Reimagining Work Culture: Women’s Empowerment and Female Leadership in the Spotlight

Event attendance is an important facet to career building. Conferences in particular lend a unique opportunity to gain knowledge from leaders and visionaries. Absorb all that you can from the speakers, and take time to network with attendees too. The conference is your icebreaker and silent acknowledgement that there is an alignment already. Use that mutual interest to drive the conversation and dig deeper to fulfill your overall goal for attending.

I spent a day at the Leaders and Icons Conference held into Toronto, which promised to “take [me] on an educational journey, highlighting lessons from those at the forefront of business, politics and innovation.” Through conversation and engagement, it quickly became clear that major topics encompassing women’s empowerment and female leadership have transcended to all industries and sectors. Memorable takeaways were shared by speakers Peter Aceto, Joanne Lipman, and Vicki Saunders.

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Peter Aceto former President and CEO of Tangerine shared the insight and experience of a leader. He spoke of transformative leadership through three areas of thinking in business that need to be transformed: leadership, innovation, and diversity. His focus on diversity stressed the importance of ethnic representation, and female leadership. Presenting statistics and models showcasing the high return that is seen when a female is given leadership opportunity. His talk not only provided tangible evidence but also spoke to the social importance of this change in culture that is seen as long overdue in the business sector. 

Joanne Lipman, author of That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know About Working Together and former Editor-in-Chief of USA Today, was interviewed by gender equity advocate Caroline Codsi. Lipman spoke passionately through her experience and stories shared by other females colleagues in the industry, of the difficulties and barriers of being a female in business. For those interested in reading her book, she presented topics that provide women with skills to navigate in the workforce. It is written as a solution-based tool and expresses the importance that change needs to come from the top. She emphasized that women are already doing plenty to receive recognition, and now it is up to the men to step up. 

Vicki Saunders’ message resonates. She is founder of SheEO, an international non-profit organization that empowers women entrepreneurs and innovators. Her non-profit can be described as a form of ‘radical generosity’ whereby women copower each other by contributing to a pooled fund that is later distributed to start-up companies and female business owners. Saunders expressed that “women are not a niche” and drove home the importance of recognition. SheEO directly contributes to women entrepreneurs of today, while ensuring that the pooled fund is accessible to future generations. SheEO provides mentorship programs, coaching, and other skill development programs. These services are provided not so that others can run your business for you, but to provide women with the tools to be a successful as possible on their own terms.

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After a wonderful day of engaging with the guest speakers, panelists, and those in attendance it was clear that the strive for alternative leadership methods and gender equity is at the forefront of conversation across all industries. Every speaker recommended a diverse work culture that is supportive, motivating, and encouraging of risk-taking -- all of which are similar values, long-term visions, and targeted goals that YWiB Toronto has in place for the community.  

Financial Fitness Bootcamp: Event Recap

As a young woman starting out on my journey to adulthood, I’ve slowly come to the realization that it is a lot harder than anyone ever told me. Case in point: my finances. Growing up we are hardly taught in school how to be financially responsible, so unless you are lucky enough to have parents that would discuss finances, most of us are left to figure it out on our own. This is especially hard for women as the traditional role in the household has not been one responsible for financial decisions.

This past weekend, with the help of Darlene Patgunarajah, Melanie Laing, and Emilia Romano, YWiB Toronto held its Financial Fitness Bootcamp to help introduce key concepts and important information to a group of women (and men) interested in taking control of their finances. Some of the takeaways from the workshop include:

Pay yourself first

Savings and investments are an important part of building a financial safeguard. Having a mix of savings (RSPs, TFSA, long-term, short-term and emergency funds) and investments (mutual funds, GICs, stocks, etc.), are key to becoming financially secure, but having all these accounts can leave you feeling overwhelmed and intimidated. To combat this, our financial advisors suggest setting up automatic transfers to your savings and investment accounts. At first it might seem scary having money automatically come out of your account, but after a while you adjust and learn to live within what’s left. Remember it’s not about how much you make, but how much you spend.

Get a Financial Planner that suits you

For many of us, finances is a stressful topic, especially when we deal with it on our own. Luckily, there are people out there to support you. Financial Planners/Advisors are a great resource for helping you derive a plan for your future by looking at the big picture. The key is finding one that reflects your comfort level. If you are a conservative investor, a Financial Planner that is more aggressive isn’t for you, and vise-versa. Money and finances are already anxiety-provoking topics so finding someone that you are comfortable with is key to creating a financial plan suited for you and your needs. When looking for a Financial Planner, don’t be afraid to shop around and even interview them, they are there to provide a service that you are paying for, so don’t settle for the first one you meet.

Get insured

Like many others my age, I didn’t really think I needed insurance because I don’t have any dependents or assets that may be at risk if something were to happen to me. But the truth is you do, and it’s actually better to get it at a younger age. Not only are you more likely to pay lower premiums (because you are young and healthy), but it also helps when you are ready to buy a house and it will help your family with any remaining costs/debts (i.e. funeral costs, remaining student debt, co-signers on your mortgage, etc.).

Re-evaluate your Mindset

As one of our facilitators Darlene put it “the biggest detractor to success in financial health is mindset”. With that said, it’s important that as young women we take the time to think about our relationship with money and address our unhealthy habits/attitudes. Whether you grew up with parents who were tight with their money, or ones that bought any and everything, we all hold certain ideologies towards our finances. Deciphering those attitudes is as much a part of financial planning as budgeting and saving; no matter how good your financial plan is, it is useless if we can’t follow through with it. Do you really need that new pair of shoes? Can you wait a couple more months for that vacation? Changing your relationship with money changes your priorities.

Leaving the workshop, I felt empowered and excited about conquering my financials. For me, the biggest take away from the workshop was realizing that it’s okay to not know everything, because there are people out there to help. There is an abundance of information available to you - all you must do is ask. Taking on the challenge that is financial planning becomes a lot easier when you start asking questions because once you start you’ll never stop.  


Other Resources:

The Wealthy Barber & The Wealthy Barber Returns - David Chilton

The Debt Escape Plan - Beverly Harzog

It's Your Money: Becoming a Woman of Independent Means - Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Nudge - Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

The Art of Money - by Bari Tessler


Written by: Ashleigh H.

Event Recap: From Side Hustle to Full Hustle

Ah, the life of an entrepreneur. Some try it, many don't like it, but one thing is certain - it is hard to truly understand it until you make the decision to jump in with both feet. Transitioning from a side hustle to a full hustle, getting out of your comfort zone, is what our event was all about.

As an entrepreneur myself, I found that I was relating to each woman on the panel in different ways. This blog will recap the insights from the event, along with my own learnings along the way.

Click here to read about each panelist's story, watch the discussion (we streamed it for you!), and catch up on the latest news from YWiB TO.  


Want to know more and connect with them? Visit their websites and follow their social channels!

From left to right:
Paloma Lev 
Victoria Stacey 
Renish Kamal
Mary Young
Tracey Nguyen

Making The Transition

It can be exciting, scary as hell, overwhelming, exhilarating and so many more emotions when you take the leap of faith to becoming an entrepreneur. When you are working, you have the security of a paycheque every two weeks or month, and it can seem daunting of a decision to make. Our panel weighed in on how they knew they were ready to take the plunge.

For Vicki, our newest entrepreneur, it was a combination of enough savings, and unhappiness at her job. Her confidence in her network provided her with support through the transition.

Renish shared that it was an emotional decision - she could feel it was the right thing to do, it moved her. She shared a serendipitous encounter with a stranger who was inspired enough to invest in her after overhearing her idea, and having confidence in her passion. Personally, I believe the universe sends us signs, and that was definitely one. 

Mary delved into the world of conscious consumerism in her schooling, and received immediate interest in her ideas. While she never imagined going straight from school into entrepreneurship, research and support from her family and Futurepreneur brought her long-term goals into fruition. She insightfully suggested to take the leap when you are 80% confident.

Confidence is integral to Paloma's journey as well. She values freedom, and doesn't like taking orders from anyone, so for her, entrepreneurship was the only option. Freedom is something sought after for many entrepreneurs, and Paloma could not agree more.

Personally, I think having a balance of emotional and rational decision making is important. Entrepreneurship will never appeal only to your rational mind. No steady income. Sporadic interaction with colleagues (if you start a business solo). Very little structure. Many more hours involved. A lot more rejection. How will that ever make sense? It makes sense because you also have to appeal to your emotions, to your values, and fall back on your hope and confidence. Balance is key, and I love the 80% rule here too... don't wait until you are 100% sure... you might never get there. That last 20% is hope... and you will need to use your drive to succeed. 

Challenges & Learnings

For Vicki and Renish, (and myself) family values and perceptions was a challenge. It can be hard for those who love us and have grown up in a different landscape to truly understand this decision. Cultural backgrounds can be a factor that adds some spice to the mix (see what I did there), as it is hard for South Asian families to see a woman in this role. Paloma warns of sharing the tiny flame ideas with those who might blow it out before it has a chance to grow. We have all experienced that, even if it isn't related to a business idea and it is never a good feeling. As she lives with ADD, she described how this can both a blessing or a curse - depending on how you see it. She beautifully articulated how the aspect she thought would be her downfall is actually her fuel.

Even with the support of family, managing work-life balance is hard. Mary accurately describes something we all experience... hearing the advice from other entrepreneurs about work-life balance, and dismissing it, thinking it won't happen to me, until it does. One key theme that emerged in the panel is the notion that it is all part of the journey.

This resonated with me. As an entrepreneur, I value the aspect of networking and have been to different events, and connected with different mentors and leaders. I hear advice and feedback, yet it is only until I experience it myself that it truly comes to life and becomes real.

Challenges entrepreneurs experience might be similar or unique based on numerous factors, but Renish points out that our challenges can be fuel. It can make us stronger, and it has made her into the mentor that she never had.

Looking back, Paloma would try to remind herself that it she is building relationships, not just providing a one-off service. She suggests to create an Excel spreadsheet and keep track of people, and take time to check in with them. Mary has learned the huge impact of self-compassion - acknowledging there will be hurdles and being kind to yourself if you can't be everything all the time. This is one of the core components when I work with clients in a counselling setting, as well as in the trainings I run for wellness & resilience.

In my work, I host corporate workshops on the topic of resilience, and teach positive habits that we can include in our lives to boost our well-being, which does make us more resilient and happier in our personal and professional lives. I am currently with York University as a Counsellor Intern & Ryerson University working on the Thriving in Action initiative, with Diana Brecher (creator of the Five Factor Model of Resilience), and I am the Founder of Choose Gratitude, an organization dedicated to improving the well-being in our world through workshops and presentations. I've had the opportunity to work with law firms, financial institutions, small businesses, schools, and non-profits, and irrespective of the industry, these concepts and tools resonate, and are invaluable. I teach people about themselves (why we do the things we do, and what happens in our brains), & why incorporating new skills (such as gratitude) can be beneficial. When an executive and a new employee can connect over an exercise on gratitude, it is something special. When lawyers give me feedback wishing there were more people who attended, I recognize the need for this message to extend further.

Closing Thoughts

When hearing the challenges and learnings from the panelists, I recognize that each of us experience similar sorts of adversity. As young women, it is especially important to remember that and to lean on each other for support, guidance, and connection. This is why events like these are so powerful - having the courage and vulnerability to have these conversations can be impactful irrespective of your role. During my time as a volunteer with Young Women in Business Toronto, I have had the pleasure of being the Director of Community Engagement and Acting President, working behind the scenes to grow the organization and pull off events like this one, yet as I've needed to transition out of these roles, I found myself at the event as an attendee, feeling the positive energy we always have in a new light. I am so proud of the values and initiatives ingrained in the organization, and encourage young women in Toronto to share this with friends, and grow this engaging, inclusive, and supportive community.

Our panelists left us with the reminders to be unapologetic in our beliefs. Don't allow ourselves to be treated as commodities. Do not let the guilt or insecurity take over. Stay focused, even if it means putting blinders on sometimes. Let the journey become yours.

I say we should embrace all the moments. Cherish the challenges and the successes. Feel thankful for each person that helps you along the way. Acknowledge yourself in the process. Choose gratitude in all its forms to empower you along your journey... whatever that may be.


The Top 3 Skills You Need to be a Successful Entrepreneur


1. the power of persuasion - confidence,
2. your pitch - wanting and not needing your clients,
3. writing - good selling is finding the right match, and knowing who you are will inform your voice and find your people.


1. resilience - you must be able to bounce back from the no's,
2. organization - find techniques that work for you,
3. balance - to avoid burnout.


1. self-awareness - know what you are good at,
2. vulnerability - accept what you aren't good at, tying into humility,
3. decisiveness - know when to chill out.


1. ability to handle rejection
2. ability and making it priority to meet new people, it is about collaboration over competition,
3. ability to get over feeling guilty.

Written by: Diviya Lewis
Founder - Choose Gratitude

What I learned from Shatter: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

When you start your first job as a career woman, it’s safe we could all use a little advice. In the beginning we want it all; a great title, a sufficient salary to supporting myself yourself as an adult, but most importantly we want to be a part of a work culture that values us and what we’re doing, something that goes beyond our actual responsibilities. We want to make connections with people, and leave an imprint as we create our legacy. Now I realize that’s a lot to ask at once, and I know it doesn’t happen at the very beginning, but young professionals today want to know how we can get to this point, and advice on how to follow our passions without selling out. So where does one go for career advice? I recently attended the Young Women in Business- Toronto Chapter conference, Shatter:Breaking the Glass Ceiling, a conference inspired by industry-leading women who have worked their way up the corporate ladder, or have taken the entrepreneurial route and created thing awesome. Regardless of the industry, all of these women had one thing in common—hustle. And passion, but mostly hustle, because nothing comes easy and working for what you want is the only way to solidify what’s yours.

You don’t need to choose sides

Whether you have a passion for entrepreneurship or prefer working in corporate, at this conference it wasn’t about one or the other. All the women talked about how hard work (the hustle) is key to getting to that place in your career where you can sit back, breathe and say “I did it". You have to be a team player and push yourself in order to grow and be able to take that next step in your career.

It’s not a “No Boys Allowed” club

Now I know when someone says “Young Women in Business” you think it’s ONLY women and men aren’t allowed because it’s about women supporting other women. To be honest, there were a few men at the conference who strongly support more women in male-dominated workplaces. One guy was even brave enough to ask a question on how he can recruit more women to his company. To me that’s brave and exactly what a business conference should be doing.

It’s okay to ask the tough questions

The second half of the conference was the panel of women from the corporate side speaking about pay raises and how to initiate a conversation like that with your boss. This struck a chord with me because this it’s something I could see myself struggling with in the future. So I decided to raise my hand and ask the panel, “How do you talk to your boss about a promotion?” and even asking that question made me nervous. When it comes to salary, things get tricky and complicated and it makes me nervous because what if the price you set for yourself is too high? Or what if what you’re asking is too low and they think you don’t believe in yourself enough? I learned that in order to go in and ask for a pay raise, you need to have evidence to support your case.

Keep a list of your accomplishments, projects you’ve worked on, and contributions to the company and set up a meeting with your boss to discuss your status with the company.

It’s easier said than done, but it’s a start. Open communication with your boss is also key in establishing your success because no wants to be blindsided. Be honest, be respectful and stand your ground.

Don’t let anyone tell you your passion is “silly” or “useless”

I mean hello, this is why their called passions or hobbies. It’s something we enjoy doing every day and can’t picture our lives without. So if you can make a career out of it, then why wouldn’t you? This one seems like a no brainer and the typical speech of “follow your heart”, but it’s passion that gets you somewhere and even if you haven’t figured it out yet or found your dream job for the 40-50 years, it’s okay! Dream big and chase after what you want. You can mistakes and try different career paths because in the end it will lead you to where you need to be.