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Photo by Yakov Radyushin

To recognize International Women’s Day the Toronto Chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA Toronto) recently gathered a diverse panel of female leaders to discuss what it takes to make it to the top.

The lineup included Marketing Legends Brenda Pritchard, partner in the advertising, marketing, and regulatory affairs practice group, Gowling WLG; Edie Weiss, president and CEO, Radke Film Group and Judy John, global chief creative officer, Edelman. The March event was hosted by Christine Andrew, managing director, KPMG Canada and VP of DEI at AMA Toronto.

Breaking the glass ceiling

Breaking the glass ceiling was one of the challenges the speakers all have encountered while building their careers in the creative industries. A lack of women’s representation did not provide them with an inclusive work environment that could help female leaders thrive and be set up for success.

“When I got into the business, I’d say I was one of the few creative women in the room in the department,” said Judy John, pointing out that “the attitude of only one woman can rise” is incredibly old school.

Echoing John’s comments, advertising and marketing law legend Brenda Pritchard, shared that at some point she realized the importance of lending a hand to other females to empower, mentor them and shift the status quo.

“The idea that came to us is we have to help each other. Women have to help women. We have to help each other up, applaud them, never criticize unless it is necessary, but, really, just be a champion of women,” said Pritchard, who was a trusted adviser to dozens of the world’s top brands and creative agencies for more than 35 years.

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Photos by Yakov Radyushin

Going beyond female empowerment

Empowering female colleagues and leaders has not been the only way for the panellists to bring changes to Canada’s creative industries.

Years ago Edie Weiss, who runs what’s now one of the top-10 production companies in North America, had what she called “an awakening” at a creative award show, when she realized that there was no BIPOC representation and “literally zero diversity in our industry.”

In 2007, Weiss with her partner Jeff Kopas founded to make the TV, film and advertising industries more inclusive by empowering BIPOC youth from across the GTA and increasing access to skills training, job placements, mentorship, and professional development opportunities. “In the past 12 years, we have run 225 students through our program and many of them are actually industry leaders right now,” highlighted Weiss. 

Giving people their first shot is critically important to ensure Canada’s creative industries reflect its population, have diverse content production and give a voice to unrepresented and under-represented communities and groups.

Video by Jeffrey Powell

Taking a risk to make it to the top

The success that came to the female leaders was the result of their hard work and ability to take a risk and ignore the biases that society often impose on women.

After years of working at Edelman, the world’s largest communications firm, John shared that she wishes someone had told her that the career journey is “a marathon, not a sprint.” 

“I think that I spent a lot of time early in my career looking at other people and what they were working on and why are they working on something better than I’m working on. Why am I not as successful as that person? […] I wish somebody had told me, ‘Just chill out, you’ll figure it out along the way,’” she said.

John shared a conversation with her mother from her teenage years that being a girl and a person of colour leaves you no choice but to work harder than everybody else to succeed.

Video by Jeffrey Powell

To make it to the top it’s crucial to be brave and ready to step out of your comfort zone. That’s exactly what Edie Weiss did when she decided to shift her career path from social work to the photography industry.

“I come from a Jewish family where we didn’t talk about creativity, we didn’t talk about advertising, we didn’t talk about photography or film. It was like you had to be a social worker, doctor, lawyer,” imparted Weiss. 

That decision taught her that sometimes allowing yourself to pivot and open up to new opportunities can bring huge positive changes in your life. The approach resonated with Pritchard as well who agreed that taking some risk when you feel it’s the right thing to do can bring you the best job you have ever had.

Video by Jeffrey Powell

Also, success comes to people who can find time to reflect and ideate, it’s not enough just to be busy and work hard.

“I think for me, the nugget came one day when someone said, ‘Are you too busy to succeed?’ And I thought that was a very interesting insight that I wish I had learned earlier. […] People get really busy, and by staying busy and feeling that they’re accomplishing something, they actually don’t leave enough space to create and ideate what could potentially be a huge opportunity in life. So, everybody’s like in a little rabbit hole,” said Pritchard.

Empathy can drive the change

The challenges that the panellists have gone through during their career journeys highlight the importance of providing support to each other, making bold decisions when it’s necessary to advance along the way, and lending a helping hand to a female struggling with discrimination and biases.

“The reason why vanguards are vanguards is because they do things differently, and if it was easy, everybody would do it,” said Christine Andrew, managing director, KPMG Canada and VP of DEI at AMA Toronto, who hosted the event.

She concluded the discussion on what it takes to get to the top with the powerful advice: “So, don’t be afraid to do hard things and do things differently.”

Video by Jeffrey Powell


A big thank you to presenting sponsor Zulu Alpha Kilo Inc. for its support, involvement and for helping our community recognize, celebrate, and empower female leadership across the GTA and Canada.

A shout-out to AMA Toronto partners Globe Media GroupLulu Marketing Communications Inc., Arnold Street Media and Q ONE TECH for their backing and engagement in this event.

About the Author

Elvina Bulatova volunteers as director of public relations at AMA Toronto and works as a senior communications and design associate at Sustainalytics. 

Photos and Videos

Event photos by AMA Toronto photographer, Yakov Radyushin

Videos created by AMA Toronto videographer, Jeffrey Powell.

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