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Top 25 Women of Influence™

They are teachers, doctors, lawyers, marketers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, mothers, daughters, champions of inclusivity, the epitome of strength.
They will change our world.

By: Diane Francis

Twenty years ago I interviewed Carlos Salinas de Gortari at Los Pinos, the Presidential Palace in Mexico City.  He was Mexico’s President at the time and was a savvy politician, businessman and academic, with a PhD in economics. We spoke about the country’s economic challenges and his government’s latest budget. It included an enormous boost in funding for public education.

After 30 minutes, he suddenly interrupted the interview, got out of his chair and fetched a graph from his inner office. The document plotted the correlation, in dozens of countries, between the educational levels
attained by females and each country’s economic growth rates. The more education women had, the higher the economic growth rates over a period of time.

“This budget is aimed at expanding public education to more Mexicans and also to increase the educational requirements,” he said. “We believe that the little girls of Mexico will benefit the most from this budget, and that it will be the little girls of Mexico who will help to lift this country out of poverty.”

By 2009, Mexico had improved its human capital, both male and female. According to UNICEF figures, the country had achieved an adult literacy rate of 93% and primary school attendance level had reached a new peak of 98%.

Not coincidentally, two decades of social spending and educational improvements had helped Mexico’s economy become as big, in gross domestic product, as Canada’s.

Mexico, like others, still has many challenges. But its former President, and subsequent ones, realized the correlation between education, female opportunities and economic output.

Besides the developed world, the region where this feminist imperative was established successfully was in Asia. China and the Asian Tigers set the bar high; women helped build up societies and economies into the powerhouses that now exist in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and the others.

Salinas drew his inspiration from Asia’s huge success and realized what everyone now appreciates, which is that gender meritocracy is a huge competitive advantage.

It is also a matter of human rights. Opportunity for women is the most compelling reason why their achievements must be enhanced and recognized in all fields of endeavour. This is why Women of Influence has launched its unique recognition program called the Top 25 Women of Influence™.

The 25 women profiled in these pages have not only made a significant difference in their chosen fields but they are exceptionally influential. This is an important criterion because such women also serve as important role models for Canadian women and girls.

The Top 25 are drawn from many backgrounds, educational levels, skill sets, personality types, sectors, professions, regions and interests. Some extend their influence across Canada, across a sector or internationally.

Some have been celebrated leaders for many years and are well known to the public. But those ranked have continued to strive despite years of past achievements. This makes them a “recent” influencer.

Most famous is Heather Reisman, chief executive officer of Indigo Books & Music Inc. She founded the chain in 1996 and has served as a consultant, executive and director of many organizations and public
corporations. She has also been intensely interested and influential in public policy matters and continues to be one of Canada’s top influencers, male or female.

Other women honoured here are virtually unknown, due to the nature of their work or because they are relatively new achievers in their fields. An example is Dr. Eve Tsai, neurosurgeon in the division of
neurosurgery at The Ottawa Hospital, assistant professor in the division of neurosurgery at the University of Ottawa, and associate scientist in neuroscience at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. She has specialized in spine and brain diseases and has won many medical and scientific awards for her efforts to bring clinicians and researchers together.

Women of Influence has devoted a great deal of thought and effort to determining the criteria that would select the first annual Top 25 ranking. The result is that the recipients represent a greater cross-section of Canadian society and business than do most awards results.

Nominations were not sought, but high potential and recognized women were approached by Women of Influence and asked to submit information about themselves based on high-level criteria. The process was
deliberate and fair. It was designed to find those achievers who are also currently among the most influential persons in their sector and profession.

Their names were drawn from five categories: Business, Health Services, Non-Governmental Organizations, Professional Services and the Public Sector. And the five most highly-ranked women in each category comprise the Top 25.

Those in each category were evaluated based on a number of current factors such as the number of notable positions held, number of board directorships, contribution to their organization’s success in the past year, increase in compensation this year, recent awards, recent promotions, number of employees managed, contribution to their organization’s growth and the number of deals led and/or closed this year. Examples of top influential women in the Business category include Ms. Reisman and Kirstine Stewart, EVP English Language Services of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In Health Services, the criteria included notable positions, recent awards won, notable awards won, number of boards, number of employees managed, compensation increases this year, promotions and contribution to the organization’s growth. Recipients included Dr. Tsai, but also other women who hold positions in different aspects of health care such as Dr. Jennifer Blake, chief of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Sunnybrook Hospital, and Mary Jo Haddad, president and CEO of The Hospital for Sick Children.

Top-rated in the Non-Governmental Organization category is Rosemary McCarney, CEO of Plan Canada, who has sat on 15 boards and has won 12 major awards including Canada’s 2011 Women of the Year by Chatelaine.

In Professional Services the most influential woman was lawyer Dale Ponder who is Firm Managing Partner of Osler, Hoskins & Harcourt LLP and on the St. Michael’s Hospital board. She has been recognized by the Best Lawyers in Canada guide, the Lexpert/American Lawyer Guide to the Leading 500 Lawyers in Canada, and captured more than a dozen additional recognition prizes in recent years.

The Public Sector category includes top influential women like Dr. Olga Kovalchuk, with the University of Lethbridge, a professor and biological sciences and epigenetics researcher who also has sat on 24 boards of
governors or directors. She was named one Canada’s Top 40 under 40 along with several other distinguished recognitions in recent years.

These and other women represent an impressive roster. Fully engaging females in all aspects of national life is the secret sauce that makes for great, and good nations. And Canada has more than its fair share of
empowered and effective women.

So read, enjoy and learn. The Top 25 Women of Influence™ are inspiring and fitting tributes to help launch this new initiative devoted to highlighting the importance of female achievement and influence.

Diane Francis is Editor at Large, National Post, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, an author and director on four boards.