Startups are the best place for women to Lean In

This blog originally appeared on the blog May 3, 2013

Since the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, there’s been a slew of commentary on the issue of women in the workplace and why women and men need to all lean in together for the betterment of our economies, our families and our society as a whole. Continue reading


A lost leadership opportunity

This blog originally appears on The Executive Roundtable site.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” ~ from Cool Hand Luke

Last week, the internet showed it’s very real, very ugly side.

You may have heard of Adria Richards, Donglegate, and the tweet that started a firestorm, which ended with her and another person losing their jobs. For those of you that haven’t, here’s a very high level breakdown:

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You can’t be what you can’t see

Originally posted on the MaRS blog: 

Language and imagery are important. These two inputs impact our thoughts, our belief systems, our attitudes and, ultimately, our actions.

The Ms. Foundation for Women knew this when they started the Take Our Daughters to Work initiative back in 1993. Marie Wilson, founder and president emeritus of The White House Project, also knew this, which is why she started the initiative to draw women into leadership roles in America.

At MaRS we are committed to drawing women into ambitious entrepreneurship, particularly with a focus on leading high-tech, high-growth companies, and we have hosted many talented writers who have told the stories of women in technology on our blog for many years.

Why do we continue to tell these stories and highlight the work that women are doing in these fields? Personal development pundits often cite the impact of writing down goals or creating vision boards. What if those vision boards don’t have any images or stories of women as scientists, developers or leaders? What if girls and women can’t see what they may be or become? That’s a future that we don’t want to see become reality and one that our world community cannot afford to let happen.

There are many dedicated and committed women and men working together to highlight women’s stories and to provide opportunities for them to picture themselves as leaders and create their own future in the fields of technology. Today, in honour of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting two women and their teams who are doing just that.

Cassie McDaniel and Women && Tech

Inspired by FITC‘s call for submissions for a chance to win free tickets to their conference, designer, writer and illustrator/artist Cassie McDaniel created an app that was built around the “binders of women” concept: a directory of women in the technology industry that conference organizers could use to improve the ratio of women speakers at technology conferences. The app was also intended to be a community-curated platform where women could share their stories and find mentors and support as they traversed the minefield ofbarriers and challenges they faced as a minority in the technology field. The premise eventually morphed into the Women && Tech interview series.

Cassie and her core volunteer team of nine men and women are committed to interviewing 50 current tech leaders in the Toronto area (there will be men profiled as well). When asked why it was important for her to tell these stories, Cassie told me that there are plenty of women who don’t struggle with finding their way in this community and, in her experience, that’s been mostly based on their personalities. But for those women who do struggle with speaking up for themselves, asserting their presence or sharing their talents, these interviews are an important avenue to show women that ”you can get here from anywhere,” she said.

Cassie is under no delusion that using this medium to highlight women’s stories will be the sole means by which the struggles of women in the technology industry will be overcome, but she does see it as an important part of the overall discussion by at least getting people talking.

Terre Chartrand and Hackademy

Terre Chartrand  has worked in technology for most of her professional life. She knows a variety of different programming languages, comes from a background in fine arts and is passionate about providing opportunities for girls and other marginalized groups to access the knowledge, resources and skills that will see them flourish in the growing knowledge anddigital economy.

Terre, along with Stephanie Rozek and Sean Yo (all from the Kitchener-Waterloo area), created Hackademy as a response to some of the difficulties they had experienced in the tech sector and as a way to create some change. (Disclosure: Hackademy has recently joined MaRS as a client.) The team’s approach to growing Hackademy as a social venture is to provide access to training about how to code and make, while also creating an infrastructure of mentorship, so that students will be set up for success in the workplace and, most notably, girls and women will be encouraged to stay in tech.

Outreach to girls will be a particular focus for Hackademy, teaching them that tech does not have to be intimidating or scary and “isn’t just a boy thing.”

Terre gave an example of a project where girls could build a dollhouse and then create simple Arduinosolutions to wire the house and set the lights on a timing system. It is collaborative, cross-disciplined, engaging play where girls can experience different parts of what it means to “make” by using math skills and creating algorithms and heuristics.

Both Terre and Cassie agree that diversity within their teams (in gender, talent and experience) is an essential building block to the success of their projects. They both also recognize that there are particular challenges that women and girls face in the technology realm and, through their work, they’re doing their part to see that the number of girls and women in technology rise.

If you believe that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” then it is imperative that we share our stories and show girls and women that they are not alone. We need to show them that they are able and capable, and that they can be successful in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields without being minimized.

We invite you to join our Lean in Circle. Share your stories, support others and be a part of actively changing the future for today’s girls and the future of STEM industries in Ontario.


A Sunday afternoon to remember…

Eleven years ago, when I was still living in Toronto, I had a very different relationship with food than I do now. I was a decent cook (nowhere near my mother’s calibre though), could follow a recipe, get a bit creative, enjoyed hosting dinner parties, and ensured that my family ate relatively well.

Then I moved to Stratford, and everything changed.

The first thing was the accessibility of fresh, local food from the Stratford’s Farmer’s Market. I was so used to shopping in grocery stores that seeing beautiful, natural, sometimes dirt encrusted vegetables were almost a novelty to me. I had of course been to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto a number of times, but I lived uptown with no vehicle, and at that time, farmer’s markets weren’t nearly as prevalent in the urban centres as they are now. Through the Stratford Farmer’s Market, I learned how to talk to my farmers, ask questions, and forge relationships, because now they were my farmers; I supported them, they supported my family. Community.

Then I was introduced to Community Supported Agriculture models through Monforte Dairy and I decided to support these artisans directly with my dollars, supporting their businesses and my palate, and I became part of that community.

Soon after came the introduction of the Slow Food Market and the vendors with their delicious wares, and then my membership in Your Local Market Co-op, and further CSA support for Simple. Fish & Chips and Revel Caffé. And they became part of my community as well. Friends, restauranteurs, business partners, farmers, purveyors, educators. My shopping habits have changed so much that now my groceries are about 50% local, 50% grocery store. Way better than the 10% average the Ontario Agriculture movement asks of Ontarians.

Then these worlds coalesced with the birth of the Savour Stratford Culinary Festival. Hands down, bar none, my favourite weekend in Stratford. On principle, it’s the only event that I refuse to volunteer for in Stratford. My husband and my children all know, that is my weekend. I am off duty to eat, drink and be merry. Oh, and how I have done that, each and every year since its inception.

Now, my love affair with great food, good drink and passionate creators of great food experiences continues, grows and changes, just like all good romances. Now, it’s going through another renaissance through the experience of learning from some of the most creative, passionate chefs in South Western Ontario with the GE Café Chef Series, Celebrating Ontario’s Terroir.

In early January, I was invited by the Stratford Tourism Alliance team to participate in the inaugural event of the GE Chef Series, hosted by the Local Community Food Centre and Chef Aaron Linley of bijou restaurant. Knowing the exceptional experiences curated by the Savour Stratford team, I anticipated another immensely successful event and I was not disappointed.

The day began with an overview of the dinner party menu by Chef, who answered questions on the fly about sourcing food, talking to your butcher, and procuring artisanal items. This is the kind of knowledge that you can only really get by being with face to face with a Chef, especially one that celebrates the producers and artisans available in Perth County like Aaron does.

Chef Aaron Linley of bijou restaurant

It’s quite the experience, being surrounded by friends and strangers, all brought together by a desire to learn and immerse oneself in great food. For me, this kind of gathering is the essence of community.

After reviewing the menu, and teaching us some of the methods we would be using, we were split into teams to focus on each course of the meal. We were learning from Chef, as well as many others that were brought to the Local CFC that day not only about the equipment, but the way to properly prep our dishes, from timing to presentation.


On the menu for the day was:

Bacon laced scallions with romesco sauce and local goat cheese

 Course 1

Rainbow Trout ‘en papillote’ with cabbage, tomato and lime

Ancho Chili and cider marinated Quail with duck fat potatoes and Moroccan eggplant salad

Course 2 & 3

Green apple tart tartin with sour cream ice cream and caramel

 Course 4

Finally, it was time to eat and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Chef sat with us, and we all enjoyed each course as it was matched with a beautiful wines from Lailey Vineyard.

What more can I say about a perfect Sunday afternoon that blends community, knowledge and delicious food?

KSD & Chef Linley

Aaron Linley, the Chef/Owner of bijou restaurant in Stratford is a wonderful teacher, and the whole flow and presentation of the day was a production in grace by the team at the Local Community Food Centre and Stratford Tourism Alliance.

I’m not only grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the first of the series, but for the knowledge and insights shared by Chef. A Sunday afternoon to remember, indeed…

Connection: Don’t forget the social in social media

Originally posted on the MaRS blog

“Connection is the outcome of art.” — The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

As an entrepreneur, you’ve done your homework: you’ve listened to the excellent advice from the Entrepreneurship 101 speakers, you’ve gone through all of the workbooks and are able to speak to the market for your startup, the viability of your business plan and your go-to-market strategy.

But have you stopped to consider and measure the impact of your connections as part of the health and wealth of your startup?

The MaRS website is full of advice and guidance on how to find a mentor, build your board, invest in talent and conduct sales. All of these discussions involve connections to you and your business, but we rarely talk about the intrinsic value of these connections.

Can you valuate the invaluable?

The social graph as described by Paul Butler of Facebook clearly shows the potential reach of one’s social network. By now I think we can all readily agree that social is the new norm and that its impact is already massive, especially when you look at the economic benefits as outlined in the McKinsey Global Institute report on the social economy.

Across four industries alone (consumer packaged goods, consumer financial services, professional services and advanced manufacturing), they have determined that the potential financial impact of enterprises engaging in social technologies is in the range of $900 billion to $1.3 trillion dollars. The consumer-supported activity in supporting enterprises reached $40 billion in 2010 and is projected to be as much as $76 billion by 2015.

These are powerful and impressive numbers and, as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to build and sustain your business by engaging in and using social technologies. Those who choose not to integrate social into their businesses will surely fail. Analyzing the value of efforts, energies and resources when you’re building your social presence is a responsible position to take. And it is right to be able to articulate the value of a “like” and what that brings to your business overall.

What I want to remind you of here, though, is the holistic impact of your connections, the social of social technologies. Connection is far more than your online community. It envelops, but also goes beyond, your team of advisors, mentors and investors.

Connection is what feeds your soul, fills your brain with ideas and inspiration, and buoys you as a human being. It is why your businesses are built, why research and discovery continue, and why social enterprises and B Corps have finally found their time.

Your art shows in your fellowship

While social technologies have changed many aspects of how we manage our businesses from day to day, something that hasn’t changed and that is still fundamental to making a business successful is that people still want to do business with people: people who they know and people who they believe in. This, of course, is entirely critical for startups.

What we know is that this network of connections is more important than ever in realizing those successes. Again, as noted by the McKinsey Global Institute, “people derive great personal satisfaction from the relationships they are able to maintain, the information they can glean, and the communities they form in their use of social technologies.”

Never before has the collective “we” had such immediate access to the “they.”

A few years ago, after New York Times journalists and authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman released their book NurtureShock, I was hugely impressed by their work and I went online to share just that. The authors then reached back and responded to me. It was a small act, that communication between us, but what it said was that they were interested in my excitement and my feedback just as much I was interested in sharing their work. We talked about bringing them to my local community for them to share their work at a grassroots level with parents and community members. Connection.

In many ways, we’re all still just a bunch of “Joes,” and everybody wants to be a part of something. Social technologies may create that warm handshake, but it’s equally as important to engage your connections directly. Talk with them, meet with them, invite them in.

Po and Ashley have become a reference for me now, and while we may not be friends in real life, they are a part of my experience—and that connection, no matter how fleeting, helped form and shape my engagement and embrace of social technologies.

So, how do ensure that you receive the greatest value from your connections? The answer is simple, really.

Aron Solomon, a MaRS advisor and one of the new leads on the MaRS education technology front, shared this message with the young leaders that he met with recently at i.c.stars in Chicago: Be a mensch.

When you are a mensch, you draw those to you that proffer advocacy, word-of-mouth support, influence and goodwill; all those things that are invaluable and immeasurable, but likely have the greatest impact on your early success.

Have you hugged your community manager today?

originally posted on the MaRSdd blog, January 28, 2013


“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” — Rollo May

This Monday, January 28, is the fourth annual Community Manager Appreciation Day. I didn’t make this up. Really. It’s a thing.

Started by Jeremiah Owyang, #CMAD is intended to be a day on which organizations and brands recognize the impact that their community managers have on the success of their businesses, as well as the impact that they have on their community of stakeholders.

According to Owyang, there are four tenets of the community manager.

Community managers:

  • are community advocates;
  • are brand evangelists;
  • have savvy communications skills and shape editorial; and
  • gather community input for future products and services.

While some of those words make me cringe a little, semantics aside, having the right person in this role for your startup is going to be critical to your success.

Why? Because your community actually gets the word out about you, your company, your product and the potential impact of your solution. Your community is your greatest brand ambassador, your greatest advocate. And your community is engaged, informed and hopefully inspired through your community manager.

Word of warning though: this is no job for an intern or the high school kid who lives down the street.

The number one trait that inspires a community, whether online or in real life, is authenticity, so the best people to build a startup’s community are the founders themselves. They are the most knowledgeable, most passionate and most responsive. It’s usually people’s response to a founder that warrants the follow or the like, especially in the early days.

As the company grows, investsments rise and the constraints on the founders become more overwhelming, that’s the time to hire smartly and invest in talent that will help you make those important critical first impressions.

I’m often asked to work my “social media magic” when it comes to supporting events, programs, projects and campaigns within MaRS. The reality is that there’s very little “magic” to it. It’s a difficult role to encapsulate in one sentence, but basically, I help get the story out about MaRS, our clients and our ecosystem.

Community manager skillset

In practical terms, to succeed in this role requires many skills, including marketing and communications, brand management, strategic planning, sales, project management, customer management, professional and staff development, business planning, analysis and operations management. These are all practical skills that come from years of work experience.

There are also softer skills that are required to succeed in this role, including motivation, leadership, conflict resolution, authenticity, emotional intelligence, collaboration and, most importantly, a good sense of humour. These are also skills that one acquires through experience, not necessarily in terms of years, but by actually doing.

You can see that you need a pretty robust resumé not only to be able to succeed in this type of role, but also to properly support the dialogue between an organization and all of its disparate stakeholders, whether users, customers, investors or partners.

Whether you call it your tribe, chosen kin, audience, association, city, neighbourhood or company, being a part of a community is a fundamental part of the human condition. Surely this won’t come as a shock to many, but I am big on community. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been in the field of communications for the last 14 years. I thrive on engaging with a greater collective of people to exchange information and ideas.

This world of online communications continues to change and grow, seemingly almost exponentially, every year. Ten years ago my current role didn’t exist. While sysops roles existed in the ’90s, the role of “community manager” as it is understood today is only about five years old, and even in that timeframe the role itself has come a long way.

So take a moment today to consider how and why you engage online with the brands, companies and groups that you do, and if you’re not able to hug your community manager today, at least send ’em a virtual hug to celebrate all that they do. (Chocolates work too!)

You can learn more from the community of community managers in this collection of advice shared byMarketwire and The Community Manager.

École Polytechnique. Never forget.

December 6 is always a somber day for me. It’s one of those dates that has become entrenched in my memory, where I couldn’t forget the significance of the day if I tried.  Continue reading

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