From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
Head, Content Partnerships, TikTok Canada
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Vanessa Craft: Be known for who you are, not just what you do.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Vanessa Craft: I’ve built my career on helping people tell their stories, and TikTok is all about being your authentic self on the platform and the democratization of content creation. We’re helping to uplift and elevate diverse and creative voices that are uniquely Canadian, allowing users to get a glimpse into the daily lives of those you may not otherwise see. There are so many stories to tell across Canada and I’m excited to help create meaningful opportunities to tell them.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?
Vanessa Craft: Representation, as we know, matters tremendously, both in front and behind the scenes. At ELLE, it wasn’t just about increasing the diversity of that all-important cover star, but the writers, imagemakers, and staff bringing their wide range of list experience to the creative table. I’m working on doing the same— albeit through different channels—at TikTok. My team and I are cultivating and fostering relationships with diverse communities from the ground up so we can empower them as much as possible to succeed both on and off platform. One example of this is the launch of the TikTok Accelerator for Indigenous Creators, presented by the National Screen Institute; I’m ensuring that all types of Creators on the platform are supported, seen, and empowered.
What are you doing that no one else is and what kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Vanessa Craft: I’m investing in communities and storytellers that have not had the opportunity to share their stories with the world, or have the resources needed to do so. When I was growing up, I had big dreams, but little to no access to the hallowed spaces where the decisions are made. At TikTok I can bring Creators into our studio space and provide tools and equipment to make magic. I can build educational programs to teach them how to build their brands and simply create an environment rich in career opportunities.
Personally, I’ve worked with numerous groups to provide my skills, knowledge, and insight as a coach to help break down barriers and inspire generations. Whether it is ensuring everyone gets access to mentorship, no matter social or economic standing, or breaking down barriers to combat systemic racism in Canada.
Was there ever a turning point in your profession that fundamentally changed your career for the better?
Vanessa Craft: Yes, when I let go of having a traditional career path. Nothing about me is traditional. As soon as I leaned into my differences and stopped trying to be like everyone else there was a shift. Instead of being defined by a specific role or industry, I focused on defining my work through my values around connection, community, and creative expression.
In your experience, what has proven to make for a great brand experience?
Vanessa Craft: Content is made for everybody. Today, we are seeing brands that are redefining and rethinking how they tell stories and talk about their product because they are not inclusive of everybody. They choose one particular image that resonates with one audience.
TikTok prioritizes authentic, diverse, and positive voices from all communities. We support communities in telling their own stories in their own way, by giving them content that is both accessible and relatable. It’s all about connection. Not only are we connecting people with similar experiences, we’re also growing their views on others.
When you go on TikTok, our discovery aspect is unlike any other and people will interact with narratives they wouldn’t necessarily go looking for.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Vanessa Craft: Success is defined by perspective —and how I define it changes frequently. Leaving the world a better place than you found it; having a positive impact on others; being your own biggest advocate in a world that seeds self-doubt.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with when engaging with your work?
Vanessa Craft: I want people to be moved by the power that a voice can have when given a megaphone to share their unique, diverse Canadian story.
If you could go back and give yourself advice what would it be?
Vanessa Craft: Ambition is best cultivated with self-awareness and strategy. Don’t be so busy climbing the ladder to success that you don’t stop to check if it’s on the right wall.