Mt. A hosts annual Women in Leadership conference

Conference features diverse women, non-traditional leadership

Last weekend, Mount Allison hosted its second annual Women in Leadership Conference, which focused on a wide variety of definitions of leadership. The conference featured talks, panels and workshops about the role of women in leadership positions and the obstacles they face trying to obtain them.

“[This year] we really wanted to focus on non-traditional leadership roles and […] diversify the speakers that we brought in,” said Katharyn Stevenson, a conference co-chair.

The conference began on Friday night with a keynote address by Catherine Martin, a member of the Millbrook First Nation in Truro, N.S. and the first female Mi’Kmaq filmmaker from the Atlantic region. Martin focused on the importance of what she referred to as leadership from within. Speaking about the influential women in her life who have demonstrated leadership in both traditional and non-traditional roles, she said: “What I have found from all of these leaders is that they walk with you.”

Martin began and ended her talk with drumming and singing. Dozens of faceless dolls in red dresses hung on the wall behind her mounted on a poster reading “NO MORE STOLEN SISTERS,” referencing the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada.

The next morning of the conference opened with a speech from Doreen Richard, Mt. A’s indigenous affairs co-ordinator and member of the Glooscap First Nation in Annapolis Valley, N.S. Richard discussed the discrimination indigenous women face today as an impediment to leadership and cited her own mother as a source of inspiration and a positive example of leadership in her life. “We have come a long way as indigenous women, but like all women we have far to go,” she said in her closing remarks.

The day continued with a panel discussing allyship and leadership which featured four panelists from diverse backgrounds and careers: El Jones, spoken word artist and teacher at Saint Mary’s University; Heather Baglole, queer activist and playwright; Kathleen Holland, founding partner of KMH associates; and Lianne Foti, assistant professor and academic advisor in the marketing and consumer studies department at the University of Guelph. They discussed how to practise allyship effectively in order to support women in leadership positions in the workplace.

Jones challenged the use of the word leadership, highlighting the constant devaluing of women’s work which has always occurred – specifically in the black community – and the need to move away from a narrow definition of leadership. “We’ve always done that work, but because we don’t call it leadership then we think of leadership as some other level of success,” she said.

On the topic of how to use allyship practically to foster women’s leadership in a variety of workplaces, Baglole emphasized the importance of using privilege to give space or provide a platform for marginalized people or groups. “People have voices. People have been talking this whole time,” she said. “Stepping back, letting people talk—that’s allyship.”

Jones said in order to achieve this we need to constantly deconstruct norms: Part of allyship is recognizing why spaces look the way that they do and noticing who has been left out. We need to ask ourselves what we can do to dedicate ourselves to changing this, even if it means sacrificing some of our own privilege, said Jones.

The afternoon featured a series of workshops and a speed-networking event which provided further discourse on barriers faced by women in leadership positions and opportunities to meet and talk to women from several different fields.

A workshop by Lisa Dawn Hamilton, assistant professor in Mt. A’s psychology department and acting director of the women’s and gender studies program, focused on issues specifically faced by women trying to enter the workplace.

Another workshop by Vallie Stearns and Johanne Perron – chair of the board of directors and executive director of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity, respectively – discussed strategies for overcoming these barriers through collective leadership.

“The conference created a safe and open space for students and speakers to talk about their experiences with barriers women face in leadership positions, issues of workplace hierarchies and competitiveness, and how to be an effective ally,” said Tierra Stokes, a second-year PPE student who attended the conference.

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