The future is trust

I had the chance to attend Startupfest in Montreal last week and I have to say that it was truly a world-class event.  They turned Parc Jean Drapeau into a business festival, complete with tents chock-full of incredible and diverse speakers, booths representing companies and places from across the world and a food truck alley.

My biggest take-away was the number of times I heard people talk about trust.  Often, when we hear about business in the media, we hear about mistrust – about people being taken advantage of, or, profits at all costs.

It seems to me like the new era business is focused on trust.  A few nuggets of wisdom I managed to capture:

  • ‘Trust is critical in influence’.  – Amber Mac (technology influencer)
  • ‘You’re always selling trust’. – Laura Behrens Wu (CEO, Shippo)

The businesses of the future – the ones who succeed – know that trust is their greatest asset.  If people don’t trust you, they won’t come back for repeat business.  If you’re not worried about repeat business, then it might be referrals.  Either way, trust is critical to your bottom line.  The Coveys have known this for a long time: Speed of Trust.

More than 20 years later

On Monday, I had the chance to talk to the Galifax Summer Camp about Amplify, feminism and power posing (sharing Amy Cuddy’s science).

We opened with a great discussion on their impression of feminism.  I asked them what feminism meant to them, leading into the messages they’ve received – whether directly or indirectly – about being a girl.

I was so impressed by how articulate they all were, and what they had to say on the topic.  They all had a pretty deep understanding about the messages girls receive because it’s such a lived experience – the messages have been received since before being born.  I was struck by the fact that the messages they told me about were the same ones I had received when I was their age – more than 20 YEARS AGO.

Things like: girls don’t excel at sports (Serena Williams, anyone?!), that they shouldn’t play video games (here’s a great article on the video game industry waking up to the lack of women – gave me shivers, actually), that their priorities should be taking care of children, and that they should identify with pink and not blue (so arbitrary).

20 years later, and those messages are still being sent out.  This is why we need feminism and why we NEED to talk about gender representation (and more importantly, about intersectionality).  It’s also why we need to talk about it with boys and men too – so that we can all move towards a future where we’re free to be ourselves.

I hope I can reflect on this in 2038 and look back on all of the progress we’ve made. One step at a time.


Amplified Galifax.jpg Me, power posing at Galifax.  They practiced afterwards and rocked it.

What happens on a bus

I spent 15 hours on a bus yesterday to get from Moncton to Montreal. That is a LONG ride.

It wasn’t your usual bus though – there were 36 of us from across the maritimes interested in innovation and business all on our way to Startupfest. People are investing in us to come here – both a privilege and a responsibility.

We’re all at different stages of our journeys and at different stages of our lives, though there’s a certain magic when you find yourself in a group of like-minded people.

Curating a group of like-minded people is magic. It’s also surprising how, with the right ingredients, people can connect so quickly. I’ve had the opportunity to experience this a few times in my life so far: with 21inc – a leadership accelerator in Atlantic Canada where we spent a WEEK on a bus together, which was amazing – on this bus to Startupfest, and in an online fellowship program I’m currently participating in (no bus required).

There’s magic of finding your tribe, and a magic in realizing that each of us has more than 1 tribe to find or build.

The bus isn’t the magic part of the equation here. The tribe is.

If it’s not a supply problem… is it a demand problem?

Amplify‘s tagline so far has been ‘because remarkable women aren’t a supply problem’. So does this mean it’s a demand problem?

Hidden in our mindsets which shape our language are the ways that we’ve constructed manhood and womanhood. That women aren’t ‘demanded’ (asked, encouraged, told from a young age, etc) to run for the highest political offices around the world is a threat to all of us.

It’s a threat because, with the rise of the #MeToo reckoning, we’ve also seen the rise of the anti-#MeToo movement – the one that’s always been there, persistently telling women to just ‘stop being so hysterical, just calm down’.  With the President of the United States openly mocking the #MeToo movement, it can feel at times that equity is a long ways away.

There are places in this world where women aren’t even considered people – where they are told from birth that they don’t have thoughts unless a man tells them what to think. This is argued as biology, when we’ve shown that in fact, it’s not a biological fact at all.  It’s a story.  It seems like the battle for the last bit of this decade will be the battle of facts and truths vs. fake news and propaganda.  And it’s important to note that facts, truths, fake news and propaganda all come to us via stories.  It’s just a matter of determining which stories we want to buy into.

Look at Malala and what she’s been able to accomplish – from a Nobel peace prize, to significant influence around the world – and who has always stood behind her, telling her that she was just as capable as any man? Her father. Because he knows stories HAVE to change – he started by changing his daughters story about what was possible, even when the world around her told her that she didn’t matter. Our stories, institutions, and organizations – and the people in them and running them – matter a great deal.

Hollywood has been working to change the conversation on this, and while I like the occasional celebrity gossip, I’ve never followed Hollywood so closely until this past fall.

At Cannes this year, 82 women staged a protest representing each of the 82 female directors who’ve been in competition in Cannes’s 71-year history—compared to the 1,688 men (that’s less than 5%). I’m not quite sure how we can say equity NOT a demand problem.  Are there really no women directors out there?  Hard to believe.  So, it seems as though in many arenas, supply has not been the issue.  And if it’s not a supply problem, then perhaps demand might be the source of the issue.

Equity is a demand problem in the sense that women’s accomplishments can be invisible – because of where the balance of power sits. (And I don’t think this is only true re gender – we’re seeing the same type of thing playing out right now in the US in regard to race)

The Harvey Weinsteins / Bill Cosbys / Jian Ghomeshis of the world were able to get away with what they did for years ‘because that’s the way it’s always been’. This is shocking and yet, not shocking all at the same time.  Shocking because it’s now visible after years and year and years of abuse.  Not shocking because we all let it happen because it part of the stories we told ourselves about how the world works.

It’s only been 100 years in Canada that women have been able to vote – aka, be considered people under the law. And relatedly – own property, control their finances, and most importantly, control their bodies (still not fully resolved). Our institutions, organizations and the people who run them matter a great deal. Changing our stories is MONUMENTAL and, I think, the hardest part.

Feel the fear…

And do it anyway.

Someone told me this a number of years ago.  Simple advice, and yet at times, hard to implement.

Fear is such a powerful force – it gives us some great information at times.  And at other times, it can hold us back.

I’ve been working on implementing this advice for a long time… feel the fear, and do it anyway.  Or perhaps more accurately: feel the fear, ask myself why I’m having this fear – what it’s roots are, and whether its valid or not – and then determining a way through it.

One of the things that sometimes still surprises me is the fact that – even after facing some of my big fears and realizing I came out on the other side, not only unscathed, but stronger – there are always a few more fears waiting in the wings.  To ask me whether I was going to allow them to see the light of day too, or whether they’d stay lurking there for a little bit longer.

This year has been a year of facing a lot of the fears still lurking in the wings.

One of those fears is public speaking.  Like so many others on this planet, it was something that just caused me to freeze – ignited my ‘flight’ response embedded deep in my amygdala.

I also realized that because of this fear, I was always rehearsing my failure instead of visualizing my success.

I was recently selected for the AMAZING opportunity to give a TEDx talk at TEDxMoncton. To speak about Amplify and bias… about how we can work around our bias to find the best people.

The preparation for this talk was cathartic.  I got my draft ready, sent it to friends, practiced with colleagues and mentors and got some truly amazing feedback and support.  They not only helped me visualize my success, they also gave me some public speaking tips that I didn’t know about – repeat your message, repeat, repeat, repeat, use your hands, and your body to convey your message.

And then came the day of the talk.  I woke up nervous, and so headed out to practice my talk doing one of my favourite things – being outside with the dog.  Thankfully I didn’t see too many people as I rehearsed it multiple times while walking the trails….!  Doing this, along with the support I received from the various people I reached out to, really helped me to visualize my success.

The people I got to stand beside at TEDxMoncton were one of the best parts of this experience – from the people who organized it, to the other speakers.

Each of the talks was so inspiring and for different reasons.  My favourite quote from the night was Ken MacLeod, of Sistema NB, saying that “talent is universally distributed, opportunity is not”.  Isn’t that the truth.  And he has some compelling return-on-investment statistics on why investing in music-excellence education for young people who happen to come from disadvantaged backgrounds pays huge DIVIDENDS – a way to work around our bias.

What was common about all of the talks was the clear passion people felt for their topics. I felt the same way – it was a story I felt compelled to tell.  It was the same story that led to creating Amplify East.

And because of that story bigger than myself, I did it.  I stood on a stage, in the beautiful Capitol Theatre, and delivered a talk among people I admire.  My voice didn’t shake for the first time ever.  I visualized my success.

While I still have lots that I want to work on for future speaking, I’m so happy that I was able to take this fear out of the wings and give it sunlight.

It’s true that sunlight is the best disinfectant.



But we just want the best people

We hear this a lot in response to calls for equality, whether in business, government or public life.

‘I don’t care if they’re a man, woman or a toad (okay, maybe not a toad) – just get me the best person for the job’.

So how come we still see such blatant discrimination in so many places?

  • UN Women reports that as of 2017, there were only 2 countries in the entire WORLD that had 50% or more representation by women (and I’m going to bet you don’t guess the right countries, I know didn’t)
  • This Glass Ceiling Index reports that just over 20% of company board seats in Canada are held by women.
  • And in my home province of New Brunswick, we only have 16% of elected provincial seats held by women.

So how do we reconcile this (what I believe is a mostly genuine) desire to have the best people at the table, with the fact that there are still so many underrepresented groups in power?  [Gender being only one of those groups – if you want to get deeper into this, check out intersectionality, there’s tons of amazing writing out there on it].

Shouldn’t the best people just bubble up to the surface?

The answer is a resounding no.

In the 1970s and 1980s – in responses to calls for equality – orchestras began using blind auditions.  If biases or barriers didn’t exist, we’d expect there to be the same number of men and women (or perhaps more importantly – people who looked all kinds of different ways) in orchestras, though this wasn’t the case.

“As late as 1970, the top five orchestras in the U.S. had fewer than 5% women. It wasn’t until 1980 that any of these top orchestras had 10% female musicians. But by 1997 they were up to 25% and today some of them are well into the 30s. What is the source of this change? Have they added jobs? Have they focused on work that appeals to women?”

Nope, they just started using blind auditions.

I was listening to Adam Grant’s new podcast yesterday, “Work Life” (go check it out, AMAZING) where he was talking with the staff at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.  One of the things that struck me was that they use blind auditions for hiring writers – because they want to eliminate their biases and just get the best people in the room.  Bam.

They’re willing to do the work of getting past their own biases and as a result, they report better results (funnier material) in their prep sessions because there’s so much diversity of thought in the room.

In a fairly recent academic study, researchers looked at whether someone’s name would influence their chance of getting hired for a lab manager role.  The resumes used were exactly the same – the only thing that changed was whether the applicant’s name was John or Jennifer.

Jennifer was recommended on average to be paid a lower salary (13% less than John, with the EXACT SAME resume) and she was rated as less competent.  To be fair, this was from both women and men.

I really don’t want my chances of being hired to a position I’m qualified for – or my salary – to be dependent on whether my name is Vanessa or Victor.  Seems pretty arbitrary.

It’s International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #PressForProgress.  It feels to me like the movement towards gender parity is really heating up – everything from marches, to #MeToo, to #TimesUp, to Frances McDormand’s Oscar call for inclusion riders.

Do we really need inclusion riders?

Yes.  We need them to show ourselves that we do indeed have biases, and that there are ways to get around them.

Let’s not be lazy or naive.

As we press for progress, I hope that we all work to recognizes our own biases.  And find ways around them.

I was talking with someone the other day who said that they just wanted the best people as political candidates – didn’t matter whether they were women or men.  I agree.  So how do we get rid of biases when part of the process of running in an election is such a public thing?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s inclusion riders in creative industries and inclusion policies on boards, hiring committees, and political nominations processes.

PLEASE – don’t be the complainer.  Be the person who’s willing to admit you have biases and work with others to find creative solutions around them.

Our futures depend on it.

Let’s keep pressing.  Things are only beginning to heat up.

Inspiring women in Atlantic Canada: Not a supply problem

I recently launched a project – Amplify East.  It’s only on Facebook right now, but the rest will be coming soon.

Why Amplify East?

Well, that’s an excellent question.

Most simply, I believe we can change culture by giving people tools to talk about it – to be intentional about what values are being amplified through our words and behaviours.

Culture’s one of those things that’s hard to put your finger on, though people can feel its impacts – at its simplest, it’s how people interact with one another, reflecting the values of that particular group.

One of the most frustrating experiences of my life has been being a woman in the professional world – and hearing other women’s experiences in the working world. Some of it is absolutely shocking.

I’m tired of going to conferences where the experts happen to be majority men. Of running a conference and needing to ask a man to leave for sexually harassing women. Of being bullied at work for not being nice enough or for being too nice. Of hearing about women being looked over, dismissed and harassed. Of seeing women pitted against each other to reinforce a scarcity mindset of success. Of my closest friend, who teaches at a prestigious university, needing to listen to a male colleague say that women aren’t good at math – despite another female friend running a hedge fund company… where I’m pretty sure you have to EXCEL at math. Of having every woman I’ve spoken with identify with the #MeToo movement in some uniquely personal way.

In reflecting on my core values over the last little while, I realized my deepest core value is justice. When I look back on all of my decisions, I see that they’ve all been filtered through that lens and I’m working to fully embrace it now that I see it. That realization, along with my experience, has led me to creating this project.

Sometimes other people can more succinctly capture what you’re trying to say. My friend Louise – a brilliant person whose work I deeply admire – captured what I wanted to achieve with Amplify in the tagline:

‘Inspiring women in Atlantic Canada: Not a supply problem’.

Yep. Not a supply problem.

The goal of this project is to amplify the voices of the, what feels like COUNTLESS, inspiring women in Atlantic Canada – to showcase to women and men how many there are and what they’re up to. It’s not a supply problem – it’s a mindset problem. We start to shift our mindsets by first being aware of them – and the values underlying them – and then talking and acting differently.

I’ve written down the names of 100 women who inspire me in Atlantic Canada – some of whom I know quite well and some who I don’t know at all. 100 women is barely the tip of the iceberg. While being a woman in the professional world has been frustrating, it’s also been the most rewarding experience of my life – to find female role models, peers and mentors to build each other up and make a lot change together.

My hope is that’s there’s no excuse at any regional conference in 2018 or beyond for not having diversity of perspectives on a panel (and not just gender diversity). That we move faster towards 50% of elected seats at all level of government being held by women. That we have 50% of board positions being held by women. One project like this isn’t enough to change all of that. But we all have a role to play, and I hope that this project will be one contributing factor in what feels like a cultural sea change that really got its legs last year.

To be clear, I have nothing against men. A lot of my mentors and influential role models have been men and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Part of this cultural change has to come from men – from unpacking notions of gender identify, to recognizing privilege, and to dismantling the ‘old boys club’. I’m not sure how much of that we’ll be able to take on with Amplify. There’s loads of room to affect positive change and part of my hope is that men also engage with this project – by telling us about the inspiring women they know and sharing their stories with others in their networks. Maybe we’ll even profile some men and hear about what they think of all of this. I don’t quite know how it will all play out, but I’m excited to get started.

Thanks to those who sent me your feedback directly or through the survey, and THANK YOU for telling me about all of the inspiring women you know. Please keep the names coming.

Please share any thoughts via Facebook or amplify.east (at)