OLIVIA RUBENS: THE MATRIARCH PROJECT

Meet women who have suffered injustices and inequality in the workplace, and women who are making real changes to improve these situations and who are providing support and ensuring equal representation for women. Read their stories and what keeps them going despite all their obstacles here.

Get inspired! New interviews bi-weekly until September! XX Olivia

Joanne Stanley, Executive Director, Women in Communications and Technology

Hi Joanne Stanley! How about we start of by you telling a little bit about yourself and what you do for our readers?

I am a 67-year-old professional woman in communications and technology.  I am the mother of a 26-year-old daughter who is the light of my life, she is a young woman in science, medicine, and tech. I lead a national professional association that advocates for women in Communications and Technology in Canada.  WCT is a 26-year-old association that represents and promotes the advancement of women by developing career development and advocacy programs to get more women in leadership positions and contributors to the digital economy.

What is your role as Executive Director of Women in Communications and Technology? 

 I manage a not-for-profit grassroots organization with 6  team members who run professional development and mentorship programs and work with 11 regional chapters across Canada to help women advance in their careers.

Why do you feel that what WCT (Women in Communications and Technology) does for these industries is necessary and important?

 Why is it important that there is an association that advocates and supports women in comms and tech? The industries we represent – communications, broadcast, social media, technology – are essentially the engine of innovation. They’re the industries that enable Canada to compete globally. I believe that women should play a greater role in these industries in terms of leadership and  decision-making. There are, in Canada, 26-27% women that work in what we call the ICT sector.   19% are doing technology-related jobs. There are five women CEO’s in technology in Canada.

And overall, like less that 1% in every industry, I think.

This could be! In the Fortune 500 companies, about 8-10 are lead by women. The technology, digital media, and broadcast sectors probably are at 1%. So those are the stats. Women bring a whole different dimension to the workplace and we can talk about that in a minute, but their contribution to those industries, from a leadership perspective, are important for the country. Those are high-paying jobs. Those are high-skilled jobs. Women don’t have access to those jobs.

Of course, as they should have access. Your work within public relations, advertising, and marketing, you were working within that realm at Bell Canada for a whopping 26 years. How do you feel this led you into what you do today? Or did you incorporate these values you still have today into what you did at Bell? How did that influence your current values and goals today? Did your experience lead into what you do or did you already do that from the get-go?

Interesting question! I’ve had reflect on my journey. I found out early that I loved writing, that I loved bringing people together, and I loved telling stories. So those were skills and attributes that I was lucky to realize when I was in college. Armed with that, I did my Business degree with a focus on public relations. When I graduated, I was fortunate to get an entry-level PR job at a film company. It was Crawley Films in Ottawa. From there I went to Bell Canada, as a communications manager. Bell was a great employer, still is.  I found myself in a company that valued my work and promoted me. What more can you ask for? I left Bell 26 years later when the company was going through major disruption as the telecommunications industry was being deregulated.   On one hand I left when it was going to be an exciting time embracing competition, but on the other hand, the good old Bell that I knew was having to reinvent itself. So what values did it give me?  I think what my experience at Bell gave me was the understanding of valuing your employees and assisting and helping them.  It resulted in loyal employees who still support the company

IT World Canada quoted you saying that the woman who influenced you most in your career is Carole Stephenson, a former CEO of Stentor, and former dean of Ivey School of Business. Why is that and does this still hold true today? Also what value do you associate with mentorship for women in these industries?

Carol was an important mentor to me. She was the only female mentor I had. I’ve had several male mentors but I have stayed in touch with Carol. She moved from Bell to CEO of Lucent and Dean of Ivey School after that.  We had common friends and followed each other’s career.  That’s why she stands out in my mind as a mentor. What she and many other mentors do: ultimately they became champions, executive sponsors. Its important to understand the distinction. A mentor is someone who coaches you, who provides you with advice, who provides you with council. An executive champion or sponsor is someone who is in a very senior position, and advocates for you and puts your name forward at the boardroom table.

Yeah, and this is what Shann McGrail was talking about in our interview last week: this distinction. I didn’t know that before I was interviewing both of you, and I found that very interesting as I know that you do provide that within your company as well. So that’s good to know and that is actually really important. I think that’s what we’re all about too as one aspect by interviewing all these women, and having all these women hand in hand and supporting each other, it’s really what we need. It’s not just talking with them but also talking to other people too and supporting them throughout your community.

 I know that you have chosen a charity to align yourself with, which is amazing and admirable, for a young business like yours, to support a charity so early in your growth. And this is the E-Mentorship for Girls?

Yeah, Girls E-Mentorship. They’re within the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto.

Yeah, very neat! WCT has several different types of membership programs. We have a one on one membership program. There are speed mentorship programs, group mentorship, which is peer mentorship, and in fact there is an e-mentorship component to WCT Connect – an online portal for women to meet each other and connect with each other, and to find mentors online. And whether you’re looking for or realize that you need a mentor, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t just have to be someone in your career or who knows you. It could be, and in fact it’s probably to your advantage, someone who is in another company or in another sector because they see things differently. Mentorship is the most important and biggest advantage you can seek as a young woman professional. Executive sponsorship would be something you do later in your career.

“Making it” in any industry is so difficult as the landscape is continuously getting more competitive and saturated. Especially with the limitations we have as women, and I mean the limitations that are put on us by others and not in our own potential, in climbing the ladder, do you think it’s important to have a female mentor as a professional woman or how do you value either gender in these roles?

 Well I prefer a woman as a mentor, and a man as an executive sponsor, because women understands and knows what I’m going through. She will have been there. Whereas men, they can provide perspective, but they haven’t lived it. They haven’t walked in our shoes; my advice is choose women as mentors, and men as executive sponsors.

Do you say this because men often have the higher positions?

Yes and it’s because they’ll have the bigger network.

I see, and why do you think that is?

It’s because there are more men in positions of power - that is just a fact of life. You want an executive champion who has a large rolodex, who can open the door for you, who already sits in the boardroom, and sadly right now, men play the dominant role in C-suite positions. 

Concerning mentorship (you’ve kind of gone over this), what does WCT provide for women in these industries, if there’s anything you want to add? 

I should mention that WCT has 11 chapters across the country: one in all the major centres, amazing, dedicated teams of women are putting on programs for other women, in Ottawa,  Halifax, BC, and GTA, Calgary, London, Halifax, Quebec. - those chapters have various mentorship programs. Ottawa, for example, has a group peer mentorship program called Mentorship Circles and at least 100 to 125 women participate every year. I know that Vancouver has just started a speed mentorship program.

What is that entail exactly? 

Their version is group meetings where a number of women from different companies and levels  spend an evening with a selection of mentors  asking questions, seeking advice and exchanging information with each other.

Kind of like speed dating!

That’s right!

That’s so cool!

And in doing that, probably they will end up meeting someone who will develop an actual mentor/ mentee relationship.

How do you bring your values for equal opportunities, representation, mentorship and training for women into your work generally?

We, as an association, and as a board, encourage men to join and participate. We have three men on our board. I’m looking to hire in a couple of positions and I would be happy to have a male candidate. Diversity and inclusion are really important and I want to make sure as an association that we walk the talk. What other values do I bring? We tend to work less hierarchically as an organization and also work as an integrated team. We all participate in the decision making.

That’s one thing I think, that a lot of women don’t have this growing up, and this is something that needs to be introduced to them in their youth, and this is something I talked to Shann (McGrail) about and heard in the panel discussion (Closing the Gender Gap). The traits that we bring to the table make that often women aren’t as keen to speak up, so having less of a hierarchical structure would promote women to then speak in a group conversation and then bring that into their own respective workplaces.

Yes, that’s right.

So in this panel I attended, which is Closing the Gender Gap with WCT at Corus Entertainment, I heard from the panel of all the things mentioned that we all know we talk about these issues and recognize them for women, but the action is not taken often to follow through with these ideas to better the corporate culture and to diversify. So I’d like to hear from you about what you think needs to be done in order to make these changes, and how we can just get started within our own industries?

I will point out that digital companies, they don’t set out to be unfriendly to women. That’s not a conscious thing that happens. In many cases, what is happening is called unconscious bias. Managers – women and men – don’t even realize that they are being discouraging and creating a climate that isn’t conducive to women. So that’s one issue.   They are not even realizing that there is a problem. Quite specifically about getting into action, and I’ve been actively working gender advocacy for 16 years. Only in the last two years have companies come to me and my organization and said, “We know we have a problem. We want to fix it but we don’t know how. Help us.” Getting into action is the key phrase. There are a lot of programs -    leadership training, professional development training, mentorship programs, career sponsorship programs, etc. that can be implemented within a company and that can help get them into action. Probably one of the first things they need to understand is why they have this issue and to think about where the problem is, where their gaps are, and then find professionals who can recommend how to solve those problems.

Is there any advice you would give to fellow professional women in the communications and tech world and/or any meaningful quote you live by every day that we can pass on to our professional women out there working toward success?

I did reflect on this. It goes back to what I mentioned that, at an early age, you find what you enjoy, what you’re passionate about: in your case it’s fashion.  In my case it was writing, it was connecting, it was helping people understand something that’s complex. That’s what I was good at. I demystified technology.

 So my first piece of advice would be to find that one thing that really excites you, and do that because when you get up in the morning, you should be thrilled about what you’re going to do, not the company that you’re going to work for, not the money you’re going to make. It should be about what you love to do. 

Because then you’re going to be the best you can be because you want to be.

That’s right.

Great, well thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you! It was a very lovely conversation and I look forward to sharing this with everyone!

Thank you for having me!

If you want to know more about WCT, becoming a member, and how they can help you:
https://www.wct-fct.com/en

Or about the Innvotion Centre in Ottawa:
https://bayviewyards.org/

Joanne wears the Carole Jacket in Crimson, Olivia Rubens’ colourway for “Sway.” She also wears the Deviation III X Diamond Earring, and the Hoop X Diamond Bangle by Lucia Rose.

 

Shann McGrail, Co-Founder & Strategic Program Specialist, Devreve
Program Director - Mentorship & Career Sponsorship, Women in Communications and Technology

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do, for our readers.

A little bit about myself… Where do I start?

How about where you grew up and your upbringing, and where that got you to today? 

Okay, right. So I grew up on a farm near a small town in Southwestern Ontario called Amherstburg. I have a younger sister and parents who are pretty awesome, and I think set me up for success by teaching all those valuable lessons like the importance of hard work and the value of a dollar. My early summer jobs included my fair share of manual labour like picking tomatoes in the blazing hot sun. That experience translated into summers of back pain and green stained hands as well as the realization that education was going to be pretty important and a ticket to doing other types of work that I might find more fulfilling. An important trait that I think still shows up for me today is that I always wanted to do something different from whata everyone else did, even in the smallest ways.  As a Girl Scout, I would look for the badges that no one else had and work toward those or I would play the sports that no one else seemed interested in pursuing. I’m still proud of the fact that I talked my girlfriends into joining me to create the first ever Girls’ golf team at our high school. We were terrible, but it was a day out of school to play in the tournament and bragging rights claiming ‘first ever’ status. This mentality of looking for the things that no one else was doing really helped me in the work environment. I was also really luck to have many supportive men and women surrounding me who pulled me along and didn’t hold me back.

And you ended up going in the complete opposite direction of the farm life and ran from those fields to tech and communications!

Yeah, hahaha. No more green hands! In university I finished my business degree then landed my first entry level job in sales for a large tech company.  It was amazing training and a one of a kind learning experience. A career in sales is one of the best training grounds for a career and I would love to see more women pursuing this career path. Over my career, I’ve worked for companies like Ernst & Young, some software companies and then moved to Microsoft where I worked in a number of senior sales, consulting services and operations positions.  My last role there was as the National Director of Education. I’ve been running my own company, Devreve with my partner, Ian Levitt for the last few years. I’m a fan of continuous learning on the job and in more formal settings. Recently, I completed by Digital Strategy and Communications Management, and Business/Corporate Communications at the University of Toronto. 

How did you come to know about Women in Communications and Technology and choose to work with them as a Program Coordinator for their Mentorship and Career Sponsorship Programs?

One of the great things about Microsoft is that they support diversity and inclusion and I was involved in various gender related initiatives and organizations from the time I first took on a leadership role in a group that didn’t have a very strong gender balance. I knew it was a tough problem and I needed to find like interested people to make a difference. For example, I led the team that launched the first DigiGirlz initiative in Canada and got involved in a number of organizations that focused on increasing the number of women in the technology sector. That led me to meeting Joanne Stanley, who is now the Executive Director of WCT. Along with the power of networking, timing is everything. Just when I was leaving Microsoft, Joanne was looking for someone to help WCT manage their mentorship and career sponsorship programs. I’ve always prided myself on finding ways to develop others’ strengths and realize potential, so the threads just came together. I can’t say enough positive things about the power of mentorship and helping people and in particular women, realize their goals. 

Ya! I mean when I was even attending the panel WCT hosted at Corus Entertainment titled Closing the Gender Gap, I met a woman when I was volunteering upon giving her coat back at coat check, and she was preaching the mentoring program your organization provides. She gave me her business card and she thought she might knew someone who could give me great mentorship for my fashion business, which was not something I was expecting at that event.

Well, what’s great about that is that sometimes it’s even better to have a mentor who is not someone you know or someone within your industry because you can get an outside perspective. I’m glad we can provide these opportunities for our members.

Why is WCT necessary and important?

Wow, so many reasons. Well most evidently, it really comes down to the numbers. Women still only represent 27% of the IT workforce and when it comes to management roles, it drops to 21%, 19% for technical roles, and when we start talking CEO roles, it’s less that 1% of tech companies in Canada. That just doesn’t make sense when women have more buying power and influence than ever.

I know that this situation is similar in the finance sector as well, where something like 39% of women represent those that are in school for these industries, but then only about 20% make it out into the actual workforce. Why does that gap exist and why are there less opportunities for these women, it seems?

Exactly, so WCT’s mandate is to be that national voice to support and advocate from women in the communications, media, and technology industries. Until the numbers are closer to representing the way the world really looks, I think organizations like WCT are extremely necessary and important. A lot of people will point to pipeline (as in the number of women entering STEM programs in school) as the reason the gap exists but there is a lot more to it – corporate culture, role models, women themselves realizing that this industry provides an opportunity to be creative and innovate. The other big thing is that we can’t afford to lose women in the industry mid career and unfortunately the numbers indicate they leave in greater numbers than their male counterparts. That means retention and advancement are critical pieces of the problem in closing the gender gap. 

SO true. What are your main goals with WCT?

Through the mentorship program, the primary goal is to help women realize their potential and benefit from working in a mentoring relationship with some of the amazing women and men who are willing to share their experience and guidance. Mentorship is one of the top ways to retain women in the industry. This is especially critical when, as I mentioned, we’ve already got a low number in the industry. We can’t afford the “leaky pipeline” and have women leave the industry because they are frustrated with lack of progress or inequitable pay. For career sponsorship (the Protégé Project), the goal is about advancement of women and matching them with “C-Suite” executives to prepare them for the next big step. 

Yeah, so just so we are all clear on this topic, what is the difference between mentorship and career sponsorship?

So mentorship is when someone gives you guidance and advice to help you advance in your career. Career sponsorship is when someone at a more senior level, say an executive, recognizes your talent and not only gives you guidance, but speaks on your behalf to their networks to promote you.

Ah, okay. Thanks for the clarification for all of us!

So the other work I am deeply involved in is the Blueprint for Women’s Leadership, which is focused on the actions necessary to close the gender gap in the industry – enough talk, studies, and research. We are focused on getting best practices for developing and advancing women dispersed to organizations who really want to make a difference and want support to take the next step.

I am also involved in an International Association of Women in Technology (IAMCP.org/wit), so I keep my eyes on what we are doing in Canada, but also what is going on around the world, and similarly how different companies and groups are focused on closing the gender gap.

How do you feel your role has made a difference and how does it impact the future for women in that industry?

Oh, no big deal of a question: what am I doing to change the WORLD for women, hahaha. Well, let’s see… One of the pieces of research that WCT did tells us that, of the women who have been involved in mentorship, better than 95% have attributed the mentorship to a positive impact on their career. Then of course, there are stories of individuals who have made big jumps in their careers thanks to a mentor or executive sponsor’s encouragement or support. There are also stories of conquering the small challenges: asking for a raise, putting oneself forward for a new job, feeling less stressed about balancing so many responsibilities. With IAMCP Women in Technology and a group of really kick A#$ women, we kicked of a mentorship circle program last year and that is growing around the world so I’m pretty thrilled with that too.

That’s one thing that I keep hearing, and took especially from the panel discussion WCT organized that I attended, that women are just not provided with these types of traits or go-getter attitude from a very young age, and that’s when we need to start. Women are just more risk-adverse and sometimes need a little training or a push to just ask, and ask for more rather than less, and this is one aspect attributed hugely to the pay gap.

Yes, so this is one reason why we need mentorship, and looking forward, it’s inevitable then that if one person has benefited through mentoring, she will pay it forward and support someone else. Role models are important as is changing the messaging that younger women and girls hear – it’s Ok to ask, it’s Ok to disrupt status quo, it’s ok to take a risk, it’s Ok to ask for a raise,  and it’s Ok to realize your potential and kick some A#$!

Through your 20+ years of experience in communications and technology, what inspired you to make a difference in these fields for women?

I feel lucky to have met so many amazing women and I have always been stunned that they usually don’t see it in themselves. It sounds simplistic, but I just feel like the world is a better place when women start to realize that the things they take for granted are of huge value and they are being selfish if they don’t share how powerful and capable they are. Life’s not fair but we don’t need to start with unequal footing to begin with. A little encouragement goes a long way.

What inspired Ian’s and your move from Microsoft Canada to create Devreve?

Often it’s about timing. You get to a point where you just need to take what you’ve learned and experienced, and try to apply it in a new way. That’s essentially where we started. We’re still a start-up, and I’m now an entrepreneur, which I still have difficulty admitting, but when I look at all the traits and prerequisites of calling yourself an entrepreneur, I know I am one.

I think that’s just something that we as women, or maybe as people, I don’t know, have trouble doing: self-reflecting and feeling good about our accomplishments. I think especially with the omnipresence of social media, we are constantly comparing although we shouldn’t, and when we do something great for our careers, we feel good momentarily, until we see someone else achieve something and we feel jealousy or competition, when everyone has their own path and that shouldn’t matter. I know as a designer, I know I’ve done so so much even in the past six months, and even when my partner congratulates me on what I’ve accomplished, as bad as it sounds, I tend to say thanks and kind of shrug it off. We’re always trying to get “there” but when we get to that level in our career, we never recognize it and are constantly looking forward to the next thing.

Yeah! I do that so much, and I think that’s just something especially we as women have as a personality trait. Since we have so much of a work-life balance, and our ancestral past is tied so heavily with “home duties” and other life duties, we now have work in our lives as of the past century or less, and we feel that we have to put 110% into everything at all times. Men have more of an ability to compartmentalize and really mentally separate those roles and achievements, and self-reflect on those and their happiness. We are just so pre-occupied that we forget and we should take moments each day to remember that, I think, although it’s easier said than done.

Totally. So Devreve helps to connect companies with women to improve female representation, and provides mentorship and support for these women, to name a few of the important things you do within your company. When and how did you decide that this was going to be the backbone of Devreve’s mission?

It was and is an evolution, really. Ian and I have very different work styles and learned (frustration included) that when we work through it, the end results are so much better. My strengths are his weaknesses, and vice versa.

Your qualities then complement each other, right?

Exactly. We learned from each other and wanted to help our clients get the best results as well. This wasn’t a mission that we outlined from the creation of our start-up, but instead it was something we learned was necessary and that this was a gap that truly needed to be filled. We both feel strongly about the idea that people, process, and technology work hand in hand. What we started to uncover was that not enough attention was being paid to the people side of things, so we started to work more and more in that area, which fit well with our strengths, experiences, and what we both enjoy.

What is the Innovation Factory in Hamilton, and what is your role within it as an Executive in Residence?

 As an Executive in Residence, I work with start-up companies to help them develop and grow their companies. One of the other things I do is to work with the Innovation Factory team to create and deliver a program specifically focused on female entrepreneurs. Our aim is to focus on the challenges that get in the way of bigger successes and growth, and drive more support for women moving their businesses forward. We really look at what’s different for female founders. For example, a spreadsheet is a spreadsheet, but finding financing and access to capital can be different. We then focus on the strengths women have as entrepreneurs to identify new approaches and ideas, and to recognize the power of networking. Technically, I guess it’s work, but it’s really so much fun and rewarding.

For our readers, how are women underrepresented in the communications and technology industries? What then makes for your push for equal representation necessary? You touched on this earlier throughout various questions, but did you have anything to add?

I think the underrepresentation problem really shows up when it comes to what products and services companies put out the door. I remember when touch screens were first introduced. I commented on how difficult they were to use with long fingernails. The reaction from my male colleagues was that I should cut my nails. So – let me get this straight – I should change myself to use technology? Not going to happen. Guaranteed if more women were involved in the design, that would have been identified. The point is: without more women involved in design and build, we face inadequate products and services. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, and more are good examples of how diversity of all kinds needs to be involved.

Why do you think this is so important for the success of a company by diversifying and supporting their talent? Again, do you have anything else to add that you haven’t already said?

 In addition to what I’ve mentioned, I would say we hear so much about millennials in the workforce. Unfortunately, they are often complaining, but let’s be fair and give credit where it’s due: this part of the workforce isn’t accepting anything less from employers. They value diversity and they are making decisions about where to invest their skills and talent based on the values displayed by organizations. Companies who want to get the best talent are going to be forced to pay attention to diversity and to make sure their cultures are inclusive.

That’s so true, so older employers who are more rigid in their ways won’t end up having a choice but to change their values to be more inclusive and progressive.

That’s right.

As much hate as we as millienials get, apparently we’re making good moves, then. Go us! Okay, so everyone talks about the inequalities women face in the workplace, but not enough action is veritably taken. What do you think it will take to begin to make a real difference in our representation, our career advancement and opportunities, and our pay?

Part of the answer is the pipeline: getting younger girls and women into technology. That involves role models, changes in how education is delivered, etc. It’s a long process and has its complexity. In the short term, we really need to focus on retention. We can’t afford to lose women who are already in the field and according to the numbers, women leave at twice the rate as their male counterparts mid-career. Mentorship and career sponsorship is one part of the solution. Companies need to take action around supporting those kinds of programs and truly looking at their culture. They need to make sure they act in accordance with what they say and they value. They need to figure out the problem, figure out exactly where the problem is coming from, and address that are directly. Assessing and closing the difference between policies and practices are on critical action. It’s zero tolerance on having pay gaps or environment where people don’t feel 100% to do their jobs. Another part of the solution is self-empowerment: women asking for what they deserve. Another interesting stat is that women are fare less likely than men to ask; ask for a mentor, for a raise, whatever. Women need t own their value and not undercut it. 

Well one interesting topic of discussion at the panel discussion WCT put on is the idea of quotas: is it a good or a bad thing? It’s hard because you can’t just fire the number of men you need to then replace with women, and you don’t have the budget to hire on more yet. What’s your opinion on that?

Well I would say that yes, that’s a very complex issue, but I do think that quotas are necessary because it does lead to diversification, which improves a company’s corporate culture and output. It’s not about women not being competent for the job. The thing is, they are. There is limited research in this area but so far what exists says that when you focus on hiring more women, no competent men are fired to make way for mediocre women. Instead the overall ability and competence goes up. At the end of the day, we have to determine what “best” really means and not let unconscious bias get in the way of doing the same old thing over and over.

Do you have any positive stories you would like to leave us about a company Devreve helped diversify and succeed in this way?

I don’t really think I’d like to point out one in particular, as it’s really a work in progress. 

These kinds of things take years because, just like in changing poverty in Guatemala for example, it all starts with education of youth, and changing the mindset of a whole community so that women can have more of a role in making money in the community, and this takes years. Things like unconscious bias, training and mentorship programs take a while to first discover are necessary, then to implement change, and to take effect, so this takes years, right?

Exactly, but the work I do now makes me so happy, and I’d encourage any woman looking for direction, support, or mentorship, especially within the communications and technology industries, to look for support within WCT, become a member, or look into the Innovation Factory in Hamilton.

Well thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today! I’m so excited to share this with our fellow working women out there! 

Thank you so much for having me!

If you want to know more about WCT, you can visit the link here:
https://www.wct-fct.com/en

About Shann and Ian’s company Devreve:
http://www.devreve.com/

Or about the Innovation Factory in Hamilton:
http://innovationfactory.ca/

Shann wears the Dragon Lady Bomber by Olivia Rubens in Crimson, which contains the word “Sway”. She also wears the Hook Choker and  Spheroidal Drop Earring by Lucia Rose.

 

Amy Saunders, CEO & Founder, Alpha PR

For our readers, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do. So what’s your company? Where are you from and how did you get here?

My name’s Amy Saunders. My company’s name is Alpha PR. We are a woman-led PR company based in Toronto. We are a value-based company, so what that means is we do very principled work, so we’re drawn to projects that actually reflect our values. Some of our values are working with empathy. We’re very futures-oriented. We try to work with innovative projects. We integrate innovation into our actual campaigns in and of themselves. We take a huge focus on women and women-led projects. One of our main missions as well is elevating and highlighting voices that are not very much heard in the mainstream, so whether that’s women, or trans folks, or people of colour, that’s the space where we tend to focus a lot of our energy. We also have a board that’s all women.

I’m from to Toronto. I’ve moved around a little bit. I guess my communications career, I started communications in an activist kind of space when I was in university, when I was doing queer and feminist organizing. When I graduated university, I didn’t know PR was a thing. I had no training in PR whatsoever, or communications, and I was just like “I don’t know what this is!” It’s something I just very naturally did. I also studied theatre in my high school years, so theatre and film work were always very close to me. Eventually, I got kicked out of the food and beverage industry, so that was meant to be, for sure. Then I landed in communications and ended up working at Warner Bros. and that was kind of my first induction into film, communications and publicity, and from there things kind of really kept rolling. I started my company when I got really tired of listening to people and I was just like, “I think I can do this better!” Not to sound like an assh*le, but I just felt I could. There were projects that people weren’t taking on that I thought deserved to be taken on, and a lot of those focused on LGBTQ folks and women, and I thought women deserved stronger voices. Women deserve better readership. We deserve to have principled work with integrity. There was a huge lack of integrity in the industry that I saw. So I was like, “F*ck this sh*t. I am over it.” I wanted to work with the foundation of integrity that I didn’t find anywhere in the industry, whether it be business in general, business organizations, communications, or just PR. So I did!

That summed it up beautifully. I was going to ask if you work with people whose values align with yours but you mentioned you are value-based, principle-based: is there any sort of mission statement you’d like to give us or anything else you’d like to add to that idea?

Aside from everything I’ve said already, our mission is, if we could it would be to redefine the way that business is communicated and structured so that it can be based on integrity, civility and empathy because I think right now, the way that we have done business in the past, over however many years or centuries, it has been based on masculine traits, aggressiveness, the bottom line, money-this, money-that. My thought to that is, “F*ck that!” We try to create a space that honours intuition. How do you feel about this project? I don’t want to know what the bottom line is. If it doesn’t feel good in my gut, I’m not going to do it. That’s, for me, what’s more important. I want people to feel satisfied, comforted, honoured, empowered in the work that we do, so I would love that to expand beyond just Alpha. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but we’ll see.

We can try one person at a time. So your company is woman-led, as you said. Do you think this is important, not only for your company, but for other companies?

That’s a really great question. Yes, I believe it’s important. When I started the company, and when I started to structure it, it made me laugh, but it also made me really frustrated because I kept seeing organizations, especially communications companies or marketing agencies that had programs for women outside of the structure, like this is how we structure our business, and we have initiatives for women, and every week women meet and talk in this area or room or office in the building. Here’s your maternity leave plus a package! And it’s like, “F*ck you! This actually needs to be integrated from the ground up.” For me, the way the businesses need to be structured from the get-go is that women, and women’s needs and voices, and divine feminine qualities have to be integrated from the get-go, and that’s why we are in the problems that we are in [because they aren’t]. That’s why Trump’s president. That’s why our economy is failing. That’s why capitalism is where it is. F*ck all of this, you know what I mean? That’s why I had to start the company. I know it’s very small potatoes, absolutely, but of course woman-led businesses are important because if we’re not making decisions from the very beginning, then nothing that adheres or answers to the needs of women can be answered at the very beginning or at the core level of what the company is structured around.

And what kind of competitive advantage do you think this gives you specifically for your company?

We can speak to other women, because there’s women in every boardroom we walk into that have not been heard, and we’re the ones that can give them that voice. Like today for example, I was able to look at a woman in the eye and say, “Yep, we’re completely run by women.” I never can say that we hire women only because of… whatever, but I do. I only hire women. We have an all-female board. And she got it. She was the only other woman in the room, and she got it, and she fell in love with us. That’s just a very principled decision, and that’s not just like a show thing for us. We also have the proof in the pudding to showcase our abilities.

Amazing, so great hearing all of that. This is why like, every interview that I’ve done for the Matriarch Project is like, “OMG, YES!” You recently worked with Slut or Nut: The Movie and Hot Docs Fest. This feminist film is the diary of a rape trial that follows Mandi Gray through the legal system after she reports rape. Does working with the project align with your values (yes, I mean we’ve talked about this as a huge part of your company), and if so, how? I guess do you want to talk about this direction for you and your company?

I’m not going to work with you if you’re a dick, period. I’ve made those mistakes. For me, upon reflection, that’s when I don’t listen to my gut. I’ve had that, like months later, I get stiffed on an invoice. I’m like, “Huh, right. Remember that feeling you gave me in December? When you felt that that wasn’t right? You avoided that. You didn’t listen to your intuition. You didn’t listen to your internal, divine guidance, goddess. Why didn’t you do that?” Months later, I got a man stiffing me by $3000. Women are capable too, like we tear each other down all the time.

There’s a podcast I listen to, Stuff Mom Never Told You, and in one of the episodes, they talk about how a lot of the reasons we don’t succeed as women is because of other women. Like in film, the producers are not choosing those script writers because they subconsciously see the female name on the script and they don’t choose them. And more often than not, it’s the female producers who are the ones not choosing those women because they don’t feel they will be successful, or they hold them to a higher standard than the men.

I 100% agree, and that’s why, going back, I started the company. I kept getting thrown out of the bus by other women. I was like, “F*ck this. I am going to create a space where we don’t have to do that. You know like, talk to me. You made a mistake? Let’s talk about it. Girl, I ain’t gonna nail you to the cross. There ain’t no crosses here. Let’s f*ckin’ sage that sh*t and have a good time.” I need to get vulnerable with my work. I have to because that’s where the good stuff comes from. If I’m not vulnerable about my work, if I’m not emotional about it: that’s why I took on Mandi. I’ve been talking to Mandi for like two years. She and I actually share the same birthday. We’re actually the same person. I’m not gonna lie. If you sit us down in a room, she might be a little bit more drunk than I am, but we are the exact same f*ckin’ person. What I love so much about her project is that she was so unapologetic about it. I’ve really stepped into a space where I’m just really unapologetic, and about wanting to be who I am. I want to step into my own power, and I think that’s when a lot of women are afraid of their own power because we live within these masculine and patriarchal structures that inform us that we can’t be powerful. We can’t be hard and soft at the same time. No, trust me, we can.

We can use that to our advantage! Once you learn how to use those qualities, those “feminine” with those “masculine” qualities, that’s when we have our strengths. That’s when we succeed.

There’s no, like where can we do that? Like oh in a yoga studio, maybe. Right? Or we’re always getting assigned to the fringes and it’s like, “I don’t wanna be on the fringes anymore! I don’t want us to be on the fringes anymore.” It’s not so much me. It’s my clients. I want them in the mainstream. We need to be able to occupy this space.

You do work with more women. You hired on women. Generally, do your clients tend to be more women?

Sometimes, I mean like I balance it out. Of course I take on male clients, and for me it always comes down to values and integrity. I try to go through rigorous processes of getting to know people before I take them on. I’ve made mistake and I’m going to make more. I’m going to make mistakes with women too. Women are not not at fault, of course, but I do take on men because the disparity that you’ll see between the amount a male producer can afford and female producers can afford is astounding. I knew it was bad, but I had no idea it was this bad. A female producer can afford $300. A male producer can just jizz out $12,000, no problem. It is astounding, ladies. So with that said, I do take on men who work with integrity. I will take on men who can handle me, who can handle me when I talk to them straight, who don’t shrivel when I’m speaking with my power and my truth, which is awesome, but again, more to be discovered, like you never know. I will say that if their product is innovative enough, I will take it. I don’t take on sh*t that’s not interesting just because it makes money. I will never do that in my life.

One thing, and I’ve talked to my Mom about this, I’ve talked to my past interviewees about this, and we might have talked about it the last time we met, but you’re not going to do something well unless you’re passionate about it. That’s one thing like if someone is putting a project forward that’s going to make a lot of money, but you don’t care about it, you’re not going to do a good job anyway because of that.

Yeah, why do it?

So you are a Reiki Healer and a witch. How did this come about in your life as a path for you?

I started my journey with Reiki Healing maybe like four years ago, and then it became dormant for me when I was focusing more on this plane of existence, in terms of material gain and career and whatever. Truthfully, I had a concussion a week before I decided to start my business, and I was to lie in bed and do nothing. So I listened to audio books, and a friend of mine, Andrea Subissati, who the editor at Rue Morgue, and just a f*ckin’ bada$s woman all around, she called me and she was like, “Get off Facebook” because I’m like scrolling on Facebook like, “I have a concussion, what do I do?” She’s like, “Download audio books and just chill.” I spent nine days in bed, meditating and listening to spiritual books, and I just went inside myself and rewrote my entire life. Everything that I thought of myself as being crazy, weird, wrong, rebellious, f*ckin’ sh*t-disturber, all of these horrible things that society tells you as a woman specifically: I just went inside and I rewrote them. When I came out, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do, with my business, with myself as like a healer, with my identity, just all these different things. It was really from that point that I really started engaging with this idea of being a witch, and I started reading more about it, and learning about the history of the word, which has its own kind of negative connotations, for sure. So it kind of went from there, and it’s been a really interesting journey of like harnessing that in a sense. 

How does this affect the way you do and view your work, and make decisions for your company, and does this also affect the way in which you treat your employees or collaborators?

That’s a great question. Well, one of the greatest gifts I’ve gotten in being able to move into the space of this identity and really dig into being an energetic healer is that it has allowed me to really align with my intuition, my internal wisdom. That is the base from which I make all of my decisions. It allows me to feel out other people. I didn’t ask Sophie a single PR-related question when I interviewed her (Sophie, part of the company Alpha PR, sits in the room documenting and listening into the interview). We sat there and talked for two hours. I wanted to know her as a person. I wanted to know how she felt about issues in the world. I want to know people as people because that then informs how I’m going to work with them or how I’m going to mix with them, so it’s all very much internal-based, and that has come as a gift from doing all of this energetic work and witchery, and tarot and whatnot. When my clients get comfortable enough and see how I am, they’re like, “Oh, let’s do a Tarot reading!” A lot of it is intuitive. It becomes very intuition- and feeling-based, and I know not to go against that gut feeling. I rarely do it nowadays, but when I do I know.

It’s learning to trust that, and to come back and look at it.

Yeah, it’s hard!

I’ve totally gotten myself in situations where I’m like, “Why didn’t I see that? That was so obvious.”

Especially as women, we’re not trained to know what that is. We’re trained to shut off from our bodies. We’re trained to lose weight. We’re trained to get skinny. We’re trained to starve ourselves. We’re trained to get raped. We’re trained to not take our accusers to court. We’re trained to take all this trauma in. I don’t want to do that. I want to sink into my body and feel it and trust it, because my body has f*cking eons of ancestral wisdom in there. I use that for my relationship. And that journey is less than a year old. That’s just going to be a journey. It’s going to be awesome.

The last time we spoke, you said that once you had accepted that these were your gifts, this community of witches and Reiki Healers: they came to you rather than you seeking them out. So has this helped you as a woman: to have this kind of support system in your work and generally, and to have that as a community?

Yep, absolutely. I personally believe that the universe is very on-purpose. Everything is accidental. (Contradictory? Not sure if you want to just change this a little?) People walk into their life for a very specific reason. When I’ve been in touch with that internal knowing, I can know why and tune into why. It’s divine guidance. When we tap in we know divine guidance isn’t inside as well and it’s inside every single one of us, and we connect at that level.

The witch has had and still has a derogatory meaning, often even now unfortunately, although much less now obviously than previously because we’re evidently no longer getting torched, but still people look at you weirdly often or are like, “Okay, cult…” or whatever. So what’s your opinion about this and what do you think needs to be done to pave the way for a more positive outlook? Do we need to talk about it more?

I think if anything a reclamation is probably better. I think first a foremost though, what has to happen is, so with the witch trials, I think it was Salem Witch Trials? A lot of the women were blaming their black slaves, and I just learned this through a friend of mine who is also a Reiki Healer. She is black and she does not identify as a witch for this specific reason. White women were claiming that their magic and powers came from the black slaves. I think that as white folks who identify as witches, we need contend with our history of white supremacy first and foremost, a complex and dense space that needs to be explored and investigated first, but I think that’s a root of a lot of current problems anyways. When it comes specifically to witches, I think there’s a major reclamation there, but I think they go hand in hand. There’s contention and tension there, but also a lot of space for freedom, so I see the kind of two energies working together, but I’m interested to see where it goes. I don’t know if I have an answer specifically to say, “This is where we’re going.” I think it’s a long process.

What would you say if you met someone who said that they believe they might have a gift but is sceptical to address this due to the negatives perspectives from society?

The most interesting thing about this journey to me has been that it’s always there and everybody has it. I’m not special. I’m by no means special whatsoever. Everybody has the ability to do this. We all have intuition. We all have gut feelings. We all are capable of empathy and tapping into one another. We are all capable of this. We’re all part of this collective consciousness. So it’s just a matter of tapping into it and finding it, and finding what that looks like for you because it changes all the time. One day it’s Tarot. Another day it’s yoga. It can be anything at any given time, and how you choose to identify is how you choose to identify. So sometimes for me it’s energy feeling, and sometimes I can see lights and sometimes I don’t. We all have these abilities. It’s just the structure of the world that we’re in now, it turns us off from it and I think for a very specific reason, for our own disempowerment. I don’t think it’s so much that a person would say, “Hey, I think I’m a witch!” I think it’s that everybody is a witch, really. I think everybody has these abilities, and really witches are just people who, like way back in the days of yore, women who would go out and forage and make brews and herbs and tinctures and would be like, “Here, this will heal you!” People were like, “Witchcraft!” Because it was a form of power. That’s it.

There are also male witches as well, which I learned recently. They’re not called warlocks, which are something else. I don’t know if warlocks are a thing, but yeah any gender or non-identifying genderless person can tap into that. So yeah, that’s interesting. Maybe this then would be more talking to people about striking a balance in their life and trusting themselves more. Maybe they can try to be stronger in that sense, and fight everything that’s imposed upon us, I guess you could say, and to learn to trust yourself.

It’s a very internal journey.

A lot of us don’t make time to do that, unfortunately. What do you think we need to do to more effectively support each other as women, and provide for each other, help each other to reach success?

Destroy your own ego. That’s it. That’s all I got. Destroy your ego.

Yeah, practice not being jealous of others.

Ego stands in the way of, for me, absolutely everything: success, connection, love, happiness, whatever. Just destroy it at any cost.

It’s a lifelong journey, haha. Why do you think then that we demonstrate that more as women? I mean, men obviously, a lot of them have huge egos, but they come together at, say, the bar at the end of the day and that’s where they do their networking in corporate structures and whatnot, and they’re able then to push each other to succeed, or just jump over each other, that kind of thing. Why does ego affect us so much in a different way, and more? It’s a part of why we are not helping each other up.

I think male ego is celebrated more. I would just go back to the root of the cause, which is hetero-patriarchal capitalism. That’s the way our whole life is structured: from the way our living is structured, from the way that we organize the times of our day, from the way that we f*ck, from the way that we eat. All of it is structured around a hetero-patriarchal capitalist system. So within that, female success, female camaraderie, female bodies, female pleasure, female anything is not celebrated. It’s actually repressed, so of course, if female ego comes into play, it’s going to be aggressive. It’s going to be like a f*ckin’ cage because it’s not free in any sense. We need to get wild about it, and celebrate each other’s wildness. That’s also as you said, a lifelong journey to destroy that ego that keeps us from being able to be wild in a way, you know? It’s seen as like competition, because capitalism is like, “Fight!”

We have to fit into a certain box where having other traits is perceived as “unwomanly” or weird” or “inappropriate” or whatever.

F*ck that! Like this idea that there’s not enough? Trust me, there’s enough. There’s more than enough.

So as a last question, we know that the moons are always moving in relation to the stars. I’m saying this because this might change from time to time based on this, but is there any mantra you’d like to leave us all for the time being or that you are looking at at the moment in your life and work?

That’s a wonderful question. I always invite the goddesses in. I make myself available to any goddess who would like to show me the way, every single day, every single night. I say, “Goddesses, get at me.”

That’s amazing, because that’s like letting go of your ego, and allowing them to support you. 

It’s a long journey to get to that place. It’s really a journey of faith and I’m always scared of using that word because people are always like, “Oh God, Christians, church...” It freaks people out, but it is a journey of faith that the universe has your back. You’re being cradled by the divine. The divine is in your heart. You are a divine being. And then we’re going to head back out [when we pass on] and look in and be like, “Hmmm that’s where I want to go” and we’ll jump back in, and it’s an ongoing cycle. So every single day when I get into bed, I’m just like, “Alright ladies, I’m yours.  Show me what you got. Show me what you want me to learn. Show me what you want me to discover today.” And sometimes they come. Sometimes they don’t, and it’s all good.

Cool, that was amazing. Thank you so much!

Thank you! That was so fun. 

Amy wears the Carole Jacket by Olivia Rubens in Red-Orange, which contains the word “Moxie”.

 

Anita Grant, CEO & Co-Founder, Fleeky Inc.

To start off, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m a Hamilton native. I actually went to school at Ryerson University. I graduated with a degree in law and business. I definitely thought I was going to go to law school after. After graduation, my only thought was paying off my bills, so I got a job in sales. I did that for four years, and that’s when I asked that question like, “What is my next step?” That’s kind of when I took focus and really started to work on Fleeky full time. I recently quit my job to do it. I’m basically building a platform that connects beauty professionals to beauty seekers, and teaches beauty professionals to market, manage and find their clientele, then for beauty seekers to find them, whether by location or talent. 

And are they all women on your platform, or?

Yeah, so women are our target audience, but we’re not going to discriminate against men, and that’s a huge thing happening. We do open the prospect of both, it comes down to our target market.

You have to tackle one thing at a time, like people are always to me like, “Why don’t you do menswear?” I gotta do the one thing, then maybe when I have time I can move onto the other. So how did you decide to start Fleeky?

So there are two experiences I had that made me realize that there needed to be a change in the industry. The first is my sister. At the age of 19, she quit her job to pursue her passion for hairstyling full time. On the business side, she wasn’t so savvy.

And that often happens with this kind of thing. At Ryerson, I got a lot of training in design, but you don’t get a lot of business.

Exactly, the business: you have the passion and the skills, but you don’t know how to grow this and monetize this, right? That’s the situation she was in: she went to school for hair styling, and got out of school and was like, “Okay, well what’s next?” And I asked, “Do you want to work for somebody else?” And she said, “No, I want to start my own salon.” So I helped her with marketing and branding and helped her get her name out there, but I realized there weren’t a lot of resources available for people like her. The second experience was that I was at my first wedding, and I was really excited to go. I was the only woman of colour, and the makeup artist couldn’t do my makeup.

Oh yeah, they don’t have the right tones, stuff like that.

And this was my first experience, and all the girls were getting all dolled up, and I felt so isolated. My skin tone already made me isolated, like an outsider.

This just might not have been a good makeup artist then too, right, like my makeup artists have expressed to me like, “No, I got it. If you don’t you’re not good at your job.” And they should though.

And that’s what it is. It’s about finding the right one. I know not everyone can be skilled in everything, and that’s okay, but these people need to be accessible, and I need to be able to find them in situations as such that these individuals do not have the makeup and I can easily find someone that does. That’s kind of what made me build Fleeky because I was like, “You know what, there’s a million beauty professionals out there, and there is not one single platform that makes finding them easy. Why not?” So that’s basically how Fleeky was born.

Can you tell me about what Fierce Founders is and a bit about your experience with that? 

So Fierce Founders is born out of Communitech. So Waterloo is kind of the tech hub of Canada and it’s slowly growing, but definitely growing. A lot of the research is there. 

Do you think that’s because of the schools that are there?

Oh yeah, definitely. Hands down, Waterloo engineering: they have all these tech guys in one area, and it’s just amazing, and Google’s there too. They’re implementing a streetcar down there. They’re trying to build up the city, and it was my first time seeing that. It was my first time going to Waterloo and being in that environment was amazing. So Fierce Founder is specifically for women in tech. So for early stage businesses, much like myself, before we even had an MVP, just at the idea stage almost. So throughout that process, what they’re doing is making sure that we fit the process, the customer discovery, the product market bit, making sure we actually do the grind work before we’re launching something, then pitching. When I went in there, I had never pitched ever.

I know, I did that recently for the first time too and it’s terrifying.

It is!

And then you figure out really where you’re at and you’re like, okay, I’m only in my ideation phase, and I know how to improve and then come back, but it’s so scary.

That’s what it was, like for me, it was only really an idea. There were some people that were like, they already made their first sale. It was different phases, and that can be discouraging, I’m not going to lie, but it pushes you. It definitely motivates you to work harder. 

It gives you direction. You know what to do from there. You can find other ways I guess, but you won’t have as clear of an idea until they’re like, “Okay well this is where you’re at. You should do this.”

Yeah, it’s constructive criticism. Sometimes being around women also – I love the Communitech environment – but being around these women made my experience.

That hardly ever happens, especially in an actual competition.

That’s what they said, “You guys are the only cohort to actually get along!” The other ones were kind of a little vicious. It is a competition at the end of the day, but we went out for drinks, we spent time together, we got to know each other’s businesses, and got to know each other on a personal level. Sometimes you feel like, especially in entrepreneurship, you get that feeling like you’re alone, thinking, “Can I really do this? Is this who I really am?” And you realize you’re not alone, in that situation, and that we’re all feeling the same way. We all have a common goal and we’re all just trying to get there. When you get that supporting community, it motivates you. It’s inspiring. Once I was in Fierce Founders, I was planning on building an app. Once I left, I completely threw that out, pivoted the entire business and said, “Let’s build a website.” It’s half the price. You can get it made more quickly.

Then maybe down the road, you can make an app.

Exactly, it’s really positioning and making sure you get the right path, like I could invest $100,000 in an app, but probably having enough downloads is the hardest thing ever now. So pivoting and being aware of what other people say so you can make a concrete decision. I really thought it was going to be a competition, that I had to be on my A game, but it was really a learning experience. It wasn’t as intense as I anticipated, but the research is there, the other women: it was just amazing. It gave so much confidence to me to be in so many other programs, not even for the benefit of the program, but just to connect with people.

My studio is actually part of a collective, Makeshift Collective, and that’s what nice about being in that is that you meet people in different industries that allow collaborations that you might not have envisioned, or just things you might learn from a completely different perspective.

Exactly, like things that you would never think about, but taking those in and realizing, “Oh, that can completely apply to my business.”

So you’re bridging beauty professionals to developing more of a business angle. Do you have anything to add on that note?

Beauty, fashion: I love it all. I just wasn’t blessed with the skills to actually execute and get into it. I’ve always liked business. I just like consulting. I just like helping. Any way, any form, that’s what I like. That’s why I worked with my sister at an early stage because I was like, “I can’t do the hair for you, but I can respond to emails. I can do marketing.”

Does she have a salon now?

She has a home-based salon. It’s completely home-based, low overhead, on her own, but she is really happy. In Hamilton, she’s known. Hair by Nene: she is recognized and always booked. She got lucky and we worked really hard to do so, but there are many students that come out of school that don’t know where to start. They go on Facebook, like that’s great, but they’re competing at a global level. It favours the top beauty influencers.

And chains. Like especially for us as Canadians and as designers and consumers, people are like, “Well, why shouldn’t I just go get this at Zara?” Because… well it’s unethical, and you’re not supporting local, and you’re not getting something unique.

Everybody started at the bottom, no matter what. People around them are like, “Well they’re passionate about it. They should be rewarded for it.” But no matter what, they usually don’t benefit from that passion because nobody really trusts them. There’s competition. There’s always someone better. You just have to try. I’ve come across people who are self-taught, who didn’t even go to school, and they’re amazing makeup artists or amazing hair stylists. Why aren’t they getting the chance just because they don’t have the certificate or not connected to this person or that? It’s really about building a platform for people who have the passion in this industry, and to put their name on the map, to get exposure. When you’re doing whatever you want to do, we’ll work on the business side.

Very important, very much appreciated. My question was, what was the spark that ignited your discovery or enlightening of the necessity to provide a directory? You touched on this previously with your sister’s story. Is there anything you want to add to that? It is difficult to enter the market and to find these connections, and that was a gap you discovered, and you’re providing a solution for that. Can you speak to this affecting these beauty professionals positively?

We now have some connections to beauty sponsors, but using them to a minimum so that we can get other people to our events for instance, but when it comes to the platform, we focus on recent graduates. We want to give you the most exposure possible because you’re probably going to be the ones who have the biggest challenge in this industry. We’re really trying to target the undiscovered: the ones that aren’t getting enough exposure, the ones that are the most passionate too but they’re the ones that need a platform to really get out there. The direction of this platform is more fair than for example, Instagram, because it’s not just the top people showing.

Yeah, like it affects me too with the algorithm. I’ve even put some money into it but it doesn’t do anything unless you put in a lot.

I believe social media is amazing, but not everybody knows how to fully use it. I’m still learning, but no one has the time to do that.

It takes so much time! I try to do it once a day, but sometimes it’s like, “Uuugh…”

Yeah, it’s overwhelming!

Then you’re trying to own a business, and work your craft, and that just takes so much time also.

When you see amazing posts, great content, and very minimal exposure, then that does not work, it’s demotivating. You just don’t want to do it. So I want to make a difference for these professionals so that anybody in this industry can still pursue their passion without limiting yourself, and without going crazy trying to make somebody happy with your Instagram and your followers. You can be an amazing beauty professional, but if your followers aren’t up, someone is going to be like, “Uuuuh, maybe I’ll go to somebody else.” It’s literally a thought process for beauty seekers with the followers. This person has good followers and this person has good content so they are a good beauty professional, and that’s it.

So how do you communicate that to people if they are really focused on the followers, then how do you provide that security?

That’s one of our biggest issues in regards to the platform. Having so many beauty professionals that are just recent graduates with people not trusting them yet, it’s very hard to overcome that. I don’t have the answer yet. To be honest, I don’t know. We’re trying to have a healthy balance of both: of recent graduates and of beauty sponsors. What we need in this industry is a mentorship, like collaboration is everything. I think entrepreneurship is great, like yeah, you own a business, but you have to collaborate.

You have to work with people. This is also something I just learned about through Joanne Stanley, another interviewee, what executive sponsorship is. Perhaps these beauty professionals who are already established that you do have could speak to these people about the recent graduates saying, “This is why they’re really good. They’re not going to damage your hair.” Etc.

Exactly, and learning from them. Learning is invaluable. Knowledge is invaluable. Some people want success right away, but they’re not willing to put in the work to get there. If they’re willing to work for free: you’re building connections, you’re learning from great people, no matter what you’re going to leave with value, but value from a different perspective. There’s obviously more than monetary value, and making people understand that too is key.

And that you can’t build success overnight. I think that’s something that a lot of creative people think coming out of school, like, “I’m great. I’m going to do so well.” No, it takes so much time even just to get your foot in the industry.

This is a very competitive industry, and when you enter any industry, it’s so rewarding.

What are five key pieces of advice you’d give to makeup artists beginning their careers?

First, collaboration is extremely valuable. Be willing to work for free in exchange for learning, and in the end connections. It’s not the only way, but it’s an amazing way to get your feet wet, to get into the industry. Work under somebody. Volunteer. There are so many influencers just in Toronto. Go volunteer your time, even just a couple of hours. It’s not going to cost you anything.

Second, this industry is very tough, but stay positive and passionate. If you’re passionate about something, passion overrides everything.

Third, social media is your friend. It is your friend once you learn how to use it. It can be very valuable.

Four, stay true to you. There are a million other beauty professionals out there, but you are the only you.

Lastly, just make every experience with everyone you are involved with special and memorable. Be true to you. In this tough industry, remain passionate, remain positive, remain true. 

What are you doing to help Women of Colour in the tech industry, and what are you goals for the future in that aspect?

I’m not a tech girl, honestly. I’m an entrepreneur. I love business. I don’t care what industry it is, but if I’m helping somebody, then I’m happy. I do like helping entrepreneurs, and I’m an entrepreneur too. I was originally starting a business in basketball. It was basketball and tech, so it was like, “You’re not going anywhere. You’re female and you don’t know tech. There’s no chance. You need a man on your team in order to succeed.” Like no one is going to listen to me because who am I, you know? I still tried. I still went to business programs. I worked on this business, and I was like maybe they’re right, maybe it’s not for me. Maybe I should do something that is tangible, something that I work on, so I was like, “Purses? I like purses. I can start a purse company. I don’t know what to sew though. What am I going to do?” I was kind of lost. I was like, “What the heck’s next? It’ll come to you… It’ll come to you…” Then I had that experience at the wedding, and I was like, “Well I don’t know tech. What am I going to do now?” I’m actually learning from a woman of colour who is building my website, which is amazing.

Wow, that’s crazy, even to learn that from a woman, period is not hugely common, so wow, amazing!

Someone who identifies with me, and I met her on Facebook! It was just a crazy interaction. It’s a Facebook group called Hamilton Femmepreneurs. There are people from all industries together. That’s how I met her, and it’s an amazing collaboration. She learned everything she knows from YouTube. She didn’t go to school for it. When she first started, it was YouTube videos, and she is teaching me now. I’m learning the back end and how to do this, and how to do that, and three years ago people were telling me that I couldn’t do it, and now I’m facing it head-on. It’s truly inspiring, and to see her do it, like she is saying, “If I can do it, you can definitely do it.” 

If any of us women succumb to, “Oh, you can’t do it”, we’re not going to do anything, so. We just gotta do it, keep pushing for it. It can be stubborn sometimes, I suppose, but gotta just keep truckin’!

I think we have to be go-getters, like non-stop. You gotta be willing to try. You gotta be willing to fail, and that’s okay. You keep on going, and every day is a learning curve, and that’s the best part of being an entrepreneur.

On that note, what’s your experience with that, and specifically pertaining to women of colour in business or women in business and tech, what are your goals?

What I want to do is inspire other women in business. You can do anything you want. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. I have beauty, but I also have tech, which is predominantly men. You can take your passion and work on that, and if you’re passionate enough, everything around that is going to grow.

If you just omit positivity and create a positive atmosphere, people tend to respond in the same way.

People gravitate to you. I don’t have all the answers to everything, but I do want to support women who feel that they aren’t enough, and that feel that they can’t amount to anything, to help them turn off those negative voices. Sometimes you have to take time for you, go inside yourself, and ask, “Okay, what do I want to do? What is it going to take to get there?” I didn’t become an entrepreneur to please somebody else. That’s why I escaped the corporate world, because I don’t want to work for somebody else. That’s not going to make me happy, so I’m very particular with whom I surround myself. I’m very particular with what I share with other people, and I know some people don’t have my back, and that’s the reality of it. As a woman of colour, I’ve had experiences where they don’t even give me a chance or even look at me because I’m of colour or because I’m a woman. It’s unfortunate, but it’s motivating. I’m going to prove you wrong. I’m not doing this for you.

That gets me so infuriated, and I’m like, “Okay well, I’m going to be a bada$s, so.” I’ve had men who totally disregard and don’t listen to me, and then they turn around and they’re talking to some dude, and they’re so engaged, and I’m like, “You’re a piece of sh*t.” I’m better than this dude. I know that. They just don’t want to take the time to look at that, so I’m going to go to someone who does.

You know your worth. You have to build that up, but I think confidence is huge. You have to be extremely confident. 

Yeah, well men are scared of that too, but they’re just going to have to deal with it.

You know what, that’s one thing in particular, like some people can handle it. You have to find the right people who accept you for who you are, and naturally you should know early on in a conversation that a person does or does not really respect you, and that they do or do not want to work with you. Early stages in conversation, you can usually tell, so just picking up on those signs, and if they’re not for you, the move onto the next, and that’s okay because you don’t want to be stuck in a situation that’s going to bring you down. Some people don’t have good intent. 

It’s also a learning process, and sometimes that happens where you can’t feel for that at the beginning, and then you make those “mistakes” so you can take that and learn from that.

I went through that. I think coding for women is like going to the mechanic. You don’t know. They know you don’t know, like a mechanic knows you don’t know much about cars. They’ll say a thing is broken like this and that, and this and that. Then the next day you get billed like $1000 and you’re like, “What the hell?” Sometimes some men think it’s so easy to take advantage of a woman. I’ve gotten quotes for the same project: one will be $10,000 from a male, and a female will quote me $3000. There is a huge discrepancy, and that’s what I realized, that sometimes, although I’m not against working with men, if I can work with a woman, we understand each other’s struggles and that it’s not easy, and I prefer that. Because of the challenge, we’re stronger and more motivated often also we have a different perspective, so I do like working with women.

If you do surround yourself with like-minded women, then you know you already have people who are there, who are determined, and who aren’t going to give up.

They’re not going to take advantage of you. I’ve had men tell me, “Okay, you can run this project behind the scenes, but someone else (a man) has to lead it.” I’ve built this much already and this is mine, so why should someone else lead it? Because I’m a woman?

This is all me, so why do you think someone else going forward would have a better handle on what I’ve built? This is my skill. No one else can do that.

It’s very offensive. It can be really discouraging. You can beat yourself up.  This response we get sometimes is a blessing in disguise though because we’re resilient and we’re like, this is going to be my response next time. What am I going to do next? I’m going to be bulletproof now. I am more than just my physical. They need to see what I can produce, my work ethic. It’s motivation to me. Negativity to me is motivation, and I don’t get too caught up in that.

That’s unfortunately something we need to train women in as well, not motivation necessarily, but being much less risk adverse, taking those chances, being confident, not being afraid to who you are. We get pushed down so much, and some people don’t react the same way as us. Maybe we are more stubborn and we just don’t give a crap, because I certainly don’t and you don’t, but some other women don’t have that innately, and that’s something that needs to be trained from early on.

Don’t get me wrong. It took me a while to quit my job and do this full time. Even my Dad is like, to this day, “You’re crazy.” It’s just like, “You gotta believe in me.”

Well despite that, your personality, and the way you’ve demonstrated that, you must have had that forever already. So what I’m saying is even if someone is working for someone else and they want to make advancements in their career, they need to be tough, and sometimes they need to be taught these attributes, and that’s okay. If you get fired, you have a crappy boss because they can’t accept you being more passionate and assertive, and that would be unfortunate.

At the end of the day, I still have a degree, and if I wanted to go back to work, I very well could, and also throughout this process, I’m learning. I worked for an amazing organization for four years, but I wasn’t growing. I needed to challenge myself, and I needed to experience who I am. We’re young, so go out there, take a chance, take a risk, and you can always get back on your feet. You can make money just sitting at home. If you’re worried about the finances, there are so many opportunities now. It’s endless. I think the world makes us thing that we have to conform, but we really don’t, so just get out there.

No matter what, you have to be passionate or else you’re not going to be a good job. Passion will take you to where you want to be, no matter what you’re doing.

Never lose your passion. It is the root of everything. You an do anything. The options are endless. You can do whatever you want. I think if you stay true to that and to you, you’re good.

Women generally do not have any limitations. We have the same potential but we are discriminated against and limitations are imposed upon us, often subconsciously. What are the challenges you face as a woman of colour and generally as a woman in your industry? What suggestions would you give to others facing these challenges?

I am relatively new in this industry and I’m very selective with whom I surround myself but it’s almost like I prevent myself from even being in that situation. If I don’t feel comfortable with some people… Like I’m from Hamilton. It’s a small city. I’m already sheltered, just very micro. I do try to build connections with good people, but I think when it comes to being in an environment with other women, me often being the only woman of colour, it’s so evident. Even if something comes up that has to do with that culture, all eyes on me. I won’t say I don’t know it’s not fair, but I try not to focus too much on it. My circumstances growing up were not the best, but I don’t allow my circumstances then to limit me and my potential. I want to see what I can do. I taught myself growing up how to grow beyond my circumstances and how to show people my light without them looking at the physical, and I think that’s generally my go-to in anything.

As a woman generally, I think being a woman and an entrepreneur, now’s the time. I can say even a couple of years ago, especially for the industry I’m in (tech), I would have said, “Okay, there’s no chance.” Right now though, there are so many opportunities for women and people want to support women, which I think is great. So if you are thinking about starting a business or doing something, now is the time, and I think you should jump into it.

When it comes to industries like fashion and beauty, I think they are underfunded. I don’t think there is enough support.

Fashion doesn’t even have a grant in Canada, which doesn’t make any sense because like okay, I understand art can affect somebody’s emotions and make them feel better [visual artists can get grants], it creates meaning, but fashion has the practicality as well, so I don’t understand why it isn’t getting funding.

That is something I don’t understand. It is mind-blowing. In this industry, women spend millions of dollars. It’s a billion-dollar market, and no one is willing to spend to support. That’s one thing that is limiting so many artists or beauty and fashion businesses, that we don’t get enough support. There’s not enough community. The community is vicious, and it’s supposed to be supportive. Why do we put that stigma in place, like we have to be vicious or catty to make it?

Everyone has their own thing, so more people should be willing to give up a project to highly suggest a colleague who would fit it better, for example, or to work together.

It’s another form of art. What you can’t do, somebody else can do, and your creativity is you. It’s too competitive, and it’s not an open and accepting industry, and I think that stigma, that’s what’s in our way. We need to get rid of that to progress, and maybe once we do that, other people might be willing to help the industry as well. Let’s support each other. This industry is predominantly women, so why are we like this?

I talked about this with Amy Saunders, owner of Alpha PR, that we have to let go of our ego in order to do that, but that’s not an overnight process. It’s a practice. I’m still trying to do it, and I still feel that with other female designers, and I’m like, “Wow, they’re getting really successful.” I’m not fully happy about it but then I have to be like, “No, it’s cool. It’s amazing.” I think if you put that out, it’ll come back to you. It’ll be a good cycle that’ll help you funnel into that way of thinking.

Send love and you get love. Love is all. I think we can all help each other. I think right now, people are realizing collaborations are great. Even doing this interview, that is three people: three different perspectives [our photographer Agnes, Anita and I]. It opens your eyes. It changes you as an individual. It opens your eyes to different perspectives. I won’t say, “I grew up in this house, so I am only going to think this way.” Collaborations are key and we have to support each other.

What are the main changes for women in the beauty industry and how can we better foster and develop them as business women?

When you’re in the beauty industry, when you come out of school, you’re likely going to be an entrepreneur and start your own business. You’re going to work for Sephora or Mac. 60% of beauty employs 4 or less people. There’s going to be a graduating class of 50 people, and only 1 person will get hired, so most people will start their own business. They’ll get on Instagram, and call your friends, and hope that you get new clients. You come out of school. You know how to do makeup, and you could be amazing at it, but how do you really get yourself out there? I did do some research on different schools and the Ontario Colleges, 8 out of 10 of them I think offer the beauty certificate, and they will have classes that will help you with entrepreneurship or marketing, but it’s one or two. That’s not enough. I went to school for four years in business and I still don’t know.

You can know the books but actually putting that into practice, specifically pertaining to your industry, is so hard. How do you even apply that to your industry? How do you execute? 

I wouldn’t go to a tradeshow right away. I would probably start on Instagram. There are different tools and resources that you need for each industry. Millenials are mostly on Instagram. They’re not really going to go on Pinterest for that. Not every business school shows you your business, so if you’re going to go to school for a trade that you know, getting out of school, is going to require self-employment, why isn’t there a heavier weight on business courses? I think it starts with education. I think there needs to be more research, even availability of online courses. Even me, I’m still learning: Facebook ads, Instagram ads. If we can have more education for each industry, or even more sharing like in groups, not just about booking hair and makeup clients and finding them, but about what they did to get to where they are, and proper mentorship.

Again, I think that comes down to ego. I messaged a designer even and was like, “Hey, just wondering where you get your organic wool or farmed wool? I need to find some for my next collection.” I found it but not with their help. Why does there need to be this competition and a lack of information about resources then? They still have something totally different than what I’m doing so how does that affect their market? Let go of your ego.

No one wants to help out. Why can’t we grow together? We need more mentorship, better education, and better resources where they can get more assistance. This community is lacking a lot. Somewhere where we can interact and learn from other people is part of what we want to give, and helping other people, like something we’ll be starting up soon is a YouTube channel with different beauty professionals, whether it’s large success or small success, they can explain their growth from where they were yesterday, just to speak on it and I think that will inspire a lot of other people. It will inspire people who have felt like giving up, and will inform them that these successful people were there once too, and that will give the motivation to keep going.

What are your dreams for Fleeky? What should we look for to keep track? How can we follow you on social media? What is next for you and for your company overall?

What we really want to focus on is business solutions. That’s our main focus. It’s really helping these beauty professionals, to put their names on the map and to grow by giving them the resources that we have. Our platform brings in their platforms too: their YouTube, their Facebook, their Instagram, so it puts them on the map right away. If someone searches for them, they’re not looking for their following on our platform, they’re looking at their skills and them as an individual. We’re helping them in that aspect. We’re building their social following, but beauty seekers are there to judge them beyond that.  So you don’t see their following, but you can see their photos. So that’s why we have a YouTube channel so they can post their videos on there too. Our focus is to help them grow while they focus on their passion. My passion is business, so you shouldn’t be taken away from your passion because you don’t have all the skills to run a business, because that’s okay. We want to give the resources to help them if they want to pursue that. Over the next few years, our goal is to change that stigma in the beauty community, to really try to support women in this industry, and have them support each other, and that it’s okay to do so because your power is you. No one can take that away from you. You just have to stay true to you, and be honest to you, and be willing to share your knowledge. People don’t want to do that and I don’t know why when you could be helping people.

I just don’t understand that because I personally find educating others extremely rewarding. Sharing that with people, you can see how excited they get and how badly they need and want that. Educating and informing is never really going to affect you negatively, it’ll come back positively: sharing information, sharing love.

That person, you’re going to have an impact on them. You’re going to be remembered for that.

And you’re going to be remembered if you don’t.

Exactly, try to be a positive impact. As for Fleeky, we’re trying to develop a business community, and to develop our resources, to build an app in the next year or two. It might make it a bit easier for everybody. We also just want to be the platform that gives everyone an equal chance and opportunity to grow and to fulfill their passion. We’re on Instagram: @fleeky_inc. Our website will be launching very shortly at www.fleeky.ca.

Amazing! Thank you so much for talking with me!

Thank you!

Anita wears the Dragon Lady Bomber by Olivia Rubens in Red-Orange, which contains the word “Moxie”. She also wears the Cross Necklace by Lucia Rose.