We believe that women should be celebrated year-round, but having an extra special day dedicated to acknowledging how women push society forward and spotlighting their success never hurts. In celebration of International Women’s Day, Bay Street Bull caught up with eight women who are breaking down barriers and leading their respective industries.
Whether they’re taking on a male-dominated industry like construction or the billion-dollar skincare market, we find out how these ladies are redefining the status quo, paving way for the next generation of women in business, and who first inspired them.
Connie Lo and Laura Burget – Co-Founders of Three Ships
Connie Lo and Laura Burget are the co-founders of Three Ships. Three Ships is an all-natural, vegan skincare brand on a mission to make clean beauty accessible for all women by providing 100 percent plant-derived, certified cruelty-free skincare products all under $40 USD. Lo manages Three Ship’s marketing, sales, and branding (pretty much anything customer-facing!). While Burget manages the company’s backend—everything from product and packaging design to logistics, finance, and legal. How was your company created? Connie: We started Three Ships in 2017, after being frustrated with the lack of affordable and effective natural skincare products. With $4,000 in savings and a huge, lofty vision, we started hand-making products in my apartment kitchen. Fast forward to today, and you can now find our products at stores like Target, Whole Foods, Hudson’s Bay, Holt Renfrew, and Indigo to name a few! What is it like working as a women-led team? Connie: It’s incredible. Being women-led fosters more creativity and compassion among our team of five rockstar women. We truly believe it’s one of the main reasons we’ve grown so quickly over the past few years. Have you faced any challenges because of it? Laura: We definitely have. People tend to underestimate us, especially since Connie and I are both very young, having started the company when we were just 23! There have been many times where vendors/clients have “asked to speak with our manager”. We’ve gotten used to this though and it’s not something that really holds us back anymore! How does your company differentiate from others in the industry? Laura: Our key point of differentiation is our degree of transparency about our raw ingredients as well as our affordable price points. We go above and beyond to communicate every detail with our customers about the products and we will forever be under $40 USD! Who is the most inspiring woman in your life? Connie: My mom. Not only is she the original motivating force for me to incorporate natural skincare alternatives into my routine, but she’s also the most generous, caring, and fiercely loyal woman I know. Laura: My grandmother. By the age of 20, she was married and had two young boys under the age of 2. When she was in her last 20s she went back to school to get her degree (first in her family) and later became a CPA! I can’t imagine the challenges that she must have had to overcome and admire the commitment she has for the family, her generous heart, and her passion for education.
Jill Torrance and Emily Kinread – Co-Founders of Digby Paints
Jill Torrance is a paint industry veteran with 20+ years of experience in merchandising, marketing and design. She joined forces with digital marketing expert Emily Kinread to co-found Digby Paints in October 2019. DigbyPaints.com is Canada’s first online paint store—the modern way to shop for paint: 60 can’t-go-wrong colours, premium Made in Canada paint, and all the supplies, delivered to your door.
How was your company created?
The paint industry is mature and ripe for disruption. People would spend their weekends at a big box store, under horrible fluorescent lighting, overwhelmed by the choices around colour, finish, and quality. We wanted to modernize the paint shopping experience – to simplify the way people buy paint.
Our experience, Jill’s in paint and retail and Emily’s in digital marketing and customer experience, was a perfect combination for us to create this new experience. For our customers, that means no more wandering around the store trying to find someone to help you or killing time while you wait for them to mix your paint, or making multiple trips to the store after you realize you forgot something. It’s a better way to buy paint and get consistently great results.
Our customers are thrilled with this new and convenient way of shopping for paint online and are excited to share it with their friends and family (and have consistently given us 5-star reviews!)
What is it like working as a women-led team?
While we didn’t intentionally set out to build a women-led business, we have seen it work successfully so far. Foundationally it comes down to shared values and vision, regardless of gender. We both saw this big opportunity to disrupt a mature industry and agreed on our customer-centric approach and overall communication and marketing strategy.
With this focus in mind, we wanted to make the process of buying paint inviting, approachable and helpful. From our easy-to-navigate website to our helpful customer service, and fun instructional components (wall paint for walls, trim paint for trim, accent and trim colour suggestions, and DIY painting instructions), we developed an intentional customer experience.
Even our colour names were chosen to evoke a feeling of an experience like Road Trip (a lovely grey teal) or Rosé All Day (a beautiful pale coral), which are also two of our most popular hues.
Have you faced any challenges because of it?
The paint industry has typically been dominated by men, so we weren’t sure how we would fair building our business with suppliers who were used to male leaders. We have been fortunate to find some great partners who view the fact that we are women-led as a benefit. Our industry experience was definitely an asset for building the business and put us in a better position when it came to partnerships and negotiations. We also have some amazing advisors who have helped make important business connections and introductions.
How does your company differentiate from others in the industry?
When we created Digby Paints we saw ways to improve the entire paint buying experience and we wanted to be really intentional and thoughtful about how customers make decisions and how we could help them along the way. From selecting a colour (traditionally overwhelming with a wall of 3,000+ colours), to the quality they need for a successful paint job (in a traditional retail store paint can range from $25-$110/gallon), to waiting in line to have their paint mixed. We wanted to help them skip all of those pain points and have an enjoyable paint shopping experience.
In addition to providing premium Canadian-made paint and supplies, we offer paint inspiration, colour curation, trim and accent colour recommendations and live website chat to helps customers find their perfect colour and simplify the entire process. We have a paint calculator so people can determine how much paint they’ll need and an online paint colour visualizer to assist with colour selection and visualize how colours work together in a space.
We’re differentiating ourselves in a meaningful way that our customers have responded to. Essentially, we’re here to create a convenient, modern and fun paint shopping and help people get a paint job they can be proud of.
Who is the most inspiring woman in your lives?
Emily: I have always been inspired by Arlene Dickinson. Dragon’s Den launch coincided with my entry into the full-time marketing world, and Arlene’s intelligence and business savvy combined with her positive and generous attitude resonated with me. I had the opportunity to hear her speak and meet her briefly at an event in 2014 and she lived up to my expectations. Her honesty and approach to business challenges and determination in the face of adversity is inspiring.
Jill: I have had the benefit of working with and being inspired by many women throughout my career and have always been inspired by those who balance the realities of career and life with a realistic attitude and core strength unmatched by most.
Jennifer Reynolds – President & CEO of Toronto Finance International
Jennifer Reynolds is the President & CEO of Toronto Finance International (TFI), a public-private partnership whose mission is to promote and develop Toronto’s financial services sector, and to establish its prominence as a leading global financial centre.
Jennifer’s 20-year career in the financial services industry has included senior roles in investment banking, venture capital, and global risk management.
What is it like working as a woman leader in a male-dominated field?
I think there is a tendency to not bring the “real you” to work when you are not the dominant majority in a workplace. Earlier in my career, I certainly made that mistake, and it can be quite isolating and exhausting. Thankfully, I grew out of that habit and it was a turning point in my career. It is hard to be successful if you are not authentic.
Have you faced any challenges because of it?
Many. The main theme of those challenges is that so often women are not in the right conversations, the conversations where professionals are developed, where clients are introduced, where teams are picked, and where critical decisions are made. It’s a little like taking an exam when you only had half the book to study from. Having said all that, dwelling on those challenges is not a great career strategy, you have to acknowledge it and drive on.
Do you have any advice for other women working in a male-dominated field?
Doing a great job at whatever you do is tables stakes, to be successful you need to build a broad professional network and find champions who want to help you succeed.
Why is it important to have diversity in the C-Suite?
We are leaving half of Canada’s talent pool on the bench at this point. For 30 years women have been half of university graduates and decade after decade we fail to take advantage of that talent pool in the executive suites of Canada. We know that diversity brings stronger business results, we know we have a pool of bright, driven, and ambitious women that come into the workforce each year, yet diversity at the top continues to elude us. I firmly believe we won’t achieve the best business results, nor the productivity and economic growth we want without women sitting at leadership tables in this country.
Who is the most inspiring woman in your life?
My grandmother. The smartest, kindest, and hardest working person I have ever known.
Lauren Lake and Mallorie Brodie – Co-Founders of Bridgit
Lauren Lake (Chief Customer Officer) and Mallorie Brodie (Chief Executive Officer) are the co-founders of Bridgit. Bridgit delivers industry-leading workforce intelligence solutions, built from the ground up to meet the unique needs of the construction industry. Lake and Brodie have been named to the Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30 and Best Of Canada Forbes
Under 30 Innovators lists. Bridgit has raised over $15.7 million USD in equity financing, with capital from investors such as Autodesk and Salesforce Ventures, among others.
How was your company created?
Bridgit was established by taking a boots-on-the-ground approach. We listened to the challenges faced by the construction industry and narrowed our focus to create solutions that could streamline construction workflows in a user-friendly and intuitive way.
Have you faced any challenges as a women-led team?
We work at the intersection of two highly male-dominated industries: construction and technology.
For us, it has been a highly inspirational journey as we have been able to empower other women to join tech, construction, or pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions. We spend as much time as we can with other women founders, and hope to play a role in helping both construction and technology become more diverse industries.
How does your company differentiate from others in its industry?
We’ve always taken an unconventional approach and part of this likely stems from the fact that we are a women-founded business. We have a strong drive to disrupt, transform, and push boundaries. We also consciously think through how to increase diversity at Bridgit, in the technology space, and in the construction industry.
Who is the most inspiring woman in your lives?
Michelle McBane is the Managing Partner of Stand-Up Ventures, a fund dedicated to funding women-led or co-led organizations. We have had the privilege of working with her for many years and she has been an incredibly inspiring mentor to us throughout the development of Bridgit. Michelle has been a great partner to many women-led organizations within the Toronto ecosystem and is playing a role in trying to bring women-led companies to the forefront of the Canadian tech ecosystem.
Sherry Larjani – President of Spotlight Development Inc.
Sherry Larjani is an award-winning real estate developer and entrepreneur. She has made a name for herself in a male-dominated industry as Managing Director and President of her own real estate development firm, Spotlight Development Inc. Larjani teamed up with Taya Cook of Urban Capital to create Reina Condos, the first all-women development in Canada. What kind of difference do you think having an all-woman team design and develop Reina made? Having sat through many meetings with male development groups and usually being the only female in the room, I noticed that with Reina, as an all-woman team, it was more collaborative. Everybody was eager to hear from the other person. We were also eager to hear from the people who were actually going to live in those spaces. Most of the projects that I have been involved in, when it was mostly men sitting around the table, it was usually one person leading the way. And it was usually my way or the highway kind of idea. With an all-woman team, it was completely different. The vibe was different. We invited the whole community to give us their ideas and opinions. We invited people from around the city to tell us what they see as problems with condo living. We all talked to teenagers to get their ideas of what it’s like growing up and living in condos. Having that collaborative mind to figure out and hear what they [our community] had to say helped make our project better. How do you think that ended up differentiating Reina Condos compared to other condos on the market? I think first and foremost, what Reina has done, is showcase the female initiative in this industry. It has shown these amazing women that are working in this industry and that was one of our main goals. We also differentiated some details in our building (as much as we possibly could) that weren’t looked at before. For example, the multi-generational sort of idea of living where you could potentially turn the units into spaces where you could live with your parents, or you could have kids growing up with their own space. We looked at the amenities in a different way, creating amenities that could be used by everyone. For example, the gym can be used by a mother who is able to watch over her children in the kids’ area. Or teenagers might want a game room or place for them to practice their music where they can make noise—you don’t often get to do that in condos [make noise]. There were a lot of different details, like creating an area not just for people to be able to store their bikes, but their strollers. So, there were a lot of things that we looked at differently and we tried to change for Reina to function better. Were there any challenges that you faced as an all-women team in the industry? Were there any hesitations or doubts from people? A hundred percent. Though, we didn’t look at it as a negative. It was positive for us because it raised the conversation. We had conversations where we had people saying negative things about the project, that being all-women was sexist. But I think they weren’t understanding the main idea about the project. If you look around in the city, there aren’t many females running development companies. So Reina was to showcase the females in the industry. When we were starting to put our group together, everybody was like, “How are you going to find a civil engineer that’s a woman? How are you going to find a mechanical engineer that’s a woman?” And you know what? We found them all. We actually worked with some of the best civil engineers and structural engineers in the industry—and they were women. By talking about them and by featuring them, it showed everyone that this is something that exists, you just have to open your eyes and you have to look for it. The backlash and the negativity are always going to be there—whether it comes from a man or a woman—but we use that as a conversation piece.
Is there any advice you’d give to other young women in male-dominated fields? I’d like to say, to all of the young girls going through school right now, that the sky is the limit. Don’t ever think that there is something that you can’t do. Just because you might not have a role model in front of you that’s a woman, doesn’t mean that that’s not something for you. You can definitely do it and you can make it your own. I want them to realize that there are opportunities out there that they might have not explored. Grab them [opportunities] and run with them. As one of the masterminds behind bringing Reina to life. What was it like for you to see it go from a concept to reality? It’s been one of the best experiences of my life getting to know all these women. I always tell my partner, Taya Cook, from Urban Developments, that it’s been so amazing for me to have worked with her and to learn from her and all the rest of the people on the team. I should also mention that we weren’t able to do this without the support of a lot of men in the industry that are behind us and helping us in many different ways. This was a collaborative effort between all of us in the industry to work on something that’s currently missing. Who is the most inspirational woman in your life? I think Taya is absolutely inspirational. She has worked in this industry for the past 17 years and she has done a wonderful job of being sort of behind the scenes, working her way through many challenges that all women go through. The more I got to know her, the more I was inspired by everything that she does every day in and out of the job. So, I think she’s the most inspirational woman I know.