Meet AriAnne Sproat, a woman who worked her way up from receptionist to COO in the manufacturing industry


At age 37, AriAnne Sproat proudly wears the label of trailblazer for women in business and, in particular, the manufacturing industry. As COO of ITC Manufacturing in Phoenix, one of the world’s leading supplier of steel products, she has spent the last 18 years as a role model, demonstrating to the company founders and all employees that there is no task she can’t handle – and handle successfully. At just 19, she started her career as a receptionist. After 18 years and a college degree earned in night school, she is now COO. 



My first job ever was… As a waitress. I only dropped one tray.


I decided to enter my industry because… It was a fluke. I was hired as a receptionist and fell in love with the company. I guess you could say the industry chose me!


Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is… Challenging at times but overall very comfortable for me. I grew up with three brothers so I have never been afraid to speak my mind.


My proudest accomplishment is… My son. Being promoted to COO of my company is second.


My boldest move to date was… Continuing to work while pregnant and on bed rest for 4 months, 1 month of it from the hospital.


I surprise people when I tell them… That I work in the steel industry.


My best advice to people starting their career is… Do the work that others won’t. Jumping in and helping out even if it isn’t “your” job is how you learn other aspects of an organization.


My best advice from a mentor was… The true measure of a leader is the people they inspire.


My biggest setback was… When my organization had to make the strategic decision to file bankruptcy.


I overcame it by… Staying positive and looking at it as a learning experience.


Work/life balance is… Hard, especially for moms. I deal with a lot of “mom guilt” but I know I am best as a parent when I feel happy and fulfilled and my career does that for me.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I have a twin brother.


I stay inspired by… Other women. I am proud to share what I have learned with other women and help build up other women.


The future excites me because… I see how bright it is.


My next step is… Continue to learn and grow within my role and help others within the organization learn and grow as well.



The confidence gap — Three tools to level the playing field

As an advocate for young, career-seeking women, Lora Sprigings, Career Coach at Smith School of Business, founded the WIL Do initiative. This is a unique opportunity for young women at Smith to candidly discuss leadership and empowerment in a small group setting while creating space for females to build confidence by supporting and encouraging one another.

By Lora Sprigings

Today, women make up almost half of the workforce in Canada; yet men are twice as likely to hold senior management positions, according to a Conference Board of Canada report. One cause for this disparity is the level of confidence displayed by women versus men. At work, women are less likely to share their opinions and speak out than men. Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that confidence matters more than competence to workplace success, and it is this “confidence gap” that holds women back. Here are three strategies to bridge the gap.


Just do it

In a corporate environment, where performance is often judged by how well we achieve business objectives, women’s self-imposed barriers can limit career successes.

“Fake it ’til you make it” — the advice commonly cited as the panacea to overcome our lack of confidence — rarely results in a lasting transformation and can be viewed as disingenuous. A lack of confidence can cause us to play it safe and avoid taking chances. Yet the path to greater confidence requires a depth of resiliency that’s best found through failure and risk taking. Ironically, the antidote to our inaction is often simply to act, or “Just do it” as the Nike slogan says.

The more often we sidestep our fear and take on initiatives outside our comfort zone, the greater our reservoir of courage becomes. Ultimately, it is genuine accomplishment and hard work that fuel confidence.


It is not always about you

One of the key challenges facing women is a tendency to overvalue likeability in the workplace. This behaviour often starts in elementary school. Several studies have found that while girls are praised by teachers for good behaviour and staying quiet, boys are rewarded for effort and speaking out. Consequently, boys develop a deep-seated resiliency or growth mindset in which criticism seems to have little to no impact on their self-confidence.

Women’s fear of criticism is further compounded by the fact that women who exert confidence are often labelled as bossy, aggressive or intimidating; as found in the 2016 Women in the Workplace study. These comments are typically not associated with men. Women are also blamed more often for failures, penalized for self-promotion and judged more critically for perceived flaws in their professional demeanour or physical appearance.

So how do women counteract this tendency to fear and internalize critical feedback? Remember, it’s not always about you. Consider the source of the criticism, understand the potential motivation and, through honest self-reflection, decide if there is an element of truth to the criticism. You can then accept the feedback and course correct, or not. Criticism is never a reflection of self-worth. It is best seen as either a gift that opens the door to greater self-awareness or a window into another person’s character.


Find your voice

Women are often encouraged to find a mentor to guide and support them. But with the limited number of women at senior levels, this can prove challenging. A practice that is gaining momentum is peer mentorship, where like-minded women meet to discuss challenges, and offer advice and encouragement to one another on how best to navigate difficult terrain. Women benefit from diverse perspectives as well as the sense of empowerment that comes from knowing their struggle is also the struggle of others.

Together women can affect real change: gain the confidence to participate in class, request a promotion, or as the women on President Obama’s senior advisory team did, proactively echo and credit one another’s ideas when they are not acknowledged.

It is when we work together to empower one another and stand strong in our own self-worth that we will realize our true potential and build the confidence to become fearless in our pursuits.


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Learning about leadership in the great outdoors

When Gillian Riley, an EVP at Scotiabank, joined a 10-day hiking and rafting adventure organized by True Patriot Love, a charitable foundation supporting Canadian military families, she knew she would have the opportunity to mentor ill and injured veterans trying to build meaningful careers in the civilian world. She quickly realized that the mentorship went both ways.



By Shelley White





Following in the footsteps of famed Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie this summer was a “life-changing” experience for Gillian Riley.

She recalls the moment when her expedition team reached the rock where Mackenzie inscribed his name in 1793, becoming the first European to cross Canada from coast to coast. Exhausted from 10 days of hiking through B.C.’s Coast Mountains, white-water rafting and canoeing on the rough waters of the Bella Coola River, her team stood and sang “O Canada” together. Gillian says it was an emotional moment for all involved.

“Everyone cried,” says Gillian, Executive Vice President of Commercial Banking at Scotiabank. “It was so moving; I can’t even tell you. We’d been working together for 10 days and when we got there, it was that magical feeling of, ‘We did this – and no one has done this since he did it.’ Knowing that we got there as a team, it was very, very powerful.”


“It was that magical feeling of, ‘We did this – and no one has done this since he did it.’ Knowing that we got there as a team, it was very, very powerful.”


Gillian’s expedition was one of three challenging adventures sponsored by Scotiabank this summer in partnership with True Patriot Love, a charitable foundation that supports the mental, physical and social well-being of the 700,000 military families who live across Canada. Each expedition brought together influential Canadian business leaders with ill or injured armed forces veterans, providing mentorship opportunities for the soldiers and shining a light on the challenges veterans face when transitioning from military to civilian life.

Gillian notes that the only knowledge most people have about the combat experiences of military personnel is from books and movies.

“It seems far away and foreign. But when you talk to the military, you get an understanding of what they do to protect and serve our country and the passion with which they do that,” she says. “Many of them are third and fourth generation in the military and they feel such a duty to protect this country.”

The veterans on the expedition team were open about their experiences in combat and some of the challenges they have faced transitioning to civilian life. Gillian says that hiking up mountains allowed plenty of time for one-on-one conversations with her military teammates, as well as group discussions at day’s end.

“We spent a lot of time talking. They would share their stories with the group, with people asking questions and working through issues with them,” she says.

There was also plenty of fun on the trip, says Gillian, much of it involving card games like euchre. “I got an email from one of the military fellows this week and he said the best part of the trip for him was the card games,” she says. “Also, the laughter, the humor; I haven’t laughed that much in 10 years.”

Gillian says she went into the project knowing she would have the opportunity to mentor ill and injured veterans who are trying to build meaningful careers in the civilian world. But she quickly realized that the opportunity went two ways. In her role at Scotiabank, Gillian is an experienced leader, responsible for the strategic positioning and growth of the commercial banking division and leads a large sales force. But her time with the veterans reinforced that there is still more to learn.

“The things I learned from a leadership standpoint and a personal standpoint were enormous,” she says.

One of the most important things she learned is “followership,” an essential skill in the military.

“I had a specific mentee in the program, but I think he became more like a mentor for me,” says Gillian. “One of the things he taught me early on was, ‘A good leader is a good follower.’ It’s about listening a lot, asking open-ended questions before jumping into the answers. I’ve really been practicing that, just this week even. Learning when to sort of back off, to listen and hear and not jump in to try to solve something. That’s one of the big takeaways I’ve taken back and I’ve already shared with my teams.”


“‘A good leader is a good follower.’ It’s about listening a lot, asking open-ended questions before jumping into the answers.”


Having made those connections with her expedition team, Gillian says the bonds remain in place. She has been in communication by phone and email with several of her new friends and will continue to mentor and support them as they develop and explore post-military career paths.

It’s not just veterans that stand to gain when they transition to civilian jobs, notes Gillian. Canadian companies can benefit greatly from hiring veterans, and it is a practice in which Scotiabank is already involved. The way they are trained and the skills they develop in the military could be a boon to any organization.

“When you’re going into battle, you need to be well-trained, you need to be good under pressure; you need to be very disciplined,” she says. “There is so much opportunity to hire from the armed forces and I don’t think companies always understand that. I think the more we can help companies figure out how they can bring the military in their organizations, the better.”


Meet Marcia Woods, an entrepreneur bringing fresh produce to the masses

Despite the increased demand for farmers’ and micro-produced crops, logistical challenges have prevented farmers from entering the commercial market, forcing buyers to pay high prices for imported items. Marcia Woods is addressing that problem as Founder and CEO of FreshSpoke, a innovative new platform that is disrupting the traditional food distribution process by connecting producers and wholesale buyers using tools that streamline the process. It’s a timely solution that, having launched in late 2016, has already grown to 125 food producers, selling over 700 locally produced products. But Marcia’s career hasn’t always been defined by success. Learn her story. 





My first job ever was… Picking cucumbers as a young teenager. I was so excited about the job and had big ideas about all the money was going to make. It turns out I was the slowest cucumber picker ever and since you got paid by weight, my wages were dismal. Needless to say, I didn’t last long but did develop a deep appreciation for the stamina of farmers.


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… When the Internet was burgeoning in the mid 90’s, I was completely blown away – it was going to change everything and I wanted in. So, I gave up my day job and started a web design company. Becoming an entrepreneur was not a deliberate career path for me. Starting in my 20’s I always had a gig or two on the side of my day job so the idea of running a business wasn’t a foreign concept.


My proudest accomplishment is… The work we are doing right now at FreshSpoke to improve the health of our fragile food system. For too long distribution challenges have kept our local food producers out of the supply chain. We are changing all that with a marketplace platform that connects local food producers with wholesale buyers using an innovative shared delivery system that leverages the excess capacity that already exists in the distribution system.


My boldest move to date was… Making bold moves that have taken me out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. It’s hard to isolate just one.


I surprise people when I tell them… That I much prefer to be behind the scenes.


My best advice to people starting out in business is… Build stuff that matters! I teach entrepreneurship and occasionally judge pitch competitions. The idea that gets me excited isn’t the next great social network but rather disruptive products or technology that solve real problems for people or businesses, and one that your customer is willing to pay for.

Secondly, we’re all in love with our own ideas but it’s important to be coachable. Seek out potential customers, mentors and experts in your space and really listen to feedback and heed advice. It can be really tough but it saves precious time and resources in the long run.  


Pitching for venture capital is… Is serious business. You can never be too prepared.


“Seek out potential customers, mentors and experts in your space and really listen to feedback and heed advice. It can be really tough but it saves precious time and resources in the long run.”  


We can support more women entrepreneurs by… Continuing to to tell the stories of women in entrepreneurship.


My best advice from a mentor was… Brevity! Be as clear and concise in your pitch.


My biggest setback was… In 2012, the bottom completely dropped out of my life professionally and personally. My second start-up failed which set a series of unfortunate events in motion.


I overcame it by… Being resilient and resourceful by nature (and one bottle of scotch later), I moved to Barrie, Ontario and began to design my life in such a way that would afford me one more chance at launching a successful tech start-up around something that really mattered — that turned out to be local food.


Work/life balance is… Challenging when you’re in start-up mode but oh so necessary if you want to be at peak performance. We trick ourselves into thinking that working 18 hours a day is productive when in fact it has the opposite effect.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am a political junky.


I stay inspired by… Listening to the stories of our customers, and local food producers. Their passion and determination against all odds is inspiring.


The future excites me because… I hear lots of negative commentary about the generation coming of age but I don’t share that mantra. I love the way millennials think, live and work. They are driving a positive economic and cultural shift in our workplaces and marketplaces.


My next step is… Looking forward to continuing to be involved in the local food movement and sustainable farming beyond FreshSpoke.



Do you know a successful female entrepreneur who deserves recognition? Nominate her for the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!

Women’s Top Obstacle to Career Advancement

Earlier this year, we conducted a survey to get a better sense of our WOI community — who you are, what you’re interested in, and what challenges you face as professional women.

We were ecstatic to receive so much candid feedback from our intelligent, successful, and engaged community of women. Thank you to all who responded!

One of the questions we posed was: “What would you say are the top obstacles in your career advancement?”


42% of respondents said that a “lack of mentor or sponsor” is the #1 obstacle preventing them from making gains in their careers. Other top obstacles included maintaining a sense of work/life balance, and having a limited professional network.


It is not surprising to hear that what women feel they lack the most are meaningful connections with senior leaders who can not only help guide their careers with advice, but also advocate on their behalf, opening up opportunities for advancement. In a study Women of Influence conducted in partnership with American Express Canada, over 1200 women from both the corporate and entrepreneurial world were asked about mentorship and sponsorship. Only 27% of respondents had a mentor, and just 8% had a sponsor. And gender certainly has an impact; according to Harvard Business Review research, women are 54% less likely than men to have a sponsor.



What’s the solution? One tactic is simply communicating the need to potential mentors and sponsors, and creating opportunities to bridge the gap between these successful leaders and ambitious entry- and middle-level women. Initiatives such as #GoSponsorHer are aiming to do just that, using social media to encourage both male and female senior executives to identify and put their support behind high potentials in their organization.


“What women feel they lack the most are meaningful connections with senior leaders who can not only help guide their careers with advice, but also advocate on their behalf.”


If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of sponsorship, as well as how to find (or become) a sponsor, join us at our upcoming Luncheon on June 21st at Toronto’s Arcadian Court. The panel discussion will be entirely focused on the subject, with a variety of perspectives ― from research that supports the impact of sponsorship, to personal stories of creating and developing these crucial relationships.


Inviting a junior team member to an event like this one as a guest is a great way for them to meet women they otherwise wouldn’t, and demonstrate a sincere investment in their professional growth. Do you have a sponsee? Buy your tickets today.


Meet Phoebe Yong, a Risk-Taking Communications Entrepreneur with More than a Thing for Sports

With over 20 years of industry experience in B2B marketing and a degree in Communications and an MBA in Marketing, Phoebe Yong, Principal and Founder at Magnolia Marketing Communications has led marketing campaigns with some of the biggest brands in the world, including Dell, HP, and Microsoft. She’s known in the industry for her tenacity, work ethic and passion, and in her day to day life? For being one of the Dallas Cowboy’s biggest fans.



My first job ever was… When I was 17 years old and I was the cashier at Woolco (now Walmart). I always loved playing with toy cash registers when I was a kid, so at the time, that was my dream job.


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted the flexibility to create my own schedule. Having 2 and 4 year olds in the family, I wanted a schedule that could accommodate a young family lifestyle. Second, my passion is being creative. As an entrepreneur, I would have the opportunity to create stories, ideas, and campaigns and explore never ending possibilities with my creativity.


My proudest accomplishment is… My children and family life that I’ve created with my husband are my personal pride and joy.  Related to work, it would be building a business that’s successfully sustained itself in a highly competitive and crowded space. Every day I get to go to work and love what I do.


My boldest move to date was… Early in my career, I left a comfortable government position to join a high-technology company to start a new career in marketing. I gained the necessary experience in sales and marketing to get a job of a lifetime in a leading-edge company specializing in wireless data.


I surprise people when I tell them… I’m a sports fanatic. A dream day is being at a Vegas hotel and betting on sports book in the NFL.


My best advice to people starting out in business is… Develop a passion to never give up and be obsessive about creating the right customer experience. There will be hard days to go along with the good days. Also, get a really good accountant to help you plan cash flow, taxes and keeping your books up to date. I learned the hard way and paid the price for not having good bookkeeping when I started my business.


My best advice from a mentor was… Have clarity in what you want to achieve. Be as clear as you can on what type of customers you want, what you want to offer them and what markets you want to serve. Having clarity will serve you and your team well.


Mentorship matters because… It’s a wonderful way to pass on your experience to another person. To give them advice that that they might not have otherwise known and help them immediately. I can’t imagine my career without my mentors.

Work/life balance is… Hard to achieve. When you have your own business, it’s hard to turn things off. I try my best to find time for my women friends who fill my soul with stories of similar challenges and opportunities. Journaling also helps me reflect and keep life into perspective. Golfing with my husband allows us to laugh at life and being parents.


“I try my best to find time for my women friends who fill my soul”


I love my job because… It fills me with pride and joy when I get to work with an amazing group of talented women, and we do amazing work for our great clients. Mostly, I love my job because every day I get to do what I love – be creative in telling people’s stories.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That my dream job would be working for the Dallas Cowboys marketing team. Or that I drove on the Charlotte Motor Speedway (NASCAR racetrack).


I stay inspired by… The pace of today’s technology and society’s insatiable need for the best and coolest thing. The yearning for excellence at a breakneck speed creates societies with boundless opportunities. I get inspired by Elon Musk, Sergey Brin and Larry Page in their pursuit of new frontiers.


The future excites me because… I work with many millennials and I appreciate their longing for humanity, community and yet there is a strong appreciation for self-worth. This makes for a future generation with self-confidence to make a difference.


My next step is… To shoot a round of golf under 85, and if I’m lucky, to continue to build a sustainable business where I  help influence the young talents that have the drive to move the goal post every day and make a difference.



Do you know a successful female entrepreneur who deserves recognition? Nominate her for the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!


Built from the Ground Up: Meet the Woman Who Has Made a Career Out of Defying Expectations

Amanda Shuchat was given the keys to Vision7 International’s newest PR agency, The Colony Project, at an age when many doubted her capabilities. Yet in just over a year as Managing Director, she has made a name for the shop as one that offers something the big guys simply can’t compete with. Which to those who know her well comes as no surprise  — Amanda’s career is defined by exceeding expectations, and bringing those she leads along for the ride. 


By Teresa Harris



“I like to think of The Colony Project in terms of Goldilocks — we’re not too big, not too small.” Amanda Shuchat says with a laugh.

It’s an apt description from the Managing Director of the year-old Toronto-based public relations agency, which combines the tight-knit, personal service of a boutique shop with the backing klout of a large parent company, industry heavyweight Vision7 International. With access to the resources of a global network of agencies, and the trailblazing, creative mindset of a smaller firm, The Colony Project provides a blend of services that many agencies by nature can’t compete with.

“We’re a full service PR agency, but we’re not your traditional PR agency,” she emphasizes. “We focus less on niche markets, and more on bringing brands to new people, using innovation and out-of-the-box thinking to stay one step ahead. Every campaign we tackle begins with one question: How can we help this brand reach a new audience?”

This unconventional approach is clearly working — having already won over global brands like Nando’s and La Roche Posay, The Colony Project has flourished since its inception in January 2016, with Amanda at the helm.

And as she reflects on where the last decade of her own professional life has taken her, Amanda acknowledges her own quick rise in the ranks was also pretty unconventional — she was hired to start the agency with little more than ten years of industry experience to her name. But one thing she has learned, both in watching The Colony Project and her own professional trajectory change and grow, is that our paths are rarely expected.

“Success doesn’t have to be in a straight line — with every opportunity, you never know what you’re building towards.”  

IMG_9924Amanda graduated university with a degree in journalism, yet quickly realized that an extroverted, business-minded, people person like herself would be a better fit for the world of PR. So she secured an internship at a boutique PR agency, and kicked off her career promoting consumer brands. A change in focus led her to technology, then to the U.S. where she worked with Gwen Stefani’s fashion team and pitched Canadian natural resource products south of the border. Upon returning to Canada, she joined Citizen Relations. Five years and five promotions later, she became Citizen’s youngest-ever Vice President, was named one of PR in Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, and was ultimately appointed to launch and lead Vision7’s newest PR shop.


“Success doesn’t have to be in a straight line — with every opportunity, you never know what you’re building towards.”


Amanda always knew that experience was relative, and that with hard work and an entrepreneurial mindset, anything was achievable. “It’s about being hungry, taking advantage of what’s in front of you and making it your own.”

She credits much of her hustle and drive to her upbringing. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and my dad always pushed my brother and I to pick what we liked and do whatever it took to make a career in that happen.”

Beyond her formative family ties, Amanda is also able to recognize how influential professional mentors — even “unofficial” ones — have been in shaping her work ethic and future aspirations.

“At each agency, I identified someone who was driven and dedicated to growth and advancing their own career,” she explains. “Someone who has their ear tapped to the ground and is always thinking of innovative ways to do things is a great person to model yourself after. Someone with emotional intelligence. At the end of the day, a mentor should leave you thinking, ‘This person gets it’.”

Amanda now focuses on being a role model for her own team, aiming to instil in them the same confidence and ambition that led to her own success. Developing a strong team is both personally rewarding and of great value to the business, not only in delivering the best possible outcomes to clients, but also in creating a working atmosphere that feels nurturing, exciting, and — most importantly — collaborative.


“At the end of the day, a mentor should leave you thinking, ‘This person gets it’.”


“Culture is a big thing in an agency. In a lot of cases, you’re with these people more than anyone else in your life,” Amanda explains, describing the natural camaraderie that agency life often catalyzes. But this emphasis on fostering interpersonal relationships within the office speaks to more than just ensuring everyone gets along — although she’s the first to encourage birthday celebrations, communal lunches, and grabbing a drink together later in the week.

“If you don’t have a sense of real, day-to-day, in the trenches collaboration and support from the people you work with, you get burnt out.” She has seen the impact a toxic and over-competitive workplace can have — not only the people, but on the bottom line — and is dedicated to preventing that environment at The Colony Project.

“It’s so crucial that as a company, we have each other’s backs. Nobody is above any task. We’ve created a strong team full of talent, because that’s what serves our clients best.”


When Deviance Works to Your Advantage

Tired of mediocrity and negativity at work? Jana Raver, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, offers five strategies to give you the power to inspire organizational change.


By Alan Morantz



When we think of deviance, we typically think of social outcasts who behave in some abhorrent way outside the norms of society. From an organizational perspective, deviance is also typically associated with such behaviors as slacking, not upholding the norms of the organization, unethical conduct, and even incivility and harassment.

But there’s more to deviance than meets the eye. And, there can be great benefits to going against the norm, especially when the norm isn’t overly positive.

According to Jana Raver, Associate Professor at Smith School of Business and E. Marie Shantz Faculty Fellow in Organizational Behaviour, the positive norms that we hope to find within organizations such as active engagement, growth, achievement, honesty, and benevolence, aren’t always as prevalent as we’d hope. “Constructive deviants” are engaged employees who challenge organizational lethargy and push for higher standards of behaviour.


“Constructive deviants” are engaged employees who challenge organizational lethargy and push for higher standards of behaviour.


When you’re able to demonstrate positive behaviours by acting in a way that’s outside of the norm, you have the chance to expose the standards that are actually dysfunctional. “This type of behaviour has been linked to improved job performance ratings, recommendations for rewards, and actual rewards including raises and promotions,” Jana says.

Smart companies realize that encouraging constructive deviance saves money and increases innovation. Research has shown that it exposes dysfunction and unethical behaviour, allows for social change, encourages growth and learning, and improves group decision-making.

But it’s not always easy. “If you sit back like a disengaged, apathetic employee who will simply tolerate mediocrity,” Jana says, “then you’re not going to be able to make that positive change.”


To inspire organizational change, Jana offers the following five strategies to stand up for what you believe in:

  1. Find your cause: Determine the issues you believe strongly enough in to stand up to.

  2. Pick your battles: You can’t resist and question everything, so check your motives and be sure that you’re committed to helping improve the group/organization rather than putting your own self-interest first.

  3. Know how to build a case: Know that the quality of your input matters, so draw upon principles of effective persuasion and social networking skills to support your cause. Do your homework to ensure that what you’re proposing has been well thought-out and can be clearly articulated.

  4. Be willing to do the work: High quality suggestions are those that you’re willing to execute yourself and to take ownership of, rather than passing on to someone else. Know that once you’re invested in any cause it will take work and commitment to bring it to life.

  5. Be persistent: Finally, realize that if you’re fighting norms you have to be willing to go the distance. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. If needed, know where to go for support in order to make change a reality.

“So, dig deep inside,” Jana says, “and be the change you want to see. You can choose to take action and be a constructive deviant to uphold the standards of what you believe in.”


You can hear more of Jana Raver’s discussion on constructive deviance in the workplace in this Smith Business Insight video, Building a Better Deviant.


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Meet Marni Johnson, a Passionate HR Guru with an Unconventional Path

With experience in several industries and over 25 years in financial services, Marni Johnson provides overall leadership and strategic direction in the areas of human resources and corporate and internal communications at BlueShore Financial. Her passion for human resources developed after a bold career switch, and since then she has fully embraced her role, becoming a Trustee of the BC Credit Union Employees’ Pension and Benefits plans, and serving on the boards of the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia and Yukon. With a background in math and marketing, Marni is the perfect example of what a woman can achieve when she realizes that boundaries are in fact merely suggestions, and forges her own path. 



My first job out of school…At a financial institution in Toronto in a back office role. In my role I identified a gap in processes, which I raised to my manager. It was dismissed. I decided to trust my instinct and explored this further to realize that in fact there was a gap, which had financial implications for the company. I learned a very valuable lesson from this first job and that is to trust your instincts even if you are a junior in your role. Each person can bring a great deal of value to the table no matter their place in the org chart.


I decided to enter the world of HR because…I was given an incredible opportunity for a career change from marketing to HR by the CEO of BlueShore Financial (back then the name was North Shore Credit Union). She offered me the role of VP HR because she believed I had the right leadership attributes and could learn the technical aspects of HR. The switch was the best career decision I ever made.  


“Trust your instincts even if you are a junior in your role. Each person can bring a great deal of value to the table no matter their place in the org chart.”


My proudest accomplishment is…Having worked with my teams to create and maintain a very positive culture and a great place to work that is client-focused, results-driven and nurtures diversity and inclusiveness, since research shows a clear link between a strong culture and organizational business performance.


My boldest move to date was…Making a career change from Marketing to HR at the executive level. I faced some skepticism because my formal experience was not in the HR function. I persevered, achieved my CPHR designation, and over time established my credibility as an HR leader. I learned a lot about empowering and trusting my team, as they had more technical expertise than I did. I believe as women, we need to allow ourselves to reach for stretch goals and pursue them with confidence in our abilities to learn and grow.


I surprise people when I tell them…That I have an undergraduate degree in math, because often they don’t see that math and HR go together. To be successful in HR, you need to understand and be able to speak the language of business, which is usually numbers and money. Having strong math skills has been an enormous benefit throughout my career.


“As women, we need to allow ourselves to reach for stretch goals and pursue them with confidence in our abilities to learn and grow.”


My best advice to people starting their career is…Take responsibility for your own career by seeking  opportunities to gain experience and transferable skills. Ask for “stretch” assignments even though they will take you out of your comfort zone — you’ll be amazed at the skills and lessons you’ll learn that you can take with you as you build your career.


My best advice from a mentor was…Don’t expect anyone else to care as much as you do, or to look after your best interests. This advice instilled in me a strong sense of accountability for results. It’s equally applicable to managing your personal life and career; you must take ownership for getting what you want and not abdicate that responsibility to someone else.   


My biggest setback was…In my early 30s I accepted a job with a company that enabled me to move from Toronto to Vancouver, but it required that I take a 10% pay cut. That was a big deal, not just because of the reduction in income but because of my perception that career success meant making more money with each job change. I almost didn’t take the job because of what I saw as a step backward.  


I overcame it by…Taking a longer term view of my career and the potential the new job represented. It was the right decision — if I hadn’t taken that job, my career would have taken a very different direction and I wouldn’t have ended up at BlueShore Financial. I learned through that experience that a great career move doesn’t always have to be a move “up”.


Work/life balance is…Different from person to person, both in terms of how much of each feels right, and how that balance is achieved. For me, it’s more of a “blend” vs. a strict delineation. I frequently check my work emails in the evenings and on weekends; but also have flexibility in my days where I can attend a meeting if needed for a not-for-profit board that I serve on.


“A great career move doesn’t always have to be a move “up”.”


I feel successful when…I can see the impact I’ve had on my team’s or the organization’s results. One of my favourite things is coaching my team and seeing them develop their abilities and confidence as an outcome.  


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…That I am a hobby chocolatier. I’ve taken several courses over the past 25 years, continually learning new techniques and creating recipes. I take a week of vacation from work in early December and make more than 2,000 chocolates. Not surprisingly, my colleagues are incredibly supportive of “Chocolate Week” and the product of my time off!


I stay inspired by…Connecting with people who have a positive outlook and a passion for what they do. That kind of enthusiasm and commitment is infectious, and a source of energy for me.   


The future excites me because…As an organization we have a very strong vision and an aligned and engaged team to execute on that vision. That’s a magic combination, and there’s no end to what we can achieve.


My next step is…To be determined.  I’m loving my role at BlueShore and am continually looking for ways I can make an even greater contribution. What that will look like, who knows, but I’m open to the opportunities!


Want to hear more from seasoned HR professionals? Purchase your ticket to our April 26 Luncheon, Untapped Resources: How to Hire, Advance, and Retain Women.



Meet Yana Barankin, a Woman Challenging the Fashion Industry to do Better for People and the Planet

Yana Barankin is the female lead of TAMGA Designs, a clothing line with integrity at its center. Before embarking on this journey, Yana and her business partner asked themselves two simple questions is it too expensive to produce a socially and environmentally responsible piece of clothing? Does style have to be sacrificed for accountability? The obvious answer was no  so they set out on a mission to prove it. Here’s her story.



My first job ever was… sales clerk at a clothing store!


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I realized that I can have much more of a positive social and environmental impact by pursuing my passion rather than sitting at a 9-5 desk job. 


My proudest accomplishment is… Getting my Masters in International Development from Kent University.


My boldest move to date was… Taking a leap of faith and buying a one-way ticket to Indonesia with my fiancee to set-up a responsible and transparent supply for the company.


I surprise people when I tell them… I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh for 2.5 years working in international aid.


My best advice to people trying to get an idea off the ground is… Surround yourself with creative and like-minded people! Know what your weaknesses are and don’t be afraid to ask for help and inspiration!


My best advice from a mentor was… It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


“Know what your weaknesses are and don’t be afraid to ask for help and inspiration”


My biggest setback was… My personal biggest challenge was moving to Canada at the age of 12 and what felt like at the time adapting to a whole new world.


I overcame it by… Giving it time.


Work/life balance is… Knowing when to a call it a night (laptop and cellphones OFF) and enjoying the weekend with family and friends.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a self taught photographer.


I stay inspired by… Being outdoors.


The future excites me because… There are endless possibilities! We’re starting to see a shift where businesses can’t just take away from people and the planet — to get customer loyalty they have to show how they’re giving back. Combining profit and purpose is the challenge of our generation, and there are so many amazing entrepreneurs and companies working on it.


“Combining profit and purpose is the challenge of our generation”


My next step is… My next steps are all about TAMGA at the moment! We’re developing some amazing new pieces and prints with our team in Indonesia, and will be introducing some awesome new eco materials to our line. This summer we will be doing lots of in-person festivals, pop-ups and markets in the Toronto area. And we can’t wait for lots of sunshine, TAMGA clothing, and meeting all our amazing customers.


Meet the founder of Lucky Iron Fish, a company with social responsibility at the heart of its business model.



The Old Boy’s Club

Many of the men in power today grew up in a time when a woman’s only place was in the home. Research shows we’re still carrying around those gender stereotypes. Could the highest of glass ceilings be propped up by antiquated perceptions?


By Teresa Harris



Over 3,000 world leaders descended upon the town of Davos, Switzerland in January for 2017’s World Economic Forum. This year, the theme was “Responsive and Responsible Leadership,” which makes sense, given the ways in which the world’s superpowers have been engaging with one another lately.

Out of the 3,000 attendees, 21% were women. While a hopeful increase from 18% in 2016, and a massive leap from 2001’s abysmal 9% — in large part due to WEF’s implemented gender quotas — considering women represent roughly 50% of the population, it’s not enough.

So we couldn’t help but consider: how are discussions on Responsive and Responsible Leadership extending beyond the superficial to include considerations on the people we’re selecting — and not selecting — for leadership positions?


“How are discussions on Responsive and Responsible Leadership extending beyond the superficial to include considerations on the people we’re selecting — and not selecting — for leadership positions?”


Currently, women make up 48% of Canada’s labour force. And yet, only 16% of board of director seats are held by women, and fewer than 5% have reached the C-suite. The 2016 Fortune 500 list reveals that just 21 of these top-tier companies are run by women — and that number has gone down, settling in at just 4.2% versus last year’s 4.8%. UN Women reports that only 22.8 % of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, and as of January 2017, just 9 women out of 196 countries are serving as Head of Government.

So the question is: why are women so poorly represented at the highest levels of power? Research shows that it might be less about access, and more about perception.

Let’s remember that just 50 years ago, a woman’s primary title was “stay at home wife and mom.” Considering the average age of WEF’s attendees is a little over 50, it’s safe to assume that many of the world’s most powerful men were raised in a time when women were simply not at the helm of business, economics, and politics. And while there were new initiatives being developed to support women’s advancement, most proponents of these initiatives were clear about what should remain a priority in women’s lives.

In a 1961 televised conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt, newly appointed chairwoman of the Commission on the Status of Women, US President John F. Kennedy stated, “We want to be sure that women are used effectively as they can to provide a better life for our people, in addition to meeting their primary responsibility, which is in the home.”

Given the climate of women’s rights at the time, this is an unsurprising ethos. Alongside the decade’s limiting social views of a woman’s role, many structures were in place that inhibited women from gaining any real sense of economic and political power. In America, it is only in the last fifty years that women have been granted the right to get a credit card without their husband’s cosign, serve on a jury, and receive an Ivy League education.

In Canada, it has only been in the last century that women nation-wide have been granted the right to vote, own property, and join law enforcement, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that Canadian universities enrolled at least 50% women. Examples like these prove that for a long time women had been excluded from the game at the most rudimentary level, so it’s unsurprising that the byproducts are corporate and political ecosystems that inherently favour men.

We’ve come a long way since the 1960s; and yet, society still has a tendency to hold women accountable to traditional gender-role stereotypes, expecting them to embody maternal, “feminine” characteristics, such as being caring, warm, compassionate, nurturing and sensitive.

Men on the other hand are held to standards of independence, assertiveness, ambition, and self-confidence. This serves them well in today’s business climate, which is propped atop decades of bold risk-taking and a fend-for-oneself mentality.

This leaves women in a bind — if we adopt our expected gender role, we remove ourselves from the leadership running. When we digress, we’re pegged as abrasive, hostile, and unlikeable. For example: researchers Victoria L. Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann found that when men express anger in the workplace, it is seen as an appropriate response to the situation. Angry women on the other hand are viewed as just that — angry women.


“When men express anger in the workplace, it is seen as an appropriate response to the situation. Angry women on the other hand are viewed as just that — angry women.”


And these limiting perceptions aren’t only held by men. A Unilever study revealed that when it comes to leading high-stakes projects, 77% of men believe that they are the best choice. Surprisingly, 55% of women feel the same way, signaling the power social conditioning has in shaping how women perceive their own potential.


Even men who were once our allies in the workplace can experience a change in perception — particularly if they marry women who don’t work. One study by Sreedhari D. Desai and colleagues discovered that men married to non-working women eventually begin to perceive their female co-workers as less qualified, and the organizations that employ them as underperformers.

Which is simply not true. Studies show women are better communicators, as well as more charismatic, democratic, and participative than their male counterparts, qualities associated with effective leadership and proven to foster stronger teams, elevated performance, and increased company value.

Unfortunately, although research exists to support the promotion of female leaders, and the current state of international relations is calling for leaders to adopt qualities women are known to possess, there are still structural and social barriers within the workplace that limit women’s opportunities to rise in the ranks.

Since structural barriers have a way of influencing social perception, the end result is a labyrinth of challenges ambitious women are forced to navigate. In order for women to make their way on even ground with men, it is crucial that companies adjust their policies and illuminate the ambiguous practices and performance benchmarks that influence advancement.

The WEF 2017 mandate suggested that in order to navigate the politically tenuous and uncertain environment we exist in, “we need responsible world leaders that are open to communication.” Seems like a job for a woman, no?

Among the female leaders who did participate at the WEF were Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet, and General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

“Women’s aversion to rejection manifests itself in the job market,” said Barra, confirming the idea that women are less likely than men are to apply for jobs they’re not at least 90% qualified for.

Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, both in attendance, agreed — gender norms are keeping women out of tech, and out of leadership.

“I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how important stereotypes are,” Sandberg emphasized, calling them out as “at the root of the gender gap we face.” When women are told they’re ‘bossy’ rather than ‘assertive,’ or ‘cold’ over ‘professional,’ it creates a chasm between the way women want to be perceived, and the way leaders need to be perceived.

Political leaders in attendance included Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, representing a small portion of the 22.8% of female state leaders worldwide.

And while out of 400 sessions more than half addressed issues of gender diversity and inclusion, we can’t help but feel that those discussions will lack substantive influence until at least half of those at the table are women and minorities. It’s a step in the right direction — but it’s about time we took a leap.



Meet the Woman Revolutionizing Toronto’s Events Industry, One Soiree at a Time

As the founder and President of The Concierge Club, a nation-wide event and staffing agency, Monica Gomez is behind some of the best celebrations Toronto has ever seen. But she’s not only owning the events industry  — she’s making it a better place for women, too.


By Teresa Harris



Some leaders have a strong business sense, while others know how to take care of their employees. The great leaders? They’re known for both.

A savvy businesswoman, entrepreneur, and mother of two, Monica Gomez manages to embody the combined personas of a whip-smart executive and the warm older sister you never had.

Monica is the founder and President of The Concierge Club, a full service, Canada-wide event and staffing agency that provides event coordination and staffing for high-profile brand and celebrity events. Having launched just five years ago, the agency now boasts a regular roster of high-profile clients including Ciroc, Guerlain Cosmetics, and even the Bieber family.  

Yet despite her current status as an event industry heavyweight, Monica got her start in the financial industry, where she worked in office administration. However it didn’t take long for the creative and energetic people person to realize that she wasn’t passionate about the administrative side finance.

“Event planning kind of fell into my lap,” she recalls, having been involved through the financial industry in planning and executing the hospitality suites for the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) trade show. But when the stock market crashed and the future of finance seemed bleak, she realized it was time for a change and moved east to Toronto.

Craving the creativity and social networking opportunities of the entertainment industry, and armed with the knowledge that she couldn’t work for anyone else, Monica decided to start her own company.

Under the mentorship of prominent Toronto event planner Elvira Muffolini, Monica quickly developed a name for herself, and The Concierge Club was born.

“Elvira is one of the people who helped make me who I am today and is now my Director of Events,” Monica reveals. “I don’t burn bridges, because you never know who’s going to come back into your life. This is also why I always treat everyone with the most respect no matter what.”


“I don’t burn bridges, because you never know who’s going to come back into your life. This is also why I always treat everyone with the most respect no matter what.”


Monica’s staff of brand ambassadors often refer to her as a second mother, a title she’s proudly earned by being attentive to both their professional development and their personal lives. From tax trouble to boyfriend problems, very little is off limits.

“From day one I treated the girls with respect. If they made a mistake, there was always an open line of communication ― even personal issues are on the table, because I get that sometimes they affect work. If I can help, I want the opportunity to do so.”

With over ten years of industry experience under her belt, Monica has seen the worst side of the events and promotions industry first-hand. Many staff, particularly younger women, are regularly taken advantage of, often being scammed of their pay and disrespected by management.

“With The Concierge Club, I wanted to do the opposite of what I was witnessing,” Monica says. “When you instill in your company a foundation of respect and communication, you get that back from your employees. Clients notice ― they see the difference in our brand ambassadors.”

Several of those brand ambassadors have graduated from in-field to now run the day-to-day operations of The Concierge Club, and whether it’s giving bonuses or passing along positive client feedback, Monica always makes sure her staff feels appreciated and valued — because they are.

“It’s rare to see that kind of investment in people in this industry,” Monica explains. “Because of this so many staff contact us and ask if there’s anything they can do to grow with the company, and we’re always receptive.”


“When you instill in your company a foundation of respect and communication, you get that back from your employees.”


When it comes to growth, Monica sometimes can’t believe how fast things have changed in the last few years. In 2016 the Concierge Club expanded its services to include total event planning, and has since pulled off some of the biggest events the city has seen. These include Justin Bieber’s dad’s engagement party, which made it into every big media outlet globally; the Dragon’s Den season 11 launch party; and most recently the nationwide events for cosmetic powerhouse Guerlain cosmetics. “This launch was very special for us.” Monica says “This was the biggest fragrance launch to date for Guerlain, with Angelina Jolie as spokesperson, and they entrusted us to plan it for them.”

“I’m a hustler and won’t take no for an answer.” Monica says.

Monica’s family has also doubled in size; in past few years she’s become a mother to two-and-a-half-year-old Adriana, and six-month-old Ayden.

“It’s a challenge to balance,” Monica admits. “And there’s a lot of guilt, a lot of the time. But in the end it’s all for them. I want my children to see their mom working hard and succeeding.” And despite being a self-proclaimed hustler who is rarely satisfied, she doesn’t hesitate to provide credit where it’s due. “My mom lives with us and is a huge help ― the company wouldn’t be where it is without her. And my husband has been my number one supporter since day one, constantly giving me the confidence I need to keep moving forward even when times are tough.”

It is those moments to stop and feel thankful that Monica relishes. She can often be found having celebratory dinners at Harbour Sixty, or treating her management team to spa days.

But her generosity extends beyond the walls of the company. Last year The Concierge Club raised almost $100k for various charities, and this year they have plans to add a new program to their charitable contributions — but they can’t announce it just yet.

“It’s easy to get lost in this world, and sometimes we don’t realize how lucky we are. It’s important for me that we set an example as a company, and have our staff get involved in giving back.”

It’s this commitment to excellence and integrity that Monica believes sets The Concierge Club apart. And she doesn’t plan on changing her business model, even while eyeing expansion in the future.

“I want to be known for changing the event staffing industry. I started doing things differently, and now everyone else is following suit. I want to keep that going. We have become a leader in this industry and will continue to do so.”


Photographer: Dexter Quinto

Designer: Caitlin Power

The Hardest Workin’ Mom in Showbusiness

Catherine Reitman, the creator, producer, writer, director, and star of CBC’s Workin’ Moms, is adapting scenes from her own life to tell an honest story of working mothers.


By Liz Bruckner



Ask Catherine Reitman when she knew she wanted to be a writer and actor, and she’ll point you to her six-year-old self.
“My nickname was ‘Bossy’ a lot. I did them at home, too, but I vividly recall customizing plays when I was at school to suit whatever lesson was up first. I’d throw together a script, convince my friends to act in it, and beg my teachers for seven minutes at the top of class to perform in front of the class.”

The daughter of iconic Canadian director and producer Ivan Reitman, and actress and director, Geneviève Robert, she attributes part of her early appreciation for writing and acting to her parents’ passion for artistic ventures. “Even from that young age, though, I remember being aware of how much I loved the almost tangible power I’d feel when the class would laugh at my scripts, and how passionate I was about figuring out how to parlay my interests into something that would appeal to a large group of people.”
Fast forward to today and she’s all but mastered her craft. An accomplished actor with myriad roles to her credit (including Blackish, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother), she’s now the creator, executive producer, writer, and star of Workin’ Moms, a popular CBC comedy that highlights the lives of four women juggling careers, motherhood and love. She plays Kate, a PR executive who’s fresh from maternity leave and trying to wade through the unexpected realities of being a working mother.
“I think part of what is so exciting about doing a series like this is the fact that it’s raw and real. When I returned to acting after having my first son, Jackson, I was experiencing postpartum depression and saw firsthand how flawed the structure around working moms is. I’d talk to fellow moms and we’d commiserate about how our stories weren’t being properly told by TV networks, how the attempts that were made weren’t anywhere near realistic or funny, and I think that struck a chord in me,” she says.
It must have, because weeks after delivering Jackson, while shooting away from home, the concept for Workin’ Moms was birthed. “I was on-set for my first Mother’s Day, and no one told me that that’s the day your social media feeds blow up with people congratulating you on being an amazing mother. Ironically, I wasn’t even being a mother that day, and it hit me hard,” she says. After grappling with hours of self-inflicted guilt in her hotel room, she joined a crew of male actors and comedians for dinner, where “they jokingly gave me shit for being away from my son on the first real day that mattered,” she says. “I cracked. Started sobbing, chest heaving — all the stuff you see in the boardroom scene from the first episode of the show.”
After an emotional phone conversation with her husband — actor Philip Sternberg, who co-stars in the show as Kate’s husband, Nathan — she began to write. “At his prompting I started to scribble things down and was alarmed at how quickly ideas came, and at how much emotion was bubbling. My son was only six weeks old and I had story after story. That was my ‘aha’ moment.”

Catherine Reitman 2

Months of writing followed, as did a second pregnancy. She found out she was expecting the day before presenting a bare-bones, eight-minute sizzle reel to Sally Cato, head of programming at CBC-TV. “Sally watched it and green-lit it for 13 episodes on the spot. From the beginning, she gave me the freedom to direct the show as I’d intended without the worry of it being mishandled. I’ve never felt so professionally encouraged,” she says.
Reitman spent the next few months pregnant with her youngest son, Liam, and holding the Workin’ Moms reigns. She ran a team of writers in LA and churned out 13 episodes before relocating to Toronto, where the show is based and shot. She handpicked the crew and actors — all this while balancing being a mom and wife.
“It’s been a struggle to manage my home life with my professional goals, without a doubt. I’m hard on myself. There have been times where I feel like I’m having an identity crisis, because as women, we’re taught to survive whatever challenges are thrown at us while also thinking of others first.” Add a child or two to the mix and there’s this expectation that you’ll automatically be selfless and loving, and while some people nail it right off the bat, she says she doesn’t think it comes naturally to most.


“There have been times where I feel like I’m having an identity crisis, because as women, we’re taught to survive whatever challenges are thrown at us while also thinking of others first.”


“Having my sons is the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever done, but I know from experience that brushing off the difficult emotional situations that come with motherhood can lead to a pretty dark place. There was part of me that didn’t feel like I had what it took to be a worthwhile human being for a while, let alone a good mother. Things I relied on before to make me feel like me seemed to be gone after I had my first son — I didn’t see myself in the mirror anymore.”
Thankfully, she says, her work enabled her to reconnect with herself. “Getting back to something I have always loved was cathartic, and showed me that I need to listen to my gut. Women have this drive to play by the rules and be liked by everyone around us, and while I think it’s important to listen to people in your life, you also have to listen to yourself. Sometimes that means pushing all other opinions and fear away so you can hear what’s happening inside. That’s how we hear what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Meet Emily Rose Antflick, a Chief Community Cultivator Bringing Women Under One Roof

As the founder and Chief Community Cultivator of Shecosystem, a co-working space that nurtures the personal and professional well-being of women, Emily Rose Antflick is a champion of working with integrity and fostering a positive sense of community. And this has served her well — while walking away from both an ill-fitting career and relationship simultaneously was a challenge, she has since emerged energized, hopeful, and fueled by a true sense of work-life integration, which she believes beats the mythical “work-life balance” any day. Here’s how she does it. 



My first job ever was… Working at a vintage store/art gallery in Kensington Market, my soul’s home in this city and the neighbourhood where my ancestors first settled in Toronto in the early 20th Century.


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I had creative energy that needed to be released, and after bouncing around different education institutions for over a decade, I still hadn’t found a workplace place where I would want to show up every day. Everywhere I worked I felt like I had to compartmentalize or present a certain way, and I wanted to truly show up authentically at work.


My proudest accomplishment is… Taking Shecosystem from a dream to a bricks and mortar business in just over a year. I worked hard to build community and to shape the business around that community’s needs, and as a result I opened the doors with twice my target number of Founding Members.


My boldest move to date was… Walking away from my teaching job and ending my engagement in the same week. I had gotten to a point of such acute energetic depletion that only a bold move would give me the opportunity to reshape my life from the ashes.


My best advice to people trying to get an idea off the ground is… To get it out of your head first — write it down and talk it over. And then let it exist in the world in its perfectly imperfect state, because if you wait until it’s perfect to launch, it won’t happen.


My best advice from a mentor was… To stop playing small out of fear, but instead to listen to what that fear might be telling me. Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s feeling the fear and doing it anyway.


My biggest setback was… Not having all of the operating policies and procedures firmly in place when I opened Shecosystem. There were lots of uncomfortable conversations and lost opportunities in the early days, but in the end it meant that these policies arose from a more organic place. They took shape around real learnings rather than being imposed based on some hypothetical idea of how things “should” work.


I overcame it by… Cultivating a healthy trust in the unknown, asking for help and input from stakeholders to develop these policies cooperatively, and as one of the members put it, continuing to move forward “bravely and tentatively.”


A sense of community is important to your career because… Working for yourself shouldn’t ever mean working alone. I see my challenges and my successes mirrored in the women who work at Shecosystem. Knowing that I am supported, seen, and celebrated by this sisterhood gives me the courage to move forward with my business.


Work/life balance is… A myth. I prefer to talk about work-life integration. If we are going to cultivate sustainable businesses and abundant lives, self-care needs to be a part of our business strategy.


“If we are going to cultivate sustainable businesses and abundant lives, self-care needs to be a part of our business strategy.”


My past experience helps me today by… Reminding me that I am resilient and  resourceful. Also my background in curriculum design, teaching and facilitation means I have a toolkit that can be applied to lots of different contexts because, after all, I’ve always believed that real learning happens outside of the classroom.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… My bank account number, but that’s about it. If you go back far enough you’ll uncover my travel blog, old teaching resources, even the story of my first menstrual period.


I stay inspired by… Dancing and getting into nature as often as possible.


The future excites me because… The feminine is rising and more people are waking up to our potential to discard broken systems and return to more human scale, soul-centric and eco-centric ways of situating ourselves in the world.
My next step is… Simply taking time to observe how Shecosystem works — then refining, modifying, and preparing to scale based on the insight drawn from these observations.


We met Emily Rose Antflick, the founder of Shecosystem, at the 2017 Feminist Art Conference held at OCAD, where she sat on a panel of feminist entrepreneurs, alongside Petra Kassun-Mutch and Valerie Fox. Check back to meet more of the incredible woman entrepreneurs that attended. 



Meet Valerie Fox, Canada’s Reigning Queen of Innovation

Meet Valerie Fox, the woman who’s been at the center of innovation since the 80s as a designer for IBM. Since then she co-founded the Ryerson DMZ, North America’s number 1 university business incubator, and started a new venture which helps build successful incubation models with corporations, academic institutions and regions, and brings communities of diverse skills together to collaborate, design and deliver impactful innovation, world-wide. With over 30 years in the creative digital industry, Valerie has been recognized for multiple awards, including the 2016 Canada Innovation Leaders team, and the Sara Kirke Award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, CNE Woman of Distinction. Get to know her here.



My first job ever was… As a printing press operator, graphic artist and camera room operator in a print shop. Up to that point, I had gone to university and college for art and design, and wanted to illustrate children’s books.


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… In the 80s I could see that tech was changing the landscape of design, communication and education. I wanted to be on the bleeding edge of what I knew was going to be the future of everything.  I had an incredible career at IBM as an intrapreneur. From there I was asked to join Ryerson University by the then President, Sheldon Levy to help in its transition to become a leader in entrepreneurship and innovation.


My proudest accomplishment is… My family, and meeting the many professional experiences I’ve had, like being the creative director of the Sydney Olympics web experience and co-founding and growing the Ryerson DMZ business incubator to be recognized as number 1 in North America and number 3 in the world. 18 months ago, started a company to help develop incubators and entrepreneurial ecosystems in towns, cities, academic institutions and corporations in Canada, the U.S., and Internationally.


My boldest move to date was… Getting the gig for the Sydney Olympics for our Canadian IBM team. We had a week to prove to the executive producer in Australia that we had what it took to design and deliver an exceptional online experience to the world. We super-stretched the capability of the internet in the year 2000 to create an incredible interactive and immersive experience. It showed what happens when design and technology work closely together.   


I surprise people when I tell them… I’m 63 and a grandma.


My best advice to people starting out in business is… To hold on tight. It’s filled with the most incredible high’s and lows. The best things you can do is to stay in perpetual motion, learn, iterate, team, share, and create long lasting relationships.


Mentorship is important because… It’s a beautiful way to learn and build mutually beneficial relationships.


“The best things you can do is to stay in perpetual motion, learn, iterate, team, share, and create long lasting relationships.”


My best advice from a mentor was… Not to worry about what others think, but listen, learn, apply, while continually holding on to core values.


My biggest setback was… Health related. My back went out and I was house-bound for 3 months. It stopped me cold. I realized how important health is, to do anything.


I overcame it by… Changing my perspective. It’s okay to take time to eat, sleep, take care of oneself and enjoy that too.


Work/life balance is… I don’t believe it’s a balance. For me it’s integrated. I love my work, it’s a part of my life. But it’s not the only thing in my life.


Something you can’t learn in a classroom is… So many things. Life is learning. Experience gives perspective, relevance, and application. But I would add that it depends on the classroom. There are some amazing classes out there that encourage team and project building, and knowledge sharing.


To me, innovation means… Change that makes a difference.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a pretty open book.


I stay inspired by… Hanging out with people I love and learn from and meeting new people to learn from. Also reading, walking, traveling…never standing still.


The future excites me because… It’s filled with possibility.


My next step is… Continuing to help build connections and learning opportunities that will shape our world to be a better place.


We met Valerie, the founder of The Pivotal Point, at the 2017 Feminist Art Conference held at OCAD, where she sat on a panel of feminist entrepreneurs, alongside Petra Kassun-Mutch. Check back to meet more of the incredible woman entrepreneurs that attended. 



A Balanced View

As Chief of Staff, RBC Wealth Management U.S., Kristen Kimmel has a job description that doesn’t fit well into just a few sentences. But despite her broad role, she still makes time to be a mentor, and advocate for women’s advancement in the workplace.


By Marie Moore



Kristen Kimmell is one of those fortunate people who discovered at an early age what her chosen career would be. In fact, her path to becoming the chief of staff at RBC Wealth Management – U.S. had a very clear and memorable start: “My older sister brought home an assignment for her high school accounting class. I can still see the big portfolio, and the green ledger paper. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

Kristen was so fascinated by the project — which included recording debits and credits in a ledger, and producing handwritten income statements — that she ended up doing most of her sister’s homework, even though she was several years younger. Her passion for accounting never faded, and she went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Jamestown University, landing her first job as an accountant in 1993.

Kristen’s career in financial services continued to flourish, although the path wasn’t exactly linear. She joined her current firm in 1995 (which became part of RBC in 2000), and has held numerous positions including staff accountant, accounting supervisor, fixed income accounting manager, director of financial reporting and administration, and director of strategic finance. While some of her title changes represented a natural progression, she has admittedly “taken some leaps sideways and in different directions.” The promotion to chief of staff came in 2010, a position that she describes in its simplest terms as “a combined chief administrative officer and chief operating officer role.”

The longer explanation she offers more accurately captures the broad scope of her work: “I tie everything together — from the business perspective back to the execution — with all the functional groups,” Kristen says. “I’m connecting the dots, making sure we have the right priorities and are executing appropriately, and keeping everything running behind the scenes.”

She credits RBC’s culture of development for enabling her to climb through the company’s ranks. “They really provided some incredible growth opportunities. It’s just a culture where we are always looking to cultivate talent,” she says. From leadership training to formal mentorship programs, Kristen has taken advantage of the many initiatives designed to help high potentials succeed. She also hasn’t been shy about creating her own channels for learning.

“I’ve had a lot of people that didn’t even know they were my mentor,” she says with a laugh. “I just looked at people who I admired, and when I had an opportunity to be in meetings with them, I used those as an informal guide on how they handled things. What did I see that they did well that worked? What was something that they were frustrated by? And I would always find opportunities to migrate to work with those individuals.”

“I just looked at people who I admired, and when I had an opportunity to be in meetings with them, I used those as an informal guide on how they handled things. What did I see that they did well that worked? What was something that they were frustrated by? And I would always find opportunities to migrate to work with those individuals.”

As Kristen progressed in her career, she herself became an integral part of the development culture. At her peak, she’s had seventeen simultaneous mentees, coming from a combination of formal programs, outreach by managers, and personal requests. She has an innate desire to share her experiences with others to help them find their own solutions, and knowing how much courage it can take to ask someone to be a mentor, she rarely says no.

In addition to her work with individuals, Kristen is having an impact on a broad scale in the area of women’s advancement. She was named Co-Executive Sponsor of the Women’s Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA) in September 2012. In the role, she provides input and leadership to WAFA on their goals of recruiting and retaining female branch directors and financial advisors, and increasing the productivity of financial advisors. Kristen is also on the board of RBC Wealth Management’s Women of Wealth (WoW) global women’s network. Developed within RBC, WoW brings together women representing different business units from across the globe, with the aim of getting a unified approach on activities related to helping women advance in the workplace.

One of the initiatives she strongly supports is providing women with access to visible role models, who can speak authentically about their successes — and struggles. “As women, we tend to think that our issues and our challenges are unique to us, so we don’t reach out, or think that anybody else would understand them. We hold ourselves to this unrealistic standard, thinking that everybody else has achieved it,” says Kristen. “I want to help spread the message that women who are successful have the same faces as the women who are working their way up. I’ve come to work with different coloured shoes on, and I think people just appreciate knowing things like that.”

“I want to help spread the message that women who are successful have the same faces as the women who are working their way up. I’ve come to work with different coloured shoes on, and I think people just appreciate knowing things like that.”

This belief that women often carry — that everyone around the table has the answers but us — can lead to a fear of asking what we don’t know about. Kristen sees this combining with our natural tendency to overbook ourselves, and leading to another issue for women, outside of the workplace: relying on our partners to do the finances. “We divide it up like it’s a household chore. Not because we’re not interested or capable, but because it’s one more thing on the plate and it’s an easy one to pass on,” she says. “It may seem like another chore, but it’s a life skill.”

Alleviating a packed calendar can help, but she also feels we need to have a more honest conversation on the subject of work/life balance. “A balance indicates to me that once you get the weight setting on each side, then it’s done and you can walk away from it, forever balanced. But you can’t think of work/life balance as an end state. It’s an evolution,” Kristen explains. “Sometimes you’re going to get heavy on one side or the other, and having the ability to recognize that and being able to adjust it when you’re out of balance, is the best possible thing.”



Meet Petra Kassun-Mutch, a Former Executive Turned Feminist Entrepreneur

Petra Kassun-Mutch wants to revolutionize the way entrepreneurs do business, bringing social consciousness and a feminist mind-set to a space that is all too often profit-centric and male-dominated. A former executive turned serial entrepreneur, Petra is determined to demonstrate how a business can be both responsible and profitable, widening the definition of innovation to be more inclusive and altogether more exciting.



My first job ever was… a fry girl at McDonald’s — I also had lobby duty.


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to be able to show up authentically, create opportunities for others, and design and launch innovative, values-led enterprises that helps transform institutions and systems.


My proudest accomplishment is… leaving my 18-year corporate career and role as President for a $46M division of a multinational publishing company to found, build and grow a Platinum LEED (first in the world), a mid size award winning artisan goat and sheep milk dairy in Prince Edward County — even though I had no experience in cheese, farming, or the food processing industry. I didn’t even know you could milk a sheep! But I do now! We won the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation two years after opening.


My boldest move to date was… Combining activism with scalable entrepreneurship.  


I surprise people when I tell them… I was once a certified milk and cream grader, licensed HTST operator, and drove a milk truck.


My best advice to people starting out in business is… Everyone should start their career in sales. You will learn about markets, people, and learn how the world really works. For me personally it was transformational.


My best advice from a mentor was… Be the market you intend to serve. In other words, don’t try to sell something to people (or markets) you don’t truly love, respect or understand.


Women can support other women by… Leading with intersectional feminist values at the heart of all you do. Investing in women, including trans and gender non-binary female entrepreneurs.


My biggest setback was… Having to sell the business I loved and started because of an ill-timed divorce. In entrepreneurship, business is personal, and the personal is business.


I overcame it by… Taking a break, reflection, lots of self care, trying new things (not always successful), and surrounding myself with dynamic, diverse, creative kick ass women friends.


Something you can’t learn in a classroom is… How to cope with and recover from major loss.


To me, innovation means… A lot more than just high growth/extreme cheap scale tech.  Today’s definition of innovation is too narrow and leads to a gender gap in innovation policy that goes under recognized.  We need to support process innovation alongside product innovation.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I know how to macramé.


I stay inspired by… Watching The Walking Dead and working with entrepreneurs.


The future excites me because… I believe we can and will create a human-centric, values-led economy in the future, one that will promote individual, community and global wellness, a world without fossil fuels, a future where structural and cultural gender driven inequality for women, trans, queer-identified people (anyone experiencing discrimination based on gender) are a thing of the past.


My next step is… To pioneer what it means to design and operate an enterprise based on feminist business best practice.  


We met Petra at the 2017 Feminist Art Conference held at OCAD, where she mediated a panel of feminist entrepreneurs. Check back to meet more of the incredible woman entrepreneurs that attended. Until then, hear more from Petra at



Stay Put to Move More: How a long career at one organization can lead to unique opportunities

It’s no longer the norm to spend twenty years at the same company, but Allison Hakomaki has done just that — and it’s enabled her to live in cities across Canada, better her education, and climb to a role in senior management.


By Hailey Eisen



Changing jobs every two to three years has become the norm rather than the exception — but contrary to popular belief, it’s not the only route to interesting experiences and opportunities for growth. There’s something to be said for carving out a meaningful career within the same company.

Take Allison Hakomaki, for example: her 20-year career with BMO has taken her across the country from coast to coast, giving her the chance to live in a number of different cities, work across a variety of business lines, and pursue academic advancement including earning a CMA and EMBA.

Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Allison began her career with BMO when she entered into the commercial banker training program in Toronto. Fresh out of business school she was eager to apply her learnings to the real world. While she was being encouraged by her employer to go back to school to pursue an MBA — something the bank regarded highly for its leadership-track employees — Allison decided she would first complete her CMA and get as much work experience as she could under her belt.

It would take more than 10 years and a move to Calgary (for a promotion to Managing Director, Corporate Finance) before Allison decided it was time to further her education. “The majority of the leadership team within BMO had MBAs, and I knew that in order to move into an executive role this was the next step,” she recalls.

Because her job already required quite a bit of travel, Allison was eager to find an EMBA program that she could complete without having to hop on a plane to attend classes. Queen’s Executive MBA at Smith School of Business presented itself as a great option that would allow her to learn out of a boardroom learning centre in Calgary while joining students from across the country in a live, interactive virtual learning environment.

Working with this diverse group of students turned out to be an invaluable experience — one that Allison was able to leverage as she moved up within the bank. “Professionally, the diversity really helped me. I now have a network of classmates from across the country, and from different industries — not just financial services, but also manufacturing, medical, self-employed, a real variety. It provides a number of different perspectives, which is really nice.”

Allison also learned invaluable lessons about working on a team with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds. “You have to be dependent on your teammates to be successful,” she says. “And to make that work, you’ll need some rules to live by. Like the expectation that everyone has to contribute. If people aren’t pulling their weight, you have to learn to call them out on it.”

“You have to be dependent on your teammates to be successful, and to make that work, you’ll need some rules to live by…If people aren’t pulling their weight, you have to learn to call them out on it.”

In keeping with the Queen’s approach to team-based learning, Allison suggests that these team expectations be laid out and revisited, just like you would with a set of business goals. “Revisit them on a regular basis, to ensure everyone is performing at the level that’s expected. At the same time, allow them to evolve. As you learn to trust your team, you can operate more efficiently and effectively.”

The emphasis on teamwork in the Smith program was also an excellent opportunity for Allison to hone her leadership skills. “We all had to rise to the occasion,” she says. “At some points you had to lead and at some points you had to follow, and the key to success was to learn the strengths of your team members and leverage those.”

Allison’s growth was certainly noticed at BMO. Part way through the EMBA program she was promoted to her first executive position: District VP of New Brunswick and PEI. She moved with her husband to Moncton, New Brunswick, and, thanks to technological innovations in the program, was able to continue her EMBA. More moving vans were in the cards for Allison upon completing her EMBA: she and her husband relocated first to Halifax and then back to Calgary, where she took on her current role of Vice President and Head, Prairies Region, Corporate Finance Division. In that time, she also managed to have twins. As Allison says, “I was used to juggling multiple priorities.”  

Almost three years into her current executive position, Allison hasn’t stopped her learning trajectory. “I consider myself a fair, empathetic leader, but I’m also serious — which can be a little intimidating,” she says. “I’m learning to show my fun side too. It’s a work in progress.”


Liked this? Read more articles on preparing for senior leadership.

Meet Bridget Russo, CMO of a design brand with a bigger purpose

Bridget Russo joined Shinola in 2012, relocating from her native Tribeca to the company’s Detroit headquarters in 2014. As Chief Marketing Officer she oversees global marketing and communications, building the American design brand through storytelling and well-made products. By bringing skilled manufacturing jobs back to Detroit, Shinola is also having a positive social impact on the community — a key element of their brand. It’s a perfect fit for Bridget, who made a name for herself in the fashion industry by pursuing projects she found ethically compelling, including the establishment of her own consulting firm focused on fashion ventures with a philanthropic angle.



My first job ever was… At a store in New York,  which is now closed, called FAO Schwarz. I worked in the doll department.


My proudest accomplishment is… Somehow impressing my mother, who is not impressed, ever.


My boldest move to date was… Moving to Detroit.


I surprise people when I tell them… That I moved to Detroit.


The biggest marketing challenge companies face today is… Considering how much information is getting thrown at consumers on a minute-to-minute basis, the ability to break through and capture their attention is increasingly more challenging.


My best marketing advice for companies today is… Be authentic. Go with your gut. Stay true to the brand.


My biggest setback was… Leaving a job that I really loved too quickly for silly reasons. I would have eventually left, but I probably had a good five years to go before I did that. I did it in haste. I was turning 30 and thought I needed to grow up.


Work/life balance is… Never checking your emails after work, unless absolutely necessary. Keep two separate phones: one personal, one work.


My best advice from a mentor was… Take time to congratulate even the little successes of your team.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I am socially awkward and shy.


I stay inspired by… The people I work with everyday.


The future excites me because… I have hope, despite everything that’s going on in the world today. Human beings are human beings, and we’ll continue to do great things.  



See more from Shinola.



Meet Jill Purdy, the Woman Who’s Been Making Canada Sound Good for Over Two Decades

Jill Purdy

As a prominent Supervising Sound and Dialogue Editor in the film and television industries of both Canada and the United States, Jill Purdy has an extraordinary record of achievements and awards spanning over two decades. After graduating from both Queen’s University and Sheridan College and initiating her career via a successful internship with Sound Dogs Toronto, Jill gained a distinguished reputation quickly and has continued to thrive at the top of her field. 



My first job ever was… delivering the local newspaper, ‘The Oshawa Times’, in my neighbourhood when I was nine years old. Working consistently from that age – throughout high school, my post-secondary education and beyond – ingrained in me a very strong and driving work ethic.


I would tell my 20-year-old self that… aging is beautiful, to takes risks, to make my voice heard and to be aware that self-assurance and confidence increase with age.


Being a woman in the film industry is… extremely rewarding for me. Being a mentor to young women, encouraging women to pursue careers in such a male-dominated industry and supporting and championing women’s voices and work on an international playing field is important, inspiring and exciting.


My proudest accomplishment is… having a successful and recognized career that I love and am passionate about and having the respect of both my family and my colleagues.


My boldest move to date was… jumping into my career with little knowledge of the technology of sound. Although my film knowledge, both technically and theoretically, was extensive, I was nervous to delve into the sound world, but knew any skills attained would only further and benefit my overall awareness. I am extremely grateful I made this leap!


I surprise people when I tell them… that I am a goofy geek at heart and a lover of comic books, superheroes and horror.


I balance work and life by… dedicating time each day to myself, no matter how little, and planning last-minute vacation time whenever I can get it. ‘Work hard, play hard’ is one of my favourite expressions and one I wholeheartedly embrace. Also, as a lover of film and television, I am an active participant in my industry even when I am not working! I am able to view shows objectively and for the pure enjoyment of them, which I do often.


My biggest passion is… my career; having an impact on the enjoyment of others through the projects I work on and the potential of having a global platform for the distribution of media, however small or large a message.


“If you are passionate and skilled, your perseverance and hard work will likely be rewarded.”


My best advice to young people starting out in film is… to not be discouraged by rejection, a seeming lack of opportunity or the freelance nature of the business. Take initiative, create opportunities for yourself, be persistent and gain as much knowledge as possible through interning, volunteering and asking questions. This industry is an unconventional one; quite often, timing is everything when someone is needed. The ebb and flow of production in the city dictates the number of personnel needed at any given time. If you are passionate and skilled, your perseverance and hard work will likely be rewarded.


Engaging young women in non-traditional industries is… extremely important. The encouragement and mentorship of young women is essential for the fostering and continued growth of the voices of women, both individually and collectively. As the expertise of women in non-traditional fields reaches an expansive audience via growth in numbers and effectiveness, future generations of women will benefit.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I’m an extroverted introvert with a wicked sense of humour.


I stay inspired by… new possibilities that present themselves daily, both personally and professionally. With every day, the possibility of suddenly travelling internationally for work, which I love, or of working with directors and actors I’ve admired since childhood is a reality. On a personal level, I am inspired by the appreciation of life experiences, both on my own and with family and friends.


The future excites me because… of items I have yet to check off of my bucket list: creating an industry collective of and for women; developing, producing and directing my own projects; partnering with brilliant minds on ideas still in formation, travelling and growth.


Jill Purdy pictured with Fred Brennan, Stephen Barden, J.R. Fountain. Photo courtesy of Sean Bourdeau.


The first step towards success? Know yourself.

Kate Rowbotham

There’s something very unique about your personal career journey: YOU. So, whether your goal is to get ahead or to find more satisfaction, dedicate some time to learning more about yourself. Kate Rowbotham, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, explains how.


By Hailey Eisen


How well do you really know yourself? When was the last time you stopped to check-in to see if your job and career trajectory were in alignment with your strengths, passions, and values?

According to Kate Rowbotham, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, the more self-aware you are, the better prepared you’ll be to navigate your career forward.

“Those who over- or underestimate their own abilities tend to struggle more with a willingness to learn and accept feedback,” she explains. “Self-awareness, simply put, is about knowing your motivations, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses — and understanding how those impact your thoughts and actions.”

If developing a strong sense of self-awareness seems like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. Rowbotham provides some simple steps — all of which she recommends to her own students — to help you check-in and take stock of where you’re at, personally and professionally.


Ask yourself some important questions

When you want to get to know another person, the best way to start is by asking them questions. Well, the same is true when it comes to getting to know yourself better. Rowbotham recommends a blog post written by Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project, as an excellent resource to begin with. In this post, Rubin poses a number of questions for self-reflection including: Is there an area of your life where you feel out of control? Especially in control? Are you motivated by competition? These types of questions can help you better understand your behaviours, habits, choices and how they’re governed, maybe even unconsciously, by the type of person you are, Rowbotham explains.

“You’ll want to take some time on your own to reflect on these questions and your answers to them,” she advises. “The practice of journaling can be really helpful to get your thoughts flowing.”


Check in with those who know you best

Sometimes it helps to understand how others see you or to test your theories about yourself with those who know you best. “The next step in self-reflection is to turn to those closest to you — family, friends, colleagues — and ask for their input,” Rowbotham advises. Sometimes you’ll find you’re perceived differently depending what role you’re playing: daughter, mother, friend, manager, colleague. So, checking in across the various areas of your life might help provide a more holistic picture.


Celebrate successes and leave room for improvement  

“One exercise I do with my students after every presentation or project they complete, and with my own teenage daughter after ever competitive hockey game she plays, is to make time for reflection. The same probing questions work no matter the context. The first is to list two areas that went well and the second is to list two areas that you can improve upon.” The opportunity here, she explains, is to think about everything in terms of how you can continuously be growing and developing your skills and expertise. The same sort of check-in on your strengths (what’s going well) and areas for improvement can be scheduled into your calendar on a monthly basis.  

“The risk of not checking in, or forgetting how important self-awareness can be, is that you get five or 10 years down the road and you find yourself in a job that’s unfulfilling or you realize you have a general sense of dissatisfaction with your life,” Rowbotham explains.


Find creative ways to fill the voids.

Another question worth asking yourself is: What are some of the things you love to do, but rarely make time for? “While we can’t always find joy in the work we’re doing, it’s important to find a way to incorporate our passions — the things we love — into our lives in some way.” Whether it be making more time in your personal life to explore hobbies and interests, or working with your manager or boss to re-construct your job in a way that allows you to draw that extra value, the key is to know what you love and find a way to make it part of your life.


Be your own advocate  

Once you have a better sense of your strengths and weaknesses, your preferences, and your personality, you’ll be in a better position to ask for what you want within your current job, or to look for a job that better meets your needs and desires. Whether you’re thinking of going back to school, making a career change, looking for a new job, or finding a way to make your current job work better for you — self-awareness is key to satisfaction and success.



Read more about how getting in touch with yourself can help advance your career with Karen Jackson-Cox, Executive Director of the Business Career Centre at Smith School of Business.


Meet Jean Blacklock, Founder of Prairie Girl Bakery

Jean Blacklock

Jean Blacklock grew up in Saskatchewan, where she graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with degrees in Commerce and in Law. She then became a partner at a major law firm in Calgary and later joined BMO Financial Group as an executive in wealth management. Her last role at BMO was managing wealth services for BMO Harris Private Banking and as COO of BMO Trust Company. What’s she up to today? Running one of Toronto’s most popular cupcakeries, Prairie Girl Bakery.

My first job ever was as a freelance caterer when I was a teenager. I made crazy dishes like duck breast in puff pastry. My Mom and sister were my unpaid staff whom I barked at a lot.


Growing up in the prairies was…wonderful. Most people in the Prairies are straightforward, friendly and hardworking and those are traits I try to emulate.


I decided to leave the corporate world because…I could do more interesting things outside the bank than if I stayed. Also 2009 was the height of the financial crisis, so executives were given incentive to leave.


My proudest accomplishment is…the family Andrew and I have raised. Right now our 4 young adult children are ages 18 to 23 and each of them is a good solid person making his or her way in the world. I like them as well as love them!


My boldest move to date was…opening a cupcake business. But I always had a good feeling about it…


I surprise people when I tell them…I’ll become a registered psychotherapist next spring. Telling people this often catches them off-guard. Then they change the subject!


My best advice for someone looking to start their own business is…stop talking about it and do something. There are so many things to read about, develop, explore and just do to even decide if it is viable. Simply talking about ideas doesn’t get the momentum going, and in order to open and run a business, creating and sustaining momentum is essential.


My best advice from a mentor was…don’t have a partner. This advice came from my Dad, also an entrepreneur. I know some people thrive in partnerships but for me, owning a business can offer such independence so I feel, why weigh myself down?


My biggest setback was…opening the 3rd store and realizing the revenue wasn’t nearly what I had forecast for that location.


I overcame it by…working hard on building the local customer base and using that location’s kitchen for a new division, Cakes by Prairie Girl.


Related: Interested in becoming an entrepreneur? Learn more about the 3 signs that say you should take the plunge.


I balance work and life by…frequently reviewing my priorities and just focusing on those things. Also, I’m well organized and this helps me not to spin my tires, wasting time in frantic mode. For example, if I know that in 3 weeks I want to give someone a present, I’ll add buying it to my list now. That old saying “Don’t put off till tomorrow what can be done today” is golden.


Being an entrepreneur, a mom, and a wife is…really fun. I love having such variety in my life. Also I don’t have time to meddle in my kids’ lives and I’m sure they appreciate that!


My diverse experience helps me…run my business in a professional way. If I didn’t have my law and corporate experience I don’t think I would be so inclined to try to create a work environment where people are treated with respect. It makes me sad to read about small businesses that try to get away with not paying severance or overtime, for example.


If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…I’m a slave to my cat Betsy. She is mostly indifferent to me but I love seeing her little grey and white face when I come home every day.


Creativity is an important part of my job because…to stay relevant a business needs to keep evolving and growing. When we opened 5 years ago I never imagined having the big menu we have now but it’s important to stay fresh in the customers’ eyes through products, website updates, social media and so on.


I stay inspired by…my husband. Andrew has a big job but he always has a sense of humour and keeps work in total perspective. And he is so encouraging of everything I do.


The future excites me because…I have many more things I want to do and I feel that I’m just hitting my stride now.



Living, working, and having it all — Lessons from a life in progress

“At this point, “having it all” is a balance of being reflective about the past and looking ahead at what’s possible with clear focus, determination and resilience.”

By Roberta Hague

Can we “have it all” in terms work and family? The answer to that question has changed throughout life as I’ve reconsidered what “all” means for me. Generally, it has been about living passionately, having fun, aspiring to more, and feeling satisfied at the end of each day that it was another good day.

What has been consistently clear is that life doesn’t unfold as planned — that we all hit the occasional bump and have opportunities to take an interesting turn. How we move forward in those moments is a big part of what shapes our definition of “all.” A few things have shaped mine. Here are some highlights from those moments.


Define your “all,” and then be flexible.

My current position is senior vice-president of Communications and Public Affairs, at OMERS, the defined benefit pension plan which invests and administers pensions for almost 500,000 members from municipalities, school boards, emergency services and local agencies across Ontario. I love this role and feel a deep sense of commitment to the members of this plan. But being here, in this role, was not part of a long-term career plan.

As a kid I was sure I wanted to be a lawyer. An understandable goal, for an 11-year-old who admired her father. But that goal changed. At university, I was exposed to so many interesting people and compelling ideas that I shifted my aspirations toward business.

An ancient Roman philosopher described luck as what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and I feel like I have been very lucky! While I had a clear plan at a young age, I was prepared for opportunities that shaped a very different outcome.

Throughout my career I have always had a plan, yet tried to be open-minded. An active curiosity has led me to live abroad, to take on a variety of roles, to take uncomfortable risks, to even co-author a book, and to always look forward to what’s possible. “Having it all” has been about being prepared for the opportunities.


Understand the resources you’ll need including both financial resources and champions.

Early in my career, I saw first-hand that even the most well-established business can fail. And I learned that you need to manage your personal finances thoughtfully — have the resources lined up so that when the unexpected strikes, you can take the time you need to find the right next role.  

“Having it all” has been about being prepared for the opportunities.

I also learned the value of having champions. Every great opportunity for me has come through someone who knows me. Champions can come from across a spectrum of our networks. These are the people who have seen how we perform in good, and not so good times. They have confidence in us. We often think they have to be senior, but they can be our peers or people who have been on our teams. Ultimately, they are someone who knows you and who is willing to vouch for you and sometimes even create opportunities for you.    


Be bold know yourself and overcome your fears.

Some of the bumps we hit are bigger than others. When I was 30, I awoke one December morning with an indescribable headache. It turns out a vein in my head had burst, and it wasn’t clear that everything was going to be ok.

Days passed in the hospital, mostly in a blur. Then, early on the morning of December 25, a Santa-suited neurologist doing rounds whispered in my ear that my prognosis for a full recovery was the miracle of that holiday season.  

In spite of this good news, it was hard to be bold. It took a while to get back to being myself, but first I had to get past my fears. My confidence had hit a low point and I was anxious that people might see me differently. As it turns out, they did, but in a good way. They viewed my recovery as a reflection of strength and resilience.

The lesson here was about having capacity to reach deep inside myself to find strength. To never let self-doubt chip away at my spirit. I’ve had to relearn this lesson a few times over the years, but always know that I can!     

At this point, “having it all” is a balance of being reflective about the past and looking ahead at what’s possible with clear focus, determination and resilience. It is enjoying a life that’s still in progress, with a sense of purpose, terrific colleagues, deep friendships and a great family — every day.


We’ve partnered with Ricoh in engaging our community in important discussions about the advancement of women, focusing on “having it all.” How you define it, what factors enable you to achieve it, and how you have worked differently to meet your goals. Ricoh is a global technology company specializing in office imaging equipment, production print solutions, document management systems and IT services.

Want to have it all? Put a hand up for yourself, and a hand out for others

“Procuring and teaching the right people to work together to get things done enables great things to happen”


By Liz Bruckner


When Donna Venable speaks about helping others, it’s clear it’s an important part of who she is. “I believe that giving back is a responsibility we all have. My parents instilled this perspective in me as a child, and my husband and I worked to do the same with our children.”

It’s no surprise then that Donna has achieved huge success in the field of human resource management. Serving as Executive Vice President, Human Resources for Ricoh in the Americas since 2008, she oversees approximately 31,000+ employees across Canada, the U.S. and South America, has amassed almost 25 years of management experience in her industry, and has set many impressive standards as a champion of women’s business initiatives and inclusion throughout her career.

A graduate of Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, Donna’s foray into management came through a nationwide retail and property management brand. After joining the company during a time of marked growth, she says it quickly became apparent that a shortage of talent was undoing the brand’s success. “There were numerous opportunities for growth, but we were at a loss because the talent needed to achieve our business goals was lacking.”

It was realizing the necessity to recruit and train the right people that caused Donna to branch into human resources, and ultimately set her burgeoning career in motion. “Having studied political science with a focus on business, what was compelling to me about this sector of business was seeing first-hand the importance of selecting a great team. Procuring and teaching the right people to work together to get things done enables great things to happen,” she says.

Of course, her job-related triumphs haven’t come without struggles. “Having organically merged into a facet of business without a solid knowledge base, I’ve made it vital over the years to earn after-hours certifications and take courses to build on my understanding of the human resources function, and to positively impact the level of talent being procured.”

“Ultimately, there are so many opportunities that come our way that taking the time to help others is vital, professionally and personally.”

Dealing with gender-related stigmas was another obstacle she encountered. “Earlier on in my career, it became apparent that, because of my gender, bringing my skills to the table had the potential to be difficult. That said, I never let it stop me, and my experiences—good and bad—have been integral to my drive to propel talented women forward.”

Donna is now passionate about championing women’s initiatives within Ricoh worldwide. “This is going back a number of years, but I vividly recall attending a luncheon held by a successful female executive. She hosted it to discuss how women can bring value to their jobs, and how management can support and propel them forward.” During the chat, Donna recalls the executive talking about how men will strongly pursue a job that they may not have all the qualifications for, while women tend to wait “until they feel they’re ready, until they have all the qualifications. It’s this self-imposed difference that prevents many women from stepping forward and letting their talent shine.”

The result of this discussion, Donna says, was her becoming keenly aware of the need for women to think differently, to be confident, and to recognize and grow their talent. And she’s dedicated to helping them on that path. Working for a company that enables and supports these efforts is something she’s very grateful for—it’s her personal definition of having it all.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredibly strong leaders that happen to be women, and I’m thrilled and proud that the Ricoh brand is so willing to encourage women into these roles,” she says. “Ultimately, there are so many opportunities that come our way that taking the time to help others is vital, professionally and personally, and being a part of a brand dedicated to creating a corporate social responsibility has been incredibly rewarding.”


We’ve partnered with Ricoh in engaging our community in important discussions about the advancement of women, focusing on “having it all.” How you define it, what factors enable you to achieve it, and how you have worked differently to meet your goals. Ricoh is a global technology company specializing in office imaging equipment, production print solutions, document management systems and IT services.

Put your hand up, take a leap: career advice from Suzanne Morel, Chief of Staff to the CEO, Mastercard

Suzanne Morel

From Parliament Hill to New York City, Suzanne Morel has a multifaceted career that has made her an advocate for women putting their hands up, jumping at every learning opportunity, and never underestimating the power of a good team.

By Hailey Eisen

Suzanne Morel’s career has taken her on a unique journey from her very first job as Chief of Staff to an MP on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, to her current role as Chief of Staff to the CEO of Mastercard in New York. Along the way she earned a Master’s degree and an MBA, negotiated everything from regulatory outcomes to free trade agreements in both the public and private sectors, and spent time living and studying in China.   

Given the scope of her experience and her commitment to mentoring young professionals, she’s often asked what’s the one piece of advice she’d give women in pursuit of success. “Put your hand up!” she says. “As women, we tend to hesitate and question ourselves as to whether or not we’re capable. But all the experiences I’ve had have come from taking leaps of faith and not knowing what the outcome was going to be. And it’s been incredibly rewarding.”

The confidence to leap is a theme that’s surfaced throughout Suzanne’s career. One of her first significant leaps was working full-time for former Liberal MP Paddy Torsney while completing her graduate studies as a full-time student. During the final few months of that period, she was living out of a suitcase in the riding of Burlington while working on the MP’s re-election campaign,  and spending nights writing the thesis that she was committed to completing within the standard two-year period. “That ended with satisfaction on both sides,” Suzanne recalls. “Paddy was re-elected and I finished my thesis.”

The next leap was to leave politics for public service, taking a role with the then Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade as a Senior Trade Policy Analyst. After six tremendous years in this role, she was ready to leap again. “People don’t typically step away from public service jobs at the level I was at,” Suzanne says.

But despite the many naysayers who expressed their doubts about her decision, Suzanne felt the time was right to enrol in an MBA program. “One of my champions, the former Deputy Minister of Trade, really supported my decision. She said to me, ‘I wish more people would step away, as you’re going to do, and gain experience in the private sector’.”

“As women, we tend to hesitate and question ourselves as to whether or not we’re capable. But all the experiences I’ve had have come from taking leaps of faith and not knowing what the outcome was going to be. And it’s been incredibly rewarding.”

Choosing the right MBA required foresight. Suzanne knew she would benefit from a program that took a team-centred approach. “I already knew my own strengths and I had been developing these, but I wanted the benefit of working with people who had strengths that I didn’t have, who were coming [to the program] with different backgrounds and experiences,” she says. “I knew how powerful it could be for a team to come together and perform at such a high level.”

She also wanted an opportunity to do part of her year-long MBA abroad. “I had come from an international role and had been doing a lot of travel, and I wanted to spend a significant amount of time abroad. I loved the fact that the Smith MBA offered that.”

When she enrolled in the MBA program at Queen’s University and moved to Kingston she was ready to spend a year focusing one-hundred percent on school. Working closely with a diverse group of students, with whom she still keeps in close contact, was an invaluable experience. “The team approach enables you to learn not only how to led but how to be lead — you challenge one another, support one another, and learn to harness your individual strengths for success.”

For the last four months of her MBA, Suzanne completed her studies at Peking University in China. “I had the benefit of working with these incredible professors and gaining all these insights in a market that is one of the world’s largest economic forces, one that’s rich in culture and history,” she says. “I’ve been to China many times in my current role with Mastercard and I still draw on those experiences today.”

“The team approach enables you to learn not only how to led but how to be lead — you challenge one another, support one another, and learn to harness your individual strengths for success.”

Following her MBA, a number of opportunities opened up for Suzanne, first a role with the CPP Investment Board as Director, Government Relations — joining during the financial crisis in 2008 — and then Vice President, Public Policy with Mastercard. In her current role as Chief of Staff to the CEO she says she’s challenged daily. “I draw upon our resources throughout the company and collaborate with colleagues around the world in order to drive results. From this vantage point, I can see across the organization and use this privileged spot to make things happen.” Suzanne frequently travels with the CEO and uses the time between meetings to connect with colleagues and customers, gaining insights to better inform decisions from the centre.

“There’s no doubt that there are challenges for women to get ahead and get noticed — no matter what type of role you’re in — but it requires thinking creatively about how you differentiate yourself,” she says. “That’s why I challenged myself academically, pursing three degrees, and have always sought rich professional experiences — because it’s more difficult to dismiss someone who has the credentials and experience.”



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Lift as you Climb and Learn as you Soar

Virginia Brailey

Virginia Brailey, Vice-President, Marketing and Strategy at ADP Canada believes fully in reaching beyond your career comfort zone, and bringing others along for the climb. Her advice? You should too.

By Hailey Eisen

“It’s not the act of jumping out of an airplane; it’s what’s you learn before the chute opens that really matters,” Virginia Brailey says. Learning on the job (and while skydiving) has been her approach throughout her 25-year career as a marketing leader, and it’s advice she shares with anyone looking to take their career to the next level.

“Every time there was a chance to get involved in a new area or take on a new challenge I jumped at it,” she recalls. “I have always considered myself lucky to have these opportunities to learn, even though it can be a lot of pressure to learn quickly.”

The result is an impressive career trajectory through natural resources, telecommunications, technology and now, as Vice-President, Marketing and Strategy at ADP Canada, in the human capital management industry. Virginia has tackled a number of specialties including corporate communications, product management and strategic planning in organizations of all sizes.

“Getting out of your comfort zone is the key,” she explains. “Assuming you have strong basic skills, there is no reason to turn your back on a great opportunity just because you lack years of experience. This goes for everything from a new job to a big project in your current role.”

Just like skydiving, taking on new opportunities requires a little bit of nerve and a great deal of trust in other people. “I talk to so many educated, smart women who feel they need to have one-hundred per cent of the skills or experiences to put up their hand for a new project, and this keeps them on the sidelines,” Virginia explains. “The truth is, there are always lots of people out there who can help you learn and you may find support in the most unlikely places to help you on that journey — you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.”

As a volunteer mentor with the American Marketing Association, she encourages others to view learning itself as a goal, as is the chance to see things from a different point-of-view by rolling up your sleeves to work alongside colleagues or specialists with whom you might not normally engage.

“The truth is, there are always lots of people out there who can help you learn and you may find support in the most unlikely places to help you on that journey — you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.”

“Taking on opportunities beyond your existing role or department is good for career advancement, but more importantly it helps you understand and respect the work and expertise other people bring, and what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes,” Virginia explains. “That’s information you can bring back and pass along to the people you’re helping on their journey. I like the phrase, ‘lifting as you climb,’ because I think the most important thing each of us can do at work is to help other people grow and learn.”

Her own challenges and experiences early in her career have contributed to Virginia’s commitment to encourage others. Working in traditional male environments in the natural resources and telecommunication sectors, Virginia heard plenty of discouraging messages, but looked to role models and mentors for guidance. “Earlier in my career at a predominantly male mining company, it was the president who was always quick to encourage me to run with new opportunities and that alone made a huge difference,” she recalls.

“I like the phrase, ‘lifting as you climb,’ because I think the most important thing each of us can do at work is to help other people grow and learn.”

At ADP, Virginia continues her mission of learning and teaching. “Leadership is a privileged obligation — both to teach others and to continue learning yourself,” she observes. “We have a wonderfully diverse group of senior leaders and associates, and I learn constantly — that’s a big part of what energizes me.”

While she is not planning to jump out of any more airplanes, Virginia explains she is still learning as she goes. “I actively surround myself with people of different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures — because there is so much power in diversity.”