Nick Lees: Edmonton event celebrates women leaders as ‘the answer to our planet’


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The lack of women in crucial positions in the Canadian economy and their salaries was brought up last week at an Edmonton International Women’s Day luncheon.

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“Industry stats tell us female-led companies contribute $150 billion to our Canadian economy and employ more than 1.5 million people, but receive only four per cent of venture capital,” said Reneé Vetra, Scotiabank’s Capital Region district vice-president.

“Only 3.3 per cent of Canadian companies in 2018 had female CEOs and 36 per cent had no female executive representation at all. And female entrepreneurs earn 58 per cent less than men.”

Vetra was keenly applauded for her speech at the Junior Achievement lunch held at the World Trade Center, where she suggested one solution to the gender disparity was Scotiabank’s Women Initiative.

The program was created to help women tackle challenges they face on their path to success when starting, sustaining and growing a business, she said.

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The idea is to raise awareness of unconscious bias and help address the systemic areas in financial services that affect the growth potential of women-led businesses.

Backing women’s fight against bias was a fellow guest speaker and accomplished businessman Ashif Mawji, well known for his dedication in giving back to the community.

“In my experience through investing in over 100 companies globally and across multiple industries, the ones that are run by or have a strong contingent of women, perform much better financially,” Mawji told me later.

“In a recent study published by McKinsey, an adviser and counselor to many of the world’s most influential businesses and institutions, women leaders perform better in a crisis/pandemic to the tune of 57 per cent versus men at 51 per cent.

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“In the same study, women leaders result in a higher team engagement at 55 per cent versus 49 per cent for their male counterparts.”

A more engaged team and stronger leadership yield better financial performance, he said.

“Women leaders also have a much higher level of EQ (emotional intelligence) and are more accepting in terms of diversity in all respects,” he added. “This also means a much more inclusive workplace.”

Mawji suggested the world might be a different place if more women were leaders.

“If we had more women as heads of states, would we have this devastating war in Ukraine led by a lunatic, corrupt and murderous man?” I have asked.

“More women at the leadership table in politics and business is our way to build a better and more inclusive world for all human beings.”

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Society could finally solve its decades-long challenges pertaining to poverty, health, division and much more.

“The answer is simple,” he said. “We need more women as leaders.”

What men need to do is break the bias and understand and respect that women are, generally speaking, better than men at leading and ensure they are doing everything possible to lift women, support them, encourage them and move out of the way so they can lead and we can all learn and be better.

“The data and science prove it, so just like vaccines work, women leaders are the answer to our planet,” said Mawji. “We’ve tried it the old way and it hasn’t worked. Let’s try the right way!”

Many potential young female business leaders were at the lunch, attended by Alberta Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani. Guests included Elexis Schloss, the Elexis Design Consultants president, and Diane Buchanan, a business leader, community organizer and philanthropist.

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Among the handful of men were corporate leaders Lyle Best and Patrick LaForge.

Grade 12 student Maddie Spelliscy, who founded a dog-treat company at age 12, was also warmly applauded after speaking.

“I convinced my brother to buy in as an investor for $5 and made my dad draw up a contract for us,” she said.

“Not to brag, but we earned a whopping $200 that summer.”

Spelliscy said she had been a relatively shy kid when she joined Junior Achievement in 2019 and learned communication skills.

“I can now confidently say that although I have no idea where my future is going to take me, I’ll have the communication skills, entrepreneurial eye and connections to go far in whatever I pursue.”

Lunch tables were hosted by a Junior Achievement student and at my table was Ghalia Aamer, 20, who launched her own entrepreneurship business at age 13 and now tutors students virtually around the world in business and how to implement speech and debate programs.

It came as no surprise when JA Senior VP Janice Krissa-Moore told me JA Worldwide has been nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, cited for its incredible global-reach success in delivering economic empowerment to youth and its ability to find unity in diversity

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