We sat down with Empowered Founder, Michelle Grocholsky, to learn more about her passion for EDI work and journey as an entrepreneur.
“My curiosity around EDI began at a very early age. I was always very intrigued to learn what made certain kids at school part of the ‘in’ group while others were part of the ‘out’ group, for example, the kids who were always picked last to be on a team, or not invited to birthday parties. Being one of those kids who was often on the fringes of things, I wanted to understand people's proclivity to include certain people and exclude others,” said Michelle, Founder of Empowered.
Michelle decided to extend that curiosity into her studies. For her undergraduate, she elected to study discrimination with a specific focus on gender identity and religion.
“At that time and still today there is a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment in our society. I wanted to understand where that comes from and what impact that discrimination has on individuals,” explained Michelle.
After the completion of her degree, Michelle felt a sense of unrest. She was struck by how much we know about the effects of discrimination and inequality, yet it continues to be one of the biggest issues in our society today.
“We know that people are experiencing discrimination as it relates to housing, obtaining education, and health care access, but what are the solutions that we can put in place to reduce the likelihood that this is going to happen?” said Michelle.
From there, Michelle decided to enter an organizational psychology graduate program at the University of Waterloo. Her focus was inclusion in the workplace and the development of inclusive team and workplace cultures.
“It’s my belief that if we solve this issue of systemic inequity within organizations, it will have a positive ripple effect inside our communities, creating greater access to things like housing, education, and food security. When people are being paid fairly and given equal access to work opportunities, we are more likely to see them thrive in our communities,” said Michelle.
For the next 15 years, Michelle went on to develop and implement equitable processes and cultures within organizations. She was extremely surprised to discover that there was a disconnect – people often fully agreed with the principles of EDI and treating employees fairly, however, it became evident that they didn’t know how to do it on their own.
“I quickly realized there was a disconnect between our beliefs and our aspirations around this work, and our ability to implement real systemic change. I worked inside of several different businesses across different sectors, and I noticed there’s a lack of momentum and progress in EDI that’s happening across all of them,” said Michelle.
In 2017, Michelle created Empowered EDI. She knew that as a consulting agency for EDI she would be able to create a greater impact by helping more companies prioritize and progress this important area. By 2020, there was an overwhelming amount of interest from potential customers seeking to improve their workplace cultures and procedures.
“Seeing horrors on the news such as George Floyd’s murder in the U.S. and discovering the graves of thousands of Indigenous children in Canada made people more aware of the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion. At the time we were a team of two and could not keep up with the business demand, so we enrolled in the Accelerator Centre’s programming to learn how to grow and scale a business that thrives and explore ways we could integrate technology into our program delivery.”
In addition to joining AC programming, Michelle and the Empowered team have also partnered with the AC to help develop and implement our own EDI strategy and Action Plan for making the AC the most inclusive innovation hub in the world.
“In 2021, we embarked on a strategic EDI initiative to measure the diversity and sense of belonging in our community with the aim create an action plan to establish the AC as the most inclusive innovation hub in the world,” said Tabatha Laverty, Vice President of Marketing and External Relations at the AC. “We heard our community loud and clear. We needed to do better. In consultation with Empowered, our Board of Directors, AC staff, AC mentors, our founders, and alumni community, we created a roadmap focused on transparency and impact.”
In the past year, Empowered has received B Corp certification, and Michelle has been awarded the 40 Under Forty Business Achievement Award for demonstrating excellence in business, while actively contributing to her community. Both recognitions are a testament to Empowered’s commitment to leading and demonstrating the best practices of an equitable employer.
Want to learn more about Empowered and the AC’s EDI Action Plan?
Check out our latest episode of the Waterloo Grit podcast featuring Michelle to learn more about the importance of an EDI strategy for organizations of all sizes and how Empowered EDI helped the AC make a real measurable impact.