Top 15 Influential Business Women in Canada
Updated: May 15
Canada is an awesome country that has been providing opportunities for people from all walks of life. In this article, we will explore some of the top influential business women in Canada who have made significant contribution to the Canadian economy and culture.
The rise of female entrepreneurs has been a key factor in the growth of the Canadian economy. Canada has a long history of strong female leadership, but it wasn't until the 1990s that women began taking major strides in entrepreneurship. Today there are over 800,000 Canadian women entrepreneurs who have contributed to the economy with their work. The five sectors where these entrepreneurs have been most successful include finance and insurance services; manufacturing; health care and social assistance; retail trade; and accommodation and food services. Female-owned businesses account for nearly 30% of all private sector jobs in Canada. Of those businesses, almost half are located in Toronto and Montreal alone. Women make up about one-third of all private sector executives and they account for over 50% of university students enrolled in STEM programs (the natural sciences, engineering and math).
Canada has many influential businesswomen, but these are our top 15, in no particular order. These remarkable women hail from all different sectors of the economy. They are CEOs, entrepreneurs, and innovators who have made an extraordinary difference in their communities and beyond. From community development to philanthropy to resources development, these women are making Canada proud! This list is by no means exhaustive; rather, it's a representative sample of this country's entrepreneurial spirit. We hope that you'll follow these influential businesswomen as they continue to work hard for the future of Canada.
JANET DE SILVA - President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade
Janet De Silva is President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, which is one of the largest and most influential business organizations in North America.
Janet was previously the Chief Executive Officer at Sun Life Financial (Hong Kong) Ltd., Chairman-Beijing Region at Canada China Business Council, Chairman & President for The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and Dean at Richard Ivey School of Business.
In 2019, she was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to represent Canada on the APEC Business Advisory Council. Janet also sits on the boards of Intact Financial Corporation, listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange; and, Blue Umbrella Limited, a global compliance technology company headquartered in Hong Kong. Janet holds an MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University and a Doctor of Law honoris causa from Thompson Rivers University.
ALRLENE DICKINSON - Founder and CEO of VenturePark
Arlene Dickinson is one of Canada’s top business leaders, a venture capitalist, and an ardent investor in small businesses. Born in Germiston, South Africa, Arlene was the youngest of three daughters and her family immigrated to Canada in 1959 with only $50 in their possession , before eventually settling in Calgary.
Over the last 35 years Arlene has launched, operated, managed and invested in multiple businesses. She is the Founder and CEO of Venturepark, a leading business growth ecosystem comprising of five communities led by business, capital, brand, innovation and CPG specialists. Arlene joined the Dragons' Den TV show in its second season and appeared on the show for eight seasons, investing in a variety of businesses. In 2015, Arlene took a brief hiatus from the Dragons' Den TV show following the show’s ninth season, but in April 2017 announced her return for the show’s twelfth season.
MANJIT MINHAS - Cofounder and CEO of the Minhas Brewery
Manjit Minhas is a Canadian entrepreneur, television personality and venture capitalist.
She is co-owner of Minhas Breweries & Distillery, which is the manufacturer of beer brands such as Mountain Crest Classic Lager, Boxer Lager, Lazy Mutt Ale and Huber Bock. She specializes in marketing with interests in branding and sales.
Manjit joined the cast of CBC’s Dragons' Den in Season 10.
CARINNE CHAMBERS-SAINI - Cofounder and CEO of Diva International Inc.
In 2002, Carinne and her mother Francine Chambers established Diva International Inc. and developed The DivaCup to offer a reliable, clean and eco-friendly approach to feminine hygiene.
Under Carinne's leadership the company has grown and received much recognition such as being awarded the EY Entrepreneur of The Year for Sustainable Products and Services and EY National Special Citation Award for Industry Disruptor. The DivaCup has completely disrupted the industry by providing the most eco-friendly, clean and comfortable way to address menstrual care on the market today.
SHAHRZAD RAFATI - Founder and CEO of BroadbandTV Corp
Shahrzad Rafati is the Founder and CEO of BroadbandTV (BBTV), a media-tech company that is advancing the world through the creation, distribution, management, and monetization of content.
Headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, the company generates over 38 billion monthly video impressions per month and its video content is viewed by more than 575 million unique viewers each month. Only Google sites exceed BBTV monthly unique viewership and BBTV now represents 56% of Google’s Unique viewership at 1.02B.
MANDY RENNEHAN - Founder and CEO of Freshco.ca
Also known as the Blue-Collar CEO™ for her ability to navigate between the white- and blue-collar worlds. Mandy founded Freshco.ca, Canada’s #1, full-service, reconstruction and retail maintenance provider, that operates across Canada and the eastern United States. Some of their clients include Apple, Banana Republic, Home Depot, Lululemon, Nike, Restoration Hardware, Sephora, The Gap, Tiffany & Co., to mention a few.
Mandy has received various awards such as Canada's Most Admired CEO, Atlantic Business Magazines CEO of the Year, the Toronto Region Board of Trade Business Leader of the Year, Top 25 Women of Influence, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur “Momentum” Award, Growth 500 Excellence in Innovation, (WXN’s) Top 100 Most Powerful Women – Hall of Fame, CGLCC LGBT Business of the Year and Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEOs.
MICHELE ROMANOW - Cofounder and President of Clearco
Michele Romanow is a Canadian tech entrepreneur, television personality, board director and venture capitalist. She is the Cofounder of Clearco (formerly Clearbanc), which is a Toronto based provider of revenue sharing solutions to fund new online businesses, and other e-businesses.
Personally she has been ranked as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada. She was also named as one of the Forbes Top 20 Most Disruptive "Millennials on a Mission" in 2013, and was a recipient of the Canadian Innovation Awards’ Angel Investor of the Year in 2018. Michele joined the cast of CBC’s Dragons' Den in Season 10.
SAMRA ZAFARA - Speaker, Author, Human Rights Advocate
Samra Zafara is an award-winning internationally renowned speaker, bestselling author, and educator for equity, mental health, and human rights. She has been recognized among the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, Top 25 Inspirational Women in Canada, and Top 25 Canadian Immigrants.
Her book, “A Good Wife: Escaping The Life I Never Chose”, is based on her journey of escaping an abusive child marriage to pursue her education and shed light on gender-based oppression, is a national bestseller, and was one of CBC's Best Books of 2019. It is now being adapted to a premium TV series.
HEATHER REISMAN - Founder and CEO of Indigo Books and Music
Heather Reisman is a Canadian businesswoman, philanthropist and the founder of Indigo Books and Music, Canada's largest book retailer. She is the cofounder and past Chair of Kobo, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2019.
Heather has been named one of Canada's most powerful women by the Women's Executive Network, one of the 100 most influential people in Canada by Maclean's magazine, and one of the 25 greatest Canadians in history by TVO.
PAULETTE SENIOR - President and CEO of the Canadian Women's Foundation
Paulette Senior is the President and CEO of the Canadian Women's Foundation, and is recognized as one of the most respected and vocal women leaders in the country. Before joining the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Ms. Senior was the CEO of YWCA Canada — the oldest and largest multi-service women’s organization in the country — for 10 years. She has led, managed, and operated shelters, employment programs and housing services, where she supported women, children, and youth in some of Toronto's most economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
She has worked at Yellow Brick House, YWCA Toronto, Macaulay Child Development Centre, Lawrence Heights Community Health Centre, and Central Neighbourhood House. She has also held numerous volunteer and leadership roles and is currently Chair of Women’s College Hospital, Canada's leading academic ambulatory hospital in women's health.
LINDA HASENFRATZ - President, Chairman, and CEO of Linamar
Linda Hasenfratz is a Canadian businesswoman and the current President, Chairman, and CEO of Linamar since 2002. Under Linda's leadership, Linamar has experienced double-digit growth, increasing revenue to $6 billion, and making $522 million in profit. Additionally, she has grown the company to 58 Linamar plants in 13 countries across Asia, North America and Europe.
Linda is a member of the Canadian Business Hall of Fame. In 2014, she was the first woman to be named Canada's EY Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2018, she was named Canada's Outstanding CEO of the year. Also in 2018, she was named to the Order of Canada. In May 2019, she was named the University of Western Ontario's 23rd Chancellor.
STEPHANIE CICCARELLI - Cofounder of Voices.com
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a founder at Voices. As a top champion of the brand, she leads the industry in conversation. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken word, written word, and song.
Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffinginton Post, Backstage Magazine, and the Voices blog.
CHRISTIANE GERMAIN - Co-President and CEO of Germain Hotels
A model of female leadership, Christiane Germain has paved the way for women, both in business and in corporate boardrooms. Named one of the 100 most influential women in Canada for 4 years running by the Women’s Executive Network, she has received numerous honours and distinctions, including the titles of Knight of the Ordre national du Québec in 2009, and Officer of the Order of Canada in 2015.
In 2019, she and her brother were named Grands Québécois in the economic sector by the Québec Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and in 2020, they were inducted into Cercle des Grands entrepreneurs du Québec, a joint initiative of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Desjardins Group, and the National Bank.
MELISSA KARGIANNAKIS - Founder and CEO of skritswap
Melissa Kargiannakis is the Founder and CEO of skritswap, a start-up that replaces complex jargon with easy-to-understand, plain language.
At 25 she received the Queen’s Young Leaders Award in 2015, and in the first few months as Founder of skritswap, she led the start-up to winning the Top 20 Most Innovative Companies in Canada award. Melissa is ranked as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, an has been leading teams for the last decade from her university dorm room to Silicon Valley today.
MAAYAN ZIV - Founder and CEO of AccessNow
Maayan Ziv is an activist, a photographer and an entrepreneur based in Toronto, Canada. From a young age, Maayan challenged norms and worked within her community to increase awareness of disability issues and improve accessibility.
Living with Muscular Dystrophy, Maayan is a passionate and relentless advocate for creating a more accessible world.
In 2015, Maayan founded AccessNow, a crowdsourced app to map the accessibility status of locations worldwide. She has since been a regular media commentator in the media on topics such as disability and inclusion. In 2016, Maayan received the City of Toronto Access Award and the David C. Onley Leadership in Accessibility Award in recognition of her innovative solutions and commitment to improving the lives of people of all abilities.
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