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Woman of the Week: Criss Habal-Brosek

“What does it mean to be a member of Progress Place? It means you are not a patient. It means you are a person first.”

This line was spoken during an audio tour of Progress Place, a registered charity that specializes on recovery from mental illness. It is run using a clubhouse model, which means that staff work side-by-side with its members to keep the centre running. A variety of daily activities and programs are offered daily, focusing on wellness, health, employment, and education.

Upon entering Progress Place, I was greeted by a smiling man sitting behind the reception desk. He asked me who I wanted to speak with and called up to ensure the person I was meeting was ready to see me. He was friendly and kind, and when I left he wished me a good day — what I didn’t know until the end of my tour was that he not only works for Progress Place, but he is a member as well.

Progress Place has helped over 7,000 people since it was founded in 1984, and firmly believes that “empowering people can cure.” In fact, they claim that 90 per cent of their members are not re-hospitalized after being a part of the clubhouse for two years.

The success of Progress Place is thanks to its dedicated employees, including Criss Habal-Brosek, Executive Director and a veteran employee of 32 years.

“I feel like I can relate to the staff when they first start. The Progress Place model keeps you very humble and I think that’s really important for people to remember — everyone has issues and struggles and everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and equitably, and everyone deserves opportunities. The goal is to instill hope.”

Habal-Brosek was always interested in social work, but wasn’t sure which field she wanted to go into until she started at Progress Place. During her time at York University, she tried a number of different placements, including a contract working nights at a correctional facility, a halfway house for people on parole. “If someone came in and they violated their parole, and I was working by myself on nights, I was supposed to call and have their parole revoked and they would have gone back to prison.”

“I knew I didn’t want to do that, but I was very thankful for the experience because I think it shaped who I am, in regards to my street smarts.”

After over a year at the correctional facility, a friend of hers told her about a position that had opened up at Progress Place. Over the last 32 years, Habal-Brosek worked in about every single job available at Progress Place before acquiring the position of Executive Director. Her passion and dedication to the clubhouse is undeniable — every question about her personal life automatically circles back to her work.

Progress Place boasts over 800 members, about 200 of which work at the clubhouse itself on a daily basis.  Members help plan menus, run the café, perform clerical duties, participate in daily decision-making meetings, and even lead tours for the public. The clubhouse itself offers health and wellness programs, a boutique with low-cost new clothing, weekly “next step” dinners, young adult programs, as well as a peer support telephone and online chat service called the “warm line.”

The transitional employment program and double recovery program are unique to Progress Place.  Staff help members, who may have an uneven work history, train for and gain employment. This support includes covering the member at their workplace if they have a medical appointment. The double recovery program offers multiple anonymous meeting spaces and support for those with substance abuse or mental health issues.

Staff offer training programs to businesses or organizations like the Toronto Transit Commission, who want to learn how about the stigma of mental illness with compassion and understanding. Progress Place is also exploring modern avenues to help spread their message and educate people on the stigma surrounding mental health. Their goal is to become as well-known for mental health as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The clubhouse has already expanded beyond their location on Church St. They opened up a pilot seniors day program and it has been quite the success. “As people age, depression sets in because people are lonely and isolated,” Habal-Brosek said. “Half of the seniors that go to the day program never knew they had a diagnosis and they have since been able to go to doctors and get medication.”

Habal-Brosek was incredibly excited to discuss Progress Place’s latest development in Mount Dennis, a program that is run in a retrofitted recreational space in a condo tower. They run March Break programs for teens, offer health services, and mental health workshops, and Habal-Brosek hopes it leads to other partnerships with developers throughout the city.

Their newest venture, recently launched on Jan. 20, is Radio Totally Normal Toronto, a monthly podcast that hopes to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness. In their debut broadcast, hosts provide an audio tour of Progress Place and discuss how to stay mentally healthy.

 

 

The unfortunate reality is that Progress Place hasn’t received an increase in funding over the last four years, despite the increase in cost of living. The clubhouse has evolved immensely since it opened and hopes to continue to do so.

As for Habal-Brosek — she has no plans to leave Progress Place. The positive response she sees from the community and from her members makes it all worthwhile.

“You get to hear such positive stories, whereas in a hospital situation, I feel kind of sad for people that work there because they see people at their worst. What really is inspiring is getting to see people who have never worked go out to their first job, go back to school to finish their high school diploma, or go to university and graduate.”

And that’s what Progress Place is all about.

How to use social media for your business

When my boss asked me to start an Instagram page for our business, I was dumbfounded. The crotchety old grandma inside me couldn’t fathom the necessity of taking random photos with my phone and posting it to an app that wouldn’t even allow me to link to a website post.

Social media has become such a critical aspect of business that it’s getting harder to ignore. Even the silly ones like Instagram and Snapchat have a purpose. This is the 21st century, and everyone is accessing the world through their phones. Shopping, news, maps, music, it’s all done via mobile technology nowadays. It’s time to adapt. So, I made that Instagram account and starting reading about how to use it. Turns out, my boss was right — there is a place for Instagram in business.

Still a bit confused? Don’t worry, Women’s Post has you covered. Here are a few things you need to know before you start using social media (all types) for your business:

Focus/Know your audience: Understanding the demographics you are targeting with your social media campaign is vital to its success. Are you targeting young people, health-conscious people, business women, or working moms? This will help you frame your content. Make every post, picture, and link associated to that audience! Just because you think a picture of a squirrel is cute, doesn’t mean your clients do.

Find influencers: Before you start posting, gather a list of journalists bloggers, business leaders and other entrepreneurs. Follow them on social media, and retweet or comment on their posts if appropriate. The hope is that they will start to recognize your name and be more receptive to your work.

Make it about the conversation: It’s important that you don’t just throw information at your clients. Have a conversation with them. Respond to their comments on Facebook or their questions on Twitter. Ask questions and actually do something with their answers.  You can even go a step further and get involved in other similar social networks, like online hangouts or message boards. Join groups that follow the same influencers and engage in conversations. This will help spread awareness about your work and your business.

 Quality over Quantity: Sure, it’s great to tweet and post on social media numerous times a day — but if those posts are poor quality, then your clients won’t bother going to your website. Make sure that everything you post is professionally crafted, even if it’s something silly like a meme or a gif. Everything you do should be done with the purpose of expanding and spreading awareness of your business. Make sure your words are well chosen and your images are high-resolution and high-quality.

Use appropriate hashtags and tags: This is one of the most annoying and frustrating things about social media, but it’s the number one way your message or your business can hope to reach new clientele. Unless people share your posts, the things you write on the Internet are simply…there. You want people to find your stuff, share it on their own social media feeds, and then potentially go to your website to find out more. This is impossible without hashtags. If your post involves a specific person, make sure to tag them so they are aware of its existence. As the stars of the show, so to say, they will most likely pass it around the office, inspiring a whole new set of readers.

Know the network: Using Instagram is vastly different than using Facebook or Linkedin, but there is a way to use it properly in order to market your business. Using the right hashtags is much more important as the only link to your website is in your bio. For Linkedin, it’s all about the introduction to your post, what people read that hooks them in. Prepare individual posts for each network to ensure effective use.

Be creative: If your posts are repetitive, your audience will lose interest. You want them to always be wondering what you will do next. This will involve some out of the box thinking and real brainstorming sessions. Maybe try a campaign? Get involved in #MondayMotivation. Or play around with photoshop. The more creative, controversial, and outlandish the photo — the more attention it will receive.

Be patient: It will take a while for you to develop “followers” on social media. It may even take years for you to get to a point where you can compete with other businesses. The Internet is BIG and there is a lot out there. You will eventually find your loyal followers, but until then, keep plugging away. Slowly, you will build up more “likes” or “reactions” and your business will start to flourish.

Good luck!

Check out our Instagram account and let us know how we are doing!       

How to return to work after a holiday

Is anyone else struggling this week? It’s hard to return back to work after a holiday or vacation, which is weird since you’d think everyone would be refreshed and ready to put their heads back in their books. You’ve had time to rest, sleep in, watch movies, and binge eat cookies. Isn’t that enough?

Not really. Most people find it really difficult to return to their work responsibilities following a holiday or vacation. Our minds just aren’t ready to process the large influx of emails on our computer or the stress of completing the project left on our desks before the holidays. It’s not time yet! Don’t worry, you can get through it. The first week will be terrible, but here are some tips to help you survive it:

Take it easy: No, this does not mean shirk your responsibilities. It simply means not to set your expectations really high. Try not to plan any big meetings or deadlines for the first few days, or at least until you get to today’s emails. Set mini-goals for yourself and take two to three short breaks throughout the day so that your mind has time to adjust to this new routine.

Don’t feel bad about admitting it’s too much: Your co-workers or boss may be all gung-ho about getting back into their routines, but when they ask you to start a new project or move up a deadline, don’t be afraid to say “I’m still catching up from last week, can I get back to you on Monday?” The first week back will be hell, so be honest with yourself and others. If you take on too much, you will get overwhelmed and start to feel anxious about going to work every day.

Remember you aren’t alone: At the same time, don’t complain to your co-workers how much you hate being back at work and how wonderful your vacation was. Chances are, they don’t want to be in the office either. Don’t pile work up on their desks.

Make sure your workspace is clean: If you are organized and your desk looks fresh and clean, you will feel a bit less anxious about all the work you have to do. It also gives you something else to do in the office wen you need a bit of a brain-break.

Create a new routine: Once you are comfortable and ready, take on a new project or start a new work routine. This will make you a little more excited to be in the office, and light a fire for creativity and productivity. Start your day off slightly differently, whether that’s changing your morning coffee, adding in a few workouts, or simply reading the newspaper — the morning will set the tone for the rest of the day. You can even start having lunch with various co-workers. Think of it like starting a new job. When everything is fresh and inventive, that’s when you work the best. You just need to figure out a way to re-create that feeling.

Plan for the next week: This week was lax, but now it’s time to get back to work. Make sure you are super organized for the following week. Be on time to every meeting, present at every deadline, and on top of all your projects, new or old! Spend some time over the weekend planning your lunches, snacks, and coming up with personal deadlines for your work.

How are you feeling about being back to work? Let us know in the comments below!

Roundup: 2016 Women of the Week

Every week, Women’s Post publishes a profile of a Canadian woman that has done something truly extraordinary. Our staff has spoken with a large number of inspirational human beings — some are volunteering their time, some have founded their own businesses, and some are trying to break down barriers in male-dominated industries.

Let’s start 2017 off right by rounding up all some of these amazing women into one post. Each one will include a link back to their original profile. Do you have a recommendation or suggestion for a Woman of the Week? Send it to kate@womenspost.ca.

Emily Ridout: Co-founder of 889 Yoga

Sometimes an idea just comes to you. In fact, it calls to you — and it can’t go unanswered. That’s what Emily Ridout said when Women’s Post asked her why she started 889Yoga, a yoga and wellness studio on Yonge Street in Toronto. For her, it was about bringing the practices she learned during her travels to the city she loved.

Marni Dicker: VP Infrastructure Ontario

The bulk of Dicker’s career has been in “a man’s world, with a hard hat on and steel toe boots.” A self-described “energizer-bunny”, she works full-time for Infrastructure Ontario (IO), chairs Women Build with Habitat for Humanity, is a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, is a mentor for the Women’s Executive Network, an executive sponsor of Women IO, and chair of IO Gives Back. All the while, she makes time to go to every single one of her sons’ football games.

Miriam Verburg: CEO of Bloom Digital Media

Do you remember those teenage years — all of the confusion, the expectations, and the social awkwardness?

That’s one of the reasons why Miriam Verburg helped to create the LongStory Game, a dating sim, choose-your-own-adventure type game that helps pre-teens and teenagers learn the ins-and-outs of dating. Users get to pick a character —boy, girl, or trans — and must solve a mystery while navigating social scenarios. Some examples include, bullying, backstabbing friends, alienation and immigration, and experimentation with their own sexuality.

Ana Bailão: Toronto City Councillor 

Ana Bailão moved to Canada, specifically to the Davenport area in Toronto, from Portugal at the age of 15 — and she hasn’t left. In fact, she now represents the ward as a city councilor. “It’s a part of the city that feels like home,” she said during an interview at city hall.

Jennifer Flanagan: Founder and CEO of Actua

More woman are getting involved in certain science, like medicine for example, but Flanagan says there is still a void in research and in technology-based industries. “Whether its health-based research that’s skewed because no women were involved — it affects research outcome. It’s really important to have those voices at the table. And so, that starts really early. Talking to girls – telling them that they can do science and we NEED them in science. We need to make sure women are designing the world of the future.”

Chantal Kreviazuk: Canadian Musician

Chantal Kreviazuk. Photo provided by Chantal Kreviazuk.

Singer and song-writer Chantal Kreviazuk is a Canadian icon who never fails to bring her listeners home. She is someone who loves the euphoria of performing, which is why after a seven year hiatus, she will be back to touring, promoting her new album Hard Sail. “To get to that moment [on stage], it is what we call enlightenment. It is so outer-worldly for me. It is like Christmas every day when touring. It’s scary as hell and exciting,” Kreviazuk says.

Kimberly Caroll: Body/Mind/Spirit Coach and Animal Activist 

Body/Mind/Spirit coach Kimberly Carroll has a voice that is calm, but focused. It has a powerful quality to it that helps each person she speaks with realize how important it is to care for themselves in order to impact change in others. After listening to her speak, it’s easy to understand her transition from a career in radio and television into a profession that allows her to motivate and help people.

Julia Langer: CEO of TAF

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) is celebrating its 25th anniversary — and with that milestone comes an opportunity to expand its mandate to include the greater Hamilton area. TAF is an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and while it focuses most of its efforts on Toronto, Julia Langer, CEO of TAF, knows that it’s time to expand.

“It’s about recognizing that opportunities for solving climate change are not limited to the 416.”

Erin O’Neill: Chief of Planning, Regional Emergency Operations during Fort McMurray Fire

Erin O’Neill was in Red Deer when she heard about the fire, accepting her new role as president elect of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute. She couldn’t go home and couldn’t get any information. “I was following twitter. I watched the news like everyone else,” she said. “I remember going to sleep thinking I would wake up and not have anything.” Her official position, Chief of Planning for the Regional Emergency Operations Center, meant she was in charge of all re-entry procedures — creating a Recovery Task Force, getting critical businesses like pharmacies and grocery stores up and running, and eventually helping people back into their homes.

Anita Krajnc: Founder of Toronto Pig Save

Anita Krajnc, animal rights activist and Toronto Pig Save Organizer.

Tragedy struck in Burlington last week when a truck carrying pigs to slaughter overturned on the highway. Forty pigs were killed in the accident. Fearman’s Slaughterhouse then walked the 100 remaining pigs to be killed in their facility. Animal rights protesters were on the scene to witness a terrible lack of mercy on the part of the slaughterhouse workers. Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save tried desperately to save any of the traumatized pigs from being murdered. She was arrested for crossing police lines and trying to see the pigs that were being hidden from sight behind cardboard barriers. Krajnc was charged with obstructing a peace officer and breach of recognizance. This is the second time she has been arrested for her humane acts towards these animals.

Jazz Kamal: Boxing Coach, Spoken Word Artist, Musician

Kamal destroys the boundaries of what it means to be a repressed woman, and instead lives a life of truth and integrity. Her story is reminiscent of the fiery phoenix renewed, rising from the ashes stronger and ready to help others find their own light in a time of darkness. Kamal is a boxing coach and helps create a space for women to embrace their power and strength at Newsgirls, a women-only boxing studio in Toronto. She is also a profound lyricist and musician, creating political word-spins worthy of the hip hop greats.

Jennifer Keesmaat: Chief Planner for the City of Toronto

Photo provided by Jennifer Keesmaat’s office.

As Toronto’s first female chief city planner, Keesmaat is keenly aware of the importance of mentorship and constant learning. Of the directors she works with, only two are women. This gender gap is difficult to break. As Keesmaat explains, when you are in a meeting and 90 per cent of the people around the table are male, it can generate stress for women.

 

To see more Women of the Week, visit this page and subscribe to our weekly newsletter:

Dear Santa: We want MORE this year!

Dear Santa,

Here at Women’s Post, we’ve been mostly nice — hey, you can’t expect a girl not to be naughty for a whole 12 months, can you?

First of all, I hope Mrs. Claus is treating you well. I heard there was a sugar cookie shortage. What a scary thought! As always, I’m sure she calmed you down and rectified the situation.

Man, it’s been a hell of a year. So much has happened, and most of it was pretty depressing.  After a year like this, I think women around the world deserve a little something extra, don’t you? Here is our wish list Santa, and I hope you don’t mind we are being so forward:

1. Can you make our politicians listen to the female sex for once. This wish is particularly for the United States, but also applies right here in Canada. We want clean energy and an even cleaner earth. We want equal pay and equal rights. We want to be free from discrimination and free from harassment. These may seem like small things, trifles really, but I can assure you it will make all the difference. If “because it’s 2016” was the first step towards equality, let’s make “because it’s 2017” the final year for sexism.

2. Speaking of politicians, we need more women in power. Nothing is going to change until we get real women into politics and in boardrooms. This is a nearly impossible tasks, as the “old boys club” is hard to break through. We have profiled a number of women who have made it; who have worked hard to get their foot in the door, but it isn’t easy. In order to bring about change, ensure policy is made that encompasses all diverse sexes, races, and ethnicities, it’s important to have a diverse staff. That’s something most governments haven’t realized yet. Maybe you can sprinkle a bit of magic dust on Parliament Hill to help with the transformation?

3. The outfits trending this winter are dismal. It seems beiges, browns, and burgundies are in right now — if there is anything you can do to bring a bit more colour into next year’s wardrobe, that would be great!

4. And finally, can you do something about the poverty, hunger, and general depression that has taken over this place we call Earth? People are needlessly dying all over the world, being killed in fits of rage and political disruption. Refugees have no where to go and families are being separated. At Women’s Post, we dream of a world where families can be together for the holidays (no matter the religion), without fearing for their lives.

I know this wish list is a bit of a challenge — especially for the day before Christmas — but I know you will try your best. Love, respect, and family are the foundations of the holiday season, and too often that is forgotten. Ultimately Mr. C., we hope you have a safe trip Christmas Eve. Even though we’ve been a little naughty, I hope you can overlook it. I’m sure Mrs. Claus will make a case for us!

Best,

Women’s Post

 

P.S. If you want to throw in some shoes, dresses, headphones, and/or a new laptop for the office, feel free. We promise to have some really great cookies and vegan treats waiting for you — and maybe even a bottle of Pinot!

Woman of the Week: Emily Ridout

Sometimes an idea just comes to you. In fact, it calls to you — and it can’t go unanswered.

That’s what Emily Ridout said when Women’s Post asked her why she started 889Yoga, a yoga and wellness studio on Yonge Street in Toronto. For her, it was about bringing the practices she learned during her travels to the city she loved.

“Toronto didn’t have that yet. It was missing and we wanted to create that in our own city. A place where people could feel very comfortable to go on this path to healing and returning to who they really are, in a space that was clean, beautiful, and accessible”

889 is a quaint little studio located near Rosedale. The storefront is full of essential oils, juices, journals, candles and teas, in addition to props used for yoga, pilates, and meditation. As you head upstairs to the studio, the smell of white tea is unmistakeable. Class participants are free to enjoy a glass of water or cup of tea before and after their session. The studio itself is bright with lots of windows that allow the sun to shine in. It’s the kind of place that automatically relaxes you and breaks down barriers.

The studio has a very loyal following. As one member said, once you take a class at 889, “you’ll fall in love with it”. Newcomers are welcomed with a smile and instructors are patient with everyone, no matter their skill level. The ultimate goal is for people to feel comfortable and at peace — and in that, 889 is very successful.

“We are a beginner/intermediate studio,” Ridout said. “If you haven’t tried it, it’s very welcoming, kind, forgiving, and that is what we set out for. “

Ridout comes from a family of entrepreneurs, but decided to venture into academics instead. She studied commerce with a minor in French. Eventually, she dropped commerce and focused all her energy on linguistics.

Her first job following her graduate degree was with Butterfield and Robinson, a company that designs and runs tourist expeditions, mainly involving hiking and biking around the world.  Ridout started as a receptionist, eventually applying for a temp job in operations working on trips outside of Europe. Shortly after she became Expeditions Trip Manager, helping plan and coordinate trips, as well as acting as communication liaison with the guides overseas.

Ridout loves to travel herself. She spent a year in Spain learning the language and culture. It was actually in Barcelona where she took her first official yoga class, mostly as a way to make friends and use her beginner Spanish. At the same time, her sister Christine was also introduced to yoga during her travels to California and Los Angeles. They eventually got together and realized a passion had been ignited.

The goal wasn’t just to create a yoga studio, but rather a place of wellness, where Torontonians could experience what the Ridout sisters experienced during their travels. What’s unique about this venture was that neither sister was a trained instructor — just entrepreneurs with a vision.

“We wanted to own a business, run the business, and create a space where people can heal, do yoga and be at peace. Look at themselves from an internal point,” she said. “And we did it! We hired teachers. We hired healing professionals. We had no experience at all. It was just a calling. “

And that was about 10 years ago.  Since then, 889 has grown immensely, while still maintaining its foundation — to inspire happy, healthy, and peaceful lives. Ridout likes to say the studio is a reflection of how both sisters have evolved. They helped create and plan a 200-hour Living Yoga School, a program that transforms yoga lovers into capable instructors. Both sisters have taken this course and are now able to teach yoga as well as meditation classes.

They have also added a storefront that sells environmentally-conscious and Canadian-focused products and are teaching a number of private classes for moms and other women that combine essential oils with meditation and breathing work. Ridout is also designing a digital platform for these programs, especially for working moms with little time to come to the studio.

Her biggest piece of advice to women entrepreneurs is to simplify, and then simplify some more. “Keep the offer as simple and clear as you can. If you think its simple enough, break it down again. It makes it simpler for people to understand and get on board.”

Ridout also wants women to focus on something they are passionate about, something that lights you up when you talk about it. “There is enough room in the world for us all to do what we believe in and do what we love. If someone else is doing it, or doing something similar, there will always be your authentic version of it.”

“If you believe in something, create it and sell it. Don’t get discouraged by people who are already “doing” your idea, or something similar, or by a fear that you’re not good enough.”

Ridout has three children, who she says help keep her present and joyful.  She is currently working through “May Cause Miracles”, a 40-day guide to reflection, change, and happiness by Gabrielle Bernstein, for the second time.

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How to survive the dreaded office holiday party

The invites are starting to come in, and there it is — the dreaded office party. That one time of year when you are forced to mingle with your coworkers and suck up to your boss. What could go wrong?

The answer: so many things! That’s why Women’s Post has put together a few rules to help you navigate this awkward and potentially hazardous social custom.

Rule #1: Go! For those of you who are introverts, don’t get along with your coworkers, or just dread going into the office on a regular basis, this is your time to shine. It may not be your idea of a fun time, but mingling with your coworkers and your boss is integral to your professional success. Think of it as the ultimate networking opportunity. Not only can you discuss your vision for the company, but you can also get to know your superiors as individuals — and this can lead to a closer relationship between you all.

If you don’t attend, you may be singled out later in the new year. There may be inside jokes floating around that you can’t comprehend! Don’t be the one people talk about at the water cooler.

Rule #2: Dress to impress. No, that does not mean wear your low-cut dress that just manages to cover your ass with your six-inch stilettos. My suggestion would be to go classy. If you want to wear something skin-tight to show off your amazing body, feel free — just make sure it is still work appropriate. It is an office party after all. Try a black cocktail dress with some sexy red lipstick. Professional, yet flirty and fun. Avoid white if you plan on drinking red wine!

If classy just isn’t your thing, go all-out cheesy with an ugly Christmas sweater paired with an bold lip colour (purple, blue, or gold). Note — this will give the impression that you want to be the life of the party. Only choose this option if you want to stand out!

Rule #3: Actually talk to people. Sure, attending is good and all, but if you don’t make yourself visible, there is no point. Make sure your boss notices you — and not in an “oops I tripped over a chair and knocked over the Christmas tree” kind of way. Go up to him/her and say hello. If you don’t know anything about their personal life, ask them what their plans are for the holiday.  Be genuinely interested in their life outside of work. Ask questions and actually listen to the answers so you can follow up at a later date. Don’t bring up reports or your last business meeting unless your coworker or boss does first. Try to keep the conversation casual and really get to know the people you work with.

If you get nervous talking to people you don’t really know, come up with a few conversation topics ahead of time that you can throw out in case of awkward silence. Holiday plans are a staple conversation starter, but you can also try complimenting a person’s outfit, talking about the music, or asking what they are drinking. Don’t be afraid to say “Oh, I see someone I haven’t spoken with for a while” if the conversation is really dull and you want to get the hell out of there.

Rule #4: Don’t get smashed. This may seem like a silly, obvious rule. Who would get drunk at an office holiday party?? The answer may surprise you. When surrounded by superiors, some people turn to a glass of wine, pint of beer or a cocktail to ease the nerves. But, know this, the more you drink, the less aware you are of your actions. It’s easy to use alcohol as a way to loosen up, but it’s just as easy to lose track of how much you are actually drinking. My suggestion would be to get to the point where conversation flows, but you can still walk in a straight line. Pro tip — order wine or beer instead of the mystery holiday cocktail the bar is serving. Who knows how much alcohol is actually in it!

Don’t be the person who kisses their boss in a fit of passion or starts to do the Macarena on the bar. There’s no coming back from that.

Rule #5: Time your entrance and exit depending on what you want out of the party. If you are dreading this office celebration, decide what you want out of the evening and plan accordingly. For some, this may involve taking advantage of the free drinks and appetizers, saying hi to the boss, and then quietly making your escape — just enough to show your face so people know you were there.

If you want to network in the hopes of getting more involved in your company, try to go mid-evening after your coworkers are a bit more loose and ensure you actually mingle. Hang out around the bar so you can catch people as they are waiting for their refreshments. If you just want to have fun, arrive late when the “networking” aspect is done and the only ones left are the partiers. Maybe suggest a nightcap with the few stragglers still going strong around midnight.

Remember that above all else, enjoy the party. This is your chance to get to know Sue from the cubicle next door; to meet your boss face-to-face in a casual environment; and to show your coworkers your personality. Enjoy the free food, the company, and don’t forget to have fun!

It is a party after all!

What’s the best way to ask for a raise?

You’ve worked at a company for a few years, but nothing has changed. You’ve put in a lot of hard work, led very successful projects, and have done put in quite a bit of overtime. But, you are still living off of the same entry-level salary you were given when you started the job. Sometimes, it takes a while to receive more than verbal praise. It could be the crappy economy preventing your boss from handing out bonuses or giving annual raises, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never find out!

Asking for more money is daunting. And, for some reason, women just aren’t doing it. Women in Canada still make 72 cents to a man’s dollar, and that wage gap doesn’t appear to be dropping. I’m not sure if it’s because, as women, we are more calculative and respectful of our employers or if our employers are simply not giving women enough money. Either way, it sucks and it’s time to stand up and ask for that raise you’ve been thinking about for months.

Still worried? Don’t worry, Women’s Post has you covered. Here’s what you need to know:

Timing is everything: No, the right time to discuss salary is not when you are out to lunch with colleagues or riding an elevator with your boss. It’s important to make this request in a professional manner. Ask for a meeting with your boss and be honest about what the conversation is about. Say you want to sit down to discuss your salary and your future at the company. Also consider when raises are typically given at your company. Generally, employees are given a yearly review; however, by that point, it is often too late to ask for a raise as the books have been finalized. Try to meet with your boss a month or two beforehand.

Also, note whether your colleagues have been laid off or if there is a frugal atmosphere in the office. If your boss is always making comments about loss of revenue or client reductions, the company may not be in a place to give you a raise. Better to wait until the company is thriving.

Know why you deserve it: Just because you’ve been working at the same place for a year, it doesn’t entitle you to a raise. Come prepared with a list of your accomplishments and the new responsibilities you’ve taken on since you’ve started working with the company. Make sure to mention if business has gone up or if a project has been particularly successful. If you work in a large company, your boss may not actually realize you’ve been doing more than indicated in original job description.

Try not to compare your work to that of your colleagues. Remember that you are talking about yourself, and there is no need to say that you did more work than Mark on a project or absorbed some of his workload. Just be honest about your contributions and keep everyone else out of it.

Do your research: How much are you making right now and how much do you want to be making? These are important things to decide before heading into the office, just in case your boss throws it to you and asks what you have in mind. While it’s important to calculate your worth, it’s equally important not to overreach. Find out what others are making in similar positions in other companies, and what your new responsibilities mean. Are you doing the job of two employees? Are you doing the work of a manager rather than an entry-level employee? Make your “ask” reasonable, and be prepared to negotiate and compromise if your boss can’t accommodate your request.

Be polite and confident: Confidence is key. You need to make your boss believe you deserve this raise. Practice your pitch a few times in the mirror before the meeting, and make sure to make eye contact. Speak slowly and try not to let your voice waver (which I know can be difficult, as the issue of money naturally makes everyone nervous.) At the same time, don’t offer your boss an ultimatum, at least not unless he or she is being incredibly disrespectful. It’s important that you come across as a professional. If your boss does say no to a salary raise, ask why. It may just be an issue of funding. If that’s the case, ask if you can revisit the topic in six months time (or even the following year) to see if the situation has changed. This shows that you are willing to be accommodating to the needs of the company, but are not willing to just let the issue go. If the answer is a little more superficial, be prepared to come up with polite rebuttals about the time and effort you put into the job.

If the answer is still no, then take the loss — for now. And maybe start looking for a better place of employment.

What did you say to your boss when you asked for a raise? Let us know in the comments below!

How to prepare the perfect elevator pitch

Have an idea, project, or job you want to pitch to your boss? The best way to do that is in an elevator pitch.

Being able to say what you mean confidentially can take you a long way in the business world. Finding a way to do that in a timely fashion is a whole other matter. An elevator pitch is a brief speech that is generally under two minutes. It is meant to spark interest in you, your idea, and project or product. It can be hard, to take your big idea and sizzle it down into a two-minute pitch. You need to make it exciting and interesting enough that your boss takes interest of your idea, but detailed enough that he/she knows you have the information to make it work. Luckily, Women’s Post has you covered. Here are some tips for that perfect elevator pitch:

Write it out

Block off an hour of your time and write out everything you know about your project or idea. Getting things down on paper will help you focus your argument and find the most salient and relevant points about your concept. This will create the blueprint for the elevator pitch and will help to separate the important information from the useless facts that aren’t needed.

Find the Hook

Once the information is laid out on paper, find the hook, which is otherwise known as the most interesting part of the idea. It should be the part of your blueprint that makes your heart beat fast and makes you feel excited about the project at hand. The hook is your leading statement because it will invoke a sense of confidence and excitement when you say it. From there, you can describe the proposal in a concise and timely manner.

Present a problem and solution

Once you have presented your idea, outline the problem and solution that you are looking to solve with your unique idea. This can be done in a few sentences and will demonstrate that your idea is relevant and important. It also induces a sense of urgency to your pitch because it demonstrates that there is a problem that needs to be solved in the immediate future.

Here is example of problem-solution based thinking in action: Say I approached my boss and said I wanted to develop an app that told people where available parking was located in each neighbourhood. I would then follow to say that there are no apps that currently that tell people where available parking is, causing frustration, gridlock and even accidents while people drive around trying to find a place to park.  My solution would be to create an app that showed available parking per neighbourhood on a grid map, and would specify what type and how much the parking cost. This would help people find parking quickly and would be a popular app for drivers, which would then provide revenue to the company at hand.

Be natural

Confidence is key when delivering a pitch in under two minutes. If you lack confidence in your idea, your boss will sense it and may lose interest. The best way to avoid that is to practice, practice, practice! By preparing your pitch in advance and practicing on friend and family or in the mirror, it will make you more confident in what you are saying. Acting natural and happy about your idea will liken other people to it as well.

Be prepared for follow-up

If your elevator pitch is a success, then your boss will want more details. Be sure to prepare for that as well and have answers to any questions on hand. This may include questions such as financing, feasibility, and target audiences. To properly formulate extra information, prepare potential questions that could follow your elevator pitch so that you are ready.

This is something everyone should know what to do. If you don’t use this information to pitch a business idea, use it as a way to practice public speaking or brainstorming. The key, regardless of the circumstance of your pitch, is to be confident in your ideas. It could be the next million dollar win — if you only present it in the right way.

How would you prepare an elevator pitch? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

Woman of the Week: Marni Dicker, VP Infrastructure Ontario

Marni Dicker truly believes women can have it all, even if they work in a male-dominated industry like infrastructure.

The bulk of Dicker’s career has been in “a man’s world, with a hard hat on and steel toe boots.” A self-described “energizer-bunny”, she works full-time for Infrastructure Ontario (IO), chairs Women Build with Habitat for Humanity, is a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, is a mentor for the Women’s Executive Network, an executive sponsor of Women IO, and chair of IO Gives Back. All the while, she makes time to go to every single one of her sons’ football games.

“You don’t have to be ashamed to be a mother,” she says. “I almost over do it because I’m trying to lead by example. I have a young team with little kids. I want them to know it’s okay to go to your kid’s play at 11 a.m., because you don’t get those days back, and I get a better productivity from my team. Nothing is suffering. Work is getting done and family appreciates it.”

As Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary at Infrastructure Ontario, Dicker has a wide portfolio. She oversees six different departments — legal, procurement, strategy, communications, record management, and insurance — all the while being responsible for corporate governance. Essentially, there isn’t a file Dicker isn’t involved in.

Infrastructure Ontario is responsible for all major construction projects in the province, including the Eglinton Crosstown, which is part of a 12-plus billion dollar transit plan for the region. “That was my deal and transaction, putting the deal into market, procuring a partner who would be ultimately delivering the project.” she said.

The other big project she was involved in was the venues for the Pan Am Games, including the athletes village, which is currently being converted into a multiuse community.  For Dicker, the most exciting part of her work with the Pan Am Games was that they weren’t just creating a venue for a singular event; they were actually making a difference in people’s lives. “We aren’t only building infrastructure, we are building communities.”

Before joining the ranks at Infrastructure Ontario, Dicker spent 16 years with the SNC-Lavalin. She was recommended by a friend, and despite the fact that she didn’t know anything about engineering, construction, or real estate at the time, SNC-Lavalin recognized her capabilities and hired her anyway. They said they wanted someone smart and eager to learn — and that was Dicker in a nutshell.

She thrived in that environment, embracing every challenge. Twenty years later, she is one of the leading experts in infrastructure development and corporate counsel, something she would have been unable to claim if she hadn’t taken the extreme risk to leave her job in litigation for something completely out of her comfort zone.

Dicker’s heart and passion for the industry is revealed when she speaks of this difficult transition. She went from being a litigation lawyer to a businesswoman, but every new step has given her skills that make her incredibly successful in her field. As she says, she uses her legal training to provide excellent business leadership.

This dedication to the field  is noticeable when she speaks. She talks a mile-a-minute, exuding excitement over seemingly-small details of a project. You can tell she thrives under pressure and doesn’t back down from a challenge.

Dicker is very aware of how male-dominated her industry is, but acknowledges it’s changing, albeit slowly. “What I think we need is more examples of women who have been successful in those fields and we women need to actively mentor young women and take them under our wings to show them the ropes, because if we don’t they will be left behind.”

And that’s what Dicker is trying to do with Women IO and the Women’s Executive Network. She wants to be a mentor for other women seeking senior leadership and guidance. Some of the big topics during networking sessions include work-life balance and how to grow your career.

“We need to go out and show them [women] that working in the infrastructure world is no different than the female-dominated industry of nursing. If they see more women in the industry, it will incite them to joint the ranks of architecture or project finance.”

Dicker’s biggest strength is her ability to do it all, something she says is only possible “because I’m crazy.” She is one of those people who goes to the gym at 5:30 a.m., works hard throughout the day, and then still finds time to give back to the community. “I’m not happy sitting down, because I feel like I have so much to do and I have so much to offer, whether it’s personal to my family, professionally in the workplace, or in a volunteer capacity. It’s really gratifying to me.”

Dicker admits that this industry has made her a stronger person, but counters that it doesn’t mean you have to give up your femininity. And that’s something she hopes all women can begin to understand.

Last year, Dicker was recognized as one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women.