CEO, YWCA Canada
Q: What are three adjectives your colleagues would use to describe you?
A: This can be a challenging question and one I reflect on regularly because I want to ensure I put my values into action and live them to the best of my abilities.
Colleagues I have spoken to have shared that while I focus on strategic big-picture thinking, I’m also invested in ensuring real outcomes for real people through concrete actions. I am not satisfied with blue sky thinking if it does not translate into meaningful changes for people’s everyday lives. This is especially important within an association context because our members are working on pressing challenges everyday — part of our job is to create the conditions that enable them to thrive and succeed as they work towards our collective mission to improve the lives of women, girls and their families across Canada.
I am committed to being a bridge builder because I’ve seen the incredible things that can be achieved together when community experiences inform policy considerations. My experience in community-based organizations as an organizer, advocate and front-line provider has been critical to developing a strong foundation of understanding the on the ground realities. I also see the real opportunity that the policy arena at different levels of government can play for systems change and culture shift. My training in policy at the London School of Economics has also influenced my ability to strategically consider which policy levers can be used to create the change we seek. Whether it’s through our work at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women or through our advocacy efforts with federal ministries, change can happen in a range of contexts.
It’s only when the diverse sectors and levels of our society work in coordination that we can maximize our collective impact.
So, if I had to choose to share three words or phrases, that describe my practice as an actor in social policy and gender equity, it would be someone who is results-oriented, pragmatic and optimistic, with an intention towards bridging across sectors and communities with relationships at its core. I’m hopeful for the incredible impact you can have when you work towards a collective vision. We have 32 members associations working in 300 communities and are making tangible impacts.
Q: We hear a lot about continuous learning these days — and how excellence is an ongoing endeavour. Is there anything you are currently working on developing as part of your own professional development?
A: Our team at the YWCA Canada is committed to fostering a strong culture of learning and innovation because the central work we do is focused on education. We are either facilitating professional development for our member associations, informing external stakeholders such as our public and private sector partners, or working on awareness initiatives for society at large.
Right now, I’m taking law courses at the Open University and I’ve finished up my project management certification. Also, when I can, I complete free massive learning online courses (MOOCs) and mini online modules and encourage my fellow staff team to engage in that type of continuous professional development. When your colleagues are learning, you also learn alongside them. Each time you learn is another opportunity for a growth-focused conversation. You never know what you don’t know so it’s important to commit to continuous improvement and ongoing learning. I appreciate the opportunity to learn together, share promising practices and expanding the range of tools in our organization’s toolbox.
I’m an auntie to two kids, I learn constantly from them. They are training me. As members of Generation Z, they are thinking about human rights and gender equity. They are constantly asking me tough questions that force me to reflect and think critically. If an eight-year-old can very nonchalantly describe the policies that Black Lives Matter is advocating for and can describe human rights laws so we can push for things like gender neutral washrooms, we can all commit to having those types of equity-focused conversations.
Q: What to you are the most important qualities of a strong leader?
A: In many ways, you are always doing a SWOT analysis. You’re scanning the environment for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
For example, we’ve seen the rise of populism south of the border and also here in Canada. At the same time, we’ve also seen how this has spurred civic engagement by women, girls, people of colour, LGTBQ2SS+ communities and other equity seeking communities. We’ve also seen cis men also get more engaged. With every threat, there is always an opportunity for learning, change and positive impact.
It’s also important to communicate a bold vision, pursue challenges and take manageable risks.
Q: What do you see as some of the emerging challenges and opportunities for associations?
A: For federated organizations with a national scope in Canada, such as ours, the scale and mandate of our work is a challenge. We are a diverse country that has many different communities and dimensions. We have to be mindful of Indigenous-Settler relationships and historical context; Anglophone and Francophone perspectives; the experiences of newcomers, immigrants and refugee communities, as well as across diverse geographies, and consider the needs of northern, remote, rural and urban communities.
One of the other key challenges is how do you create a sense of community across such a broad region?
Technology is really helpful in enabling communication for our member associations across the country from Halifax, to Iqaluit, to Kamloops. However, it also makes it harder because for some of our member associations, the internet is not as reliable because the infrastructure is just not there locally. The challenge in a federation of 32 member associations working in 300 communities is, how do you work toward a common vision and achieve consensus? The question I ask a lot in different ways is, “what is it that we can agree on?” You also want to make sure you don’t run the risk of boiling down issues to the lowest common denominator. Part of my job as a leader is getting people excited and motivated. Yes, we can discuss what can we agree on but also how can we be bold and take that manageable risk.