Carleton University program aims to advance Ottawa’s women leaders

Janice McDonald is the founder of the Beacon Agency. File photo.

The following is a guest post from Janice McDonald, the founder of business strategy firm The Beacon Agency, an adviser at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business and the co-author of two national studies on women entrepreneurs.

A trailblazing entrepreneur who was among Canada’s few female CEOs in the 1970s, Jean Pigott broke through another gender barrier at the end of that decade when she became the first woman to join the Rideau Club in 1979.

Pigott’s presence paved the way for a new generation of accomplished women leaders to bring talent and a broader perspective to the membership ranks of the capital’s most prestigious social club. I’m thankful for the strength and courage of a woman who made it possible for me and so many others to enjoy this historic place as members.

Today, women leaders continue to enliven, modernize and transform the club. So it’s rather fitting that Carleton University’s Advancing Women Leaders Program (AWLP) has chosen the venerable facility as its home.

Presented by Carleton’s Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work (CREWW), the five-day program runs three times a year, attracting dozens of women leaders from across the region and around the country. Its next session takes place Oct. 15-19.

The program’s goal is to change the way women think about themselves and their leadership abilities. Expert facilitators aim to inspire participants to achieve their full potential, discover their personal power and strengthen their confidence to be leaders in traditionally male-led organizations.

The program is designed to provide the insight, knowledge and skills essential for women to navigate their way through the business world. It also focuses on the need to develop awareness of and insights into how men and women behave in leadership roles.

These are lofty goals, but AWLP delivers.

“You can see the insight and confidence in the room develop over the five days,” says program facilitator Clare Beckton, the executive-in-residence at CREWW and the executive director of Carleton’s Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership.

“Women return to their organizations changed – more confident to speak up, empowered to ask questions and committed to making a difference.”

One past attendee says the program was a springboard to personal and professional growth.   

“Most notably, I started asking,” she says. “I first asked my boss to amend my working hours for a later start time that would allow me to take my son to day care in the morning. The answer was yes. I boldly asked if I could be considered for promotion this summer, and … it was indeed confirmed that I will be promoted.”

This is the kind of transformation that occurs when women invest in themselves and their leadership skills, the program’s organizers say.

“As a facilitator, I leave the AWLP inspired about the future and excited to see how organizations transform when these women leaders return to the office,” says Beckton.  Ginette Munson, another facilitator, says the stories women tell during the intensive five-day retreat are the most powerful component of the learning that takes place.

Carleton business professor Merridee Bujaki, the director of the Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work, says the Advancing Women Leaders Program is grounded in research on women’s ways of leading.

“The interactive nature of the discussions and activities embedded in the AWLP encourages women to share their wisdom with each other,” Bujaki explains. “This supports the centre’s broad objective of advancing women in leadership.”

Interesting things happen when women come together to learn at the AWLP.

The facilitators have noted that frequently the women who are the most vocal early in the week become more introspective as the week progresses, while those who are initially quiet find their voices.

The AWLP provides women with a valuable opportunity to take time out of their incredibly busy lives to reflect deeply on their leadership skills and chart a course for the future. For many participants, it’s the first opportunity they’ve had in years to share their experiences with other women. They soon realize many others share their doubts, challenges, strengths and vision of the future.

“I love facilitating in the AWLP – I get to mentor the next generation of women leaders, and I learn from the women in the room,” says Bujaki.

Goldcorp, a long-standing sponsor of the program, recently boosted its support to enable Indigenous women to participate for the next five years until 2022. The result is an even more diverse and inclusive environment as women leaders from different backgrounds across Canada gather in the nation’s capital to learn from each other with the help of skilled facilitators.

Jean Pigott would approve.

For more information about the program and to sign up for next week’s session or for upcoming sessions on April 29-May 3, 2019 or Oct. 21-25, 2019, click here.