Sophia Jacob, an award-winning event planner and founder of three networking organizations, is working to see more women of colour in leadership positions, on boards, and in the C-suite across Canada. That’s why Sophia and her organization, the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network, are taking part in the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign — joining their voices with those of other Canadian organizations to bring about positive change.
By Hailey Eisen
Six years ago, Sophia Jacob was working as a personal support worker when she decided it was time to make a career change. “There were cuts coming down the pipeline in healthcare, and I knew I had to get out,” she recalls.
As a single mother, she had decided to wait until her son was grown before looking toward her own career ambitions — and he was well on his way. With a passion for event planning and networking, Sophia leapt into her new career.
“The best way to establish myself in the events space was to throw an event,” Sophia says. “So that’s exactly what I did.”
Sophia chose a name, brought on some speakers, and hosted her first event with the Black Ottawa Business Network. “We had about 40 to 60 people show up — and we’ve managed to keep all of our events around that size, giving me the opportunity to really connect with everyone in attendance.”
The aim is to fulfill a need in the community: providing networking opportunities for business professionals and entrepreneurs looking to meet other like-minded individuals with whom they can do business, partner, or collaborate.
Around the same time, Sophia launched her own business, Sophia J Events, for which she’s won awards as an event planner and marketing strategist. “As I grew as a professional, I realized I wasn’t seeing enough women of colour in leadership positions, and I wanted to make a difference in that area as well,” she recalls. That’s how her second initiative, The Ottawa Opportunities Network, was born.
With both organizations hosting events and becoming more well-known within the Ottawa area, Sophia felt it was time to expand her reach. “I decided to launch the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network because I have a strong desire to see women of colour in leadership positions, on boards, and in the C-suite across this country,” she says.
A main focus is on the younger generation, who Sophia believes needs to see women who look like them in positions of power and have role models they can look up to and turn to for support. “If you don’t see anyone like you in a position, how can you ever imagine yourself doing it?” she says.
Mentorship will be a big part of the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network, which is in its infancy right now. The plan is to establish a Mentorship Matters program which will connect women of colour in leadership roles with young women who will benefit from their guidance.
If you don’t see anyone like you in a position, how can you ever imagine yourself doing it?
“Mentorship is one the best tools you can have in your pocket,” says Sophia, whose own mentoring efforts are now second nature. “I’ve shared my own story many times and mentored many young women looking to make changes in their own careers.”
As the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network works toward building capacity and reaching out to other like-minded organizations, Sophia is thankful for the opportunity she’s had to join the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign, built around the global conference being hosted in Vancouver this June. “This is a perfect opportunity for us to reach new audiences and to connect with other organizations doing great things for women,” she says.
Sophia has taken advantage of some of the events being held by the Mobilization in Ottawa — using them as an opportunity to connect with like-minded businesses and expand the reach of the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network. She has her own event in the works as well for the end of May, which she says will give women who can’t attend the conference in Vancouver a chance to still get involved.
“There are so many great opportunities to collaborate, connect, and communicate with others through this mobilization — and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be part of the conversation,” she says.
She’s also quick to point out that the diversity conversation must include women of colour, and Sophia’s committed to making this happen. “I became a mother when I was 18, and I didn’t get the opportunity to go to university or to network with other young professionals, or to follow my passion when it came to work,” Sophia says. But she did have the confidence and support to go after her dreams later in life.
While growth may be slow, Sophia says organically she’ll build the reach and capacity to take the Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network to the next level, keeping in mind the mandate of meeting, connecting, and promoting women of colour who are looking to advance their careers as entrepreneurs, professionals, and community leaders. They’re active on social media and their website is in the works, and people are getting to know their name and — more importantly — their message.
“There are a host of reasons why black women are often underestimated and undervalued in their careers, and we want to change that and have more people looking at things through our lens.”
To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at www.WeDeliver2019.ca and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.