, when I had my own tech startup businesses, I quickly learned the more I gave without expectation, the more meaningful connections, and opportunities I received. When I attended events and met people, I spent time listening and getting to know them, versus waiting for a pause to get in my own elevator speech. By taking an altruist mindset — genuinely concerning myself with the happiness and welfare of others — I noticed that others genuinely wanted to partner on opportunities, work together, and support one another in purposeful ways in return.

By establishing long-term and sincere relationships, I was able to be introduced to new people and grow my network. This led to opportunities to get involved with local groups, such as Girls Inc. of Durham, the Optimist Club of Brooklin, and Whitby Chamber members. By volunteering my time and expertise locally, I developed a reputation for myself. I became known for my bright, positive, and giving nature.

After my first meeting, I shared with a friend, “I want to be the Chair of the Board one day.” She laughed and said, “You’re not an old white man.” It was all she had ever seen.

Through my experience of being recognized and awarded the Durham College Alumni of Distinction award in 2008, I knew that I wanted to be on their board of governors. This would allow me to give back to a local institution that has a tremendous impact on the community and economy where I both live and work.

I applied for the Durham College Board of Governors in 2009 and was invited to an interview. As a busy wife, mother, and entrepreneur, I hadn’t spent the necessary time learning good board governance or understanding governance models, and naturally when these questions were asked, I wasn’t able to answer them fully. That was a learning experience for me — I knew I needed to sharpen my skills in this area, and gain board experience.

Over the next several years, I stayed in touch with the President of Durham College who I had met in 2008. I sent hand-written annual holiday cards and connected when we attended the same events — whether virtually or in person. In 2014, I applied again, and this time I attended the interview fully prepared. I had also pre-established relationships with others on the board and had gained the necessary experience and governance expertise.

By 2015, I was appointed to the board. After my first meeting, I shared with a friend, “I want to be the Chair of the Board one day.” She laughed and said, “You’re not an old white man.” It was all she had ever seen. Four years later, I was nominated and then elected by my fellow peer governors as Vice-Chair and in 2021, I became the Chair of the Board.

Last Fall I was appointed as the Chairperson of the Board for the College Employer Council, the governing body that oversees collective bargaining for the 24 colleges in Ontario, which includes all Ontario College Board Chairs and Presidents. Chairing a board of more than 50 people virtually is a new challenge, and I am taking the same principles of finding ways to connect with and support others, while listening and learning.

Here are my top five tips to help you position yourself to get a seat around today’s boardroom table:

1. Build your profile, establish your brand, keep focus.

  • Mindfully and purposefully identify your passion. In today’s world, time is our most valuable commodity — especially while balancing home and career responsibilities. We can’t be passionate about everything. Focus on what lights you up and has meaning to you.
  • Ensure your online and in-person persona align. When you post on social media or are asked to participate in speaking engagements, be purposeful and ensure it relates back to your passion, the industry you are targeting, or your key priorities/messages.  If you aren’t asked to speak, volunteer! Step out of your comfort zone and ask to be on panels within your community or workplace.

2. Grow your network by supporting others.

  • Find ways to help and support others (ask if you need to). Helping others is one of the best ways to establish connections, meet new people, and create a good, reliable reputation for yourself. 
  • Be intentional by introducing yourself to others and attend virtual or in-person events where there are key attendees you want to meet. In virtual spaces, just as in real life, you don’t need to dominate chat rooms — instead have a meaningful presence, listen actively, and support others (think quality over quantity).
  • Identify key contacts by learning who the influencers are on the board(s) you are targeting. If you are able, find out what they are passionate about and use this knowledge when you meet them to engage in conversations of interest to them. If you are able, find and share common interests.

3. Get involved in your community.

  • Volunteer your time and expertise, particularly to organizations that align to your passion, and where key influencers will be in attendance.
  • Attend local virtual and in-person events and be visible in your own authentic way. You don’t have to be the person that “works the room” to be visible. Meet the people at your table, in break-out virtual rooms, and establish one or two meaningful connections. Find out what others are passionate about and seek ways to help or support them first without any expectation in return.
  • Stay connected by mailing personal thank you or holiday cards when you’ve worked with someone in the community, or you’ve received assistance or support from others. If you hear of another’s accomplishments, send a hand-written congratulations card to recognize them.  I mail 2-3 hand-written cards weekly to staff, colleagues, community members and sometimes to people I’ve never met who impress me. Pro-tip: keep a list of who and when you send cards and card’s sentiment to ensure you aren’t sending multiple cards to the same person (whoops, I’ve done it!).

4. Invest in your own learning.

  • Take courses or self-study good governance, learn the different governance models (for example, working, traditional, hybrid, policy (Carver)), and be ready to answer questions on good governance during board interviews. 
  • Attend public board meetings and/or read the previous agendas and meeting minutes, particularly if there is a board you’d like to learn more about or apply to.
  • Always read the organization’s strategic plan and priorities, annual report, and most recent news articles.
  • Engage a recruiter and join a forum or community, such as Women of Influence, Women Get on Board, Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), or Next Gen Board Leaders.

5. Be a mentor.

  • Be a mentor to support and lift others. Offer growth opportunities for those you mentor, introduce them to your contacts, and grow their network.
  • Recognize exceptional contributions, celebrate the wins of others, and nominate people for awards — without asking or expecting anything in return. 
  • By supporting others, your network will also grow, and you will continue to learn (and because it just feels so good to do!).

Recognize it takes time. Be strategic and patient. Don’t give up. Getting on a board is a journey and through giving and purposeful interactions, you will position yourself for success.

 

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey is the Chief Administrator for the Township of Uxbridge and Chairperson of both the Durham College Board of Governors and College Employers Council Board. She has led several startup businesses to their successes and is a champion for education, the environment, and the economic empowerment of women and human rights.

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.”