Influential Women in Business: Winners set example at the office and in the outside world

Award recipients are role models in business achievement and community involvement, judges say

Sue Belisle, president and publisher at Business in Vancouver Media Group: “what sets our awards apart is that there is an emphasis on mentoring other women in business.” Fiona Macfarlane, managing partner, Ernst & Young: “these women prove that women can – and do – make it to the top, despite tackling many challenges on the journey up the ranks” | Rob Kruyt/submitted
The winner’s list for this year’s Influential Women in Business (IWIB) Awards reads like a who’s who of B.C. CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives. Without question, it represents a tour de force for women in B.C. business.

“I look at the nominations and many of them are in the top-ranking position,” said Sue Bel­isle, president and publisher at Business in Vancouver Media Group and one of this year’s judges. “CEO, president; you can’t go any higher, so they’ve broken through the glass ceiling.”

The awards, administered by a nomination committee that includes past winners and business leaders, are given to the most outstanding businesswomen in private- or public-sector companies.

Through the years, IWIB has acknowledged those who have achieved business success in a landscape that has historically posed challenges for women. Many among them who once bumped up against the glass ceiling that persists in segments of the 21st century’s business landscape are now kicking down from above, creating openings and opportunities for a younger generation of businesswomen.

“What sets our awards apart is that there is an emphasis on mentoring other women in business,” Belisle said. “They contribute to a landscape that inspires other women.”

To that end the honourees are judged not only for their business achievements and their power and influence, but also, and perhaps most significantly for IWIB, for their community involvement, including participation in professional mentorship programs and advocacy for women in business.

And although local networking organizations and business clubs such as Young Women in Business, Young Women Entrepreneurs Club and Women Investing in Real Estate may not be directly attributable to initiatives such as IWIB, they certainly take cues from IWIB’s contribution to the shift in the workforce zeitgeist since its inception in 2000.

Like the awards, the winners are helping to redefine business success. They’re doing so by setting examples for work-life balance, kindness and social responsibility, both within the community and beyond. In-house mentorship programs, leadership roles in professional networks focused on women in business and board memberships in global educational organizations geared toward helping impoverished women are just a few of many ways they are reshaping the role of women in business.

The awards also underscore a constructive ethos that stands to benefit B.C. at large. “It guarantees the growth of our province, showcasing leaders,” Belisle said. “And we want to keep leaders in B.C., so the more women we can develop, the greater chance they’ll stay.”

Fiona Macfarlane, managing partner, British Columbia, and chief inclusiveness officer at Ernst & Young, noted that the World Economic Forum recently updated its Global Gender Gap Report, which predicts it will be 118 years until gender parity is reached.

“These women prove that women can – and do – make it to the top, despite tackling many challenges on the journey up the ranks,” said Macfarlane, who is a past IWIB winner and sat on this year’s committee of judges.

A 2013 BC Stats labour force projection study showed that although women are participating in B.C.’s job force at a slightly lower rate than men are, there has been a distinct upward shift from 1976 data that showed a sharp drop in female workers aged 20 to 30.

IWIB, though, is more than just a banner over a changed workforce. “It is a recognition of the significant impact each of these individuals has on their workplace, community and the organizations they are passionate about,” said Macfarlane, who also sits on the board of directors of the Canada forum of the International Women’s Forum.

That sentiment is perhaps the signal feature of this year’s winners, Belisle said. “They’re not just doing their business jobs,” she said. “Each one of the winners is a role model.” •