President & CEO's Message

January 2015

A message from Marina R. James, President & CEO, Economic Development Winnipeg Inc.

SHEday’s Message Transcends Gender—and It’s Vital to Economic Development

As a career-driven professional who just so happens to be a woman, I’ve been fortunate that my career has afforded me a great many memorable moments upon which to reflect. When I consider the diverse trajectory that would eventually steer me to my current job at EDW, for example, I invariably think of key turning points that have materially impacted the person and leader I’ve since become. Similarly, an associated theme I often think about is (ironically?) perhaps best captured in the immortal words of poet John Donne: “No man is an island.” And no woman, either.

I know I’m not alone when I say mentorship is a crucial rung on the career ladder for anyone harbouring aspirations of becoming a more valuable employee—and a leader within their respective spheres of influence. Actively seeking out people with the skill sets and acumen you most admire and want to emulate is an excellent means of getting where you want to go in the business world faster and more confidently than is otherwise likely. In my case, I came to appreciate that I’d learned more from my mentors than I ever gave them credit for at the time. It’s no exaggeration to say my champions, two of whom particularly stand out, helped me in innumerable ways. For the record: yes, they were all men.

But their gender isn’t the point. The point is that they recognized in me, just as I recognized in them, something special that deserved to be nurtured further within those welcome atmospheres of mutual respect. Clearly, they embraced their roles as mentors to promising talents, regardless of gender; and clearly, they understood the value—both personally and professionally—of stewarding deserving colleagues toward elevated levels of responsibility.

A mentor myself now, and I hope one equally as proactive at recognizing and fostering the talents of those I interact with every day, I’m encouraged by the shifting professional landscapes I see unfolding before me across our city, our province and our country. While I believe a glass ceiling still very much exists for women, I am nevertheless confident that this regrettable construct is showing signs of irreversible compromise. The once-impenetrable glass ceiling is cracking and thinning more and more each day.

The genesis of SHEday 2015 came about from a casual conversation in September between Mary Jane Loustel, Brenda LaRose and myself. Mary Jane is an executive with IBM Canada and a co-chair of EDW’s board of directors, and Brenda is an executive search partner with Leaders & Co. Suffice it to say, we’ve all attained a certain level of career success that continues to elude many women. We found ourselves talking about the importance of women mentoring women, and we wondered what we could do to ensure that this kind of interaction was encouraged within Winnipeg workplaces. After some debate, we decided to host an inexpensive one-day symposium for entrepreneurial, pre-executive and executive women who could come together to hear the inspiring stories of women who have reached rare heights of business success, while also networking with a new set of peers. SHEday evolved from there.  

Initially, we expected about 100 people to show up to this inaugural (we hoped annual) event. But this initial projection proved much too conservative, so we moved to a venue that housed 275 people. Again, not big enough. We then moved to the final SHEday venue at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg, where nearly 600 participants could gather comfortably. Admittedly, not even that venue was large enough to accommodate all of those wanting to attend. However, after selling out all available tickets for just $39 each, there simply wasn’t time to shift to an alternative venue capable of seating 1,000 or more.

Without recounting the day itself, I’m proud to say it went off without a hitch. For a first-time foray into these enriching waters, it was a rewarding payoff on multiple levels for attendees, organizers and sponsors alike. As I sat and listened to the slate of exceptional speakers, and as I observed the goings-on at nearby tables, I was struck by the fact that this event wasn’t just an empowering experience for women. It was that, true, but it was also so much more—a first-of-its-kind clarion call to everyone in our city, urging them to become actively engaged in maximizing the untapped potential of our entire citizenry.

Economic development is about lots of complementary things. It’s about convincing big companies that Winnipeg’s value proposition is unique and compelling, it’s about collaborating with public and private entities in offering jurisdictionally competitive enticements and it’s about expanding our capacity in sectors that promise the brightest future for our city. But perhaps at its most elemental level, effective economic development results when Winnipeggers of all races, religions, social circumstances, cultures, genders, etc. are invited/allowed/encouraged to participate in the economy of our city by those already shaping it.

Let’s keep moving Winnipeg forward.

Marina R. James MBA
President & CEO