October is Women’s History Month in Canada. This is a time to celebrate the women and girls who are making a difference and helping us move forward towards a better, more inclusive Canada (Government of Canada, 2020). Women in Leadership is one of our canfitpro diversity, equity and inclusion pillars and an important priority for our business. We recognize that women trying to make a difference as fitness business leaders can face multiple barriers and intersectional challenges. We are taking action to inspire change in this area. For instance, in 2013 we launched our Women Who Influence event, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year at canfitpro Global.

We feel it is a priority to recognize and bring together several different perspectives and stories from some of the amazing presenters, members, PRO TRAINERS, and award winner in our canfitpro community. That is why we are taking the opportunity in this blog to feature six fabulous women fitness business leaders. We asked each of the contributors to pick from a list of questions to courageously share insights, advice, and inspiration from their experiences. Our contributors are Jolene DeVries, Vysh Sivakumaran, Jessie Thomas, Adenike (Nike) Charles, Jennifer Sawer, and Marie-Eve Ricard

Read on to see the knowledge and experience our contributors have to share! What actions are you taking, or can you take going forward to elevate women in your fitness business?

Name: Jolene De Vries –2023 Fitness Industry Council (FIC) of Canada Leadership Award Winner


Bio: Jolene, a multi-certified trainer with a focus on Pain-Free Performance, co-founded three Anytime Fitness locations with her husband Edward. She is passionate about lifelong learning and using a team-based approach to help clients live their best life. In her free time, she enjoys family, farm work, and dressage training with her horse. 

What influenced or inspired you to start a business in fitness?  

I transitioned from a career in mining to coaching and operating our gyms full time because I found my true passion in helping people become healthier versions of themselves.  I find making a difference in peoples lives fills my cup. This shift allowed me to align work with my passion, helping others live healthier, happier, better-quality lives.

What is one thing that called on your courage and you have had to face as a fitness businesswoman and how did you overcome it?  

Leaving behind my stable six-figure career in mining to dive headfirst into the fitness industry was a bold move. Our business was brand new, but I was getting burnt out with work, family, and operating the gym. My husband and I chatted, and with his support, we decided to take a leap of faith, even with the uncertainty and financial risk involved, and I left my engineering career.  I trusted in my experience, hard work, and dedication.  I don’t like to fail and with perseverance, sweat, a lot of tears, and even a shutdown by the government we are now opening our third facility.

Today, I’m proud of our thriving fitness community we’ve created, and it’s a testament to the power of taking that leap of faith. 

What advantages and value do women fitness leaders bring to support fitness business growth, development, and longevity?   

Women fitness leaders like me bring a special touch to the fitness world that supports business growth and lasting success. We’re great at developing personal connections with people, making them feel right at home in our gyms. That sense of belonging keeps clients coming back.

We’re also pros at juggling multiple tasks and staying organized, which is essential for managing a fitness business. We understand that health isn’t just about workouts; it’s also about mental and emotional well-being.  We’re adaptable and quick to adjust, ensuring our businesses stay fresh and appealing.  If you aren’t evolving, willing to learn and aren’t adaptable, your business will fall behind – women in leadership positions hold these traits.  

If you could give other women career advice about being a fitness businesswoman leader, what would you say?   

My advice would be:

Passion First – Let your genuine passion for fitness and well-being be your guiding force. Authenticity shines through and attracts the right clients and staff.

Never Stop Learning – The fitness industry is ever-evolving. Keep seeking knowledge, earn certifications, and stay updated with the latest trends and research.

Relationship Building – Build strong, meaningful connections with clients and your team. Listen to their needs, creating a supportive, inclusive environment but don’t allow yourself to be walked all over.

Embrace Change – Be open to innovation and change. Experiment with new approaches and technologies to keep your offerings fresh and appealing.

Self-Care – Prioritize self-care to maintain your well-being. A healthy leader is better equipped to inspire and lead.  Find a passion outside of your business where you can turn everything off.

Persistence Matters – Challenges will arise. Stay persistent and resilient, holding onto your vision.  Fail forward.

Collaborate – Build a network within the fitness community. Collaborate with peers and other health practitioners, share insights, and stay connected and work together to help your clients.

Balance Life – Maintain a healthy work-life balance, cherishing family and personal time, and again find a passion outside your business.

Name: Vysh Sivakumaran – 2021 canfitpro Fitness Professional of the Year – Personal Training Specialist Winner

Bio: Vysh (vai-sh) is a certified strength coach, trauma informed yoga instructor, and a fitness industry leader in the Toronto community — working to create inclusive, body neutral, and accessible fitness, through 1:1, group, and corporate services within her online fitness community, Fitness in Place.  

What influenced or inspired you to start a business in fitness?                             

The need for movement and community at the height of the pandemic. Pursuing fitness is often a privilege – exercise takes extra time, fitness professionals can be expensive, and fitness spaces can be intimidating or inaccessible. Fitness In Place continues to change all that by providing accessible, affordable fitness options for folks who don’t feel conventional gym spaces work. 

How do you believe we as an industry can better support women fitness business leaders?    

As an industry, we can support women as well as non-binary, gender-fluid, and trans leaders by recognizing how exclusive or divided the fitness industry can be. When there is no awareness around this subject, there is lack of inclusiveness and empathy around how difficult it can be. Whether you are a woman of colour or non-binary person of colour, these two identities hold drastically different experiences in how they navigate their way around leading. A level of education can be nurtured through workshops, conferences, and organizations that lead in educating fitness professionals on what intersectionality is and the impact it holds.  

If you could give other women career advice about being a fitness businesswoman leader, what would you say?   

It is time to take up space and know you deserve a spot at the table, just like any other professional. It is time to not worry about how you’re perceived or judged for what you do or don’t do. There are so many different types of leaders, so it’s important to know who you are as a person and what you want to represent. There is only one you and we want you to show up as authentically as you can today.

Name: Jessie Thomas – 2023 Sharon Mann Inspiration Award Winner

Bio: Jessie is the co-owner and founder of Farm Girl Fitness in Halton Hills, Ontario. She has been a fitness instructor since 2007, is a canfitpro PRO TRAINER for TRX and was named Impact Magazine’s 2022 Top Fitness Trainers in Canada. 

What is one thing that called on your courage and you have had to face as a fitness businesswoman and how did you overcome it?

Starting a fitness business during a pandemic is probably the scariest thing I’ve done for a lot of reasons; not knowing what the next day would bring, not knowing how to be a leader and stand up for myself when tough decisions had to be made, and not knowing if my ideas had the legs to last beyond the pandemic. All these things would keep me up at night if I dwelled on them for too long. I overcame it by surrounding myself with positive and supportive people who cheered me on even when I felt like quitting and who could see my courage when I couldn’t. And secondly, I focused on facts more than feelings. I would often write down my fears or feelings, and then contrast it with just the facts. This helped me to look at things objectively and see the opportunities even in the struggle.

What do you foresee in the future for women fitness business leaders?

I see a new type of fitness industry that includes the words ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ more than ever before. Women have taken the brunt of the poor messaging that the fitness industry has put out for years, making people believe that the main reason for working out is to change our bodies, often to appease the standards of others. With a shift going towards a more holistic approach to fitness, which includes mental health and healthy aging, women in the fitness industry stand to be the leaders in this shift. Since they’ve been there, experienced it, and felt what it’s like to be on the receiving end of poor messaging and branding, they know what the consumer really wants. They can now create successful and trailblazing businesses, marketing, programming, and teams that will help to serve the masses and lead truly healthy, balanced lives.

If you could give other women career advice about being a fitness businesswoman leader what would you say?   

  1. Know exactly what you want and what you stand for so that when times get tough you don’t waver or break. Your core values will be your north star during challenges so be sure you know what they are always.
  2. Choose your circle wisely. The energy you surround yourself with will dictate your results. Knowing your worth will help you know who deserves your energy and who doesn’t.
  3. Take care of yourself. Once you start running a business it can be so easy to put all your focus on others and supporting their health and fitness journeys. Don’t forget about your own. Make time for your health and wellness, just like you would tell your clients to do. Taking care of your nutrition, sleep, mental health, and your fitness will let you continue to help others.
  4. Be willing to ask for and accept help.

How do you believe we as an industry can better support women fitness business leaders? 

I think we can support women in the fitness industry by continuing to create opportunities for connection, collaboration, and mentorship.

It’s so easy to feel isolated when you’re an entrepreneur or trying to take the lead in business, especially as a woman. There will always be struggles that I will have different from my male counterparts. For some, it’s the balance of being a mother and a business owner. For me, I have spent the last three years dealing with uterine fibroids that left me exhausted, in severe pain, and at times hemorrhaging, making it very difficult to run a business. Connecting with others who understand and who have had similar experiences helps me realize that my feelings are valid and that I’m not alone.

Conferences, workshops, networking, and mentorship programs can help to create the leaders we need to ensure a strong fitness industry for the future generations to come.

Name: Adenike (Nike) Charles -2022 canfitpro Fitness Professional of the Year Finalist

BIO: Adenike (Nike) Charles is the owner of JUST2SWEAT studio where faith and fitness transform lives! Her goal is to help you rewrite your fitness and faith journey in order to maintain consistency and balance.

What influenced or inspired you to start a business in fitness?

My passion for both people and well-being served as the driving force behind my entry into the fitness business. During my university years, I pursued a degree in kinesiology, deeply fascinated by anatomy, movement, and sports. Becoming a personal trainer and fitness instructor has been a profound blessing and a source of great joy. I am privileged to positively impact lives daily by simply doing what I love.

What do you foresee in the future for women fitness business leaders?

I foresee a remarkable growth trajectory and abundant opportunities for women in leadership roles within the fitness industry. Companies are increasingly turning to women to spearhead workshops and lead fitness initiatives. More women are taking the helm as owners and operators of fitness facilities. I anticipate women venturing into sports team franchising and coaching major league teams. Furthermore, I believe there will be a rising demand for women to hold positions on the board of directors for major league sports teams. Women are progressively asserting their dominance in the fitness industry, breaking barriers that once limited their presence.

If you could give other women career advice about being a fitness businesswoman leader what would you say?

My advice would be to remain steadfast in maintaining the creative essence of your brand while staying attuned to the ever-evolving trends within the industry. Don’t hesitate to seek guidance when needed and surround yourself with individuals who inspire and challenge you. Patience is key, and it’s vital not to become ensnared in the allure of ‘social media glitter,’ which can lead to burnout. Always keep your ‘why’ at the forefront of your journey and trust the process.

What is calling on your courage this year to move your fitness business to the next level?

This year, I am embarking on a courageous path by forging partnerships with mental health professionals, thereby adopting a more holistic approach to overall well-being. Many of my clients grapple with mental health challenges, and I’ve teamed up with a psychotherapist to bridge the gap between physical and mental wellness. My ultimate aim is to achieve excellence and leave behind a legacy of integrity within the fitness industry, setting new standards for quality and care.

Name: Jennifer Sawyer

Bio: Jennifer is the founder of a North End Fitness and Training – a fitness and personal training studio in Port Perry, Ontario. She is in her21st year with canfitpro. Jennifer is a certified canfitpro FIS, PTS, HWL coach and FIS PRO TRAINER. 

What influenced or inspired you to start a business in fitness?  

Throughout my 22 years as a Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer, I always dreamed of starting my own business in fitness. I was working as a fitness professional part-time and a schoolteacher full-time with a “when I win the lottery…” fantasy. However, I knew that it was time for this dream to become reality when I moved to a small town with minimal opportunities for people to prioritize fitness. I was always sharing fitness advice or designing exercise plans for others and was desperate to see people around me become active. I was so hungry to share it with them that I opened my own backyard to my neighbours, friends, and complete strangers to run group exercise and personal training sessions. It was obvious that I needed a brick-and-mortar location, and my fitness business was born.

What is one thing that called on your courage and you have had to face as a fitness businesswoman and how did you overcome it?  

Making the decision to become a fitness businesswoman full time took an infinite amount of courage. In order to manage a Fitness and Personal Training studio full time, I knew that I would have to leave my role as a schoolteacher. The fitness world can be one of feast or famine, which differs from my past career with security, a pension, and benefits. But when I listened to the small voice inside of me, it got louder and was shouting that a leap of faith was necessary. With courage and determination came anxiety and fear. I found comfort in numbers and ensured that my business plan was realistic and fail-proof. I set my fitness business up for success by starting with smaller, attainable goals before expanding to large scale visions. My fears slowly dissipated as my fitness business grew and I now feel ready to dream even bigger.

What is calling on your courage this year to move your fitness business to the next level?  

I am calling on my courage to take the next step in growing my business – expanding our space to reach even more clients. It is scary to add a larger or second location to my fitness business because of the unknowns. It is uncomfortable to take a risk when the success of the business is predictable but not guaranteed. As a mother of three daughters, I think of how my actions and decisions as a fitness businesswoman can affect their futures too. I must ensure that I am taking calculated risks that do not jeopardize my family’s income. It helps to think of what I would tell my girls if they were in my position. I would direct them to be aware of the pros and cons and to reach out to support and resources that can help facilitate change. I would tell them to be courageous.

If you could give other women career advice about being a fitness businesswoman leader, what would you say?   

To be a fitness businesswoman, you must be true to yourself. The fitness world is saturated with trends, ideas, and influencers sharing fitness advice. One must know who they are as an individual, as a businesswoman, and as a fitness leader. It is important to review your values and reflect on what it is that you want to share with the world. What passions, energy, and messages do you want your clients to receive from you? When you stay true to who you are, and refrain from following trends because they are hot now, you will not find it hard to lead others.

Name: Marie Eve Richard – 2023 PRO TRAINER Impact Award Winner

Bio: Bachelière en enseignement de l’éducation physique et à la santé, Marie-Eve Ricard œuvre dans l’industrie du conditionnement physique depuis les 20 dernières années. Elle est PRO FORMATRICE et lauréate du prix “Impact dans l’industrie” auprès de canfitpro. Cette passionnée du conditionnement physique propage sa passion à travers différents services en virtuel, en entreprise et sur l’eau.

With a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education, Marie-Eve Ricard has been working in the fitness industry for the past 20 years. She is a canfitpro PRO TRAINER and winner of the Industry Impact award from canfitpro. This fitness enthusiast spreads her passion through various virtual, corporate, and on-the-water services.

 Qu’est-ce qui vous a incité ou inspiré à créer une entreprise dans le domaine de la remise en forme?

Lorsque la pandémie a éclaté, je donnais des cours à temps partiel pour une municipalité tout en travaillant à temps plein pour le gouvernement. Comme vous le savez, malheureusement, tout s’est interrompu. Cette situation m’a incité à explorer les opportunités en ligne. J’ai suivi une formation appelée « THINK Yourself A VIRTUAL FITNESS PRO », ce qui m’a permis rapidement de proposer des services en direct à distance. J’ai pris l’initiative d’offrir ces services moi-même, de manière simple, dans le but d’aider le plus de gens à maintenir un mode de vie sain et actif. J’ai partagé l’invitation sur mes réseaux sociaux et j’ai également osé proposer mes services à mon employeur, puisque nous étions tous en télétravail. Pourquoi pas! Essayons et voyons ce que ça donne! Depuis ce moment, j’ai poursuivi cette démarche avec succès. De plus, je travaille maintenant à temps plein dans l’industrie du conditionnement physique, ayant pu quitter mon emploi au gouvernement.

Selon vous, dans quelle mesure les femmes dirigeantes sont-elles représentées et reconnues dans l’industrie du conditionnement physique aujourd’hui? Quels changements avez-vous constatés au cours de votre carrière?

Il est encourageant de constater que l’industrie du conditionnement physique a évolué au fil des années. Ma propre expérience, aux côtés de femmes inspirantes dévouées à la santé, au bien-être et à une gestion saine, témoigne de manière tangible de ces avancements bénéfiques.

Les femmes dirigeantes, selon moi, apportent souvent une diversité de talents et de compétences. Leur approche peut être complémentaire à celle des hommes, ce qui permet d’enrichir l’industrie en termes d’innovation, de créativité et de vision. Les femmes dirigeantes dans l’industrie ne sont pas seulement des chefs d’entreprise, mais aussi des modèles et des sources d’inspiration pour d’autres femmes, comme moi, qui aspirent à des carrières similaires. Elles montrent que la réussite est possible quel que soit le genre.

De plus, l’impact positif des ces dernières ne se limite pas seulement à leur réussite personnelle, mais s’étend également à leur capacité à soutenir et encourager d’autres femmes à atteindre des niveaux d’excellence et d’influence.

Quelle est la chose qui a fait appel à votre courage et que vous avez dû affronter en tant que femme d’affaires dans le domaine du conditionnement physique et comment l’avez-vous surmontée?

L’un des plus grands défis auxquels j’ai été confrontée, et que je continue à surmonter aujourd’hui, concerne mes propres peurs et doute. Si j’avais seulement écouté ma petite voix intérieure, qui a tendance à mettre l’accent sur les aspects négatifs, je n’aurais jamais eu le courage d’accomplir tout ce que j’ai réalisé jusqu’à présent. Ce qui m’a réellement aidée à surmonter mes peurs, ce sont les personnes qui m’entourent, celles qui m’encouragent et me poussent à m’épanouir. De plus, j’investis du temps pour moi-même, afin de prendre du recul et transformer ce langage intérieur en quelque chose de constructif, me propulsant vers le haut plutôt que vers le bas.

Comment pensez-vous que l’industrie peut mieux soutenir les femmes chefs d’entreprise dans le domaine du conditionnement physique?

Voici quelques propositions :

  • Programmes de mentorat et de développement professionnel: La mise en place de programmes de mentorat visant à jumeler des femmes chefs d’entreprise expérimentées avec des femmes aspirantes à des postes de direction serait une démarche bénéfique. Ces programmes permettraient de faciliter le transfert de compétences, de prodiguer des conseils avisés et de partager des expériences précieuses.
  • Formations en leadership et en gestion d’entreprise: La poursuite de l’offre de formations en leadership et en gestion d’entreprise adaptées spécifiquement aux femmes serait un moyen efficace d’encourager leur croissance. Ces formations contribueraient à renforcer leurs compétences et leur confiance en tant que chefs d’entreprise.
  • Partenariats et collaborations: Il serait bénéfique pour l’industrie de poursuivre sa promotion active et son soutien aux partenariats et aux collaborations entre les entreprises dirigées par des femmes. Cela contribuerait à générer une synergie qui serait profitable à toute l’industrie.

Que prévoyez-vous pour l’avenir des femmes dirigeantes d’entreprises de conditionnement physique?

Je prévois un avenir prometteur et encore plus encourageant pour les femmes dirigeantes d’entreprises de conditionnement physique. Les tendances actuelles montrent une augmentation de leur présence et de leur influence, et je m’attends à ce que cette progression se poursuive. Les femmes dirigeantes continueront à occuper des postes de leadership de plus en plus importants, apportant leur expertise et leur vision à l’industrie. Leur succès inspirera de plus en plus de femmes à poursuivre des carrières similaires, créant ainsi une dynamique positive.

L’innovation et la diversité seront des éléments clés de l’avenir de l’industrie du conditionnement physique, grâce à la contribution des femmes dirigeantes. De plus, les femmes continueront à se soutenir mutuellement en favorisant des réseaux professionnels solides et en encourageant les partenariats et les collaborations. Cette solidarité renforcera leur influence collective. 

Quels sont les avantages et la valeur que les femmes dirigeantes d’entreprise de conditionnement physique apportent pour soutenir la croissance, le développement et la longévité des entreprises de conditionnement physique?

Les femmes dirigeantes d’entreprises de conditionnement physique apportent une valeur inestimable à leur secteur. Leur compréhension approfondie des besoins des femmes en matière de bien-être et de condition physique les aide à développer des programmes et des services plus adaptés, élargissant ainsi la clientèle potentielle. Leur créativité et leur esprit d’innovation alimentent de nouvelles idées pour la promotion de la santé, stimulant ainsi la croissance de l’entreprise et maintenant sa pertinence dans un marché en constante évolution.

De plus, leurs compétences relationnelles solides favorisent un environnement de travail positif, augmentant la satisfaction des employés et favorisant la collaboration au sein de l’équipe. Leur capacité à gérer la diversité des talents contribue à former une équipe plus performante avec une gamme variée de perspectives.

Enfin, les femmes dirigeantes apportent une perspective unique, une créativité, des compétences relationnelles et un engagement essentiel pour soutenir la croissance, le développement et la pérennité des entreprises de conditionnement physique.

Si vous pouviez donner à d’autres femmes des conseils sur la carrière de dirigeante d’une entreprise de conditionnement physique, que diriez-vous?

Si je devais prodiguer des conseils aux femmes aspirantes à une carrière de dirigeante dans une entreprise de conditionnement physique, je dirais ceci :

  • Éducation continue: Investissez du temps dans l’apprentissage continu de l’industrie du conditionnement physique et de la gestion d’entreprise. Restez au fait des tendances du marché pour prendre des décisions éclairées.
  • Réseautage: Établissez des relations solides avec d’autres professionnels de l’industrie. Le réseautage peut ouvrir des portes et offrir des opportunités de collaboration, tout en permettant d’apprendre des expériences d’autres leaders.
  • Leadership: Développez constamment vos compétences en leadership, notamment en communication, résolution de problèmes et la prise de décision. Un leadership positif est essentiel pour guider votre entreprise vers le succès.
  • Passion: Cultivez une passion profonde pour la santé et le bien-être. Votre enthousiasme se reflétera dans votre entreprise et inspirera vos clients.
  • Résilience: Attendez-vous à des défis, et soyez créative pour les surmonter. 

Qu’est-ce qui fait appel à votre courage cette année pour faire passer votre entreprise de conditionnement physique au niveau supérieur?

Mon courage est sollicité cette année pour propulser mon entreprise de conditionnement physique vers de nouveaux sommets à travers deux défis majeurs. Premièrement, il s’agit de maîtriser des technologies visant à rendre la santé et le bien-être accessible à un public plus large.

Deuxièmement, je suis déterminée à établir de nouvelles collaborations stratégiques. En unissant mes forces avec d’autres acteurs de l’industrie du conditionnement physique, nous pourrons maximiser notre impact.

Ces deux défis requièrent une ouverture au changement, un investissement de temps et la construction de relations solides, repoussant ainsi les limites des offres de services régulières.

En fin de compte, mon courage est stimulé par la conviction que ces actions me permettront de contribuer de manière significative à la promotion d’un mode de vie sain et actif. Mon entreprise est prête à relever ces défis pour élever l’industrie vers de nouveaux sommets.


Maureen (Mo) Hagan is COO at canfitpro, and a global fitness ambassador recognized for her leadership in the fitness industry that spans almost 4 decades. She is an international award-winning fitness professional and her passion for moving people extends beyond the fitness industry as a licensed physiotherapist and, with her work on the Canadian National Board of Directors for Prescription To Get Active.