According to the Government of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, “Only 16 per cent of Canadian businesses are owned or led by women and yet studies show that by advancing women’s economic participation in the economy, Canada could add up to $150 billion in GDP.”
What’s holding women back? Although great strides have been made for and by women in the work force, issues like gender inequality, wage gaps and discrimination persist.
“Promoting women’s business ownership and improving the performance of women-owned enterprises would foster gender equality in leadership and the economic empowerment of women,” cites the Statistics Canada’s Women-Owned Enterprise in Canada report.
There are strong female business leaders, and heads of women-empowering organizations, that are actively doing that in Alberta. Let’s meet three of them.
Michelle D. Millard: Partner, Felesky Flynn LLP and President of Business & Professional Women of Edmonton (BPW)
Leading up to my role as Partner at Felesky Flynn LLP, I thoroughly enjoyed my learning experience in law school. Once I stared articling and practicing law, finding solutions to the challenges my clients faced created stimulating experiences for me. These experiences taught me so much more than I expected and led me down a path that eventually brought me to the role I am in now. Finding innovative solutions for each client continues to be very satisfying and motivating after more than 25 years of practicing law. It also helped me find BPW.
A few years ago, an event was held as an introduction to BPW, and subsequently I was offered the opportunity to assist in the launch of the Edmonton chapter.
BPW Edmonton is a member of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women, which is a member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women. The International BPW has consultative status at the United Nations. Collectively, these organizations advocate for women’s rights by promoting education, networking, skills building and economic empowerment.
Through BPW I am thrilled to work with local businesswomen to help them find and seize opportunities for success both in their careers and personal lives.
Despite the progress we are seeing in our society, women still face challenges that only other women can understand. I believe it is critically important for women to help and inspire other women in order to continue to expand the influence of women in all positions. Women bring a diverse perspective to any position, and studies have shown that such diversity breeds success for organizations.
We are stronger when we are connected and can achieve great things together. There are not enough mentors and champions out there for women, but these roles are the keys to success. Women, unfortunately, must work harder to find someone to help fill these roles; those of us who have been in the arena for a while need to be the ones to step up.
Developing a strong network through BPW can be an important tool to ensure success in a woman’s career. BPW Edmonton offers women the opportunity to connect with other women from a variety of other industries at varying levels of seniority in their career. With monthly events, mentorship opportunities and advocacy initiatives, BPW Edmonton offers speakers presenting on relevant issues and often draws from its own membership for speaker talent.
Regardless of the stage of your career, or even the type of industry you work in, if you are seeking a supportive network, an opportunity to enhance your own communication skills, participate in development programs, and shape and influence the world around us at all levels of government (and the United Nations), then BPW is an organization to look into.
Learn more about BPW at bpwedmonton.ca.
Jewel Buksa, President, BUKSA Strategic Conference Services & Vice Chair of Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE)
I founded BUKSA Strategic Conference Services 25 years ago when I hosted a large conference and trade show for Alberta’s healthcare sector. The economy in Alberta was in a bad way – this was the time of 5 per cent public sector wage rollbacks, and the healthcare sector was completely restructured, which included the disestablishment of the healthcare association in which I was working. I saw that even in bad economic times – in fact, especially in bad economic times – the need for face-to-face meetings and networking was paramount. It turned out that the industry agreed. I had broad support from professional associations, the new health regions, the private sector and the Health Ministry.
Soon after, other organizations took notice of our strategic, purposeful way of planning content, flow, marketing and logistics for conferences. We began to contract out our services and organically grew the company to where it is now, with a staff of 15 providing services across Canada to organizations of all sizes in healthcare, energy, environment, construction, safety, technology, social services and other industries.
Founding and running my own business has been as challenging as raising two daughters with my husband Jim. At the beginning, one has big dreams, plenty of optimism, razor-edge focus, and little money; then the fun comes in not knowing what to expect along the way. Some strategies work out, some don’t, money is tight, and you read a lot of books. What carries us through as parents and entrepreneurs alike is having a network of business advisers, trusted friends, and places we can go to blow off steam and have some fun.
My advice to women looking to launch their own business whether they are parents, aunties, or single is this: prepare to nurture your business as you would your family and your trusted friendships. It takes time and intention. There are no shortcuts.
About eight years ago I learned about Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) through a friend who worked there. I started to follow the organization and participate in educational sessions; I never tire of hearing the stories of other entrepreneurs, nor learning how to improve myself and my business.
The annual AWE conference and the AWE Awards receptions have become events I look forward to – these are fantastic and highly accessible opportunities to meet entrepreneurs at all stages of business and learn from their experiences. I still attend AWE workshops to this day.
Two years ago I was invited to join the AWE board, which was a delight as I really believe in the organization (I was elected vice-chair last September). I’m convinced AWE has a role to play as a primary leader for developing and supporting women entrepreneurs in Alberta. It’s an effectively managed organization, strategically focused, smart with its money and is supported by federal and provincial governments as well as the private sector. The services provided by AWE to women entrepreneurs are accessible and affordable and make a huge difference in helping them build successful businesses.
There are so many ways for women entrepreneurs to access AWE – whether for financing, learning and networking, mentorship programs or all the above. A strength of AWE’s financing model is that the women are mentored and supported along the way, mitigating risk to everyone involved.
Did you know some of the AWE mentorship programs made here in Alberta have been trademarked and are being rolled out in other provinces? That is the kind of leadership we have at AWE. I’m looking forward to my next few years on the board, supporting AWE in developing the entrepreneurs who help drive our economy.
Learn more about AWE at www.awebusiness.com.
Yvonne Basten, Founder, Event Management.guru & Executive Managing Director of eWomenNetwork Calgary Chapter
Note, the Edmonton Chapter is currently considering managing director positions. Those interested in eWomenNetwork can contact any chapter in Alberta or interact with the organization at events or online.
I am an event manager and the owner of Event Management.guru. I support business owners who host one or multiple-day events/retreats and help them take their event to the next level.
I have been a member of the eWomenNetwork Calgary Chapter for 13 years. Networking is an important tool to use in your business. By continuously building relationships, it supports you with gaining new clients, and depending on which group you belong to, it will also provide you with personal and business growth tools.
We currently have one eWomenNetwork chapter in Calgary. We provide a monthly dinner where we network, and I also host a monthly strategic business introduction event. There are also monthly webinars hosted by the owner and founder of eWomenNetwork, Sandra Yancey; annual conference in Dallas, Texas; podcasts and so much more. It’s not just a local networking opportunity. When you belong to the network, you can attend any of the chapters in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia.
The eWomenNetwork Foundation is the charity arm of eWomenNetwork. Every year the foundation donates money to the Humanitarian of the Year, which is chosen by Sandra Yancey and the board of directors. At a local level we get to participate as well by donating money to a local charity that supports either women and/or children.
Being a solopreneur can be a very lonely journey. Often, we think that we are the only ones ‘not getting it’ or ‘I must be doing this all wrong.’ Being part of a networking organization helps with the journey. Know that you’re not alone; that we are all in this together.
Learn more about eWomenNetwork at ewomennetwork.com.