The Global Women’s Leadership Forum was held last Thursday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and I had the pleasure of attending this inaugural event. Organized by Community Microskills Development Centre, the event was dedicated to empowering all women to pursue leadership roles. It offered a great panel of Canadian women leaders from diverse industries.
Having worked with internationally-trained women professionals for several years, I recognize two key career management challenges this demographic faces: lack of social capital and lack of self-confidence. Although one could argue that all immigrants to Canada face these hurdles, women have the added barrier of the glass ceiling. And if you are a mother, the “maternal wall” is also present. Now that I work with women using a personal branding methodology, I see significant value in career development strategies that encourage ultimate self-awareness and a self-marketing plan that both boosts self-confidence and downplays the negative stigmas that plague global women.
Getting back to the conference, I met many wonderful women there– chatting with some informally at lunch and listening to several panelists speak about their personal leadership journeys. Unfortunately I missed the opening speaker – Jean Augustine PC, BA, M.Ed, LLD (Hon) who was the first appointed Fairness Commissioner for Ontario in March 2007. If you were at the conference and heard her speak, please leave a comment with your takeaways from her presentation. The specific women I had the opportunity to listen to were:
- Noelle Richardson, Chief Diversity Officer, Ontario Public Service
- Carol Poulsen, Senior Vice President, Head of Group Architecture, Innovation and Solution Delivery Services, RBC
- Puja Subrun, Director, Process Excellence, TELUS Mobility Business Solutions
- Amanda Collucci, President, Clean4ME
- Lisa Smecca, VP, Employee and Volunteer Resources, Kids Help Phone
- Mary Anne Chambers, Former MPP, Retired Banking Executive
These business leaders offered their personal insights and some practical strategies that women can employ to become effective leaders. It may come as no surprise that many of the women had similar advice. The following is a summary of my takeaways from the conference on essential leadership skills for women and includes some of my own suggestions for further reading on the subject matter:
- be your authentic self
- ask others for feedback
- know what’s important to you
- don’t try and be someone else because you cannot sustain that
- don’t compare yourself to others
Identify and Promote Your Strengths
- believe in yourself and take personal responsibility in achieving your goals
- own your success, celebrate your victories
- don’t assume people will automatically know what you want…articulate it
- play up your strengths
- never stop learning
- be willing to acknowledge that there are things you don’t know and make a commitment to lifelong learning
- make a conscious effort to respect others
- learn to communicate effectively, both one-on-one and in groups
- adapt your style according to who you’re interacting with (Situational Leadership Model, Ken Blanchard)
The keynote speaker was Constance Backhouse, university professor at University of Ottawa. She is also a legal scholar and writer. Internationally known for her feminist research, she shared the story of Viola Desmond – a very courageous woman in Canadian history who is often referred to as the Canadian version of Rosa Parks. Her story was one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Nova Scotian and Canadian history. But as someone who took several women’s studies courses throughout university, even I had never heard of her until the keynote address. It is clear that we need to bring to the forefront all those who have stood firmly in the name of a cause, contributed to our country’s history and helped pave the way for all underrepresented groups. Their stories inspire others and serve as important role models.
The event provided an opportunity to attendees to get to know each other and build our own networks. In fact, the final speaker panel consisted of several thought leaders on the topic of networking. Those of us who work in the field of career services agree that networking and relationship-building is of paramount importance to a person’s career success. For women, it is even more important. In the book Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders by Alice H. Eagly & Linda L. Carli, the authors state that building social capital is a significant challenge for women as they often fail in not developing crucial professional relationships through networking. This results in fewer opportunities and paths to high level positions than men.
A nice bonus gift all attendees received was a book called “Networking Edge: Building Relationships for Success” written by Audie McCarthy, President of The Marrek Group. It is a very practical guide to the concept of networking, a true life skill that all women should work on honing. You can find more information about the book here.
The theme that resonated with me the most at the Global Women Leadership Conference – and one that should never be forgotten – is the importance of women supporting women. We are all charting a similar course and I think it is so important that we help one another navigate our way to personal and professional success. I feel energized when I see a woman succeed in something she wants, and even more thrilled when I have played some small role in having that success realized. I am looking forward to seeing this event occur annually. Having role models is known to be directly related to women’s career success, and I believe we need further opportunities to gather, share and learn from one another.