The system needs to change (why I #NiagaraLSW)

I am a privileged mother to a bright and wonderful little girl.
I’m life partner to an inspiring man and ally to women and girls everywhere.
I’m an educator to many who are female and born outside of Canada, where access to formal education is not guaranteed.
Through my work as a volunteer and active community member, I meet so many people who feel apathetic, unimportant, discriminated against… people floating around like corks at sea… people just trying to stay above the fray.

Like you, I spend my days navigating through the systems I’m part of – families, workplaces (schools), and communities – and I see room for improvement.

I used to say “our system is broken” until I learned that, technically, it is not. From a Systems Thinking perspective, our system is doing exactly what we humans designed it to do. In general, it is capitalistic, patriarchal, anti-environmental and egocentric. Centuries of poor leadership decisions and limiting beliefs that have gone unquestioned. Trauma that has been passed down from generation to generation. It’s up to us now to disrupt the cycle.

Sound scary and daunting? It is. But, we don’t have to do it alone and we don’t have to do it all at once.

If we want change, we need to change the levers that control the system. That means changing mindsets of the people in power. Or, people currently in positions of power sharing the power with different people (ahem, women and girls). We change us.

We know how much work is involved to change a mind. It can take a lifetime of unlearning; a personal commitment to walk a very long and winding, uphill road. It’s hard work. It may take a while. Likewise, shifting or sharing power takes a massive amount of conscious effort.

And, it’s worth it. Maybe it’s the very journey we’re all meant to trudge on. In that case, doing the inner work for a better world is everything.

The Niagara Leadership Summit for Women is an annual event that has become part of my leadership practice. #NiagaraLSW is a statement I make to myself and the system that says: I not only say I want to do the work, I actually do it. I reserve that fourth Saturday in October for mind-opening learning opportunities and systems-changing conversations that:

  • Inspire with hope for another way, another system to co-create.
  • Spark real ideas by taking time for self-inquiry and reflection, meeting new people, and exploring new ways to apply my leadership.
  • Expose to different voices and perspectives that are not the dominant ones in society.
    One more time for the people in the back: SUPPORTING WOMEN AND GIRLS TO LEAD IS HOW WE CHANGE THE SYSTEM.
  • Connect us to a community of others who are all struggling and doing the work, together.

Together, we will transform our world – one family, classroom, and community at a time. It takes work… collective, forward motion… and it starts with just one day.


Rachel co-chairs the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women Planning Committee and is a graduate of the MA Leadership degree program at Royal Roads University, where she was introduced to Systems Thinking.

My Journey Through Leadership Niagara

I can’t even deny I was SO excited to enter into the Leadership Niagara program and completely humbled by receiving the Niagara Community Foundations’ bursary so I could attend the program. I had no idea what I was in for but I knew that whatever it was, I wanted to be part of it.

To begin with, one of the things that started this eye-opening experience was one of the questions in the application process to enter into the program. Why are you personally motivated to explore community leadership? I said:  

I want to explore community leadership because I want to find ways to help the community using my skill-set and knowledge while working with others to tackle issues facing our Niagara community. I want to become someone who can inspire and motivate others to find their form of leadership and teach them how to use it towards bettering our community. I want to explore the kind of leadership I can own, that is beneficial to the Niagara community as a whole.

Although I was taken aback by this question, I quickly realized that the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women was one of the first places I learned that leadership didn’t just mean a title. It didn’t mean you had to be the President, CEO, Executive Director, or manager to be a leader. But although I knew this to some extent, I didn’t realize how much I would learn about what leadership really means. Who could be a leader and how.

Looking around the room on the first day of class, everyone came from different backgrounds, positions, workplaces, and titles. As we met each other, we all had various reasons for being a part of the 2019 cohort but they all stemmed from someone believing in the person. Someone wanted to give them a chance to learn how to be a better leader in a place where they would be able to give back.

I could go into detail about how much I loved the program and what I learned from each learning day because it was a jammed-packed amazing program that I wish everyone had a chance to participate in. But that’s not necessary. I want to touch on a few of the things that stood out to me about leadership:

  • The importance of reflection. We always had a chance to reflect on our learnings throughout the learning days. When we started, I found it frustrating. Why do I need to write down what I learned from the day? Would I ever really need to do this in the future? Do successful people really do this? These questions were answered pretty quickly as every leader that spoke to us always mentioned how important it is for them to take time to reflect on things. Why? Because that’s how you learn and grow. Wow is that ever true. I didn’t realize at the time just how important reflecting on things can change your perspective, your goals, and your future and I see the benefits of it almost every day.


  • Diversity and Inclusion are important. Although I already knew this, the importance of including everyone at the table really hit home during our privilege workshop. Let’s face it, many of us are born with some kind of privilege. It’s really important to acknowledge it and then learn from other people’s perspectives. Although it may take longer to make decisions, the decisions you make will be better informed. I was applauding when Jeffrey Sinclair gave the example of how important it was to have people with lived-experience at the table when deciding how best to tackle homelessness and poverty. Because how can we all make decisions for people when we don’t even understand what it’s like to be in their shoes? I could go on about this for a long time, so I will cap it with…inclusion and diversity in all aspects is incredibly important and should never be overlooked.


  • Leadership isn’t just something to talk about, it’s something to demonstrate. It doesn’t necessarily mean being the leader all of the time. Sometimes it means demonstrating how you can follow someone else’s lead and listen. Sometimes it’s being the person who asks for someone else’s input before giving your own. Sometimes it means recognizing who is the expert in the situation and it may not be you. Sometimes it means just simply listening. But it always means motivating others.


  • Recognizing your defaults and making a choice of how you handle situations. There are a few ways that we were shown how this works. One is that your energy is extremely important. It doesn’t mean you always have to be positive but the way you handle stressful situations can have a huge influence on others. As a leader you have to acknowledge this and then make the choice of how you want to influence others. The second is your default of handling situations whether they are positive or negative situations- you need to find a balance in your default reactions focusing on stability and change.


  • The value of thanking people. This was a huge learning for me as I found it can truly make or break a person’s experience if they feel they are not valued. It doesn’t take much to say or send a simple thank you but it can make all of the difference and it does matter if it’s timely.


  • You are always a leader. It doesn’t matter what you are doing and who you are with, you have the chance to influence people. As a leader you should do that positively, authentically, and intentionally. Being a leader isn’t something that just shuts off, so you have to choose how you want to be a leader. There are simple ways to influence people – by smiling at the cashier in the grocery store, by saying hi to the person sitting on the park bench as you walk by, by waving to the person who lets you merge while you’re driving, by thanking someone who gave you directions or answered a question, by taking a minute before you respond in a negative situation. There are so many ways you influence people every day, make sure you’re influencing people with intent.


Another question they asked in the application process was: In your view, what’s the most important attribute of a leader? My response, and I still stand by it:

One of the most important attributes of a leader is passion because if a leader isn’t passionate then it is difficult to motivate others, and represent something full-heartedly. When someone is authentic, they are able to inspire others with that energy and focus on the task at hand.

Although I still stand by this and think passion is an incredibly important attribute of a leader I also really want to point out that so is compassion. Throughout this course and this year of learning, I’ve found that being compassionate towards everyone will always make you a better, more genuine leader.


Arienne Good is a recent Leadership Niagara graduate and the Fundraiser for the YW

Leading By Listening

My first lesson in listening

My earliest memory of the power of someone simply listening goes back to when I was 11. It was my first encounter with death and grief. My grandpa had just told me rather bluntly that my great-grandma had died, and he had awkwardly shuffled the sad little girl in his arms over to his sister, who we still referred to as the “West German” great-aunt, even though the Wall had fallen a decade ago.  I wasn’t very close to her and yet, it was her whose arms I found myself in in that very first encounter with grief. It was her, who simply held me and let me bawl the way only kids can. She didn’t say a word, she didn’t move. She sat there like my rock and listened to my tears. I don’t know if this lasted for two minutes or for an hour, but I know that I learned something that day. Many things were said to me in the hours and days that followed. Most of it made me angry or sad or both. It was my great-aunt’s silent listening, silent support, that was the only thing that I remember truly giving me comfort.

The recent come-back of listening

I haven’t thought about those moments all those years ago in a long time. Ironically, although probably not ironically at all, it is grief that recently made me think about listening once again.

My friend Jennifer and I have been friends for almost twenty years. I have lived a lot more of my life with Jennifer in it than without her. We have lived parallel lives for a long time, both of us Germans who fell for North-American guys, who now share a life and families with them on this side of the pond. Imagine our excitement when we recently realized that we were both expecting with almost the exact same due date. It wasn’t until around week 14 that we genuinely let ourselves get excited – we had made it past the most nervous time of a pregnancy after all, right? Right? Well, statistically speaking, sure. When the time came for our 16 week check-ups, Jennifer’s was on a Thursday and mine was on the following Tuesday. When Jenny went in, they could not find the baby’s heartbeat. Her little girl’s heart had stopped beating about a week earlier. In the very same moments of me listening to my baby’s heartbeat only a few days later, Jennifer was giving birth to her dead daughter.

When she finally messaged me that she was ready to talk, I gathered all of my courage and picked up the phone. She was strong and amazing, and all fears about what I should say or not say disappeared. She didn’t want me to talk, didn’t need me to talk. Jennifer needed me to simply listen. She just wanted to share with someone what they had gone through, and too many people had been afraid to ask.

Listening, I realized, can make all the difference.

The facets of listening

So what does this have to do with leadership? As I started to think about the power of listening, I realized that all good leadership comes with the ability to listen. When we talk about “leaders”, we talk about people who are intentional about affecting positive change. That can be a manager or CEO, but it can also be a mom, an activist, a neighbour. So here is my hypothesis if you will – to affect positive change, we must first be able to listen. But it’s not that easy, is it? It’s not a black-and-white scenario.

Because as it turns out, once you start thinking about listening, there is so much more to it. When I really started putting my mind to it, I thought about the many times I haven’t listened to my kids or my husband because I was too busy preparing a meal, or doing dishes, or answering a friend’s message. I thought about the times I did listen to them. The time my daughter told me about her first date, the countless times my son retold every detail of a chapter he had read or a movie he had watched, the first time my husband told me about his dad. I thought about the amazing manager who just listened after a tough meeting. I thought about the not so amazing manager, who failed to listen when I most needed it. I thought about the time when I was 19 and my girlfriend’s mom died. I thought about being a coward, who didn’t have it in her to pick up the phone, too scared to listen. I thought about the times listening brought me great joy, and the times it brought me pain. I thought about how much I appreciate some of the closest people in my life, simply because they have an incredible ability to listen. I thought about the many times I was looking for someone to listen, and got advice instead. I thought about the times I just didn’t have it in me to listen. The phone calls I haven’t answered because I had nothing left to give. It can’t just be an expectation, can it? Sometimes, it is just too hard for the other person to listen. Or too close to home, or just a little bit too much on that day, in that moment. And that’s ok, too.

So my challenge for you is simple:

I dare you to listen.

I encourage you to take an hour or a day or a week to think about the ways you listen. The people, who are good listeners in your life. The times you were that silent rock for someone else, and the times you perhaps could have done better. What role has listening played in your life and in your leadership journey?

Challenge yourself to listen, because you might just like what you hear.


Franziska Emslie is the YW’s Community and Public Relations Coordinator

Yes, you are a mentor


She sat down in front of me, a nervous smile spreading across her face. Hands fluttering, looking for a safe space to land. Her voice unsteady.

I smiled. Suggested a deep breath in and out. Cracked a joke to ease the tension. Told her there was no reason to be nervous. This was a fantastic opportunity and I was delighted to have her on board. Excited to work together. I suggested she take notes, a way to occupy her hands and shift her focus. Little by little, she relaxed.

In that first meeting, I sat across from my newly assigned student intern. In the months that followed, she became so much more.

She proved a quick study, an excellent resource and idea generator. By asking questions, she helped me re-learn how to break down concepts and explain skills that had become routine. When she felt unsure of her abilities, I realized how quickly I jumped to reassure her with words of encouragement. I pushed, gently.

Together we moved through a list of tasks, tackling social media take-overs, interviewing faculty members, preparing for events, crafting a resume to showcase her skills and more.

At the end of her internship, she stopped by with a lovely gift and an even more meaningful thank you card expressing her gratitude. In the card, which I still proudly display in my office, she calls me her “mentor.” A term I’ve shied away from. Isn’t that a word reserved for those with more experience, expertise, education? I seemed to think so.

On further reflection, I realized it was time to take my own advice. To nurture my confidence and push myself, just as I had her.

It’s so easy – especially for women – to downplay our strengths and sell ourselves short. When she started to do that, I was there to build her up. I was there to point out the ways she took on leadership roles and stepped outside her comfort zone. There to reassure and remind. There to unpack that belief and help her write a new narrative.

It was time for me to do the same.

Do I have more to learn? Always.
Could I use my own mentor? Absolutely – accepting offers!
Am I mentor?

Yes, yes I am.

If I’m honest, even writing it here makes me a little uneasy. A feeling I’ll allow then attempt to push aside because I can be a mentor. I have been a mentor. And I hope to be again.
I fit the definition – an experienced person in a company, college or school who trains and counsels new employees or students – and have something (dare I say, many things!) to offer.

So while I may have taught her a few tricks of the trade, picked up and tested along my way, she also taught me a thing or two. Most importantly, she reminded me to follow my own advice. To trust your gut. To show up. To speak up. To go for it. And to share what you have to offer. Because I can guarantee you have something to share.

So can I be a mentor? Yes, absolutely. And so can you.
I hope you dive right in.
I plan to.

Milica Petkovic is the Communications Officer, External Relations for Brock University’s Faculty of Social Sciences. She is also a member of the University’s Women in Leadership initiative and will be volunteering for the 2019 Niagara Leadership Summit for Women.

How to Get Ahead by Volunteering

OK, that sounded selfish. Let me re-word that…“How Volunteering Can Also Help Your Career.”  That’s better. On with our story!

About five years ago, I decided it was time to switch tracks and return to school. At 40 years old. Oh yes, FORTY. Having been a chef for the previous 12 years, and now a newly single mother, I took stock of my skill set, which included multi-tasking, organization, adaptability, and mothering, and settled on the perfect career… Office Administration! Side note. I’m going to admit that at this point in my life, I was sadly lacking in both volunteer experience and the altruism needed to be a good volunteer.

Flash forward into the Spring of 2015 and I am looking for a placement for my course. Hello YWCA Niagara! This amazing organization is where the story actually begins. By the time I had to return to school, I was hooked. During an eye-opening four months, I learned more about the need in this region than I had in the 30 previous years. I became a dedicated volunteer. By stepping out of the bubble that was my personal circle, I gained knowledge, experience, friendships, a network, and most importantly, perspective. Volunteering makes me a better person, it makes me a better parent, and yes, it makes me more employable. Below you’ll find just some of the reasons you want to get onboard the volunteer train.

Get to know yourself

Volunteering can be a great way to learn more about your skills, potential for growth and development. It also gives you a safe place to have others evaluate your strengths and offer tips for improvement.

Improve current skills

Are you a student? Does your workplace not offer the opportunity to flex some of the muscles you have in your arsenal? Volunteering can help you sharpen skills you may have just obtained, or those that may require a good dusting off.

Develop new skills

After you’ve made use of the abilities you have, it’s time to develop new ones. Volunteer roles are less defined than those in business. Find an area that interests you and look for matching opportunities. Charities appreciate every person who steps up, and you are unlikely likely to hear “we don’t think you’re qualified for that.” Learn more about budgeting, leadership, marketing, event planning, or even how to groom a dog!

Develop a professional network

So, you have now gotten to know yourself and your abilities, you have honed the ones you had and developed new ones that interest you. Guess what? People have noticed.

While you were busy on your personal journey, you have likely gained the respect and appreciation of the people who are volunteering alongside you.

Volunteers come from all occupations and positions on the ladder. This forum is a uniquely level playing field upon which to build relationships. Take advantage of the connections you make to find out about hidden jobs or opportunities and pay it forward when you’re able.

Ultimately, volunteering needs to come from the heart; it needs to be fueled by a passion to help. If you already know where your interest lies…you share every Facebook post about animal cruelty or poverty, you joined the Women’s March or loved the idea of clean water available globally, then you have a great starting point. If not, start with that skill you want to learn and help where you can until you find the right fit. I promise, it’s worth it, for your career, your personal growth, and the charity waiting for your help.

 Crystal Carswell sits on the NLSW planning committee and has been supporting the YWCA and the event in many wonderful ways over the past few years

Speakers wanted for Niagara Leadership Summit for Women

Annual event returns to Brock University Oct. 26

The planning committee behind YWCA Niagara Region’s annual Leadership Summit for Women is looking for speakers who are ready to represent.

Set to take place Oct. 26 at Brock University, the theme of this year’s summit is “represent” — and the committee has put out a call for submissions, seeking speakers and workshop presenters who represent all of Niagara’s diverse communities and leadership models.

“We are looking for leaders from all walks of life and experiences to be a part of this year’s summit,” said Julie Rorison, co-chair of the NLSW planning committee and founder of the Niagara event, now in its sixth year. “This year’s theme for the event is ‘Represent’ and that is what we are challenging the community to do: to represent all kinds of leadership that we see in Niagara and to represent with new possibility models of what we want to see for our future.”

 The call for proposals is open until July 26 and applications can be made online at Anyone needing assistance with their application can contact Franziska Emslie at the YWCA through email at

“Over the last six years, the summit has brought together hundreds of community leaders to empower and inspire each other,” said YWCA Niagara Region executive director Elisabeth Zimmermann. “Our speakers and presenters have been key to the success of the event and we are looking for more leaders to inspire, educate and uplift each other.”

The summit is a full-day, volunteer-driven women’s leadership event hosted by YWCA Niagara Region and Brock University. Tickets are $25 and include lunch and child minding during the event. All are welcome to attend.

Niagara This Week, July 15

Lessons I Learned From My Toddler

As I was sitting next to my toddler’s bed the other night, waiting for her to decide that she is done playing with my hair and ready to go to sleep, I realized that for someone who is not even two yet, there are a lot of things she has to teach. I am not talking about the obvious ones that children at any age will teach you:

It’s not diamonds, it’s coffee that is a girl’s best friend.

Sleep is overrated.

Your house will never be clean again. Deal with it.

The lessons I am talking about are the kinds of lessons you only start thinking about when you’re trapped in a dark room with nothing to do but wait for your child to go to sleep. I’m talking about the deep stuff.

1. Celebrate Your Successes

“I peed in the potty!!!” Both my husband and I rush up the stairs, opening the champagne bottle on our way, confetti in hand, and there she is, beaming as if the Wiggles had entered the building. “I peed in the potty,” she continues to yell and proudly points to the tiny puddle in her Froggy Potty. We are now jumping up and down in excitement, we yell down to our only semi-interested teenager to share the good news, we exchange high fives and praises. “SHE PEED IN THE POTTY!!!! Good job, sweetie, that’s amazing! Oh my gosh, you are going to help us empty the potty and flush, too? What a good helper!” My daughter will probably still need months until she’s actually housebroken. Until then, we will celebrate each and every day, about three times a day.

Because of this, on occasion, when I came out of the washroom, she waits outside the door for me (creepy, right!) and exclaims to everyone else in the house: “Mommy peed in the potty!!” “Yes I did, baby-girl! High five!”

So my question is: when and why do we stop doing that? What happens from here to there? Even with our teenagers the best I can manage most of the time is something along the lines of: “Oh, so you do know where the dishwasher is, good news!”

This year’s Niagara Leadership Summit for Women was all about owning our strengths. My toddler reminds me every day that we probably started out that way; that most or at least some of us started out with someone cheering us on. We, too, used to stand tall, proud of every accomplishment, no matter how small. If we all stayed a little bit more in that mindset of both, owning our own strengths and celebrating those of the people around us, I am convinced this world would be a better place.

2. No Means No

“Do you want some milk, sweetie?” “No.” It’s 7:30pm, this is what is next in her night routine. At around this time, every day, she has her milk. She loves it. “Mom has some warm milk for you, would you like some?” “No, Mama.” She is just saying ‘no’ because that’s the first thing they learn when they move from the infant to the toddler room, the word NO becomes a tool, a weapon, the ultimate crisis communication plan. Surely, she’s just saying it to be funny. “Here is your milk, sweetheart,” I say, coming at her with her favourite evening beverage. Armageddon is what follows. And I don’t mean the Bruce Willis kind. She flings herself onto the ground, within seconds there is a screaming and kicking mess where there was a peaceful child only moments ago. “NOOOOOO! NO MILK!!!!!” It is dawning on me that she may not have been joking after all. That kid does not want milk.

When I go over those lovely moments in my head at the end of the day, I find myself asking again: When, and more importantly, WHY do we stop doing that? Why don’t I start kicking and screaming when the boss adds something to my already overflowing plate? When do we start making up excuses instead of yelling: “NO! I DON’T WANT TO GO OUT FOR DINNER TONIGHT, I WANT TO EAT ICE CREAM AND BINGE WATCH GREY’S ANATOMY.” What do we as parents, teachers, role models, faith communities, as society do to our children that might make this very same girl think one day that she can’t say no when her soccer coach corners her in the change room?

no means no

Take it from my toddler, no means no. It is not always easy, especially for us as women, but practice it. Get better at it, one NO at a time. No, I cannot attend this meeting today. No, I cannot contribute to the bake sale. No, I don’t want to watch Sharknado tonight. No, not tomorrow either. And please! Don’t make excuses, don’t feel like you have to offer an explanation. The story didn’t go: And then the toddler said “no, mommy, I am still very full from dinner, I would rather skip the milk tonight.” She said NO. Period.

3. Feel The Feels

When our toddler is angry, she gives it her all. When she did not want that milk, she did not try to be polite about it. She didn’t force it down to then complain to her older sister later about the time I forced her to drink the milk. She just unleashed the anger. In the same way, there is no holding her back in her excitement over jumping around in a puddle. When she is sad, she lets herself sob and cry until she can’t catch her breath anymore. When she is happy, she giggles and snorts and laughs without thinking twice about it. She doesn’t need mindfulness training, this is just how she came out. This is a human before a lifetime of being shushed and distracted and shaped into what we have decided is right and proper and appropriate. One of my favourite chapters of  the book Tuesdays With Morrie is the one where he speaks about emotions.

“Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help. If you let the fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, “All right, it’s just fear, I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is”.”

Be scared, be happy, be nervous, be sad… be what you please but be it all the way.


Franziska Emslie is the YW’s Community and Public Relations Coordinator

Women find strength in numbers

Niagara Leadership Summit for Women another sold-out event

NEWS Oct 28, 2018 by Julie Jocsak  The St. Catharines Standard

The message was one of support, inclusivity and confidence at this year’s Niagara Leadership Summit for Women.

The event, now in its fifth year, was hosted by the YWCA and held at Brock University on Saturday,

The theme was Make Your Move. Together.

Speakers and workshops dealt with issues of self-confidence, how to get involved and raising your voice. For example, Paralympian Jessica Lewis gave a workshop on how to not be limited by your limitations.
“It’s really to inspire women of different backgrounds, whether it’s business, whether you’re a parent, whether you’re a student, whatever you do, to feel a part of the community in a meaningful way and to feel valued and that you’re skills and whatever it is that you bring to the table is important in making change — and we all can be leaders in our everyday lives,” said summit founder and organizer Julie Rorison.

Kim Karin Milan, a Toronto-based writer, was keynote speaker.

“I really wanted to talk to women and girls about the ways we can support each other and help amplify women’s leadership and wanting to make leadership models that are not just about one particular kind of woman or girl but also for women and girls of different levels, racial background. Something that is really authentic and diverse,” said Milan.

She also talked about creating spaces for those leaders to find themselves and grow.

Social media is big contributor to women’s and girls’ challenges in our culture today, Milan said. Often, they feel enormous pressure to create a beautiful, successful life on social media. Facing pressure to look and act a certain way, own the right things and rack up ‘likes,’ all the while facing judgment from others.

When a space is created where women and girls can get out from behind the screen and face each other, talk and learn about each other, those pretences often fall away, she added.

“Once you get them together in spaces like this where there is no other distraction they are able to really recognize that they do care about each other — we are not all being judged based on what we look like we are also being judged for our character,” said Milan.

“Girls need to feel valuable for who they are and that they are intelligent, important and they don’t have to pick either beautiful or smart, or tough or intelligent. You be can all of those things at the same time.”

Milan said it is important to reach out in smaller towns, where there may not be as much support and opportunities for young girls and women to meet and network.

The summit has sold out every year. This demonstrates to Rorison the need and want for it.

“What we hear from people is that they feel re-energized. There’s been a lot of negative media, a lot of tough stuff happening and when we can come together and release that and focus on what we can do to work together it really re-energizes people,” she said.

“We keep getting this amazing feedback and selling out, we gotta keep going, we have work to do.”

905-225-1631 | @JJ_Standard


The Next Chapter Of Leadership In Niagara

It was about this time five years ago, I was feeling stale, stuck and uninspired. The onset of fall, cool weather and shorter days can get the best of us. I was a recent graduate and young professional, seeking inspiration and a meaningful way to get involved and make a change in my community. I was feeling like Niagara has so much potential, so much opportunity I and wanted to find a way to make change. So I got this idea to start a feminist leadership conference. It would be a great way to inspire people, to get together and figure out what we needed to do to help make Niagara a better place for women and girls – for everyone.  We would get together and burn our bras, cast some spells and voila! Problems solved! Mission accomplished. Equality – check!

Well, it didn’t quite work out that simply and it turns out that bonfires are not allowed on campus at Brock. However, on the eve of the 5th annual (!!!) Leadership Summit, I am very proud of what we’ve done so far as a movement to make change in our community. For starters, as we’re in elections again, we have seen a 50% increase in women’s representation over the last election in 2014. About 26% of local candidates this time were women – which is fantastic progress (but no, still not 50/50 representation). I know that the support and skills provided through the Leadership Summit are factors in that progress, by creating a community of support, skills development and networks for women to step forward and claim their space at the council tables.

We have seen new working groups and relationships amongst women in skilled trades and industry through networking, sharing and breaking new ground by working together.

We have marched in solidarity with women around the world when power brokers failed to meet our expectations and compromised our rights.

I am also very proud that we have created space for truth and reconciliation by working together with Indigenous communities and traditional leaders. I have heard from many friends that the Leadership Summit was the first time they ever learned anything about Indigenous culture, traditions or the historical traumas that have been whitewashed from our textbooks. Friends and family members whose eyes have been opened to other ways of seeing each other and understanding.

I have met some of the most inspirational people and young folks who are leading today – not waiting for tomorrow – to do amazing things that I never would have known about, were it not for this gathering space. I have learned so much from so many of you through art, music, and healing.

As we reach this milestone and this election, I’m really proud of how far we have come together. It is time for us to Make Our Move – Together – and chart our journey for the next chapter of leadership in Niagara.

There has been a lot of stuff happening in Niagara and all around us. The #MeToo movement has been exasperating and the 24/7 media coverage of the drama from south of the border transports us back to darker times. Sometimes just doing life is not easy. And that’s another reason why this day is so important to me. The Leadership Summit is a chance to feel reinvigorated and re-inspire each other by shining a light on the positive things that are happening around us and the amazing leaders we have to look up to.  It has become one of my favourite days of the year and best of all, I get to share it with hundreds of you.

NOTICE: No bras or humans were harmed in the making of this movement. Just stigmas, stereotypes and limiting beliefs 🙂

Julie Rorison, who first brought NLSW to Niagara and who is the Chair of the Planning Committee


A Feminist Business: Does it exist?

Are the principles of Feminism and Business mutually exclusive, or can they be woven into the fabric of a small business? Let’s dig into this important question:

To begin, we have to define Feminism. A dictionary would tell us something to the effect of: social + political + economic + legal equality for women and men. But we all know it’s so much more than that. We can’t refer only to sex while skipping the inclusion of race, sexuality, gender, location in the world, nature, culture, ETC. It’s layered and multiple and different depending on who’s speaking, and it’s HEAVY, as in you can’t just throw it around, put it on a cheerful t-shirt and call it a day. It’s always in flux.

For Cardea AuSet, a small, young, woman-owned business, we adopted a few principal strategies to ensure that we’re living our feminist values both personally and professionally. So how can a regular person try to incorporate feminist principles into their business? Here are two pillars that we use to guide our work:


This is a great place to start, and should reflect your capacity and giving ability. From the early stages of visioning our business, we’d talked so much about what organizations, groups, and causes we would want to support. Events and causes that celebrate women’s leadership, emphasize mental and spiritual wellness, provide family planning and reproductive choice, and raise funds for survivors of sexual violence are all worthy causes that create positive community impact. While start-ups and small businesses like ours don’t always have the financial capacity to give dollars, there are so many ways that giving can happen. Donations in-kind, advocacy, volunteering, or sharing a message on social media are all helpful and actionable steps that small businesses can take toward supporting an organization or cause, and giving back to the community that sustains them.



We’ve all witnessed the floating piles of garbage and trash that wash up on the beaches of countries around the world, and we’ve seen the impact of single-use plastics. As a business that produces a physical product, this challenges us to be extremely mindful of the format and style of our packaging. Our packaging is both reusable and recyclable: glass bottles + recyclable paper boxes. While this makes our shipments heavier and more fragile, it’s a very small price to pay for reduced plastic consumption in a world where everyone – and often the most vulnerable – bears the cost of environmental crisis. If you own a business that creates physical products, consider doing an annual assessment of your plastic use and waste management practices. What are you using for product and shipping packaging? Are you recycling? Are you properly disposing of hazardous goods? Is your office ordering takeout everyday and trashing the containers? We can all take small steps toward environmental sustainability.

A feminist business doesn’t just come about by using certain language (although that can be important, too!) or posting an inspirational quote on Instagram; you need be specific in your tactics and application. If you’re unsure of where to start, consider the two pillars we use, and adapt them in a way that makes sense to you and your business. We’ve found that by simply asking some key questions around community and environmental impact, we were able to lay a feminist foundation within our small business. We hope you can do the same 🙂

Jennifer Bonato, NLSW Committee Member and Co-Founder of CardeaAuset