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Woman of the Week: Sarah Jacobs Barrs

Named one of the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Future Leaders and one of Canada’s 2016 100 Most Powerful Women, Sarah Jacob Barrs exudes passion for what she does. On the phone with Women’s Post, Barrs doesn’t glamorize her profession, but instead stresses how much she enjoys her work. As she says, “It’s important to have fun in everything you do.”

Barrs is the director of events for Klick, one of the largest marketing and commercialization agencies in the world, headquartered in Toronto. She manages a small team of women who organize internal and external events for the company. Some of the special guests that have spoken at Barr’s events at Klick include include Bill Clinton, Margaret Atwood, Arianna Huffington, David Cronenberg, Deepak Chopra, Craig Kielburger, and Steven Page.

It’s hard work that involves long hours and impressive people skills. Barrs’ events are highly curated for a wide audience, whether it’s 20 people at a managers’ retreat or 2000 guests at a town hall or a conference. She is also responsible for Klick’s external marketing events and coordinates international events for clients. All of this is in addition to the internal leadership conferences, wellness or fitness courses, and retreats she plans for staff.

“People come to me and ask about event planning. It’s a lot of work. There is glamour behind it,” she says. “But it’s also understanding your industry and knowing you need to stay on top of trends – you are constantly having to recreate what you do and change and do new things – not every career does that.”

Barrs was brought up with a strong sense of community, something that inspired her career path. In particular, she wanted to help the sick because everyone has been touched by loss or illness in one way or another. Since she was unable to donate money, Barrs decided she could help fundraise and plan events, which she did with great success. Throughout her roles as an event coordinator for Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary, Chair of the Leadership Board Toronto for Save a Child’s Heart, and Community Development Coordinator for the SickKids Foundation, she was able to land her dream job of working in both the event planning and health sectors.

“I grew up in a family where giving back was really important,” she said. “Over the holiday season we supported families to ensure they had wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah – picking out gifts for children my age,” she said.

One of Barrs’ first jobs following graduation was with Women of Influence, an organization dedicated to the advancement of professional women. She started working there as a receptionist in 2007, but was promoted a few months later to event coordinator. For Barrs, this opportunity spearheaded her career as well as a passion for helping other women. She even helped start a group based in Toronto for young women in business.

Although Barrs no longer works with Women of Influence, she continues to try to mentor and offer advice to young women pursuing event planning. She is also active in planning celebrations for International Women’s Day within Klick, something she is incredibly proud of.

When she isn’t working, Barrs enjoys fitness, spending time with family and friends and traveling. “I really enjoy doing nothing,” she says. “Sometimes you just need your downtime with this type of career.” She also finds a bit of relief through shopping, finding clothing that allows her to showcase her creativity.

Barrs is working on a big internal celebration in September to mark Klick’s 20th anniversary, as well as the company’s annual town hall marketing event in December.

 

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Festival life reminder of beautiful womanhood

Barefoot in the dirt, dancing around a bonfire with my soul sisters, music, wildflowers, and lichen everywhere. This was FrogFest, the celebration of music and nature, and a true healer of the heart after a long hard year of trucking away in the grind of city life.

Festival life in the summer has become as important as seeing cherry blossoms in May and eating fresh apples in late August. It is an essential part of the Canadian music lover’s life and is a process of revival in the midst of hot and hazy summer days. So, what does it really mean to be a woman immersed in nature and music with her best friends? Why venture out into the forest to not shower for three days and commit yourself to the frenzy of festival life?

Quite simply — to free yourself.

If only for a moment, bills cease to matter and the monotony of the nine-to-five life disappears. Life becomes about the next song, the heartbeat of the vast powerful forest, and picking wildflowers because that is the most important thing you could think to do in that moment.

Millennials are living in a time of low employment opportunities, rising living costs, and an increasingly frightening world. In the wake of the impacts of climate change and a growing sense of disunity on the international stage, young people today are left to face growing challenges. But instead of giving up all hope and turning away from the world, festivals like FrogFest inspire me to believe there is a collective of individuals who want to change the world for the better.

Alongside music, sexy people, and the lush forest landscape, there were many conversations around the importance of barter, trade, and changing society from the capitalist confines that have ravaged our planet. I personally witnessed a young seven-year-old lad trade a drawing for a patch that my friend had sewn. When a young woman tripped and fell during a show, ten people were there to pick her up instead of none. The entire experience was a series of gift giving, from physical objects to spiritual offerings. Festival spaces aren’t only about getting trashed and listening to tunes. It’s about experiencing the freedom to be inspired.

It is also a place to really honour the space and power of womanhood. I was lucky enough to camp with some of my oldest and wisest women friends. To see the ladies who have loved and supported me so happy and complete reflected how much opportunity being outdoors gives us to be our full selves. It was empowering to feel attractive in my natural body, and I saw many people, myself included, who frog-hopped into meeting a special someone who made them feel even more lovely in the brief and beautiful dream world of festival life.

If you haven’t been to an outdoor weekend festival before, it is well worth it. Gather a group of your best girlfriends, bring your most colourful and beautiful possessions to share, and get ready to feel more free than any amount of therapy can offer.

Oh, and don’t forget to find a magical frog in the woods. Ribbit! Welcome home.

Here are some photos from FrogFest

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”8″ gal_title=”FrogFest”]

Women CEOs leading the way in the trades

There are more women than ever starting businesses, especially those involved in trades, which is surprising considering those professions have historically been some of the most male-dominated businesses in the country.

CEO of Freshco, Mandy Rennehan, a very successful retail construction company based out of Oakville, Ont., believes that women leaders are essential to trades businesses. “A woman’s added value really shines through because we are passionate,” Rennehan says. “Women are detail-oriented and fastidious where many men aren’t.”

Millennial women are also catching on to the trend and starting their own trade businesses. CEO of Ash Street Design, Brittany Truppe, is one of those millennials. She started her business of designing and building interior speciality doors last year.  “It is a custom sliding door business. We essentially fabricate high-end interior-based wood doors in all shapes and sizes and I’ve expanded into contemporary styles and all different types of finishes,” Truppe says. “I really like the whole concept of the artisan market style. I don’t want to do cookie cutter stuff. I want it to be unique.”

These two women had to prove their worth in their respective areas time and time again. “Being a woman and being young, there were times where I definitely had to go above and beyond,” Truppe says. “Coming from finishing, there was a lot of time spent doing the tasks to prove my worth. You would get men throwing out terminology and the names of types of equipment to see if I knew what I was talking about. I felt I was being quizzed often.”

Rennehan agrees that women are tested more often to see if they are credible in their job position. “The biggest hardship is the confidence of the woman going into it. They need to make sure they know more than anybody in that space. Credibility is everything for a woman in trades. Make sure you have the passion and you are armed with the knowledge,” Rennehan says. “Many women have an irrepressible sense of accountability and if things happen, they will fix them. Women have a lot of advantages in this space, they just need to believe it.”

As a young female business owner, Truppe is taking a progressive approach to her artisan boutique and wants to keep her business relatively small, instead of aspiring to build a large corporation. She also focuses on the use of local woods and keeps costs low and affordable to give more people the opportunity to purchase one of her unique products. Though she is still in the midst of constructing her business, she also wants to dedicate part of her time towards helping women learn to build. “The biggest thing I want to focus on is having a program geared towards women to make them more comfortable working with tools, because a lot of women don’t. I envision doing it in my own shop,” Truppe says. “You would drop in for an hour or two and the women would build and I would charge for materials. I’ve networked with local artisan shops and furniture shops and they are pretty pro-women. I’ve found I have a lot of support from new-age men as well.”

Rennehan is also an avid philanthropist, highlighting the importance of women CEOs giving back to others after becoming successful in the trades sphere. She started a non-profit program through her other business, a design firm named Rennduprat, that will teach kids between the ages of 10 to 16 how to use millwright machines. The non-profit will then make Christmas ornaments through the project and ship them around the world. Rennehan also founded the Chris Rennehan Scholarship Fund, named after her brother who sadly passed away from a heart attack at age 38. The scholarship fund helps a tradesperson who is in dire financial straits by giving them the funds to go to trade school or obtain work through Freshco.

Women business owners are essential to the future of trades in Canada. Truppe and Rennehan both bring credibility, generosity, and a progressive community approach to their businesses. Though there are challenges to being a woman in the male-dominated trades’ professions, there are more and more women that are coming out as strong leaders in this type of employment.

TV hosts, mompreneurs Vanessa and Melissa share lifestyle tips

Meet Vanessa Rempel and Melissa Shad, television hosts on the Rogers network and self-proclaimed mompreneurs, believe health and fitness are very important aspect in any woman’s life, especially parents.  In our Q&A interview, they share their parenthood and lifestyle tips, as well as their new parenting show/brand Vanessa & Melissa:

Q: As busy TV hosts, mompreneurs. and social media influencers how do you maintain a healthy lifestyle?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a big priority for both of us, but with six kids and a business it can be challenging. We often workout early mornings when the kids are still sleeping, or late at night. We both actually prefer clean eating, so when it comes to food choices we are always on the same page. That doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy some wine and treats here and there, as well, but all in moderation. But, let’s be honest, some weeks we kill it and some weeks we totally fail, but we’re always trying to make good choices when we can.

Tell us how you began working together as a duo and your new Vanessa + Melissa new venture?

We both previously moonlighted as correspondents for an entertainment show on Rogers TV, and simultaneously we were both pitching the idea of a parenting show. A producer set us up on a blind date and we’ve literally been working together ever since.

Our show was originally called Diapers & Lipgloss, which is our business name, but we’ve evolved into solelyVanessa+Melissa on all our platforms, because we also cover lifestyle topics beyond motherhood.

How are you making a difference doing what you do in addressing parenthood to women’s lifestyle?

We’re talking about subjects that people are often too scared or embarrassed to talk about. Topics that have previously been deemed taboo or were just swept under the rug. We want moms, and women, to feel safe, comfortable and accepted no matter what is going on in their lives. To know they’re not alone and we’re all in this together.

You both lead active lifestyles and practice “what you preach”, how does it make you both feel you are inspiring others or making a difference?

To be honest, it’s everything to us. It’s actually the best part of what we do. We get so many messages from women around the world asking us for advice and thanking us for covering a certain topic and almost every message we receive ends with ‘please keep doing what we’re doing’.

What are some tips to work out safely during pregnancy and after post-baby?

 Don’t stop working out!  It is so beneficial to you and babe.

If you are new to working out though, work with a personal trainer to make sure you are using proper and safe form.

Make sure that you do not raise your heart rate over 140.

Stay away from heavy squats and stop running if you experience round ligament pain.

Make sure to have fun, and enjoy your workouts.  Never feel pressure to workout, or workout if your body is telling you to relax!

What is next for you?

We plan to continue to grow our parenting/ lifestyle brand , Vanessa+Melissa globally, in many new ways, through all our social channels. We also have lots of projects & ideas in the works, so stay tuned!! 

 

www.runwithit.ca

Twitter: @christineruns

Run With It on YouTube Channel

Gender parity could add $150 billion to Canada GDP

Pushing for gender equality in Canada could add $150 billion in incremental GDP in 2026, or at least that is what a new report released by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) is saying.

The report, entitled The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Canada, was released earlier this June and outlines a number of things Canada has to do in order to take advantage of this $150 billion opportunity. This includes being more than just a vocal supporter of gender parity.

Too often, companies outline goals for gender diversity on boards or make promises to consider more women in the hiring process — but there is no follow up or accountability. Seventy-five per cent of companies do not track female recruitment or reward leaders for fostering gender diversity. This means there is less accountability and goals of gender parity may actually never be achieved.

The report also indicates only 14 per cent of businesses have “clearly articulated a business case for change” when it comes to considering gender diversity.

Canada is ranked in the top 10 countries of 95 when it comes to women’s equality, but as the report says, “progress towards gender parity has stalled over the past 20 years, and Canada must find anew ways to keep pace.”

More importantly, women should be hired in “high-productivity sectors” such as mining and STEM-related industries. Currently, women only hold 29 per cent of political seats and hold 65 per cent of unpaid care work.

Canada’s GDP growth has slowed to approximately 2 per cent a year, according to the Canadian government. The report shows that unless Canadian businesses make a significant investment in women and continue to grow this rate will remain stagnate.

“A significant part of the solution is for Canada to tap into the vast unrealized potential of women. Accelerating progress toward gender equality is not only a moral and social imperative; it would also deliver a growth dividend.”

In order to see this GDP growth, businesses will not only have to hire more women (create 650,000 more jobs), but they also will need to raise the number of hours worked by female employees and raise productivity levels. The analysis found that the structure of each province’s economy had little factor into the state of gender inequality. Rather, it was formal policies that mandate quotas for women on boards of Crown corporation and universal child-care programs that determined economic gender inequality.

Women, the report says, are willing to work. Unfortunately, there are a number of barriers that either prevent them from doing so, or prevent them from growing in their role.

“This research highlights best practices in Canadian companies that others can emulate. But initiatives need to be implemented holistically and effectively, and measures to tackle gender imbalance in companies only work if they are considered to be a true business imperative. Changing attitudes takes time, and persistence is vital,” says Sandrine Devillard, a Senior Partner in McKinsey’s Montreal office, in a statement.

Hopefully, it doesn’t take too much time to change. Gender parity within the workplace is vital to both the social and economic success of this country — and yet, there are still gender gaps when it comes to positions of power, both in the private and public sector. How many reports like this are necessary before those with the power to do something actually change?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below! 

Ontario tries to empower women, but ends up with stale report

Engaging empowered women in Ontario is getting more political airtime, with more focus on the “status of women” in legislature. But will it have the desired impact of actually helping women in Ontario?

The province released an engagement paper on June 9 that describes the ways in which the government wants to increase women empowerment and close the wage gap. The paper includes a survey with questions about youth, economic opportunities, social attitudes, and leadership. These are significant issues for women and addressing them is important — as long as it is for and about the women in Ontario, instead of an election issue to win votes with no real purpose.

The survey asks Canadian citizens what they believe is the most important component to women’s empowerment via a series of detailed questions. The issue with the survey is that it offers several reasons why women don’t have complete equality in Ontario and doesn’t mandate the survey-taker to choose which issue is the most important on every question. This allows the people taking the survey to choose every issue and not specify what subject matters should be tackled first. It is fairly obvious that each of the four goals specified in the report is important, but asking if all of them are important is redundant. This is often seen in government surveys and makes a democratic and potentially helpful questionnaire essentially pointless.

Though Ontario is making strides with women, the efforts thus far is limited. For example, the province has committed to help 100,000 children obtain licensed child care over the next five years, but the subsidy waiting list in Toronto alone is 18 months long. There are also efforts to help 1700 low-income women gain financial literacy training, but there are thousands of women who still need help to gain education and training to move up in the world. Needless to say, more is needed and it shouldn’t be based on fulfilling commitments five years down the road, but should be fulfilled now.

The report is well-minded, but still lends itself to words such as “encouraging women to explore different careers”, and “supporting continued career progression”, but lacks specific goals with targeted language. Though it is important to “encourage” and “support”, women need action and specific goals with a ready-made budget instead of a tentative report and survey. Often, talking about women empowerment is seen as enough action when credible and supported goals need to be met to actually close the wage gap and promote women equality.

Women’s economic empowerment is a primary concern in Ontario and needs to be addressed with affirmative action as soon as possible. Between reports, surveys, and loosely mandated changes, there remains a gap on giving childcare to all women who need it so they can work. Pay wage gaps must also be addressed immediately, and board positions should be mandated to have 50/50 representation.  The engagement paper is yet another shining example of the government using ‘status of women’ to appease female voters — what will it take to get the real support and action women need?

In Her Voice: reflecting on female writers

Looking for something to do this week? Head to the Scotiabank Community Studio to listen to a number of strong women speak about their experiences writing a variety of fiction and non-fiction works. The conversation promises to be stimulating and controversial, touching on a number of topics varying from the realities of writing and publishing to the struggles of Indigenous peoples in light of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

In Her Voice is a festival that runs from June 15th to June 17th and features three-days worth of talented and inspirational female voices. The event, hosted by independent bookstore Ben McNally Books, is designed to showcase various female identities and perspectives. Each author will be given the opportunity to discuss the themes of their latest works.

Here is the schedule:

June 15
7 p.m. – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The Fact of a Body Presentation.

June 16
7 p.m. – Durga Chew-Bose and Scaachi Koul, interviewed by Fariha Roisin.

June 17
12 p.m. – S.K. Ali, Cherie Dimaline, Jane Oxkowski. Young Adult Writers Presentation
2 p.m. – Patricia Lockwood. Priestdaddy Presentation.
4 p.m. – Myra Tait, Kiera Ladner. Surviving Canada Presentation.

For more information or to get tickets to these presentations, click here.

 

Do you have a favourite female author? Let us know in the comments below!

Woman of the Week: Karen Farbridge

Karen Farbridge is a straight-forward, confident, and extremely successful woman in Ontario’s sustainability community.  As a previous leader in municipal government, she is charismatic and focused on making the world a better place.

When the former Mayor of Guelph is asked about her proudest accomplishments from her 11 years on council, she is quick to bring it back to the importance of community engagement. “Advancing our practice around engagement and rethinking how local government is involved with sustainability is what I feel the most proud of,” Farbridge says. “People are looking for connections to place and community and they find them in different ways in their lives, and I found it in this way in my own life.”

Farbridge has been involved in the environmental and government non-profit and public sectors for over 20 years. Most recently, she established her consulting agency, Karen Farbridge and Associates after her final term as mayor in 2014.  “The key focus is to implement projects that accelerate growth to create low-carbon and resilient communities,” Farbridge says. “That can entail work with the public sector, [for example] with Natural Resources Canada and Municipal Affairs Ontario, and also in the private sector. It also includes work with Research institutions, such as University of Guelph and York University and the Columbia Institute out of B.C.”

Farbridge has several projects on the go and uses her extensive experience in the political realm to help various organizations with sustainability initiatives. She helped the Columbia Institute in B.C. write a report, Top Asks for Climate Change: Ramping up Low-Carbon Communities, that included a report card assessing climate change initiatives, labelling the successes and which areas needed improvements. The report was released on June 1 and focuses on how the federal government is progressing towards goals pertaining to the Paris Agreement.

Farbridge is also contributing to a collaborative project with the Ontario Climate Consortium and the University of Guelph via the Community Energy Knowledge Action Partnership. This project studies net zero and low-carbon developments across five different Ontario municipalities, taking into account testimonies from a number of urban planners, economic development officers, and community management officers.

Long before becoming mayor, Farbridge was involved in municipal politics. She became a city councillor in 1994 while also working for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Guelph at the same time. She obtained a PhD in biology and spent 10 years in academics at University of Guelph. Farbridge encouraged council to develop a group plan on climate change that focused on the Kyoto protocol. As her career progressed, she served her first term as mayor of Guelph in 2000-2003 and her second and third terms from 2006-2014.

In between her terms as mayor, Farbridge worked with the University of Guelph to develop a community energy plan that was later implemented. “I ran again for Mayor in 2006. That community energy plan was brought forward to the new council and it was adopted,” Farbridge says. “Since that time, I put a lot of time into promoting the community energy plan.”

Farbridge has received several awards including the City Builder Award from the Canadian Urban Institute in 2014 for her leadership in sustainability and community energy. She also received the Clean 50/Clean16 Award from Delta Management Group in 2014, which is awarded annually to 50 individual leaders who are advancing clean and sustainable development in Canada. In 2012, Farbridge was the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General of Canada for her contributions and achievements to Canada. Farbridge was elected Guelph’s first female mayor in 1999.

Farbridge is passionate about mentoring women and plays an integral role in environmental charity Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative, which promotes women leaders involved in nature. The organization is currently creating a mentorship program where Farbridge and other notable women in the environmental sector help younger women forward their careers. She is also a part of a mentoring project to help women who have a start-up businesses in Guelph, and has a relationship with a woman in the city to help her build up her start-up.

When Farbridge is taking a break from combatting climate change, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and is looking forward to a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park this summer. She is clearly a nature lover and has made a considerable impact within the sustainable community in Ontario.

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Women of the Week: Patti-Anne Tarlton

Patti-Anne Tarlton is one of the women magnates of the music industry in Toronto. Her success can be attributed to her charismatic business attitude and exceptional managerial skills with her staff. She has a friendly, down-to-earth demeanour, and values collaboration and connecting people invested in music across the country.

As COO, Canada for Ticketmaster North America, Tarlton oversees the business-end operations of the Canadian ticketing market. She is in charge of the features and products that Ticketmaster sells, including the technology that is used to sell and market tickets. These products are sold on international markets across North America. Tarlton is also in charge of overseeing the business relationship with Ticketmaster’s clients, managing business deals with clients (teams, festivals, clubs) and holds relationships with B2B to sell product on their behalf.

Before joining Ticketmaster, Tarlton worked as the Vice President of Live Entertainment at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. “I spent 13 years at Maple Leaf. There are a whole host of precious moments, including New Years Eve with the Tragically Hip and when Googoosh performed for the first time in 21 years outside of her home country Iran,” Tarlton says. “It is always fun to see Canadian attractions sell out the arena. It is also great to see how the Toronto marketplace is so multicultural.”

Tarlton’s interest in music began at a very young age when her Uncle, Donald Tarlton, who was one of the most famous record label owners in Canadian music history, came to visit her hometown in Vancouver and his nieces would accompany him to various music events. Donald Tarlton owned Aquarius Records, which represented April Wine, Sum 41, and Corey Hart. “It was likely a slow burn to my love for music,” Tarlton says. “Donald was always a part of our lives and very close to my father. He always had a great record label and grew that over the years. It was always about the next thing and a bunch of vinyl would come my way.” Tarlton got her start in operations as a concert promotor in the music industry. Over the next 14 years, she was a concert promotor for Perryscope Concerts, DKD Concerts, and House of Blues Concerts.

When Tarlton reached adulthood, she decided to move to Montreal and pursue her dream of working in music with her uncle. She recollects the first concert she attended in Montreal was to see Paul Simon and she was impressed by the crowd. “Having grown up in Vancouver, the audience settings were quite different,” Tarlton says. “Montreal audiences stand on their feet and it had this super international flavour to it.” Even as a young adult, Tarlton was interested in how live audiences were affected by the music and how to engage people to enjoy shows they attended.  Her passion with live shows eventually led her to being the VP of Live Entertainment for the Air Canada Centre, the fifth largest venue in the world.

Tarlton believes music creates better communities and a stronger cultural environment. She is an appointed member of the Toronto Music Advisory Council, which is a group of individuals in the industry that meet to exchange ideas and advice on how to create opportunities and respond to challenges in the city’s music industry. She is also a board member on Music Canada Live, which promotes live music. “I feel as I live here in Toronto I, I can advocate for the rest of the country. It was natural for me to try and rally the arenas in sports and entertainment,” Tarlton says. “The benefit of being in Toronto is you have the population and local economy and it is in part our responsibility to advocate for every neck of the woods in Canada. Canadians tend to network and collaborate, be it a local level or countrywide. It is our natural tendency as a nation. Even in a multinational setting, Canadians tend to lean in to find solutions rather than elbows out.”

Tarlton has received the Women of Influence Award from Venues Today, won Coach of the Year from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, and was nominated for Facility Executive of the Year twice for Pollstar.

Tarlton wants to inspire women to reach for high-ranking roles in the music industry. “While I have enjoyed a career and not been set back by my gender, I have two girls and I envision a world where they don’t have to think about gender. I do know that we have a network of really talented women across the country though there are not enough women on civic or government advisory boards,” Tarlton says. “I do feel like I have a responsibility to push women along as well as well as motivate and inspire. If I take lessons from my own life, it is about putting yourself out there. I do not think twice about delivering myself in a conversation and pushing something forward without the one to one.”

When Tarlton isn’t working, she enjoys going to the cottage and waterskiing. She also finds cooking very relaxing after work. She was an avid sewer when she was younger and made over 150 costumes that her two daughters enjoyed playing with as they grew up. Tarlton’s sense of humour and positivity is infectious and listening to her stories is wildly entertaining and deeply inspirational. It is moving to see a strong and high-ranking role in the music industry.  Just don’t forget Tarlton’s advice for Canadian women; network, get yourself out there, and do it on your own terms.

Where are the women in Canadian green tech?

The environmental sector is often thought of as progressive and forward-thinking, but when it comes to gender diversity in low-carbon economies, is it truly equal?

At the Ontario Climate Symposium hosted on Friday May 12, York University environmental studies professor Christina Hoicka facilitated a panel that discussed gender diversity and how women experts are leading the way on energy research. Part of Hoicka’s research focuses on discovering which women academics are influencing the field of energy research, and whether or not enough is being done to encourage women to be a part of the renewable energy (RE) industry.

Women make up less than 20 per cent of the renewable energy sector workforce. Jobs are opening up in this sector thanks to the the growing popularity in green technologies, which means it’s the perfect opportunity to close the gender gap in STEM fields.

Canada Research Chair in global women’s issues at Western University, Dr. Bipasha Baruah, was one of the panelists and explained that because there are so few women leaders in clean technology, she feels she actually gets more attention in her role. “Sometimes I feel hyper-visible. Part of that is that you can check so many boxes with me. Even if you are acknowledged, you can still be tokenized,” Baruah says.

Women are clearly under-represented in the green sector in Canada, representing only 20 per cent of jobs, but 50 per cent of university graduates. Most women within the industry are found in sales, administrative roles, and technology positions. For women that are in STEM jobs, the wage gap is smaller, with women earning 14 per cent less than men compared to 21 per cent in other fields. But, they are still massively underrepresented. According to Baruah, women are often discouraged from entering engineering and technology fields because of the misperceptions of the ‘dirty work’ involved and that they typically feel inadequate in the technological aspects of certain occupations.

Baruah’s research did emphasize that Canadian women are increasingly becoming leading entrepreneurs. She interviewed Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) CEO Rebecca Black, who pointed out that of the membership base of 1000 women in the province of Ontario, at least 20 per cent were entrepreneurs in RE. Women are often more community-based leaders and renewables thrive off a grassroots cooperative business model.

Julie MacArthur, Professor at University of Auckland, reinforced this idea through her study of the evolving socio-technical community-based approach in the renewables sector. In the wake of moving away from large fossil fuel corporations, several renewable community-based organizations have popped up that focus on alternative energy sources. Many of these grassroots organizations are spearheaded by women, who are essential to this movement of cooperation and community-based growth. MacArthur explains that ‘energy democracy’ is growing and there is a changing socio-political focus that is happening right now, as the environment grows as a central concern in the Canadian economy. Obviously, women have a key role to play in this change.

Including women in the move from a brown to green economy will only make RE more diverse and versatile. Being able to provide even more data about women in clean technology helps society to understand where we stand in regards to gender diversity and how we can better accommodate women looking to enter these fields. It is important to provide a discursive research space and more panels to educate women invested in an environmental career, and Women’s Post hopes to learn more as amazing women researchers grow and learn in green technology.