The Future is Female
By Brooke Madden
Women in leadership positions are a special kind of power force. Perhaps it’s our inherent, often subtle defiance of the status quo; maybe it’s a primal drive to empower others like ourselves. It likely has something to do with the inexplicable yet undeniable rush of serotonin we get from the “Let’s go, girls!” part of that Shania Twain song.
Motivations aside, girl power is growing rapidly in business. Research shows that Canadian female entrepreneurship has risen 30% since 2011. But what does it take to be a successful female leader? We decided to speak with seven accomplished women in multiple fields to find out.
1) Carmen Sandor
CEO and Founder, Green Owl Vodka
As a former tennis pro and team captain, Green Owl Vodka founder and CEO Carmen Sandor not only knows what it takes to be a team player, but to be a strong leader. Having climbed the ladder in the finance world, Carmen took a leap of faith and left her office job to pursue a passion project, one that would soon become stocked in 140 LCBO locations across the province. As the only green tea-flavoured vodka in Canada, Green Owl is “changing the way people drink vodka,” according to Sandor, who points out that the product is light, fresh, natural, and has no artificial ingredients.
Carmen values empathy and communication in her leadership style. “One of the beautiful things about being a woman is that we’re really great communicators. Women have an elevated level of empathy, and that’s really important [in] a leader.” However, she also acknowledges that empathy only goes so far. “You have to find a way to be assertive, and go after what you want for your brand. Have an opinion, and take a stance.”
2) Alexis Green
Marketing Manager, Fever-Tree
“Over the years, I did everything: busser, server, bartender, manager, director of food and beverage,” says Fever-Tree marketing manager Alexis Green. After attending school for graphic design, Alexis took a job in the marketing department of a company that owned restaurants and nightclubs, later moving on to a sales position. The experience gave her a wide array of useful skills in the competitive food and beverage arena, that made her uniquely suited for Fever-Tree.
Today Green describes her work with Fever-Tree as focusing on “bring[ing] quality and choice into the mixer category.” As she proudly notes, “Now, in Canada, we have 16 different flavours in the tonic, ginger soda, and ‘refreshingly light’ range. There really is a Fever-Tree for everyone.”
Alexis values collaboration as a leader. She encourages women to “evolve, nurture key strengths, and tackle areas of opportunities, personality, and competencies.” Nobody on your team is more or less important, valuable, or worth being thought less of. She advises, “Always see things as an opportunity to learn,” and to “be bold, and take risks!”
Most importantly, she says, “Treat everyone well.”
3) Kat Florence
Owner and Designer, Kat Florence Jewellery
“It was a passion project. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I knew that I would always be okay,” says Kat Florence of the jewellery company that bears her name.
After completing a undergrad science degree and a masters in education, Kat Florence moved to Bangkok, where she worked at an art-based school as an educator for nearly a decade. Thailand happens to be a hub for gemstones, and over time she found her true passion.
Kat noticed that even in high-end jewellery, the design doesn’t always showcase the gemstone in its best light. So she decided to become an expert on the subject, and began to create unique, rare gemstone-focused designs.
Today, Kat Florence Jewellery sells around the world to collectors and auction houses, and does a new launch every month. “Each piece is about the rare jewel and its origin. That is where I begin every design,” says Kat.
Florence believes it’s important for a female leader to “curate the individuals close to you.” Other key factors to success, she says, include “being consistent, knowing all aspects of your business, and never going into a situation unprepared.”
4) Hiawatha Osawamick
Executive Chef and Owner, Hiawatha’s
After giving birth to her first daughter in 2008, Anishinaabe-Kwe, Executive Chef, and owner of Hiawatha’s, Hiawatha Osawamick knew it was time to make a change. Hiawatha has grown up working in restaurants – from bussing, to hosting, to waitressing, then eventually to the kitchen. Following in her family’s culinarily talented footsteps, she trained under one of Canada’s best chefs.
When her daughter was born, the extensive evening and weekend work in restaurants became less than ideal for raising a child, so she decided to start her own catering business. Now, Hiawatha’s serves fresh, quality, Indigenous cuisine. Hiawatha takes pride in her catering services being a “true, Indigenous experience,” engaging with guests, providing menus, and serving her delicious food herself.
As a female entrepreneur, Hiawatha believes leaders should “learn from their mistakes. Take criticism, and turn it into something positive.” Osawamick also believes that in a male-dominated industry such as the culinary one, one must “go above and beyond.”
5) Katie Zeppieri
Founder and CEO, GIRL TALK Speakers
Katie Zeppieri has had a whirlwind of an entrepreneurial career. On top of working tirelessly as a marketing consultant and talent agent, Zeppieri also manages her sister businesses MicDrop Marketing and GIRL TALK Speakers Bureau, which represent an impressive roster of high-profile businesses and individuals.
“The heart of both agencies is helping amplify people and brands,” Zeppieri says. MicDrop Marketing helps companies and people build buzz through holistic PR and brand management. Zeppieri’s second agency, GIRL TALK Speakers Bureau, focuses on empowering women and elevating female voices. Its goal is to be the largest female speakers bureau in North America. And with Netflix’s “Love Is Blind” star, Kelly Chase, as a recent addition to their roster, GIRL TALK Speakers Bureau is well on its way to achieving that.
“My nickname is ‘Your Hype Girl’! I’m passionate about helping amplify stories worth telling,” she says, adding that her leadership and entrepreneurial spirit are built on resilience. “It’s the most important trait I’ve cultivated as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart.”
Katie also believes in staying committed to your larger vision. “Be stubborn with your vision, but flexible with the route you take to get there.”
6) Bojana Sentaler
President and Creative Director, Sentaler
As founder, designer, and creative director of luxury outerwear maker Sentaler, Bojana Sentaler is not only a successful entrepreneur, but an acclaimed Canadian fashion icon whose designs have been sported by celebrities like Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton.
After immigrating to Canada from Serbia at a young age, Bojana passionately sketched fashion designs throughout her entire childhood. Growing up with Canadian winters, Bojana understood what it meant to need warm, comfortable, and stylish outerwear.
She completed her degree in Marketing and Finance from the Schulich School of Business and then began travelling the world. It was in Peru that Sentaler would discover Alpaca fur, one of the world’s finest and rarest fibres, which is naturally durable and has properties that make it ideal for cold winter weather. This rich fibre would become the basis for Sentaler, a now globally recognized luxury Canadian outerwear brand offering a variety of distinct signature styles.
Bojana values elegance, beauty, and functionality with each coat she designs. As a leader, Sentaler values giving back, evidenced by her extensive commitment to raising awareness and funds for SickKids Foundation, as well as the long-term environmental commitment, Forests for the Future.
7) Meghan Muise
Co-owner, Ripe Juicery
Prior to starting Ripe Juicery, founder and co-owner Meghan Muise worked in a hospital. “I realized very quickly that I was in sick care, and I wanted to be in health care,” Muise admits. After travelling extensively with her best friend Lindsay, the two women opened Ripe Juicery. “And now we’re a million-dollar juice business. Just two girls who thought, ‘Let’s be brave’.”
Meghan, a mother of two, values organic and sustainable practices. Ripe is a zero-waste company, even donating the pulp from the company’s juices to an animal sanctuary. “Our practices make us so different,” she explains. “We’re showing people what it’s like to run a business that ticks all of the boxes. Motherhood and growing a business is so doable, but you have to have grace with yourself. You can do it all; it just might not be glamorous.”
She also insists leaders must know how to do every part of their business – she says that’s the main reason Ripe grew during the pandemic. Most importantly, Meghan believes, you must “love what you do.”