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Woman of the Week: Linda Stephenson

How often do you look at the ingredients of your beauty products?  It’s not a common practice. Most people are unaware of the chemical names of toxins that linger in popular beauty products. If you’re fairly good at looking at ingredients in the foods you eat, it’s time to become more aware of what you put on your body. That’s where Linda Stephenson comes in. Stephenson is the CEO and the brains behind Mereadesso skincare products, a luxury brand of plant-based products that are targeted to cover a range of skin issues in a one-step approach.

It only took a few minutes of chatting with Stephenson to know she’s a ‘chemically aware’ beauty guru who cares about the health of her skin — and my skin as well. While enrolled at the University of Toronto, Stephenson studied Chemistry and Biology with a minor in Botany. After landing successful positions at Mary-Kay cosmetics and MAC in the mid-90’s, Stephenson moved on to a purely technical position at  Estee Lauder. Stephenson left her corporate roles to work privately with clients and to study brand acquisition, focusing on how beauty products are positioned in the industry.

Stephenson was always on the go and working tirelessly to market well-known beauty products with a reinvented look. When Stephenson started her family and have birth to her son, she barely had time to think. She was used to being the person that was good at branding and helping people, but it became time to do it for herself.

Stephenson loves to travel, and got used to compressing all of her beauty products to fit into her tiny travel bag. As a busy mom. she noticed all her friends had similar lifestyles — working moms, travellers or even guys who are minimalists. That’s why around eight years ago, Stephenson made use of her educational background ,as well as her corporate directory of contacts, to launch Mereadesso, her own skincare line.

“For me it was a natural evolution from a technical background with over 20 years of experience.” said Stephenson “My products are pretty much plant based— I don’t believe in the ‘magic’ ingredient theory. Our skin is an organ, we live and we work, we need vitamins and minerals.”

With this idea in mind, Stephenson set out to nourish the skin by using natural and real ingredients to calm, heal, and soften the skin by supplying the skin with vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, botanical extracts and minerals that our bodies can extract.

Unlike many water-based beauty products, Mereadesso is over 30 per cent aloe based with infused minerals and vitamins. One of the things Stephenson wants customers who shop in the beauty industry to be aware of is the ingredient list of products. Look for paraben-free products with real ingredients that are easy to understand. For instance, if you want more Vitamin A, the chemical name is beta-carotene or retinyl palmitate, so look for that listing in your ingredients lineup. The highest percentages will be listed first eg: water and the lowest ingredient of percentage will be listed last eg: fragrance.

“Look for the selling point, not the label claim. Take awareness to your own skin, look for what you need and what you can manage.” said Stephenson.

One of Mereadesso’s best selling products is the original one-step and all in one moisturizer. This moisturizer is aloe based and is a combination of a day cream, night cream, serum, primer and moisturizer. It is also a product designed for all skin types. As Stephenson said, most clients would come to her saying they have sensitive skin, but what does that mean ? Stephenson says to look for the commonality in the products you use that can cause redness and rash and most often this is linked to fragrance. Mereadesso products are fragrance-free in addition to being free of sulfates or artificial colours. Over all, there are about seven different product categories that users can enjoy with Mereadesso, including another best seller — the face and neck cleanser. This cleanser was designed to come with a gentle exfoliating cloth for easy cleansing.

” People need to exfoliate. Cell renewal rate slows down as we age and by removing the dead layer of skin cells, this prompts our skin to renew.” Stephenson said.

Stephenson pays a lot of attention to packaging. For instance, the travel kit comes with a reusable pouch. This kit was actually one of the selling points for landing Stephenson’s products in luxury retailer, Nordstrom. Most products don’t have a secondary purpose, but Stephenson plans to utilize her packaging.

In fact, Stephenson let me in on another skincare secret — avoid buying anything in a jar. The blanket rule is that the preservative system in a jar is there to kill mould and bacteria from forming on your moisturizer, but after being exposed to air and the constant dipping of your hands, the preservative system has to be more aggressive, which is no use to your skin. Mereadesso uses pressurized products in metered dose pumps to protect the product and keep out bacteria.

As Mereadesso continues to grow, Stephenson keeps her team small, but mighty, as her products are mostly available to order online in the United States; although it is also being featured on The Shopping Channel and is available at Nordstorm.

If you are wondering about the name Mereadesso, it was simple. ‘Mere’ means mother in French and ‘adesso’ means ‘now’ in Italian. When Stephenson became a mother, this was when her life changed and she decided to put all her beauty steps into well-rounded and unisex products for minimalists. Because of this, and more, this name will always be close to her heart.

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Geeta Sankappanavar joins WXN Hall of Fame

Geeta Sankappanavar is Co-Founder, President and CEO of Grafton Asset Management, a Calgary-based energy investment firm. Sankappanavar is responsible for managing $1 billion in capital, focusing on investments in oil and gas. Prior to founding Grafton, she worked with New Vernon Capital, a $3 billion asset management company.

Wednesday, Sankappanavar was inducted into the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Hall of Fame after being named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women numerous times.  This isn’t the first time she has been recognized for her work in emerging markets. She was also named one of Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People, and one of Calgary’s Top 40 under 40.

Question: How does it feel to be inducted into the WXN Hall of Fame?

Answer: Humbled. I have been honoured to be part of the WXN network and have had the opportunity to meet the incredible women leaders who comprise it. I am so honoured to join those amazing trailblazers in the hall of fame.

Do you remember the first time you got on the list of top 100 powerful women?

Of course! I didn’t believe it! I immediately called my family. As immigrants to this country, my family has worked hard to build their lives here, and they have always believed that a focus on constant and continuing education and hard work was critical to success. I live by these beliefs to this day. They have been my strongest supporters my entire life. I was so proud to share this recognition with them, for it was their support that enabled my success. It was a heartfelt moment for us all.

You are speaking at the Leadership Summit Wednesday, with the theme “unbreakable”. Does that theme resonate with you – and how so?

Very much so. I think all leaders face and surmount great challenges to achieve success. I think women in leadership execute those same challenges with significant biases- conscious and unconscious that make their paths even more difficult. Leadership is not easy, and you have to really, really be sure this is the life you want. Leadership is exciting, fulfilling and challenging, but it is not easy and it is not for the faint of heart. I am so proud to be part of the incredible group of women in leadership that WXN is celebrating tomorrow. Sharing our stories, our successes and our challenges, WILL make it more commonplace to be a women in leadership for the next generation.

Why did you help found Grafton Asset Management, especially considering your highly successful career prior?

My business partner and I saw an opportunity to connect Canada’s energy sector to global pools of capital. Canadian energy companies need billions annually to fund their capital programs. This need, however, had not been able to be served domestically in Canada with the traditional sources of capital for this industry. We founded Grafton in late 2010 and quickly grew to ~$1B in capital and have built an incredible team to capture the opportunities we are seeing.

Earlier this year you said that Grafton would be exploring alternative energy sources – is this something you can expand on?

I think our greatest challenge as a resource nation is our need to expand our problem space from a producer of hydrocarbons to a producer of power, fuel and petro products. If we do that, it enables us to understand the greater market forces at play in our industry and invest accordingly, which we at Grafton have done.

What’s next for you professionally and personally?

Continue to build our business and support the great team at Grafton to continue to achieve success. And personally, (besides spending time with my family and our growing list of fur babies (we just got a great pyrenees puppy) it is to passionately support women in business and in leadership in any way I can. It is up to our generation of leaders to support the women in the next generation to achieve their successes. If not us then whom, if not now then when?

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs, especially women?

Entrepreneurship isn’t just about having a vision of where you want to go- Its asking yourself why not? -rather than just saying that something is impossible. And then it’s about assembling the team that wants to try and achieve it with you. It’s the willingness to take risks and not listen to naysayers. To ask yourself what is the right thing to do, and then doing it. It’s casting a compelling vision to motivate others while not being afraid to deliver the hard news or harsh feedback. So, I’d share some advice that has worked for me over the years:

1 – Be flexible- business is a rollercoaster, you need to be able to quickly adapt and pivot your business and your people as required to take advantage of opportunities that you identify,

2 -Hone the ability to assemble and rally a great team around your ideas. Build trust with each other in order to create and sustain a great culture- and I don’t mean picking the nicest people- I mean picking the people who have the courage to challenge you so that together you all get better.

3 – Persevere – Be unwavering, and unrelenting. You must have the belief that with the right partners, you can do the impossible.

For first-time winners, what advice would you give them to stay on the list and eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame?

First of all…Congratulations!!!!! You have achieved great things professionally and Canada is recognizing and appreciating you for it. Secondly, you still need to be the best. You have to be unrelenting in your pursuit of self improvement. You must work twice as hard and twice as long as your male peers. You must be unforgettable. And when you get there, because you will, you will look around and be so humbled and so proud to be part of an incredible group of women leaders who are an inspiration for us all as well as for the next generation of women in leadership.

Featured image courtesy of oilandgascouncil.com

Woman of the Week: Marina Arnaout

Marina Arnaout is Customer Success Director with Marin Software in London, U.K., where she helps clients transform their digital strategies and manage multi-million business plans. She previously held roles in emerging Canadian and Latin American markets, where she became Regional Head of Digital at SAS Software, a global analytics company. Arnaout was the youngest person at SAS to hold that managerial role internationally.

When she isn’t working, she is actively involved in the non-profit and mentorship sector. She helped raise over $500,000 for SickKids Hospital and helped launch a Clinton Foundation chapter in Toronto, the first of its kind outside the United States.

Arnaout was named as one of Marketing Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30, and Toronto Stock Exchange Future Leaders 150. Women’s Post sat down with her to talk about her role, her career path, and her advice for young businesswomen trying to break the mold.

Question: You went from studying communications to business in university – why the change? 

Answer: I decided to pursue a postgraduate degree in business management to enhance my real life business knowledge with critical thinking and academic frameworks, as well as to expand my knowledge of various business pillars.  

What was your first job following graduation? 

I started in tech helping a Microsoft Partner go to market with a brand new product, and have been in the industry since then. 

When you entered SAS as a manager, what was it that led to your growth and promotion to Regional Head? 

To put it into a formula  my own drive and determination paired with skills, and the guidance of a fantastic manager.  

Was it intimidating to hold a managerial role at a young age and being one of the youngest in the organization to do so? How did you overcome that? 

To be honest – no, it wasn’t. It felt like a very natural progression, and I had an amazing team. 

With such a strong position, why move on to Marin three years later? 

SAS is a fantastic organization on many levels, and my previous role helped me solidify my professional direction. That being said, I’m also a firm believer in stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking risks, so when an opportunity comes up to go to London, UK to work with enterprises across Europe, you don’t say no. 

Can you describe your role with Marin Software?  

As a Customer Success Director, I work with some of Marin Software’s biggest clients. I help them develop digital strategies and embrace the benefits of software especially those focused on customer intelligence and cross channel behaviour. 

You are finishing your Master’s part time – why return to school with such a successful career? 

If anything that’s the reason to do so! The executive global business management programme at LSE has been an amazing experience so far and I highly recommend postgraduate studies for anyone wanting to expand their horizons.  

Obviously, mentorship and community engagement is really important to you – why is that? 

Making an impact in both business and community drives my purpose and passions. I think that the more you achieve, the more responsibility there is to give back. So far, I’ve helped raise over $500 000 for a children’s hospital, helped expand the first ever Clinton Foundation 20/30 event outside the US, and currently sit on a UNICEF Next Gen committee in London. I recommend finding what you’re passionate about and dedicating time to it.  

What do you do to help women?  

Mentorship through involvement with organizations such as Tech London Advocates.  

What advice do you have to young women entering business, struggling to get noticed?  

Read – read the news, read business books, read fiction books. It will expand your vocabulary, make you more articulate, and give you confidence to not only keep up but also meaningfully contribute to conversations around you.  

What are you reading right now?  

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson 

 

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New Canadian alliance created to achieve gender parity on boards

A new alliance has been created to help accelerate gender parity on boards. The Canadian Gender and Good Governance Alliance (CGGGA) is made of seven influential Canadian organizations dedicated to pushing forward gender equality in the workplace, especially on boards and in executive positions. 

Despite decades of advocacy, women are still outnumbered in senior roles, especially within financial services. Women hold approximately 14 per cent of all board seats and only 26 per cent of open board positions are filled by female applicants. A McKinsey & Company study in 2016 showed that only six per cent of Canadian CEOs are women.

The CGGGA is made up of Women in Capital Markets (WCM), the 30% Club Canada, Catalyst Canada, the Business Council of Canada, the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG), and the Clarkson Centre (CCBE).

This is the first coalition of its kind in North America. The CGGGA Directors’ Playbook is their first initiative and presents practical tools companies can use to achieve gender balance on boards.

Women’s Post spoke with Marlene Puffer, partner at Alignvest Investment Management, who represents Women in Capital Markets within the alliance, to find out a bit more:

Why join forces with other organizations to create the CGGGA? 

There is power in having a coordinated message from the many high-quality organizations that all share a common goal – to enhance the numbers and impact of women on boards and in executive positions. The biggest impact will come from having a clear set of tools to offer to businesses, governments, regulators, institutional investors and other interested stakeholders to improve practices that lead to better governance and gender balance.

What will Women in Capital Markets specifically bring to the organization?

Our industry is at the heart of corporate Canada, where providers and users of capital come together.  Senior professionals in our industry and in related areas are extremely well suited to board roles, and we will be launching a lengthy list of high-quality board-ready women in the coming weeks. Women in Capital Markets has an active network of hundreds of senior-level women, and is working diligently to ensure that they have the support and exposure that they need to reach the highest levels within their organizations and on boards. We are a deep resource of information, experience, and research on what works.  We have partnered with members of the Alliance in the past, and we bring all of this experience to the table with the other Alliance members to continue to find innovative ways to move the dial.

What is the ultimate goal of CGGGA? 

The Alliance aims to amplify and coordinate efforts to increase gender parity on boards and in executive positions, and to contribute to public policy as an advisor for the governments and regulators. Enhancing gender diversity on boards leads to greater variety of thought and leadership styles, better understanding of the end consumer, a wider talent pool and ultimately higher-quality boards.

Obviously, after years of advocacy, mentorship, and change, not enough has been done in terms of gender equity on boards. What kind of difference can CGGGA make and why is the process so slow?

CGGGA can have a potent impact if we can get the Directors’ Playbook into the hands of every board chair and every CEO of Canadian public companies, as well as into the hands of the private equity investors who have influence over the selection of board members for private companies.  The tools that we present are logical, and straightforward to implement:  formal board evaluations, term and age limits, using a board competency matrix to ensure a diversified set of skills and approaches at the board table, having a gender diversity policy to set clear goals and to monitor progress, and a focused effort to broaden the networks that are used to recruit board members.

How did you get into finance? 

I got into finance because I loved math as a high school student, which led me to study economics as an undergraduate.  Finance was a field that was growing at that time (the early 1980’s!), and interesting models that we now take for granted had only recently been developed.  I pursued a PhD at a top US school.  I came back to Toronto as a finance professor at the University of Toronto Rotman School, and after about five years, I decided to join the financial industry as Head of Fixed Income Analytics at RBC on the trading floor.  From there, I have had an unusual variety of roles on the investment management side of the business, with a focus on long-term investors like pensions. I have been on the board at the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan for nine years.

What is your role in Women in Capital Markets? How long have you been involved and why did you get involved?

 I am currently the WCM representative to the CGGGA, and advisor to the WCM Women in Leadership network, where I have been focusing on the creation of the Board-ready list. I was President of WCM in 2001-2002 and previously I was co-Chair of the Education and Outreach Committee.  I got involved at the start of the organization to help encourage high school students to pursue math and to provide insight into the career opportunities in the capital markets.  I have since been involved in almost every committee along the way.

 

Woman of the Week: Cheryl Hickman

Cheryl Hickman is the founder and general and artistic director of Opera on the Avalon, a company in Newfoundland that showcases traditional opera and musical theatre. The company is dedicated to promoting work by female artists and empowering them through mentorship programs and gender parity policies.

A singer herself, Hickman was inspired to create Opera on the Avalon after being mentored herself. She has performed with some of the most prominent operatic companies in North America and Europe, including the New York City Opera, Vancouver Opera, Calgary Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, Manitoba Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Florida Grand Opera, and Opera Français. When she speaks, she does so with passion and poetry. She wants Opera to adapt to the times, employing more women and engaging more youth.

In 2017, Hickman was appointed to the Canada Council for the Arts and is the chair of the Governance Committee. Women’s Post spoke with Hickman over the phone about the future of Opera, how to keep a community engaged in such a traditional art form, and the potential of women in positions of power.

Question: Did you always have a passion for music? When did you first discover opera?

Answer: I discovered it at quite a young age. My mom tells me I sang before I spoke. I was a child of the 70s. I still remember terrible 70s lyrics that should be out of my head, but alas, it’s not. My first memory is singing in a Kindergarden production in Newfoundland.

Were you able to get a job as a singer right after graduation or was there a delay? 

I did an undergrad at the University of Toronto and graduate work at The Juilliard School. Literally one of my mentors called New York City Opera – across the square. I walked out of my masters program to a job. But again, that was a mentor who believed in me and picked up the phone. I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time. 

Why did you found Opera on the Avalon? 

The reason why I started Opera on the Avalon was because of Diana Leblanc at the Canadian Opera Company.  I was in the ensemble and as a young performer you didn’t really see a lot of women. It’s a very male dominated world. She was the first female director I worked with. I think it made such an impact in terms of how she worked. It was a revelation. It was such a rewarding and creatively and artistically and emotionally satisfying experience. I realized later I was trying to re-create that experience in my whole professional life.

I started also, because in my genre, there is little opportunity for women. There are very few artistic directors, heads of companies, producers, and little opportunity in the higher levels.  If you aren’t going to invite me to the party I’ll start my own. The company has evolved.

Power balance will only change if you act on it. And so, in the East coast or in Canada we are the only company that insists on gender parity. We hire people from diverse backgrounds. We also insist on parity in all hiring.

Why is it so important to insist on gender parity in the arts?

It’s so topical now. As a young singer, [opera] was a school of “if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger”. There was a lot of sexism and misogyny. It was an unconscious bias people aren’t aware of. It’s only when you are aware of the fact that people of power are all men, you don’t realize how much that impacts you. 

How do you deal with it? You don’t deal with it. You realize what the rules are. The person who gets fired isn’t going to be the abused. You learn very quickly that in the arts talent forgives all. Success is a motivator for people to look beyond someone’s faults and sometimes the faults are quite large and harmful to other artists. You want to work – if you complain you won’t work. You put your game face on.

What is making Opera on the Avalon such a success?

We embrace artistic risk. What interests me is that we are bringing a quality, high callibre to widest audience possible – especially attracting younger generations because that’s the audience we are building. If we are going to attract wider audiences we need to widen the stories we are telling. We can’t allow stories we tell to be only those of dead white men.

I think one of the things we do is you have to reflect the lives of the community you live in back on the stage. We did a new show “Ours” [about] WWI battle that has a tremendous impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. We are doing an opera called ”As One”, focusing on the transgender [identity] and young people finding out who they are and discovering at a young age who you are as a person.

Do you believe in mentorship? What do you do to help young women?

I mentor through a couple of programs, university programs, and through Opera on the Avalon. We mentor young conductors. The number of female conductors in Opera in this country is shameful, so we are working to change that. I often think there is an unconscious bias – men hire men. That happens with mentorship and encouragement. It is really difficult for set designers, conductors, and directors if they don’t see women in power doing those things. You have to have guidance from somebody that has that lived experience and can also speak about the difficulties and challenges, and encourage you every step of the way. I was mentored by some pretty amazing women and we have to lift each other up. 

Any final thoughts?

I guess what’s interesting, or what’s important is that for too long we have been afraid, as women, to speak up because it’s fear of embarrassment or retribution or contempt. And I think now is the time [to speak]. In the last couple of weeks you’ve seen how that is changing. Someone said to me that a young man got hired for something and someone said he was a boy wonder. The female equivalent is bitch and for me, that’s true. As women, we owe it to the next generation to speak up without fear of retribution. It is incumbent on us.

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Woman of the week: Nneka Elliott

Sometimes if we’re lucky enough, we have that one person in life whom we aspire to be like. For Nneka Elliott, it was her grandfather. He was the Chief Magistrate to Anguilla, a published author, and a violinist. He inspired her to pursue music, the arts, and to be the next Prime Minister of Canada. While Elliott didn’t really follow that path, she did pursue the Arts.  You may have seen her doing the weather on CTV news or reporting and anchoring at CP24. Today she is a lifestyle entrepreneur who creates digital content.

Elliott grew up as a little girl with ambition, always in front of her camera recording her own shows, taking part in drama classes, piano, acting and of course, the violin. Growing up in the tiny island of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Elliott said having an active imagination was necessary, as there was not a whole lot to do.

However,  her time in St Vincent was also shared with her second home and original birthplace of Canada. Born in Montreal, Elliott moved to the islands when her parents split, but would regularly return to Toronto for vacations.

“I was at a crossroads in terms of my identity as a young kid growing up in the Caribbean, but also had these western influences,” she said.

Elliott enrolled in the radio and television program at Ryerson University and, being one of three black people in her year, felt at times it was important to work that much harder. “It was a very competitive program to get into and a lot of people had prior experience,” she said. “I worked at a radio and television station in St Vincent and I had some experience, but not like working at Rogers, like a lot of these kids were doing.”

She started volunteering for the now defunct Toronto One, where she was an audience coordinator, CBC Sports Awards, and was even the training assistant director on Da’ Kink in my Hair, which aired on Global Television network in 2007.

While in her third year of university, Elliott began her summer internship at CFRB Radio. Her persistence and dedication turned that internship into a part-time job. Elliott knew her goal was to make it on-air so she relentlessly bothered her boss to listen to her demos and sought advice from other anchors at that time.

“It was just an obsession. You have to be obsessed. Just put on blinders. I knew it was something I wanted to do and eventually he was like, ‘ok let’s try you’ and I started doing weekend anchoring at CFRB.”

Elliott worked there three days a week, while being an RA on residence, a student ambassador, and any other thing she had going on. Looking back she didn’t know quite how she did it all.

After graduation in 2006, Elliott got a job at the Weather Network as early as January 2007.  In a short span of time, Elliott moved from an on-call broadcaster to full contract. She always kept in mind that is key is to not be complacent.  It was a similar story for Elliott when she decided to pursue a job at CTV News.

“I called up the head of CTV News at the time and said, ‘it’s Nneka here from the Weather Network,’ he didn’t know who the hell I was, but I just said can you just take 10 minutes out of your day to tell me what you’re looking for in someone at CTV? A lot of what we spoke about was my extra curricular activities, because it’s important to have a life outside of work. He said, ‘we’re not looking for anyone right now but CP24 is hiring a weather person’ and the rest is kind of history.”

Elliott started off at CP24, Canada’s 24-hour breaking news network in 2008.  For the next three years, Elliott was the familiar face coving breaking news around the city and sometimes reporting in studio. In 2011, Elliott took a break to start a few side projects. She founded a venture called Media Huddle to mentor upcoming media personalities that wanted to make it on air.

“People want to be in news because they want to tell stories, but things are changing so much as the money is spread thin in television. The models are changing and it’s harder and harder for journalists to specialize in any one thing,” she said.

“You don’t really become known for anything and I just wanted to be known for something. I’ve been telling people’s stories for so long and I forgot my own. I had this obsession with how I thought my career was supposed to be and I never came up for air.”

Elliott made the decision to leave CP24 in 2016 to rebrand. She got opportunities based on the way people thought she was, as seen on TV, and it was time for her to become her own person. Elliott decided to launch her own blog. She also began to focus a lot on her Caribbean roots.

“I love Carnival. I love food and I love fashion inspired by the Caribbean, so that is why the bulk of my content is about the Caribbean.”

Elliott even launched an online talk show that is specifically aimed at the Caribbean diaspora.

Speed Round: Q&A

Q: What’s your favourite fashion piece?

A: A good pair of jeans, my go to is a jeans and a top.

Your favourite Caribbean dish?

I’m a pescatarian, so I only eat fish but I love fried fish and roasted breadfruit. I also love Buljol, it’s a pickled salt-fish dish.

What do you do for fun?

My husband and I watch an obsessive amount of TV and I’d probably say walk my dog— see I don’t know if people find that fun?

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Woman of the Week: Kathy Milsom

When asked to use three words to describe herself, Kathy Milsom quipped, “ethical, high-integrity and committed to making a difference. That’s more than three, but these are hyphened words.”

Milsom was elected the new CEO of Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) nearly a month ago, and tries to run her office using the same mantra as mentioned above. Milsom is responsible for managing over 110,000 tenants as well as the maintenance of each building or facility, making her role one of the most challenging jobs in the city.

Toronto Community Housing has a mandate of providing safe homes for vulnerable people throughout the city. Before accepting the job, Milsom, looked at all the challenges the housing board had faced over the years and wanted to be the person who tried to help solve them as well as help make a difference in the community.

Milson has the benefit of international experience. She traveled the world with her parents, who were engineers, and learned a lot about each community and culture.  “I think it enabled me to be more independent when I was growing up and this helped me in my career,”she said.

When it was time for university, Milsom enrolled at the University of Toronto with the initial intent of studying medicine to become a doctor. Life threw her a curve ball when she lost both her parents. She found it hard to concentrate on medicine and therefore switched to civil engineering — just as a temporary change. This change, however, became permanent as Milsom re-discovered a fascination with buildings, design, and maintenance of structures. remembered why she was so fascinated with building, design and maintenance of structures.

“As a child or as a young person, I was always playing around with mechanical things. I was rebuilding engines of cars after I turned 16.” Civil engineering felt natural to Milsom.

 After working both full-time and part-time to put herself through school, Milsom began gaining as much professional experience as she couldMilsom has served as a chair of the advisory board for Direct Construction Company Limited, the Civil and Mineral Engineering Department at the University of Toronto, and was member of the Canadian National Exhibition and on their finance committee. Milsom is also been a member of the board of directors of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority since 2013. In 2016-17 she served as a director of Thermal Energy Inc.

But one of her most memorable shifts was just around five years ago when she stepped down as CEO at the Technical Standards and Safety Authority. Milsom worked for the TSSA for nearly eight years, managing 13 different sectors over Ontario. This experience taught her a lot about responsibility as she ensured the safety of citizens in public spaces.

“I enjoyed it because being a CEO for so many years,”she said. “I really came to value what a well-functioning board can do to constructively challenge you to be the very best CEO that I can be.”

When the opportunity to get involved with Toronto Community Housing came up, Milsom knew she wanted the job. Housing and community building was linked closely to her civil engineering background, and she was also ready to interact with different communities across Toronto.

Milsom was also excited to get er hands dirty. Her experience on boards didn’t allow her as much of an opportunity to interact with employees and customers.  “The higher up you go — the less you do hands-on,”she said. As CEO, she would be active in the organization

In her initial weeks as CEO, Milsom implemented new steps to ensure she was making a difference to all her employees as well as tenants. The first week was all about learning and getting out in the community to speak with tenants directly about some of their concerns. She also took the time in the first two days on the job to meet approximately 600 of her 1600 employees.

“I’m very proud of the people I get to work with,”she said. “I’ve met a good portion of them and I’ve seen some of our re-developments. For example, Regent Park, which I haven’t been by in a long time, as a citizen, but I went out there to see what the community is doing and I am extremely proud of what our team has created in partnership with the private sector, to really bring the community together.

What Milsom heard from her discussion with tenants and employees is that TCHC needs to communicate better and work towards faster processing and improved information systems. This means a better relationship with the tenants and the housing board, where there is a clear flow of information and where concerns are heard.

It is no secret that the TCHC has been plagued with a backlog of repairs. Billions of dollars are needed to help with the daily operations, maintenance, and general upkeep of the buildings. In response to this, Milsom said her main commitment is to provide clean, safe and well–maintained homes for tenants to thrive. It is a key priority and her board recently approved the request to the city for a $160 million budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 to deal with the repairs as well as prevent the permanent closure of any more housing units.  Milsom is hopeful that, if approved, this should help to solve a lot of the repair issues and complaints they have received over the years.

For the future, Milsom hopes the people of Toronto will recognize the Toronto Community Housing as an agency that everyone can be proud of. Milsom is also humbled to be in a position where she can mentor and guide people. She is set to be inducted into the Engineering Hall of Distinction at U of T this year.

 

Woman of the Week: Angie Draskovic

Angie Draskovic is someone who puts others before herself and firmly believes in the power of faith — faith in religion and faith in humanity. As President and CEO of Yonge Street Mission, Draskovic has seen first hand the difference this kind of faith can make in a person’s life.

Draskovic always had a passion for helping others, but it took her a while to figure out how she could put her abilities to use. Prior to her time with the Mission, she spent 16 years working in telecommunications. It wasn’t until she took a maternity leave that she began to re-evaluate what she wanted in a career, and that led her down a spiritual path of self-discovery and altruism.

 “I started to investigate what I really wanted to do and at that stage I had a greater sense of what my skill set was – marketing,” Draskovic said. “What I was passionate about was advocating for the poor and marginalized. That led to taking my skill set, marketing and sales, and having that benefit the poor and marginalized.” 

She worked in non-profit fundraising for a season before venturing out on her own to found the ZOË Alliance, a social enterprise that empowers village-based businesses in developing countries by providing a platform for their products. Shoppers can purchase hand-crafted items from businesses across the world knowing they were making a real economic difference in the lives of the people who created them.

The goal, Draskovic says, is to allow communities to grow alongside the business. It’s a concept called social sourcing and sustainable employment. The for-profit business encourages ethical employment and uses part of the funds collected to help create infrastructure within that community.

“I went alongside indigenous business owners and helped them develop products and business plans. Instead of it being a crafty business without much profit they were able to develop a growing businesses and more steadily employee people in the community.”

When ZOË Alliance was doing well as a successful commercial business, Draskovic felt like it was time to move on. She was on the board of the Yonge Street Mission at the time, and when a position opened up for the CEO’s role, she immediately felt drawn to it.

“I grew up, like many people we serve, in a single-parent family on social assistance. I know what it’s like to live in a rent-geared family,” she said. This history helped her connect with both the staff and the people the Mission worked for.

For Draskovic, working at the Yonge Street Mission is exciting and incredibly important. The people she serves count on the Mission. As she says, it’s not a career or a sector, “it’s a vocation.”

“I think the one thing I like about working at Yonge Street Mission is that it is an organization that has great historical depth and experience,” she said. “We are trusted, which gives us the opportunity to step into being a leader in the city around to truly reducing, or dare I say it eliminating, chronic poverty in Toronto.”

In addition to her work at Yonge Street Mission, Draskovic also sits on the advisory panel for Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. She says there is no “intellectually defensive argument” for the lack of resources spent on poverty reduction. At the same time, she acknowledged the bureaucracy that has led to resource limitations, saying that Toronto is doing what it can with the parameters it has to work with.

She said there are a few things that can be done to make an honest difference in the poverty gap. The first is to have faith in people and believe they can move up from poverty. Draskovic says too many people believe that those in poverty can’t change. “That’s a community thing. How do we respond to someone who dresses a little different than us and conducts themselves in a way that’s uncomfortable?”

Businesses need to provide jobs at a meaningful income so that families don’t require social assistance. As a founder of a for-profit business, Draskovic understands that making money is important, but many businesses put this profit before their community and the wellbeing of their employees. The increase in minimum wage in Toronto is a good start, she said. “If we could pay everyone enough to live on – that would be the biggest thing we could do. We would stop feeding it.”

Resources for poverty also need to be more proactive and preventative rather than reactionary. There are programs in place to help those who are below the poverty line; however, that help disappears the moment that person or family makes a little more money, which in turn throws them back into poverty. “It’s punitive,” Draskovic says. “We assume we have to make sure you don’t game the system and this prevents you from earning income and working your way out of poverty.”

Yonge Street Mission is currently executing a research project to determine specific policies that, if changed, would drastically reduce poverty in Toronto. Once these policies are identified, Draskovic will focus on providing evidence and business case studies for public partners with the goal of transforming Toronto. “I’m excited,” she said. “We will see. I’m newer to the sector than many of my colleagues so perhaps that makes me optimistic, but I can’t imagine doing anything in a way you weren’t playing to win. Winning in this case means reducing poverty.”

When Draskovic isn’t working, she is studying part-time in an attempt to finish her master’s in leadership and management.

Celebrating Women: Martha Lowry

Craft liquor is becoming a big business in Canada, with new distilleries popping up in big cities across the country. Despite the popularity gain, it’s still very much a male-oriented field, even in Toronto where is seems as though there is a beer or spirit festival every month. Meet Martha Lowry, the only female distiller in Toronto, who recently launched Mill Street Brewery’s first ever Small Bach Gin.

Women’s Post sat down with Lowry to talk about how her work with Mill Street and how she became a distiller.

Q: Congrats on recently launching the first ever Small Bach Gin at Mill Street Brewery in Toronto. Tell us what the process was like for you?

A: Thank you! I am very excited about the gin. The gin was a long time in the making with many test batches on my trial still. When thinking about how to make the gin I started by thinking about what botanicals I would want to use. Gin always contains juniper and typically has coriander. I knew I also wanted to include hops because they have so many different flavour possibilities. I was sure I could find one that would work with the bright and fresh gin I was dreaming of and I thought it would be a great connection to our brewing roots here at Mill Street. After I found my favourite hops I experimented with all kinds of botanicals, wanting to create something complex but not muddled. I settled on my ten botanicals after many trials and combinations of flavours.

You are the only female distiller in Toronto – how does make you feel and was it difficult to follow your passion?

It makes me very excited for the industry. I think we are only going to start seeing more women in distilling. I can’t wait for the day when I see a whole crew of women running a distillery. So far, I have been really fortunate in that I have, for the most part, been met with people who want to help me on my journey. Sometimes I get a bit of surprise, and not full understanding, but not too much has really stood in my way.

You are a handful of female distillers in Canada what would you say to someone who wanted to follow in your career footsteps?

Reach out to women’s industry groups and connect with as many women in the industry as you can. The women I know in the industry are amazing, strong, passionate, and we tend to look out for one another. Do a lot of research and reading, and tasting (the fun part)! Try to get yourself into a distillery to see it all in action and decide if it is something you love. There are a million different ways to get yourself into distilling. See what others have done and figure out if that is a path that can get you there.

What kind of skill set does one need to be successful in what you do?

One of the best parts and craziest parts of my job is that you are doing a million things at once. So you must be good at multitasking and prioritizing. A small distillery means that you get to do everything, which keeps it wonderfully fun and wonderfully busy. You must have a good palate and confidence to make decisions on product flavours. A love of people is a must. I work alone, but I am constantly interacting with the public on tours and tastings. A strong science background is necessary to understand distilling. Although I do know distillers who are more artistically-minded than science-minded and make great products. It’s all about the balance between science and art for creating flavours.

Tell us about the type of craft gin you make? Is it for everyone and which food pairings does it taste well with?

Mill Street Small Batch Gin is new distilled gin. It is smooth, citrusy, and fresh and a real crowd pleaser. It has the classic juniper, but it is dialled back to let the other botanicals shine through. This is the kind of gin that can convert gin haters. At first taste, the craft gin is very fresh, like zested citrus, reminiscent of lemon drop candies, accompanied by floral notes of violets and rose. The gin is smooth and sweet, with a top note of grapefruit zest. A peppery spice comes in the middle, along with a bottom note of angelica and hops giving an earthy, celery note. The juniper comes through as a fresh pine note and the gin finishes leaving a lingering floral note. The gin has ten botanicals: Juniper, Coriander, Citra hops, Lemon zest, Grapefruit zest, Angelica, Liquorice, Orris root, Rose petals and Grains of Paradise.

I would recommend pairing this gin with sushi, smoked salmon, waxy baby potatoes, grilled chicken, and soft cheeses such as buffalo mozzarella or goat cheese.

How did you come with the popular citrus flavour for summer?

I love a citrusy gin in the summer. All I crave are bright fresh flavours in the summer. I eat a lot of salads out of my garden in the summer, sipping a fresh bright gin alongside a caprese salad is probably my favourite summer evening.

Is there a typical day and what do you like most about your job?

I don’t have typical days. Which is one of the best things about my job. My favourite thing is definitely coming up with new recipes. I have a blast exploring flavours and running test batches through my lab size still. It feels like the world is your oyster when you are making something new.

When people ask you what you do as a career is it an unique title to have as head distiller?

It is. Often people do not know what “distiller” means. Most people assume it has something to do with beer, a fact that is confused by the fact that I did work as a brewer for a time. Being a distiller leads to many interesting conversations after the question “and what do you do for a living” at dinner parties.

What is next for you?

I want to keep expanding Mill Street’s Whisky program, putting down more barrels and playing with different malts and yeasts to create really unique casks.

 

 

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Woman of the Week: Margaret Zeidler

Margaret Zeidler is one of the biggest Jane Jacobs fans you will meet. In fact, she attributes much of her success and innovation to the urbanist’s theories.

While Zeidler has studied much of Jacobs’ work,  it was two sentences in the chapter “The Need for Aged Buildings” of The Death and Life of Great American Cities that inspired the creation of a company called Urbanspace and 401 Richmond, an urban community for artists and entrepreneurs.

“Old ideas can use new buildings, but new ideas need old buildings,” she said. “It was a waking up for me – you can’t solve everything with architecture and maybe you shouldn’t try to do that. These things that seem like they need to be fixed or torn down actually have a purpose in the economy to the city. That’s what 401 Richmond is all about”

Zeidler found and bought the industrial building complex in 1994 at a time when property prices were at an all time low. In 18 months, Zeidler led a team that transformed the warehouse into a vibrant workplace that housed a number of tenants with art and culture backgrounds, most hoping to kick start their careers in Toronto. The buildings have since been designated a heritage site.

401 Richmond now houses 140 tenants, all artists, entrepreneurs, or heads of social enterprises that are using spaces to launch their non-profits or startups. There are 12 galleries showcasing art of all kinds, a dance school, a roof garden, and Studio 123, an early learning centre. Each aspect of 401 Richmond works together to create a sustainable community and inspire ideas.

401 Richmond also has what’s called a career launcher studio, which is given to a graduating art student for a year to start their practice. All of these things together create a diverse community where artists and dreamers could thrive.

“I love it. It’s gorgeous,” Zeidler said of 401 Richmond. “It has almost 1000 windows in it – wood and metal, beautiful old fashioned windows. We are constantly doing renovations or adding new tenants that we think will be interesting. It’s a wonderful place to be and work. You run into all kinds of fabulous people.”

Zeidler expanded the idea through UrbanSpace by purchasing a new warehouse further down Spadina to be used as a co-working space for non-profits and startups. This led to a co-founded space called the Centre for Social Innovation, a shared workspace for over 170 nonprofits, social enterprises, activists, and artists.

“We talked to a bunch of young people working out of their basement,” Zeidler said. “They wanted to be in a community and talk to people and work physically in a space with people doing similar work.”

These urban communities, specifically 401 Richmond, is currently facing it’s own set of troubles. The space was hit with a property assessment that doubled the buildings’ tax bill. These same taxes are set to jump by another 21 per cent, making it difficult for Urban Space to continue and provide below-average rent costs for tenants — a staple of the entire 401 Richmond concept.

The issue is still being worked out, with the City of Toronto actively pushing for an exemption using a provision classified as “community benefit.”

“There are reasons why it’s useful to have inexpensive and mixed space within a core, especially when it’s rapidly gentrifying,” Zeidler said. “It’s about invention and new ideas.”

Zeidler will not be deterred. She spends as much of her free time at 401 Richmond as she can and remains active in the management of the community. “People are said to feel welcome. Diverse and happy place. We spend a ton of our lives working and it would be so nice to work on something you love but also in an environment you love.”

Zeidler is currently reading Becoming Jane Jacobs by Peter L. Laurence.

 

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