It is wonderful to witness the growth of International Women’s Day.
In many communities, it is often a week (or more) of events hearing from inspiring women who are mentoring the next generation and advocating to remove barriers for women in the workplace, in school and across our communities.
In Waterloo Region we have an incredible history of female leadership that we should be proud of, including mayors and councils of all three cities, in federal and provincial government, and major institutions both public and private across the region.
However, while we have come a long way, there is certainly more work to be done. In the startup ecosystem that our region is now known for, and STEM fields for which our region provides world-class education, we continue to fall behind.
I am fortunate to have always had strong female leaders and mentors in my life. It may seem cliche to speak about my mother, female teachers and community leaders that impacted my life both knowingly and unknowingly, but there is no doubt about the impact. I am fortunate to have always had balance, but not all have, and for that reason we need days like today to, for some, bring things back into balance.
The local leader that I celebrate today is my partner and wife, Shannon, and the impact that she has had on the community I have always called home.
I may be biased, but I believe that Shannon is a great community leader. There is no “female” qualifier required. She is well respected, and has made an impact on a large number of organizations in our community. She has been a leader and advocate in the private, public and non-profit sectors.
We volunteered together for many years with the Junior Achievement Company Program in Waterloo, a program that mentors high school students through the process of setting up and operating their own business.
When I really saw her leadership ability bloom was with her roles as the General Manager of the Sheridan College Student Union concurrent with her role as Board Chair at Our Place Family Resource and Early Years Centre in Kitchener. She navigated strategic planning, writing grant applications, board governance, succession planning and more
She is the past ED of the Downtown Kitchener BIA where she was a passionate advocate for businesses and part of a team stewarding the transformation of Downtown. She was also the Director of Community Investments with the K-W Community Foundation, and is currently the Director, University Relations with Wilfrid Laurier University.
I list a bit of her resume only as an exhibit to show the kind of leader that she is: Kind, compassionate, knowledgeable, service and community-oriented. If only we could all be guided by such principles.
She has been my coach through many challenges, from governance work to politics, and inspires me in how she balances it all and is still my partner in guiding and supporting our young family. Our partnership is so balanced, in fact, that while she took full parental leave with the birth of our first child, I took the full leave with our second, an experience that I, on so many levels, will never regret.
I am still learning what it means to be an ally. It is a very dynamic and important role and it starts with being open to learn about systemic and profound barriers that women and girls face every day. I was very proud when one group of men I mentor put together a video called “Breaking the Silence” to play their small part in casting a light on the issue of gender-based violence. This shows that everyone has something to contribute, and we can all learn from each other and work together to tackle the biggest of societal issues.
It’s important as men to be true, equal partners with the women in our lives, whether at home, removing barriers in the workplace or anywhere we see gender-based inequality.
What we should all remember is that it’s OK to be a man. Just not at the direct expense of those who aren’t.