Traditional bossladies, like Linda Hasenfratz, represent a small but mighty group of people. As CEO of Linamar Corporation and board director of CIBC, she is among the 20.8 per cent of women, according to 2015 data, who are represented on the corporate boards of all companies trading on the TSX.
The same study shows that half of the shared companies in 2015 were without even a single woman on their board. While these numbers seem grim, there has been a steady increase since 2011 from 11 per cent representation, to 19 per cent respectively.
But as corporate boards are catching up, young women leaders in Ottawa are forging ahead.
Manal Nemr, Samantha Armstrong, Linxi Mytkolli, Sarah Garlough and Eva Von Jagow are each prime examples of what it means to be a bosslady of everyday life. Each are dominating in their field, working hard to achieve greatness and succeeding. These few are among many women to watch and women to be proud of – making waves and being forces of nature that may not have a seat around a company’s boardroom table (yet) but who are nonetheless powerful leaders.
The 2015 Gender Diversity On Boards In Canada recommendations by Catalyst Research says, “Canada’s ability to leverage all its talent is central to its international competitiveness and accelerating women into leadership roles has taken on an urgency that may not have existed 10 or 20 years ago.”
These leaders are accepting that call.
Nemr came to a crossroads while working in Saudi Arabia. She was wondering whether she should continue down a path in human resources that was no longer making her happy but was paying the bills or leave that behind and return to Canada where her true passion lied. She decided to quit her job and come to Ottawa to follow her instinct in developing a career in life-coaching. It was her friends who led her to realize that she had been coaching all her life, but had been doing it for free.
Nemr studied performance coaching at Algonquin College and that’s when it all fell into place. “I was just like, ‘Yup! That’s it.’ And I started doing the work to become a coach.”
In 2015 she launched her own initiative and started expanding her client base through her business, Beautiful Happy Reasons.
The experience of uprooting her life and that process of self-reflection are what make her a “practice what you preach” type of person. Throughout her life, Nemr has subscribed to self-reflection, understanding and knowing herself. It’s what has led her to where she is today and what allowed her to take the risk in changing the direction of her career.
“There’s always that moment of hesitation, and then choosing to move forward afterward,” she says. “That choosing to do it anyway is something I feel that I’ve developed. I was not born with that.”
Though much of what she has accomplished has been achieved through this process, she also found success in reaching out to organizations like Impact Hub Ottawa to help expand her network and advance her purpose. It was through Impact Hub Ottawa that she found her colleagues and fellow bossladies Kate Durie and Amy Longard. Together the three women launched #HappinessHabits613. The program works to make the Ottawa area a happier place. August 2017 marked the third summer that HappinessHabits613 scheduled events across the city that are geared towards linking community with practices that make the participants happy – whether it be through entertainment, networking or spending time with nature.
Still in its infancy, HappinessHabits613 is something Nemr is hoping will take off and grow in the future, much like herself.
A lot can be said for a mother of three little ones under the age of 10. However, more can be said of Samantha Armstrong who manages not only her children but also her multi-discipline studio, Iron North Fitness.
Iron North is centered around the concepts of run, pedal, lift and stretch. With this foundation, Armstrong has built a boutique fitness studio with her partner Jenna Ladd in the heart of Hintonburg that is focused on providing quality, customized classes and workshops. Iron North opened its doors in 2015 after Armstrong dedicated herself to finding a way to blend her love of fitness training with wanting to be her own boss, in order to raise her daughter the way she wanted.
The small, beautifully-decorated studio, which Armstrong designed herself, is the home base for outdoor runs, community activities and high-energy training classes. Armstrong works with anyone, from beginners to pros, but says the focus of the studio is to promote a healthy lifestyle. This is something Armstrong has worked toward since she was 15 years old. Armstrong is an example of a woman who is both physically and mentally strong, having faced adversity throughout her teenage years. After being unable to continue in competitive sports while working towards overcoming an eating disorder, Armstrong turned to other forms of physical training that would appease her inner athlete.
That’s when yoga came into her life. Introduced to the practice of yoga through Mountain Goat Yoga founder, Heather Moore, Armstrong attributes much of her success to her friend and mentor. “I needed to find a way that I could control my focus,” says Armstrong.
As someone who was living with ADHD at the same time, Armstrong took to yoga as a way to maintain control and focus by turning to a physical activity – something she was already used to doing in sports.
Five years later, at the age of 20, Armstrong became pregnant with her daughter, which she says helped guide her towards recovery. “One of my biggest changes was realizing that someone else was getting involved in this, and I couldn’t allow that to affect her. She probably saved my life,” she says.
Nearly ten years later, Armstrong is a successful entrepreneur and trainer at a studio that has been growing steadily with no signs of slowing down. She also owns North and Nash, an interior design company and blog, a passion that led her to study with the New York Institute of Art and Design through online classes. While Armstrong admits she still has a problem with sticking to one goal at a time, she has now learned to harness her drive and put it towards impacting the community.
There aren’t enough hours in the day for Linxi Mytkolli. She goes to bed at 3 a.m. and gives herself five hours for recharging – or what humans refer to as sleep – in order to fit in studying, classes, working on her thesis and organizing student-focused discussions and conferences. And she is perfectly happy doing so.
In 2016 the Actions for Healthcare initiative had a powerful commitment – to make their annual conference panel 50:50.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a conference that had more female speakers than male, except for a female conference that was geared specifically towards women,” says Mytkolli. This is something that was a non-negotiable for Actions as Mytkolli and her colleagues recognized the important contributions that women have made in science throughout history.
The theme for the 2016 conference was Fact or Fiction, which aimed to debunk common misconceptions about the medical industry and raise money for the Sens Foundation. The first opportunity Mytkolli had to be a part of the expansion of Actions for Healthcare in her two years as president was in 2015. She spent that summer in Toronto where she trained a new team to take on the organization of a Toronto-based branch. Her colleague, Bianca Ichim, praised Mytkolli for her involvement in spearheading the expansion, and her leadership as a whole.
“Linxi is a phenomenal leader. She’s very organized, supportive and checks up with everyone to make sure everything is running smoothly,” says Ichim. Since Ichim joined Actions for Healthcare in 2013, she’s seen four presidents come and go, “all of which have been phenomenal and inspiring leaders,” she says. As the director of marketing and multimedia, Ichim works closely with Mytkolli on a daily basis.
Leadership may come naturally to Mytkolli, but there was a short time in 2015 where she felt like she was falling behind. “I was placed on academic probation at one point. I was almost going to get kicked out of my program. I was spreading myself too thin.”
At age 20, Mytkolli reassessed what was important to her in life and what she wanted for her career – to be a pediatrician.
A year later she found her balance and was achieving greatness once again.
Originally from Albania, Mytkolli is writing her own history being the only member of her family to go into the sciences rather than finance or business. She moved to Canada when she was almost seven and attributes much of her success to her parents making that decision. “I’m really grateful to be given the opportunity not only to learn English and French, but this never would have happened had I never come here,” says Mytkolli.
As a 2015 finalist in the Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards for Service and Caring, Mytkolli has been volunteering her time since she was 14. Whether it is in hospitals, with the University of Ottawa, the YMCA or abroad teaching English, donating her time is something that is weaved into everything Mytkolli does.
Eva Von Jagow
One of Jagow’s proudest moments was seeing the tangible results of her efforts over the previous three years make its way to her doorstep from Coral Harbour, Nunavut. A box shipped from First Air holding the artwork of a class from Sakku School was the first time she was able to see the important contributions the organization she co-founded was making in the North.
Jagow set up an art show to fund a breakfast program in the northern community through All That Glam. She contacted the principal of Sakku School to see if the students would want to partner with her. “I thought, if I was in their shoes, I wouldn’t want to feel like a charity case. I wouldn’t want to think there’s people who have to help me pay for my food and help my parents,” says Jagow. All the proceeds from the sale went to funding their own breakfast program.
Due North wouldn’t have been able to exist without All that Glam, says Jagow. The fundraiser was launched in 2013 when Jagow was in eleventh grade at Sacred Heart High School in Stittsville, Ont. The initiative sells gently-used jewellry to support making breakfast accessible to Coral Harbour students. Working to find a long-term way to sustain an impact in the North, Jagow founded Due North. Putting these two initiatives together Jagow hopes to one day eradicate child hunger in the North. While the organization is expanding and more people are becoming involved, Jagow says her goal is to be out of a job. “To me a good organization is one where eventually you don’t have to exist,” she says. Jagow notes that this is not possible without partnerships.
Working together is a central theme to the One Young World summit in which Jagow attended both this past year in Bogotá, Colombia and last year in Ottawa. “It was amazing. You’re surrounded by so many people doing amazing things that you couldn’t even imagine.” To Jagow, it’s difficult to sit back and watch while she knows the troubles that are impacting children in Canada’s North. She says she can attribute this desire to help to an interesting trait of hers.
“Someone once told me that it was my force of innocence that has driven me to do everything,” says Jagow. Not considering her limitations and the logistics that would go into something like starting a non-profit has allowed her to do just that, without fear of what could go wrong.
Garlough is dedicated to exposing youth to science, technology, engineering and math through Virtual Ventures, the Carleton University member of Actua, a national non-profit organization headquartered in Ottawa. In a male-dominated field, Garlough recognizes that she is often the only female representative at conferences.
“It’s definitely getting better but there are still some people who are a little more close-minded. And then you kind of have to make that extra step to be like, ‘yes, I know what I’m doing.’”
But that’s not the only reason she’s a unicorn. She is also an extrovert, a people person and an articulate 21-year-old who is, by all accounts, a genius. Her involvement in numerous campus communities makes her a familiar face to many, especially in the engineering faculty. In 2015, Garlough was recognized by Carleton engineering as the most involved second-year student. “Being involved in the engineering community, people definitely come up to me and say, ‘hey, saw all this stuff you’re doing, can I do that?’”
Garlough would perhaps be most recognizable for her contribution to the team that Carleton entered into the University Mars Rover Challenge in Utah last year. She was responsible for the communications of the rover her team created to ensure the ability it had to connect wirelessly to the base. Despite her achievements, Garlough would have passed by the engineering world if it wasn’t for a bet she made with her cousin in the tenth grade to take a computer science class.
“Originally I wanted to go into biology,” says Garlough. “Then I took that bet and fell in love.”
With her sights set on a future career in robotics, Garlough is looking to explore the ocean in the narrow field of underwater unmanned aerial vehicles. But first she is most excited to graduate.
“It’s really a reminder that what you do is impactful and that you need to take the proper steps and be careful of what you’re doing,” says Garlough.