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Diana Olsen, Founder + President of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters

Republished with permission from Be The Next Her an Evio Community Partner

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Diana is the founder and president of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters.

What is your morning routine?

It begins with coffee, which I sip while catching up on news, emails, company internal reports, and Instagram. Then I wake up my daughter, make her lunch, get ready – then it’s off to the races!

Tell us about your career path

I am the founder and president of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters. I oversee all aspects of cafe operations and coffee roasting from the Balzac’s Roastery in Ancaster, Ontario.

My passion for coffee began when I was 14. My first paying job was at an Italian restaurant, Il Giardino, in Vancouver. One of my responsibilities was operating the espresso machine, and that’s where it all started.

In 1993, I traveled to San Francisco to learn the craft of coffee roasting and bean selection at the West Coast Specialty Coffee Training Institute. This was the same year that Balzac’s began as a coffee cart at Ontario Place in Toronto. Now Balzac’s celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and has 15 artisanal cafe locations across Ontario.

What challenges do you or women face in your industry?

The greatest challenge is the feeling of being underrepresented in the industry, but this is also an opportunity to encourage women to consider entering the coffee roasting industry as a viable career option – especially as owners.

Early in my career, I was only one of few females present among my peers. I did feel that women were underrepresented in the coffee industry – not just as growers, roasters, and baristas – but as owners. Feelings of exclusion grew stronger as more micro-roasters were formed, which were chiefly owned and operated by men. This did not dissuade me from pursuing my passion for coffee, however. Even though it is a male-dominated industry, the past 10 years have seen major improvements – and the voices of the women in the industry need to be amplified.

As a female founder, I have seen how extensively the business can be informed by a male perspective. While I admire the ambitions of all entrepreneurs in the industry, we need to work together to build conversations around our favourite daily cup that break down biases, conscious or unconscious.

It is also important to cultivate a community of women that support each other’s ambitions, nurturing their success as valuable contributors to the industry. The fact that 70% of my employees are female is an aspect of my business I am very proud of.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to be the NEXT you?

It is very important to closely examine what drives you. If you have a genuine passion for what you are doing, the rewards of your efforts will come naturally. Power, money or ego are drivers that may not lead to long-term fulfillment. It is also critical to surround yourself with others that are motivated in the same ways, especially in the early stages of your career. Even though I was oftentimes the only woman in my peer group, my unique perspective was also an asset to the conversation.

How do you separate work life from your personal life?

I try to maintain a balance between both. By taking care of my personal life, my health, and my family – and encouraging my employees to do the same – I am better able to serve and contribute to a healthier work environment.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by other women that are blazing a trail in the Canadian coffee roasting industry. Balzac’s, Bridgehead, and Kicking Horse Coffee are all successful, women-run Canadian coffee brands. I would like Canadians to be proud of the contributions women have made to the industry – and I am looking forward to seeing more women assume leadership roles not only as owners, but across the entire supply chain, from bean to brew.

I am also inspired by French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac – and his genuine passion for coffee. During my undergraduate studies in French literature, I was inspired by Honoré de Balzac’s famous quote, “the Café is the People’s Parliament.” Balzac’s Coffee Roasters places a high value on providing diligently-sourced, sustainable, and local products that bring communities together in a unique and inviting artisanal café setting.

When you’re off the clock, what are your indulgences?

My indulgences include ice hockey, good food, and good beer, music (once or twice a year, I play for fun in a feminist punk rock band that my hockey team put together), and I also enjoy beachcombing — I love collecting beach glass.