Author Archives: Katie LeClair

Mar 30, 2021

2 mins | 450 words
By: Avah Taylor

Avah Taylor headshotCreating or finding an environment that’s conducive to your growth and sets you up for success is hard. And, so is developing good habits and implementing effective practices, especially when you’re on your own.

What’s the best solution? We suggest turning to the experts.

That’s why, to wrap up our Black History Month blog series, Invest Ottawa is highlighting two Black entrepreneurs changing the face of the professional services industry. 

Eric McRae

After noticing that Ottawa needed a community space for creative professionals, Eric McRae decided to open My Byward Office, located in the iconic Byward Market.

Established in 2014 and designed by Eric himself, the co-working space offers modern open-concept workspaces, meeting rooms, private offices, and event spaces where companies and entrepreneurs can get work done and promote creativity.

Earlier in his career, Eric built and designed service desks and service operations for large companies. He is an expert in work habits, workspaces, function and space design. His spaces incorporate woods, metal, glass and fabrics in a way that allows people to feel comfortable and productive.

“I created My Byward Office to be a series of beautiful spaces where creative people can come to work smarter and succeed faster,” said the founder and CEO. “I believe the right space can inspire growth, collaboration and foster some of the most amazing creative ideas.

Eric is also a coach and mentor for startup entrepreneurs, who has helped to develop over 40 businesses. With over 16 years of experience in both the public and private sectors, he specializes in guiding startups from concept to reality.

Jesmine Onyeukwu

Jesmine Onyeukwu is a certified productivity, performance and leadership coach recognized as a thought leader in the industry.

Her companies, JessyIsCharm and The Organizing Academy, provide organizing and productivity solutions for business leaders, teams, and organizations using The Life Harmony System – the world’s first sustainable and peak performance program.

She created the program which helps clients to improve their performance by up to 45 percent and better manage their resources to find a healthy work-life balance. 

Through her Life Harmony frameworks, Jesmine educates business leaders on how to avoid burnout and achieve sustainable success. A highly sought-after business strategist, she has personally coached and trained executives from around the world while her work has received internal media coverage. 

She holds a BSc in Economics with a minor in Education and has authored two books titled Organizing Business Guide and The Organizing Commandments.

The mom-of-three believes you can “have it all” if you prioritize effectively. She says her mission is to change the world one organized person at a time.

This article is the fourth in a special Black History Month series by Invest Ottawa.

Digital Main Street, learn more.

To learn more about the Digital Main Street program and how businesses can apply, visit our webpage.

A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.

Mar 26, 2021
2 mins | 433 words
By: David Rodas-Wright

David Rodas Wright HeadshotOnce the stuff of science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly revolutionizing our day-to-day lives. From self-driving cars to virtual assistants and global supply chains, AI applied to a real-world environment is propelling innovation globally and Ottawa is at the centre of it. 

Our city’s deep expertise in innovation has a proud legacy and that now includes being a world leader in applied AI. While much important work continues in fundamental research, AI solutions developed here in Ottawa are driving progress across a multitude of industries.  

Homegrown global commerce leader Shopify is incorporating AI enhancements into its new network of fulfillment centres and global supply chain tech innovator Kinaxis is building out expertise locally while bringing new talent on board from the acquisition of Torontobased leader Rubikloud which specializes in intelligent decision making automation.  

Other local innovators like Lemay.ai & Auditmap are blazing new trails, including inking a licensing agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank and Lixar Fuelled by BDO is an Ottawa powerhouse in AI and data analytics, now with a footprint in multiple Canadian cities. 

All of this leads us to an exciting partnership Invest Ottawa has just announced with the UK’s InspiredMinds! – the company behind the World Summit AI Global Series. 

This year we are supporting their upcoming AI Americas Summit, Online Global Meet-up! From April 19th to 21st, AI professionals and leaders are invited to experience world-class content and engagements through the AI Omnichannel, featuring highly focused and curated peer group discussions, masterclasses and 121 meetings. 

And with Ottawa’s ever-increasing AI expertise it is no surprise our own experts and leaders will be sharing the spotlight with others from across North America: 

Invest Ottawa, together with InspiredMinds! are looking forward to bringing Ottawa to the Americas, and the Americas to Ottawa with this first-class event and networking opportunity.  

Want to attendSend me an email and I’ll send you a special Invest Ottawa promo code for a FREE ticket. I’m also happy to provide you with more information about Ottawa’s world-class applied AI ecosystem! 

David Rodas-Wright 

[email protected] 

Posted in Blog, Invest Ottawa
Mar 25, 2021

Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards want to acknowledge and condemn the continued prevalence of appalling Anti-Asian harassment, racism, and violence since the onset of the pandemic in Ottawa, across Canada and around the world.

Over the last 12 months, our region has experienced a rise in anti-Asian racism including physical attacks, intimidation and verbal threats. Racism targeting our Asian community precedes COVID-19 but it has increasingly surfaced due to the linking of China and the novel coronavirus.

Ottawa isn’t the only Canadian city experiencing a dramatic increase in anti-Asian racism. Data shows that Canada has a higher incident rate per capita than the US. Much of the violence has targeted Asian women, further intensifying the devastating impact of the pandemic. Women, particularly those from priority equity groups including racialized communities, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis.

We at Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards are grateful for the amazing and vital contributions our Asian community members make to the prosperity and well-being of our city, economy, and society every day.

As an organization that serves and amplifies the voice of entrepreneurs and firms, we are vocalizing our support for local Asian businesses and community members who are navigating these very real dangers. We stand with all members of our Asian heritage communities and encourage those across our ecosystem to:

  • Patronize local businesses, particularly Asian-owned and operated enterprises including those operated by women, in Chinatown and beyond;
  • Check-in on Asian colleagues and community members who are experiencing fear and injustice, and ensure they are acquiring the support and acknowledgement they need; and
  • Inform and equip yourself to interrupt racism, sexism, and harassment in all its forms when you see it in action.

Learn more about what to do when you witness racist behaviour here.

Learn about what your organization can do to include Asian-Canadians in your anti-racism work here.

We call on our collective courage to interrupt and combat all forms of violence and oppression. We are stronger when we are informed and equipped to take collective action against racism and harmful actions that target and impact our Asian-Canadian friends, neighbours and community members.

Learn more about our commitments to become a better ally. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with our community as we translate our commitments into on-going action.

Mar 16, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously been one of the most challenging times in our lifetime, if not the most challenging. Entrepreneurs, professionals, families and companies alike were forced to change the way they operate at the drop of a hat and navigate this new reality. For some, it has been an opportunity to pivot into a new career, business or industry. For others, it has been simply about surviving.

As we extend our Black History Month series into March, here are four coaches who can help you navigate these challenging times we’re living in.

Mona Abow

Mona Abow: The Boundless Mindset & Career CoachThe COVID-19 pandemic has provided many with the opportunity to launch new ventures and jump into the world of entrepreneurship. One of those entrepreneurs is local business coach and founder of The Boundless Mindset podcast, Mona Abow.

The mother of three was inspired to launch her coaching practice after spending seven years in career development. It was there that she found her passion for supporting women of colour. 

“I’ve seen too many brilliant, high achieving women of colour stay in unfulfilling jobs out of fear and desperation”, she explains. “Recognizing our greatness helps us to stand in our power and demand more out of life. This is why I’m passionate about supporting WOC to launch their own lucrative online businesses that are in line with their vision and purpose.”

When the pandemic hit, it provided the perfect opportunity for the former Director of the YMCA Employment Services in the National Capital Region to put her years of career development experience and passion into practice. Aside from running her own practice she also became a mentor with Invest Ottawa’s Starter Company Plus program.

“I loved working with the Invest Ottawa team. They provide valuable service to the entrepreneurs in our community.”

Lissa Appiah

Lissa Appiah, Founder of WeApplyAnother career development entrepreneur who launched her business in 2020 is Lissa Appiah, founder of WeApply, a type of personal accountability partner who supports professionals throughout their career journey so they don’t have to do it alone. The firm provides career coaching, resume writing, career development workshops and training, ideal for any professional looking to use the current pandemic as an opportunity to transition into a new career path.

The idea for her business came about after facing her own issues in finding a new job.

“When I joined the public service, I felt very isolated. I did not know anyone”, she explains. “Unlike colleagues in my Master’s program, I didn’t have a family member or friend who worked in a department that could provide advice or help me get ahead.”

The Certified Career & Resume Strategist now helps job seekers and professionals upgrade their career and lifestyle. What makes Lissa stand out from other career development coaches is her first-hand experience navigating the workforce as a person of colour and her ability to relate to the people she serves.

“I am a bilingual second-generation Canadian and I work with an ethnically diverse client base. I have first-hand experience of the challenges people of colour face in the workplace.”

Priscilla Jabouin

Priscilla Jabouin, Holistic Counsellor & Career CoachPriscilla Jaboin started her own career development coaching practice as a part-time business back in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2017 that she hit the ground running. Her business was born out of her own career confusion after feeling misplaced as an elementary school teacher.

“Ten years ago, I was in what I consider ‘career hell’ as a school teacher and it was really affecting my health”, she recalls. “I got to the point where I was like, ‘Priscilla, you have a choice to make. It’s either you stay in this career, hold off until retirement and literally destroy yourself, mentally and physically, or you pursue what your heart truly desires.”

After quitting her job, she went back to school completing her Masters in Counselling Psychology and became a trained psychotherapist, focusing on career counselling

“I went in the career counselling path because I really felt like when people are deciding what it is they want to do as a career, they’re deciding how you want to show up in the world and it’s part of your existence, and I wanted to help people connect to what that is for them.”

Priscilla calls herself a “Holistic Counsellor & Career Coach” because she looks at the whole person and balances both counselling, including helping her clients find clarity through deep self-exploration, and once they have that clarity, coaching them towards action and reaching their goals.

For Priscilla, her job is all about transformation and helping her clients who are unhappy in their careers (as she was many years ago) step into a new possibility

“I walk my talk…I’ll never ask a client to do something I haven’t tried myself.”

Jacqueline Richards

Jacqueline Richards, Mortgage Specialist, known as the "Wealthy Yogini"As we continue to navigate the current pandemic, there are many entrepreneurs, professionals and families experiencing financial difficulties which can not only put a strain on your pocketbook but on your mind. Here enters Jacqueline Richards, also known as the “Wealthy Yogini”, a mortgage professional and champion for financial health with a twist. Her unique coaching practice blends traditional finance and mortgage strategies with spirituality, including yoga and chakra energy, serving her clients “mind, body and Spirit”.

Her clients include everyone from first-time homebuyers to single-parent families to and real estate investors, providing them with the mortgage strategies they need to make important home buying and investment decisions.

Aside from her mortgage business, Jacqueline has spent the past 25 years serving her community as the YMCA-YWCA group fitness instructor, a 200 RYT yoga instructor teaching Hatha Yoga, and Chair Cardio Fit and Chair Yoga for the YMCA-YWCAs Young At Heart Program. She is also passionate about supporting women in business, serving on the Prime Ministers Task Force on Female Entrepreneurs and as past co-chair of Canadian Women in Communication (NCR) now WCT, past Chair of the Eastern Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, and Ottawa Chamber of Commerce Board Director. 

All of this led her to not only work with Invest Ottawa as a mentor in the Start Company Plus program but to become an author, releasing her book, ”Yoga For Your Personal Finances, Practical and Spiritual Solutions for Financial Health”,  blending yoga, chakras, and wealth solutions to “enrich physical well-being, personal wealth, goals, and dreams”. She also joined 29 other women to co-author, “Ruby Red Shoes-Empowering Stories on Relationships, Intuition and Purpose”.

This article is the first in a special Black History Month series by Invest Ottawa.

About the Author

Kevin Bourne headshot. An image of him standing in front of a brick wall.Kevin Bourne, also known as “KB The Boss” or simply “KB”, is an Ottawa-based media/entertainment entrepreneur, freelance journalist, and media personality.

The former political staffer is quickly becoming a staple in Ottawa and Canada’s cultural landscape as both a commentator and freelancer, appearing nationally on CBC News Network and locally on CTV, CBC Radio, CityNews, and 580 CFRA and having been published in ByBlacks, the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Business Journal. Doubling as CEO of the PR and content marketing firm SHIFTER Agency Inc. and editor-in-chief at SHIFTER magazine, Kevin has covered some of Canada’s top red carpet events, from the Juno Awards to the Canadian Screen Awards and has interviewed everyone from Kevin Hart to “Fast and the Furious” star Tyrese Gibson. He is currently co-host of The Morning Shift, Ottawa’s daily hip-hop morning radio show on CHUO 89.1FM.

He is also a board member at the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition and the Ottawa Film Office and was recently named to the TEDx Kanata Leadership Committee and Ottawa Life Magazine’s Best of Ottawa: Activists & Changemakers list for 2020.


Digital Main Street, learn more.

To learn more about the Digital Main Street program and how businesses can apply, visit our webpage.

A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.

Posted in Blog, Expert Series
Mar 11, 2021
2.5 mins | 595 words
By: Christian Bolduc & Marie Christine Bernier

Co-branding is usually understood as the use of two or more trademarks on a single product, each mark belonging to a different owner and pointing to a different source. A common example of co-branding is a brand A car with brand B tires and a brand C sound system.  In this instance, there is likely a trademark for the finished product and other distinct marks for parts or components of the finished product. However, when two trademarks appear on one product (i.e. a manufacturer’s trademark and a retailer’s trademark) the situation becomes more complex.

In a manufacturer-retailer situation, only the manufacturer’s mark can act as a source identifier of the product. For instance, when a clothing retailer places its trademark on price tags or labels affixed to products manufactured by others and bearing their mark, the source of the clothing is the manufacturer, and its mark should be indicative of it.  In such circumstances, the retailer’s trademark cannot act as a source identifier of the clothing which only has one source, the manufacturer.  Perhaps such use of the retailer’s trademark instead is a form of promotion of the retail services it offers. Put another way, the manufacturer’s products do not become the retailer’s products simply because they were purchased at the retailer’s store and bear its mark.

It is not enough for a trademark to simply appear on a product to constitute use that generates trademark rights; the trademark must actually distinguish the products or services in association with which it is used by its owner from the products or services of other traders. In other words, the consumers must associate the trademark with a source of the products.

The only way the retailer’s mark put on a product manufactured by someone else could act as the source of the products would be if the manufacturer’s mark does not appear on the product, as is often time the case when retailers enter into an agreement with manufacturers to make products that exclusively bear the retailer’s mark (also known as the private label). Retailers only applying their mark to products already bearing the manufacturer’s mark do so at the risk of seeing their trademark application for that mark refused if it is successfully opposed by third parties, or their registration invalidated if their registration covers those products.

For further information regarding protecting trademark rights in Canada, please contact a member of our Trademarks & Brand Protection team.

The preceding is intended as a timely update on Canadian intellectual property and technology law. The content is informational only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. To obtain such advice, please communicate with our offices directly.


About Invest Ottawa Sponsor, Smart & Biggar:

Smart & Biggar helps the world’s leading tech companies protect and leverage their IP, and advises them on how to use IP Strategy to secure growth around the world.

Headquartered in Ottawa with a national presence, Smart & Biggar has a consistent track record and reputation as the leader for IP and tech law in Canada.

About the Authors:

Christian Bolduc is a partner at Smart & Biggar. Christian Bolduc is a partner at Smart & Biggar. Combining more than twenty years of experience across all stages of the trademark life cycle with a keen business mindset, Christian is passionate about helping clients generate ROI and value from strategically-developed IP assets.

Marie Christine Bernier is an associate at Smart & BiggarMarie Christine Bernier is an associate at Smart & Biggar. Marie Christine works with companies of all sizes from local start-ups to multinational corporations and across all industries to develop strong trademark portfolios that are aligned to their business objectives and guard against competitors.

Mar 10, 2021
A screen shot of the conversation between Arlene Dickinson and Jennifer Stewart during the Womxn Angel Investor Breakfast on March 2, 2021.

Jennifer Stewart and Arlene Dickinson on March 2nd during the Womxn Angel Investor Breakfast.

7.5 mins | 1539 words
By: Jennifer Campbell

“It’s important for women to do it because men aren’t.” So said venture capitalist Arlene Dickinson about investing in women-led businesses. She was speaking at the third annual — this time virtual — International Womxn’s Week Angel Breakfast, an event that addresses the issue of underfunding for female founders.

“We have to support each other,” the straight-talking best-selling author and star of CBC’s hit TV show, Dragon’s Den told Jennifer Stewart, president and CEO of Syntax Strategic, who interviewed her by Zoom. “By investing in another woman, you’re actually giving them the confidence and the capital they need to succeed. A lot of the capital markets are reverting back to old models so it’s very important that women invest in women. You’d be surprised how it can make such a difference in the future success of their business.”

Dickinson was the breakfast’s keynote speaker, which also featured a panel of founders and funders who spoke about their experiences, and an update from the creators of SheBoot, a six-week bootcamp, which prepares women founders to pitch their business and secure investment. It launched in the fall of 2020 and is now accepting applications for this year’s program.

The breakfast event came at a time when investment in women-owned business is especially dire, thanks in part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Venture capital funding to women in 2020 was down by 27 percent and women’s share of dollars has gone from 2.8 percent — an already very small number — to 2.3 percent.

Dickinson’s advice for women hoping to follow her path and become one of Canada’s top CEOs was to stick with it and be true to yourself.

“It takes a long time to create success,” she said. “When I was just starting out, there weren’t a lot of role models and women to look up to. My father taught me I could do anything I needed to do if I just believed in myself. For me, even on [Dragon’s Den] when I was the only female, it was trying to represent what I believed and that, of course, came from a female perspective. You are a female, you’ll come out that way. When you stand up for yourself, you’re standing up for all women.”

When she’s considering pitches, she looks for good ideas and good leaders. That has resulted in the majority of her fund’s portfolio’s companies being owned by women.

“If you start with no bias, you will win,” she advises would-be investors. “If you start with a bias that says it has to be a man, an experienced entrepreneur or people who have done it before, you won’t get to women because they’re just getting into this. I would try to erase bias.”

The leaders Dickinson looks for are people who are genuine, authentic and honest.

“It’s about both of us in this journey together,” she said. “If you’re pitching to someone, don’t be afraid to talk about the mistakes, but don’t focus on them.”

For first-time investors, she suggests invest because you know in your gut the pitch is a good idea and because you really believe in founders’ ability. It’s important to support family and friends, but investing in them isn’t the best idea because we’re sometimes afraid to tell them their idea isn’t great. She suggests being really clear on the rules, stating what you want from the investment and making sure the money you’re investing is money you can lose because investments are risky.

Dickinson told of her first angel investment, many years ago when $30,000 was a lot of money to her. She had an employee who wanted to start a travel adventure company in Thailand. With her investment, it became one of the most successful in the country.

“It was just a real joy,” she said. “When he paid me back that money, I remember thinking that money is what got him going and it was worth every risk I could think of.”

The moral of the story? Even a small amount of money is everything to someone launching a business.

Asked if she’d recommend using an advisory team when making an investment, she said it depends on the deal.

“If you’re making a $10,000 deal, you don’t want to spend $10,000 on support,” she said. “Educate yourself. Learn about it, take the time. Many of these agreements you can learn yourself. It’s not as complex as you think. But if it’s six figures or money that’s really important, absolutely rely on advisers.”

Looking more broadly at how Canada can compete with the rest of the world, Dickinson said there’s work to be done, and that Canadians, who are generally risk-averse, need to recognize that supporting entrepreneurs and elevating the ones who are having some success is essential.

“The nation needs to have more growth capital,” she said. “We need to focus on helping private equity. When I raised my fund, it was very difficult and I’m not unknown. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be others and that shouldn’t be the case. We need to be more risk-friendly with first-time fund managers, and female first-time fund managers in particular, and we need to educate and change the deep bias that exists in the financial sector on investing in women in general.”

Dickinson said for her part, she’d like to be remembered as someone who “genuinely wanted to make a difference in helping entrepreneurs in Canada succeed,” especially in the agriculture and health sectors, on which her fund is focused. She invests in the last mile of commercialization, something Canada is often criticized for not doing.

“We’re really good at shipping our [raw] products all over the world,” she said, but not good at refining or processing them into packaged goods for the consumer market. “I could not understand why we weren’t getting the majority of the margin from them. We do agriculture and health through R&D and innovation, but we’re not leveraging that expertise into creating packaged goods or products that countries around the world can buy. Access to good food and good health — these are macro-economic issues that need to be addressed. Canada is in such a great place to be able to help people eat better.”

Following Stewart’s interview with Dickinson, Julia Elvidge, co-founder of SheBoot, hosted a panel of Ottawa-area founders and funders. Two — Audrey Bond, CEO and founder of Vaultt.com, and Heather Ward, president of Hyperion Global Energy — have been recipients of Capital Angel Network funding. And two — Debbie Weinstein of LaBarge Weinstein LLP, and Sandra Ng, vice-president of Tesceleration Investments — are Capital Angel Network investors.

Panel discussion

 

The network imparted some good news through board chair Jennifer Francis: In three years, it has grown its number of women angels from five percent to 20 percent and it has funded 11 women-led companies over the same period.

Weinstein spoke about how angel investing has enriched her career. Over the past 25 years, she’s made between 30 and 40 investments.

“I get to see a founder on Day 1 and I get to go on a journey with him or her, from Day 1 to sale or IPO. And I get to do that [several] times in my career,” she says. “Instead of being a very small part of the technology industry, it’s allowed me to be at the centre of it.”

Elvidge said that’s why she’s an advisor at Invest Ottawa. “I meet these incredible women, like Audrey and Heather, early on in their careers and see how it develops and it’s so much fun.”

Headshot of Sandra Ng, Power of Why Podcast interviewee

Sandra Ng was recently featured on the Power of Why Podcast. Listen now to her interview with Naomi Haile, Chart a Mission-Driven Path and Grow Wealth – For Yourself, and Your Community.

Ng said angel investing for her is a merging of two passions — “making money and making a difference.”

Ward, whose company converts waste CO2 emissions into profitable materials, or “turns dirty air into dollars,” said her funding journey has been challenging as her endeavour requires a lot of capital, but she’s found good financial support and mentorship from woman funders.

Bond, whose company offers a collaborative patient- and family-centric platform for secure information management and communication between care-givers, raised $500,000 in a year.

“When we talk about angels, I have to say, they truly, truly are angels that jump in and help founders start businesses that probably would not have been started without their assistance,” said Bond, who was SheBoot pitch-prize winner.

Asked for three words to describe the finds of investors they look for, Ward said, “impact, smart-money and network; Bond said, “belief, open and trust.”

Asked what they look for in founders, Ng said “integrity and grit” while Weinstein said “integrity, values and transparency.”

In summing up the morning, Francis gave an overview of the Capital Angel Network, whose makeup is 20 percent women, but the group is aiming to up that to 50 percent. The network includes 50 Ottawa area angels who have invested more than 35 million in Ottawa since 2009.

Francis summed up the spirit of the morning by sharing a convincing fact, which is that women investors earn higher rates of return than men. There’s also some evidence that, in aggregate, VC-funded women-led firms outperform their male counterparts.


Next steps

If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to be an angel investor and how you can get involved with the Capital Angel Network or SheBoot, send an email to Julie Elvidge at [email protected]a.ca.

Mar 10, 2021

Be big, be bold and be brave

9 mins | 1856 words
By: Jennifer Campbell

Women encouraged to overcome obstacles, fight for their place in boardrooms and amplify the voices of other women

Screen grad of six panelists during Elevate International's Women Leading Global Economic Recovery.

“Use your gender as an asset, not an obstacle.”

Ellie Ardakani, CEO and co-founder of Meta Innovation Technologies, shared that bit of wisdom with more than 125 women who attended a virtual International Women’s Day event.

The event was hosted by Elevate International, which aims to inspire, empower and elevate women and girls locally and globally, and Ardakani was one of five panellists in a discussion moderated by Sonya Shorey, vice-president of marketing and communications at Invest Ottawa.

To kick off the discussion, Shorey shared some facts, building on numbers figures earlier in the morning’s presentations by Marjolaine Hudon, regional vice-president of Ontario North & East at Royal Bank of Canada.

We know COVID has delivered a divisive blow to our health and global economy,” Shorey said. “Women business leaders, particularly those with intersectional identities, have been disproportionately hit.”

She quoted recent research showing that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic than men’s jobs and while women make up 39 percent of global employment, they account for 54 per cent of overall job losses.

“If we fail to take targeted action, global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment tracked that of men in each sector,” she said. “Taking action now to advance gender equality could be valuable, adding $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030, compared with the gender regressive scenario we are facing today.”

Beyond the grim reality, however, she said the crisis creates opportunities for women leaders to use their voices to address gender equality. It was through that lens that a panel discussion, titled Womxn leaders driving economic revolution and recovery, launched.

Women leaving the workforce

Asked about how to curb the issue of women leaving the workforce due to COVID-related domestic pressures, Amy MacLeod, vice-president, corporate affairs and external communications at Seaspan Shipyards, said the fact that 500,000 Canadian women who were working in March 2020 and aren’t working now is “staggering” and “kind of sad.

“It’s a wakeup call for short-term corrective active to stop the bleeding,” she said. “There is no economic recovery without them. As we think about economic recovery as a national priority, we need to think about the role of working women in driving and stimulating that economic recovery and make sure that exodus is arrested.”

Nina Qi, COO of Voyage, a self-driving car startup in Silicon Valley, said what’s good for gender equality is good for the economy.

“Women are shouldering even more of the burdens of unpaid labour and just caretaker duties during the pandemic,” she said. “Our industry has introduced flexible work hours. We’ve be able to show that [they] work. People are equally productive. We need to create the right environment for women to rejoin the workforce, whether that’s continuing to champion equal pay, flexible work schedules, better childcare support.”

Looking at best practices from other countries was the suggestion of Moya Cahill, CEO and co-founder of PanGeo Subsea in St. John’s, Nfld. She said the Norwegians are introducing “game-changing initiatives” to ensure women can get into the workforce and be comfortable balancing family and work.

Attracting and retaining women leaders

Lisa Dolan, vice-president of supply chain strategy at Alom Technologies in Fremont, California, said her jobs don’t seem as exciting as those of her competitors, such as Apple, Google and Facebook and hers require employees be on the production line and work-from-home is impossible.

Given that, she said they work hard to broaden their exposure among women by speaking in grade schools and colleges alike.

“We’re trying to change that perception for girls,” she said. “In supply chain and manufacturing and some of these traditionally male roles, there are tremendous opportunities for women.”

Similarly, McLeod’s company builds ships so again, flexible hours and work-from-home aren’t as possible, but she argues they’re well paid, highly skilled jobs whose proficiencies are transferable and whose hours are time-bound.

“For those who struggle with balance, you go to work and leave at the end of [your shift,]” she said. “There’s wonderful balance. It’s the total package, but we don’t have enough young girls who can see themselves doing this.”

Ellie Ardakani said organizations that advocate for women offer good insight into attraction and retention.

“Women in AI is an organization based in Europe and they have thousands of members,” she said. “This year is the beginning for Ottawa to be part of these efforts to education people about positions in the AI field. One of the other things, especially for Ottawa, is that we’re leaders in terms of startups. You can see AI startups that are coming into the ecosystem, and they are supported by angel investors and VCs to be able to take them to the next level.”

Taking action to build back better

Qi said the technology and venture-capital communities both tend to be very male-dominated and even more so in her field of AI/robotics.

“A study sampled three AI conferences from machine learning and machine vision and found that 88 percent of the researchers were men,” she said

Her company has become bold in trying to fill its roles with women and with the right talent. For roles that can be done remotely, she’s willing to hire people all over the U.S. and she’s even made accommodations for out-of-country hires. Another action: Voyage’s recruiters often don’t look at names on applications.

“We just want to hire folks who demonstrate collaboration and deliver results,” she said. “We are willing to tap experience from all different types of industries. As a smaller company, you always have to find ways to be more competitive and being more flexible in backgrounds and work locations has really given us an edge.”

Dolan’s company hosts on-site manufacturing days as part of its relationship with the National Association of Manufacturers.

“We’re bringing those girls in and showing them [our] fun, hands-on, grassroots, feet-on-the-ground opportunities,” she said.

McLeod pointed out that one positive from the pandemic has been the business case for remote working, which has been made unequivocally.

“There’s nothing left to prove on that front,” she said. “We didn’t instinctively think it was okay to work from home. There were questions about efficiency and productive and output.

She also endorsed Qi’s willingness to search for talent anywhere.

“Technology is allowing us to find folks and enable them to join our organizations wherever they are,” she said. “I do think we’ll see some leaders who will take that and use it to define their brand and then we’ll see a lot of fast followers after that.”

Overcoming stumbling blocks

When it comes to what seem like setbacks, McLeod said she wishes she knew then what she knows now. Many times, she was marginalized or diminished in a meeting and said nothing. She wouldn’t stay silent today.

“Women aren’t putting up with that,” she said. “They are setting the expectation for what they want and what they expect from their workplaces. I’m incredibly inspired by that.”

Cahill says she refuses to acknowledge barriers and instead sees stumbling blocks that come her way as opportunities to strive for increased success.

Ardakani, a woman of colour and an immigrant who speaks with an accent, says she can sometimes feel lonely in the oil and gas space.

“I’m building a business here in North America and [I’m] surrounded by white middle-aged men,” she said. “I look weird to them. But as you work through these feelings, you get more and more comfortable. Sometimes we just need to say ‘I am who I am and this is what I want to do to.’ This is my advice to all women. We have to use our gender as an asset not an obstacle.”

Pushing for executive positions

Just four percent of companies on the benchmark stock index in Canada have a female CEO and DDI’s global leadership forecast found that women account for just 21 percent of early executives. Women in Canada only occupy 17 percent of board seats on TSX-listed companies.

Asked how to move the dial on this, Dolan said that change comes from the top.

“To get more women in the C-Suite, get more women on the board,” she said. “There are advocacy groups such as How Women Lead that are helping prepare women for their seat on the board.”

Cahill said some organizations are leading on this. For example, Exxon Mobil, Husky Energy and Suncor monitor the gender equality in their would-be contractors’ organizations. And McLeod added that publicly traded companies are expected to show up at their AGMs with their gender-equality data outlined.

“The pendulum has swung and we’re starting to see requests in major infrastructure RFPs asking for detail for corporate positions on inclusion. Two or three years ago, in order to be in Microsoft’s supply chain, you needed to provide a certain amount of maternity leave for your employees. That drives change.”


BONUS

Our experts’ visions for the future:

Ellie Ardakani, CEO and Co-founder, of Meta Innovation Technologies in Ottawa

“I want to say the future has to be inclusive, not that it will be on its own. We as women leaders have the opportunity to drive change, let’s do that.

Moya Cahill, CEO & Co-founder, PanGeo Subsea Inc. in St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

“We’ve come a long way. There’s more work to be done. We have to take the bull by the horns and make it happen. You go, girl, and deliver.”

Lisa Dolan, Vice President, supply chain strategy at Alom Technologies in Fremont, California
“As leaders and women, we need to use our voice and our platforms within our own organizations and our own networks. We need to bring awareness to gender equality, the impact it has on our economies. Tweet, post, go on LinkedIn. I urge everyone to get out there. We need to bring other women up. Get more women on panels like this or panels within your industry.”

Amy MacLeod, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and External Communications, Seaspan in Ottawa and Vancouver

“I love what Ellie said earlier. For the first time in my career, our gender is an asset in the workplace and the numbers don’t support that, but for all of the reasons that we’ve just talked about, there sea change. There is a need to embrace and involve women in business. We need to grab hold of that and set our expectations against that and not be afraid to ask for that. One practical thing we can all do is go back to our organizations and ask the question [about gender equality numbers.] It starts a conversation and creates an expectation that our employees, current and potential, expect us to do more than we are today.”

Nina Qi, COO, Voyage in Silicon Valley, California

“I would encourage everyone to try to support each other as much as possible. There are ways big and small for us to amplify our voices. If a woman is speaking in a meeting, try to amplify her voice. If you’re in a leadership position, ask for gender equality from the top.”


About Elevate International

Elevate International is on a mission to inspire, empower, and elevate women and girls, locally and Globally; to advance women in leadership and economic growth while creating leadership and mentoring programs for young women. The organization is committed to building a world where women have more decision-making opportunities and economic contributions amongst leaders in our society, and girls confidently grow into influential leaders from a young age. As a result, Elevate International works to build thriving communities, much stronger countries and a better world socially, economically and politically.

To learn more, visit www.elevateinternational.ca/

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