For more than three decades, the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards have recognized and celebrated the strides of Canada’s most accomplished, influential and impactful women. The Awards, which are presented by Women of Influence, shine a spotlight on women who have been instrumental in driving business success in Canada. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we proudly recognize and promote their inspiring stories.
When Bobbie Racette launched Virtual Gurus seven years ago, the goal was to create a job for herself. Having been laid off from her position in the oil and gas industry, Racettte found that no one would hire her. “When I was looking for work, I found I was being judged on being a person with tattoos and as a queer Indigenous woman. I was being judged constantly by my looks over my skill set, and I struggled to find really good work. I struggled to be taken seriously,” Racette explains in a recent conversation.
Little did she know that Virtual Gurus would explode into the thriving company it has become – with over 700 virtual assistants, 45 full-time staff and an urgent need to hire quickly to meet demand. She was recently recognized as a 2022 Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards RBC Momentum Award Finalist for the continued growth of her business.
Connecting busy professionals with individuals who can help with a wide range of administrative, marketing and customer service tasks, Virtual Gurus is the largest network of virtual assistants in Canada. But the true mission of the company is to provide employment opportunities to individuals from historically unrepresented backgrounds. “We are empowering traditionally underserved talent – think of us as the AI-powered work-from home network,” says Racette. “We provide meaningful work-from-home opportunities for people from all walks of life – Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, LGBTQ+ individuals, people who might be transitioning genders and can’t find work, veterans and single mothers just trying to make ends meet.”
Beyond offering employment opportunities, Racette and her company provide their virtual assistants, who are contractors, with the tools they need to succeed as independent workers. “We teach them how to set up their own business and do their taxes. Through the platform, we provide insurance, marketing and sales tools and two weeks of pay, no matter what. Even if a client doesn’t pay us. So there are lots of perks that come with working with us.”
Racette and her team are intentional about who they bring on board, hiring assistants with a range of experience. “We have experienced virtual assistants or administrative assistants on the platform. It’s also very important to us that we bring on people that don’t have the experience, because that is our major impact. Our North Star is to bring in people who have been truly overlooked.” Experienced individuals become mentors and ambassadors to support those who have yet to build their skill sets, which they develop through training programs offered by Virtual Gurus.
The company also has their assistants fill out a comprehensive online form to learn what their values are. And while they do ask applicants to self-identify, this is not a requirement. “Some people are not comfortable self-identifying. We offer the option to prefer not to say, but the goal for us is to educate them as to why we want them to identify. Let’s face it, people in traditionally underrepresented groups have typically faced traumas and they don’t want to be judged on those traumas. But we do have clients who specifically want to work with a Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour, or somebody from the 2SLGBTQI+ community. People come to us for that diversity.”
The story is behind the success
Currently, Virtual Gurus has twelve full-time positions to fill and are looking to grow their base of virtual assistants exponentially, with big clients coming on board in the immediate future. When asked what’s behind this incredible momentum, Racette explains that it’s her story that makes an impact on prospective clients, employees and virtual assistants.
“Any time I do a podcast or any sort of larger media, we get a pretty good spike in sales,” she says. “I was classified as being the first Indigenous woman to close a Series A funding round. My story has impacted everybody else who works on the platform – they have their own story now, because of my story, which has paved the way for other Indigenous founders to come out and start businesses.”
She further explains that the diversity of their organization sets them apart. “A lot of companies come to us for all their administrative support. And because it can be hard to figure out a diversity plan, they come to us. We have already pre-vetted a diverse workforce that is ready to go.”
The power within: Inspire one, inspire a nation
RBC’s 2023 theme for International Women’s Day is Celebrate the Power Within
Since starting Virtual Gurus, Racette has drawn on two quotes she relates to. One is ‘Inspire one, inspire a nation.’ “Every day, I want to inspire people to show them, especially young Indigenous women, that they can do it.”
The other is ‘Be bold, be brave and be you.’ “I feel empowered by that statement for many reasons,” says Racette. “But one is because I was so scared to start Virtual Gurus. In order to gain confidence, I had to focus on what power I had and really channel it into my everyday life. Who I am today, I am so different than three years ago. I couldn’t even get up and talk to people, I was just so nervous. I think Celebrating The Power Within is about focusing on your worth, and to be brave and strong.”
Bobbie Racette is a self-proclaimed accidental entrepreneur who took an idea and ran with it. She mentors young women today to encourage entrepreneurial pursuits and reassures them that it’s okay to fail. “If you do, you start something else,” she says. Driven by a North Star that is creating employment opportunities for underrepresented individuals, Racette is growing an inclusivity-first company that is proving that positive social impact is a powerful differentiator.
Photography by Janet Pliszka – Visual Hues Photography
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