Carolyn Lawrence is usually surrounded by the most successful women in Canada. She runs, owns, and operates Women of Influence Inc., a growing media company focused on advancing women in business by providing access to role models staging myriad events, publishing a magazine (Women of Influence), and offers an environment for women to get a hand up (or give one, once they’re up there).
Lawrence’s career began as a marketing assistant at TD Waterhouse, moving through a couple of different roles “figuring out what I liked and what I was good at.” But when she began training for triathlons, working her way up to the elite-level Ironman event, something clicked.
“It opened up everything for me,” she says on a telephone call, squeezed in before another meeting. (Lawrence readily admits that she works a lot, but regarding work-life balance, she says it’s the order of priorities that makes her most happy at the moment.) “I realized how much energy I have for something that I’m passionate about. When you go through something like that, you realize you can do anything you put your mind to—but you do have to be really into it.”
With this newfound respect for her own power, it dawned on Lawrence that she wanted to run her own business; something she could be as passionate about as she was for the triathlon. “Once I asked myself what it was, the answer was very clear to me,” she says. “[I knew] that I wanted to influence women, to help them reach their career goals.”
Now Women of Influence is 18 years old, and has become, Lawrence says, “a place to meet like-minded peers, who are very ambitious, very intelligent, and to talk to people who are going through the same obstacles that they’re going through—it’s not an easy task for women to get to the top.”
The “glass ceiling,” or the metaphorical, invisible barrier preventing women from reaching the highest positions of power, can be an issue for the kind of women Women of Influence attracts. “Most people in major corporations, if they’re women, would say the glass ceiling still exists,” Lawrence says. “There are some new discussions lately, though, that perhaps we need to change our language, and stop calling it a ‘glass ceiling.’ Forget the term ‘issue’ when it comes to women: let’s just talk about how we’re advancing and how we’re going to do it. I really love that approach.”
She maintains that all of the successful women she meets through her job have this specific trait in common: “When asked what was the number-one key to their success ... [the CEOs polled by Women of Influence] said ‘confidence,’” she says. “They meant it in so many different ways: confidence in how you present yourself ... confidence in your decisions, confidence in how you present at a meeting, confidence in how you raise your hand and call someone out, confidence in your gut and what you’re doing. You really have to be sure of yourself and communicate that to everyone around you. And that will go so far in achieving what you want.”
After confidence, vital attributes include authenticity and self-awareness. “[Authenticity] really comes through in your delivery, and I think someone who’s not being authentic will have a very tough time being successful,” Lawrence explains. Self awareness is especially important when it comes to interviews: “Women who come in to those interviews understanding the environment that they’re applying to work in, what this job really requires, and how their skills can add value to their bottom line—that goes so far because there are so few people that do that.”
Today, Lawrence says she spends half her time doing “leadership and human resources” work, and the other half in business development, like bringing in sponsorss or building strategic partnerships. She’s extremely grateful for her team, who help with the necessities of life (“Like making sure the lights turn on—that’s important.”), freeing her up to flex her Ironman-inspired confidence on bigger and bigger challenges. After her triathlon experience, she’s the first person to tell you the value of getting outside of your comfort zone.
“Try. New. Things,” she says, emphatically. “Try new things, meet new people, and find your passion. Once you’ve found that, it becomes so clear how to get ahead because you’re really driving on all cylinders.”
Lawrence gave a personal example of stepping out of her comfort zone when she took up running. One can also join a Running Room in downtown Toronto, on Bay Street, where there might be “people in the groups that [you] want to be meeting.” She says, “It’s very important for you to cultivate a special relationship with people you might be doing business with in the future.”
Lawrence also suggests having a “professional” set of girlfriends, alongside your regular, “social set” of girlfriends. The reasoning is that the first group will have similar career goals and will be able to connect you with the right people.
Lawrence’s belief in networking and women who network has led to a flourishing organization which takes this traditional business trick out of the sometimes “boy’s club” of boardrooms. And every woman helped to success ultimately becomes part of Lawrence’s overall success story—something that Women of Influence is very much about.
Women of Influence Inc. hosts regular networking events such as lectures and luncheons across Canada. More information can be found at www.womenofinfluence.ca.