Monday, February 19, 2007

Empowering Women

On Friday I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Empowering Women event hosted by the Board of Trade.

Over 700 women attended this event and they had an impressive line up of speakers to provoke, challenge and start us think differently - about the environment, mental illness, politics and the proverbial glass ceiling.

Justin Trudeau was the opening speaker and with his good looks and charm, it was easy to stay awake, despite the early hour, to listen to what he had to say. I was impressed by how poised and eloquent he was as he spoke passionately about today's youth and our environment. Next came his mother, Margaret, who shared her struggles with mental illness and glimpse of her life with Pierre Trudeau.

The panel of women in politics was vibrant and provocative. Although the women were from different parties, you got the sense, that they at least, would be able to work together. Mary-Ann Chambers, was a refreshing change, still clear on her role and not jaded (yet) by politics.

Helen Johns, someone I had worked for in the past, brought up an interesting point that the behaviour in the House had deteriorated with the arrival of TV tapings. Instead of dealing with the issues at hand, too much time was spent on posturing and showing off for the cameras.

Normally, the crowd can be a bit sleepy after lunch, but no chance of that with comedienne, Jessica Holmes, who had the audience in stitches with her dramatic take of Celine Dion. Next was the moving story of Carol Ann, a woman who had survived a dire childhood to successfully run a multi-million business in Vancouver. Her story served to remind you of the tenacity of some individuals to overcome unsurmountable odds.

The afternoon ended with a panel of women who have broken the glass ceiling - either within their corporation or through starting their own business venture. This panel was probably the low point of the day. I had taken my daughters to this event, wanting to expose them to the issues facing women, but neither were impressed with the challenges facing women in the corporate world.

It was clear from the women on the panel, that they had made choices and sacrifices to get to where they were, while for many of us, those choices were not an option or something we would consider in our pursuit for success. It might have been more real to hear from middle-managers who want to move ahead, but are stuck because of the lack of opportunities and mentoring available to them.

All told however, it was a wonderful day and the Toronto Board of Trade is to be commended for bringing such a wealth of experience and expertise into one venue.

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