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Meet Dr. Julie Cafley, Executive Director of Catalyst Canada, a nonprofit that helps build better workplaces for women

She is a creative, strategic leader and academic with expertise in public policy and higher-education leadership.

Meet Dr. Julie Cafley, a creative, strategic leader and an accomplished academic with expertise in equity and inclusion, public policy, and higher-education leadership. Julie holds a PhD from the University of Ottawa with sought-after expertise in university presidential mandates. Her thesis focused on higher education leadership and governance through the lens of unfinished terms of Canadian university presidents. She is the Executive Director of Catalyst Canada, a global nonprofit organization that helps build better workplaces for women through holistic solutions and strategy. She is a frequent writer and speaker on gender equity, inclusive workplaces, and leadership. Julie is a committed advocate for women and leadership, a constant ally for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and an indefatigable champion for diversity initiatives.


My first job ever was… I grew up in a rural area, so I was a sitter of all sorts: babies, dogs, horses, houses, hobby farms. I even looked after a dog kennel a few times.

Before my work with Catalyst, I was… I spent a decade as Executive Vice President at the Public Policy Forum. It was a brilliant role in a creative and impactful organization, building bridges between leaders from different sectors and advancing policy issues to make the country better.

I joined Catalyst because… advancing women is truly my vocation. I have always made inclusion a core part of my mandates in each of my roles. The role of Executive Director at Catalyst Canada is a dream role. There has never been a more important time to advance equity in workplaces.

I’m passionate about equity because… we can only truly thrive when everyone is at the table. There are so many voices that are still not being heard. We need to change that so that we all can flourish in our workplaces and beyond. 

My proudest accomplishment is… my two boys, Zacharie and Théo, who are 19 and 17. I learn from them every day. I asked my youngest how to say “coming out” in French the other day. He said, “Mom, we don’t use that expression anymore. You just are what you are. There is no coming out.” Of course, this is not everyone’s perspective or reality, but I love that it is his. 

My eldest son is studying social work and working in an addiction detox clinic with the Government of Québec. He helps people who are experiencing homelessness and housing challenges with their addictions. With compassion, activism, and knowledge, they are each allies. 

My biggest setback was… when my husband was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease. His first symptoms were on our honeymoon when we hiked the Grand Canyon. It was a devastating time. This unimaginable obstacle in our lives has given our family clarity and focus on what really matters.

I overcame it by… you don’t overcome it, but you are forced to make important choices. For us, we live big, we love lots, and we choose happiness during difficult times. Parkinson’s disease teaches us compassion, patience, and resilience. It forces us to live in the present. And 22 years in, my husband is the strongest man that I know!  

My best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be…jump in! Make that call, write that email, and ask for the experience or connection that you are seeking. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… saying no. I am a ‘yes’ person, and some of my best experiences have come from saying yes! That being said, as women in particular, saying no is a sign of strength, of focus, and is essential for self-care.

The thing I love most about what I do is… I love building bridges, making connections, and turning ideas into action.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… my network and my passion. I have always been surrounded by people who believe in me and lift me up. From there, I have had the privilege of always loving the work that I do. When you love what you do, it makes it much easier to advance and to succeed. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I do handstands in my office most days. It makes me happy and confuses many. 

I stay inspired by… spending time in nature.

The future excites me because… I love teenagers and learn so much from them. Our future is bright! 

My next step is… I am just getting started in this new role! My next step is building on our 60-year history and amplifying Catalyst Canada’s impact from coast to coast to coast.

To keep up with Dr. Julie Cafley, connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.