Celebrating women helps to create future leaders

Last month, 500 young women from Hamilton secondary schools gathered at Liuna Station for the Totally Awesome Young Women’s Breakfast. The annual event, which was hosted by YWCA Hamilton, allowed young women to acknowledge their impact in the city and to gather together to celebrate International Women’s Day.

The energy of the young women in attendance was contagious. They took to social media to share thoughts and their favourite quotes from keynote speaker Kim Katrin Milan, a writer and social entrepreneur. They shared their own personal stories with one another, and made new friends. They pledged to take action in their lives and communities, inspired by the event’s theme — Make It Happen.

Each energetic and passionate young woman who attended the Totally Awesome Young Women’s Breakfast is poised to become a leader in the community. Many of them already lead in their own homes, schools and at volunteer placements. The enthusiasm of these young future leaders, and their ability to lead, is crucial to the future of Hamilton, a city where women are underrepresented in senior leadership positions in most prominent organizations.

The Women & Diversity EXCLerator Project, a report created in partnership between the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, YWCA Hamilton, and McMaster University, analyzed women in leadership across nine sectors in Hamilton and Halton. The report concluded that women are underrepresented on boards and in senior manage- ment positions in all but one sector.

Among its findings, the Women & Diversity EXCLerator Project found that:

  • Women represented only 17.8% of corporate boards and executives.
  • Women represented only 28% of legal sector leaders.
  • Women represented only 28.7% of leadership positions on agencies, boards, and commissions in Hamilton. (The number was higher, at 40.8% in Halton.)
  • Women represented only 35.1% of elected officials.
  • Women represented only 35.7% of labour leaders.
  • Women represented 51.0% of leadership roles in the voluntary sector, making it the only sector with fair and proportionate female representation.

    “Fair representation of women in top positions impacts organizations’ policy choices, improves their ability to serve communities, increases innovation and creativity in problem solving, and advances perceptions of institutional legitimacy,” reads the Women & Diversity EXCLerator Project report.

    One way to encourage women to seek leadership positions is to celebrate the successes of female leaders, making their accomplishments more visible to young women and girls. Celebrating women tells younger generations that their dreams don’t need limits, whether they hope to be the next female prime minister, a world-class musician, or a citizen-astronaut with the responsibility of building the first human settlement on Mars —like local journalist Karen Cumming, a Mars One finalist. Mars One is a project that plans to send 24 people to Mars starting in 2024.

    Cumming is the keynote speaker at YWCA Hamilton’s upcoming Women of Distinction Awards evening, an annual event that will be held at Carmen’s Banquet Centre on April 16. The Women of Distinction Awards celebrate women who have made incredible contributions to the Hamilton community. The event will honour 43 nominees in 11 categories. Proceeds from the Women of Distinction Awards event will help support YWCA Hamilton’s essential programs and services, continuing the organization’s 125-year history in Hamilton.

    By turning the spotlight on the achievements of women, the Women of Distinction Awards make a statement, telling girls and young women, like those who attended the Totally Awesome Young Women’s Breakfast, that their aspirations are achievable. Recognizing women provides younger generations with role models and mentors, telling girls and young women that they too can create positive change. This change isn’t limited to their own communities, but the world, and in the case of Karen Cumming, the universe.

    “Women can’t be what they don’t see — We must celebrate women who have achieved leadership positions and understand that this can shape other women’s aspirations,” concludes the Women & Diversity EXCLerator Project. This job lies in the hands of all of us, whether we are business owners, members of the media or concerned citizens. The future of Hamilton depends on the insights of passionate women in leadership roles.

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