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You Need to Meet: Julie Savard-Shaw, a Leader Invested in Advancing Gender Equity From an Intersectional Lens

You need to meet Julie Savard-Shaw, a passionate leader with an extensive background in advancing gender equality and women’s rights from an intersectional lens. Julie is also the Executive Director of The Prosperity Project (TPP), a non-profit organization that was created in response to the overwhelming number of women disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As an advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honorable Justin Trudeau, Julie has spearheaded Canada’s first Feminist International Assistance Policy and helped lead the Canada-US Council for the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. During her tenure at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Honorable Chrystia Freeland, Julie oversaw the Task Force on Women in the Economy. Outside of government, Julie developed multiple national engagement campaigns from the ground up. Most notably, she led the Women Deliver Mobilization Conference in Canada in 2019, which galvanized $1.4 billion in government funding for gender equality.


How would you describe yourself as a leader? How has this shaped your leadership style and how you navigate being the Executive Director of The Prosperity Project (TPP)?

I am a strategic thinker, and my brain tends to work on overdrive 95 per cent of the time. I also move quickly; politics does that to you. Often, I am 15 steps ahead in my thinking, therefore, explaining what I need at that moment can be challenging. Thankfully, I have an amazing leadership coach, Emily Feairs, who taught me something very simple at our very first meeting: clear is kind. Being clear means there are no misunderstandings, there are no missed expectations, it means everyone can be on the same page moving towards the same goal. 

Can you discuss a specific project or initiative you’re particularly proud of and how it has made a difference in the lives of those you serve?

I am incredibly proud of our work at The Prosperity Project, and I am particularly thrilled about the Annual Report Card. This initiative asks the top 500 companies in Canada, by revenue, to send us intersectional gender-disaggregated data for four levels of leadership. This means we’re not just looking at men and women, or at who sits on a board and who is a CEO; we look at how many Black women, Indigenous women, women of colour, 2SLGBTQ2+ women, and women with disabilities are in corporate, c-suite, senior management, and pipeline to senior management. 

In other words, we are looking at who will be sitting around the decision-making table in some of Canada’s largest companies in five to 10 years. Canada’s labour needs are growing. We know that new arrivals to Canada make up a larger share of the Canadian labour market than ever before, and Canada’s Indigenous population is the fastest-growing demographic group in the country. This presents a novel success opportunity for businesses that have the awareness and tools to tap into these human resources.  

Where did your passion for gender equality come from?

I grew up in a feminist household. My mother, a French Quebecer woman, was actively involved in the women’s movement. My father was actively involved in household tasks and always supported me and told me I could do anything I wanted.

Then, of course, I faced the real world and realized that’s not how it is for everyone. My passion for gender equality was initially brought on by my travels in the Global South. I witnessed women giving birth in a hospital first-hand — if you can even call it that — that didn’t have access to running water, and girls being kept home from school because the family’s resources were being spent ensuring that the boys in the family were receiving a good education. 

Then, I started working in politics and realized just how unequal Canada is. I also experienced it myself: promotions being given to less qualified men, physically being excluded from conversation when tall men congregated in a circle to have debriefs, and even having people comment on my appearance. 

What supports and resources does the TPP facilitate in response to women impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can you speak to, and what were your findings?

One of TPP’s key initiatives is providing a report called the Canadian Household Perspective. For four years, we have conducted polling and focus groups to understand how women are faring in their professional and private lives. The data has repeatedly shown that women in Canada are plagued by burnout, stress, and undervaluation in the workplace. 

One might expect that the women who participated in these groups and reported everything from harassment to incessant anxiety and depression would be despondent, out of ideas, and tired of trying. They were not. They came armed with ideas for improving work and home environments. They spoke about the power of mentorship and training programs for women. They expressed hope that increased access to affordable childcare would ease the burden of working mothers. Most of all, they talked of solidarity. At TPP, we stand up for women because we know that women deserve to have it all, but they do not deserve the cost of having to do it all for everyone.

What role does diversity, inclusion, and equity play in the success and effectiveness of The Prosperity Project? 

TPP operates on the fundamental belief that achieving gender equity in Canada demands an intersectional approach, going beyond considerations of sex or socio-cultural differences. 

TPP believes that Canada’s future prosperity requires that women of all backgrounds have the tools, services, support, and access required to succeed in their careers. TPP also recognizes that we need to ensure our advocacy provides a voice for and reflects the lived experiences of women with different intersecting identities than the ones in corporate Canada — mostly white, heterosexual, and cis-gendered men and women. As a team, we hold regular conversations about the impact of our work, both intended and unintended, demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement and responsive action.

What excites you about the future?

The generation of women who are just beginning their careers have much bigger expectations than my generation had. For example, they expect gender equity and diversity in the workplace. If it’s not there, they walk away. When I started working after my undergraduate degree, it was a crowded labour market. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were still mostly working. If you found a job, you stuck with it, no matter the values of the company. 

I have so much faith in these ambitious women who are making the transition to the pipeline to leadership now because I know they will have the guts to voice what they need and want. 

In sum, what I am most excited about is seeing a Canada where women don’t accept that the embodiment of the perfect woman is a master of everything: poised, articulate, a captain of industry, and a devoted mother. A woman who manages her work responsibilities and family matters without breaking a sweat and looks good doing it. I am excited to see a Canada where America Ferrera’s description in Barbie is so foreign that they have to ask the older generation to explain why it was ever this way.


To learn more about The Prosperity Project, follow the organization on LinkedIn, Instagram, and X(formerly Twitter).

To keep up with Julie, connect with her on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and LinkedIn.