4 mins | 940 words
By: Wyatt Lang
Since 1911, March 8th has been recognized as International Women’s Day; a day marked on the calendars to celebrate and champion women and their role in our society. While many places take the day to celebrate women, their achievements and future in the developing world, Ottawa decided 24 hours just wasn’t enough. Instead, in the build–up to the much-anticipated day, March 4th kicked off International Women’s Week here in the Capital City – and what a week it was.
From the Women’s Leadership Summit Monday afternoon to the EO Ottawa Ottawa International Women’s Day celebration Friday night, International Women’s Week in Ottawa embodied this year’s global theme of ‘Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change’. From start to finish, there wasn’t a moment to spare as Ottawa’s leading women in innovation and entrepreneurship showed up to share their experiences and goals. Several events highlighted the week’s astounding agenda, including a keynote talk from Monique Woodard and the Elevate International Women’s Day Summit on Parliament Hill.
A venture capital investor and co-founder of Black Founders Startup Ventures, Woodard made the trip from San Francisco to Ottawa’s innovation hub, Bayview Yards, on the Monday night to talk about women and their role in entrepreneurship and investing.
“There are a lot of great women entrepreneurs out there, a lot of great women founders that deserve to be funded, and to be funded at the same rate as their male counterparts,” said Woodard. “I’m excited to continue supporting women entrepreneurs and continue making the tech industry a little bit more diverse day by day.”
Woodard talked to the packed crowd about the important role we all play in ensuring the success of entrepreneurial women right now and in the years to come, enforcing it through continued mentorship and support. “I think women investing their time and resources and capital into other women is how you start to sort of grow the cycle,” remarked Woodard. “You start that cycle – you start that flywheel moving – and then hopefully it continues to move and accelerate.”
This idea of mentorship and support was echoed throughout the week and reinforced halfway through at the Willis College Women in Cyber and Network Defence Summit. Sally Whitehead, Global Director, Sophos, during her address, spoke to the need to attract and retain women in high-tech, specifically cyber defence. Her approach, she explained, rests on two essential pillars: creating a direct-to-employment pipeline and supporting a diverse workforce.
Whitehead highlighted that 57% of graduating classes [in the cyber industry] are made up of women-identifying students, but “less women than men are hired at the starting level. What that means is, if you have an uneven start as you go up that corporate pyramid, that continues on. When you get to the top – at C-level – you get 1 in 5 women.”
She ended her talk with an action item asking everyone in the room to self–reflect, and moving forward, to be intentional with how they contribute to their company’s culture. She referenced that women’s work in industry is often met with harsher criticism. Knowing reactions and responses to matter, she calls us to assume only the best intentions behind a peer’s work. This level of thoughtfulness will help end the perpetual cycle of inequity in the workplace.
Whitehead concluded, “There is a barrier to equity that we need to overcome… women supporting women and workplace allies supporting women – I ask that we work to ensure we provide that supportive framework to eliminate that barrier.”
In line with the goals and aspirations Woodard set out during her moving address, and the insights and industry challenges discussed during the cyber summit, it seemed only fitting that on March 8th, International Women’s Day, Parliament Hill was home to the Elevate International Women’s Day Summit. Moderated by Sonya Shorey, Invest Ottawa’s VP of Strategy, Marketing and Communication, the event focused on the advancement of women in education, technology and leadership with the Leading at the Edge panel discussion. The five-woman panel consisted of Cheryl Jensen, Karla Congson, Lisa Carroll, Karla Briones and Coreen Bouchard, taking a critical look at what it means to be courageous, innovative, bold and uncompromising in industry and all aspects of life today.
“This kind of gathering here, to be a woman in a room of mostly women and men who support us, is not something that happened 20 years ago,” reflected Cheryl Jensen, President & CEO of Algonquin College. “I think we have a responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t happen just on International Women’s Day or International Women’s Week. We have to find these abilities, these avenues, these openings to support each other in these kinds of environments and not feel funny about it because it’s a group of women getting together – men have been doing that for centuries.”
From great life lessons to what it means to lead at the edge, the panel shed light on their experiences in entrepreneurship and innovation, encouraging everyone to take these lessons and find a way to meaningfully implement them in their daily lives. As the event wrapped up and the panel came to a conclusion, with the end of International Women’s Week on the horizon, Sonya Shorey synthesized the evening with a lasting and impactful message for the room.
“If you can see her, you can be her. And this is a saying that I absolutely love. Every leader on this stage, those you will meet today and many throughout your life – you can be that leader, you can have that opportunity, you just have to pursue it.”