International Women’s Week – Elevate International Women’s Day Summit

Every time Elevate International puts on an event I know the lineup of speakers is going to be stellar, this two day event is the fifth one I’ve participated in and it did not disappoint. There’s something about Solange that draws people to her and her mission and I’m very grateful for that.

The energy, inspiration, and learning that permeate her events is something to behold.

I’m going to take you through my key takeaways from each session, in hopes that they capture the days.

Day 1:

Leadership Keynote:



The Keynote speaker was Komal Minhas President and Founder of Kaur Space. I first heard of Komal when I watched her documentary Dream, Girl at a WCT kickoff event. I loved the film (if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it). Ever since I’ve started the blog, I’ve wanted to interview her, I never thought I’d actually get a chance to see her speak, let alone meet her so when I saw that she was on the agenda as the keynote speaker and then sat down at the table I was sitting at, I had to take a minute.

She started her keynote describing her recent trip to her ancestral home in India and asking, what breaks your heart? That’s where you should put your time, energy, and money.

She proceeded to go through her three keys to transform pain to power:

  1. Build a community and conversation around your theory of change (how to fix what breaks your heart)
  2. Focus on yourself to be well – you have to take care of yourself, change your internal world before you can change your external world, the legacy you want to leave requires you to exist. You have to determine what your non-negotiables are, what are you willing to sacrifice and when and what are you not
  3. Create physical and digital space to drive your theory of change – repetition = consistent actions over time

So, what breaks your heart and how can you habitualize your theory of change? To see what it is for me, stay tuned.

Her keynote was one of the absolute highlights of the summit for me, as was getting to meet her, when you hear her speak you know that there’s something special about her and meeting her just confirms it.

Leadership Workshop #1: Executive Leadership Development OWN IT: Women’s Leadership Strength

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Lynn Davies, facilitator at the Boundless Leadership Program at Ottawa U, is a national treasure, the enthusiasm, authenticity, and humour with which she took the stage to talk about the strengths and differences of women in leadership was magic.

The fact that she used Sallie Krawchek’s book OWN IT: The power of women at work, which I have reviewed for the blog, as the basis to talk about the difference between the leadership traits of men and women made me happy to no end.

The talk focused on the first three traits:

  • Risk aware
  • Relationship focused
  • Meaning and purpose vs. status

I can try to capture the way she speaks and the examples she gave as we were going through the various exercises but I don’t think I would do her justice.

Panel #1 Economic Development “Women Growing Business”

From this panel the main takeaways that stuck with me were:

  • Position yourself to where the money is so that your voice is heard
  • The path to influence is understanding the economic impact of what you’re doing

Leadership workshop #2: Essentials of Leadership Communication – How to engage and network for results



This workshop was led by Michael Hughes, who broke down networking into a social process and was able to explain it in such a way that it lessened the discomfort that can sometimes come with networking. He brought a levity to the awkwardness that often comes with networking and that we confirmed was felt by everyone.

He started by describing three essential principles of Networks:

  1. You can get everything you want and need through the networks you have or have access to, you just have to – be clear about what you want and communicate it consistently to your network
  2. Law of random growth – every network has to grow or die, the universe brings you everything you need you just have to have the courage to reach out to people
  3. Law of preferred attachments – certain connections have greater capacity to be impactful

He defined networking as the intentional process of creating and developing relationships from initial contact to ultimate outcome. The problem is most the time we network by default, rather than design.

Networking has three components:

  1. Process
  2. Preparation
  3. Persistence

Networking requires three sets of skills:

  1. Business skills – it’s about strategy
  2. Relationship skills – every interaction impacts the relationship
  3. Interpersonal skills – the mechanics

The social process of networking can be broken out into 6 distinct Pieces:

The first four are the social piece:

  • Initial contact, the most stressful part of the process for everybody (No, it’s not just you)
    • Remember T.E.S.T – take charge, enthusiasm, smile, total focus
    • first judgements are made about someone within 0.07 second of looking at them and then everything you ask/do after seeks to confirm that first impression ( no wonder it’s stressful)
  • The next 25 seconds – characterized by awkward internal fumbling where you’re trying to figure out what do or say next
    • Context building – what brought you to this event, here…?
    • Tell me about yourself?
    • People first, Ideas next, things third
  • Next 2 minutes – when it starts to click and meaningful conversation happens
    • Networking communication plan:
      • If you are from a corporate environment
        • Primary role
        • Biggest skill
        • Contribution
      • If you are an entrepreneur
        • Target market
        • #1 benefit of product or service
        • Result for people
      • The last five seconds – where there’s a gap and you start to worry what to do next
        • Remember to A.C.T – Accept responsibility, create a follow up opportunity, thank the other person

The last two pieces are strategic:

  • Next 24 hours to 7 days – the work that happens after
    • Be Pro-active, persistent, and patient
  • Final Outcome
    • remember that every interaction is different and unique and the will result in different outcomes
      • Direct results
      • Indirect results
      • opportunities
      • resources
      • relationships

He left off with how the 2 biggest things that you do today, that will make you different tomorrow are:

  • The books you read
  • The relationships you make

Panel #2: “Leadership traits to lead to C-Suite & boardroom”

From this panel the main takeaways that stuck with me were:

  • Pick opportunities by what you can learn and what you can contribute vs. title and money
  • Listen to learn or be influenced not to respond
  • Return on time – be deliberate with what you learn

Day 2:



Shaping our Leadership Journey:

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“Leadership action, behaviour & preferences – how to influence and engage for results:

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This talk was given by Sophia Leong, Executive Director of the University of Ottawa

Leadership is not about how smart you are but how you make people feel. There are three states of being:

  • Brain – controls actions
  • Heart – controls behaviours
  • Gut – controls perceptions

Which is more important? It depends on the person and what drives A.B.P; but, preference is the most powerful because it can override the other two.

You strengthen A.B.P through the four E’s. Excellence takes persistent practice. Strengthening A.B.P begins with self-leadership – you need to change the conversation you have with yourself – feed your brain good food.

Be the culture you want to see; don’t wait for someone else to do it.

The Critical Role of Advancing Women in Leadership:

This talk was given by Barbara Cartwright, CEO of Humane Canada

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Barbara made reference to Dan Palotta’s TED Talk “The Way We Think about Charity is Dead Wrong”, after listening to it, I highly recommend it, it touches on a lot of what she spoke on in her talk.

Empowerment Panel: Accelerating Change Valuable Insights from Women Leaders:


This panel was moderated by Sonya Shorey of Invest Ottawa and included FinanciElle Karla Briones, amongst other fantastic panelists.

My key takeaways from this panel:

  • So why don’t I?
  • If you can see her, you can be her
  • Make your own mentorship opportunities, don’t wait for opportunity


Women leading meaningful change:

In her talk, Linda Eagen the President and CEO of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation talked about how what makes successful change is:

A – A sense of adventure looked at realistically

S-Swagger – confidence in what you are doing

K-Knowledge – what you learn today is what you become tomorrow

To lead change you must A.S.K

  • What’s important to you?
  • What’s important to others?

And to end that talk – we started a movement literally, all hands waving in the air.

Women and the United Nations:

In her talk Kathryn White, President and CEO of the United Nations Association in Canada talked about how Gender Based Analysis (GBA + ) need to be used in the design of all products and services.

We need to think equal, build smart, innovate for change and give to those who do.

She talked about how gender parity boosts economic growth, women’s giving boosts gender parity, and civic structures (not for profits) boost women’s giving and need to reflect those values

Diversity and Inclusion:

Leadership in the Federal Government (Institutions):


In this panel discussion moderated by Komal Minhas and featuring Rima Aristocrat and Dr. Valerie Gideon, the key takeaways for me were:

  • It takes an entire ecosystem to change, it’s not one person, department or organization because people don’t always want to change
  • You need to challenge every assumption about something being done – is it based on lived experience
  • We need change what people value to be rational thought

The Next Generation of Inclusive Leaders:


Prasanna Ranganathan (B.A, J.D., LL.M.),Human Rights Lawyer and Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, had everybody on their feet cheering at the end of his talk, the energy was infectious.

His talk was based on the question that haunts him and that he writes so eloquently about in this post on Facebook.

“Don’t you want to know you were the best person for the job and not hired because of diversity?”

He sought to bust the myths surrounding the diversity vs. merit dichotomy.

Myth #1: Unqualified people are hired because of diversity

  • Despite record amounts of diversity, divers persons are not hired at proportional rates
  • Why is it assumed that because you are a diverse person you are assumed to be under qualified or not qualified?

Myth #2: People do not say outright discriminatory things during interviews or the application process

Myth#3: The question of merit vs. diversity stops at the interview process

  • People of diverse backgrounds are constantly having to prove themselves
  • You have to work twice as hard to get just as much
  • Diversity is meaningless without inclusion – I don’t have to be like you, I need to be included for being me

Myth#4: The question only arises in the corporate world, not in the Not for Profit, Government or International organization world

Myth#5: Allies always look like us

Myth#6: Diversity vs. merit only arises at the beginning of a career

Read the post, to find out the response to this question. #WhoIamiswhatIbring

Closing Key Note: Making Progress


The closing Keynote by The Right Honourable – Michaëlle Jean, again, brought everyone to their feet by talking about her experiences, remembering our history and how silence is not golden but rather that words of indignation shine like gold, that when existential limits are breached we need to act, about sticking to core human values, ethics and rule of law and the power that voices gain when they join those on the ground.

She referenced MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes’ quote “When you add women, please do not expect the status quo. Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when values are compromised.”

Now that’s how you end an International Women’s Day Summit!

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