Women Leaders: Success Amid COVID-19

5 Women Leaders: Success Amid Covid-19

Navigating Difficult Times Together

From the shift to a digital economy and pivoting business offerings to employee layoffs and complete closure, it’s clear that COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on businesses.

We’ve interviewed five women who have showcased strong leadership qualities and found success navigating their business and employees through these unprecedented times.

Read more to understand how their individual definitions of success and leadership styles have led to positive outcomes for their business, employees, and clients.

Manpreet Dhillon; Veza Global

Veza Global: Manpreet Dhillon

Veza aims to create a world where organizations provide equal opportunities so each person is paid equitably and has an opportunity to succeed – with a workplace culture that ensures all staff feel like they belong, are accepted, and understood. 

1. What is your definition of success?

Primarily impact. What is the impact our project has on equity, diversity, and inclusion, and what is the reach? Beyond the number of people we directly interact with, I also measure success on how many people we can employ and create employment opportunities for.

2. How has COVID-19 affected your business?

Our definition of success has not changed, in fact, we were just able to bring on 4 students full time for the summer.

After March, as people settled in to the “new way” of working, there has been a significant increase in businesses investing in self learning and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

There have been studies since 2008, that highlight companies with diverse teams having a 46% higher success rate than those without. A lot of the people we work with are really paying attention to these statistics and are trying to figure out how to capitalize on them during these times of change.

We’ve seen a real demand for our Veza Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Assessment Tool  that allows companies, in under an hour, to create an action plan for their D&I initiatives, and get a benchmark and tangible next steps they can take.

3. How have your services changed?

We have refocussed on what is important and have been able to care and put client needs upfront more than ever before.

We have not been making money from this, it is just a time to step up; what do our clients need, how can we support them right now, and how do we give back?

It’s been so powerful; people really feel and appreciate the genuineness of the community coming together. The companies who are flourishing are the ones genuinely caring about their clients right now and are bringing their personalities forward more than ever. We are seeing these female leadership principles come forward which is about empathy, relationship building, collaboration, and connectedness. All of a sudden, it’s at the forefront how important these qualities are for all leaders to have regardless of their gender.

See Manpreet’s 2019 Cohort Video Interview here.

Vanessa LeBourdais; DreamRider Productions

DreamRider Productions: Vanessa LeBourdais

We engage kids on every level: they get excited, they move, they sing along, they connect deeply with our characters, and they leave school eager to go home and lead behaviour change in their families. So far, we’ve inspired over 850,000 kids to laugh, learn, and change the world!

1. What is your definition of success?

How many kids can we impact and help introduce positive behavioural change. Are kids having fun, what is the feedback from kids, parents, and teachers on the experience they have.

2. How has COVID-19 and the shift to a virtual workplace affected your business activities?

We need to help kids cope with relevant issues because this is our expertise. DreamRider programs have traditionally been delivered in a classroom. When the pandemic hit, we pivoted to an online model within 3 days of school closures and created a home edition (pandemic edition).

I have an amazing team who works so hard, together we were able to design a whole experience on how to get a child engaged when not in a classroom and introduce other relatable topics.

This is offered for free to make sure any child has access to e-learning. Amazingly, we have seen a global reach from children logging on. Parents love this as it frees them up while their kids are engaged! We also realize that access into a child’s homes is a huge validator to our business, that we are trusted to be in their household. 

3. How have you and your team adjusted?

For me, it was important to take a trauma informed approach. Organizationally, this has been a big pivot: The first thing I did when the pandemic hit was to tell my team to take as much time as possible off, completely lower expectations on what they achieve, and rest. Everyone is dealing with a form of trauma during this time and we need ensure work life balance and adjustment are made for humans to adjust to the change.

The old model of leadership really falls through when you have to consider the ability of your team to survive through whatever they are dealing with personally during these changed circumstances. To ignore this, which traditional models could, puts your employees at a risk of mental illness.

See Vanessa’s 2019 Cohort Interview Video here.

Stacey Bedford; Bandzoogle

Bandzoogle – Stacey Bedford

Bandzoogle was started with a simple goal: to empower musicians to build effective websites for their music. Helping independent bands and musicians build and update their own websites, Bandzoogle launched in late 2003. Currently, tens of thousands of artists around the world use Bandzoogle every day to build their website and promote their music online.

1. What is your definition of success?

Internally, our goals are based on staff happiness and job promotions we can give annually. Business wise, we have never focussed on financial growth – more so we measure success by the number of sales our customers make (100% commission free).

2. How has COVID-19, and the shift to a virtual workplace, affected your business activities?

Even though Bandzoogle has always worked remotely, we have worked with established goals and structured roadmap plans. In February, we completed a future goals and long term road map. In March, we had to completely throw it out the window as what artists needed before (pre-Covid) are no longer relevant. As an authority on music tech, we must be able to anticipate artist needs. Our entire operation has been turned on its head where we are reassessing projects week-to-week to ensure artists can continue to monetize and are continually supported.

A week after the pandemic hit, we actioned event ticket refunds and added commission free ticket sales for virtual events (artists can sell tickets to live stream events).  We also added this feature, free of charge, to all membership tiers. As a result, we have continued to grow like a weed. This month Bandzoogle hit 50,000 active customers and achieved over $62 million dollars in commission free sales for its artists.

3. How have you and your team adjusted?

Soft management skills need to be used more often during unknown times, like Covid. One of the first things I did was write a love letter to the Bandzoogle team to make sure everyone was in the right headspace.

As a leader you must make data driven decisions and have a proven track record. Ultimately, we are successful because our team is incredible. We are rich in company culture and have a system of mutual trust, when changes are made, it is accepted within the company.

Rashmi Bhambhani; Summatti

Summatti: Rashmi Bhambhani

Get real-time actionable insights & automate quality control. Summatti makes EVERY customer interaction count by analyzing 100% of customer interactions and giving you unique consumer insights while saving time and money.

1. What is Summatti’s definition of success?

How do we redefine and improve customer success and how do we help customers make better informed decisions? As a start-up, our success is still largely defined by how well our team performs and how we are meeting set KPI’s.

2. How has COVID-19 and the shift to a virtual workplace affected your business activities?

During COVID, a business needs to be compassionate. While our measures of success have not changed, we held off on sales calls in the early days – conscientious to not bombard new leads adjusting to a new environment.

We re-sparked discussions with existing customers and warm leads to let them know “we are here if you need us – we realize it’s a time of change and if there is something you need – we want to help you.”

The response from clients have been very positive – it is appreciated right now that businesses are not just selling, but trying to help each other out: compassion first.

However, we have also seen success. Larger organizations are adopting new tools, like ours, at a much faster rate. Summatti has been able to double down on the benefits data insights can provide to a remote team which has led to presenting more value for clients.

3. How have you and your team adjusted?

We are a team of 7 who are used to in person contact every day, we have certainly missed the team think environment. While we adjusted everyone within the first week to Zoom and video tools, we noticed it resulted in some overcommunication due to people using video tools to maintain the in-person aspect.

During a time like this, it is important to ensure everyone feels comfortable and supported. This is also why we made a point to continue regular social events and team meetings virtually to keep our culture together.

Our result has been a team that has worked so well and transitioned to work from home/maintained the same consistent performance, potentially even more.

It is important to keep regular touch points with everyone – making the conscious effort to not lose the interaction. Transparency and openness matter.

See Rashmi’s 2019 Cohort Video Interview here.

Iliana Oris Valiente; Accenture

Accenture, Canadian Innovation Hub – Iliana Oris Valiente

Iliana works with fortune 500 clients across many industries helping them shape their innovation agenda through her role at Accenture. Iliana is also strongly connected and involved across the business, tech, and non-profit communities. She is a contributor to the Don Tapscott led Blockchain Research Institute, is an Associate at the Creative Destruction Lab incubator at the University of Toronto where she provides mentorship time to start-ups and sits on the Emerging Leaders Advisory Council for CPA Ontario.

1. What is your definition of success?

Primarily, impact. My role is to make sure our clients are getting the support they need to push their thinking. We try to make a meaningful difference in their innovation agenda – something that is different and new and provides value to the business or society. We consistently change the way that we, as a firm, operate to make sure that we are always staying on top of the latest and greatest advancements, whether in technology or in the way we work.

2. How has COVID-19 and the shift to a virtual workplace affected your business activities?

For the first few weeks, the focus internally and for many clients was pivoting to virtual tools.

There is a lot of magic that comes from the experience of being in person. Accenture understands this and has invested in “Phygital” (physical and digital) experiences by embracing technologies which are aimed at replicating a physical environment, as well as using creative approaches such as sending care packages tailored to participants.

What we are seeing is that our clients are not just looking at reopening their businesses, they are looking at this as an opportunity to reinvent. Businesses want to come back stronger with a more flexible workplace arrangement and more elastic supply chains that can ramp up and down depending on the current business climate. Many wish they had invested in their journey to cloud and modernization efforts sooner.

3. How have you and your team adjusted?

Our priority was to make sure our Accenture team members were safe. Within a week of the official pandemic announcement, we had nearly all our people working at home. Working remotely is in our DNA – we are one of the world’s biggest users of Microsoft Teams so mobilizing was quick.

At the time, our first goal was to adjust to the reality of working from home. A great quote we have lived by has been: “You’re not just working from home, you’re at home, during a pandemic, trying to work.”

For a lot of our team members – there are many other priorities at home, therefore the typical work week that was expected pre-Covid had to be adjusted.

First things first, make sure your people are doing ok. Look at your clients and partners – try to put yourself in their shoes, be empathetic and try to understand what new challenges they are dealing with. This way you can continue to provide value for your stakeholders.


People are at the Heart of the Matter.

The most common trait for success that arose from these interviews is that people are at the heart of the matter. Keeping people at the core of what they do, both for their teams and their clients, has been imperative for business success during these challenging times.

The perception of what non-financial success means has shown to have an impact on company growth and sustainability, the ability to support clients, and their teams’ overall happiness and productivity.

Entrepreneurs, has how you define success impacted your business during COVID-19?

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