B.C.’s Most Influential Women: Janet Austin

Janet Austin, CEO, YWCA Metro Vancouver; Chair, Vancouver Board of Trade, British Columbia Institute of Technology

As CEO of the YWCA Metro Vancouver, Janet Austin is quick to emphasize the common ground—and skip the philosophical differences—with her more recent role as chair of the Vancouver Board of Trade. “We’re subject to the same swing in the economy,” she says, even if “our goals are aspirational: achieving women’s equality.”

With Austin at the helm, the YWCA has made great strides to that end. The charity—with a $22.5-million annual operating budget, comparable to what a city spends on social services—has taken on an ever-expanding role in the life of the region, providing long-term and transition housing to women in need and their families, as well as a suite of services (from early learning to childcare) for single mothers. With 30 offices, buildings and support clinics around the Lower Mainland, the YWCA has expanded its geographic and social reach under Austin (CEO since 2003), providing services to 60,000 women, children and men annually. Austin has also bolstered one of the YWCA’s historic competencies: its hotel and recreation centre, income from which alleviates the pressure to constantly solicit donors. Indeed, 58 per cent of the YWCA’s annual revenues come from its hotel and recreation centres; the hotel alone, which grosses $3 to $4 million, can channel $1 million in net income back into the programs it funds every year.

Raised in Calgary, Austin spent the early years of her career in a variety of public sector roles in the city, including as a regional planner and running public consultation and communications projects for the Alberta government. Austin eventually moved to B.C. with her then-partner to take a position with BC Housing. It was there—spearheading new-build social housing projects—that Austin says she got the bug for public service and realized how important the business community was in being part of the solution. “You have to reach out broadly across society” to effect change, she observes. “The way to a healthier society requires an integrated approach, and change has a social component.”

To see who else made our list of the 50 Most Influential Women in B.C., go here >>