Stephania Varalli | Founder of Women of Influence

Introduction

Success leaves clues.

Finance Strategists sat down with Stephania Varalli, founder of Women of Influence. She shared her thoughts on the past, present, and future of the company, as well as the insights she has gained from running the business.

Who is Stephania Varalli?

Q:  Who are you and what’s your background?

I was a quintessential weird kid whose favourite hobbies were reading and writing, and I managed as an adult to build a career around storytelling. I started out in advertising, then joined a friend in a media start-up that we grew into the #1 lifestyle site for women in Canada. After selling my shares, I spent several years as a freelance writer and editor, taking the concept of a ‘remote office’ to a global scale. 

Shortly after joining Women of Influence for a three-month gig editing their magazine, I found myself buying the company. The work I’m doing now is still storytelling — but with a very energizing purpose of helping to create more gender equity in the workplace.

Q:  Who has been your biggest influence, and why did they have such a significant effect on you?

It’s perhaps a bit cliché to say my parents, but they are hard role models to beat — they both immigrated from Italy with pretty much nothing, immersed themselves in a new culture, and forged unique and successful paths as entrepreneurs. 

I credit them for my work ethic, my drive, and my belief that every problem has a solution. And watching my mother build her business from the ground up — which I didn’t even realize was a rare privilege until I joined WOI — certainly made it easier to imagine myself doing the same.

Q:  Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given your younger self?

Your accomplishments will only provide temporary satisfaction if they are more aligned with others’ expectations of you, rather than your own.

Business

Q:  What is Women of Influence?

We’re an organization striving to create a more equitable work-life for women and other marginalized groups. We connect with our WOI Community through events, awards, and media, sharing the unfiltered success stories of a diverse group of role models, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. 

We know that when it is done right, these stories not only inspire, but also educate, and connect — they start to redefine perceptions of gender roles and abilities. We believe if we can change the narrative, we can change the world.   

Q:  What separates Women of Influence from its competitors?

What sets us apart from other organizations (I don’t really think of them as competitors, because we are all striving towards a common goal) is our focus on storytelling and the very specific way we do it. 

We believe in spotlights instead of pedestals, which means we do not put upon women an unrealistic expectation of perfection — we talk as openly about flaws and challenges as we do triumphs. And when we tell the stories of inspirational business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, and more, we focus on what they do, rather than their gender. 

Our goal is to normalize the perception of women in these roles, and that’s not going to happen if we’re calling a CEO a GirlBoss.

Q:  What led you to start Women of Influence?

My partner and I are actually in the third round of leadership for the company. When we took over in 2015, WOI was mainly focused on events, but I saw a huge opportunity to reach more people by building up the digital media side of the business. Being able to use my skill set for a cause I’m passionate about has been a dream, even on the days when it has been very hard work.

Q:  What has the experience of building the business taught you?

When you’re starting out as an entrepreneur, you often end up wearing a lot of hats — but we never would have been successful if I’d truly tried to do it all, rather than acknowledging my weaknesses, and hiring to fill in those gaps. 

As we grew, I had to learn a new rule: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I’m now taking things off my plate that I’m capable of so I can make more room for the things I’m great at, and that contribute to the company’s growth.

Q:  Where do you see things headed for you and the company in the next five years?

Our community is ten times larger today than it was two years ago, and it’s far more global, and I’d of course like to see that trajectory continue. We’re focusing our efforts now on creating new opportunities for connections, whether that’s through events (finally in person again!), membership offerings, courses, and more.

For more information, visit womenofinfluence.ca.

Published on: May 20, 2022