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Women and Leadership in Politics and Business

Women and Leadership in Politics and Business
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On July 5 at the Women’s Worlds Congress, female leaders from the public and private sector convened to talk about women and leadership in politics and business. The panel, made up of a group of successful, dynamic women, spoke to the audience about their path to success and the challenges they faced along the way.

Clare Beckton from Carleton University chaired the panel, which included:

Four impressive women, four different paths

Sheila Copps kicked off the panel, speaking in English and French, about the fact that breaking ceilings is an individual effort and a collective effort. This is something that she demonstrated as the first Canadian Member of Parliament to have a baby while holding political office. Over the course of her career, she experienced numerous scenarios where her work and her voice were diminished in the patriarchal political environment, including being called “baby” by another Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Ms. Copps emphasized that when the younger generation is afraid of calling themselves feminists, we know we have a battle ahead of us. Her words of advice for women focused on three elements: Don’t put each other down, lift each other up and drill up to the collective that is women by working toward common goals.

Next, Sharon Ramalho, the Ontario Vice President for McDonald’s talked about her experience rising through the ranks at McDonald’s. She started with the company as a summer student when she was 15 years old and has worked her way up over the past 28 years, making her the first woman in McDonald’s Canada to make it from the crew room to the boardroom. She never experienced challenges and innuendos that Ms. Copps experienced and credited the work environment at McDonald’s for that, saying that women should “choose a company that you can go home at night, put your head on the pillow, and be proud that you work with them (not for them)”.

Addressing the audience in Inuktitut and English, Premier Aariak told the audience how she got where she is today. A lot of women are so busy being mothers, caretakers of home, volunteers in their community and so on that they do not have time to enter into politics even if they feel ready. Once her youngest child was 15 years old, Premier Aariak decided to see what type of a difference she could make in her territory. The government of Nunavut is a consensus style government and the members of the legislative assembly choose the speaker, the premier and the ministers from among the elected representatives. Premier Aariak was the only woman elected to the legislative assembly and she was chosen by her male colleagues to be the Premier and to lead their territory.

Dr. Mamta Gautam is a psychiatrist and owner of a business called Peak MD. She works with people in the medical community on issues of leadership. Early in her career as a psychiatrist, Dr. Gautam was asked to speak to a national meeting of a group of medical professionals on the topic of depression. She really connected with the audience and several doctors in attendance asked her if she would work with them as their psychiatrist. This led her to start a business, Peak MD, to help leaders in the medical community to prepare themselves mentally for the challenges that they are taking on. “Remain open to opportunities that come your way and embrace them,” was Dr. Gautam’s advice to the audience.


Each of the four women faced some challenges as they built their careers.

  • Ms. Copps mentioned the lack of mentors when she started out in politics. There is a huge history in mentorship and women have not yet taken advantage of this to the extent that they should. As we develop more women in leadership, there will be more mentors available to work with aspiring leaders. Dr. Gautam suggested that women seek out both female and male mentors, “Have many mentors, network, form alliances,” she advised.
  • Ms. Ramalho looks at challenges as ways to learn, sometimes by making mistakes. “Don’t always take the easy path,” she advised the audience, “Take risks and do something you’ve never done before.” She spoke about her decision to leave a very comfortable and easy life in Canada to go off to Russia to a very unknown culture and business challenge full of risks to help McDonald’s launch in that country.
  • There are more women physicians now than there were 25 years ago, but Dr. Gautam says that they still face the same challenges that they did then. The work of women is still dismissed, infantalized or sexualized. For example, a male colleague once told her “I understand how you can help so many of my colleagues. You just bat your big brown eyes at them and everything is okay.”
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Photo credit: Annie Urban

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3:01PM PDT on Mar 12, 2012

it's important to support organizations such as FINCA and Heifer that realize the importance of empowering women to economical sustain their families

12:00PM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

Thank you

1:59AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

really good advice not to buy into the put downs.

9:38PM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

The more women we have in leadership positions...the better we will be as a country. Men have run the country into the ground...and it's time for a change in gender at the top. In the next election I will be voting for more WOMEN.

11:13AM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

Glad to hear it.

9:55AM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

Женщины все больше и больше составляют конкуренцию мужчинам. И в бизнесе занимают лидирующие позиции. Женщина более трудоспособная, легче приспосабливается к любой ситуации. Может легко найти [url=]выход из тяжелой ситуации[/url]. Это все хорошо! И прият

8:52AM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

Interesting Thank you.

5:28AM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

I applaud the women who have succeeded and distain the men who wish too hold them the world grows smaller, so does the skrinking of man's mind toward women.

4:40AM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

I'm attending this conference, Women's Worlds 2011, too!

3:28AM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

Thanks for sharing.

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