The recent Niagara Leadership Summit for Women brought a crowd of 300 together on a Saturday afternoon to talk about women’s leadership and open the conversation surrounding women’s issues in Niagara. The theme of the day was Innovating Leadership and highlighted the fact that there are leaders all around us (including ourselves) who make a difference every day.
Through many structured talks sought to connect, engage and inspire women leaders, and many impromptu opportunities to connect with fellow attendees, the mostly female crowd discussed leadership from several perspectives. Issue-specific workshops tackled everything from Strategic Culture Shaping and work/life balance & being an intentional leader to open sharing of data in Niagara, tips for caregivers, masculinity, women in motorsports, activism and advocacy, women and leadership through an indigenous perspective and leadership through financial independence.
Here are my five takeaways from the day:
1) Shared, open dialogue presents opportunity for understanding
By sharing our experiences and making an effort to understand one another’s views,
from keynote speaker Shirley Cheechoo’s story of her family’s life and struggles as members of the Cree Nation to the interactive and enlightening Speak Out: Become an Advocate in our Community workshop and Greg Miller’s Power Talk on Fatherhood and Feminism, we explored the importance and necessity of diverse perspectives in defining what feminism and leadership look like in the 21st century.
Cheechoo, an award winning artist, actor and filmmaker recognized for her work in the Indigenous community over 40 years, encouraged us not to fear failure, to ask for help, and to “think big, choose what you want to do, and just do it.”
As 19-year-old Allison Ives highlighted, we’re all learning alongside one another. Ives offered an honest, insightful and humourous view of her experience as a young woman leader. She encouraged us to bring our authentic selves to every situation and lend our unique talents to helping each other.
Conversely, said Cheechoo, “the least effective strategy is anger…you are creators, the rock and the birth of our nation.”
2) Everyone has value. Treat them accordingly.
In her talk that incorporated soft skills and stories from her experiences at Sunday school, Anne Miner encouraged aspiring leaders to apply our soft skills to achieve our goals, lift each other up and bring our personal brilliance to the table. She reminded us of the power of the platinum rule in leadership: that we should treat others the way they would like to be treated.
There are many different types of people, including relaters, socializers, thinkers, and directors, and while these types can clash if not managed well, all of these perspectives are useful when heard, seen and valued for their insights.
A quick summary:
We need to approach situations with intention and share our leadership roles. Engage thinkers and reach a consensus within a timeframe. Relaters need to know what the objective is (they can also be frightened by directors, so remain cognizant of how you speak to them), while socializers are cheerleaders and will do well in roles that require them to promote and raise awareness of issues.
3) Advocacy and activism can be loud and disruptive, quiet and calm, and everything in between
In their workshop on community advocacy and activism, presenters Laura Ip of YWCA Niagara Region and Nicole Davidson of TruBore Contracting Ltd. discussed different types of activism and advocacy, and how they translate into taking impactful action. Personal safety, empowering women and girls and rape culture were common themes.
Attendees learned that activism “does not have to be aggressive…activism can be quiet, calm and measured,” said Ip.
While the word “activism” immediately brings to mind protests, letter writing and media events for many, it can range from having kitchen table conversations with your children about sexual consent issues to large-scale activism such as the Truckers against Trafficking Campaign, which informs members of the trucking industry and other travelers of basic issues involved in human trafficking and how they can help save lives.
The upcoming 101 Men event was mentioned. Happening on November 18, it’s headed by Dr. Jackson Katz, an educator, author, filmmaker and internationally renowned gender violence activist whose TED talk, Violence against Women is a Men’s Issue, has gone viral.
4) Follow your internal compass
To lead with intention and drive impactful change, we have to be able to shut out external noise, tune into our own emotions and what our bodies are telling us, then act on that motivation, said Griffiths.
“We’re all good at doing. Where we need to focus on is how do we be intentional?” she asked, encouraging her audience to “listen, listen, listen. Listen to what’s inside of you.”
In doing so, we can commit to shedding victimhood, define our values, truly live them and purposefully decide to spend our time in a way that honours who we are.
“I could be the author of my own story. It is possible. Anything is possible. We don’t have to be a product of our stories – the stories we tell ourselves,” she said, adding that when we’re not living our values, our lives start to feel “out of control….(committing to work-life integration is) about taking back our power…the only way to be creative and do great work is to put yourself back in control.”
To demonstrate, we completed an exercise asking us to assess our existing work-life balance and how we could improve by using five strategies, including:
- Take five quiet minutes each day to breathe.
- Get clear on what’s important to you, whether it’s family, finances, volunteering, career or other areas.
- Do work you love.
- Use your time wisely – we all have 24 hours.
- Create a plan and take action.
During her workshop, Griffiths reminded us of how important it is to “take time for ourselves to refuel, re-energize and live that balanced life.”
And when we’re at work, it’s imperative to make sure we’re doing work we love. One of the most profound questions was, “What one thing, if you focused on it, would make the greatest difference in your life?”
5) Fathers have an integral role to play in shaping their children’s views
We concluded the day with power talks Miller’s talk presented an illuminating look into life with his wife and young daughter. In an honest, candid account, he talked about his own gradual feminist awakening, the tension feminists often face, and his dream for his daughter to grow up in a world where gender would not be used to socially, politically and economically oppress women. Unfortunately, “she’ll live in a world that was created for men and by men.”
But he emphasized the important role he hopes to play in raising his daughter to be a confident patriarchy smasher. That job starts with the commitment to support her goals.
“It’s not my job to instill my thoughts and beliefs in her. It’s my job to support her,” he said, adding he understands the impact his actions and attitudes will have on her outlook. He pledged to “empower her to be bold…(and) consider as a person, first and always.”
His many takeaways for the audience included his commitments to his own family and advice to other fathers, such as modeling respect for women and gender equality in their relationships, while being aware of the sexism and harassment their daughters may experience. He also highlighted the importance of supporting our children’s rights to express their own opinions and challenge others on their sexist behaviour.
About the Authour: Allison Smith is a community-minded content developer and a member of Cowork Niagara’s board of directors.