As CEO of YWCA Metro Vancouver, Deb Bryant is working to bring economic independence and wellness to vulnerable women. She’s also dreaming big about a better future through a global vision for change. That’s why Deb and the YWCA 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
Deb Bryant intended to have a career in fine arts. But in the early 1980s, after working for a few years, she realized the economic opportunities for women in the field were next to none.
“I discovered that there were very few female artists making a living at the time,” says Deb, “so I made the decision to move into the non-profit, education sector.”
The decision turned out to be a good one for Deb, who was named CEO of YWCA Metro Vancouver last year — the culmination of two decades spent in rewarding leadership roles. For Deb, the ability to envision herself as a leader early on and work toward her goal came from the many strong female role models in the field, leading the way.
“I was very fortunate to have had access to a privileged upbringing, a good education and mentors who provided support,” she says. And, despite a few bouts of imposter syndrome, Deb has felt comfortable going after her professional aspirations. Today, at the helm of the YWCA, she’s helping to provide opportunities for other women, equaling the playing field wherever possible.
The organization’s focus is supporting single mothers and their children, providing housing (the YWCA operates 10 housing communities across Metro Vancouver), affordable, quality childcare, and wrap-around services to ensure these women can work and take care of their families. They also serve as vocal advocates around affordable housing and early learning and childcare — both required to achieve economic independence. The YWCA is also focused on stopping violence against women by raising awareness, educating youth, and fighting for reforms and supports to help women make successful transitions to personal and economic independence.
“We’re fortunate to have a huge network of women and people of influence that have come through the YWCA over decades, who understand our mission and are taking every opportunity to speak up for the policy changes and cultural shifts needed to bring about continued change,” Deb says.
With the YWCA’s 125th anniversary approaching in a few years, Deb says she has been looking back over how the circumstances have changed for women over the past several decades and the supporting role the organization has played. “To be part of that positive change,” she says, “that’s what gets me up with gusto every morning.”
Being in Vancouver and entrenched in the advocacy of women’s equality, it only makes sense that the YWCA was an early champion of hosting Women Deliver 2019, the world’s largest conference on gender equality, in Vancouver. The YWCA is also focused on having a strong local voice and movement alongside the Conference. To this end, they helped form Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada — the national movement to improve Canadian leadership on gender equality and drive progress globally and domestically in the lead up to the conference.
Through the Mobilization campaign, the YWCA is working with other Mobilizers to ensure the Conference results in real progress on gender equality. It is a unique opportunity for organizations traditionally active in this space, such as the YWCA, to connect with other sectors, including the financial, technological, educational and academic sectors, to bring about positive change together. It is also an important platform to strengthen the link between local and global issues.
“This opportunity to look at women’s issues from a global perspective will not only help our community, but also make the world a better place,” Deb explains, noting the YWCA’s network of 125 countries, servicing 25 million women and girls internationally. This global conference serves as a reminder of the importance of supporting women and girls as a way to support entire societies. “I hope this conference will leave behind the legacy of connecting the work we’re all doing locally with a global vision for change.”
Deb says the timing of this conference is significant. “So many issues around women’s equality and voice, as well as the day-to-day challenges women face, are on the public agenda right now, and I believe this conference will help to further amplify these issues and move us toward solutions focused conversations.”
Beyond having a delegation from YWCA Metro Vancouver at the Conference in June, Deb and her team have been involved in a series of events as part of Mobilization Canada, which are happening across the country to engage more Canadians in the gender equality conversation. They also have a Youth Advisory Council which will take part in these events with the aim to amplify the voices of young women and bring youth into public discourse and civic engagement.
Hosting Women Deliver in Vancouver, Deb says, is an incredible opportunity to welcome the largest international gathering of feminist thinkers here in Canada. “I know the insight, vision, and information they bring to the conference will ripple out through local networks and organizations — and allow us to put those to work here in Vancouver and beyond.”
As for the work she’s doing with the YWCA, Deb is looking toward the 125th anniversary with an eye to the future. “The question I’m asking myself as we move toward this milestone anniversary is: ‘if we were to be outrageously successful, what would the female experience look like 125 years from now?’”
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.