Meet Dr. Catherine Chandler-Crichlow, a human capital expert and immigration champion

Dr. Catherine Chandler-Crichlow is the President & Chief Human Capital Officer of 3C Workforce Solutions. With close to 30 years of experience in human capital research and development, she has worked on a range of initiatives that span private, public and voluntary institutions in Canada, Central Europe, Latin America, South-East Asia and the Caribbean. An active volunteer, Dr. Chandler-Crichlow is Board Chair at Toronto Region Immigration and Employment Council (TRIEC) and also participated in the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship & Immigration’s Expert Advisory Panel, which led to the province’s first-ever immigration strategy that was introduced in 2012.





My first job ever was… As a high school teacher of science, chemistry and mathematics in Trinidad and Tobago.


I chose my career path because… I have a passion for human capital development. I love developing and helping others – both at an individual and corporate level – to achieve their full potential, whether this is in the area of education like math or science, or in areas of self-development and soft skills like in communications, negotiations, or problem-solving.


My proudest accomplishment is… The strong network professional leaders that I have developed internationally throughout my career in government, corporate and the non-for-profit sector.


My boldest move to date was… Taking the step to become an independent consultant and have my own practice. This has allowed me to pursue a range of initiatives including meeting amazing leaders in the human capital industry, academia, and government and the non-for-profit sector.


I surprise people when I tell them… I am an ardent sports aficionado! I love cricket, soccer, basketball, skiing, and Formula One! In fact, my favourite team is Arsenal F.C. in the English Premier League. I have their swag and have attended many of their games in London.


My best advice to people starting their career is… To focus on integrating their passion into their career and make an effort to not box themselves in to pre-defined roles. It’s easy for one to define their life by their occupation. But I say discover your passions, strengths, and expertise and start from there.


“It’s easy for one to define their life by their occupation. But I say discover your passions, strengths, and expertise and start from there.”


My best advice from a mentor was… To create a groundswell if I want to implement sustainable change within a corporate culture. And to create this groundswell, you have to immerse and learn their culture first.


I would tell my 20-year old self… To enjoy every single opportunity you get. Regardless of how bizarre it may seem, enjoy learning from them all! And I would also say, be present in each moment and learn wherever you are.


My biggest setback was… I would not call this a setback, but rather a hurdle: I was living in Trinidad and Tobago and really wanted to study and do a particular masters degree program at Harvard University, but the international student fees were very high. I had absolutely no idea how I would be able to pursue that dream.


I overcame it by… Doing two things: first, I created a vision of myself attending Harvard. Just being there. And second, I created a critical path of actions that I could take to make that vision a reality. I did extensive research in the library to learn about all the international scholarships available to foreign students that I would qualify for. I applied for and received a fellowship from the Organisation of American States and that’s how I was able to attend Harvard University. Again, you have to envision yourself achieving your dreams, create a plan and never doubt yourself.


Work/life balance is… An essential aspect of building a successful career, exploring personal goals, and having a strong family base.


I stay inspired by… Remembering that there is always an opportunity to learn from others and pay it forward at a community level.


The future excites me because… I see the energy, spark, and brilliance in the youth I meet from walks of life. What a tremendous opportunity to help build the leaders of tomorrow.


My next step is… To continue to find avenues in which I can contribute to strengthening the skills, competencies, and capabilities of youth and immigrants, especially with my work as board chair at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).

Meet Megan Anderson, Business Development Director at and co-founder of #GoSponsorHer

Megan Anderson is currently the Business Development Director at, after having proved herself as a stand-out associate at McKinsey & Company. Her latest passion project is co-leading #GoSponsorHer, a social campaign to accelerate the sponsorship of high potential women in Canada and beyond. The project was born out of a deep desire to empower the next generation of female CEOs and break the glass ceiling – for good.






My first job ever was… This is a complicated answer because I was a keener as a kid and loved working from a really early age, so I had many overlapping ”first” jobs. One was running my own business that offered babysitting services and running kids birthday parties. I went around the neighborhood starting at age 10 with flyers for “premium birthday parties and babysitting services” (I also had business cards which of course added instant credibility). I brought in a team (aka friends) and we would do everything from loot bags to organizing/running the programming. I also acted and sang up until my 20s. I worked on the Disney channel, in musical theatre productions and in several embarrassing commercials.


I decided to start my own thing because… I wanted to stop talking about what needed to be done and take action. When it comes to promoting gender diversity, it’s easy to become paralyzed by the magnitude of the problem. The final straw was hearing a young woman say that she avoided going out for meals with male clients because of fear of how it would be perceived. While there is no silver bullet, my co-founder Laura McGee and I knew sponsorship was a hugely important lever so we ran with it. We really wanted to encourage both up and coming women and senior executives to feel empowered to cultivate sponsorship relationships with a full spectrum of people (regardless of gender). We won’t move the needle if women or men shy away from these relationships – 80% of executives are men!


My education prepared me for where I am now by… Boosting my confidence. Going into university, I felt like a musical theatre kid who accidentally ended up at business school, but coming out, I felt like a badass business woman capable of anything.


My boldest move to date was… Leaving a great company and fast-tracked career at McKinsey to jump into the tech world. The opportunity to join the team at was too amazing to pass up. I am so excited to be a part of building a team, a product and, ultimately, a world-leading company out of Toronto.  


I surprise people when I tell them… I am messy. Because I am very structured in most areas of my life, it surprises people (until they live with me for any period of time.) At the same time I hate having a messy home, so the paradox there is a real struggle (for my poor partner too!)


My best advice to people starting their career is… No one has the right answer. I spent the early days of my career thinking that my job was to get the answers out of people who knew more than me. I quickly realized that everybody is doing the best they can with incomplete information. Smart people don’t know the answers, they ask good questions and make quick decisions once they feel like they have up to 70% of the facts (Jeff Bezos says any more than this and you are too late.) I became way more impactful once I changed my mindset from “I need to get the answers from other people smarter than me” to “I can create an answer with help from others.”


My best advice from a mentor was… It’s hard to pick just one, I have had many amazing mentors and sponsors. One is from Nora Aufreiter: “Create a vision of what you where you want to be in 20 years and work backwards.” Turns out it is much easier to picture what I want in 20 years than it is to figure out what I want in 5!



“I became way more impactful once I changed my mindset from ‘I need to get the answers from other people smarter than me’ to ‘I can create an answer with help from others.'”



My biggest setback was… I am not sure that I believe in setbacks; I am a believer in “everything happens for a reason”. Having said that, two days before #GoSponsorHer launched my partner and I were rocked by some potentially life changing health news. On the surface this was certainly a major setback, but we got through it and it reminded me what is important in life. It was also a good check to ensure that I was surrounded by the right team. My team at was amazingly supportive through everything – I could not imagine going through it without their support.


I overcame it by… Reminding myself of my mom’s favourite adage that everything happens for a reason. These challenges make me stronger and more empathetic to others.


Work/life balance is… A myth! To me it is about integration: I live one life comprised of a bunch of activities and I don’t feel that I have to turn work on and off with a switch. I have a few principles:

  • Realize that 9-5 is an artificial construct that doesn’t need to exist anymore in most knowledge jobs/industries. People give me energy so I still love going into the office most days and I do think that it is important to have some time for the team to be together for the sake of collaboration and creativity. But some Fridays I work from the cottage because I am more creative there, some Wednesday afternoons I do chores and some Sundays I work because I feel like I am “in the zone”.
  • Prioritize ruthlessly as an individual and as a company. Jason Silver (our COO at is a pro at this. Make sure you know what your 6 month objectives are as a company (there shouldn’t be too many!), identify your macro life priorities and set weekly and daily goals and daily priorities.
  • Find and build your tribe. I have an amazing network of family, friends and supporters that I could not live without. These range from my partner and immediate family to childhood friends to colleagues but they have one thing in common – they have my back and I have theirs. To me life is a team sport (forgive my cheesy line here): giving and receiving help is key.     


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I LOVE sugar. Gummy worms, licorice, peanut M&Ms – you name it, I love it.


I stay inspired by… Taking lots of breaks by keeping up with my hobbies, getting outside and staying fit. I take brain breaks often throughout the day. I also love everything to do with the arts so I still do at least 1 musical a year (the last one was playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde). I get to the cottage as much as I can during the summer, I take walks outside through the day and I make sure that my weekends are packed with outdoor activities. I love running and fitness so I exercise 5-6 times/week. I also have a 15K step goal/day which sounds aggressive but is pretty easy when you walk to work, walk during calls, and dance frequently at your standing desk (the last one is also entertaining for your team!)   


The future excites me because… We live in a time of unprecedented speed of change. This means that everybody, no matter what their age or career stage, has a huge role to play in shaping the future. This is enormously exciting as a young person because I don’t feel that the constraint of “you need 25 years of experience to have impact” holds anymore.


My next step is… I have no idea! Having just started my new adventure at and recently launched #GoSponsorHer, my focus for now is growing both of those and making them as successful as possible.



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

Alice Announces Close of First Financing Round

Alice (previously Circular Board), the world’s first machine learning business advisor and first digital accelerator, announced the close of its first significant equity-based funding round. In an era when inclusive entrepreneurship is a social and economic imperative, a diverse group of investors have put their money and time towards the only existing, scalable solution to business advisory. Signia Venture Partners led the $1 million seed round with participation from investors Jean Case, Sherpa Capital, Zehner LLC, Shatter Fund, Cathie Reid and Lovell Family Limited Partnership/Ann Lovell, president of Women Moving Millions.

Alice is also pleased to welcome Zaw Thet, partner at Signia, and Elizabeth Gore, entrepreneur in residence at Dell, to the Board of Directors. On the near-term horizon, Alice will also be announcing the addition of substantial non-equity capital to support the company’s growth trajectory.

While fulfilling a social mission, Alice is also committed to innovating technology that removes barriers and opens doors for entrepreneurs. “Advances in machine learning and AI are transforming the world around us. At Signia, we are particularly excited about Alice as a solution application to bias and sexism in business and in providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to build their companies faster and more efficiently than ever,” said Thet.

Deemed the “Siri for entrepreneurs” by media, Alice democratizes access to business solutions by connecting women and other underrepresented business owners to opportunities, knowledge and communities. Through the application of machine learning, Alice is also able to predict the unique needs of each founder and proactively recommend content to save them time and money and to accelerate growth. Since January 2016, the company has served thousands of woman-led companies from six continents, and its 268 accelerator alumni have raised more than $35 million in capital.

“At its core, Alice provides entrepreneurs with the tools, access to capital, advice and networks they need to succeed, regardless of where they come from or who they know,” said Carolyn Rodz, founder and CEO of Alice.

“Since the company began nearly two years ago, we have been fortunate to maintain a strong financial position through programming and partnerships with major organizations, like Dell Technologies, Johnson & Johnson, Urban Decay, Kauffman Foundation, U.S. Small Business Administration and the United Nations Foundation. The close of this financing round allows us to double down on our growth strategy and reach more underserved entrepreneurs throughout the globe,” Rodz continued.


“Have you ever seen innovation wheresomeone didn’t take a risk?” –Jean Case


Women and minorities are the fastest growing segment of business owners, yet the statistics around their access to capital and influential networks are not aligned with their potential to contribute to economic growth. Alice aims to create a new playing field for these entrepreneurs, with the simultaneous opportunity to use emerging technology to reach a $3.5 trillion global market.

Investor Jean Case, CEO of Case Foundation and Chairman of the National Geographic Society Board of Trustees, said about Alice, “Ensuring women founders and entrepreneurs of color have access to the same funding, networking and mentoring opportunities as traditional founders will strengthen our economy and make sure that anyone from anywhere has a fair shot at the American Dream. I am supporting Alice because it helps break down barriers and brings female entrepreneurs the tools they need to scale and succeed.”

Learn more about Alice at




Meet Nancy Foster, Senior VP of Human and Corporate Resources at Husky

As Husky’s Senior Vice President of Human and Corporate Resources, Nancy Foster is an experienced human resources practitioner with extensive oil and gas experience, both domestically and internationally. She is a graduate of the Harvard Advanced Management Program, and has served on numerous committees and is dedicated to giving back to her community of Calgary, such as the YWCA of Calgary. Yet despite her current success, Nancy’s journey hasn’t always been upward and linear. Find out more below.

Want to hear more from Nancy and two other power-house female energy executives? Join us in Calgary on October 4 for our luncheon event Women In Power: Calgary’s Senior Executives Weigh In.





My first job ever was… As a cook in a diner — I was 15.  My first professional job was working at Home Oil. I worked in special projects accounting and my role was to gather all the necessary information/documentation to submit claims for both the provincial and Federal Petroleum Incentive Program which was brought in as part of the National Energy Program in late 1980.


I chose my career path because…  I knew it would offer me exciting opportunities to learn and grow in my career. Most of my roles have required me to influence vs. dictate, which has led me to being able to influence culture to be more diverse and inclusive.


My proudest accomplishment is… That’s easy — my four kids and now grandkids too.


My boldest move to date was… Moving to Norway to take over as Country Manager. I had never been there and didn’t speak the language. My husband took a leave of absence from his busy career so that I could accept the opportunity.


I surprise people when I tell them… By the time I was 28, I had four children and a growing career.


My best advice to people starting their career is… Put your hand up. Although there has been no formula to my career, there has been one constant: a willingness to put myself forward for work.  


My best advice from a mentor was… To accept that while I could have it all — a family and a great career as a leader where I continued to learn and grow — I couldn’t necessarily have it all at once.


My biggest setback was… Beyond the numerous downturns that I have worked through, personally, shutting down the Norway office.


I overcame it by… I always tell people that it’s so important — no matter what your job is — to surround yourself with people who give you authentic feedback and a boost of confidence. Many of our traditional support systems — such as extended family members — are less available to provide support because of their own busy schedules. So we need to continue to build our community of mentors to embrace and empower us. And it’s important to remember that you don’t have to hang your hat on just one mentor. I like to think of mentoring in moments.  


Work/life balance is… About choices. I think you have to value quality over quantity. You have to embrace the imbalance because the work/life equilibrium will never be a 50/50 endeavor. Kids get sick on work days. Work projects blow up during hockey playoffs. Life happens and you need to forgive yourself and do what you can.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I have two dogs — big ones who are a great source of enjoyment to me and my husband.


I stay inspired by… Continuing to learn. Asking questions, reading — by staying involved in a not for profit which helps keep me connected to the larger Community.


The future excites me because I see so many opportunities for Husky, our city, our province and our country.


My next step is… To keep learning — through my work at Husky, through my volunteering and eventually through Board work at a for profit company.



Want to hear more from Nancy and two other power-house female energy executives? Join us in Calgary on October 4 for our luncheon event Women In Power: Calgary’s Senior Executives Weigh In.

Meet Krista Pell, Vice President, People & Performance at Ausenco

An experienced international business leader with 20  years human resources and talent management experience, Krista Pell is recognized for her strategic, exuberant and hands-on approach to people and performance. Throughout her career, she has proven her drive to develop and implement people management and organizational development strategies and solutions that create systemic change, enhancing the engagement and effectiveness of all employees. But did you know this impressive executive was once a star on the rugby field? Learn more about Krista below.

Want to hear more from Krista and two other power-house female energy executives? Join us in Calgary on October 4 for our luncheon event Women In Power: Calgary’s Senior Executives Weigh In.





My first job ever was… I had a newspaper route for the Guelph Mercury.  After that I worked at the mall food court for a small ice cream and snack shop called Fast Eddie’s.


I chose my career path because… I always loved the combination of coaching others and consulting leaders on how to improve their business outcomes. This evolved perfectly in to a career focused on People and Performance.


My proudest accomplishment is… My daughter.  She is 9 years old and is thoughtful, kind, well-traveled and understands diversity in our world.


My boldest move to date was… Leaving my successful role and moving across the world, which I actually did twice! Once from Canada to the Cayman Islands and then 7 years later I decided to leave that role and move back to Canada.


I surprise people when I tell them… I compete at a world level in CrossFit and that I have competed on the world stage in rugby and cheerleading. Quite a unique blend!


My best advice to people starting their career is… Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to participate in discussions that scare you a little bit.  This is where all the learning happens.


My best advice from a mentor was… Be myself and use all the experiences I have had in life, that is when I will be most successful.


My biggest setback was… I think I have been fortunate in that I don’t look at any one thing as a big setback. There have been lessons learned but for the most part I feel that I have been on a forward trajectory.


I overcame it by… Anytime I have felt like I was being stagnant in my role or development I looked at how I could challenge myself to do something to change it!


Work/life balance is… Critical to happiness. It looks different for everyone and changes for me on a weekly basis, but I value my personal life as a priority and that is what makes me more successful in business.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I actually don’t know! Probably that I led the Cayman Islands Women’s Rugby team to a NACRA (North America Caribbean Rugby Championships) in 2010, I don’t think that is on the internet.


I stay inspired by… The fact that there is still so much learning and improvement I can do in everything I am involved in. It keeps me hungry!


The future excites me because… I feel that I am very comfortable in my understanding of how I can positively impact others and make a difference in my career and personal endeavours.  When you have a very clear understanding of who you are you also have clarity in how to maximize your accomplishments!


My next step is… I hope as exciting as the past 20 years of my career has been. I sense some changes in the future!




Want to hear more from Krista and two other power-house female energy executives? Join us in Calgary on October 4 for our luncheon event Women In Power: Calgary’s Senior Executives Weigh In.

Meet Sarah Walters, Vice President, Human Resources at Cenovus Energy

As Vice-President, Human Resources at Cenovus Energy, Sarah Walters knows how to build a team that is effective, skilled, and inclusive. With more than 20 years of international strategic HR and organizational development experience gained within the rail, National Health Service and oil & gas industries, bringing large scale, multi-skilled teams together is her bread and butter. But her journey to the top of HR hasn’t been without risk, setbacks, and surprising twists.

Want to hear more from Sarah and two other power-house female energy executives? Join us in Calgary on October 4 for our luncheon event Women In Power: Calgary’s Senior Executives Weigh In.





My first job ever was… Debt Collection Officer for local government in the UK


I chose my career path because… I love the impact people can have on organizational performance and I just love the variety that comes with my role.


My proudest accomplishment is… My current role and position on the Leadership Team of Cenovus Energy.


My boldest move to date was… Asking my husband to quit his career and move to the USA with me, especially when he had a far more senior role than I at the time.


I surprise people when I tell them… I took an assessment to be a train driver and passed.


My best advice to people starting their career is… Be open to all opportunities, make the best out of all of them, be positive, be inquisitive and always be kind.


My best advice from a mentor was… Be confident, be authentic, dive in and embrace the challenges that are put in front of you.


My biggest setback was… As with many people, we all suffer from setbacks during our careers but I am a big believer that this is how we learn, develop and grow.


I overcame it by… In all the setbacks I have had in my career, I do my best to find the positive, find the learning and focus on finding the best outcome possible. Then share those learning’s with others to help them avoid the same pitfalls!


Work/life balance is… Having the discipline to know when to stop and go home! Finding efficient ways of working and keeping it simple – don’t overcomplicate things. Recognizing the importance of your support network outside of work and being as committed to them as you are to your work.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am a grannie to a 6 year old boy.


I stay inspired by… Surrounding myself with positive and driven people and finding the positive in any situation.


The future excites me because… Who knows what new learnings it can bring and how it can make things better for everyone – I love to see progress.


My next step is… Who knows! I have never really planned any of my moves but have always embraced them when they have presented themselves!




Want to hear more from Sarah and two other power-house female energy executives? Join us in Calgary on October 4 for our luncheon event Women In Power: Calgary’s Senior Executives Weigh In.

Meet Laura Murray, a classical ballet dancer turned communications entrepreneur

Recognizing the need for a marketing agency dedicated exclusively to the arts and culture sector, Laura Murray launched Laura Murray Public Relations in 2011. As the principal of what is now known as Murray Paterson Marketing Group (MPMG), Laura has built a company founded on the passion, creativity, and integrity that define the artistic process. A classical ballet dancer and journalist by training, she brings the strength and discipline of dance to her leadership with the insight and exactitude of reporting to her work. Now six-years-old, the agency has grown from a two-person operation to a 15-person company that has earned numerous accolades for its innovative, full-service marketing and communications. Most recently, Laura was recognized as a 2016 Business in Vancouver ‘Forty Under 40’ winner, acknowledging the city’s most successful entrepreneurs under the age of 40 and the ones to watch.





My first job ever was… A very brief stint at Dairy Queen.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Truthfully, I never set out to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to wake up every day and do meaningful work that I was extremely passionate about, which meant circling back to my first love: the arts. Following my gut and heart, I started my own full-service marketing company – at the time of launch, it was called Laura Murray Public Relations – dedicated exclusively to servicing the arts & creative industries.

Transitioning from the arts to the business world was… Exciting, nerve-wracking, and challenging, but also filled with endless opportunities. Walking away from a career in dance was a difficult decision, given this had been my dream from the time I was six years old; I definitely mourned the loss of my former life when transitioning from the studio into an office environment. But I still carry a piece of the studio with me, and attribute much of my professional success to the drive, discipline, and persistence ingrained in me as a dancer.

My proudest accomplishment is… Being selected as one of Business In Vancouver’s 2016 ‘Forty Under 40’ winners. It was a tremendous honour and incredible validation of the countless hours, the sleepless nights, and the tremendous emotional & physical investment made as an entrepreneur. Being recognized by BIV for work I feel privileged and grateful to do every day meant everything. I’m still pinching myself!

My boldest move to date was… Taking the risk to launch my company, with no business degree or formal education, while remaining steadfast in my vision to work exclusively within the arts (despite the critics).

I surprise people when I tell them… My business partner, Brian Paterson, is also one of my best friends. We couldn’t be more different – he’s the yin to my yang – but I believe our complementary partnership and distinct roles are what has made MPMG so special. We recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, respectfully challenge one another, and collaboratively develop big, audacious goals.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… Love what you do. You are going to eat, sleep, and breathe your business 24/7; it will become your greatest obsession, your biggest stress, and your most fulfilling joy. Beyond that, draft a solid business plan, hire an excellent accountant, persist in the face of adversity, prepare to hustle, trust your gut, ask for help, and dream big.

My best advice from a mentor was… “Go for it. What do you have to lose?” Growth is only possible when you’re prepared to take risks and make real change. If something scares you, chances are it’s worth doing.


“Growth is only possible when you’re prepared to take risks and make real change.”


My biggest setback was… To be honest, I don’t believe in setbacks. A willingness to try and fail is the cornerstone of innovation, creativity, and success. Every challenge I have faced throughout this entrepreneurial journey has been an invaluable learning experience and ultimately helped me grow stronger and even more determined.

Work/Life Balance is… I’m still trying to figure that out! It truly is a balancing act, and as a result, it is never static. Setting clear boundaries and priorities while also remaining adaptable is a constant exercise in discernment.

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Fun fact: my father, Hugh Murray, was Senior Vice President and Executive Producer at IMAX before entering retirement last year. He was a pioneer in 3D film technology, working on films such as Avatar and Harry Potter, as well as many of the films screened on the OMNIMAX at Science World.

I stay inspired by… The people in my life. My husband and family always inspire me, as do the dedicated, driven, insanely talented dream team at MPMG. I also draw inspiration from the artists whose visions we have the privilege of promoting across Canada.

The future excites me because… It’s full of endless possibilities. I believe that your dreams are only limited by your imagination and work ethic. In many ways, I feel like I’m just getting started.

My next step is… Discovering the answer to that is the fun part! In the not-too-distant future, I would love to create a foundation that focuses on supporting the needs of start-up artists and arts organizations. Creating an opportunity for burgeoning artists to excel is one way for me to give back to the community that has been instrumental to my success.

Meet Rosanne Hertogh, founder of Sololu

Rosanne Hertogh is the founder and designer of Sololu, a lifestyle brand that specializes in ethically made, seasonless women’s clothing. As an avid traveler, Rosanne’s mission is to inspire women to live life to the fullest and empower them to feel beautiful and confident while doing so, all while making ethical and sustainable clothing choices.





My first job ever was… Being a babysitter to my little cousins –I loved spending time with them. I was quite young, but simply loved it (and the fact that I was making a bit of money for the first time).


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to do what I am passionate about, make my own rules and create something I was missing.


My proudest accomplishment is… Receiving a government grant after putting in a lot of time and effort to get my business plan and presentation in front of a jury approved.


My boldest move to date was… Moving to Canada from the Netherlands.


I surprise people when I tell them… I auditioned for the Dutch versions of American Idol and X-Factor when I was 16.


Starting a business with an ethical purpose is… What a lot more entrepreneurs should do. I can’t imagine my clothing designs being made under terrible work conditions. I like to treat people the way I’d like to be treated and that’s why the choice for being ethical was simple. I find it important to have my clothing made in an ethical work environment and keep our planet, the people we share it with, the environment and our future generations in mind.


My best advice to people trying to get an idea off the ground is… Start working on it as soon as you can, before someone else does, and start small – you can always invest in it more (money and time wise) once things take off. Also, do your research of course. Nowadays there’s a ton of information available online and there may have been others who have done or launched something similar to your idea that could be helpful to you.


My best advice from a mentor was… Trust your instincts.


My biggest setback was… Finding a right manufacturer for my clothing collection who is ethical and shares the same values.


I overcame it by… Not giving up and keep searching for that right manufacturer.


Work/life balance is… A healthy combination between living life to the fullest and working on your passion.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’ve lived in Italy for an internship.


I stay inspired by… Traveling – visiting new places and meeting new people.


The future excites me because… I have so many ideas for my business and lots of fun things coming up with family and friends.


My next step is… Creating and adding new clothing designs to Sololu’s current collection that contribute to a better everyday life, whether at home or abroad. I’d love to add more collections as well, such as swimwear and loungewear. My goal is to become as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible. It would be nice to become an inspiring go-to brand for women that travel on a regular basis or lead active lives.




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

Meet Heather Barnabe, CEO of G(irls)20

Earlier this summer, Heather Barnabe was named CEO of our charity of choice, G(irls)20. With over a decade of experience in the not-for-profit sector, Heather knows what it means to manage complex, multi-country education interventions. Her career has thus far taken her across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America for Right To Play, advocating for women’s and girl’s rights around the world. 





My first job ever was… Working at the movie theatre. We were allowed to eat popcorn on our break and after our shift. It was heaven.


I decided to start my own thing… I was fortunate to move into this role after Farah Mohamed, now the CEO at Malala Fund, started G(risl)20.


My education prepared me for where I am now by… Teaching me multidimensional thinking, reasoning and analyzing… the good, the bad and the ugly. It also opened me to the world of political, economic and feminist theories that have, in many ways, shaped my values and guided many of my career choices.


My proudest accomplishment is… Having worked around the globe, I’m proud of the incredible network of colleagues and friends that teach, motivate, inspire, amuse and push me to do awesome things. 


My boldest move to date was… I’d say bold is a character trait many of my friends would use to describe me. Whether that be my career choice, my statements, my values, the type of wine I bring to a dinner party, or my strong eyebrows: I’m no stranger to bold moves. In fact, jumping into this CEO position felt bold – it’s exhilarating and terrifying and incredibly rewarding, like any bold move.


I surprise people when I tell them… How many countries I’ve visited.


My best advice to people starting in their career is… Understand this is a long game and adjust accordingly. Find a mentor, have a strategy, seize opportunities when you can and, most importantly, speak up.


My best advice from my mentor was… Go into every meeting, job interview, sales pitch, whatever it is, with a few well-formulated, critical points you want to make and don’t leave until you’ve made them. It seems obvious and simple but it has helped me stay focused when articulation and brevity are key.


My biggest setback was… I once found myself heartbroken, with a job coming to an end and living in a city I didn’t love. When everyone else seemed to be moving farther ahead in their lives, I felt lost, stuck and heading in the wrong direction.


I overcame it by… Besides leaning heavily on family and friends (and wine), I focused entirely on my career. I worked hard, ended up in a job I loved and found a fulfilment in my career that I hadn’t had in my personal life. When I look back at that time now, I feel like I dodged a bullet as that life was never going to be a satisfying one for me.


Work/life balance is… Finding time for self-care and fun. Self-care for me means exercise and proper eating. Fun is Greg, friends, family, laughter and getting outside. The balance is easier when you have a job you love and you find joy in work.


If you google me, you still wouldn’t know… That I’m a Jeopardy fanatic and my bucket list consists of one thing: becoming a Jeopardy contestant.


I stay inspired by… Look what I do for a living! I’m inspired every day by the young women who come into the G(irls)20 family to grow their leadership skills and give back to their communities in the most amazing, innovative and meaningful ways.  


The future excites me because… When everyone else is complaining about millenials, I think they are the greatest generation. They care about the world around them, they are less prejudiced and they have innovative, creative minds that we already benefit from daily.


My next step is… To take G(irls)20 to the next level, growing existing programs, creating new programs and continue to raise awareness about the importance of access, resources and agency girls and young women need to reach their potential.



Like this? Meet Caroline Riseboro, a CEO leading another one of Canada’s leading organizations advocating for the advancement of women and girls.


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.



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!

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.


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


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.”

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.”



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 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.


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.



8 Important Quotes from Canadian Women in Politics

On December 9th, we will welcome three of Canada’s female cabinet ministers to our Luncheon stage for State of Our Nation: Let’s Talk About Women in Politics. But first, we look back to some of Canada’s formative female political leaders and activists for the wisdom they shared then, and which still applies today.   





“We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.”

Rosemary Brown, politician, activist, and Canada’s first black female member of a provincial legislature



“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult.”

Charlotte Whitton, first female mayor of Ottawa



“I do not want to be the angel of any home; I want for myself what I want for other women, absolute equality. After that is secured, then men and women can take turns at being angels.”

Agnes Macphail, first woman member of Parliament in Canada



“Never retreat, never explain, never apologize – get the thing done and let them howl!”

Nellie McClung, Canadian activist and author



“People ask me, ‘Are you proud of the fact that you were Canada’s first woman prime minister?’ I respond, ‘Yes, but I’d be prouder still to say I was Canada’s tenth woman prime minister.’”

Kim Campbell, Canada’s first and only female Prime Minister



“The purpose of a woman’s life is just the same as the purpose of a man’s life: that she may make the best possible contribution to the generation in which she is living.”

Louise McKinney, provincial politician and women’s rights activist, first woman sworn into the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and the first woman elected to a legislature in Canada



“If politics mean…the effort to secure through legislative action better conditions of life for the people, greater opportunities for our children and other people’s children…then it most assuredly is a woman’s job as much as it is a man’s job.”

Irene Parlbly, women’s farm leader, activist and politician



“I believe that never was a country better adapted to produce a great race of women than this Canada of ours, nor a race of women better adapted to make a great country.”

Emily Murphy, women’s rights activist, jurist, and author


Interested in joining the conversation? Purchase your ticket here.


Distilling the Corby Culture: Meet Amandine Robin

Amandine Robin

Named “Top 30 Under 30” by PR in Canada, Amandine Robin is making her mark at Pernod Ricard, the worldwide co-leader in the Wines & Spirits sector with brands such as Absolut, Jameson, Chivas, and J.P. Wiser’s. In the span of just a few years, she’s rocketed to the top of the corporate ladder, recently promoted to Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Pernod Ricard USA. She shares some of the innovative ideas that have led to career success at Corby Spirit and Wine, the Canadian affiliate of Pernod Ricard.

For Amandine Robin, wine has always been in her blood.

“I was born and raised in Reims in the Champagne region,” says Robin. “So I was living five minutes away from the G.H. Mumm Champagne — one of Pernod Ricard’s brands.”

But despite growing up near France’s vineyards, Robin fell into in the wine and spirits industry. She actually worked in the financial and legal sectors for several years, before stumbling upon a Corby’s job advert for a Communications Manager.

“For me, it was the dream job,” she says. “To be working in communications and with a company [linked] to a region where I was raised in and loved.”

She applied and won the position. Since joining the Pernod Ricard family, Robin has distilled a culture of innovation into the company, and transformed how the company communicates. It has led to a big boost in employee engagement and corporate brand awareness, multiple award wins, and personal promotions — most recently to Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Pernod Ricard USA, the group’s biggest affiliate.

“For me, it was the dream job….To be working in communications and with a company [linked] to a region where I was raised in and loved.”

“We imagine corporate communication as writing speeches for executives or writing press releases,” she says. “That’s not at all how I see it. It’s about being completely transparent, working together, and creating excitement inside and outside the company.”

Robin credits the success to an executive team that’s “open to trying things differently” and values collaboration. While novelty may scare some companies, Corby welcomed her fresh ideas and experimentation with new approaches, especially in tough financial times. With this “carte blanche” in hand, Robin has spearheaded some cutting-edge initiatives that are now reaping major rewards for the company.

“Our tagline globally is ‘creators of conviviality,’” says Robin. “That’s one aspect that I really love about the company: the emphasis on the people and the conviviality. It’s about ‘what do we give to the world?’”

One such initiative is Corby’s Den, a corporate challenge based on CBC’s Dragons’ Den TV series that sees top management travel across the country to hear employees present their best and most innovative business ideas.

“That’s one aspect that I really love about the company: the emphasis on the people and the conviviality. It’s about ‘what do we give to the world?’”

“Employees were put in teams and had 10 minutes to pitch an idea to our dragons,” she says. “The size of the idea didn’t matter — it could be something small that doesn’t cost anything or a big national idea to change the system.”

At the end, the “dragons” selected a handful of winning ideas to implement across the company. What was most surprising? Participants loved the “Corby’s Den” experience, even more than the company conferences held overseas.

“They liked the chance to see the executive team in a smaller format and share their ideas,” says Robin. “It was great from a business point of view, and the executive team discovered talents that they might not see from Head Office.”

Robin also launched “I Thank,” a corporate program to boost the company’s non-financial employee recognition. Based on gamification principles, employees can virtually award each other achievement badges with a personal congratulatory note, which are visible online to the entire company. Employees move up the levels of recognition as they accumulate badges, with those reaching gold receiving an extra week of vacation and $1000 donation to a charity of their choice.

“It’s a created a culture of recognition,” says Robin. “Within one year, the ratings of non-financial recognition increased by 25 per cent. And the program cost zero dollars!”

Under Robin’s leadership, Corby is also winning awards for corporate social responsibility, such as a Road Safety Achievement Award from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation for the Corby Safe Rides program. This annual partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission promotes responsible drinking and provides free public transit on New Year’s Eve — ensuring that everyone has a safe ride home.

“Being a socially responsible company drives employee engagement,” says Robin. “We’re the department distilling the culture — both inside and outside the company.”

As for Robin, she’s eager to keep up the momentum in her new role and continue “making a difference” inside and outside of the company.

“What I’m the most proud of is changing how we do corporate communication,” says Robin. “The pride of our employee engagement and being excited to come to work every day. That’s what I find rewarding.”

How one man and thousands of fish are helping improve women’s health worldwide

Gavin Armstrong in India

Solving one of the world’s most common women’s health problems may be as simple as dropping a fish in water. Gavin Armstrong, Founder, President and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish, tells us how.

By Teresa Harris

Iron deficiency is the world’s most common micro-nutrient issue, and has a disproportionate negative impact on women and children. Instances are increasing, as the traditional method of combating iron deficiency via pill supplements is expensive, inaccessible to many, and simply not very effective. In short, worldwide we’re spending more on a problem that’s just getting worse.

Introducing Lucky Iron Fish, a sustainable solution to iron deficiency in the form of a simple cooking tool. When added to a cooking pot and boiled for ten minutes, the small, fish-shaped piece of iron can fortify your food with enough iron to noticeably alleviate symptoms of extreme iron deficiency.


The founder of Lucky Iron Fish is Gavin Armstrong, a University of Guelph graduate who has dedicated his career to the improving the health of individuals — primarily women and children — around the world.

Gavin realized an imminent need for a focus on micro-nutrient deficiency related health problems following a volunteer trip to a refugee camp in Northern Kenya, where he witnessed communities in dire need of proper nutrition.

“There is a ‘hidden hunger’ that often goes unrecognized, as the supplies food banks have to give usually don’t address micro-nutrient deficiencies. Thus we’re failing to address the questions of: What is the long term impact of a diet consisting solely on non-nutritious food, like beans and rice? And how does it affect these people’s development?”

Signs of iron deficiency range from dizziness to fatigue, and can even cause hemorrhaging and spells. Pregnant mothers are particularly vulnerable, as nearly every pregnant woman suffers from iron deficiency during and post pregnancy, and if untreated, their unborn child is at risk of its own associated health issues, including limited cognitive development.

“We’re failing to address the questions of: What is the long term impact of a diet consisting solely on non-nutritious food, like beans and rice? And how does it affect these people’s development?”

“When a mother is iron deficient, she can be so ill that she may miss work.” Gavin explains. Mothers in Cambodia lose approximately two weeks of work due to iron-deficiency related sickness. “When you consider their already meager income — about 70-80 cents per day — that’s a substantial loss.”

Upon returning to Canada, Gavin decided to set out on solving this issue.

Gavin Armstrong in IndiaWith an undergraduate degree in commerce, a masters in rural planning and development, and a PhD in biomedical science, Gavin is the first to admit that his academic path has been what many would call “non-traditional.” But he appreciates that this unique path brought him to exactly where he needed to be, allowing him to recognize that in order for his solution to micro-nutrient deficiency to be successful, it needed to be sustainable.

The primary recipients of donated fish are nonprofits and clinics and organizations that are focused on women’s health and nutrition. These include food banks, First Nations organizations here in Canada, as well as nonprofit organizations in Cambodia and India, which allows Lucky Iron Fish to distribute as many fish as possible to the pots of families in need.

Yet, Gavin admits he’s made his share of mistakes. “I won’t say I’m infallible,” he concedes, having learned through trial and error that cultural differences play a huge role in how readily accepted new innovations will be. “I think that abroad, dispelling taboos and myths was our biggest challenge. ‘Deficiency’ is not a term that’s understood, so instead we began to talk about the signs and symptoms and how using Lucky Iron Fish could help alleviate things like fatigue and headaches and make people stronger.” As they worked to educate women, dispelling false myths such as if you’re menstruating in Cambodia you’re not supposed to eat meat, Lucky Iron Fish was more readily adopted.

And in the parts of the world where iron deficiency is most common, it’s most important that women are on board.

“In traditional communities like Cambodia or India, the head of the household is typically the matriarch, and she prepares every meal. Gavin with woman in IndiaWhen she uses Lucky Iron Fish, she is empowered, knowing she is having a direct and positive impact on her family’s well-being.”

Gavin is a deep believer that when you empower women, you’re empowering the future. “Women hold the key to the success of the future. Children are the next generation and they believe in and learn so much from their mothers. Especially in Cambodia and India, when the values of the household are situated around the mother, you see the power she has in influencing her children to make healthy choices as they grow.”

And it’s working. Quantitative clinical data revealed consistent use of Lucky Iron Fish resulted in healthier hemoglobin levels, and mothers reported less fainting, as well as associated physical and mental improvements in their children.

“Women hold the key to the success of the future. Children are the next generation and they believe in and learn so much from their mothers.”

But the work of dispelling taboos and myths associated with women’s health is not limited to developing nations. “Here in Canada, we shy away from talking directly about women’s health, which is a problem when the female body, especially during reproductive age, has an incredibly unique need for nutrients.” When it comes to women’s health, experience is needed to add depth to the conversation around innovation, and by taking women’s perspectives so closely into consideration, Lucky Iron Fish addresses a need in a way that may have otherwise gone overlooked.

“One of the best parts of Lucky Iron Fish is the buy one get one program, which draws a direct connection between the women in North America and the women in developing nations who are both benefiting from the exact same technology,” Gavin explains. Unlike programs that donate money after a Western consumer buys a product, creating a hierarchy of “saviour vs saved,” when you put this fish in your pot, someone around the world is doing the same, proving that in spite of the racial, geographical and cultural divides, iron is equally important to everyone. To date, 80,000 Lucky Iron Fish have been sold, and 80,000 fish have been given away for free.

In terms of career role models, Gavin has always looked up to leaders who’ve defied the odds or done things differently in the fields of business, society, and politics. “I believe in the outsider, and the idea that you don’t have to conform to be successful,” he says. “Look at Hillary Clinton. She is someone who persevered and turned that perseverance into something impactful.”

Gavin also wants to show how being financially successful and socially responsible are not mutually exclusive. “If I can prove through Lucky Iron Fish that social enterprises are profitable, sustainable, and effecting global change, I consider that a success.”

Learn more about the impact Lucky Iron Fish has had in developing communities, their awards and accolades, and how you can get your own.

Winners Announced for the 2016 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!

RBC CWEA Winners

We are excited to announce the winners of our 24th annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!

The CWEA awards recognize the country’s leading female entrepreneurs who have made impressive and substantial contributions to the local, Canadian or global economy. This year’s judging panel was comprised of twelve of Canada’s top business leaders, including: Ian Portsmouth, Publisher & Editor of PROFIT Magazine; Tracie Crook, COO of McCarthy Tétrault LLP; Rajini McRae, Senior Director, Pricing and Treasury Relations, RBC Royal Bank and; Raymonde Lavoie, Co-Founder and Partner, DesArts Communication.

Our judges selected six ventures and the eight incredible entrepreneurs behind them as the recipients of the prestigious awards, which span across six distinct categories. The winners include two business partnerships comprised of sisters; the founder of Canada’s leading wellness brand; and the CEO of one of the country’s leading mortgage firms with over $20 billion dollars in assets.



This year’s winners are:


ADP Micro Business Award

Isabelle Primeau & Marie-Helene Primeau, Premier Continuum Inc., Montreal, QC



Deloitte Start-Up Award

Angela Marotta & Melissa Paolicelli, Two Sisters Vineyard, Niagara Region, ON



RBC Momentum Award

Kate Ross Leblanc, Saje Wellness, Vancouver, BC



Social Change Award

Jennifer Flanagan, Actua, Toronto, ON



TELUS Trailblazer Award

Eva Sun, The Rice People, Richmond, BC



PROFIT Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship

Kathy Gregory, Paradigm Quest Inc., Toronto, ON


“RBC is honoured to recognize women entrepreneurs and their immense contributions in the Canadian and global economies,” says Neil McLaughlin, Executive Vice President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “Through their passion and dedication, these dynamic women are leaving their mark on the marketplace and their communities. They are an inspiration for other Canadian business owners.”

Congratulations to our winners! We are proud to honour your achievements and continue to be inspired by your success.



Marci Ien and Katie Taylor Agree: The Kids Are Not Alright

Canada is the 5th most prosperous nation, so why is it ranked 17th for children’s wellbeing and 27th for child health and safety? A group of influencers are teaming up through a new non-profit, Children First Canada, not just to answer that question, but to mobilize Canadians to improve the lives of children.

By Hailey Eisen

Canada is the fifth most prosperous nation in the world, but according to Sara Austin, founder of Children First Canada, we’re falling way behind when it comes to the protection and care of our children. “There is a big disconnect between what we perceive to be the case when it comes to the wellbeing of kids in Canada and what’s actually going on,” says Austin, a lifelong advocate for the rights of children internationally. “While we assume Canadian children are well cared and provided for, child poverty and suffering has reached epidemic levels in cities and towns across the country.”

Armed with this understanding, Sara recently stepped down from a senior leadership position with the President’s Office of World Vision Canada to found Children First Canada, motivated by a strong desire to put her extensive international experience to work closer to home. She saw an opportunity to unite existing children’s charities, kids hospitals, research centres, and corporations that donate to children’s causes, around a common vision and goal—to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up. The organization’s mandate is simple: it will be a strong, independent voice for all of our country’s children.

With the official launch of Children First Canada this month, Sara is committed to building a national movement to engage Canadians and influence the government to drive positive change for Canada’s children. And, she has brought together an impressive group of leaders from Canada’s top charities, corporations, and media to help drive her mandate forward.

“I hope to leverage the collective strength and influence of these women and men to push the dial on an issue that absolutely requires our attention,” she says. “Children are our greatest asset, but those words are meaningless unless we build a concrete plan to improve the lives of our youngest citizens.”

Katie Taylor

That’s the very reason Kathleen (Katie) Taylor is lending her name and expertise to Children First. Most well-known for her title of first woman to lead the board of a major Canadian bank, Katie serves as the Chair of the Board of RBC and the Chair of Sick Kids Foundation. She believes children are the least advantaged when it comes to having a political voice or the ability to organize, and as such, it’s the responsibility of adults to advocate and act on their behalf. Katie was brought on board by Children First Canada to be part of their Council of Champions, a group of 20 influential and experienced leaders tasked with providing guidance on the strategic direction and key priorities for Children First, and to using their collective influence to drive change for Canada’s children.

“We are going to work to create a network of like-minded individuals across the country who can bring some semblance of organization and connection to the variety of children’s issues we face,” she explains. “These span from issues at birth that need to be dealt with through the acute care system, through to child poverty and access to facilities and quality education in early years. We know from the science that the first five years of life are the most critical to a healthy, happy, productive life—so there’s really no better place for us to be spending our time.”

“We are going to work to create a network of like-minded individuals across the country who can bring some semblance of organization and connection to the variety of children’s issues we face”

marci ien

Marci Ien, Canadian broadcast journalist, former host of CTV’s Canada AM, and Guest Co-Host of CTV’s The Social, has also joined the Council of Champions, lending her influence and passion to a cause she’s dedicated most of her career to championing.

“I really do believe that a country is measured by how well it treats its kids—and we’re lacking sorely,” says Marci. “What I like about Children First Canada is we’re bringing so many other children’s groups and charities into the fold and working together.”

This collaborative effort will extend beyond adults to bring youth voices forward in the form of a Youth Ambassador Program, to empower kids with the knowledge and skills to advocate for themselves.

“I have seen, up close and personal, what giving kids the skills and the confidence they need—telling them they can—can do for them in later life. But it takes time,” says Marci. “We see these kids grow up to become teens and young adults, they become leaders—they can change the course of our country.”

Heading into Canada’s 150th year, it’s that change Sara Austin is working diligently to achieve. “I’m ready to harness the sense of goodwill and pride Canadians have for this country and transform it into real change for the children who need it the most.”

To lend your support to improve the lives of Canada’s children, take the pledge to put Children First: raise your hand to volunteer, raise your voice to spread awareness, and raise funds to help children’s charities.