For 20 years, Women of Influence has celebrated female entrepreneurs, senior executives and innovative leaders. In honour of this milestone year, we’re looking back at two decades of events and women who kicked cracks in the glass ceiling.Continue reading
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.
As an advocate for young, career-seeking women, Lora Sprigings, Career Coach at Smith School of Business, founded the WIL Do initiative. This is a unique opportunity for young women at Smith to candidly discuss leadership and empowerment in a small group setting while creating space for females to build confidence by supporting and encouraging one another.
By Lora Sprigings
Today, women make up almost half of the workforce in Canada; yet men are twice as likely to hold senior management positions, according to a Conference Board of Canada report. One cause for this disparity is the level of confidence displayed by women versus men. At work, women are less likely to share their opinions and speak out than men. Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that confidence matters more than competence to workplace success, and it is this “confidence gap” that holds women back. Here are three strategies to bridge the gap.
Just do it
In a corporate environment, where performance is often judged by how well we achieve business objectives, women’s self-imposed barriers can limit career successes.
“Fake it ’til you make it” — the advice commonly cited as the panacea to overcome our lack of confidence — rarely results in a lasting transformation and can be viewed as disingenuous. A lack of confidence can cause us to play it safe and avoid taking chances. Yet the path to greater confidence requires a depth of resiliency that’s best found through failure and risk taking. Ironically, the antidote to our inaction is often simply to act, or “Just do it” as the Nike slogan says.
The more often we sidestep our fear and take on initiatives outside our comfort zone, the greater our reservoir of courage becomes. Ultimately, it is genuine accomplishment and hard work that fuel confidence.
It is not always about you
One of the key challenges facing women is a tendency to overvalue likeability in the workplace. This behaviour often starts in elementary school. Several studies have found that while girls are praised by teachers for good behaviour and staying quiet, boys are rewarded for effort and speaking out. Consequently, boys develop a deep-seated resiliency or growth mindset in which criticism seems to have little to no impact on their self-confidence.
Women’s fear of criticism is further compounded by the fact that women who exert confidence are often labelled as bossy, aggressive or intimidating; as found in the 2016 Women in the Workplace study. These comments are typically not associated with men. Women are also blamed more often for failures, penalized for self-promotion and judged more critically for perceived flaws in their professional demeanour or physical appearance.
So how do women counteract this tendency to fear and internalize critical feedback? Remember, it’s not always about you. Consider the source of the criticism, understand the potential motivation and, through honest self-reflection, decide if there is an element of truth to the criticism. You can then accept the feedback and course correct, or not. Criticism is never a reflection of self-worth. It is best seen as either a gift that opens the door to greater self-awareness or a window into another person’s character.
Find your voice
Women are often encouraged to find a mentor to guide and support them. But with the limited number of women at senior levels, this can prove challenging. A practice that is gaining momentum is peer mentorship, where like-minded women meet to discuss challenges, and offer advice and encouragement to one another on how best to navigate difficult terrain. Women benefit from diverse perspectives as well as the sense of empowerment that comes from knowing their struggle is also the struggle of others.
Together women can affect real change: gain the confidence to participate in class, request a promotion, or as the women on President Obama’s senior advisory team did, proactively echo and credit one another’s ideas when they are not acknowledged.
It is when we work together to empower one another and stand strong in our own self-worth that we will realize our true potential and build the confidence to become fearless in our pursuits.
When Gillian Riley, an EVP at Scotiabank, joined a 10-day hiking and rafting adventure organized by True Patriot Love, a charitable foundation supporting Canadian military families, she knew she would have the opportunity to mentor ill and injured veterans trying to build meaningful careers in the civilian world. She quickly realized that the mentorship went both ways.
By Shelley White
Following in the footsteps of famed Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie this summer was a “life-changing” experience for Gillian Riley.
She recalls the moment when her expedition team reached the rock where Mackenzie inscribed his name in 1793, becoming the first European to cross Canada from coast to coast. Exhausted from 10 days of hiking through B.C.’s Coast Mountains, white-water rafting and canoeing on the rough waters of the Bella Coola River, her team stood and sang “O Canada” together. Gillian says it was an emotional moment for all involved.
“Everyone cried,” says Gillian, Executive Vice President of Commercial Banking at Scotiabank. “It was so moving; I can’t even tell you. We’d been working together for 10 days and when we got there, it was that magical feeling of, ‘We did this – and no one has done this since he did it.’ Knowing that we got there as a team, it was very, very powerful.”
“It was that magical feeling of, ‘We did this – and no one has done this since he did it.’ Knowing that we got there as a team, it was very, very powerful.”
Gillian’s expedition was one of three challenging adventures sponsored by Scotiabank this summer in partnership with True Patriot Love, a charitable foundation that supports the mental, physical and social well-being of the 700,000 military families who live across Canada. Each expedition brought together influential Canadian business leaders with ill or injured armed forces veterans, providing mentorship opportunities for the soldiers and shining a light on the challenges veterans face when transitioning from military to civilian life.
Gillian notes that the only knowledge most people have about the combat experiences of military personnel is from books and movies.
“It seems far away and foreign. But when you talk to the military, you get an understanding of what they do to protect and serve our country and the passion with which they do that,” she says. “Many of them are third and fourth generation in the military and they feel such a duty to protect this country.”
The veterans on the expedition team were open about their experiences in combat and some of the challenges they have faced transitioning to civilian life. Gillian says that hiking up mountains allowed plenty of time for one-on-one conversations with her military teammates, as well as group discussions at day’s end.
“We spent a lot of time talking. They would share their stories with the group, with people asking questions and working through issues with them,” she says.
There was also plenty of fun on the trip, says Gillian, much of it involving card games like euchre. “I got an email from one of the military fellows this week and he said the best part of the trip for him was the card games,” she says. “Also, the laughter, the humor; I haven’t laughed that much in 10 years.”
Gillian says she went into the project knowing she would have the opportunity to mentor ill and injured veterans who are trying to build meaningful careers in the civilian world. But she quickly realized that the opportunity went two ways. In her role at Scotiabank, Gillian is an experienced leader, responsible for the strategic positioning and growth of the commercial banking division and leads a large sales force. But her time with the veterans reinforced that there is still more to learn.
“The things I learned from a leadership standpoint and a personal standpoint were enormous,” she says.
One of the most important things she learned is “followership,” an essential skill in the military.
“I had a specific mentee in the program, but I think he became more like a mentor for me,” says Gillian. “One of the things he taught me early on was, ‘A good leader is a good follower.’ It’s about listening a lot, asking open-ended questions before jumping into the answers. I’ve really been practicing that, just this week even. Learning when to sort of back off, to listen and hear and not jump in to try to solve something. That’s one of the big takeaways I’ve taken back and I’ve already shared with my teams.”
“‘A good leader is a good follower.’ It’s about listening a lot, asking open-ended questions before jumping into the answers.”
Having made those connections with her expedition team, Gillian says the bonds remain in place. She has been in communication by phone and email with several of her new friends and will continue to mentor and support them as they develop and explore post-military career paths.
It’s not just veterans that stand to gain when they transition to civilian jobs, notes Gillian. Canadian companies can benefit greatly from hiring veterans, and it is a practice in which Scotiabank is already involved. The way they are trained and the skills they develop in the military could be a boon to any organization.
“When you’re going into battle, you need to be well-trained, you need to be good under pressure; you need to be very disciplined,” she says. “There is so much opportunity to hire from the armed forces and I don’t think companies always understand that. I think the more we can help companies figure out how they can bring the military in their organizations, the better.”
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.
Kyla Fox is the founder of The Kyla Fox Centre, a premier eating-disorder recovery centre in Toronto. She has been a clinical therapist in the field for fifteen years and is a public speaker, writer, educator and advocate for eating disorder awareness and prevention. Her personal experiences and struggles inspired her to make a profound impact on other women and girls, and you’ll discover that she intends to keep that impact alive through her proudest accomplishments — her two daughters, Ryan Belle and Augusta Grey.
My first job ever was… Working in retail at a trendy clothing store called Lunatic Fringe when I was 14 years old. Loved it.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I don’t like people telling me what to do. I wanted to make my own rules.
Running a private business focused on mental health is… In my blood — it’s what I’ve struggled with. Opening a centre for eating disorder recovery was, therefore, a no-brainer. It’s what I know.
My proudest accomplishment is… My daughters Ryan Belle (2 years) and Augusta Grey (4 months).
My boldest move to date was… Having my girls.
I surprise people when I tell them… I’m highly anxious and anti-social. People don’t believe me. It’s true.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Setting a deadline and sticking to it. I said I wanted to open the Centre on my 30th birthday, that I had to do it before turning 31. I did.
My best advice from a mentor was… “Keep going”. And “make sure you pay yourself”.
My biggest setback was… Finding the right team when I opened The Centre. Finding the right fit for the work we are doing and staying true to my vision.
I overcame it by… Constantly evaluating the dynamics of my team and ensuring our goals/philosophy for healing are aligned.
Work/life balance is… Impossible. How do all you women do this?! Kudos to Sheryl Sandberg. She’s a legend.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’ve been trying to read Wally Lamb’s book, ‘We Are Water’, for two years. I’m on page three. It’s collecting dust on my night table. But more seriously, my dream is to travel the world with my daughters. To interview women and their daughters cross-culturally about body image and raising girls.
I stay inspired by… Doing my yoga practice.
The future excites me because… I get to influence the next generation of women through my daughters. And I get to continue to speak louder about changing the language of eating disorders.
My next step is… Actively marketing my business. The Centre has successfully run on word of mouth for five years and I haven’t needed to do this to date. I’m excited for new eyes on the Centre!!
Even with over 18 years’ experience providing technology advisory and implementation services, Erick Vandeweghe was surprised when he learned during an Unconscious Bias training that many male executives unknowingly favour men over women for analytical tasks. As the leader of Deloitte’s Canadian Technology Consulting practice, Erick has become more attuned to biases within the organization and encourages equality throughout his national team. Erick believes that we all need to take an active role to continue to recruit, engage and develop our most talented women so they are able to maximize their impact and bring their voices to the business. Meet him here.
My first job ever was… Working in the fields around Blenheim, Ontario, learning the hard way what a dollar is worth.
I chose my career path because… I had the benefit of experiencing different corporate cultures and environments through co-op experience while at the University of Waterloo. I realized that working in a hierarchical organization would not meet my personal needs or give me the sort of professional fulfillment and development I was looking for. I wanted a fast paced, rapidly changing, highly entrepreneurial environment. Consulting was the calling for me given the pace of change and the requirement to continue to be better and at the forefront of the latest trends and industry issues. Combining Deloitte, which has a great collaborative, competitive, and supportive culture, with the Consulting business model was the perfect set of ingredients for what I was looking for and I’m as energized and committed now as I was the day I started.
The best part of my job is… I often tell people that I have the best job in Canada. Technology is at the centre of so much in today’s economy. In my role, I have the privilege of seeing the many ways that Technology is having an impact to help our clients excel. Choosing where and how we focus as a business based on where the potential for impact is greatest.
My proudest accomplishment is… Making Partner at Deloitte and doing it on my terms by focusing on the clients and issues that I thought were important, and developing my skills in order to become the type of leader that I wanted to be.
My boldest move to date was… Relocating to Melbourne, Australia for two years without a job lined up. It was unnerving getting off the plane with my wife, two suitcases and no return ticket. The next two years were some of the best experiences of our life.
I surprise people when I tell them… I am an avid cyclist.
My best advice to people starting their career is… Do something you love. Life is too short to be unhappy professionally. In the past, I have worked for an organization where I wasn’t having an impact, wasn’t valued, and wasn’t progressing. Work is such a big part of our adult lives that it can have a profoundly negative effect on so many aspects of your life if you don’t love what you do.
My best advice to people looking to advance their career is… Put people first. Apply the same principles when engaging with clients, peers and staff. Followership and teaming is critical in order to magnify your impact and meet the myriad of demands we face each and every day.
Sponsorship is important because… You never have all of the answers. You need guidance, inspiration, encouragement and endorsement at many points in your career. It propels us forward, opens new opportunities and keeps us challenged.
My best advice from a mentor was… Your clients are your currency. Always suspend self interest and find ways to go above and beyond to make your clients successful in all of your interactions, and good things will follow.
My biggest setback was… I’m a very shy person by nature, a personality trait that doesn’t fare particularly well in the notoriously Type A culture of consulting organizations, nor in the requirement for adept business development skills as a partner in a Professional Services firm. When I first started in the business, I tried to model my own personal style after those around me whom I thought to be successful. This was not being true to myself. Being confident in my own abilities and realizing that I needed to be true to myself allowed me to play to my own strengths. This was critical in centering myself and thriving professionally.
I overcame it by… The other half of overcoming that innate challenge was getting married. It may seem odd, but in many ways my wife Tara is the opposite of me. She challenges me in so many ways that she makes me a better person and professional by helping me soften the rough edges.
Work/life balance is… Different for everyone. What works for me may not work for the next person. You need to be confident in your impact at work, and learn how to pivot the focus between yourself, your family and your career.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Very much about me. I deal with Technology every day professionally, so being disconnected in my personal life is my release.
I stay inspired by… The talented people we add to our business each and every day. The new ideas, the new way of doing things, and the new approaches keep me motivated and inspired.
The future excites me because… We are working in a time of unprecedented change and extraordinary opportunity. The opportunities we are presented with now and the choices we make in responding to them will be defining moments for our organizations and our economy for decades to come.
Sarah Kerr got involved in the grassroots charity SchoolBOX at the young age of 19, when she helped to raise funds to build the organization’s very first classroom in Nicaragua. She was humbled by the extreme poverty she witnessed there, and propelled by a strong desire to change the world by giving children access to a basic education. At the age of 25 she became SchoolBOX’s Executive Director, leading a team of 15 local Nicaraguan employees and 3 Canadian employees to fulfill its mission of ‘making education possible’ for all girls and boys. Now a working mother, reporting to a Board of Directors comprised of 85% women, Sarah firmly believes in championing women and girls to reach their full potential, starting with a basic education.
My first job ever was… Was working at an independent bookshop and café. My boss was an incredible model for community building and generosity. I can thank her for introducing me to SchoolBOX, my addiction to books, and snobbery for fair trade coffee to this day.
I decided to pursue this passion because… As the daughter of an amazing teacher, I always thought I would pursue the same path. When I started raising money for school supplies and literacy for schools in South America as a teenager, I realized I could impact kids by empowering their teachers.
My proudest accomplishment is… Championing women like Jazmin Lopez who broke the cycle of extreme poverty in one generation through education, was a founding member of SchoolBOX, has a decade of entrepreneurial experience in Nicaragua and a degree in international relations. Today she empowers 18,000+ kids in her country!
My boldest move to date was… I took a year off of university to work multiple jobs and raise funds for the first SchoolBOX library & school. I learned Spanish in Costa Rica and lived with local teachers in Nicaragua. Little did I know I would find a lifelong mission, my Christian faith, and meet my husband in the process.
I surprise people when I tell them… That I can do a pretty good front flip…off of cliffs, bridges, or accidentally on snowboard jumps!
My best advice to people starting out in the non-profit world is… This world needs your passion and energy! Focus your mindset on the mission, not trying to ‘get a job’. I would also suggest trying to learn as much about business as possible because non-profit work is ultimately running a lean and agile organization with high impact.
My best advice from a mentor was… Don’t be a perfectionist. Be brave.
“This world needs your passion and energy! Focus your mindset on the mission, not trying to ‘get a job’”
My biggest setback was… Postpartum anxiety. Having birth trauma, and later a miscarriage were some serious personal challenges as a working mom.
I overcame it by… Having great mentors. My executive coaches, who are amazing women filled with wisdom and encouragement, have been a lifesaver for me. Also having a support system to lean on including my family and friends, church community, neighbours, my naturopath and family doctor have been key.
Work/life balance is… Elusive! My work involves a lot of travel, which is very challenging with a small child with asthma, who got pneumonia twice this winter. Still working on this one.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love to travel and have explored cultures on five continents through food, dance, language and adventure. There are so many amazing places and people on this planet, it could take many lifetimes to experience all the diversity and beauty.
I stay inspired by… Visiting teachers in Nicaragua who are ‘making education possible’ for kids in unimaginable conditions. Last month, I met Gema Picado who just graduated from teachers college, built a dirt floor rancho in her home community that had no school, and is now giving classes to 54 kids each day. Her determination is inspiring!
The future excites me because… Kids are so open to using their imaginations to make our world better. Seeing young Nicaraguans leading SchoolBOX and the impact that Indigenous youth volunteers are now making in their communities in Canada, after helping to build schools in Nicaragua, is pretty incredible.
My next step is… Piloting our SchoolBOX model here at home to empower Indigenous youth to ‘make education possible’ for children in their home communities.
Tanya van Biesen is Executive Director of Catalyst Canada, the leading global non-profit working to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion, and a founding partner of the #gosponsorher initiative. As a recognized influencer with deep experience in the executive search sector at the most senior levels of corporate Canada, Tanya has over two decades of industry research to share on why sponsorship is so effective in advancing women. On June 21, she’ll speak on a panel of sponsorship experts at The Sponsorship Summit: How Corporate Canada is Investing in Female Leaders. Get to know her a little more personally here.
My first job ever was… Delivering newspapers for my brother when he was too tired to cover his route.
I chose my career path because… I am passionate about people.
The best part of my job is… The incredibly interesting people that I meet every day.
My proudest accomplishment is… My 2 children – Jack and Meredith.
My boldest move to date was… To leave the security of a partnership position at a world class firm.
I surprise people when I tell them… That I have always wanted to be a back-up singer.
My best advice to people starting their career is… Work hard, work with great people, and learn as much as you can as quickly as you can.
Sponsorship is important because… It is intentional support and advocacy for the career success of another.
My best advice from a mentor was… To plan my career out as I would a marathon, and not a sprint.
Work/life balance is… Looking forward to both being at home and being at work.
I stay inspired by… The people that I meet who are committed to gender equity.
The future excites me because… I believe that Canada is on the cusp of amazing change.
My next step is… The same as my last. Continue to advocate for women in Canadian business.
Gaby Bayona was born and raised in Vancouver, BC into a household filled with sewing machines, wedding gowns and constant creation. Her mother was a bridal seamstress, and it was this early exposure, a childhood laced with full skirts and fleeting veils, that inspired Gaby to begin designing and constructing her own dresses, at first for her mother’s boutique. Fast-forward just a few years and, after a decision to reinvent the traditional wedding dress, Truvelle was born. Today, Gaby has grown her Etsy shop, selling to more than 23 retailers in the U.S., six in Canada, and in Europe and Australia — all before the age of 25. Here’s how she did it.
My first job ever was… At a mini donut stand during Vancouver’s annual Festival of Lights when I was 14.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I was already going down that path after founding my high school’s store and co-running a business with my mom. I wanted to explore it more.
I chose to design bridal wear because… It was something I really knew. I grew up in the industry. My mom would take me with her while she worked in the alteration rooms of various bridal shops and then kept me alongside her when starting her own custom dress boutique.
My proudest accomplishment is… Being able to hire/provide for 25+ people before I’ve turned 25.
My boldest move to date was… Moving to a live/work studio I couldn’t afford in downtown Vancouver to start Truvelle.
I surprise people when I tell them… I used to participate in math competitions, and was my school’s champion one year.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Just start something — anything — because your first year is a write-off anyways. You might as well get that year, and the mistakes that come with it, out of the way.
My best advice from a mentor was… Don’t stress out if you don’t work a full 40 hour week, because you will make (and have made) that up tenfold.
My biggest setback was… Not having the funds to do big picture things, especially early on.
I overcame it by… Bootstrapping & working extra-long hours
Work/life balance is… Having a beer while you work?
Being a young entrepreneur is… Awesome, because when you make a mistake it’s “because you’re young” but if you succeed it’s all the more impressive. There isn’t as much pressure, so you’re more fearless.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I can impersonate a guinea pig (secret’s out).
I stay inspired by… Seeing other people’s hustles.
The future excites me because… There’s so much opportunity for good things to happen.
My next step is… To take care of myself! I’ve been focusing so much on Truvelle that it’s been easy to neglect my own health.
Shay Lowe’s ambition and genuine passion for her craft has taken her from a small town to one of Toronto’s Top Ten Jewellery Designers, whose designs have been seen on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and A-list celebrities. She was noted as a ‘Designer on the Rise’ and one of the Top 15 Designers across Canada for the Cashmere campaign featured at The Bay — and it’s her laser-sharp focus and drive to constantly evolve that she has to thank.
My first job ever was…Working as a hostess in a restaurant.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because…I love being a catalyst for growing ideas and working for myself.
To me, the fashion industry is…A constantly evolving world of immense creativity and great vision.
My proudest accomplishment is…Growing a successful business over 10 years and inspiring others.
My boldest move to date was…Leaving my job to become an entrepreneur.
I surprise people when I tell them…That I’m from a small town.
My best advice to people starting out in business is…You have to be really hungry, passionate, well prepared, and willing to put in the hard work.
My best advice from a mentor was…Know your numbers.
“You have to be really hungry, passionate, well prepared, and willing to put in the hard work.”
My biggest setback was…Having to switch factories mid production.
I overcame it by…Working hard under pressure, and utilizing the strong business network I had built.
Work/life balance is…Not reality. Knowing when to shut things down is key. Learn to prioritize self-care. And most importantly, have fun and enjoy life!
The arts are important because…They cultivate and nurture creativity as an industry, while adding richness and value to the culture of any city.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…I was asked a couple of times to be on a reality TV show.
I stay inspired by…Travelling and sharing ideas with other entrepreneurs.
The future excites me because…It’s a new level of growth…the unknown is always exciting.
My next step is…Supporting the next generation of women entrepreneurs and redefining my business.
Louise Green is an internationally recognized plus-size trainer, author of Big Fit Girl, and body positive champion who has motivated countless plus-size women and girls to take control of their health, improve their well-being, and boost their self-confidence through personal fitness. A true advocate for change, she received the Body Confidence Canada Award for Health and Wellness in 2016 and has set a precedent for women who don’t fit the stereotypical mold of whatever dream they hope to accomplish: do it anyway, and do it with strength.
My first job ever was…Working in a floral shop during my Grade 8 Work Experience Program. I thought I wanted to go into floral design but I quickly realized: I didn’t!
I decided to be an entrepreneur because…I was never that good at being an employee. I always felt stifled and unhappy. I didn’t realize that entrepreneurship was the answer until I went on maternity leave and had the idea of opening my own business. Since then, every day has been an exciting adventure, one with no ceilings. What I like most about it is that I’m in the driver’s seat making all the decisions about the direction I want to go.
My proudest accomplishment is…In my life, it is my beautiful son and the young man he is becoming. Being an entrepreneur has allowed me to have a connected relationship with him and with my work. My proudest accomplishment in business is the overall success of my mission, that after 10 years I can see change in our society around body size and fitness. I am extremely proud to have played a part in creating that change.
My boldest move to date was…Starting a business based around a concept that didn’t yet exist and hoping the right people would find it valuable. In 2008, I launched the first fitness business in Canada that was dedicated to plus-size women. Since then, I have championed a message that is counter to mainstream fitness culture: that big bodies can also be fit and healthy bodies. I am challenged often, but I boldly stand by what I see and experience on daily basis in my work with plus-size women. Sweat, endorphins and victory belong to every “body”.
“I am challenged often, but I boldly stand by what I see and experience on daily basis in my work with plus-size women. Sweat, endorphins and victory belong to every ‘body’.”
I surprise people when I tell them…I am a fitness professional. People aren’t accustomed to associating a size 16 body with the job title “fitness professional,” and sometimes it takes a moment to sink in. Being visible is a big part of my mission to change our perceptions around body size.
My best advice to people starting out in business is…Don’t be afraid to be unique. I remember people saying to me, “Don’t limit yourself to one type of client,” but I think niche markets, especially underserved markets, will give you an edge and will set you apart from other businesses.
My best advice from a mentor was…Value your work and charge accordingly. When I was a new entrepreneur I struggled with realizing my worth and how valuable my offering was. I realized that if I couldn’t see my value, other people wouldn’t either.
My biggest setback was…In the past, I have made some business decisions through partnerships that weren’t quite right for me. Each of these detours came with setbacks, and it has taken time to correct them and get on course again.
I overcame it by…Learning from them, and being sure not to make the same mistake twice. Every business move is a chance to learn, and I don’t think there’s an entrepreneur out there who hasn’t made mistakes or had to correct course at one time or another.
To me, living a balanced life means…Having a successful business, a family life and a fitness outlet. My husband is also an entrepreneur so there’s a lot of “working” going on in our home. But we also manage to volunteer at the school, coach baseball and actively get involved in parenting while managing our businesses. Since the core of what I do is fitness related, I am always practicing what I preach and working towards my own physical goals. There isn’t a lot of down time for us but it’s never boring!
I want women to feel…There are so many messages in our society that tell women they aren’t good enough, whether it’s because we’re too old, too big or just not pretty enough. We live an aesthetically driven world that largely judges the value of women by how we look. I want women to ditch that and value themselves from the inside out. I want women to live to their highest potential, feel powerful, inspired, confident and alive. I found my way to all of those things through physical fitness, but only after I let go of aesthetic and weight loss goals and focused on the power and victory I gained with each workout.
“I want women to live to their highest potential, feel powerful, inspired, confident and alive.”
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…I don’t think there’s much google won’t tell you, but I am originally from Liverpool, England – my Mom has danced with John Lennon and brushed shoulders with Paul McCartney! My friends joke that he’s my Dad (for the record, he isn’t).
I stay inspired by…I am incredibly inspired by the work I do and the rise of body positivity and increasing visibility of diverse women. It’s exciting times when you can see that the work you are doing is having an impact.
The future excites me because…There’s a lot of really exciting things going on for me in my career right now. It’s a lot to take in but it’s everything I’ve worked for. I am excited every morning to open my inbox and see what awaits me!
My next step is…I am working on various projects that include digital fitness programs, collaborations with various brands and I’m in talks with a production company to develop a potential television show. A big passion for me is to speak to audiences, and I hope to do more of to carry my message to as many women as possible.
Rachel Ignotofsky is a New York Times Best Selling author and illustrator whose work highlights the incredible scientific achievements of prominent women in history. Get to know what inspires her, and how she’s using her talents to reshape the way we view women in traditionally male-dominated fields.
My first job ever was… I answered the phone for an amazing woman named Terry, who ran the continuing education program at my college. She is literally the sweetest woman in the world, even when I showed up the first day in pajamas like a dumb kid.
I decided to become an illustrator and author because… I always wanted to be an illustrator, but I decided to become an author because i think educations is incredibly important. Whether you are a kid or an adult you need to understand the world around you to make informed decisions. That’s why I use my illustrations to promote scientific literacy and teach history, especially around women’s issues.
My proudest accomplishment is… My first book: Women in Science. It is literally a dream come true times infinity to be published.
I surprise people when I tell them… That I just learned to ride a bike.
My best advice to people launching a creative pursuit is… Work on your passion projects every day and make sure they are visible online.
My best advice from a mentor was… Never freelance for free. Always work for competitive pay and that leads to more work that pays competitively. “Exposure” does not pay the bills.
My biggest setback was… Figuring out how to be my own boss when I first quit my 9-5 job. You know you have work but you kinda feel like you’re floating in the ocean at first.
I overcame it by… Becoming the queen of calendars. I have three paper calendars and two day planners keeping me on track at all times. I set benchmarks for the year, then each month, week and day to keep me on track with large projects and personal goals.
Work/life balance is… My work is my life. I truly love what I do. Left to my own devices it is all I think about, but I keep myself in check with my day planner. It is all about those daily goals. Once I have everything on my list done I am done for the day. That way you stay fresh.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… How messy my desk is. It is natural disaster level messy.
I stay inspired by… For my book it is the stories of the women in them. Just learning about their lives, their raw passion and everything they had to overcome to contribute to science — it is truly inspiring, and I want to do my small part to have more people learn about them.
The future excites me because… I am excited to see how kids who grew up since birth with the internet take on the world to make it a better place. I feel that these kids are more likely to advocate for themselves and ask questions about the world around them, and aren’t afraid to be themselves.
Women in science are… A part of history. From ancient times to modern day, women have been exploring the world around them and contributing greatly to science. Whether it is Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin discovering that the sun is made up of hydrogen and helium, or Lise Meitner discovering fission (just to name a few), female scientist have changed our world. Although often women have been left out of the history books we are now telling their stories.
My next step is… In March my new journal is coming out called I Love Science filled with scientific reference pages, inspirational quotes, and prompts to encourage you to explore and ask questions about our universe. In July, my next book comes out called Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win.
In celebration of Mothers’ Day, the Canadian Franchise Association connected us with four ‘mompreneurs’ who’ve discovered the secret to balancing business ownership and running a family (their secret? There’s no such thing as balance). From a mobile spray-tanning business with celebrity clients, to a paint-your-own pottery studio and a franchise built on taking the embarrassment out of dealing with head lice, these moms have grown their small businesses into award-winning franchise concepts that have expanded across the country, helping other women find autonomy and control over their own working lives.
Dawn Mucci, CEO of LiceSquad.com
Nicole Hyatt, Founder of Tan on the Run
Annette Brennan, Founder of Crock A Doodle
Ruthie Burd, Founder of The Lunch Lady
I became an entrepreneur because…
I wanted to create a lifestyle for myself and family while providing opportunities for others to live the great Canadian dream of business ownership. I have a keen eye for opportunity and have always been creative and a bit of a risk taker. By walking the walk I have inspired other women and mothers to take the risk themselves and become entrepreneurs through the franchise model, which provides the support and leadership of the franchisor and the franchise system to help them succeed.
I never wanted to go to work dreading the day. I love waking up with excitement as I never know what a day in the life of the mobile tanning business will bring me. Every day is different, and although I probably work double over time, it doesn’t actually feel like work as I love what I do. As a franchisor, it’s my passion to help other women/mothers start and grow a business that they never imagined possible.
I wanted to create success on my own terms. I wanted to build a remarkable brand and bring it to life in a meaningful way.
I had a personal challenge that was the spark that ignited a business idea. When one of our 3 sons was diagnosed with autism 24 years ago, my need to work around his needs led me to self-employment and food service, even though I was not much of a cook at the time. It was the only thing that fit!
The most rewarding part of being a working mother is…
The opportunity to create my own schedule and have the freedom to put my family first. I also draw a great deal of inspiration and drive from my children knowing the hard work I do now is building a solid future for them. In the beginning I used to feel torn and guilty about having to choose time away in order to grow my businesses. I wish someone had told me back then there is no use in feeling this way. As long as you are having quality time together and are present when they need you, they totally understand and love you no matter what.
Having my son be proud of me. He actually gets involved when I talk business, he gives me his opinion and creative thoughts. I can see a mini entrepreneur in the making. He’s 12 and just finished his first business plan!
Showing your kids what is possible when you follow your heart and commit to making things happen.
That I have been able to grow personally while raising our family. My father taught me that caring for the well-being of the greater community is one of the best legacies we can leave our children and I sincerely believe this. I have been so fortunate to be a wife and mom, to have helped others to build viable businesses through franchising and to have created a valuable service that helps other busy working moms.
I balance work life with family life by…
Giving up the dream of trying to balance either. I used to think there was such a thing, but the longer I am in business the more I realize its not about balance, it is about self awareness and self care. Knowing when your getting close to being overwhelmed. Making sure you are not overloaded, saying no, delegating more and taking good care of your personal health in all areas is critical to having the ability to pivot and navigate change. Each day is a new adventure and you simply must put one foot in front of the other to get to the destination. My good friend once said it this way. “Life is a a series of adjustments.” Learn to be flexible.
Making sure I have family time, whether it’s vacation, sports or just hanging out watching a movie. In busy season if there isn’t much extra time I bring the family to work!
Involving my kids in my business so they appreciate the value of what I do. I’m still working on the balance part.
Not keeping a balance sheet. Working and playing is all living to me. I simply do my best and accept that everyone will not be satisfied with my choices each day…. and I extend the same courtesy to my family. A good dose of laughter, a shared kind word, this seems to balance the scales for me, no matter what else is going on…. and chocolate.
When Miriam Baker recognized a gap in the fashion industry, she was quick to fill it. In 2014, she won the prestigious Suzanne Rogers Award for Most Promising New Label and was featured as a designer to watch in Flare magazine for her line of clothing catering to women with larger busts. Since then she’s shown at the 2017 Toronto Women’s Fashion Week, and looks ahead to continue to serve confident career women looking to build a wardrobe that reflects that.
My first job ever was… As a sales representative in a store called Promised Land in the Toronto Eaton Centre. I was 15 years old and sold candles.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to solve my own problem of never being able to find clothes that are comfortable and figure flattering. Once I had the bust-friendly fashion eureka moment, there was no going back.
I’m passionate about my work because…If I don’t do it, nobody else will. All I want to do is create beautiful clothes for busty women.
To me, the fashion industry is…Currently unsustainable and fragmented. But this can change with an adjustment in consumer attitudes towards the true cost of a garment. Ask yourself, “who made my clothes?” If you don’t know the answer, it’s time to make a change.
My proudest accomplishment is…Being the recipient of the Suzanne Rogers Award for Most Promising New Label. Winning New Labels provided me with everything I needed to get started in the Canadian fashion industry.
My boldest move to date was…First, choosing to create bust-friendly fashion, and then jumping right into New Labels after University.
I surprise people when I tell them…That I’m a very private/introverted person. I guess I hide it well!
My best advice to people starting out in business is…It’s a long and uncomfortable road but hang in there, because that’s how you grow personally and professionally. You never know how far you can take something until you try.
My best advice from a mentor was…Sell, sell, sell! If you don’t do it, no one else will.
Work/life balance is…Overrated. I’ve never been very good at it. I’m a work, work, work sort of girl.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…That I had no online presence prior to 2014. I only got Facebook, Instagram and Twitter after winning the competition.
I stay inspired by…Learning new things, travelling, and surrounding myself with the most amazing friends.
The future excites me because…I have no idea what’s going to happen or where I’m going to be. I’m just taking it one day at a time.
Photos by Tara West.
Sandra Longo was young when she became committed and passionate about disabled individuals who live their lives wheelchair-bound — when she was only 9 years old, her mother became a complete Paraplegic as a result of a spinal cord injury. With encouragement from family, friends and neighbours, Sandra started Navy Street Charity for Persons with Disabilities in 2016, a charity which donates portable wheelchair ramps to individuals in need. Learn more about what inspired her current endeavour, and how she stays motivated for the future.
My first job ever was… At a large Garden Center/Craft and Hobby Store. This job began to open my young and narrow views of the world. I enjoyed the idea that people were all different, and each individual who came into the store, came because they had different crafts and or hobbies that they were working on.
I started my venture because… I wanted to help people who were disabled and who used wheelchairs. When I was a young child my mother became a paraplegic and suddenly had to live life from a wheelchair. I learned first-hand what the consequences were when an individual was not free to live how they wanted to, especially when they were not included due to limited accessibility options. It creates an emotional scar that never goes away. I wanted to help stop the emotional pain for these individuals.
My proudest accomplishment is… My very first Race, a 10 kilometer race. That was easily one of the best moments of my life, because I never thought of myself as a trail blazer and this race was my very first personal achievement. When I crossed the finish line at that race, I cried like I had never cried before. You know the moment — that moment when you just realized that you exceeded your own expectations! That race changed who I told myself I was.
My boldest move to date was… Deciding that I was going to start a charity, when I didn’t have the slightest clue of how I was going to it but doing it anyway because it’s what I believe I was born to do.
I surprise people when I tell them… The experience my family has had with a slew of family tragedies, including when my mother became paralyzed in 1984, while giving birth to my youngest sister. In the decades that followed, it was these experiences that created my empathy for others, and inspired me to give back in some way. These events enabled me to gain a better understanding and to identify with with people who live with disabilities.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Promise yourself that you’re never going to settle for less than you can be, do, give, give or create.
My best advice from a mentor was… Success leaves clues. Go figure out what someone who was successful did, and model it. Improve upon it, but learn their steps. They have knowledge, then it’s up to you to become resourceful and to take massive action.
“Promise yourself that you’re never going to settle for less than you can be, do, give, give or create.”
My biggest setback was… Breaking my own limitations of what I thought was possible for me to achieve. These thoughts were based on old restrictive beliefs, and the boundaries of what others thought I could achieve.
I overcame it by… Changing my focus. I realized that there is a powerful strength inside of me and every other human being, and I decided to focus on that instead.
Work/life balance is… Getting up early. I have realized how to maximize my day by making the most of the hours I have in a day.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I love green smoothies, for their ability to be so nutrient dense. They help fuel my body with nutrients, they help my skin glow, my eyes to be brighter, and they give me continuous resilient energy.
I stay inspired by… Being mindful of what I focus on.
The future excites me because… I am so excited about the future of Navy Street Charity for Persons with Disabilities.
My next step is… Growing awareness for Navy Street Charity, donating portable wheelchair ramps to individuals who are disabled and wheelchair bound throughout Ontario; and on a personal endeavour, a book is in the pipeline…stay tuned.
With over 20 years of industry experience in B2B marketing and a degree in Communications and an MBA in Marketing, Phoebe Yong, Principal and Founder at Magnolia Marketing Communications has led marketing campaigns with some of the biggest brands in the world, including Dell, HP, and Microsoft. She’s known in the industry for her tenacity, work ethic and passion, and in her day to day life? For being one of the Dallas Cowboy’s biggest fans.
My first job ever was… When I was 17 years old and I was the cashier at Woolco (now Walmart). I always loved playing with toy cash registers when I was a kid, so at the time, that was my dream job.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted the flexibility to create my own schedule. Having 2 and 4 year olds in the family, I wanted a schedule that could accommodate a young family lifestyle. Second, my passion is being creative. As an entrepreneur, I would have the opportunity to create stories, ideas, and campaigns and explore never ending possibilities with my creativity.
My proudest accomplishment is… My children and family life that I’ve created with my husband are my personal pride and joy. Related to work, it would be building a business that’s successfully sustained itself in a highly competitive and crowded space. Every day I get to go to work and love what I do.
My boldest move to date was… Early in my career, I left a comfortable government position to join a high-technology company to start a new career in marketing. I gained the necessary experience in sales and marketing to get a job of a lifetime in a leading-edge company specializing in wireless data.
I surprise people when I tell them… I’m a sports fanatic. A dream day is being at a Vegas hotel and betting on sports book in the NFL.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Develop a passion to never give up and be obsessive about creating the right customer experience. There will be hard days to go along with the good days. Also, get a really good accountant to help you plan cash flow, taxes and keeping your books up to date. I learned the hard way and paid the price for not having good bookkeeping when I started my business.
My best advice from a mentor was… Have clarity in what you want to achieve. Be as clear as you can on what type of customers you want, what you want to offer them and what markets you want to serve. Having clarity will serve you and your team well.
Mentorship matters because… It’s a wonderful way to pass on your experience to another person. To give them advice that that they might not have otherwise known and help them immediately. I can’t imagine my career without my mentors.
Work/life balance is… Hard to achieve. When you have your own business, it’s hard to turn things off. I try my best to find time for my women friends who fill my soul with stories of similar challenges and opportunities. Journaling also helps me reflect and keep life into perspective. Golfing with my husband allows us to laugh at life and being parents.
“I try my best to find time for my women friends who fill my soul”
I love my job because… It fills me with pride and joy when I get to work with an amazing group of talented women, and we do amazing work for our great clients. Mostly, I love my job because every day I get to do what I love – be creative in telling people’s stories.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That my dream job would be working for the Dallas Cowboys marketing team. Or that I drove on the Charlotte Motor Speedway (NASCAR racetrack).
I stay inspired by… The pace of today’s technology and society’s insatiable need for the best and coolest thing. The yearning for excellence at a breakneck speed creates societies with boundless opportunities. I get inspired by Elon Musk, Sergey Brin and Larry Page in their pursuit of new frontiers.
The future excites me because… I work with many millennials and I appreciate their longing for humanity, community and yet there is a strong appreciation for self-worth. This makes for a future generation with self-confidence to make a difference.
My next step is… To shoot a round of golf under 85, and if I’m lucky, to continue to build a sustainable business where I help influence the young talents that have the drive to move the goal post every day and make a difference.
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.”
Amanda 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.”
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:
Find your cause: Determine the issues you believe strongly enough in to stand up to.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With experience in several industries and over 25 years in financial services, Marni Johnson provides overall leadership and strategic direction in the areas of human resources and corporate and internal communications at BlueShore Financial. Her passion for human resources developed after a bold career switch, and since then she has fully embraced her role, becoming a Trustee of the BC Credit Union Employees’ Pension and Benefits plans, and serving on the boards of the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia and Yukon. With a background in math and marketing, Marni is the perfect example of what a woman can achieve when she realizes that boundaries are in fact merely suggestions, and forges her own path.
My first job out of school…At a financial institution in Toronto in a back office role. In my role I identified a gap in processes, which I raised to my manager. It was dismissed. I decided to trust my instinct and explored this further to realize that in fact there was a gap, which had financial implications for the company. I learned a very valuable lesson from this first job and that is to trust your instincts even if you are a junior in your role. Each person can bring a great deal of value to the table no matter their place in the org chart.
I decided to enter the world of HR because…I was given an incredible opportunity for a career change from marketing to HR by the CEO of BlueShore Financial (back then the name was North Shore Credit Union). She offered me the role of VP HR because she believed I had the right leadership attributes and could learn the technical aspects of HR. The switch was the best career decision I ever made.
“Trust your instincts even if you are a junior in your role. Each person can bring a great deal of value to the table no matter their place in the org chart.”
My proudest accomplishment is…Having worked with my teams to create and maintain a very positive culture and a great place to work that is client-focused, results-driven and nurtures diversity and inclusiveness, since research shows a clear link between a strong culture and organizational business performance.
My boldest move to date was…Making a career change from Marketing to HR at the executive level. I faced some skepticism because my formal experience was not in the HR function. I persevered, achieved my CPHR designation, and over time established my credibility as an HR leader. I learned a lot about empowering and trusting my team, as they had more technical expertise than I did. I believe as women, we need to allow ourselves to reach for stretch goals and pursue them with confidence in our abilities to learn and grow.
I surprise people when I tell them…That I have an undergraduate degree in math, because often they don’t see that math and HR go together. To be successful in HR, you need to understand and be able to speak the language of business, which is usually numbers and money. Having strong math skills has been an enormous benefit throughout my career.
“As women, we need to allow ourselves to reach for stretch goals and pursue them with confidence in our abilities to learn and grow.”
My best advice to people starting their career is…Take responsibility for your own career by seeking opportunities to gain experience and transferable skills. Ask for “stretch” assignments even though they will take you out of your comfort zone — you’ll be amazed at the skills and lessons you’ll learn that you can take with you as you build your career.
My best advice from a mentor was…Don’t expect anyone else to care as much as you do, or to look after your best interests. This advice instilled in me a strong sense of accountability for results. It’s equally applicable to managing your personal life and career; you must take ownership for getting what you want and not abdicate that responsibility to someone else.
My biggest setback was…In my early 30s I accepted a job with a company that enabled me to move from Toronto to Vancouver, but it required that I take a 10% pay cut. That was a big deal, not just because of the reduction in income but because of my perception that career success meant making more money with each job change. I almost didn’t take the job because of what I saw as a step backward.
I overcame it by…Taking a longer term view of my career and the potential the new job represented. It was the right decision — if I hadn’t taken that job, my career would have taken a very different direction and I wouldn’t have ended up at BlueShore Financial. I learned through that experience that a great career move doesn’t always have to be a move “up”.
Work/life balance is…Different from person to person, both in terms of how much of each feels right, and how that balance is achieved. For me, it’s more of a “blend” vs. a strict delineation. I frequently check my work emails in the evenings and on weekends; but also have flexibility in my days where I can attend a meeting if needed for a not-for-profit board that I serve on.
“A great career move doesn’t always have to be a move “up”.”
I feel successful when…I can see the impact I’ve had on my team’s or the organization’s results. One of my favourite things is coaching my team and seeing them develop their abilities and confidence as an outcome.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…That I am a hobby chocolatier. I’ve taken several courses over the past 25 years, continually learning new techniques and creating recipes. I take a week of vacation from work in early December and make more than 2,000 chocolates. Not surprisingly, my colleagues are incredibly supportive of “Chocolate Week” and the product of my time off!
I stay inspired by…Connecting with people who have a positive outlook and a passion for what they do. That kind of enthusiasm and commitment is infectious, and a source of energy for me.
The future excites me because…As an organization we have a very strong vision and an aligned and engaged team to execute on that vision. That’s a magic combination, and there’s no end to what we can achieve.
My next step is…To be determined. I’m loving my role at BlueShore and am continually looking for ways I can make an even greater contribution. What that will look like, who knows, but I’m open to the opportunities!
Want to hear more from seasoned HR professionals? Purchase your ticket to our April 26 Luncheon, Untapped Resources: How to Hire, Advance, and Retain Women.
Yana Barankin is the female lead of TAMGA Designs, a clothing line with integrity at its center. Before embarking on this journey, Yana and her business partner asked themselves two simple questions — is it too expensive to produce a socially and environmentally responsible piece of clothing? Does style have to be sacrificed for accountability? The obvious answer was no — so they set out on a mission to prove it. Here’s her story.
My first job ever was… sales clerk at a clothing store!
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I realized that I can have much more of a positive social and environmental impact by pursuing my passion rather than sitting at a 9-5 desk job.
My proudest accomplishment is… Getting my Masters in International Development from Kent University.
My boldest move to date was… Taking a leap of faith and buying a one-way ticket to Indonesia with my fiancee to set-up a responsible and transparent supply for the company.
I surprise people when I tell them… I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh for 2.5 years working in international aid.
My best advice to people trying to get an idea off the ground is… Surround yourself with creative and like-minded people! Know what your weaknesses are and don’t be afraid to ask for help and inspiration!
My best advice from a mentor was… It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
“Know what your weaknesses are and don’t be afraid to ask for help and inspiration”
My biggest setback was… My personal biggest challenge was moving to Canada at the age of 12 and what felt like at the time adapting to a whole new world.
I overcame it by… Giving it time.
Work/life balance is… Knowing when to a call it a night (laptop and cellphones OFF) and enjoying the weekend with family and friends.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a self taught photographer.
I stay inspired by… Being outdoors.
The future excites me because… There are endless possibilities! We’re starting to see a shift where businesses can’t just take away from people and the planet — to get customer loyalty they have to show how they’re giving back. Combining profit and purpose is the challenge of our generation, and there are so many amazing entrepreneurs and companies working on it.
“Combining profit and purpose is the challenge of our generation”
My next step is… My next steps are all about TAMGA at the moment! We’re developing some amazing new pieces and prints with our team in Indonesia, and will be introducing some awesome new eco materials to our line. This summer we will be doing lots of in-person festivals, pop-ups and markets in the Toronto area. And we can’t wait for lots of sunshine, TAMGA clothing, and meeting all our amazing customers.
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
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.”
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.”
As the founder and Chief Community Cultivator of Shecosystem, a co-working space that nurtures the personal and professional well-being of women, Emily Rose Antflick is a champion of working with integrity and fostering a positive sense of community. And this has served her well — while walking away from both an ill-fitting career and relationship simultaneously was a challenge, she has since emerged energized, hopeful, and fueled by a true sense of work-life integration, which she believes beats the mythical “work-life balance” any day. Here’s how she does it.
My first job ever was… Working at a vintage store/art gallery in Kensington Market, my soul’s home in this city and the neighbourhood where my ancestors first settled in Toronto in the early 20th Century.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I had creative energy that needed to be released, and after bouncing around different education institutions for over a decade, I still hadn’t found a workplace place where I would want to show up every day. Everywhere I worked I felt like I had to compartmentalize or present a certain way, and I wanted to truly show up authentically at work.
My proudest accomplishment is… Taking Shecosystem from a dream to a bricks and mortar business in just over a year. I worked hard to build community and to shape the business around that community’s needs, and as a result I opened the doors with twice my target number of Founding Members.
My boldest move to date was… Walking away from my teaching job and ending my engagement in the same week. I had gotten to a point of such acute energetic depletion that only a bold move would give me the opportunity to reshape my life from the ashes.
My best advice to people trying to get an idea off the ground is… To get it out of your head first — write it down and talk it over. And then let it exist in the world in its perfectly imperfect state, because if you wait until it’s perfect to launch, it won’t happen.
My best advice from a mentor was… To stop playing small out of fear, but instead to listen to what that fear might be telling me. Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
My biggest setback was… Not having all of the operating policies and procedures firmly in place when I opened Shecosystem. There were lots of uncomfortable conversations and lost opportunities in the early days, but in the end it meant that these policies arose from a more organic place. They took shape around real learnings rather than being imposed based on some hypothetical idea of how things “should” work.
I overcame it by… Cultivating a healthy trust in the unknown, asking for help and input from stakeholders to develop these policies cooperatively, and as one of the members put it, continuing to move forward “bravely and tentatively.”
A sense of community is important to your career because… Working for yourself shouldn’t ever mean working alone. I see my challenges and my successes mirrored in the women who work at Shecosystem. Knowing that I am supported, seen, and celebrated by this sisterhood gives me the courage to move forward with my business.
Work/life balance is… A myth. I prefer to talk about work-life integration. If we are going to cultivate sustainable businesses and abundant lives, self-care needs to be a part of our business strategy.
“If we are going to cultivate sustainable businesses and abundant lives, self-care needs to be a part of our business strategy.”
My past experience helps me today by… Reminding me that I am resilient and resourceful. Also my background in curriculum design, teaching and facilitation means I have a toolkit that can be applied to lots of different contexts because, after all, I’ve always believed that real learning happens outside of the classroom.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… My bank account number, but that’s about it. If you go back far enough you’ll uncover my travel blog, old teaching resources, even the story of my first menstrual period.
I stay inspired by… Dancing and getting into nature as often as possible.
The future excites me because… The feminine is rising and more people are waking up to our potential to discard broken systems and return to more human scale, soul-centric and eco-centric ways of situating ourselves in the world.
My next step is… Simply taking time to observe how Shecosystem works — then refining, modifying, and preparing to scale based on the insight drawn from these observations.
We met Emily Rose Antflick, the founder of Shecosystem, at the 2017 Feminist Art Conference held at OCAD, where she sat on a panel of feminist entrepreneurs, alongside Petra Kassun-Mutch and Valerie Fox. Check back to meet more of the incredible woman entrepreneurs that attended.
Meet Valerie Fox, the woman who’s been at the center of innovation since the 80s as a designer for IBM. Since then she co-founded the Ryerson DMZ, North America’s number 1 university business incubator, and started a new venture which helps build successful incubation models with corporations, academic institutions and regions, and brings communities of diverse skills together to collaborate, design and deliver impactful innovation, world-wide. With over 30 years in the creative digital industry, Valerie has been recognized for multiple awards, including the 2016 Canada Innovation Leaders team, and the Sara Kirke Award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, CNE Woman of Distinction. Get to know her here.
My first job ever was… As a printing press operator, graphic artist and camera room operator in a print shop. Up to that point, I had gone to university and college for art and design, and wanted to illustrate children’s books.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… In the 80s I could see that tech was changing the landscape of design, communication and education. I wanted to be on the bleeding edge of what I knew was going to be the future of everything. I had an incredible career at IBM as an intrapreneur. From there I was asked to join Ryerson University by the then President, Sheldon Levy to help in its transition to become a leader in entrepreneurship and innovation.
My proudest accomplishment is… My family, and meeting the many professional experiences I’ve had, like being the creative director of the Sydney Olympics web experience and co-founding and growing the Ryerson DMZ business incubator to be recognized as number 1 in North America and number 3 in the world. 18 months ago, started a company to help develop incubators and entrepreneurial ecosystems in towns, cities, academic institutions and corporations in Canada, the U.S., and Internationally.
My boldest move to date was… Getting the gig for the Sydney Olympics for our Canadian IBM team. We had a week to prove to the executive producer in Australia that we had what it took to design and deliver an exceptional online experience to the world. We super-stretched the capability of the internet in the year 2000 to create an incredible interactive and immersive experience. It showed what happens when design and technology work closely together.
I surprise people when I tell them… I’m 63 and a grandma.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… To hold on tight. It’s filled with the most incredible high’s and lows. The best things you can do is to stay in perpetual motion, learn, iterate, team, share, and create long lasting relationships.
Mentorship is important because… It’s a beautiful way to learn and build mutually beneficial relationships.
“The best things you can do is to stay in perpetual motion, learn, iterate, team, share, and create long lasting relationships.”
My best advice from a mentor was… Not to worry about what others think, but listen, learn, apply, while continually holding on to core values.
My biggest setback was… Health related. My back went out and I was house-bound for 3 months. It stopped me cold. I realized how important health is, to do anything.
I overcame it by… Changing my perspective. It’s okay to take time to eat, sleep, take care of oneself and enjoy that too.
Work/life balance is… I don’t believe it’s a balance. For me it’s integrated. I love my work, it’s a part of my life. But it’s not the only thing in my life.
Something you can’t learn in a classroom is… So many things. Life is learning. Experience gives perspective, relevance, and application. But I would add that it depends on the classroom. There are some amazing classes out there that encourage team and project building, and knowledge sharing.
To me, innovation means… Change that makes a difference.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a pretty open book.
I stay inspired by… Hanging out with people I love and learn from and meeting new people to learn from. Also reading, walking, traveling…never standing still.
The future excites me because… It’s filled with possibility.
My next step is… Continuing to help build connections and learning opportunities that will shape our world to be a better place.
We met Valerie, the founder of The Pivotal Point, at the 2017 Feminist Art Conference held at OCAD, where she sat on a panel of feminist entrepreneurs, alongside Petra Kassun-Mutch. Check back to meet more of the incredible woman entrepreneurs that attended.
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.”
Petra Kassun-Mutch wants to revolutionize the way entrepreneurs do business, bringing social consciousness and a feminist mind-set to a space that is all too often profit-centric and male-dominated. A former executive turned serial entrepreneur, Petra is determined to demonstrate how a business can be both responsible and profitable, widening the definition of innovation to be more inclusive and altogether more exciting.
My first job ever was… a fry girl at McDonald’s — I also had lobby duty.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to be able to show up authentically, create opportunities for others, and design and launch innovative, values-led enterprises that helps transform institutions and systems.
My proudest accomplishment is… leaving my 18-year corporate career and role as President for a $46M division of a multinational publishing company to found, build and grow a Platinum LEED (first in the world), a mid size award winning artisan goat and sheep milk dairy in Prince Edward County — even though I had no experience in cheese, farming, or the food processing industry. I didn’t even know you could milk a sheep! But I do now! We won the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation two years after opening.
My boldest move to date was… Combining activism with scalable entrepreneurship.
I surprise people when I tell them… I was once a certified milk and cream grader, licensed HTST operator, and drove a milk truck.
My best advice to people starting out in business is… Everyone should start their career in sales. You will learn about markets, people, and learn how the world really works. For me personally it was transformational.
My best advice from a mentor was… Be the market you intend to serve. In other words, don’t try to sell something to people (or markets) you don’t truly love, respect or understand.
Women can support other women by… Leading with intersectional feminist values at the heart of all you do. Investing in women, including trans and gender non-binary female entrepreneurs.
My biggest setback was… Having to sell the business I loved and started because of an ill-timed divorce. In entrepreneurship, business is personal, and the personal is business.
I overcame it by… Taking a break, reflection, lots of self care, trying new things (not always successful), and surrounding myself with dynamic, diverse, creative kick ass women friends.
Something you can’t learn in a classroom is… How to cope with and recover from major loss.
To me, innovation means… A lot more than just high growth/extreme cheap scale tech. Today’s definition of innovation is too narrow and leads to a gender gap in innovation policy that goes under recognized. We need to support process innovation alongside product innovation.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I know how to macramé.
I stay inspired by… Watching The Walking Dead and working with entrepreneurs.
The future excites me because… I believe we can and will create a human-centric, values-led economy in the future, one that will promote individual, community and global wellness, a world without fossil fuels, a future where structural and cultural gender driven inequality for women, trans, queer-identified people (anyone experiencing discrimination based on gender) are a thing of the past.
My next step is… To pioneer what it means to design and operate an enterprise based on feminist business best practice.
We met Petra at the 2017 Feminist Art Conference held at OCAD, where she mediated a panel of feminist entrepreneurs. Check back to meet more of the incredible woman entrepreneurs that attended. Until then, hear more from Petra at liisbeth.com.