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High-Achieving Women Should Care About Collectively Building a New Future that is Intersectional — Here’s Why

We will become stronger and smarter because of intersectional and inclusive community-building

By Dr. Lauretta Frederking, President, Brescia at Western University


From boats to boardroom tables, we all have the power to inspire a sense of belonging

On June 19, Brescia hosted a convocation for one of our university’s largest-ever graduating classes. During this momentous occasion, we were joined by Brescia alumna Laura Katz who is the Founder and CEO of Helaina — the first-ever company to produce human milk proteins that are identical to those in breast milk, creating a new category of infant formula. 

Beyond enlightening us about her incredible accomplishments, Laura left our graduates with a reminder: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” She urged the Class of 2023 not only to look toward their bright futures but to look around at who they could raise up along the way and, similarly, who they should seek out as sources of inspiration, wisdom and strength. 

Since 1919, the desire to unite and uplift strong women is what has always lived at the heart of Brescia. Before women were even recognized as legal persons, Brescia’s foundresses invested in women’s potential, trampling upon the prejudicial barriers that may have otherwise gotten in their way. The power of our campus still lives in the authentic connections our students and alumnae form throughout their journeys. 

If I could, I would bottle that energy and bring it out into the world. Instead, I will appeal to each of you to share your wisdom, challenges and lived experiences with the women within and beyond your spheres. That way, we can all find that Ursuline (or uniquely you) magic and inspiration to take up the spaces and seats previously and currently denied to us. 

Your unique lived experiences can be a life raft for underrepresented communities

During a time of great progress and meaningful conversation, the numbers still show women — especially women from equity-denied groups — remain drastically underrepresented within North America’s decision-making roles. With less than two per cent of Fortune 500 companies being run by women of colour and only about 25 per cent of Canadian boards achieving gender equity, the corporate landscape is telling. The entrepreneurial forecast is similarly lagging. While the number of women entrepreneurs has increased by more than 110 per cent in the last 20 years, only 4.2 per cent of these companies generate more than $1 million in annual revenue, with several gendered factors affecting their success.

For example, women receive smaller loans; they are less successful when applying for financing (despite having better repayment histories); and receive less than two per cent of venture capital funding. Without getting too bogged down in the numbers, women are on a very beautiful yet challenging path. They are no longer trying to snag the outlier seat at the “table,” but are interested in dismantling it and building a new structure that is more representative of the brilliance of those less often included.

Creating this new table requires the recognition that we all belong there: There is the ideological and geographical destination where decisions, purchases, and policies are made that affect how we live, work, and lead. Be it the golf course, the boardroom, or a bar stool, the people with whom society imbues the utmost socioeconomic power are always included at the ever-shifting table of authority. Women from historically marginalized communities also belong there. But, as we grow in our careers and get more comfortable in our skins and positions, what we cannot assume is that others also accept women’s welcome as an immutable fact.

Our sense of belonging is directly tied to our purpose, productivity, and upward momentum

Individual and organizational research shows our sense of belonging is fundamental to our concept of self and recognition of the role we play within whichever arenas we inhabit. Companies that foster belonging tend to be more productive and more profitable than those that don’t. Additionally, 88 per cent of mentors and mentees share they became more effective after their mentoring engagement. People need to tie themselves to something bigger than themselves, and these stats show — by and large — that something is someone else. 

Women and girls of every age benefit from seeing their likenesses walking the path they yearn to follow. They are positively shaped by mentors who can simultaneously reflect on where they are at and where they want to get. This requires that the mentorship pool into which we tap is as diverse as the boardroom tables we want to build. While a rising tide may lift all boats, if a young entrepreneur only sees billowing white sails bobbing in the corporate ocean, she may be less inclined to believe that her unique craft will also stay afloat.

By reaching out, be it on social media platforms like LinkedIn; at an event; or by remaining open in our engagements with students, new employees and up-and-comers, we can contribute meaningfully to a landscape of empowerment. Best of all, the benefits flow both ways. Gone are the days when women saw each other as competition. Now, we have woken up to the fact that the more allies we welcome into our spheres, the more (and better) equity and inclusion work gets done. 

Sink or swim, we are in this together

The world is astounding in how it is evolving. Still, we are faced with life-limiting issues around sustainability, poverty, equity, and safety. Young women will benefit immensely from your willingness to share your wisdom. We, too, will become stronger and smarter because of our engagements with multi-generational leaders. 

Together — by intentionally listening and humbly learning — women of varying levels of impact and influence will rise up in ways that make our foremothers proud. Answer that request for a coffee, become a mentor in your local school, and don’t shy away from sharing your story by shouting it from the digital rooftops. Rest assured, it will carry someone through their best or worst day.