#EmbraceEquity and Lead with Courage on International Women’s Day and Beyond
Michelle Obama, a woman leader who inspires me greatly, once said, “History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.” Inspiring all women to lead with courage is more important now than ever. I hope this blog inspires you to claim your courage through personal and professional leadHERship.
While we have made progress toward improving gender diversity and women’s representation in leadership positions in Canada, a lot of change still needs to happen. In 2022, Statistics Canada reported women make up only 35.6% of management positions. Gender diversity in the workplace is important not only from the point of view of gender justice, but also because it has been shown by McKinsey & Company in 2020 that “companies with higher levels of gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity are more likely to outperform their less diverse peers on profitability” (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2022).
How fitting that this year’s theme for International Women’s Day on March 8 is #EmbraceEquity. To #EmbraceEquity means we must make gender equity a foundational part of our society – in our homes, workplaces, and communities.
As chief operating officer at canfitpro, one of the ways I’m working to support gender equity is by bringing attention and recognition to those MO’ments when women courageously step into opportunities, however big or small those moments are. This includes attending women’s networking events to show my support and creating opportunities to bring like-minded women together to build connections, such as with Women Who Influence, established in 2013. I’ve always believed in the power of networking and building community and it is wonderful to be able to create this within the fitness industry.
I have been fortunate to work in a fitness organization where women were not only welcomed to contribute their ideas, bring their talents to the boardroom, and step forward into leadership roles, but they were encouraged to do so. At GoodLife Fitness, where my career as a leader in the fitness industry began, I was fortunate to be in an environment that embraced gender equity. For many years, I have worked with Jane Riddell, President of Patchell Holdings. Those who are fortunate enough to know Jane recognize that she has been, and continues to be, a mentor for all those wise enough to heed her council.
Another woman I had the opportunity to work and learn from was the late Dorothy Walsh. Dorothy supported my ideas, which included starting a women’s leadership event at canfitpro –Women Who Influence. I was fortunate enough to have benefited from Dorothy’s presence over the four decades. Dorothy lived as she encouraged others to live, fiercely and with a purpose. She was a true example of a women who influenced thousands. Read more about Dorothy’s inspiring story and her leadership legacy in this feature article A Woman of Influence in the January/February issue of canfitpro Magazine.
There are several ways I will celebrate International Women’s Day and recognize and embrace equity. One of those ways is through attending local networking events where I can join my friends and meet new women, step into opportunities for new conversations and, where perhaps I can offer my insight, mentoring for women who may be seeking my support. It all starts by having the courage to show up authentically as yourself without an agenda.
I truly believe that inspiring women to lead with courage can go beyond a single event, day, or month. Having a day such as International Women’s Day on March 8 or canfitpro Women Who Influence event on Thursday, August 17, 2023 builds awareness and brings focus to leading with your purpose. But that’s just the beginning. It’s how you continuously find ways (or create ways) to stay connected to that focus and purpose that will spread your influence further than you can imagine. Thinking back to the WXN report I studied, one of the key recommendations for effective networking is to “actively create networking and mentorship opportunities; don’t wait for employees to seek such opportunities — develop them now to create leaders who are ready and visible for future advancement”(on page five of the report).
This is exactly the reason I started Women Who Influence ten years ago. Back then, there were no opportunities for women leaders in the Canadian fitness industry to come together to share stories and support each other. I took a chance, believed I could make a change, and with support from my community of work colleagues and industry friends, I found the courage to create and run the first event of its kind for the fitness industry. Since then, Women Who Influence has become a legendary event at our conference and provided space for up to 300 women to connect, learn, and grow stronger together. The theme for this year’s event is all about women LEADership and inspiring women to lead with courage. To learn more about this event check out this video clip that highlights the event from 2022.
Speaking of courageous women who influence, one of the most courageous women I knew was the late Sharon Mann. Sharon’s energy and smile were contagious and being in a room with her you could not help but feel courageous in her presence. She was one of the most incredible, well-liked, and memorable presenters we have ever had at our canfitpro conferences and events. In dedication to Sharon’s memory and her influence in the industry, canfitpro created the Women Who Influence Sharon Mann Inspiration Award and Scholarship to recognize women leaders and honour what Sharon stood for, which includes but is not limited to — personal courage, growth mindset, influence, inspiration, and community impact. Kim Basler was the inaugural recipient of this award in 2022, and I can’t wait to see who will be recognized this year! I invite you to step into your courage and apply for this award or nominate a woman that you feel is deserving of this recognition. Link to apply here.