Business Magazine for Canadian Entrepreneurs

Exclusive Interview with Stephania Varalli: Co-CEO and Head of Media for Women of Influence

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94Canadian SMEAs co-owner and Co-CEO, Head of Media of Women of Influence, Stephania is able to dedicate her time to two passions: helping women to advance in the workplace, and sharing information, insights, and inspiration through engaging print and digital content and social media. She believes that storytelling has the ability to empower women and enlighten today’s leaders, and truly move the needle towards gender equality.

Beginning her career in marketing and advertising, Stephania transitioned to Sweetspot.ca where, as the company’s first employee and a minority owner, she helped develop the Toronto-based email newsletter into Canada’s #1 site for women aged 25-52. After the sale of Sweetspot.ca to Rogers Communications, she chose to pursue freelancing work, honing her skills in copywriting, journalism, and editing while travelling the world. She has worked with a broad list of clients, including industry leaders in the technology, communications, consumer goods, financial, and manufacturing sectors.

Her current focus is building the digital strategy of Women of Influence. As the website, community, and social media platforms grow, she looks forward to spreading a message of equality and contributing to the goal of advancing professional women.

 

You’ve been part of the organization for Women of Influence for quite some time now. Can you tell us what inspired you to join Women of Influence?

 

When I first came to the company, I was a freelancer. I didn’t have any expectations to stay on any longer than the 2 months as it would take to finish the issue. But I was so inspired to tell the stories of these women and luckily the owner kept me on board. Eventually, I was able to buy the company.

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Can you tell us more about the Women of Influence Movement and how it’s benefiting women?

 

Our goal, like many Women’s organizations, is to try to get to gender equality in the workplace by inspiring individuals. Our focus is on helping individual women move their careers forward by providing them role models: by giving them connecting opportunities with peers and mentors to move forward in their careers, despite the fact that the system isn’t quite set up to help women move forward right now.

 

Women of Influence Advancement Center is a great program that’s helping women in organizations thrive and reach their full potential. What was the inspiration behind launching this program?

 

We actually started The Advancement Centre after doing a white paper that was focused on interviewing women in the senior ranks to see how they achieved success. We found seven pitfalls that women seemed to face and our goal was to figure out how we can help women overcome them. These pitfalls included negotiation, how to be your own champion and things like that. The Advancement Centre has now been going on for a few years and we’re very proud of our accomplishments. We’ve focused on helping women coach other women, and supplying them with the tools to make that a reality. We’ve worked with men as well to help them in this endeavour.

 

Can you give us more information about how the Leaning Out program is helping women?

 

I’m really excited about Leaning out. We’re doing this in partnership with Trish Wheaton. Trish was kindly asked to retire and she chose otherwise. When she first came to us asking to do this program, we thought this was an amazing opportunity. Our main focus has been helping women out of university and assisting them all the way up to the senior ranks. Prior to the Leaning Out program, we never really focused on what would happen after that. Trish calls it the “Primetime” because it’s really saying to women that when you’ve hit your late 50’s or 60’s and the career you had might not be serving you but you might not be ready to call it quits, what can you do in your next chapter.

 

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that women face and how can Women of Influence help them overcome it?

 

It’s a tough question because there are a lot of areas where women come up against bias: after university when looking for jobs and later in their careers as well. Things like gender pay gap for example: When women ask for a raise, it’s looked at as too aggressive instead of ambitious. There are a lot of different areas where women face discrimination. The biggest challenge is that the system isn’t designed to help women succeed. A lot of people believe we are in a meritocracy, where people believe things are equal and people succeed based on their ability. But the reality is that it’s not a meritocracy and there is a ton of evidence to prove that. The challenge is making it clear that there are disadvantages and the goal is to actually live in the meritocracy that most people think we are already in.

 

Do you believe that all women entrepreneurs should be joining the Women of Influence community? Who would you say are the perfect candidates to join WOI?

 

I absolutely think that all entrepreneurs should be joining. We do have the RBC Canadian entrepreneur awards. That program alone is designed to help women get inspired and get recognized. It’s all about advice and telling the stories of other women that have done it. I think that that sense of inspiration is incredibly valuable and helps women use those tools for their own business. If she can do it, I can do it!

I also encourage men to join. The advice we get from entrepreneurs is valuable to all entrepreneurs. And it’s valuable for men to see women’s success which leads to a much more inclusive environment.

 

If you type in CEO on Google images, you’ll practically only see pictures of men – because the perception in people’s minds of a CEO is automatically a male individual. Our goal is to change the idea of what a successful entrepreneur looks like.

 

What advice can you give to women who are looking to become entrepreneurs?

 

I think that having the confidence to jump in and do it is extremely important. There is something to be said of careful planning but there is that important point where you say: I’m going to make that dream come true. I encourage women that if you have a passion and a dream to go for it! If you would make a better entrepreneur than an employee, then go for it.  Even if you fail, you can learn from it and try again. It’s just a lesson on your journey to success.

 

Where do you see Women of Influence in the next 10 years? What does the future hold for WOI?

 

Over the next 10 years, I think that the work that we’re going to be doing is very important. When I originally bought the company, I thought we could be doing a lot more content, more email newsletters, and get the message out to as many women AND men. We have lots of plans to get this out to as many people as possible.

We focus on Canada but we want to continue our push to establish ourselves worldwide – and it’s certainly much easier today where you have social media and your message can travel much faster. I hope that in 10 years I can still tell the amazing stories of women entrepreneurs. Hopefully, in 20 years we’ll be obsolete. That may be too ambitious of a goal because the most recent studies certainly don’t suggest that in 20 years we’ll be there quite yet. I’ve seen more men and corporations coming on board and that’s been very encouraging. What we need now is guidance on how we can actually make change happen and there are lots of great organizations putting their own flag in the sand. It’s an everybody on board kind of solution to make this change happen.

 

 

Business Woman of the Month- January 2019

 

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