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Woman of the Week: Erin O’Neill

It’s been about five months since the city of Fort McMurray was consumed by flame and smoke.  On May 3, over 80,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Television newscasts showed the wildfire quite literally jumping roads, inching closer and closer to the residential parts of the wooded region in Alberta. Luckily, there were no deaths.

Fort McMurray seems to be slowly healing, but there are still some households that are inhabitable. But, the recovery plan — which focuses on building the community back up — is in good hands.

Erin O’Neill was in Red Deer when she heard about the fire, accepting her new role as president elect of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute. She couldn’t go home and couldn’t get any information. “I was following twitter. I watched the news like everyone else,” she said. “I remember going to sleep thinking I would wake up and not have anything.”

Then she got a phone call on the Saturday afternoon asking her to come back to Fort McMurray.  She jumped on a city bus from Edmonton into the city. “I had no idea where I was staying, didn’t know what my job was. I got there and they said ‘you are going to be the planning chief of re-entry’.”

Her official position, Chief of Planning for the Regional Emergency Operations Center, meant she was in charge of all re-entry procedures — creating a Recovery Task Force, getting critical businesses like pharmacies and grocery stores up and running, and eventually helping people back into their homes.

“You know when you go on vacation? You turn out your lights and gas. We did everything for the whole city and then had to turn it back on again,” she said.  Then, the city had to restock all of their merchandise and get businesses running again, a difficult feat considering smoke had gotten into everything.

O’Neill showed up at 4:30 in the morning on June 1, the first day of re-entry, expecting everything to go wrong. But, according to her, it was almost anti-climactic.

“It was the smoothest day,” she said. “I was like, ‘this is it?’

When speaking with O’Neill over the phone, it was obvious why she was chosen for this important role. She speaks with authority and sincerity — and genuinely cares for her community.  She also happens to be incredibly kind-hearted and humble about her role in the successful re-entry of Fort McMurray.

O’Neill went to school with the intent of becoming a teacher, but in her third year of university she decided it just wasn’t for her. Instead, she went into planning and development. “I think it’s that you can see a piece of land and see it develop and help the people,” she said. “You are protecting the public interest and then you are making a difference. You can see that end result.”

After working in Ottawa processing standard permits, she made the bold decision to move to Fort McMurray. This was nine years ago.

Before she was appointed her emergency chief of planning role, O’Neill was Manager of Land Acquisition and Issues Management, or rather the person who manages land use and real estate interests for Fort McMurray, acting as broker between developers and the province. Now that most of the city’s residents are back in their homes, O’Neill is excited to expand her role, transitioning to handle three sections of the recovery plan following the fire — rebuild, mitigate, and the economy. Essentially, she is creating a legacy for the city, figuring out how to move forward after such a debilitating natural disaster.

It’s quite the portfolio, but it’s obvious O’Neill is more than capable.

Why do we need International Women’s Day?

When I tell friends that I am the editor of Women’s Post, the response is usually this:

“Wow, that’s amazing! So…what kind of stuff do you write/publish?”

I explain that I work for a publication that strives to be a platform for women, but our content doesn’t discriminate: Yes, I write about fashion and food, but I tend to focus more so on politics and business. Women’s Post also profiles women who have been successful in their industry of choice, and shares their knowledge with other women as inspiration or motivation.

At this point, I often get an apathetic “oh really” or “that’s interesting” response. Even worse is the condescending “That’s amazing that you are doing THAT type of work” reply — as if women as a group are in desperate need of guidance and support; as if they are incapable of being successful without the help of men; as if women, as a demographic, need an organization or a publication to advocate on behalf of their interests because they can’t do it themselves.

Let’s get one thing straight — I don’t believe that women NEED help to succeed. Women are just as capable as men — just as creative, intelligent, and hard working. The only thing standing in their way are archaic stereotypes and policies entrenched in this society that often prevent women from getting a) the jobs they deserve and b) the benefits and salary they deserve. What Women’s Post does is motivate women to fight for those simple rights.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is gender parity — a socioeconomic index used to measure access to education between men and women. According to the World Economic Forum, gender parity won’t be achieved until the year 2133. Only a year ago that number was 2095. Simply put, every year this gender gap is growing at a ridiculously fast rate.

As of 2015, only 25 countries have closed the gap in terms of “educational attainment.” Gender parity has been reached in the “university student” category, but not where skilled roles (75 per cent) and leadership roles (28 per cent) are concerned.

The 2015 Global Gender Gap Index did show a quarter of a billion more women have entered the labour force since 2006. This is great news, but at the same time the salary gap between men and women has increased from 5k to 10k. In fact, the average salary for women in 2015 equals the average salary for men in 2006!

I never really experienced sexism growing up, or at least that I noticed. Even through my early years at university, when my student union was screaming about equality, I thought they were making a big deal out of nothing. I had the same opportunities as my male friends. I never felt singled out as a woman or treated any differently than my male counterparts in the newsroom. Of course, I knew that in other parts of the world young girls couldn’t go to school and women weren’t allowed to work, drive, or venture outside unaccompanied by a man. But, sexism didn’t exist in Canada, right?

I was completely naïve in those days. Now, especially in this role, I’m able to see it all.  As Beatrix Dart, one of the women we’ve featured as a Woman of the Week, said in an interview, the stereotypes become blatantly clear once you become pregnant: “Suddenly, people make assumptions about you and suddenly all these gender barriers you’ve heard about kick in. They really exist.”

It’s also blatantly clear that violence against women is still rooted in North American culture. We’ve been seeing it in the media over the last year, following the trial of Jian Ghomeshi for alleged sexual assault and choking, and the treatment of celebrities like Kesha, who is fighting to be relieved of a contract with a producer she alleges abused her. Consent is still considered a contentious issue open to interpretation and women are constantly judged by their appearance instead of their intellect and worth as human beings. Now that my schoolgirl eyes have been opened, I find myself constantly shocked and disgusted with how my demographic is treated.

Canada is ranked 30 out of 145 countries in terms of gender equality, which is pretty great. But, this country can do better.  Society as a whole can do much, much better. All women should be given equal opportunity for education and employment, and should be treated with the same respect given to any man.

As our mission statement says, Women’s Post is a social enterprise designed to promote women and their initiatives across Canada. By providing mentorship, sharing knowledge, and giving women a platform to voice their opinions, Women’s Post hopes to show how amazing and ambitious this demographic can be if given the opportunity to grow.

It’s a worthy endeavour and I am proud to be the editor of this publication.

At the same time, I can’t wait until I live in a society where this type of work isn’t needed anymore. It’s too bad I probably won’t be able to witness it in my lifetime.

Woman of the week: Camille Labchuk

“I felt compelled to get into animal law. My advice to women is don’t accept being marginalized, you have every right to be there and your opinion and insight are valuable. Just go for it,” says CEO of her own law firm and Animal Justice lawyer, Camille Labchuk.

From her mother’s place in P.E.I on vacation, Camille Labchuk looks relaxed, yet professional in a comfortable rustic room in her hometown in the Maritimes. This setting is a nice vacation spot for the passionate, but humble, animal rights lawyers who is making big waves in Toronto.

Labchuk is currently the executive director of Animal Justice, a not-for-profit legislative fund dedicated to advocating for the humane treatment of animals. As a lawyer, Labchuk defends advocates and animals in the court of law, and contributes to campaigns that seek further protection for animals.

Animal Justice focuses heavily on putting pressure on the farming industry. Labchuk says there is strong public outrage when a dog or cat is abused, but when it comes to farm animals, law enforcement often fails to act.

“In June 2014, Chilliwack cattle sales in B.C., which is the largest dairy farm in the country, were investigated, and undercover footage came out from Mercy for Animals that showed workers kicking, punching, and beating cows with metal pipes,” said Labchuk.

“The BCSPCA recommended charges against the workers and the company — and that was over 18 months ago. Law enforcement still has not laid any charges and the crown has not done anything about the case yet. There is inertia on the part of law enforcement on the part of animals.”

Labchuk first became interested in animal rights when she was nine years old after witnessing the seal hunt on T.V. Her mother was a significant influence on her interest in environmentalism, and helped her pursue her goals in animal activism. “My mom was a single mother and an environmental activist. She single-handedly took on the pesticide industry in PEI. She was very active when I was growing up and I had a role model from a very young age that taught me a woman can do whatever she wants and can accomplish a lot.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Labchuk was uncertain what path to take, but decided to become involved with the Green Party in her home province, P.E.I.

“I got involved in the Green Party with Elizabeth May in 2004 because my mom was running in the election,” said Labchuk. “Elizabeth decided to run for leadership of the Green Party and I became the only staffer on her campaign. Luckily, she won and she asked me to join her in Ottawa.”

Labchuk moved to Ottawa and worked closely with May for two years before running for the Green Party herself in 2006. At this time, she used her vacations to volunteer for the Humane Society International. She helped to document and expose the cruelty of the seal hunt in remote areas of the Maritimes with Rebecca Aldworth, one of Canada’s first animal rights activists.

Elizabeth May was a strong female influence in the young activist’s life and taught her about how much power being a lawyer can have in politics.  “I really saw how much her law degree helped her every single day, whether it was reading drafts or responding to issues of the day,” said Labchuk. “It was useful for her. I realized there were very few people doing animal law in Canada and maybe that could be me.”

Labchuk worked for the Humane Society International in a communications role for a year before starting law school at the University of Toronto in 2009, where she had the chance to meet Lesli Bisgould, one of Canada’s first animal rights lawyers. Bisgould was another mentor for Labchuk and inspired her to pursue her passion in animal law.

Labchuk was given her first articling opportunity while attending a Toronto Vegetarian food festival in 2011. James Silver, a criminal lawyer and vegan, was present for a presentation Labchuk made about animal rights advocacy. “I met them afterwards and James offered me a job to article for him the following year. Now my advice to younger lawyers is to never miss a vegetarian food festival. You never know what job you may get out of it.”

In 2014, Labchuk opened her own law firm to supplement her income while still volunteering with Animal Justice. Her firm’s focus is on animal rights law, but she does take on the occasional unrelated case.

Recently though, Labchuk has gotten on Animal Justice’s payroll and is playing a larger part in it’s operations. She says the not-for-profit is getting more resources and gaining notoriety every year. For Labchuk, it’s not the opening of her own firm that’s her biggest success — it’s her work with Animal Justice.  “I’m excited about where Animal Justice is going in the future because at this point, I think the sky is the limit,” she said.

In Sept. 2015, Labchuk and other lawyers at Animal Justice went to the Supreme Court to intervene in a law about bestiality. “ It was a defence to water down the definition of bestiality to allow sexual acts that were non-penetrative in nature. We sought intervener’s status. The court did allow us to argue that case on behalf of animals. That was momentous and exciting.” In January 2015, Labchuk also got the charges dropped against six activists that were arrested for protesting outside of the St. Helen’s meat Packer’s in November 2014.

Currently, Labchuk is living in Cambridge while her spouse completes a journalism fellowship at Harvard University. She is taking supplemental American animal law classes and rubbing shoulders with big-name animal rights lawyers in the country. She looks forward to her return to Toronto to continue the good fight for animal rights.

“We are chipping away at this paradigm that allows us to exploit animals in such horrible ways,” said Labchuk. “More people then ever are aware, and these issues are mainstream now. I know someday, we are going to win.”

Woman of the Week: Ana Bailão

Ana Bailão moved to Canada, specifically to the Davenport area in Toronto, from Portugal at the age of 15 — and she hasn’t left. In fact, she now represents the ward as a city councilor.

“It’s a part of the city that feels like home,” she said during an interview at city hall.

Her office is tidy and clean, with the perfect eastern view to capture the sunlight. Her desk, however, is full of papers, reports, and documents in file folders —organization is key when you’ve got one of the largest files in the city to date: affordable housing. While the conversation moves from her teenage interests to her current responsibilities within city politics, Bailão speaks with poise and passion. She gets excited about the possibility of change, especially in her own neighbourhood.

“I know what the community has gone through. At the same time, I was like so many that worked in the neighbourhood: I had family. I was a young professional. I could relate to both,” she said. “People are always very scared of gentrification and I always say changes happen. It’s how you manage it that makes the difference.”

Bailão didn’t always want to go into politics. While studying sociology and European studies at the University of Toronto, her plan was to pursue social work. “Sociology was really my passion,” she said. “I always felt very interested in how things affect society: how one area of society has such an impact on another and how you are able to affect change.”

It wasn’t until her local councillor took notice of the work she was doing within the community and invited her to participate in a project that Bailão considered jumping into the political realm.

“At first I said no, but then I thought – most of my classes are at night, maybe I can coordinate this. I called them back and said I could do it if he accommodated my school schedule. I got started as a part-time and it turned into a full-time five-year position. I fell in love with the work you can have at city hall.”

Ana PhotoSince then, Bailão has been focused on public service. When she lost the municipal election in 2003, she fell back on the private sector, working with banks and IT healthcare, always in a marketing or communications role. “But, I always kept involved in local organizations, because there was a need to come back to other types of work.”

When the opportunity presented itself in 2010, she ran for office a second time and won. In her first term she was asked to chair the Affordable Housing Committee and when she was re-elected in 2014, Bailão was offered the position as Toronto’s Housing Advocate. Since then, she has been fighting for a better understanding of what affordable housing means for the city, something she says has improved in the last few years.

“I think what we’ve been able to get is more attention to the issue, and I’m happy to say that,” said Bailão. “I’m happy to see the three levels of government talking about this issue.”

Housing is becoming a large file at city hall, with Mayor John Tory’s Task Force on Toronto Community Housing included in the 2016 budget. The Task Force spoke with over 1,000 tenants and community members, 100 different stakeholder groups, officials from the city, province, and federal governments, as well as international housing experts, and made 29 recommendations to improve and strengthen the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC).

“I think that it’s bold,” said Bailão. “It goes outside the typical recommendations. For me, what’s really exciting is this concept of using TCHC to strengthen our non-profit housing sector.”

Bailão has been an advocate for the merging of the private and public sectors to aide affordable housing. In Toronto, she said, we have the second largest landlord in North America and the units are based on an average income of $15,000. “That’s not healthy financially for the corporation, but also socially.”

Her suggestion: let not-for-profits and the private sector help.

“Once the buildings are repaired, it’s about more than the bricks. It’s about the people who live there and so how do we turn into a more resident-friendly and resident-focus approach. The non-profit sector can really help us with that.”

Her hope over the next year is that the city focuses on implementation. What will make this new Task Force different from the many reports already presented to council will be the results.

“The devil is always in the details,” she said. “Let’s hope we can do something substantially different from what has happened before.”

Suffice to say, Bailão has a lot of work to do. So much so that she finds it difficult to make time for herself, a fact that is reiterated by the pile of unread books she bought around Christmas. She does do a little bit of travelling, mostly to visit family and friends in Portugal. She started running in the summer and has continued it during the winter.

Woman of the Week: Beatrix Dart

Beatrix Dart believes that women are the better innovators, even though they’ve been cultivated to remain in the shadows.

“They are more creative in their thinking, but they are also more detail-oriented and willing to follow up on the smaller components, and that makes or breaks a good project idea,” Dart explained. “Women also have the advantage of being better in collaboration and not being afraid to raise their hands and say they need help. There is not as much pride or ego involved.”

Dart is a professor of strategy and executive director of the Initiative for Women in Business at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. She exudes passion for her field and her energy is contagious. Speaking with her in her office at U of T, her mid-morning snack — yogurt from the cafe downstairs — remained untouched as she spoke with great animation about the future of women in business.

Dart’s list of academia accomplishments is impressive: She has a degree in physics and quantitative economics, a degree in information sciences, and a PhD in Economics and statistics. “I was a very quantitative person by background. I felt very comfortable in that environment because it was really logical.”

Her first job after graduation was with McKinsey & Company, an international management consulting firm. Dart fell in love with the job, but she found it challenging to move from the intensive, solitary lifestyle of PhD research to a more active role in public relations.

“That changed my perspective — I went from thinking that being brilliant means being logical, analytical, and smart, to being brilliant actually means being a person people can trust, want to work with, and who will take the recommendation and move forward.”

Dart’s first introduction into gender politics was when she became pregnant with her first child. She was approached by McKinsey & Company and asked to participate in an internal project about how to keep female consultants once they become mothers. The results showed a definite bias towards women after pregnancy.

“Suddenly people make assumptions about you and suddenly all these gender barriers you’ve heard about kick in. They really exist,” Dart said. “Who is taking care of the child? Who is taking time off to go to the doctor? The assumptions are always made for you. They think: ‘Oh, I don’t think she will be ready to take on this project because now she has a newborn at home.’ They will not even ask you.”

This internal project kickstarted a deeper passion within Dart for gender studies. When she returned to academia at Rotman, she noticed a lack of women in the program. This spurred the Initiative for Women in Business, a set of programs that Dart helped found in 2008 specifically tailored to advance the career of women in business. The initiative now has 1,500-2000 professional women within their network. The most popular program is the back to work course, which helps women who have been out of the industry for three to eight years return to the market.

Dart also chairs the steering committee for the 30% Club in Canada, an organization that works to help women get on corporate boards.

One of the biggest challenges for women in the workforce is salary negotiation, ensuring they receive fair compensation for the work they produce. The wage discrepancies we hear about on a daily bases do exist, and lack of negotiations is one of the reasons why.

“It’s true, unfortunately, that women are not as strong at negotiating on their own behalf in particular,” she said. “We are not cultivated to market ourselves and toot our own horn.”

Dart cited a study conducted by Catalyst Canada that reviewed the salaries of MBA graduates. It was found that women, on average, received anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 less as a starting salary, simply because of a lack of negotiating.

“The worst part of that, if you think of how a salary develops over years, you get a percentage increase,” Dart said. “So if you don’t negotiate the same starting salary, it goes up! Your salary gap gets bigger and bigger over the years.”

Dart offered up some tips for women who don’t feel comfortable with salary negotiations. The first is to change your mindset — pretend you are negotiating on behalf of someone you love or someone who is dependent on you. An example is a child or a senior parent. “We are actually viciously good negotiators if we negotiate on behalf of our kids. We will ask for the world.”

Another is to always ask “what else can you do for me.” Those seven words can open up the conversation and the employer may offer a salary increase, extended vacation days, or maybe an allowance for transportation. The biggest challenge, according to Dart, is who puts out the first number, something that is called setting the ceiling. Dart suggests allowing the employer to do so by asking what the typical range of pay is for the position. If that doesn’t work, make sure to do your research. Find out what people are making in comparable positions. Dart suggestions the website glassdoor.ca, which offers standard salary ranges for various positions in different companies. And finally, always suggest the higher range and have an argument to back up why you are worth it.

For Dart, equality in salary and within the workforce isn’t the only thing she is fighting for. “If I had a magic wand and I could change one thing, I probably would try to create more equality for men and women at the home front.” She is currently reading “Unfinished Business” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a book that offers up a solution found in Denmark and Sweden, a solution Dart firmly believes Canada should implement — mandatory paid parental leave for both parents in exchange for government subsidy.

When she isn’t working, Dart loves to travel and explore different cultures. Her favourite place to visit, to date, is India.

Woman of the Week: Ann Kaplan

Think big — that’s Ann Kaplan’s biggest piece of advice for those wanting to succeed in business.

“I wish I had thought bigger,” she said. “Once I looked back and saw how big we had become, I thought ‘why didn’t I envision that when I was thinking of building the business?'”

Kaplan is president and CEO of iFinance Canada inc., a money-lending company that offers loans for elective surgeries, veterinary services, dental, and home improvement financing — items that would otherwise be difficult to get a loan from the bank. She built the corporation from nothing, relishing in the chance to pitch her ideas and grow.

Kaplan originally went to school for interior design, but once she opened up her own store, dealt with her own clients, and got a taste for the back room dealings of business, she was hooked. She now has an MBA in finance, a Masters of Science in Business, a Corporate Governance designation (ICD.d) and is completing her PhD thesis, which involves creating an algorithm that would determine whether a consumer would default on a loan.

All of her hard work has resulted in an influx of awards, the most recent being the PROFIT Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship as part of the 23rd annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. She said she cried when she found out she had won. “I was taken aback. I knew I was a finalist, but there were very qualified candidates.”

Kaplan was also recognized in 2000, a few years after the creation of Medicard Finance Inc., her first enterprise which is now under the iFinance umbrella, as Canadian Women Entrepreneur of the Year, Start-Up. In 2001, she won the Peak Award of Excellence in Finance. Kaplan has been on the Canada’s Profit Top 100 Companies nine times and has held a place on the Canadian W100 list eight times. She was inducted in the WXN Hall of Fame in 2014 after being named as one of Canada’s top three Female Business Leaders and as Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. If that isn’t enough, she has also written four books — and these are only some of her notable achievements.

Despite her success, Kaplan remains humble and modest, speaking with a dry sense of humour — “verbal volleyball” she calls it, a skill that makes her popular with bankers and businessmen. Her time is split between work and her large family of eight kids, which means the word ‘relax’ isn’t in her vocabulary. Kaplan gets her hair done three to four times a week, and schedules in time for manicures and pedicures, but even then she has her laptop on hand. “No time is wasted,” she says.

What’s unique about Kaplan is that after nearly 20 years building iFinance, she still sees the opportunity for growth and education. But, what else made her start-up a success? Kaplan spoke with Women’s Post over the phone to go through a few tips on pitching to investors or lenders. According to Kaplan, the first, and most important aspect of a pitch, is to have an idea. This idea must help solve a problem. “That’s what a good business model is. Whether that is an App or providing instant financing that’s unsecured.”

Kaplan explains that the internet is inundated with everything. An idea must stand out and it must be able to provide a service that solves a specific problem. This means that people will actually be motivated to use the product or service you are pitching.

The next step is preparedness — be prepared to demonstrate your market, competition, and uniqueness. Understanding how your business is going to grow and what investors are going to get in return is crucial to landing a pitch. “There are great things like crowd-funding, but even in that you need to be prepared and be able to display the vision.”

In addition to knowing the worth of your business endeavour and of the company you are pitching to, it’s also important to also understand your own worth. Don’t undersell.

Finally, it’s all about communication and confidence. If you are able to explain in a concise manner how investing in your idea will be mutually beneficial, how the idea will be a success, and how you plan on making it into a larger, bigger entity, there is no reason why the pitch shouldn’t be considered.

For Kaplan, the independence that comes from creating a business from scratch is empowering. “The first time someone besides your mother buys something — it’s exciting!” That’s why it’s so important to continue to grow and think of new ideas, expand, and adapt to the new technology available. Kaplan is in the middle of a new and exciting enterprise called Brix Exchange, a Canadian crowd-funding portal for real estate and technology start-ups. It will be the first regulated portal of its kind in Canada.

The biggest piece of advice Kaplan can give, besides thinking big, is to follow your dreams. You can have everything if you are organized.

“Young women … they come to talk about handling their boyfriend who are concerned they are not spending enough time with them. It sounds like I’m generalizing, but it’s very common,” she said. “Family will come, but you should set yourself for your future.”

“Being able to walk away and do what makes you happy is empowering.”

Ann Kaplan is currently reading “So Anyway” by John Cleese.

 

Woman of the Week: Anne Golden

Sitting in a Starbucks drinking a decaf flat white, Anne Golden recalls how she was “in the vanguard of women going on to have professional careers.”

Golden is an academic down to the bone. “I can’t just dive into a subject without understanding context,” she explained to Women’s Post in an interview. Her background is in American history, a subject she studied at the University of Toronto for both her BA and PhD.

Her own history is a bit of a roller-coaster, and Golden tells it with a hint of dry humour, almost as if she herself can’t believe how much she has done in her lifetime. She is now a distinguished visiting scholar and special advisor at Ryerson University, where she teaches a class on successful cities in the 21st century. She also holds a position on the board of Metrolinx and participates in a number of panels and task forces relating to issues of city building and transit.

Her career had a rocky start. First, she was discouraged from pursuing a career in law after one of the only women in the field told her she would never be allowed to work on any real cases. Then, she was convinced to give up a promotion in the department of history because she was married to a dentist and didn’t need the money.

“The interesting part was I said I understood. I didn’t say ‘injustice’,” Golden said. “I wasn’t bitter or angry. I just said [the other candidate] just got married and needs the job, and I was married to someone who was already a professional and I would survive. I mean, today, that would be cause for protest, but it wasn’t for me.”

From there, Golden took every opportunity she could get her hands on. She was always interested in politics, so when David Crombie ran for mayor in 1972, she was one of the first people to call and volunteer. Golden eventually coordinated the campaign that led to Crombie’s victory.

“New progressive ideas were coming on stream. There was an understanding that there was a new vision for cities beyond expressways, beyond sprawl, beyond imitating the American example.”

The jump from history major to politician, philanthropist, city builder, and transit aficionado was a relatively easy one for Golden. She describes it as “a result of very good luck,” but, in truth, she is an avid learner, ready to jump into any position that was offered to her.

As a board member at Metrolinx, Golden reads about 500-1,000 pages worth of contracts and files before every meeting. She also reads a daily roundup called a “Media Analysis Report”, which includes every single article or radio report published in Canada that relates to transit. Board members then go back and forth, discussing the issues and trying to find solutions to various problems. “I always felt that if the public saw how hard we worked they would be less cynical,” she said.

Some may argue that this cynicism comes from years of failed transit promises and miscommunications between politicians and transit agencies. According to Golden, the main reason for this lack of collaboration is that each institution is protective of its own turf.

“Where you stand is dictated by where you sit,” she said frankly. “If you are sitting in the [Toronto Transit Commission] building at Yonge and Davisville, you may see things differently than if you are sitting in Metrolinx on Front St. having to look at the whole region.”

In addition to city council, the TTC, and Metrolinx, there are about 160 organizations in the Greater Toronto Area dedicated to city issues, including transit. With so much competition, Golden says it is important to stress what makes each group unique. If an organization fails to do so, it may lose its voice and therefore its chance at being part of the formal discussion. She also suggests merging smaller organizations to gain legitimacy.

Despite the many interests of each decision-making power in Toronto, Golden acknowledges that there are good people running each of them, and that a lot of collaboration is happening to ensure the city gets the best possible transit system.

Golden is currently reading Margaret MacMillan’s History People and The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park.

Woman of the Week: Johanne Mullen

“I’m so glad you didn’t ask me about my work-life balance.”

Johanne Mullen would much rather talk to the media about the work she is doing than adhere to the stereotypical questions asked of women in positions of power.

What’s unique about Mullen is her confidence and her experience in a traditionally male-dominated infrastructure world. Despite her impressive range of titles — National Infrastructure and Project Finance Leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC) , director of the Institut pour les partenariats public-privé du Québec, director of the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships — she is down to earth and can speak as easily to one person as she can to a crowd. Her passion for her work is obvious and her knowledge and professionalism is impressive.

Women’s Post sat down with Mullen before her panel discussion on transit with Metrolinx’s CEO Bruce McCuaig at the annual National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships last week. The discussion ranged from Mullen’s background in finance to the future of public-private partnerships, and with each question her passion for project finance and infrastructure became obvious.

Mullen began her academic career at Concordia University, where she studied Commerce in Finance, before completing her Master of Business Administration in International Business at McGill University. She has over 20 years of experience in capital project and procurement advisory, as well as in project and structured finance.

In 2000, she started to work with the PWC, and fell in love with advisory and project finance. Some of her more notable accomplishments include acting as procurement and financial advisor for Saint-John’s Safe Clean Drinking Water program; advising the government of Nunavut on procurement and financing of the Iqaluit airport expansion; acting as an independent financial advisor for Nalcor Energy; and advising Infrastructure Ontario on the Pan Am Athletes Village.

“I love the advisory bit because I feel like I’m helping people develop something that is important to them, to the community,” she said. “I like the tangible aspect of the job—when I project is delivered you get to see it, you see the benefits.”

Mullen works with P3s, better known as public–private partnerships. These partnerships allow for a performance-based approach to procuring public infrastructure, which means the government does not pay for an asset until it is operational. This puts pressure on the private sector to remain accountable and to produce results. What’s unique about these projects is that the government is making a long-term investment. The cost of the asset includes 20 to 30 years worth of maintenance, depending on the contract.

According to Mullen, about 98 per cent of P3 projects are built on time and on budget.

“The reality is that if you understand the contractual model, the cost of delivering late is significant and obviously every cost overrun (the private sector) are picking up,” she said. “So they can’t afford to get it wrong.”

Right now, a lot of P3 projects are federal or provincial; however, they are trying to break into the municipal sphere. Mullen is already working on a project in Saint-John’s, and she would recommend that big cities such as Toronto look into P3 projects to help solve issues such as affordable housing.

“Personally, I think it’s been ignored more than it should be,” Mullen said of social housing.

In the meantime, Mullen has been working with municipalities such as Toronto to see how P3s can make a difference with public transit. The panel discussion she moderated at the National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships was a huge success, and promises to be a topic of discussion for Toronto’s future transit goals. At least we know there is a qualified, capable, and passionate woman leading the way.

 

Serda Evren – team builder extraordinaire

One of the most challenging years in Serda Evren’s life taught her to look hard at herself, find the value in everyone, be open to people, and have fun. It was a very productive eighth grade.

“Leadership is about making decisions and sometimes you have to make tough decisions but you make them full of heart; you make them with emotion but you don’t let your emotions make the decision,” says Evren, who recently added a North American communications mandate to her role as Vice President of Communications and Philanthropy for MasterCard Canada.

When she was 13, Evren’s parents emigrated from Istanbul to Toronto, and suddenly the outgoing and full-of-life teen was the odd girl out. “We moved, leaving home and friends, for this completely new place at this critical age,” she remembers. “English wasn’t my first language, I wasn’t into New Kids on the Block. I was bullied and teased, but I realized you either make it or you don’t, and I decided to make it.”

That experience during her formative years made her realize the importance of seeing people for who they are, and understanding who she is. As she has advanced in her career, she has built on that philosophy to include helping others understand what they are good at. “I thought of myself as a generous, thoughtful, loving person and all they saw was a new kid. I wanted people to see who I really was, and that motivated me to always try to see people for who they truly are.”

Life became better, thanks in part to Evren’s practice of reading the newspaper aloud every day, cover to cover, to practice her English. By grade 10 it was flawless, and she was also a master of current events, which launched her passion for politics.

The University of Toronto was even better. She ran for the student union office, and in third year volunteered for the federal Liberal Party. With two years of volunteer service and a brand new political science degree under her belt the Liberals offered her a paying job. Thus began several years of long hours, lots of travel and sometimes living out of a suitcase. “The biggest gift of politics, other than the opportunity to change the world, is the people you meet. You work long hours in the trenches, you share beliefs, living together, travelling together, not eating or sleeping well. These people are your lifeline, and you form life-long friendships.”

Working in Federal and Provincial politics during the Jean Chretien and Dalton McGuinty administrations and a 14-month stint in Washington, DC, where she interned with Representative Congressman Anthony Weiner (yes, the “sexting” congressman) gave Evren insight into what makes a good leader, and a bad leader. A big part of that is surrounding yourself with the right people. “You can be a genuine, incredible, person, but if you’ve surrounded yourself with the wrong people it’s not going to work.”

Building a good team requires recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses. It requires some thoughtful introspection. “You have to spend time on yourself to be self-aware. You have to really understand yourself… your strengths, weaknesses, motivators, demotivators. If you’re not self-aware how can you possibly build an effective team around you?”

That also means finding your purpose. She advises: figure out the value you bring, what you’re really good at, and harness it. Deliver on it every day. Show up every day to make the team or the organization function better.

One thing Evren’s team – and her bosses – will tell you is that she is fun to work with.
“Let’s have a good time. Let’s build something together we’re proud of, so you feel good about what you’re doing.” She is not a stickler for hierarchy. “It kills spirit and inspiration,” she says. “There have to be lines because you’re not doing the same job and don’t have the same responsibilities but … I’ve seen people who put 100 steps between them and junior staffers and there’s no reason that needs to happen. I’d rather be building the bridges, being collaborative.”

Her goal is to build inspired teams – where everyone has a purpose and a role in making something better, and making a real impact. “It doesn’t have to be something huge, like reinventing PR. It could be that at a moment in time you brought forward an idea that shifted a strategy or changed a perspective.” It also means she doesn’t have to pretend to be good at everything. Leaders who succeed in building teams of people with diverse skills create successful departments or functions.

“I have never had an ‘end goal.’ I believe in letting opportunities find me. Who knows what the future holds but if I help people find and develop the value they bring, that’s something that helps those individuals and the organization for a long time, and I call that success.”