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Credit: Yulia Gladysheva

Heather Odentaal, CEO and Founder of WNorth

Of course, the WNorth Conference is still focused on bringing top female business leaders together and providing a forum to enhance leadership training, engage in high-level networking and learn from globally recognized speakers. But like all things 2020, this year’s conference turns the typical on its head and refocuses attention on the issues most prevalent today.

 “We want to change the tone of the conversation,” says Heather Odendaal, CEO and co-founder of WNorth. “We will also discuss the challenges women are currently facing due to the pandemic and solutions that keep more women in line for top leadership positions.”

This year’s theme is Cultivating Change, and it speaks to the achievements, impressions, and differences women make in their work and leadership. It enacts that women leaders play a vital role in the necessary disruption and change necessary to create an equal and fair workplace and economy.

 “We see, especially from the top levels of leadership, the way women like Dr. Bonnie Henry are managing the pandemic,” Odendaal says. “They are leading and creating change with empathy, making people feel comfortable, and having that compassion, but being bold, strong and determined at the same time.”

 The topics and themes are not a new conversation at WNorth, which has, over the past six years, discussed authentic leadership, vulnerability and leading with empathy.

 “At this moment in time, I believe men are also starting to realize these unique leadership styles are what the world needs right now,” Odentaal says.

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The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould

Sometimes creating change means cultivating top-level resilience and the courage to step forward, despite the consequences.

No one knows that better than Jody Wilson Raybauld, who will be interviewed by Sabrina Fitzgerald, national private company services leader at PwC Canada and managing partner, national capital region, in an opening keynote called, Courageous Leadership: Leaning into the Uncomfortable and Standing up for What you Believe.

Other types of change depend on the willingness to reach out to others with an open mind and understanding to discover how to give to and affect others. A panel discussion moderated by Renee Kaplan, CEO at The Philanthropy Workshop, called Do Good and Then Do Well, unpacks philanthropy and the importance of one’s social impact in meeting business needs.

 

The pandemic has highlighted the challenging landscape women navigate between their business and family roles and the importance of developing these leaders. Current numbers indicate 80% of women have taken on caregiving duties during the pandemic, and these women will undoubtedly be set back as a result. A recent study by The Prosperity Project found that one-third of Canadian women are currently considering quitting their jobs.

“WNorth exists to support women mid-career on a trajectory toward senior executive leadership, and I believe that is one of the demographics most vulnerable in this current environment,” Odendaal says. “Many women have ever-mounting domestic responsibilities, and all of the infrastructure in place meant to support us—daycares, nannies, childcare providers—is either unavailable or limited at this time. Women in this position will not be considered for the next promotion because, in the male-dominated paradigm, this is seen as a weakness.”

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LaFawn Davis, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Indeed.com

Every session at the 2020 WNorth Virtual Conference will have an underlying improvement tact focused on inclusive leadership and on developing and being performative allies.

 “Leading inclusively will not come from a one-hour webinar on the subject,” Odendaal says. “It is much more than that. It is about fundamentally changing our leadership training to improve on language and to remove micro aggressions. There is not a quick fix, but throughout our sessions there will be impactful discussions around improving the social language, removing systemic barriers and elevating diversity of thought that will lead to growth for every woman.”

 A key session that will focus on this will be an interview called Moving from ‘Performative Ally’ to Inclusive Leader, Moderated by Karlyn Percil CEO of KDPM Consulting Group Inc. and including LaFawn Davis, vice-president of diversity, inclusion and belonging at Indeed.com.  

WNORTH, a long-time supporter of the work at One Girl Can, will contribute a portion of the 2020 WNorth Virtual Conference proceeds to rebuilding and equipping the Ushirika School in the Kibera slum in Kenya. One Girl Can is seeking funds to provide sanitary napkins, pens and notebooks, and access to food for 58 high school girls who rely on Ushirika School as a safe haven and a place where they can continue to be mentored and coached.

To learn more about WNorth or to register for the virtual conference scheduled for October 29 visit https://wnorthconnect.com/2020-virtual-conference/

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