Strong Women. Strong World.
Like most of us, I have been deeply impacted by some incredibly strong women in my life. From my youth to my time in the military, the corporate world, to my political team in Durham and Ottawa, I am fortunate to have been inspired, influenced, assisted and mentored by female leaders and team members. I am also married to a strong woman who has been my partner for almost 15 years. I have been in awe of her accomplishments – working for Hockey Canada, winning a Grey Cup ring as part of the Toronto Argonauts back office and ultimately at the Vancouver Olympics with the Olympic broadcaster. I was always there to provide support and look at her accomplishments with pride. Rebecca also helped support our family when I left the military and went back to law school. Now, we both strive to juggle work, raising healthy children and being involved in our community. Like most families, work-life balance is something we strive for, but never seem to fully attain.
March 8th was International Women’s Day. It was a day when we could take stock of our progress towards gender equality and to honour the contributions women have made and are making in Canada and around the world. This year’s theme was Strong Women. Strong World. It pointed to the particularly vital contribution that women make every day to the Canadian economy and to job creation and innovation in Canada. Our Minister for the Status of Women, Dr. Kellie Leitch, has shown strong leadership on many important initiatives for women in leadership positions and she comes by this naturally given her incredible personal accomplishments. She is an orthopedic surgeon who also has a Masters of Business Administration. Before politics she was both a surgeon and a university lecturer on health and business issues. She has been a personal friend to our family for many years and is the person that got me actively involved in politics. While my father ignited my passion for public service, it was Kellie who actively recruited me into becoming a volunteer organizer.
Minister Leitch has done important work highlighting the role of female entrepreneurs and small business owners. In 2009, nearly 1 million women, or 11.9% of all those with jobs, were self-employed, up from nearly 9% in 1976. In 2011, women held majority ownership of 16% of small and medium-sized businesses. These businesses employ more than 1.5 million Canadians and their growth can be largely factored into our success at weathering the global economic recession and challenging economic times. In Durham, you need only look to these great examples: Linda Westwell with Miche Bags in Courtice; award-winning and renowned designer, Paula Lishman in Port Perry; Ginger Jackson, owner/operator of McDonald’s in Port Perry and Uxbridge; Valorie Mueller, part owner of a steel component manufacturing company in Bowmanville; Dana Smith of Dana’s Goldsmithing in Port Perry and Isabelle Roberts, President of BRIC Engineered Systems and BRIC Institute of Robotics in Oshawa.
Minister Leitch has also raised the issue of having more women serve as directors on public, private and non-profit boards of directors. Research shows that companies with one or more women on their board perform better and will be a better reflection of the markets or industries the companies are engaged in. When I worked in advertising, I learned that women are often the key decision maker in households and will scrutinize purchases or decisions more than a male counterpart. This is the exact type of critical thinking and analysis that helps businesses grow and provides the proper critical oversight for companies and non-profit organizations.
Our Government has created a new Girls Advisory Council to engage girls across Canada on their priorities and perspectives. This Council and campaign includes a video contest called Strong Girls, Strong Women that will provide an opportunity for girls and young women to apply to become new Council members. Its goal is to provide direct input from young women from across Canada on how to empower girls to be leaders; to develop mentoring and championing programs for girls; preventing violence against young women and girls and how to use social media tools in positive ways. The contest applies to girls 15-24 years of age and videos must be submitted by April 15, 2015. Guidelines for the Strong Girls, Strong World video contest can be found at www.dayofthegirl.gc.ca.
Rebecca and I are raising our daughter to be a strong and independent person who will have an equal opportunity to pursue her passions and lead in her field. In Canada, we have equality of opportunity for all but should always review our progress on equality and celebrate the success of trailblazers and innovative women across our society.