March 2014


OPINION: Does the focus on women only events help us or hurt us?

By Karolina Bialkowska

At the risk of making many enemies and few friends, I think we should decrease the public focus on women only events – particularly those that involve business conferences and organizations. Instead, I think it is time to make equality about bringing together equals, not separating entities.

Second-wave feminism shaped our society into what it is today. It was the movement that rigidly defined femininity and established the sexes as two binaries on opposite ends of the spectrum of humanity. Our mothers and grandmothers successfully fought to establish women as members of the workforce, as executives, leaders, and intellectuals.  For that I am eternally grateful. But here I will argue the merits of third-wave feminism. When the world itself knew only two strict definitions of gender and sexuality, second-wave feminism was our saviour. Then, the approach of banding together as one and segregating ourselves as women was necessary in order to prove our merit against the oppression of institutionalized patriarchy.

Today, however, I find it unrealistic to segregate ourselves into such strict gender binaries. Our world, our culture, our understanding of the variety of human selves mediates our own identities. In recent years we have begun to understand that self-identity is not a mixture of rigid binaries but instead a fluid spectrum of in-betweens. Why, then, do we still feel it necessary to distinguish ourselves and separate ourselves so severely as to organize ‘women’s only’ business conferences? Is it not more effective to fight for equality by integrating all people under one umbrella, one level playing field?

And, I ask, where do people of ambiguous sex fit in? Where do women of ethnicity fit into the predominantly white, middle – upper class, feminist models of gender equality? Are we missing a whole other side to the narrative by stunting the evolution of feminism? Gay, transsexual, people born with the anatomy of both, and others who find it difficult to fit either mould as male or female will find themselves subject to the same prejudices as women did 30 years ago. Except this time women are the ones closing the doors and refusing them entry.

I still think it is important to recognize the unique roles that women play in society. Social mixers and networking events that propel women to the heights made possible by activists before us are a beautiful way to celebrate our achievements amongst sisters, friends, and mothers.

I am simply cautioning against focusing on binaries, and perhaps thinking about changing our game plan. Inclusion and equality are not synonymous with segregation and elevation of one sex over the other. One cannot be the ‘better’ sex, women cannot be held in higher regard than men, and we must work together to experience true equality. We still have a ways to go.

My ‘uh-oh’ investments

End users purchasing homes tend to come out in full force in the Spring and Summer months, but right now? Tis the season for investment shoppers. I’ve been fielding requests and questions over the last few weeks from new and seasoned investors planning their strategies for getting the best out of their real estate investment choices, so I thought it might be a good time to share some of my own “uh-oh” investment mistakes.

My first and perhaps most obvious mistake was assuming that trends from yesterday (last month, last quarter, last year) would continue moving forward. My first investment was actually in the subsequent phase of a development project that a close friend had made a lot of money in prior. Luckily for me, even though I didn’t bring in the profit that she did, my margins were still enough to not turn this rookie mistake into a complete loss, but my thought process behind it definitely set the stage for a potential investment disaster. I’ve since shied away from buying real estate counting on short-term appreciation and am always prepared to hold onto investments for as long as five years just in case, although I usually end up flipping it within the year. Even if I have to hold onto a property for longer than anticipated, real estate markets virtually always bounce back in the long run, so as long as I’m not sweating in the short term, I’m okay.

I’m a little undecided about this next rookie mistake. My impulsive nature works in my favour most of the time. I jump head first into opportunities and take full advantage of benefits gained while most are still running the numbers by their accountants, financial advisers, mother-in-laws and that lady at work who bought a house that one time. But I’d like to think that my decisions to dive right in aren’t as blind as they were when I first started with this.

Real estate risk is directly proportional to knowledge. There’s a pretty big learning curve, but learning is still key. Blindly making such large transactions based on incorrect advice from well-meaning observers with a complete lack of education is so, so dangerous. Nowadays, I take advantage of seminars or training programs that come across my desk and that teach me how to best make my money work for me. I’m always learning, I’ll never stop, and I know it has made a difference not only in my approach towards my craft, but also in the numbers in my portfolio.

One mistake, however, that I’m glad I never made was looking at real estate investments as anything other than a business. I find that a lot of people get lured into the world of real estate investing because of the idea of making a lot of cash fast. It really isn’t the case though. Most of the return I’ve seen on my investments took about five years to really come to fruition, and in that time, I’ve seen a lot of enthusiastic first time investors taper off into zero activity due to lack of action and unrealistic expectations. When dealing with this much money, it only makes sense to treat it with the seriousness of a career. Work hard. And get the training and information you need to develop a long term plan that makes sense for the goals you’ve set up for yourself and your family.

Good luck!

On the topic of International Women’s Day

When I think of International Women’s Day, first observed nationally in the U.S. on February 28, 1909, I often consider women who made significant contributions to the state of women before the officially proclaimed day.

One of the most influential of those women was Eleanor Roosevelt.

After Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in as president in March 1933, Eleanor began to transform the conventional role of first lady from social hostess to that of a more visible, active participant in her husband’s administration.

Roosevelt encouraged her husband to appoint more women to federal positions, and she held hundreds of press conferences specifically for female reporters at a time when women were typically barred from White House press conferences. From 1961 until her death the following year, Roosevelt headed the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, at the request of President John Kennedy.

Suffrage in 1920 granted already active women the opportunity to expand their reforms even further into the public sphere. Concerning the vote, Eleanor stated, “I became a much more ardent citizen and feminist than anyone about me in the intermediate years would have dreamed possible. I had learned that if you wanted to institute any kind of reform you could get far more attention if you had a vote than if you lacked one.”

Eleanor Roosevelt came to symbolize the independent and politically active woman of the 20th century. The novice political spouse who once said, “It was a wife’s duty to be interested in whatever interested her husband” had traveled a long and sometimes lonely road. “I could not, at any age, really be contented to take my place in a warm corner by the fireside and simply look on,” she wrote in her final years. This vitality lasted until tuberculosis took her life in 1962.

Ms. Roosevelt’s pioneering attitude set the example for women today who continue to dedicate themselves to pursuing equality and each year celebrate International Women’s Day on March 9.

I think that many of us are unaware of what a challenge it must have been before the Feminist Movement for women to pursue equality. When I attended Ryerson Polytechnic Institute from 1961 to 1964 to get my diploma in Business Administration, I was the only woman in a class of over 100 men. Near the end of my final year, 1964, when Corporate Canada was interviewing the graduating class, I received only one job offer, compared to the men in my program who received upwards of 10 offers. I had one recruiter say “Why don’t you just get married?” And this was in 1964.

If I encountered in the 1960s the continuing bias against women of influence, I can’t imagine what Eleanor Roosevelt faced. She pursued her passion to find equality for her female peers against much stronger criticism than I experienced.

If it hadn’t been for her crusading, there likely would not have been the growth of the desire of women to become equals in all aspects of their lives. There might not have been the Feminist Movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that propelled women forward internationally in all aspects of their lives. And without the Feminist Movement, would there ever have been an International Women’s Day to mark our progress? Not likely.

International Women’s Day celebrates the strides, the accomplishments, the march toward total equality that women have made in the past 100 years. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the early champions, one of the most visible champions, one of the most influential champions. Without Ms. Roosevelt’s pioneering, people certainly would not be enjoying the celebration of International Women’s Day. Her advocacy promoted recognition of the need for equality for women and International Women’s Day reflects many of her hopes for women of her time and women of the future.

Eleanor Roosevelt not only set the stage for women’s equality, she also gave women an incredible role model.

Splitting headaches: Understanding the aura, fear, and pain of the migraine

by Kait Fowlie

It starts with an ‘aura,’ a visual disturbance involving shimmering and missing pieces. Gradually, the aura impedes sight entirely, and disorientation takes over, making basic communication impossible. That’s when the headache starts.

These sensations constitute some of my first memories. I’ll never forget standing in the hallway on my way to school one morning and telling my mom she only had half a face. At the time, this was as worrisome and baffling for her as it was for me, and what followed were many attempts to understand the strange and volatile event that just kept happening. Most of my childhood memories are characterized by confusing trips to doctors, countless prescriptions, and a persistent fear that I’d turn a corner to see a half-faced person standing there.

If I had a hard time trying to articulate this experience when I was a child, it hasn’t gotten any easier 15 years later. “Unless you know someone who suffers with migraine you likely have no clue how debilitating it can be,” explains Dr. Christine Lay, of the Women’s College Hospital. “Headache is poorly diagnosed and managed because it is under-taught, with the average medical student getting only four hours of training over four years! So, doctors on the front line have been left ill-equipped to manage these disabling conditions.”

Currently, there’s no cure for the disease, perhaps in part because symptoms vary greatly from sufferer to sufferer. Some people are able to identify triggers (cheese, wine, lack of sleep) and for others, myself included, attacks are seemingly random. Generally, a sufferer can manage migraine by being mindful of their daily habits. “Lifestyle factors such as hydration, nutrition, exercise, and sleep routine are important. Equally important is to be honest with yourself about ongoing stressors or anxiety/depression — even if mild — as left unmanaged these can aggravate headaches,” explains Dr. Lay.

Taking note of the patterns that occur around times of an attack is a common starting point to finding a solution. Beyond that, most migraineurs need more help than what they can provide for themselves. The wait for good help can be long. I waited over a year to see Dr. Lay, but it was worth it. The Women’s College Hospital’s Center for Headache is Ontario’s only medical centre dedicated solely to headache diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. A patient can expect a comprehensive, one-on-one examination where there’s no such thing as a stupid question. All of mine were answered in a way that satisfied the discouraged child in me, who has lived in fear for a long time.

The Centre for Headache at the Women’s College Hospital caters to a niche demographic that requires specialized attention. “Migraine is three times more common in women than men and we think one of the primary reasons is hormones, particularly estrogen,” Dr. Lay explains. Many women may not be aware, but the way we experience stress, a prominent migraine trigger, is significantly different from the way men do. Studies have proven that higher levels of estrogen amplify the stress response in some areas of the brain: When exposed to stress, female lab rats’ ability to learn and function normally proved impaired, and that of male rats didn’t.

Rising above the threat and fear of migraine started with equipping myself with the right information. As Dr. Lay explained, this means being honest with yourself about the one factor many believe to be the root cause of illnesses ranging from canker sores to cancer: stress. There’s no need to keep migraines in the dark. “Empowered by knowledge, migraineurs can gain control of their headaches,” says Dr. Lay. Resources like the Center for Headache truly do illuminate the lives of sufferers.

Maybe she’s born with it: The art of networking

The social art of networking is an almost necessary skill for most successful business people, particularly those in entrepreneurial capacities.  The very nature of the role calls for the ability to get out there, create, and maintain business relationships, almost from scratch. Books and seminar tickets are sold worldwide – a multimillion-dollar industry – all focused on giving business people the tools and knowledge necessary to become effective networkers.

Earlier this week, a male colleague made the passing comment that women don’t realize the advantage they hold in the business world by being natural-born networkers. I took pause at that comment. I mean, the women in my life do seem to possess a lot of the traits necessary in succeeding at this task. They’re outgoing, pleasant, great listeners, diplomatic, generally non-threatening, and have often perfected juggling a myriad of personal and professional commitments at any given hour in the day. So why then, with networking being such an integral part of managing business relationships and women supposedly having such a natural disposition towards it, does it seem like there are so many challenges when women face a professional environment for networking? Are we just not putting these natural talents to use? Or does it require some tweaking on our part to translate these skills into an effective business model?

I took it upon myself to do a little surface research, speaking to some of the women in my life and asking them about their individual networking patterns and experiences. The results of my little mini-experiment were quite revealing. There was almost nothing significantly different in the way that these women introduced themselves, carried themselves, appropriated body language, or maintained contact after initial meetings. The logistics were all pretty standard and could have come right out of a ‘How to Network Effectively’ handbook. The only difference? The most successful (attributed to financial and career success) were able to identify these behavioural patterns as “networking,” while the others insisted that it wasn’t “networking” – it was just meeting new people.

Of course, my conversation with six or seven friends can hardly be considered conclusive evidence, but I think there’s some validity to these findings. While the skills could very well be inherent in women to be effective networkers, perhaps what’s actually needed is a consciousness of the value these skills bring within the corporate sphere. This recognition could very well enhance the most important part of any networking opportunity: translating that first introduction into a viable business transaction, whether through the trading of services or the exchange of money for products or services.

So are women natural-born networkers? I’d hesitate to paint an entire gender with so broad a brush. But for those of us who are blessed with the gift of gab and a knack for meeting new people, a full understanding of the value of that gift can enhance any opportunity to gain new and valued client relationships, and furthermore, can do no harm in working towards ultimate business success.

5 things I learned about investing — at the mall

By Candi Munroe

I love to shop. Since I have started investing for myself I have noticed something else: I observe things. They may seem like simple things, but they are really indicators of something much bigger. This is what I see at the mall – you can test them out this Holiday season for yourself.

1.      Supply and Demand – This is the most basic economic principle. A product that is in great supply or has too much supply is cheap. A product that is rare or in short supply is expensive. The most drastic example of this is Apple. Think about Apple stores with the long line-ups of people eagerly awaiting the latest Apple iPad or iPhone. Meanwhile, Wall Street boasts of the great margins Apple is getting. Their stock has also experienced an explosion in price. From its 2008 price of $90 to today’s price of around $550 (which is already down 20% off the high), the stock has impressed.

2.      Fads vs. Classics – The mall always has the latest fashions deemed ‘in’ this year. This is not unlike Wall Street. Yes, analysts study the numbers, but then they make estimates on what they think will sell this year and make recommendations accordingly. These companies and their stocks are hot and everyone wants to own them. A more classical girl, I like buying good quality products and wearing them year-to-year. I would never buy a fad and expect to wear it into retirement.

3.      Are there job openings? – When the economy is better more people have jobs. When the economy is depressed, people lose their jobs. I recently vacationed at a hotel where I had vacationed the year before. This year it was much harder to be served. I waited in line more often and the staff were agitated and overworked. This tells me that the staff has been reduced to save money in a bad economy. So when you are at the mall, look around. Are the stores well staffed? When you eat out, are there plenty of waitresses and waiters? If so, this is a sign that the economy may be on the way up.

4.      Are the stores well run? Are they concerned about their brand and reputation? This is more about individual companies. Which companies take care of their employees? Starbucks give their U.S. employees health care and opportunities to invest in the company’s stock. The employees I encounter there are happy and engage the customers. Good hiring? Good management? Solid Policies? Probably a bit of each.

5.      Are people buying at or near full retail prices? Observe the shoppers in the stores. Do they have lots of bags? Are the bags large? (Discount the effect if the discounts are high.) Many people out shopping puts money back into the pockets of businesses and is a good sign that better days are ahead.

Do not let these simple observations pass you by in the Christmas haze. Keep in mind that these general indicators tell us how people feel about their job security and how much optimism they have about the year ahead. They can also help guide you to products and ideas that are good targets to research and invest in yourself. And this is fun! After all, ladies, aren’t we all about multitasking?

#TOpoli with Thomson March 3: Chow’s numbers helping Ford against Tory?

Sarah Thomson and Travis Myers are joined by Ashley Csanady and Andrea Houston for Toronto’s political panel as they discuss How Olivia Chow’s polling numbers might help Ford win, how John Tory’s campaign will fare in the long run, David Soknacki’s meme campaign on Twitter, and police presence at Toronto District School Board meetings due to issues with bullying and intimidation.


Last week I went to see Lady Antebellum with a girlfriend, for those of you who don’t know Lady A is a country band that sings about honey bees, sex, drinking and dancing and they are one of my absolute favourites. I ran into the ACC sporting my cowboy boots and a flannel shirt, which just goes to show that you can take the girl out of the small town but you can’t take the small town out of the girl. The day after the concert, still on a country high, I saw Boyfriend but he left my place around 7 so that I could watch the Leafs game, really.

On Monday I started to worry that maybe opposites don’t attract, maybe you couldn’t get past completely different tastes in everything. Maybe my obsessive love of country music and my tendency to scream epithets in the direction of any television playing a hockey game will one day be too much for my nerdy Boyfriend. But when I asked him if we were too different he laughed, guffawed even, and turned the question back on me asking me if it was an issue for ME. It’s not, not really, I like having someone to tell stories too and since we don’t always do the same thing I always have someone to regale with my stories of two stepping with strangers and that time I traded a bottle of beer for a tent at a festival.

Sometimes I hate that Boyfriend won’t come with me to a hockey game and I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to dance around to Eric Church while slamming pints at an outdoor festival, I really don’t. But at least our lives will never be boring, we’ll never grow tired of each other and we’ll always have a new story to tell.

I don’t know if the old adage about opposites attracting is true but I know that dating someone who is just like me would be infuriating, I’m loud and abrasive and sometimes wild and I don’t like to be told what to do; if I dated someone like me I’d probably hate them. Boyfriend is calmer than me; he brings me a strange sense of peace and calm that I don’t get from anyone else.

I dated the Country Boy, two of them in fact, and in the end they both made me miserable. There’s a big difference between the men we think we want and the men we actually need; Boyfriend has been what I need from day 1. Instead of just being the country girl like I was in the past I get to be the weird, country loving, Doctor Who obsessed, tech geek with a passion for all things hockey and a love of Irish whisky. I get to be all of me and if some of those things don’t line up with what Boyfriend likes to do it’s not the end of the world; I’ll just call him up and drunkenly sing country love songs to him when I get home.

Maintainig a work/life balance

By Kelsey Goforth

The dichotomy of work and play has been a long-standing dilemma in daily life. After two hours of commuting plus the eight-hour workday, it becomes difficult to get all “essentials” done, let alone squeeze in “me time.” Employees are working longer hours and daily errands or responsibilities are demanding an ever increasing amount of time. As tasks pile up, people quickly become overwhelmed. However, there are ways to juggle work responsibilities and still have time to yourself. Here are some tips for finding that balance in your life:

1. Take advantage of Sundays

• Take this day to prepare for the week. Make meal plans and go shopping to avoid mid-week, time-consuming runs to the grocery store. Divide snack foods into single serving containers so preparing meals or throwing together lunches is a simple task.

2. Schedule “me-time”

• When life gets hectic, taking time for yourself often gets put on the back burner. Plan blocks of time to do whatever makes you happy. Whether it’s 20 minutes to read your favourite novel or a full afternoon of browsing an art museum, make sure you have time to clear your head.

• Exercise, as important as it is, is often neglected. Join a gym or fitness class close to your workplace so you can go before or after work or even on your lunch break. Not only will this improve your health but your overall well-being will get a boost too.

3. Make meals easy

• Spend a weekend afternoon making food to last throughout the week. Soups, stews and chili can all be frozen in small portions, ensuring days of lunches and quick dinners.

• Prepare produce as soon as it’s purchased. Slicing up your vegetables not only saves time during the week, but also saves room in your fridge. As an added bonus, having pre-cut produce readily available leads to healthier snacking options.

• When cooking, clean up your mess as you make it. Wipe down cutting boards once you’re done chopping and wash pans as soon as you’re finished with them so that when you’re done eating, all that’s left to be cleaned are plates and cutlery.

4. Nurture relationships

• After an eight-hour day, it is tempting to go home, do what needs to be done and go straight to bed. To maintain happiness and balance in your life, however, it’s important to ensure that you sustain bonds with family and friends. Schedule enjoyable events and activities such as family hockey games, dinners with friends or trips to museums.

5. Set boundaries

• Don’t take work home with you. Avoid checking emails after work hours or staying up to work on reports or presentations. At the beginning of the week, prioritize your tasks and prepare a timeline so there are no late nights at the office.

Although it is difficult to brush our responsibilities aside, shortcuts can help keep them manageable. Upholding the importance of family, friends and personal time ensures that life is balanced and stable.