Inspiring Inclusion for International Women’s Day: messages from local women leaders

An International Women’s Day campaign by DIVERSEcity featuring local women leaders

It’s International Women’s Day, Friday, March 8, a day to come together for important conversations around women’s equality, inclusion and leadership.

This dialogue is often framed by the barriers women face in the workplace and communities due to disproportionate family obligations, low representation in certain fields, gender discrimination or simply the devaluing of women and the skills they bring to the table. BIPOC and newcomer women face even more challenges.

Throughout this week, in advance of International Women’s Day and our own Women’s Leadership Forum on March 8, DIVERSEcity has been sharing messages from women leaders that raise questions, present ideas to advance women’s equity and — reflecting the 2024 #IWD theme — #InspireInclusion.

Kicking off the campaign was Lenya Wilks, Director, Partnerships & Stakeholder Engagement at DIVERSEcity, who leads a high-performing and innovative team made up mostly of women who are making a difference in our community for newcomers, refugees and migrant workers.

Jamaican-born Lenya, who has a reputation for being a relationship-builder, community connector and problem solver, shares this message:

“To inspire inclusion, we need to practise allyship and solidarity actively. This involves bravely standing up against discrimination, supporting marginalized women, and advocating for inclusive policies and practices. By doing so, we can pave the way for a fairer future and uplift each other with conviction.”

Wage parity and equality in the workplace

Women make up less than a quarter of top leadership positions in Canada and the US, and a third or more at the management level. While women are equal in law, there are barriers that continue to prevent equitable representation in leadership opportunities as well as wage parity.

Statistics show that BC has one of the highest gender pay gaps in Canada, with women earning 17 per cent less than men. For BIPOC and newcomer women, the gap is higher.

DIVERSEcity’s Director, People & Culture, Praneet Sandhu is a strong advocate for women’s equality in the workplace, in pay and opportunity.

For International Women’s Day, she shares: “Let’s commit to championing gender equality and promoting women empowerment through wage transparency and fair and flexible hiring practices. Let’s continue to break barriers and empower women to reach their full potential.”

Praneet adds: “Women make significant contributions to their organizations and communities when given an opportunity. Let’s pledge to continue to lift each other up as the presence of women in every field is essential in making a big difference in the world and paving the way for future generations.”

Championing other women to lead

For Kirsty Peterson, Director, Career Advancement & Innovation, at DIVERSEcity, helping women, youth, newcomers and other groups who have historically struggled to secure meaningful labour market attachment, has been a career-long passion.

We asked Kirsty how career and leadership opportunities can be improved for women, given the challenges they often face. She says it should start simply, with women helping other women.

“Women need to champion other women. We need to create environments of trust, integrity and opportunity. Opportunities for women to hold power and responsibility in meaningful ways — not just in the roles society wants to push us into.”

It’s every woman’s responsibility

DIVERSEcity is lucky to have many inspiring women leaders at its helm, including among our Board of Directors. Board secretary Kam K. Raman for one.

Currently the Vice President, Commercial Financial Services, Public Sector, Not-For-Profit & Business at RBC, Kam has blazed trails at the financial institution, accelerating its BC diversity and inclusion portfolio. She has also lent her knowledge and skills to many non-profits and associations other than DIVERSEcity, including BGC Canada and Minerva, where she co-chaired its “Learning to Lead” program focused on advancing women in the workplace.

It’s no surprise then that last International Women’s Day, Kam was featured in Darpan Magazine’s Power Women of Influence special where she spoke of the importance for women leaders to engage with compassion, integrity and strength, while mentoring others to do the same.

Today, she adds to that message, noting that advancing women’s leadership is a group, inclusive effort.

“Openly embracing diversity and seeking to include women is everyone’s responsibility,” she says. “Let’s all do our part to advance equity.”

At DIVERSEcity, sharing our platforms with diverse voices is one way we like to do this. So, for International Women’s Day, we not only wanted to spotlight inspiring women within our organization, but women who we admire.

Colette Trudeau, Chief Executive Officer, Métis Nation British Columbia, is one of them. Colette is a compassionate changemaker who has advocated for the education and social-emotional and mental health supports for Indigenous students as a former School Trustee in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows. She amplified those efforts provincially with the BC School Trustees Association’s Indigenous Education Committee.

An advocate for the inherent rights of Métis people in British Columbia under section 35 of the Constitution, Colette has a passion for contributing to and volunteering for initiatives and organizations that influence real change. And, with everything she does, she leads with intention and inclusion.

“Being the leader of my life means respecting the name bestowed upon me by Elder Don Campbell of ‘ka-neega-eskwaq-iskwew,’ which means ‘woman who leads the way, not in front, but beside.’ Walking alongside others, lifting others up and spreading kindness is leadership. I encourage female and female-identifying professionals to ground themselves in their values and culture to ensure they can call upon the inner strength that comes with being authentically and unapologetically themselves,” Colette says.

Uplifting and including women from all walks of life

In turn, it’s important to Abby Mann, who manages the Youth Services portfolio at DIVERSEcity, to uplift younger generations.

“One key piece of advice I cherish is the value of mentorship and empowering the younger generation. Training and supporting them ensures their seamless transition while embracing their fresh perspectives and innovative ideas,” Abby says. “By fostering mentorship, we contribute to a more dynamic and inclusive professional environment, recognizing that our success lies in nurturing the potential of those who will follow in our footsteps.”

Let’s also not forget to be inclusive of self-identifying women and non-binary persons who may find connection to this day, too.

We asked Anoop K. Gill, Executive Director of QMUNITY, a province-wide resource centre that delivers programs and services to anyone within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in need of support and connection, to share her insights on womanhood with us.

Anoop shares: “Womanhood is not fragile; it’s boundless and infinite. I reject the notion that a single definition or role captures what it is to be a woman.”

In her role, Anoop is committed to expanding services for underserved communities by identifying equitable and accessible services that bolster and represent holistic care for people and their communities.

Including newcomer women and recognizing their unique challenges is also important, according to Tina Balachandran.

To those who know her, Tina is many things: a non-profit leader, community connector, storyteller, podcast host, a social justice champion and an advocate for newcomer women.

As Manager of Surrey Local Immigration Partnership, she works with the Surrey LIP council to improve the success and belonging of newcomers in Surrey, BC. As an immigrant from India herself, the work is personal to her. And as an immigrant woman, she knows firsthand the unique challenges that women face in starting their lives and careers over in Canada.

Tina shares with us a lesson she has learned in her journey:  newcomer women must learn to pivot!

“Our lives as women are constantly in flux, whether navigating the challenges of starting anew in a foreign land or juggling responsibilities in and out of the workforce. With every transition, setbacks may arise, yet it’s imperative to continually pivot — to reimagine ourselves, adjusting our perspectives and persisting unwaveringly.”

Inclusion is something we can do for ourselves

Dr. Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, Founder and Principal Consultant of SLD Consulting Inc., offers up a complementary perspective. “We often think of inclusion as something others do for us,” says Yabome.

“My admonishment to women and girls is always that when faced with the choice of showing up as ourselves or shrinking back, we must always choose ourselves. Our presence, is itself the difference that will always #inspireinclusion.”

How can we better show up as ourselves? Just look at Yabome’s shining example.

A proud African-Canadian who was born in Germany, grew up in Sierra Leone, and completed her studies in Canada and the US, Yabome has called Canada home since 1999 when she arrived as a refugee as a result of the Sierra Leonean civil war. Fast forward to today, Yabome, in addition to her consulting and coaching work with SLD Consulting, is the first Vice-President for People, Equity and Inclusion at Simon Fraser University, author, speaker and scholar-practitioner in the areas of leadership/organization development, executive and board coaching, facilitation and subject matter expertise in social change and justice consulting related to systemic equity, diversity and belonging. She is also the initiator, co-founder and lead editor of We Will Lead Africa, where she works with a women-led volunteer team to mentor Black/African women to recognize their leadership and tell their stories. Her list of achievements and accomplishments is long and prestigious. In everything she does, she strives to develop people’s capacity to be, think and do things differently and better.

Recognizing privilege to make space

So does DIVERSEcity Board member Jane Jae-Kyung Shin. She has been a pioneer in her own life and career, notably as the first Korean-Canadian elected to the Legislative Assembly in BC and now as Vice President, Students & Community Development, at Vancouver Community College. Jane’s story is one of success.

At DIVERSEcity, we are proud to have Jane as the longest-serving current member of our Board Directors, sharing insights from her own immigration journey and career that have guided our work with newcomers and connection to Indigenous communities and community partners. As an advocate for BIPOC women — including our own CEO Neelam Sahota — she elevates women professionals in their roles and creates agency for those who don’t have the same power and privilege.

So, when we asked for her thoughts for International Women’s Day, it came as no surprise to us that her message would centre not on her own story, but that of other women.

“For every one of the more picturesque stories like mine — realized in a bigger box of liberty with self-determination permitted within — I think of other women suffocating in much tighter chambers that cheapen, oppress, traffic, rape, maim and murder. And I wonder when we will, or will we ever, create a world where our daughters fly without bound, our mothers are held in highest esteem, and women of every colour and identification thrive regardless of their position, privilege and society. If only,” Jane says.

“Until such day, I commit to the movement.”

Committing to equity

As our Director, Community Building & Family Wellbeing, Erin Harvie is also guided by a commitment to equity.

“For me, leadership transcends titles; it’s about cultivating trust and nurturing spaces where potential flourishes. In fostering spaces for collaboration and growth, the true essence of leadership unfolds,” Erin says. “I strive to create opportunities and ensure that every voice is not only heard, but aligned to ensure a message of inclusivity, where the brilliance of each individual contributes to the collective brilliance of all.”

Finally, who better to conclude our International Women’s Day campaign than DIVERSEcity’s own CEO, Neelam Sahota, who uses her voice and platform to advocate for and create systems change toward a more inclusive, just and equitable society, including for women.

At DIVERSEcity, she has been leading the celebration of International Women’s Day for years, starting with small, staff-only events, now evolving into a large-scale signature event for staff, partners and the community. This event — DIVERSEcity X Minerva Women’s Leadership Forum — is starting today at 10 am, bringing together women leaders, emerging and established, for connection and conversation to advance equity, rights and opportunities for all women.

“As I look at my two daughters, I dig in deep with resolve that there is only but one way forward — to create the type of world where every woman and girl is valued and lives to their full potential in abundance and with joy regardless of privilege,” shares Neelam.

And women already in positions of leadership or power need to do their part.

“Leadership is a mindset — not a position that is earned or given to us. When we start looking beyond ourselves to bring others in — regardless of position, title, ability or racial identity — that is true leadership.  We need to be moving past counting how many glass ceilings are shattered to why are so many women unable to climb out of a sticky floor. If you’ve earned a place at the leadership table, make it count.”

Learn more about DIVERSEcity’s commitment to International Women’s Day at