For Karen Bird, finding ways to invest something positive into her community is the best way she can say thank you for all that it’s given her.
“My community put me through school, and I spent a lot of time in college and university, and working hard in corporate Canada,” said Bird, a member of the Batchewana First Nation, near Sault Ste. Marie. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to give back – anywhere I can.”
Through her long career in finance, Bird has worked in branch management, personal financial services, commercial lending, business advisory services, business plan writing, and startup company coaching, among other roles.
Now, balancing a demanding career as an RBC Dominion Securities Investment Advisor with parenting as a single mom of four, Bird still makes time to share her experience and skills with the Indigenous and Sault Ste. Marie community.
In particular, she’s passionate about connecting and lifting up other women to be successful.
“Personally, I feel like women are the backbone of society; we are powerful, we are the givers of life, we take care of all those around us, often putting ourselves last,” she said.
“I want to connect with other women, create a strong network, and be a part of building that community of women, so that we can hold each other up and try to make it not as hard to find those support systems, whether it’s career, financial, emotional, social – whatever the case may be.”
Seeing a gap in information available to business owners, Bird hosted a series of roundtable seminars featuring guest speakers addressing issues impacting the business community, with particular focus on some of the changes under Bill 148, which introduced new rules around minimum wage, overtime, sick days and many other concerns. Experts in law, human resources and accounting came to offer their advice on navigating the changes.
She regularly gives talks about financial literacy for youth and wealth management for many others, which is poised to become increasingly critical for women in the future. There are billions of dollars in wealth set to change hands to beneficiaries in the next few decades.
As the “sandwich generation,” who are the usual caregivers of the younger and older family members, and more likely to live longer than men, women are positioned to inherit a sizeable amount of this transfer, Bird noted, and so it’s imperative women understand and have a plan on how to manage these funds.
Other organizations she’s involved with include the Northern Ontario Angels, the Sault Ste. Marie (SSM) Chamber of Commerce, the SHIFT Advisory Group (Shifting Frontline Tactics, Indigenous cultural awareness training for police services), the Economic Diversity and Growth Standing Committee for Sault Ste. Marie, and Royal Eagles, an RBC internal Indigenous employee group, for which Bird was a founding member.
On a more personal note, Bird speaks publicly about her journey as an Indigenous woman navigating the world of corporate Canada. She also continues to work on establishing Nakehndan-Knowing Your Truth, a foundation providing support to survivors and families who are healing after experiencing sexual abuse. Her newest personal venture is writing a book that combines life lessons, healing and motivational writings from over the years.
For her work, Bird was the recipient of the ATHENA Leadership Award, sponsored by Sault College and presented at the Women in Business Breakfast on International Women’s Day, which was hosted by the SSM Chamber of commerce. This is an international award, which is bestowed annually on a community member who demonstrates professional excellence and community service, and who actively assists women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.
Describing it as a humbling experience, Bird emphasized that while the awards are not the motivation behind her work, she is extremely grateful to be recognized for her contributions. It adds to her voice and provides a fitting opportunity to inspire the next generation of young Indigenous women, and women in general, to pursue their goals.
“The Creator puts you in different positions all the time, and you don’t know if you’re there to give, if you’re there to learn, if you’re there to help, if you’re there to just be – you never know,” Bird said.
“You have to keep your mind open every day as to how you’re going to make change. For me, every day is an opportunity to do that.”