A new Sudbury organization is aiming to equip women with the tools and resources to guide them into leadership roles in the community.
Founded in fall, 2017, She&Her is the brainchild of Hailey Short, Kate Lafantaisie and Samantha Davidson, who were struck by numbers that tell a story of disproportionate leadership by women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
According to the organization, only five per cent of tech companies are founded by women, while just eight per cent of tech companies have women sitting on their boards of directors. Seventy-three per cent of boards have no female representation at all.
The three Sudbury women, all early in their careers and with aspirations to become leaders of their own one day, wanted to do something locally to change that.
“Our goal to begin with was to create an environment of like-minded women and men, and create a community, and identify the right resources to be able to succeed professionally, become a leader within your industry, regardless of whatever industry you're in,” Short said.
“So our focus was on leadership and giving women the right resources to be able to lead and pursue those opportunities.”
Their first event, held on International Women’s Day on March 8 last year, included a talk by keynote speaker Alicia Woods, the founder of Covergalls and general manager at Marcotte Mining, followed by a panel discussion of local women leaders from across industries, and lots of time for networking.
The 100 available event tickets sold out after just a few weeks, and after covering expenses, the founders had raised $3,000 for the Sudbury chapter of Canada Learning Code, which holds local digital literacy workshops. The women are now planning for the 2019 event.
Emboldened by their success, the trio then launched Bubbles&Biz. Smaller, more intimate gatherings of fewer than 30 people, Bubbles&Biz features guest speakers presenting on their area of expertise.
Lafantaisie said the format is designed to kindle open, honest conversations about topics that can often be intimidating to broach. In October, Andrea Bonhomme, a personal financial planner with RBC, shared her knowledge gained from a nearly 30-year career in the financial industry.
“They’ve been really raw discussions that you typically wouldn’t want to talk about – finances is one of them, definitely; we’re hoping to do one on women’s health,” Lafantaisie said. “Again, having that open environment and space to ask these awkward questions, just in a really comfortable, safe environment.”
In October, She&Her launched its newest offering, a weekly Speaker Series, delivered every Sunday evening via social media as a motivational kickstart to the work week.
Following a Q&A format, selected female community leaders answer a series of set questions about their career, advice they have for other women, and favourite lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Among the featured women to date are Chrisanne Daniel, a graphic and web designer at the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT); Dr. Sheila Cote-Meek, associate vice-president of academic and Indigenous programs at Laurentian University; and Chantelle Smith, the owner of Be Greater Organics, a health food and lifestyle shop.
Davidson said their events have also provided lots of networking opportunities, and they’ve seen mentorships blossom as a result.
Eventually, She&Her hopes to embark on a more formal approach to mentorship, perhaps taking on a matchmaker role to facilitate ongoing relationships.
“We’re looking to match people who not only work in the same industry, or two entrepreneurs, but also based on personal interests and goals,” Davidson said. “That’s definitely a piece we’re moving towards.”
The women believe their events resonate with people across sectors and demographics, and they welcome suggestions for guest speakers and topics of conversation.
They’ve seen a wide range of attendees at their events: mothers and daughters, retirees, men, students, community leaders, and women just starting in their careers have all found value in their teachings.
Davidson said they’re buoyed by the response, and their events are always inclusive and open to all.
“I think the learning never finishes for anyone, and the sense of empowerment, or the feeling you have leaving that place…nothing really compares to feeling like you can conquer whatever is next for you.”