When Whistler’s Heather Odendaal couldn’t find a conference specifically geared to women on or aspiring to senior executive leadership tracks, she created one herself. Bringing together successful career women from a wide range of sectors for a chance to learn from and inspire each other, WNORTH was born.

Elizabeth Chronise McLaughlinElizabeth Chronise McLaughlin delivering her opening keynote at last year’s conference

What started out in 2015 as a single-day event has evolved into a multi-day program of keynote addresses, talks, workshops, networking, and special events. However, WNORTH has become much more than that. Today, it is a growing global community of women on the rise.

With this year’s boutique-style conference taking place in Whistler from April 18 to 20, WNORTH has also launched chapters internationally– in London, New York, Toronto, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver.

“While the conference is our flagship event, WNORTH is a global women’s leadership brand supporting high-potential women around the world,” says Odendaal, an accomplished entrepreneur, brand builder, and event producer. “We wanted to focus on mid-career, high-potential women and support them in an effective way.

“Through our city chapters, we have hosted intimate WNORTH gatherings and connection events over last two years,” she adds. “We are leading the way in terms of supporting and celebrating driven women who are on a leadership trajectory--women who are going places.”

The April conference, which takes place at Nita Lake Lodge, is a chance from women from a cross-section of professions—corporate, entrepreneurial, and public, from finance and marketing to tourism and human resources—to share their perspectives, experiences, and inspirational stories.

Among this year’s keynote speakers is Halla Tomasdottir, an educator, entrepreneur, business leader, and investor who was a presidential candidate in her native Iceland in 2016. Newsweek once named her one of 150 women who “shake the world”. She was also instrumental in legislating Iceland’s equal pay mandate.  

Halla 1Halla Tomasdottir

“Any progressive leader looking to successfully lead his or her organization should put gender balance at the top of the agenda,” Tomasdottir says. “So why don’t we see more of that? I believe that is because we haven’t had the courage and foresight to uproot deeply held assumptions about leadership and organizational cultures. Transformative leaders create inclusive cultures that bring out the best in everyone.”

“I know we don’t have a competence gap when it comes to women in leadership, but we seem to have a confidence gap,” she adds. “I am on a quest to address that because I believe gender balanced and good leadership is key to creating a sane and sustainable world. I hope to inspire conference participants to go for it, by sincerely sharing my own story and providing what I hope may be some helpful lessons from my own leadership journey and life.”

Also presenting is New York’s Joanna Peña-Bickley, head of design, Internet of Things, at Amazon. Her acumen in design, data, media and technology has been applied to help some of the world’s most recognized brands, including NASA, Land Rover, MTV, and Jay Z. The former global chief creative officer for IBM, she designed one of the first streaming video players and first banking app for Apple Watch.

Other speakers include Tej Singh Hazra, head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at HSBC Bank Canada; coach and speaker Steph Jagger, author of the recently published Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery and world-record smasher for number of vertical feet skied in a year; and Erin Sills, principal at Erin Sills Consulting, who specializes in next-level leadership.

In addition to keynote addresses, workshops, and talks, WNORTH 2018 features unique events such as an opening reception, a West Coast lunch at Aura Restaurant, WNORTH Connect Dinners at a variety of top Whistler restaurants, the Connected Breakfast, and the Scandinave Spa Social Evening.

All attendees gain access to the WNORTH Community Networking app to connect with other female leaders.

PWC is WNORTH’s Presenting Sponsor, while HSBC Bank Canada is the Presenting Sponsor of the Tomasdottir’s closing keynote address. WNORTH’s leading sponsors are McQuarrie Hunter LLP and Nita Lake Lodge.

“We’re proud that the idea for WNORTH was born and bred here in B.C.,” Odendaal says. “And we’re excited that it’s resonating around the world.”

For more information and to register, visit https://wnorthconnect.com/ Regular conference registration closes March 23.