Meet Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of CivicAction

Sevaun Palvetzian

Sevaun Palvetzian is one of Canada’s leading experts on civic engagement and is a voice for influence and advocacy on many urban issues. Since 2014, Sevaun has focused on building inclusive cities and levelling the playing field of opportunity at CivicAction. She is also a member of Mayor John Tory’s Advisory Panel for International Hosting Opportunities, sits on the Board of Directors for the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, and is a member of the Ivey Business School Leadership Council. Throughout her career, Sevaun has advocated for new voices at the tables of influence including championing the next generation of leaders in her roles with the Ontario Public Service, University of Toronto, and Presidential Classroom in Washington, D.C





My first job ever was… Video store clerk. I swear I was mumbling, “please be kind and rewind” in my sleep for years.


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… It chose me. Still does. I never know what I’m going to do next. Each chapter has surprised me in how it appears and what it offers as a new chapter in life’s giant ‘Table of Contents.’ I’ve been fortunate to work with some INCREDIBLY gifted people. And while each job I’ve had is different, they share three things in common: it has to be work I’m passionate about; it has to be an environment that involves smart people to learn from and work alongside; and it needs to be challenging and complex.


My proudest accomplishment is… On the personal front, I am very proud of my family. My two children are amazing human beings and the bookends of my day and life. My extended family and friends are also a treasure. On the professional front, there are several. I am proud of the amazing talent that I’ve had the good fortune to know and hopefully, helped nudge, coach and sponsor positively along their own career journeys. I am also proud of launching the Learn and Work program within the Ontario Government for at-risk youth, the Ontario Place Trillium Park and Trail, and the new CivicAction Leadership Foundation we launched last year.


My boldest move to date was… Moving to Washington, D.C. right out of university to start my career. I didn’t know a soul, but I was in love with American history and politics and that was enough. I had some INCREDIBLE professional experiences there. I could write a book about the lessons that town taught me — and maybe one day I will. 


I surprise people when I tell them… I’ve been cage diving with great white sharks. I love sharks. I am fascinated by them and could talk for hours about them.


My best advice to people starting a business is… Trust your gut. It’s the best GPS system you’ll ever have. Also, make a pact with your values and honour it. If you agree to always follow your values they, in exchange, will lead you through any situation that gets thrown at you. There’s no better deal than the one you make with yourself. 


My best advice from a mentor was… When you get a seat at the table, own it. The world wasn’t shaped by wallflowers so don’t be one. 


“When you get a seat at the table, own it. The world wasn’t shaped by wallflowers so don’t be one.”


I would tell my 20-year old self… Don’t worry about whether things are the “right move to make.” It’s actually pretty hard to make a really bad career decision. I would also tell my 20-year old self that she has NO IDEA how cool life gets. None of what’s coming I could have ever imagined!


The biggest thing leaders underestimate… Is the amount of time you need to set aside to feed your curiosity. Great leaders never quench it. They’re deliberate about feeding that curiosity for themselves, and fostering it within the teams they’re a part of.


Work/life balance is… Fiction. I don’t believe in some kind of divided day between work and life. We don’t live with perforated edges. The ability to compartmentalize helps, but ultimately, I think doing what you love on the professional side, and making sure that your top priorities are protected with dedicated time and focus in the personal side, makes a full life.  


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a beer pong champ and a Jenga ninja.


I stay inspired by… Packing my life — both professionally and personally — with authentic people. People who live their lives with deliberation. We only have a certain number of days on this planet. I’m in awe of those who use them consciously and don’t leave anything on the table.


The future excites me because… It’s without boundaries.  


My next step is… Forward. There are no U-turns on the highway!

My True North: Authentic Leadership


by Andrea Lekushoff


Andrea Lekushoff is the Founder and President of Broad Reach Communications. She’s not only a leader in the Canadian public relations industry, she also committed to supporting the efforts of women in business.



Earlier this year, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a leadership program at Harvard Business School. It was an amazing experience to be back in the classroom and learning from the school’s distinguished faculty was one of the highlights of my career. It was a packed and challenging schedule but I threw myself into it and savoured every moment.

Of all the concepts we discussed, the one that resonated most strongly with me was “authentic leadership.” Authentic leaders aim to be genuine, vulnerable and sensitive to the needs of others. They are not perfect, nor do they try to be.

Bill George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School and a well-known business leader, has described five key qualities of an authentic leader. These align in many ways to the standards that I’ve set for myself as well as for our team.


Pursuing purpose with great passion

My team and I have a strong sense of purpose: to become Canada’s leading corporate communications PR agency. We work hard to maintain a culture of inclusion, recognition and gratitude. Our hiring practices also help ensure that our personalities complement one another, so that we work well together and enjoy each other’s company. And we hire for passion: seeking people who love their craft and who can’t wait to do great work. This passion ignites and galvanizes everything we do.


Creating a high-performance culture based on strong core values

Last year, we developed a set of five values that make up our “Always Better” charter. They form the moral, ethical and philosophical compass that governs everything we do:

  • We’re All In: We dive in and stay in and deliver our best work every time.
  • We Own Our Jobs: We take the lead, keep our promises and take pride in our work.
  • We Pull Together: We champion our clients and each other and we do what is right without hesitation.
  • We Stretch Ourselves: We challenge ourselves to create work that dazzles and reaches new heights.
  • We Deliver Awesome: We are trusted individuals who deliver the best quality work, care, service and results.

Put simply, “Always Better” means doing better than we did yesterday and better than what others do every day. These values align our beliefs and behaviour as individuals and as a team and have ultimately resulted in a high-performance culture.


Leading with head and heart

I firmly believe that you bring your whole self to work every day. For me, I lead with my heart as well as my head. It’s who I am and I am not afraid to show my emotions, my vulnerability and my compassion for everyone on my team.


Establishing connected relationships

Beyond being able to do the job, I hire for fit and for fun, recruiting people I genuinely want to spend time with. I look for individuals who, like me, show up to work as the people they really are – without drama, attitude or pretense. This allows us to speak sincerely, listen compassionately and create meaningful relationships built on open communication and mutual trust.


Learning, growing and cultivating self-awareness

I’m on a lifelong journey to discover who I truly am as a leader. I do this by regularly asking my team and my clients for direct and honest feedback. I have embraced this process of learning, growing and recognizing my strengths and limitations, so I can identify clear areas of personal development. I also pride myself in showing who I really am to my team, not hiding my mistakes or weaknesses. In fact, showing up to work as myself has given me tremendous strength, confidence and resilience at work and in life.


Practicing self-discipline to achieve short and long-term goals

Driving company, team and personal growth takes a tremendous and consistent commitment to self-discipline. To me, it comes down to grit, being able to focus on clearly-defined goals, and continuing to move towards them even in the face of setbacks. I focus equally on the long and the short-term, and I work to nurture and coach my team so they can continue their own journeys of personal and professional growth to be ‘Always Better’. Driving company, team and personal growth takes a tremendous and consistent commitment to self-discipline. To me, it comes down to grit, being able to focus on clearly-defined goals, and continuing to move towards them even in the face of setbacks. I focus equally on the long and the short-term, and I work to nurture and coach my team so they can continue their own journeys of personal and professional growth to be ‘Always Better’.

Nothing I have done previously in my career equals the satisfaction I get from leading such a committed and capable team. And in the last few years, I have learned that, to create a culture of high-performance, inclusion, recognition and gratitude, there’s no better place to start than with your authentic self.



Advice from emerging leaders: Leadership comes from the real you

What does it take to move up in the ranks of a multinational corporation?

We’ve partnered with PepsiCo to bring you career advancement tips from some of their top emerging leaders. Lisa Allie, Senior Marketing Manager at PepsiCo, learned that effective leadership can only come through trial and error, and discovering who you truly are.

Business leaders, here’s how you start taking diversity and inclusion seriously

We all know it should be a priority, but how do we begin to make it one? Terri Hartwell Easter of T.H. Easter Consulting,  a leading employee engagement, diversity and inclusion management, and human resources management firm based in Maryland, U.S., weighs in.


By Terri Hartwell Easter



You cannot pick up a newspaper without reading about our collective difficulty with issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in society more generally. While most companies and organizations are publicly committed to diverse workforces, they seem to have trouble sustaining that commitment. So what is really going on?

Having worked with many different kinds of organizations on diversity and inclusion efforts, I have found that most of them see it as a tactic, or a box to check to meet regulatory or cultural mandates, as opposed to a strategic business imperative.   

What does it mean to approach diversity and inclusion as a strategic business imperative? It means recognizing that getting diverse people in the door is not the end goal. It means that diversity and inclusion initiatives are not isolated from the larger workforce in terms of engagement and performance. And just like any other business initiative, it means that an organization must articulate their business case for diversity and inclusion.

An important first step in developing sustainable diversity and inclusion programming is to assess the current state of leadership and organizational readiness. This step is foundational and is probably the single most important factor in the success or failure of diversity and inclusion initiatives. It is only through this analysis that we can assess whether the business case for diversity and inclusion aligns with an organization’s leaders’ vision, interest and readiness for the change that may be necessary to achieve sustainable outcomes and results.    

And it does require real change. It is not uncommon for diversity and inclusion strategic planning to go off the rails as the realization sets in that changes in behaviors, processes, and approaches, not to mention mindsets, are required for success. An organization’s financial and psychological investment in the status quo should not be underestimated.  

So we begin by asking hard questions, like:

  • What are your organization’s business imperatives for diversity & inclusion? Is there alignment among leaders (organization leadership, business unit leadership, board of directors) with the aspirations and vision for diversity and inclusion in your organization?
  • What is the nature of your organization’s leaders’ investment in the status quo with respect to diversity and inclusion? What are the cultural connections, power dynamics, and barriers to change?
  • What level of personal awareness do your organization’s leaders have with respect to concepts related to privilege, bias and inequities, and the dynamics of organizational and personal change?
  • How competent are your organization’s leaders in the skills necessary to change the culture and nurture an inclusive workplace, including adeptness in relationship building and management, trust building, exercising influence, leading change, and managing conflict?
  • How ready are your organization’s leaders to acknowledge and own the organization’s past failures or missed expectations for success? More importantly, how ready are they to now assume the responsibility and accountability necessary to achieve new goals for the organization’s talent management, including engagement, professional development, performance management, and sponsorship as a part of a diverse and inclusive workplace?

These are not small ticket items. These questions go to the heart of an organization’s culture, vision, values, and mission, which can cause considerable discomfort for some organizations and individuals. But if it is approached in a fact-based, business-minded way, it can be done without assigning any blame or shame. The goal is to have an honest dialogue — and to the degree that this is successful, it will help your leaders craft a very realistic strategic plan with appropriate goals and objectives.

Like any change effort, the process of implementing a new diversity and inclusion strategy will be slow and incremental. As anyone who has ever tried to change a lifelong habit can attest, behavioral change does not happen overnight — but it can be done. Approach it just as you would any new business initiative, use classic business process re-engineering techniques to understand where your organizational systems are working at cross-purposes with your diversity and inclusion aspirations, and use evidence-based practices to benchmark and best position your efforts for success.  

Diversity and inclusion is serious business.  It’s time to position your business to take it seriously.



As the former Chief Operating Officer of a top 100 national AmLaw legal practice and highly regarded organizational change strategist for leading professional services firms, commercial banks and the White House alike, Terri Hartwell Easter‘s trademark is bringing new approaches and innovative thinking to some of the toughest human resource management challenges. With a renowned diversity practice, Terri works with clients to frame day-to-day business through a lens of inclusion to attract and retain a more diverse workforce, and create pathways to business growth. 

Five Minutes on Mentorship with Dr. Samantha Nutt, Founder of War Child

Dr. Samantha Nutt is an award-winning humanitarian, bestselling author, and founder of War Child Canada and War Child USA. A respected authority on the civilian impact of war, international aid and foreign policy, she has worked with children and their families on the frontlines of many of the world’s major crises — from Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone to Darfur, Sudan. She has not only been a mentor to many women within her organization and out, she has also benefitted greatly from mentorship in her own career. Dr.Nutt shares her advice for women looking for their own mentor, including what qualities to look for.  





How can mentorship impact your career?

Mentorship at different times in my life and my career have made the world of difference. We all need someone who believes in us — people who are willing to invest in you, have confidence in you, support you unconditionally, and make you believe in yourself. There are many examples that I could give you, that started in adolescence and went into medical school, and professionally in the international work that I do.


What advice would you give to a woman looking for a mentor?

I firmly believe that you have to seek those people out, and sometimes that can be hard. I’m not talking about randomly sending off emails to solicit mentors — it tends not to work that way! It’s about looking around yourself as you go through your career and identifying those people that you believe in, that have achieved the kinds of things that you would like to achieve, or that have skills and strengths that are very different from yours, in areas where you may want to grow and improve. Really try to make those introductions, start cultivating a relationship, and hope that becomes something deeper and longer term. Whether you are formally calling it a mentorship, and acknowledging it as such — or maybe it’s informal, just the occasional email, coffee conversation, or phone call that helps provide some perspective and support when you really need it.


What are some of the qualities of an effective mentor?

Fundamentally, a mentor is someone that you feel that you can trust, that you can can be painfully honest with, that you can reveal your deepest insecurities to, and that will give you honest, non-judgmental advice. For it to work effectively, you are putting yourself out there and being boldly honest about where you want to go in life and what you think your strengths and your weaknesses are, or what’s holding you back — your fears and insecurities. And so you want someone who is going to take that information and understand what to do with it and understand how to help you work through it.


In what ways does War Child support mentorship in the organization?

We are very much an organization that believes in the advancement and promotion of women all around the world, and so mentorship and helping and supporting other women is absolutely critical to everything we do. Many of the organizations we partner with are female-headed, local civil society organizations. So making sure we are nurturing their leadership, their potential that we are mentoring them in this work so that their own organizations can grow and thrive, even outside of their relationship with us as a partner, that’s part of our philosophy as an international organization. Our entire development philosophy has an element of mentorship, capacity building, and leadership development for people in all corners of the world affected by war, and the vast majority of those would be women and girls.


Paying it Forward: How Personal Experience has Guided Lisa Citton-Battel to Make a Positive Impact on Women’s Careers

Lisa Citton-Battel, executive director of marketing, sales and services at 3M Canada, returned from her first maternity leave struggling with the transition of going back to work. A supportive manager taught her the importance of having an advocatea lesson that’s guided her own leadership style over the last two decades.


By Hailey Eisen



It was early in her career, 19 years ago, after her first maternity leave, that Lisa Citton-Battel realized the power of having a strong advocate within your organization. As a marketing supervisor at the time, she was still establishing footing within 3M Canada, where she’s now executive director of marketing, sales and services. After six months at home with a baby, she, like many, struggled with self-confidence as she transitioned back to work.

“I had this manager who taught me a lot about my own potential,” Lisa recalls. “Sometimes it just takes one person to have 100 per cent faith in you, to recognize in you something you haven’t yet seen in yourself.”

Lisa went back to work and was promoted to marketing manager, a role she hadn’t envisioned herself being ready for at the time. “My manager said to me, ‘you have the ability, you can do this better than anyone else,’ and that was one of the most energizing and rewarding moments of my career,” she recalls.


“Sometimes it just takes one person to have 100 per cent faith in you, to recognize in you something you haven’t yet seen in yourself”


This invaluable lesson in leadership stayed with Lisa throughout her career, and has guided her own management philosophy. Coming off two-and-a-half-years as director of HR, she says her focus has always been on developing her team and the people around her. “While women tend to want to have all the qualifications ticked off before applying for a job, I’m always encouraging those I work with to apply for roles they may not have considered themselves for,” she says. “It’s important to support one another and remind people of their potential — to help counter self-doubt.”

And when you are given a promotion or offered a new challenge, Lisa advises not to be afraid to ask: why me? Why do you think I can do this?

Once you can see yourself from someone else’s perspective, it’s easier to believe in your own strengths and abilities. “As soon as my former manager told me why she thought I was right for the position, I jumped in with both feet. I didn’t want to let her down.”

Supporting women has always been on Lisa’s radar. These days she’s the host of a 3M “Lean-In Circle” within the company’s Canadian headquarters in London, Ontario. The purpose is to help women build courage and confidence in pursuing career aspirations and to discuss issues related to work life balance. As Lisa explains, it’s important for women to be able to lean on one another, to have somewhere to go for support and advice, and to encourage one another to embrace challenges and take risks.

“A key success factor for women in the workplace is to have a strong inner circle you know you can depend on at any time,” she says. “You want your circle to be made up of people who will give you good, honest advice and feedback you can trust.”

Within 3M, Lisa says she’s been greatly supported by the many managers she’s worked for, and the company’s flexible work program. “After my 29-week preemie was was born in 2000, I wasn’t able to go back to work right away for a variety of reasons,” she says. “I remember my VP at the time, who was male and didn’t have children, said to me, ‘3M will be here when you’re ready to come back, take the time you need.’”

In her most recent leadership roles, Lisa has always extended this same attitude to her team, knowing that when someone is happy and supported at work and at home, they always perform better. “I always try to make sure people are making the right choices for their current situation, if a child has a baseball game and you want to be there, work with your manager to ensure that’s possible — that additional stress doesn’t do anything for anyone.”

Lisa remains a strong advocate for flexibility, which is a priority at 3M, and she helps managers see the value in a work schedule that meets everyone’s needs. Whether an employee wants to spend a day working remotely, or shift their hours to balance other commitments, she’s open to making that work.

In her new sales and marketing role, which she began in early May, Lisa will continue advocating to create a work environment that’s supportive of women. When it comes down to it, Lisa says, you want employees to feel empowered in their development and supported in the work they’re doing.



Was That Coaching or Criticism?


We all rely on healthy constructive criticism in order to learn and grow as professionals. But what happens when coaching becomes straight up criticism? Christine Laperriere of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre is here to remind us all how heavy-handed coaching can backfire ― and how we can prevent our confidence from crumbling under the pressure.


by Christine Laperriere



As Lead Coach with the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, I often am tasked with coaching some of the brightest women in an organization. Recently, one of my clients called and asked if I could support her on a complex issue.

On our call she explained that her manager had decided in his effort to help her advance, he was going to give her “extra coaching.” To many of us, we’d be thrilled to have additional coaching to support our efforts to grow. But this manager had started to repeatedly point out this woman’s flaws in her leadership style ― she accused him of coaching “too much.”

One day he commented she came off as aggressive, the next day he noted that she interrupted someone. After a few months of working for him, she had completely lost her confidence. She said every meeting she went into she was thinking, “don’t be too aggressive” or “don’t be too dominating” or “be sure not to interrupt.” The storyline in her head was so busy telling her what she should not do, she had no focus on what she should be doing in the moment. Ultimately, as a result of coaching, she felt her performance declining and she was worried her career had taken a turn for the worse.


“As a result of coaching, she felt her performance declining and she was worried her career had taken a turn for the worse.”


This client’s story reminded me of one important component of fantastic coaching: the observation of “current state” behaviours with heavy emphasis and direction around what “future state” looks like. As I listened to a number of observations her manager had given her, I started to ask her what behaviours she should focus on doing more of.  Pretty soon she concluded that she wanted to be a better listener who focused on hearing another person’s full thought. She also noticed that she wanted to stay calm in discussions with other parts of the organization so she could better work with them. By the end of the conversation, she realized that if she could simply bring her attention to staying calm, curious, and listening more, she could perform so much better than focusing on what she might do wrong.

She called a few weeks later to say that she had found a few simple mantras that she’d often play in her head during tough meetings; “stay calm, curious, and listen” was her favourite. She said that making this simple shift in thinking not only helped her create a noticeable shift in her presence in meetings, it was actually making work much more fun and less stressful for her. I know that more fun ultimately means more success, so I simply encouraged her to stay on this path in the future.



Christine Laperriere is a seasoned expert on helping leaders and teams reduce internal conflict, improve employee engagement, and more effectively engage with customers and prospects. Working with the Women of Influence Advancement Centre and through her own consultancy, Leader in Motion, she has spent the past ten years teaching hundreds of leaders how to be more effective through her “Leadership through Conflict & Change” course, and helped many with specific challenges through private executive coaching. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy and executive coaching, along with years in management consulting focused on implementation, change management and culture change initiatives.

Why I’m Finished with Leadership Buzzwords


Recognizing when our unconscious personal bias is influencing how we perceive our leaders is crucial. Leah Parkhill Reilly of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre urges us to base judgment on facts rather than feelings, and stay on high alert for meaningless buzzwords.


by Leah Parkhill Reilly



When I was in corporate HR, we would conduct talent roundtables to assess the readiness of the next levels of talent to move forward in the organization.


I would occasionally hear the comment that “so-and-so” lacked “gravitas” and was not ready for the promotion or a more challenging assignment. Often, the person lacking “gravitas” was female and the individual who was providing the opinion was a male executive with many years of experience.


This is not to say that the opinion was unfounded, but when I would question the individual on tangible evidence of what “gravitas” looked like, and examples of when the person being assessed was found lacking, often they had nothing to share. It was purely a gut opinion with nothing to validate it. Occasionally, it was a comment that the person had heard through the corporate grapevine. Opinion had become fact, and actual evidence was no longer relevant. This admittedly was an extreme example, and thankfully didn’t happen on a regular basis ― but it did happen, and still does.


“Opinion had become fact, and actual evidence was no longer relevant.”


We are all susceptible to unconscious bias, and part of the work that I did was to be very aware of this bias in these settings. In another example, I encountered a leader who wanted to hold back on an assignment for a female colleague because he thought she was considering having children. His implicit association was that if you’re female, then you’re going to be the primary caregiver and thus would not be interested in the next level of leadership. Thankfully, the discriminatory view of this dinosaur did not stand, and the female colleague did receive the assignment.


If you’re curious about the concept of unconscious bias and implicit association, one of the best sites I can recommend for further exploration is Project Implicit and the associated Implicit Association Tests. Project Implicit is an international collaboration between researchers run out of Harvard. The focus is on understanding our own social cognition: the thoughts and feelings outside of our conscious control.


You can complete any number of tests ― on age, gender, sexuality, and race, all in connection to career and the workplace ― to better understand the hidden biases that might affect your own decision-making process. If you’re really keen, I’d also suggest reading Blind Spot, which dives deeper into the causes of stereotyping and discrimination.


This is the time of year when performance assessments have been completed, but soon enough, mid-year talent roundtables will begin and it’s important to have your own radar on alert for the buzzwords that are flung around. As strong leaders, it behooves us to dig into the comments and understand what lies beneath the surface.


If someone “lacks presence,” tell us an example of when this failing was observed, give a comparative example of what it should look like in the firm, or provide options for how that person can develop their “leadership presence.” We can’t just readily accept opinion without actual supporting evidence. Leadership comes in many shapes and forms, and we need to be aware of our own biases of what leadership “looks like” ― instead focusing on the actual work, and impact within the organization and beyond.


Leah Parkhill Reilly is a Women of Influence Advancement Centre expert and the owner of Parkhill Reilly Consulting. As a results-oriented human resources consultant, she has a proven track record of driving change across large, complex organizations specifically with regard to learning, development and organizational effectiveness. Leah has worked in a variety of industries including telecommunications, insurance and financial services. Her career experiences run the gamut from project management for systems implementation to human capital strategic planning.

Meet Lesley Lawrence, the BDC senior executive helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams

Lesley Lawrence

Recently appointed to the role of Senior Vice President, Financing and Consulting, Ontario, Lesley Lawrence oversees Business Development Bank of Canada’s lending and consulting services in the province. She hadn’t planned on going into finance — Lesley holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto — but after more than 25 years in the financial services sector, she considers herself lucky to have found a career where she can help people realize their dreams.

Actively involved in the community, Lesley personally focuses on advancing entrepreneurship. In her role at BDC, she acts as national champion for the Bank’s Women Entrepreneur initiative. This includes work with Cisco’s Circle of Innovation, an internship program in cooperation with Cisco and Communitech. The program has partnered entrepreneurs across Canada with interns from the University of Waterloo to help grow companies’ digital presence, all while using Cisco technology to drive future growth, collaboration, and success.


My first job ever was…Working as a cashier at Miracle Food Mart grocery store. I did that job all through high school and university to pay for my education. I took summers off to work full time and came back and worked during the school year for 8 years.


My proudest accomplishment was…Being a strong role model for my daughter. Showing her you could be successful in your career and be a wife and mom at the same time.


My boldest move to date was…Moving my family from Toronto to Vancouver to take on a new role with increased responsibility and building a new team and a new region.


I surprise people when I tell them…I have an abundance of disco music on my phone.


I balance work and life by…Taking my dog for a walk, running, and experiencing new adventure as often as I can. I work hard, but ensure I make the time to enjoy my life.


My best advice from a mentor was…Be true to yourself. Always remember who you are is what got you to where you are.


Female entrepreneurs and funding is…My passion. I am proud of the work the team at Business Development Bank (BDC) has done in supporting women entrepreneurs as they represent one of the fastest growing market segments in Canada.


Engaging women in entrepreneurship is…Not only necessary, but key to the future success of the Canadian economy.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…I thrive on pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I enjoy a challenge and get enormous satisfaction when i inspire others around me to the same and realize success.


I stay inspired by…Surrounding myself with people of different backgrounds who bring new and interesting ideas to the table. I enjoy learning from others, especially millennials.


The future excites me because…Of the unknown. It challenges us to grow, expand our thinking, and evolve to succeed.


You helped find female entrepreneurs to match with interns at the University of Waterloo for the Cisco Women Entrepreneur program. How would you describe that experience?
It was a enjoyable and very rewarding experience. Partnering with Cisco gave us the opportunity to help women entrepreneurs leverage technology and obtain critical expertise to accelerate the growth of their business.


Are you an entrepreneur interested in leveraging technology to grow your company? Sign up for the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Academy, with over 90 hours of free training on the technology basics that can help you understand the opportunities available to you and your business. Simply fill in this quick survey for access.


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

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


By Liz Bruckner


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Small Practices to Build Powerful Teams

By Catherine Bell

Catherine Bell is the bestselling and award-winning author of The Awakened Company, a thought-provoking read that explores how treating businesses as communities can transform them for the better. With more than a decade of international executive search experience, Catherine speaks around the globe, and offers The Awakened Company’s services to help other teams awaken to a new concept of success.

If you’ve read my other Women of Influence articles, you already know that I believe we need a new model for doing business. And I understand it can sound like an overwhelming task. In practice, it’s possible to build a powerful team—and start on the journey of becoming an “awakening company”—with a few small steps. Incorporate these ideas into your own business, and you will soon see the results:

Make gratitude part of your everyday culture. Catch people in the act of being awesome, and thank them for the things they do. Don’t underestimate the positive impact of a card expressing your gratitude.

Take time in each team meeting to focus on the team. At The Awakened Company, we check in at the beginning of a meeting, and check out at the end. Check in is where you share how you are really doing; what is going well in your life and what isn’t going so well. Check out is your opportunity to express how the meeting went for you, how you are now, and what you are grateful for.

Take time in each day for mindfulness. Research has clearly proven the benefits of practicing mindfulness, and it doesn’t require an unreasonable investment of time to see the results. Find moments throughout the day for mindfulness exercises individually, in pairs, and in larger groups.

Find unique ways to reinforce your values and vision. How unique? I have sent a cake with our vision written on it in frosting. Just remember to get other people in your organization involved if you are setting a vision and values, and consider reinforcing your strategy with rewards.

Once you have your basic values established, let them guide your hires. Each new employee needs to be a fit. While you are hiring and onboarding, go through your vision and values clearly. Let them know what their measurables for success are, and then give them the responsibility to achieve them, including control over their own work hours.

Bring back play into your organization. Our corner office is a yoga, meditation, and ping-pong room. If you don’t have the real estate for something similar, think about fun on a smaller scale. Like having Play-Doh on your boardroom tables.

Where will you begin?

Ready to awaken your own business? Get your copy of The Awakened Company, enlist The Awakened Company’s services and learn how companies are achieving a new standard of success. A best-seller within a week, one of Eight of the Best Business Books of 2015, and a Nautilus Silver Medal Winner for Best Business Book for 2015, it explores a new way of doing business: incorporating mindfulness and wisdom traditions to ultimately benefit companies, those involved in them, and the planet itself. It has earned praise from business leaders and industry experts, and is the blueprint for the successful executive search and team transformation company, BluEra, which was recently bought by DHR International, one of the largest executive search firms in the world.

Women of Influence Evening Series – Indira Samarasekera

On September 20th, 2016, we welcomed guests to the Women of Influence Evening Series in Calgary. We turned the spotlight on Dr. Indira Samarekera for a riveting keynote to discuss her journey to becoming the first Chancellor and President of the University of Alberta.

What we learned:

  • What did Indira learn from talking to students her first day as President? “Leadership does not stamp you with any recognizable mark, it is a journey and you have to learn it over time.”
  • What does Indira have to say about passion? “Being passionate about something is not a gift you should ignore; on the contrary it is worth nurturing even if you feel the odds might be against you. And when you encounter road blocks it will be your passion that carries you through and will enable you to lead and take others with you.”
  • How does she manage the work life balance? “It can’t be balanced, it is a juggle… balance is a myth” Indira goes on to say, “manage your energy, juggle your tasks, use disposable income to hire help and delegate, delegate, delegate.”

Congratulations to Karen Taguchi from Telus concluding the evening events, we announced the winner of our VIP Membership Experience Giveaway. Thanks to the generous contributions from our sponsors, Karen has access to a spot at the short-format executive education programs offered by the Smith School of Business as well as $350 childcare certificate from Kids and Co. as well as a spa package from Captivate.

Photography by Mike Bailey Photography

Top 5 reads to empower change

Are you ready to change the world? If figuring out how is your only stumbling block, you might find the inspiration, insight, and practical guidance you need in one of these five books. The list has been carefully curated by Sara L. Austin, the founder and president of Children First Canada, a non-profit organization that is mobilizing Canadians to care for, protect and empower children. 





Playing Big by Tara Mohr

An expert on women’s leadership and well-being, Tara Mohr has worked with countless women through her professional coaching, training programs, and writing. Her book blends inner work and practical skills training using her own breakthrough model for making the journey from playing small—as she describes it, that means being held back by fear and self-doubtto playing big, taking bold action to pursue what you see as your callings. It’s a great read for anyone looking to take a leap forward in their career and life.












Rookie Smarts by Liz Wiseman

What exactly are rookie smarts? According to Liz, a two-time bestselling author, they are how we tend to think and act when we’re doing something for the first time. The obvious next question is why are they valuable, and the answer that Liz offers is simple: in our current market, we are constantly faced with rapid change. We can overcome the issues this may cause by cultivating a curious, flexible, youthful mindset that is unencumbered by past baggage, established resources, and a previous track record.











Start with Why by Simon Sinek

What do Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers have in common? They all started with why. It’s a method of leadership—thinking, acting, and communicating—that asks why an organization operates, rather than how it operates, or what it does. And by focusing on why, Simon explains, leaders are able to inspire others to follow them. Using real-life stories as examples, it’s a great book for those who want be inspiring, or find some inspiration in others.













Tribes by Seth Godin

Bestselling author Seth Godin discusses tribes in the modern age. Thanks to the internet, we’re no longer limited by geography, cost, and time. That means anyone (including you) is capable of becoming head of a tribe, as long as they have a desire to change things, the ability to connect people, and the willingness to lead. Those who want to make a difference now have the tools at their fingertips.











The Power of Unreasonable People, by John Elkington and and Pamela Hartigan

Focusing on social entrepreneurs who are solving some of the world’s most pressing economic, social, and environmental problems, John and Pamela show how these pioneers are disrupting existing industries, value chains, and business models—and in the process creating fast-growing markets around the world. Using first-hand stories to illustrate their point, they clarify the world of social entrepreneurship for those interested in knowing more.








The three key practices for an inclusive work culture

By Shazia McCormick

Shazia McCormick is the Director, Culture and Inclusion at Scotiabank. She’s worked globally in multiple industries, and is a recognized thought leader in her field.

Growing up as a child of mixed-race parents gave me a unique perspective on life. I learned first-hand how ethnicity can impact how you are treated—having both experienced privilege and being the target of non-inclusive behaviours. It also spurred me to want to understand the world more. I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in multiple countries, with each having their own socio-economic challenges.

As an adult, this has allowed me to recognize that privilege comes with a choice: how we use it. I believe in the concept of “I am the problem. I am the solution.” It is everyone’s job to help create an inclusive culture, especially in the workplace. Being an ally and amplifying the voices of others are key components, but there are many levers needed to make change happen.

And this is where we have the opportunity to do better in our workplaces. Creating an inclusive culture is not just about initiatives, it’s about fundamentally changing the things that happen every day. This includes processes and practices throughout organizations, how we communicate, and the skills that managers and leaders have.

Yes, it’s easier said than done—but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Through my experience in organizations around the world, and in my current role as Director, Culture and Inclusion at Scotiabank, I’ve been able to identify some elements that help create an inclusive work culture.

Don’t just create diversity, embrace it.

With over 23 million customers globally, Scotiabankers speak over 100 languages and hail from over 120 countries. As Canada’s international bank, diversity is key to the success of our company. We believe that inclusion is the action that delivers the benefits of diversity. If an organization lacks systemic practices to help its employees deliver their best, it will never see the full potential of a diverse organization.

Our inclusion journey has evolved over our many years in business. We embrace diversity by valuing differences. Through our practices, we strive to create an environment where we amplify and leverage these differences to foster innovation and performance. Through our people, we continuously build our understanding of our customers and each other. It is our varied perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences that enable achievement of our business goals.

Related: Learn how Maria Theofilaktidis is leading by example, and how she navigated her career to land at the top.

Encourage involvement throughout the organization.

We believe that every Scotiabanker has a role in creating an environment where people feel involved, respected, valued, connected, and are able to bring their authentic selves to work. By fostering this mindset with all employees, we enable them to do their best work.

We have had success engaging all levels of our organization through Employee Resources Groups (ERGs). These are the grassroots voice of Scotiabank employees, amplifying the voice of our diversity, spanning cultural groups, gender groups, LGBT+ and more. They focus on employee development and general awareness, and they identify opportunities to have customer impact.

An organization doesn’t necessarily need to follow this model—but even without large programs, you can find success by encouraging individual employees at a grassroots level. A great example of personal action is the HeForShe movement, which we have also embraced at Scotiabank. It’s simply men taking tangible actions in their day-to-day jobs to make a difference in gender equality. The immediate impact may be within their sphere of influence, but the results of the movement are inevitably broad-reaching.

Set the strategy and tone from the top.

If senior leaders are not on board acting as role models, inclusion efforts will fall flat. At Scotiabank, we emphasize leadership development, specific to inclusive and respectful behaviours. We also hold our leaders accountable to demonstrate inclusivity in their actions and teams. This can be seen both through daily practices and initiatives, such as our leadership development program and our Inclusion Council.

Founded in 2014, the Inclusion Council has a mandate of demonstrating, monitoring, and promoting a culture of inclusion and diversity of perspective for better business results. Led by our Chief Human Resources Officer, and consisting of Executive Vice Presidents and Senior Vice Presidents from across the Bank, they are tasked with embedding diversity and inclusion into strategic business initiatives. The group meets regularly to ensure they’re having an impact. Whatever your organization’s inclusion strategy, by regularly examining what’s working and what isn’t, you’ll find that progress can be put on a faster track.

My last piece of advice: don’t rest on your laurels. Scotiabank is continuing to evolve what it means to be an inclusive workplace and the need for it to be an action. It is never enough to say, “We support diversity.” An inclusive environment is a daily, organization-wide effort, demonstrated through both people and practices. At Scotiabank, we understand that and it is how we compete at our best.

Top 4 Books for Effective Leadership

Effective leadership can improve your team’s productivity and morale, propel your business to success, and even create the next generation of leaders. These reads will teach you how to embrace effective leadership—and what tactics are designed to fail.



Angela Duckworth, GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Culminating from Angela’s extensive career in psychology, GRIT focuses on what Angela defines as the secret to outstanding achievement—not talent, but grit. Grit, defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, offers a unique and motivating way to reach your full potential, beyond what natural talents would predict. While not an explicit handbook for leaders, leaders can still recognize the power of grit and see how it is cultivated in the highest-performing sports teams, businesses, and schools.










LeadersEatLast_400x400Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Imagine if your employees were inspired to go to work, felt valued and trusted, and went home feeling fulfilled. Simon has traveled the world to explore why some leaders create environments where teams naturally work together to achieve incredible results, and some are doomed to fail, regardless of incentives. His findings were summarized during a conversation with a Marine Corps general who stated, “Officers eat last.” That notion, an idea stemmed in biology rather than management theory, has held true across a variety of sectors, from military to manufacturing, investment banking to government. Simon has articulated his theory perfectly, showing us that leaders willing to eat last will be rewarded with incredibly loyal employees determined to reach their leader’s vision, whatever it takes.








Superbosses3_400x400Sydney Finkelstein, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent

Would you rather hit your goals and lead your team, or build an army of leaders? Sydney draws from ten years of research and more than two hundred interviews to conclude that superbosses (while differing in their own personal leadership styles) all focus on just that: transforming entire industries through finding, nurturing, leading, and even letting go of great people. Superbosses, the term coined by Sydney, work on three main practises: creating master-apprentice relationships, relying on the Cohort effect, and saying goodbye to good teams. It’s an ideal guide on how to create an incredible flow of talent in your organization.











Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone, Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations

Our society is based on teams, both personally and professionally. So why are many teams created by luck or circumstance? Rich and Michael offer insights and scientific research to explain that planning, designing, and managing teams is no longer a black art—it’s one rooted in science. They answer the questions we’ve all been wondering: how can we reorganize subpar teams and turn them into top performers? How can we identify when top-performing teams are no longer working well together? Both Rich and Michael have been journalists, analysts, investors, and global entrepreneurs, and are well poised to share their knowledge in Team Genius.







A version of this appears in print in our Spring 2016 Women of Influence Magazine, Page 13. 

Heather Reisman: A Timeline of Reinvention

Her name is easily recognizable by the Canadian public from her popular “Heather’s Picks.” To the business world, Heather Reisman, Chair and CEO of Indigo Books, is not just the face of the company’s reading shortlists—she’s revolutionized the country’s bookselling industry. Heather has worked diligently and strategically, constantly evolving her entrepreneurial career, and her business, to ensure success. We’ve mapped out 45 years of her most impressive milestones.

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Ten Pieces of Advice from Harbinger on Co-Gendered Leadership

There are many examples of co-gendered duos achieving success by sharing the reigns. But only a few have over fifteen years of co-leading under their belt, like the dynamic duo heading up Harbinger, a marketing agency specializing in brands targeting women. We asked Deborah Adams, SVP and Managing Director, to offer ten pieces of expert, time-tested advice on the key habits and factors associated with a healthy and happy working relationship with her duo, Jeff Weiss, President of Harbinger.

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Encouraging an entrepreneurial culture in your company

An entrepreneurial culture emphasizes accountability and ownership. It values the end game, not the process. It encourages measured risk. It certainly embraces change. These are a few of the reasons President of Jones Group Canada Carrie Kirkman encourages leaders to instill entrepreneurial culture and values in their employees.

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22 lessons from successful female entrepreneurs

These 22 women were selected from over 4,000 nominees to become finalists for the 2014 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. From construction to retail, communications to industrial services, they manage more than 2,300 employees and over $190 million in gross profit. Here they are with their biggest lessons learned.

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