Growing as a leader by building your own org chart

One of the biggest honours I have received is being named to the WXN Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100. I attended the gala in Toronto last November where I met distinguished women of all backgrounds from across the country, from my fellow award winners to the 10 Hall of Fame Inductees. The opportunity to surround myself and connect with amazing women was one I couldn’t miss.

Having worked with executives over the years as a leadership coach, I’ve found that one of the best ways to set yourself on the path to leadership success is by surrounding yourself with a diverse group of mentors. I like to refer to this as developing a personal organizational chart.

What is a personal org chart?

Businesses have org charts to define roles and organize employees by skill sets, making sure their bench is full of the right people to work towards a common goal. Think of yourself as the CEO of “Me Inc.” Who are the people and what are the departments that you need to meet your goals? And I don’t mean just at work. Beyond a boss and direct reports, who is part of the informal team that helps you get things done?

Your personal org chart should include:

  • Peers
  • Personal advisors
  • Mentors (lots of different kinds) and mentees
  • Your boss, team, and others across your organization or outside of it

The various “departments” of your org chart should be able to provide you with:

  • Emotional support
  • Personal development
  • Professional development
  • Mentorship or coaching
  • Feedback and thoughtful discussion (a sounding board)

The importance of mentors in your org chart

If you’re looking to grow the mentorship arm of your personal org chart, you’ve come to the right place. Before receiving the Top 100 honour last year, I’ve been involved with WXN in different capacities, mostly from my hometown of Calgary. Now, I am also proud to share that my company, Incito, has also become a national supporting partner of the Wisdom Mentoring™ program.

You can have more than one type of mentor in your personal org chart:

  • Internal mentors – this could be a person within your organization who performs the same function as you do. You can also seek someone who performs a different function, to offer different perspectives.
  • External mentors – look for those who are in the same industry as you, as well as someone who is in a different industry.

How to find a mentor (or become one yourself)

Mentor diversity is critical in your growth as a leader. I also recommend seeking mentors who are going through the same things you are going through, whether professionally, like experience dealing with a merger, for example, or personally, such as having young children while working. Being able to relate to someone with similar experiences is beneficial because you can work through challenges together, and share in the experience. It’s also nice to seek mentors who have dealt with similar challenges in the past, but are well past them, so that you can learn from how they got through the situation and know what it might be like on the other side. You do not always have to formally ask someone to be your mentor. Sometimes the dynamic occurs naturally; an informal mentor/mentee relationship can relieve some pressure around the expectations from the partnership. If you’re struggling to get started, I’ve written more about how finding a mentor doesn’t have to be awkward.

If someone approaches you to be their mentor and you don’t feel comfortable or qualified, try your best to fight these feelings of Imposter Syndrome. Becoming a mentor yourself not only enables you to share your own knowledge and wisdom with others, it also opens up your worldview as you connect with your mentees. For example, after being named to the WXN Top 100, a mentor/mentee matching organization called Elevate Aviation approached me to mentor an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. Even though I am technically her mentor, I’ve found that I have received so much more in return – I have already learned so much from her sharing her experiences.

If you are looking to become a mentor, you should reach out to potential mentees whose work you find exciting. You can find them by volunteering, networking, or even following someone’s work that you want to be part of. Go to events big and small. Reach out to your network and tell them about your interests. They might know someone looking to connect, whether or not they have expressed interest in formal mentorship. Put your name forward for any awards, programs, or networks, even at universities.

WXN is a great way to get started on building your org chart’s mentorship arm, whether you are looking for a mentor or a mentee. WXN’s mentorship programs often pair women from different geographical locations and diverse backgrounds. You can learn from others who are doing great things, and pick up skills or insights that you can bring to your own community.

I am grateful to be a Top 100 Winner because it has also helped me connect with my fellow winners: many women with whom I am able to build relationships over time. Forevermore, we have something in common, and we’ve been able to reach out to each other because of it. I’ve stayed in touch with Sandra Sutter, Victoria LaBillois, and Jessica Lui, to name a few. If you have something like this in common with someone you want to connect with, don’t be shy and reach out. The fact that I am able to say “Hey, I’m also a WXN winner. Let’s have coffee,” is just as good as any warm intro.

Learn more about WXN’s Wisdom Mentoring™ program and how you can benefit from a mentor who has faced challenges like yours, how they got to where they are now.

Jenn Lofgren, Founder, Executive Leadership Coach & Consultant for Incito Executive & Leadership Development is a 2019 BMO Entrepreneurs Top 100 Award Winner. She has been recognized a woman who owns and operates a thriving business in Canada.

2020 Top 100 Nominations are now open. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Jenn:

Jenn Lofgren – Founder, Executive Leadership Coach & Consultant, Incito Executive & Leadership Development

Jenn Lofgren

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
BMO Entrepreneurs

Jenn Lofgren helps executives across Canada and worldwide unlock their leadership potential and grow into inspired, authentic leaders. She is one of only 60 recipients of the esteemed Master Certified Coach (MCC) designation in Canada and five per cent of coaches worldwide. Jenn is a champion of local enterprise, an ally to women in business, an actively involved citizen and a passionate member of the global business community.

 

 

Inspired, Humbled and Making a Positive Impact

When you follow your dream, you don’t think about the fact that it might earn you a level of recognition beyond anything you could have imagined. In March of 2019, I was surprised to learn that I had been nominated for Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100™ by two individuals. While I was honoured to have received the nominations, I never thought I would actually win.

The gala – what a memorable occasion

November 21st was a special day. I was excited to attend the Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100™ gala event and, together with my immediate family, decided to bring all the treasured women in my life who have made an impact on me. This included my two aunts, and my mother. Among my four children, three are girls, which made my experience even more profound.

When they announced my name as one of the winners, I was shocked. Speechless. Humbled. And very emotional. I felt truly blessed to have my family and incredible female support network there with me, and it was extremely rewarding to know that others had recognized me for my dedication and hard work over the years. In that moment, my mind flashed back to my father’s speech at my wedding when he expressed his confidence in my intelligence and drive, and said he couldn’t wait to see what my husband and I would accomplish in the future. Unfortunately, my father passed away 8 years ago and even though he was there to witness the opening of our first two Lullaboo Childcare centers, I wasn’t able to celebrate with him on the night of the gala. Nevertheless, the gala was stunning and a thrill to be part of from start to finish. For me, the most meaningful aspect of it all was having the opportunity to be in the presence of so many profound and inspiring women in Canada.

Paying it forward

Pre and post gala, the overarching theme of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100™ this year was empowerment and resilience. After attending both the Top 100 Summit and Top 100 Gala, the significance of my award began to sink in. This experience has made me realize I now have an even greater responsibility to my staff members. Given the fact that I have now been recognized as “one of Canada’s most powerful women”, it is up to me to take that acknowledgment and use it to further support and empower my employees. And it just so happens that of our 350 employees at Lullaboo, 98% are women.

In December 2019, I hosted “coffee events” at each Lullaboo location and invited all staff members to join me. Promoting open, candid and honest communication, I posed the question: “If you had a magic wand capable of anything, what would you do at Lullaboo to make an impact on yourself, your coworkers, your students or all three?” I was both amazed and impressed with what people presented. Some ideas were relatively small, others more significant. All had the potential to make an impact. I followed up and addressed each and every idea. In some cases, implementations have already been made. For other concepts, I prompted my employees to expand and explore their thought processes in order to further develop their ideas.

Given the nature of the Lullaboo business, I am in a position to impact very young lives for the betterment of our society, and to work collaboratively with the parents of those young lives. Within our organization, women perform 98% of the roles. As our business expands, we are creating an increasing number of jobs for Canadian women. I feel compelled more than ever before to guide, support and empower the people on my staff and in our local communities: by helping employees obtain a higher level of education and advance their careers in childcare education; by developing integration and inclusion strategies to assimilate ill and troubled children into our classrooms; by listening to the individual needs of families and tailoring each child’s care accordingly; and by offering delayed, reduced or flexible payment plans to single mothers who struggle financially but who also want to give their children the best possible start in life, to name a few.

Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100™ has both inspired and humbled me as a woman, as a mother and as an entrepreneur. In light of this honour, I have and will continue to put new plans into action so that child by child, parent by parent, employee by employee, I can strive to make a positive impact upon the lives of those around me.

Irini social postIn light of our current situation

Remember over these days, be extra compassionate with your neighbours. Practice patience and tolerance more then ever with your children, your parents, your grandparents. Seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious about these uncertain times. Use video conference tools as much as possible and share a smile with as many people as you can.

Lullaboo is a family and we will continue to provide the same great service when this is all over. Without you, our centers are just buildings. The children, the energy, the laughter, the singing, and the artwork that provide life in these buildings is sorely missed. We miss you, the children, our extended family.

When things eventually improve, and they will, we look forward to getting back to doing what we’ve been doing for so many years: Providing enrichment to young growing minds and allowing parents to have the peace of mind when they go to work. Until then, let’s keep learning and enjoy the time with our loved ones. We will see you soon!

Irini Mikhael, Chief Operating Officer for Lullaboo Nursery and Childcare Center Inc., is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the BMO Entrepreneurs category for 2019. She has been recognized as a woman who owns and operates a thriving business in Canada.

2020 Top 100 Nominations are now open. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Irini:

Irini Mikhael is Chief Operating Officer for Lullaboo Nursery and Childcare Center Inc.

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
BMO Entrepreneurs

After having her first daughter and being unsatisfied with the service and quality offered in childcare, Irini Mikhael, a professional engineer, decided to open her own childcare centre in 2008. Irini went back to school to obtain her Early Childhood Education degree to improve the program’s educational content. Today, Lullaboo has nine locations across Ontario, cares for more than 1,300 children and employs 350 educators.

 

How Tara Wilson Promotes Empowerment

Tara Wilson, SVP and General Manager at Paysafe’s Income Access is a 2019 Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders Top 100 Award Winner. Here’s her story:

Defining powerfully empowered

Being powerfully empowered is a responsibility. This includes developing both internal and external relationships. When done successfully, it can help build a brand of integrity, trust and inclusion. As someone who advocates for those values in the workplace, I feel a responsibility to empower, encourage and inspire people in their professional and personal lives. I am one of the lucky individuals who’s had strong advocates in my career for guidance and support when I wanted to give up. Now, it’s my turn to pay it forward.

In previous work environments, it was challenging to be hopeful about long-term career prospects. I wasn’t around many women leaders. To paraphrase Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In author: “I didn’t necessarily believe I deserved a seat at the table. I had imposter syndrome.”

Lean In was an eye-opener for me. It was the first time imposter syndrome, which describes those believing that their achievements weren’t “earned”, was explained in a way that was digestible. Leaving behind that mindset required continuous learning and listening to other people’s stories.

Eventually, I understood and embraced the reasons behind my recognition as a leader: I had earned it by putting in the work. Paysafe recognized my potential and drive and saw me as a person that could add value to our organization because of my passion, experience and skillset. They further encourage me by supporting my continued development.

Empowering individuals

Starting out from a data entry level and working hard to get where I am today, I understand the importance of being down to earth, relatable and open. I’ve been fortunate to hold several positions throughout my career that helped nurture these traits. Those experiences fostered a level of sociability allowing me to easily find common ground with my team, understanding what they go through on the frontline. I strive to share my knowledge gained throughout the years via active mentorship. Currently, I mentor over 20 individuals. Anything I can do to help people evolve their approach to achieving their goals is gratifying.

Working with WXN

Being a Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders award recipient was humbling. Part of that honor included an off-road driving experience on rocky terrain with the other WXN winners. Coincidentally, that experience mirrored the obstacles we sometimes confront throughout our careers.

Moreover, spending time with the winners and WXN CEO Sherri Stevens can’t help but make you feel powerful. If this wasn’t enough, WXN recognized us during an exceptional awards ceremony and through continuous content marketing support thereafter. All to say, they’ve done so much more than give me an award. They’ve connected me to other female leaders, shaping us as advocates for one another and future leaders. If you’re not already a WXN member, you should look at becoming one!

Leadership

The platinum rule, “do unto others as they would want done unto them,” is a rule I abide by in my day-to-day life. For a long time, leaders communicated with others using the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which I don’t believe is as impactful.

Good leaders understand individuals’ personalities, needs and communication style, which should be reflected when delivering feedback. I strongly believe that the way to get the best employee performance is to treat them the way they need to be treated and not the other way around. Kim Scott’s Radical Candor is a great resource on that topic.

A career-defining moment

In my past, I was asked to speak to vendors to sort out a costly business issue. The call included senior members at a former company (all men besides me). I began talking through my research, when I was interrupted by someone who commented that I shouldn’t “nag” the vendors to make my point. This prompted laughter from all on the call, completely deflating my morale. While I was still able to finish speaking, it was a defining moment in my career because it was finally clear that my contributions to the company weren’t appreciated. In that moment, I decided to move on.

Oftentimes, individuals go through experiences where they must make a similar decision. From my viewpoint, if you’re engaged, trying your hardest and producing quality work, but are not being seen or heard, you must evaluate if the leadership and work culture is a right fit for you.

D&I plans for 2020

Organizational diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives welcome employees’ unique traits. As a Paysafe D&I committee member, I believe that everyone deserves a voice. Those voices extend beyond women in business and include people with both visible and invisible characteristics like age, disability, race, sexual orientation and more.

My plans in 2020 are to elevate those around me by continuing to drive change and having the difficult conversations that may arise along the way.

Tara Wilson, SVP and General Manager at Paysafe’s Income Access is a 2019 Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders Top 100 Award Winner. She has been recognized as Canadian woman between the ages of 30 and 40 who has had successive leadership positions within her organizations and has proven a passion for learning and innovation.

2020 Top 100 Nominations are now open. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Tara:

Tara Wilson, SVP and General Manager, Income Access (Paysafe Group)

Tara Wilson

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders

Tara Wilson has almost two decades’ experience in the tech sphere and 16+ years’ expertise in operational leadership within the payments and marketing sectors.

Tara is both a mentor to others, helping them reach their maximum potential, and an advocate for Diversity & Inclusion, promoting the needs of women in the workplace and other frequently disempowered groups. In recognition of her achievements, Tara took home the 2018 Silver Stevie Award for Female Executive of the Year in Canada.

 

I am inspired and feel empowered to change the world

When I received the email that I was selected as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 in the BMO Entrepreneur category, it was an unforgettable moment for me.

I was sitting in a boardroom with about 15 people, deciding on plans for a new development when I received the email from WXN that I was selected as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100. I froze and re-read the email a few times hoping it said what I thought I read. I was suddenly immersed in a different world with two thoughts – I immediately thanked God and put myself into a state of gratitude to God and the universe. I then nudged my brother, Suraj, whom I share a very deep connection with. No words were exchanged, he just looked at me, shared an understanding and we both got up quietly and left the boardroom. We walked out, closed the door, he looks at me with concern in his eyes and said, “Reet?” I quietly yelled, “I GOT TOP 100!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Suraj is my best friend and the reason I am anywhere today. He has been so supportive of me and so it was only suiting that he was the first person to know. He hugged me and said “Dude, I knew you would get this!” We went back into the boardroom and tried to act nonchalant, while inside I was ecstatic!

I have grown up in an industry that has always been male-dominated. I started working at a very young age, in the hotel industry. At this time almost two decades ago, there were so few women in leadership roles, almost nil. I was always working against preconceived notions and judgements that were silently labelled on me, like a child had taped signs to my back that read “She’s the youngest in the room. She’s the only woman. She’s the boss’ daughter”. Dealing with this type of thinking from others at a young age, I taught myself very quickly that I will not work to prove myself to others but rather to prove it to myself. Always working hard to get ahead of the judgements placed on me being a South Asian Woman, this award for me, was the Universe saying, You Did It.

I had two thoughts when I was selected for this award – the first as I mentioned was gratitude. The second was a deep calling that I need to do more, more for women and more for society. I felt this honour is also a responsibility and I want to do everything I can to ensure that I give back and help elevate others. Being selected in the BMO category for entrepreneurs, I spent time with the BMO team and learned about different initiatives the organization has to offer. I was inspired by their efforts towards diversity and so, the day the award was announced, I also launched my company’s first Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. I have also created an internal mentorship program and hope to inspire others to rise in order to achieve their goals. I am inspired and feel empowered to change the world and to inspire others to do the same. I especially hope to inspire women to support one another, to elevate one another and to follow their passion and to achieve their dreams!

I have a Guru from India who has taught me so much when it comes to life and happiness. One of the best lessons I can share is to “Live life with Life”. We must not go through each day as a passing motion but rather live our lives with excitement, with passion, with life. I hope to continue to inspire others to also live life with life!

Reetu Gupta is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the BMO Entrepreneurs category for 2019. She has been recognized as a woman who operates a thriving business in Canada.

2020 Top 100 Nominations are now open. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Reetu:

Reetu Gupta is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Easton’s Group of Hotels/The Gupta Group.

Reetu Gupta

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
BMO Entrepreneurs

Under Reetu Gupta’s leadership The Easton’s Group of Hotels has become one of Canada’s largest private hotel development firms. The Gupta Group is an award-winning residential builder with five million square feet of mixed-used projects currently under development. Reetu is also the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Rogue Insight Capital Ltd., a private venture capital firm. She was recognized as a Top 40 Under 40 winner in 2017.

 

Step into Your Power

Act as if it is Impossible to Fail, Stand on the Shoulders of Giants and Lift as Your Rise!

I heard about the Top 100 Most Powerful Women award three years ago. That year, women like Julia Deans, Rhiannon Trail and Jodi Kovitz whom I consider absolute bosses were recognized. The following year, another incredible group of women in my network were recognized. In 2019, my mentor and sponsor, Natasha Walji, a past top 100 award winner, ensured that I applied for the award.

To say that seeing my own name on the list was a dream come true would be an understatement. I read the email from Sherri Stevens Owner and CEO of WXN|CBDC congratulating me on being named one of WXN Most Powerful Women, Top 100 in utter disbelief:

“ …We are honoured that you are a part of our influential community that now numbers over 1,100 remarkable women. You do not walk alone….

A few months later, my mom flew all the way from Nigeria to accompany me to the Top 100 Gala. The event was a much-needed reminder that dedication pays off.

My journey in Canada began 14 years ago when I moved by myself, to Baden Ontario, from Nigeria as a 17-year-old international student. I was completely unprepared for the fact that this very great country is also a very cold country. As I navigated my way through culture shock, I came up with a few mantras to guide me in my transition:

  1. To always show up with excellence and intention
  2. To dance through any situation, learn from my mistakes and stay grounded
  3. To be a blessing to others

My journey has been filled with many lessons and blessings. I joined the corporate world after completing my undergrad and then went on to successfully pursue my CPA designation. In December of 2016, I left a secure full-time job to become an entrepreneur and pursue my passion of connecting people with resources, tools and practical strategies to innovate, lead and show up as the best versions of themselves every day.

Launching my business, I was thrown into highly stressful situations like planning a conference for black youth that required thousands of dollars to execute while having only $20 in my personal bank account. I also experienced many wonderful highs, like closing the Toronto Stock exchange in the early days of my startup and standing in rooms with CEOs, Presidents of Countries and the former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.

These three principles have provided light to my path

  1.  You must act as if it is impossible to fail – Ashanti Proverb

 “I am invincible, unbreakable
Unstoppable, unshakeable
They knock me down, I get up again
I am the champion”

The WXN Theme song by Carrie Underwood and Ludacris really rings true for me.

I learnt a long time ago that I can convince my mind to believe anything. The one person we spend the most time with is ourselves. The most important conversations we will ever have will be held in our minds.  How often are we telling ourselves to play small so we can fit comfortably into the boxes that society has created for us?

Every time I am about to try something new that scares me, I remind myself about the wise Ashanti Proverb – “You must act as if it is impossible to fail” and then I #DOITAFRAID.

Saying these simple words to myself and convincing my brain that I can do anything has led to securing over 30 partnerships with major organizations including CIBC, speaking on international stages, getting featured in major publications and meeting incredible people whom I would only have admired from afar in the past.

There is a ripple effect of doing it afraid.

The next time you don’t feel motivated to do something because it scares you remind yourself – You must act as if it is impossible to fail

  1. “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand”- Maya Angelou

My journey has been guided by a village. This village is made up of people who were once complete strangers who have become my champions. My village includes over 100 people.

Women often ask me “How do I find a mentor or a sponsor?” My response is “You show up and offer value.”

Too many people are focused on what they can get from relationships. When you focus on what you can give you will be pleasantly surprised by the number of doors that will open for you.

Over the years, I have learnt that a good name is more valuable than money. A good name will get you into rooms that money cannot. Protect your good name, show up as a value provider and invest the time to cultivate your village.

  1. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb

Let your light shine and lift as you rise!

When I coach professional women on building their leadership and personal brands, I am surprised at the number of talented women including executives who are willing to downplay what they bring to the table to be seen as humble. Every time you downplay how awesome you are, you miss a chance to serve in a greater capacity, make a difference in someone’s life and inspire the generation coming after you who look like you.

Your journey is not just about you. Do not be afraid to let your light shine! You are a vessel through which others will build the inspiration to step out of their comfort zone.

.

“It is authentic
It is joyful
It is giving
It is not greedy,
It is helping others
It is giving your time, knowledge and skillset to other women and men to help them along their journey
It is brave and it is strong in the face of adversity
It empowers others to be their best…”

Sherri’s definition of power at the Top 100 Summit and Gala really struck a chord with me. The world is going through a series of changes. We need women who are bold enough to step into their greatness and fix some things around here because “a strong woman stands up for herself, but a powerful woman stands up for us all.”

This is your canvas. Here is your paintbrush. PAINT!

There will be good days and there will be hard days. I have learnt to be grateful every day.

My journey to greatness has just begun and I know yours has too.

So STEP INTO YOUR POWER and let the painting begin!

#PowerfullyEmpowered

Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro, award winning speaker and strategy consultant, is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Champions category for 2019. She has made describable difference to the advancement of women in the workplace.

2020 Top 100 Nominations are now open. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Chioma:

Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro CPA, CMA, is an award-winning speaker and strategy consultant.

Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
RBC Champions

Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro CPA, CMA (info@chiomaio.com) is an award-winning speaker and strategy consultant focused on delivering leadership, strategy and  personal brand building workshops to executives, professionals, women entrepreneurs, large enterprises and professional associations across the world.

She is also the founder of My African Corner, a platform dedicated to advancing its community of 3000+ black professionals and entrepreneurs spread across Canada, United States and Europe through providing access to education, networks and resources in partnership with global brands.

She has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by WXN, one of 80 Women in Canadian Tech worth following by BetaKit, A Dial Mover by Move the Dial and TD Canada, a Leader in the Canadian Innovation Ecosystem by Elevate Tech Fest, been nominated for a Toronto Region Board of Trade Business Excellence Award for Young Professional of the Year, received the University of Toronto African Alumni Association African Scholars Social Innovation Award, and the Points International Ltd Points for Good award for outstanding commitment to community.

Her work has been featured in Globe and Mail, What’s Your Tech, GlobalLive Media, Now Magazine, PayPal Blog and more.

She currently sits on the CPA Emerging Leaders Advisory Board, Civic Action’s Future of Work Champions Council and was a founding executive of Black Professionals in Technology Network.

Twitter – @Chiomaio
Website – Chiomaio.com

 

Real Power Lies in Empowering Others

It was a quick stop at Tim’s to get a sprinkles donut for my 2 year old daughter on the way back from her drop-in play school. I stood at the counter after ordering and dug into my coat pocket to retrieve the toonie I was sure I’d put in there. But I couldn’t find it. My embarrassment was ratcheting into panic as I frantically turned my purse inside out. I never had any money on me. I didn’t need any, according to my husband, since I never went anywhere without him. But every once in a while, I tried to squirrel away a few coins, like the one I thought was hiding in my purse. Palms sweaty and face heating up, I started to move away from the counter when a man behind me offered to pay for the donut. His eyes were kind and his tone was sympathetic. Seeing my daughter had already bit into the donut, I had no choice but to reluctantly accept. I pushed the stroller outside and sat on a dusty bench, feeding small pieces of donut to my daughter as tears overtook me. I wanted to be grateful for the man’s generosity, but all I felt was stinging humiliation. What kind of life was I living that I didn’t even have two dollars on me? And what kind of person was I that people took such pity on me? The answer was obvious. I was poor. I was powerless.

Samra Zafar IWD 2020
photo credit: @aliciacampbellphoto

That afternoon in 2003 was a pivotal moment in my life. A fire was ignited in me to do whatever I could to gain bits of power over the next several years. I finished my high school courses through distance learning, playing the good wife by day and studying in my room at night. I knew my husband would never let me leave the house to earn money for university, so I started a home-based babysitting service. And though I had to turn over my earnings to my husband, I managed to sock away a few hundred dollars here and there.

I finally started university as a 26 year old mother of two. It had taken me nearly 10 years, but I’d gone from victim to survivor. I was being respected at school for the very things I was being ridiculed at home for – my goals, my ambitions, my intelligence, my individuality. I secretly started attending counseling on campus where I learned that I was trapped in the vicious cycle of abuse. I wanted to break that cycle to give my daughters a better life. It took me several days and multiple trips in my green minivan to pack my belongings in garbage bags and move to a tiny student housing apartment on UTM campus. It was small, there was no AC, and it had the ugliest green carpet. But it was mine. For the first time, I felt safe at home. I could wake up when I wanted, invite friends over, eat my favourite foods, and breathe freely. For me, that freedom was power. That year, I juggled five jobs to stay afloat. I worked as a TA, a researcher with the City of Mississauga and a student mentor. I did night shifts at the student information centre on campus, and sold home-made biryani and butter chicken to fellow students.

Two years later, when I graduated as a top student, I knew that a key ingredient to my success was the community that lifted me up and the people who showed me that there is good in the world. That kind man at Tim’s, the woman at the drop-in play school who reached out when she saw the signs of abuse before I even knew what to call it, the friends who bought my butter chicken and then showed up with ice cream when I had rough days, the professors who spent their office hours motivating me, and my mentors who believed in me so strongly that I had no choice but to start believing in myself. All these people taught me the biggest lesson of my life. That with success, comes responsibility. And true power lies in empowering others.

Samra Zafar book releaseI knew that my story was not just mine. It was the story of millions of women and girls around the world who continue to suffer in silence. I felt a deep fire in my belly to break that silence – for the millions of silences still waiting to be broken. And when I saw the impact my story made on people’s lives, I found my purpose, my why.

My why is the man who read my story and canceled his teenage daughter’s wedding to send her to school. My why is that woman who hides in Indigo to read my book because her husband won’t allow her to buy it. And my why is that 16 year old girl in St. Andrews, New Brunswick who watched my videos to move forward after sexual assault.

1 in 3 women in North America are affected by domestic violence. 1 in 2 experience some form of physical and/or sexual harassment. 12 million underage girls every year are forced into marriage. Over the past few years, my advocacy work has taken me across the globe and I have heard thousands of similar stories to mine – from Indigenous communities in rural Alberta, immigrant neighbourhoods in Toronto, young girls in Africa, and accomplished women in the executive towers of Bay Street. Gender-based violence is the most hidden, and most universally prevalent barrier to gender equity. As we speak about breaking glass ceilings and having gender equality in boardrooms, it’s also important to remember that so many of us are still struggling for basic rights to safety, education and respect.

My life mission is now to give voice to these issues and help develop solutions for change. This year, I am launching my nonprofit organization, Brave Beginnings, which is a mentorship program to help women build better lives after escaping violence. I’m also working on developing courses and workshops to raise the level of mental health education for young women so they can develop greater resilience and self-worth. And I’m collaborating with key partners to develop training for workplaces to play a key role in supporting women affected by domestic violence.

Samra Zafar ZimbabweJust like that 2003 afternoon at Tim’s, winning the WXN Top 100 Award was another pivotal moment for me. As I was overwhelmed with gratitude, the award also gave me immense validation for my work. The day after the awards gala in November, I went to Zimbabwe as an ambassador for Plan Canada. As I spent time with young girls living in poverty, facing the threat of sexual assault and child marriage, and still walking up to 10 kms each way just to go to school, I saw myself in each of them. I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a child marriage survivor, and a domestic abuse survivor. I was never supposed to make it. I was stripped of my power for years. Today, seeing my name among the most powerful women in the country adds more fuel to my fire – to raise my voice even higher, touch more lives, and keep living my purpose to help empower women everywhere live theirs.

Because power is not about job titles, hierarchies, and material success. I believe that real power lies in empowering others, sparking dialogue for change, and taking action to leave the world more equitable than we found it.

Samra Zafar, Speaker, Author, Human Rights Advocate for Samra Zafar Inc, is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Champions category for 2019. She has made describable difference to the advancement of women in the workplace.

2020 Top 100 Nominations are now open. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Samra:

Samra Zafar is a Speaker, Author, Human Rights Advocate for Samra Zafar Inc.

Samra Zafar

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
RBC Champions

Award-winning speaker, and human rights advocate, Samra Zafar’s book A Good Wife, based on her personal story of escaping gender-based oppression to pursue her education, became an instant national bestseller and is to be adapted to a TV series. The books is name as one of CBC’s best books of 2019. She serves as a governor for University of Toronto and a celebrated ambassador for Plan International. Her work has been featured extensively in global media. In 2019 she received a Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award. She is a board member at Women’s College Hospital Foundation.

 

Why You’re More Powerful Than You Think

When you hear the word “power,” what comes to mind? If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have said a CEO, a politician, perhaps even a social media influencer. But after being named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women, I have a very different perspective on power.

Last year when Accenture submitted my nomination for the award, I thought they got it wrong. Me, powerful? As Accenture’s Canada lead for inclusion and diversity, I was confident of my expertise, my relevance and a certain amount of influence. Powerful, however, was not a word I would have ever used to describe myself. Truthfully, it made me pretty uncomfortable.

So, what exactly does it mean to be powerful?

On Power

I asked my closest friends what power means to them. I heard a wide range of responses that can be boiled down to two categories:

  1. Legitimacy in a social structure such as a person’s position, status or rank. Powerful people have authority, agency and can effect change.
  2. Personal characteristics such as influence, credibility, discipline, confidence and respect from others.

My husband summarized it in four words – charisma, likeability, results and leadership. And then there’s the Wikipedia definition of power as “the capacity of an individual to influence the conduct (behaviour) of others.”

So, what’s my takeaway from starting a conversation on power? That there are as many different definitions of power as the number of people I asked and the places I looked. Interestingly, WXN’s perspective on power varies further by specifically pointing out that the top 100 most powerful women in Canada aren’t necessarily powerful because they carry a certain title, but because:

“They are resilient and strong. They inspire, learn and grow. They have faced professional and personal challenges and come out stronger. They are champions and advocates for others.”

Now this definition I can get behind.

Rethinking Power

If we think about power in terms of resilience, personal growth and advocating for others, then we all have power – or at least the capacity to have it. We’re no longer restricted by external factors such as whether that top position opens up, whether others believe in our potential or whether business is booming. Instead, power is fully within our control.

As I look at power through this lens, I realize that many people around me who I hadn’t previously thought of as particularly powerful in the traditional sense actually have enormous amounts of power. My parents are one example. They left the Soviet Union with me and my brother under extremely challenging conditions, rebuilt their lives in Canada and are strong and passionate advocates for people and causes they care about. They are not CEOs, politicians or social media influencers, yet their power is tremendous.

Similarly, each of WXN Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women have an enormous amount of power. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know many of them over the past few months, and their stories of personal strength, grit and empowering others are unmatched. I understand why each of them was selected, and why each is considered powerful.

Owning Your Power

“Powerfully empowered” is WXN’s 2019 theme for the Top 100 awards, which beautifully summarizes that every one of us has personal power. We are empowered to continue to grow, and we are especially empowered to advocate for others. Imagine a world where we all embrace the idea that advocating for others increases our personal power and the more we give back, the more power we gain.

One thought from WXN that particularly resonated with me is, “A strong woman stands up for herself but a powerful woman stands up for all of us.” Let’s stand up for others and let’s inspire, champion and advocate for those around us, for this is where our real power lies. Let’s own our power by continuing to learn and grow, share our experience with others and empower others through our actions and accomplishments.

If you already do this, then you’re more powerful than you think. And so am I.

Zoya Zayler, Canada Inclusion & Diversity Lead for Accenture, is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders category for 2019. She has been recognized for her successive leadership positions within her organization and proven passion for learning and innovation.

2020 Top 100 Nominations open on International Women’s Day – March 8, 2020. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Zoya:

Zoya Zayler is Canada Inclusion & Diversity Lead for Accenture.

Zoya Zayler

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders

Zoya Zayler drives Accenture Canada’s inclusion and diversity (I&D) strategy and provides the organization with strategic direction to achieve its I&D goals. A thought leader in this space, she has empowered Accenture to turn inclusion and diversity commitments into actionable practices that have advanced inclusivity and resulted in sustainable change. Zoya was recognized as the 2019 Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion D&I Practitioner of the Year and one of Human Resource Director’s 2018 Top 22 Most Promising Young HR Professionals in Canada.

A Top 100 Award Leads Women to That Journey of Success

Humbling. Exhilarating! This is what it felt like to be the winner of one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award.

To be a part of the Top 100 Summit, being amongst the most senior leaders in the industry; to be with them, connect with them, be a part of their discussions, it was a true learning experience.

To come to Canada as an immigrant, to start a business from my basement, to watch it grow into an all-women team and help over 15,000 students find placements in colleges and universities across Canada and around the world… This is a success story for all women, all immigrants, and especially, all immigrant women!

Being a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award winner has re-enforced my belief that “Unless you return the knowledge you have you can’t grow within!” Hence, it’s imperative to continue growing one’s own knowledge. In 2019, I completed my continuing education and graduated. And how do I empower others? As a Co-founder and CEO of Education Consultants Canada (ECC), I recently hired two graduates to be a part of my all-women team. I strongly believe in giving opportunities to students, to do their internship with us and to work with us.

We all do business! But at ECC we aspire to do it a certain way, where our women employees leave with more than just job skills, they are empowered with vital communication and life skills that will carry them throughout their professional and personal journey.

As a winner of a 2019 Top 100 award, it gave the opportunity to experience the Resilience Retreat Workshop conducted by Bank of Montreal. Through interactions and exercises with other award winners, I learned my key leadership strength is empowering my team and I got to take away the feeling of wellness of mind, spirit and body from the workshop as it was about “building resilience from the inside out for women entrepreneurs”.

The theme for the 2019 Top 100 award was ‘A strong woman stands up for herself, but a powerful woman stands up for all of us”. This win is for my all-women’s team! They are the unsung heroes who are young adults just out of school, carrying the enormous responsibility of building, shaping careers, counselling students from all over the world and helping them to integrate into the diverse community.

The path to discovering my personal power as an immigrant woman started with a road-block. I had an academic degree with over 13 years of experience working overseas but could not get my accomplishments recognized when I moved to Canada. It made entering the workforce initially difficult. However, I preferred to look at the obstacles as challenges, and it led to carving a path of untapped opportunity, which has been instrumental in my journey. I wanted to ensure that others who arrived new to Canada didn’t have to face similar struggles, hence, ECC gives opportunities to the novice as a new hire, especially international students. I believe that for students to succeed in their studies in Canada, they have to be armed with right information and the right support structure. I knew I could make an enormous difference, not just to students, but also to Canada! When a student is nurtured to academic success, it paves the way for that student to decide to remain, integrate with the culture and diversity and be a part of the community. THAT is the dream! And ECC helps in aligning that “Canadian dream,” which every immigrant carries with them when leaving their home country.

A Top 100 award win encourages, inspires and recognizes the “unsung heroes”. Women who are pushing boundaries every day and by doing so inspiring and changing lives unknowingly. It is vitally important and a social obligation to give back to the community when one is in a position to do so. It is consequential because only then can one amplify one’s own knowledge, growth and succeed within and outside.

A Top 100 award leads women to “that” journey of success, by giving a forum to share their story of grit, experiences, and personal power that truly allows them to be in sync with diversity, empowerment and inclusion.

Sanchari Sen Rai, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Education Consultants Canada (ECC), is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the BMO Entrepreneurs category for 2019. She has been recognized as a women who owns and operates a thriving business in Canada.

2020 Top 100 Nominations open on International Women’s Day – March 8, 2020. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Sanchari:

Sanchari Sen Rai is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Education Consultants Canada (ECC).

Sanchari Sen Rai

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
BMO Entrepreneurs

Sanchari Sen Rai and her all-women team have helped thousands of international students work through the onerous process of applying to study in Canada, getting accepted and flourishing both academically and in their lives. Sanchari believes it is a vitally important social obligation for businesses to give back to the community when they are in a position to do so.

 

Why empowerment takes many forms for the Hon. Dr. Jean Augustine

You might recognize the Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine as the first African-Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons; a former MP for 13 years; the Minister of State Multiculturalism and Status of Women Canada; a school principal with two public schools named after her; the driving force behind the placing of the Famous Five statue on Parliament Hill.

And if you’ve been following WXN’s Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 announcements, you’ll know her as this year’s Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award Winner, too.

We could go on, really. Her accomplishments are as numerous as they are impressive. But if there’s one thread that winds through them, it’s one of empowering others. It’s just taken many different forms throughout the years.

Augustine the educator

Growing up in Happy Hill, Grenada through the 1940s, Augustine knew early on that she wanted to teach. In fact, teaching was her first job. So when she immigrated to Canada in 1960 to become a nanny, she was already qualified in education – but still had a journey ahead of her.

Education remained her focus early on in her career. She completed her education at Toronto Teachers College and earned her bachelor of arts at the University of Toronto. And while earning her masters of education, she taught elementary school with the Metropolitan Separate School Board in Toronto.

In the coming years, she rose from teacher to principal. Still, she never forgot her roots – or the kids she taught. “When I walk the streets and meet young people who I taught and who remember what I taught them, I feel I have made some contribution to their lives,” she told the National Post. “I feel that’s a really big achievement.”

Augustine’s now at 82 has never stopped teaching. She has two schools in her name. She continues her work with the Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment, where girls age seven to 17 learn everything from self-confidence and leadership skills to martial arts and yoga. York University’s Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora aims to advance access, equity and inclusivity in education.

Augustine the activist

After arriving in Toronto, Augustine noticed there was work to do. “There were so many things that I saw that needed activism, especially because I was an immigrant, black, Catholic woman,” she told the National Post. “Sometimes I was the only black face in the room or the only woman.”

She became active in Toronto’s Caribbean community, serving on the committee that organized the first Caribana festival in 1967. She founded the Toronto chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada (later becoming the organization’s national president). And she did all of that while volunteering with grassroots organizations fighting for women’s rights and combating violence against women, drug abuse and poverty.

She also spent time as the chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority where she provided leadership to people living in difficult housing situations.

Noted for her leadership in her community, government leaders approached her for help on important issues like the development and launch of Canada’s multiculturalism policy and training teachers in diversity and equity.

Augustine the politician

On Oct. 25, 1993, Augustine did something no African-Canadian woman had ever done: she won a seat in the Parliament of Canada.

Her work in her community and her activity in the Liberal Party put her on the radar of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who nominated her for a place in the coming election. Her stunning victory came at a time when her riding was less than one per cent African
Canadian.

In office, Augustine kept her activism going, championing a historic motion designating February as Black History Month in Canada and the Famous Five statue on Parliament Hill that honours five Alberta women who fought so that women could be considered “persons” under the law.

Before leaving her position as MP in 2006, she had served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Minister and Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Chair of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee, Chair of the National Women’s Caucus, and in her final year, Assistant Deputy Speaker.

After leaving Parliament, Augustine did one last tour of duty as the first Fairness Commissioner in Ontario, where she set new standards for regulatory bodies on conditions for foreign-trained professionals. She stepped down in 2015.

Augustine the award winner

This year, Augustine added the Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award to her list of distinctions – and she was honoured to do so, she told the National Post.

“I’m deeply honoured that I was selected, simply because diversity and inclusion has been my life’s work,” she said.

The Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award resonated with the firm’s values and commitment to offering an inclusive environment where all people have a strong sense of belonging, can be their authentic selves, and have equal access to opportunities.

The Inclusion Vanguard award recognizes a leader, male or female, who has made a profound, thoughtful and measurable impact on diversity; who champions others; who betters the experience in the community around them. Through her work here in Canada, Augustine has done just that.

 

This award joins other accomplishments she has earned: the Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, seven honorary doctorates, and her appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her work in education and politics, to name a few.

Still, her work isn’t quite done yet. As she said in a response to a Speech from the Throne on Feb. 5, 2004, “I am living proof that we live in an open and inclusive society. But as long as people express that they have experienced racism and discrimination, we still have work to do.

“I am confident that the action we have already taken will benefit many generations after us. We must continue to act.”

To learn more about Jean Augustine, and our 2019 Top 100 Winners, visit our Top 100 winners page.

Top 100 winners share: 6 ways we can all be powerful

Power. Is it your physical strength, the amount of money you have or your title within your organization? Or is it the way you give unselfishly, meet adversity with bravery and stand up for others?

“Our mission and challenge to you today is redefining what power means to you,” said Sherri Stevens, Owner and CEO of WXN and CBDC. It’s a call-to-action she shared with all of us during this year’s Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards Summit and Gala at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Nov. 21, 2019.

And to help us all on that mission (should you choose to accept it): our Top 100 Winners, who shared their stories and knowledge with a crowd of over 1,200 women and allies.

So what can we do in our daily lives to be powerful and make that mission a reality? Here are six lessons from our speakers and winners.

  1. Learn it, earn it and return it

Success doesn’t happen in a silo. When one person succeeds, we all succeed, said Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Canada and 2019 Top 100 award winner. Hence her philosophy of “Learn it, earn it and return it” – no matter where you are in your career, if you’ve been blessed with an opportunity, use it to support and uplift those around (and those who follow in your footsteps).

  1. Quit that stinkin’ thinkin’

People fear what they don’t understand, said Victoria LaBillois, a Mi’gmaq entrepreneur, president of Wejuseg Construction, owner of Wejipeg Excavation, mentor for Indigenous women and 2019 Top 100 award winner. That’s why we have to do everything we can to create opportunities for other people, be bold and step into our power.

  1. Know who you’re fighting for

It’s a basic truth of life, said Melissa Grelo, co-host of CTV’s The Social and 2019 Top 100 award winner: we can’t know what we’re fighting for if we don’t know who we’re fighting for. Those of us who have privilege must understand that many of our sisters start their fight from a different level. How do we fix that? Stand next to them, but never in front of them. Help make their voices heard. 

  1. Leave the armour behind

“Can you think of a situation where you’ve seen a leader step out with courage and vulnerability?” asked Jenn Lofgren, founder and executive coach at Incito Executive and Leadership Development and 2019 Top 100 award winner. It starts with understanding what it really means to be vulnerable and accepting (even embracing) that things are going to be uncomfortable sometimes. Now that’s courage.

  1. Break the silence

Samra Zafar, author of A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose and 2019 Top 100 award winner, knows what it’s like to be silent. Married as a teenager to a much older man, abused throughout her marriage and denied access to the education she desperately wanted, Zafar was not alone – there are millions living the life she used to know. That’s why it’s up to us to break the silence for those silences that are yet to be broken.

  1. Think seven generations ahead

Mohawk wisdom teaches us that, in the decisions we make today, we must not focus on the impact to our own grandchildren but rather on our great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren – the seventh generation to come. That philosophy fuels WXN Hall of Fame alumni Roberta Jamieson’s goal of making sure every Indigenous youth graduates school through her organization, Indspire.

Congratulations again to all of our winners, past, present and future – and thank you for sharing your wisdom!