WXN Blog Posts
Blog Home All Blogs

Inspired, Humbled and Making a Positive Impact

Posted By Irini Mikhael, Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Updated: Thursday, May 28, 2020

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

The gala – what a memorable occasion

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

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

Paying it forward

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

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

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

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

In light of our current situation

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

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

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

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

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


About Irini:

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

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

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

Tags:  Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100  CMPW Top 100  powerful women  powerfully empowered  powerfullyempowered  Top 100  Top 100 Awards  top 100 winners  WXN  WXN Top 100 

PermalinkComments (0)
 

Step into your Power

Posted By Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro , Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Updated: Thursday, May 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These three principles have provided light to my path

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a ripple effect of doing it afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let your light shine and lift as you rise!

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

So STEP INTO YOUR POWER and let the painting begin!

#PowerfullyEmpowered

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

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


About Chioma:

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

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

RBC Champions

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter – @Chiomaio
Website – Chiomaio.com

Tags:  Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100  powerful  powerful women  powerfully empowered  powerfullyempowered  Top 100  Top 100 Awards  Top 100 winner  Women leaders  WXN  WXN Top 100 

PermalinkComments (0)
 

Real Power Lies in Empowering Others

Posted By Samra Zafar, Thursday, March 12, 2020
Updated: Thursday, May 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About Samra:

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

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

RBC Champions

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

Tags:  Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100  Empower others  powerful  powerful women  powerfully empowered  powerfullyempowered  strong women  Top 100  Women Leaders  WXN  WXN Top 100 

PermalinkComments (0)
 

Why Rich Donovan puts "delight" ahead of "diversity"

Posted By Women's Executive Network, Thursday, September 26, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, May 27, 2020

It was 2008 and Rich Donovan had just crunched the numbers on how many people live with disabilities worldwide.

The United Nations at the time reported the number around 600 million. His analysis pegged that population at 1.2 billion.

“I actually had to do the analysis three times because I didn’t believe the numbers. They were just too big,” he said. “It’s a pretty ballsy statement to make that the UN’s wrong by a factor of two, right?”

But he was right – and that’s the moment Donovan, founder of Return on Disability, author and past winner of the Women’s Executive Network’s 2018 Inclusion Vanguard Award, knew there was a huge, untapped opportunity touching 53 per cent of the world and worth an estimated $8 trillion.

Today, the number of people with disabilities has grown to 1.7 billion people, yet it’s an entire market that’s historically been overlooked. “From my perspective, this is the reason why every company that faces an end consumer, every government that faces an end citizen, should put [disability] at the core of their experience design,” he said.

That’s why he’s changing the conversation.

Building a new approach

In a world where companies talk about diversity and inclusion, Donovan is talking about something else entirely: markets and delighting customers.

Not surprising, given he used to manage about $6 billion in equity as a Wall Street trader. “The trader in me decided to treat disability as a market. I went about doing the analysis as I would for any other trade,” he said.

Trading is where his diversity journey starts, first through Merrill Lynch where he helped with on-campus recruitment efforts for women and visible minorities. “But we weren’t recruiting people with disabilities. In fact, nobody was. And so we decided as a group to add disabilities to that recruiting process.”

That led to Lime Connect, a third-party recruitment organization he founded in 2006 that grew out of those efforts. They connected with other big names like PepsiCo, Google and Goldman Sachs. It’s also where Donovan learned a key lesson: “It’s not about numbers and quotas; it’s about people. And people have desires to be the best that they can be.”

Therein lies the problem with a lot of diversity and inclusion programs, he said. “They haven’t taken the time or the effort, or made the investment, to really understand how those dimensions impact their revenue formula. They haven’t started to build these changes in demand into their product mix, their R&D mix, their customer experience.”

Now, with Return on Disability, he’s leading the charge on a new way of approaching the conversation. “This is more about, how can we best serve our customers? How can we best delight our customers?” he said.

“And the way you do that is you deliver to them what they want.”

Building momentum

Donovan’s decision to start a business focused on that premise was a huge risk, especially since no one else was having those conversations ten years ago.

“When you take a risk like we did, leaving a pretty good job and building something that was totally out of left field at the time, you realize that not many people do that,” he said.

We have honoured deserving recipients with the Inclusion Vanguard award annually, at our Top 100 Awards, since 2016.

That made winning the Inclusion Vanguard Award that much more meaningful, he added. It honours Canadian leaders, both male and female, who champion change and outstanding commitment to a broader diversity agenda within their organizations, clients and communities.

“At the end of the day, professionals don’t do things for awards; they do things for rewards. They do things for profit. They do things to better their business. But between today and the realization of the market, which could be ten years, you need some steps along the way to say yeah, you’re headed in the right direction.”

The award also signals that the conversation he started is becoming mainstream and reduces risk for others who want to follow his lead.

“It’s helpful for other companies to see this is something that you too can be successful at,” he said.

Building the future

Today, Return on Disability has 15 clients globally, ranging from multi-national banks to governments that embrace people with disabilities as valuable customers who drive growth and revenue.

Donovan’s also become an author, publishing Unleash Different last year, which chronicles his journey to Columbia Business School and beyond as a person living with a disability himself.

When he looks back on his accomplishments over the past 13 years, he’s encouraged by the change he’s seen… even if it’s slow-going.

“Organizations and brands are incredibly complex. They’re full of people with different needs, they’re full of corporate mechanisms that we navigate,” he said. “Change on this scale is a very difficult thing to do.”

He’s seen change pick up pace for those 1.7 billion people with disabilities worldwide and the people in their lives, in products like Google’s autonomous car, Amazon’s Alexa and even Disney characters that put accessibility first. He’s seen it in his own work and the work of his clients, too.

“We’ve proven our model and our work…Our clients have put packaging and commercial machinery and technology on shelves globally,” he said.

But there’s still work to do in the market – and he’s ready to do it. “We’re still talking 15 companies out of 5,000, and that doesn’t even include government. So the opportunity’s still there.”


We are proud to partner with Accenture for the Inclusion Vanguard Award, a prestigious part of our annual Top 100 Awards! In 2018, we had the absolute pleasure of honouring Rich Donovan for his extraordinary and notable actions towards diversity and inclusion in Canada. At our 2019 Top 100 Awards on November 21, we will celebrate a new winner of the Inclusion Vanguard Award, recognizing a leader who has made a remarkable impact in driving real, lasting change. The Inclusion Vanguard Award symbolizes what we all strive to achieve: a stronger, more inclusive Canada!

To learn more about the Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award and our Top 100 Awards, visit our Top 100 page.

Tags:  CMPW Top 100  D and I  Diversity  Diversity & Inclusion  Diversity and Inclusion  EDI  Equity Diversity and Inclusion  Inclusion  Top 100  WXN  WXN Top 100 

PermalinkComments (0)