Insights From the 2018 Catalyst Canada Honours

October 26, 2018The 2018 Catalyst Canada Honours Conference and Dinner was like no prior event and in truth, will be tough to duplicate in the future. October 15 was an inspiring day of learning and celebration. The theme, Workplaces That Work, strategically and successfully reflected the core of our vision. “Workplaces That Work” can come in many forms, and that was demonstrated by the variety of discussions throughout the day, from insights from the front lines on artificial intelligence (AI) and the future of work, to the history of how professional tennis players arrived at pay equity. In the spirit of living one’s values, this event aptly demonstrated our organization’s core values: connect, engage, inspire, and impact.


Over 250 women and men from across multiple regions and industries in Canada and beyond gathered at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Attendees were challenged with an opening activity that asked them to connect on the most unusual thing they had in common. From that point of departure, everyone was encouraged to make further connections, with a goal of at least one new person throughout the day. I personally observed the accomplishment of that objective multiple times. Attendees also bonded during interactive learning and networking opportunities throughout the conference, and their energy and vivacity was contagious.

More significantly, people met at a fundamental level—a human level—through exercising genuine courage, curiosity, openness, and vulnerability. I personally connected with many of the attendees and speakers, and I saw how each individual shared enthusiasm, authenticity, and a passion for diversity, inclusion, and equity—not only for driving business results, but as a “moral imperative,” to quote one speaker.


Champions shared personal stories and tips, focusing not only on engaging the minds but also the hearts of attendees. They all cited courage as a fundamental characteristic that they had to develop and demonstrate in order to achieve all of their accomplishments throughout their careers, whether as agile emerging leaders, seasoned senior leaders, entrepreneurs, or retired executives. Others spoke of grit and perseverance in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties.

Attendees were encouraged to speak up on difficult issues and to act as leaders, creating a safe and inclusive space where everyone felt comfortable participating. The level of storytelling, candor, and vulnerability was exceptional. This year’s Champions put deep-seated issues on the table without fear of judgment. Many attendees commented on the authenticity of the speakers and were moved by the high level of transparency and humility.


The two keynote addresses provided powerful examples that demonstrated different ways of making change. Our morning keynote speaker, Jodie Wallis, Managing Director, Financial Services & Canadian AI Lead, Accenture, delivered an informative presentation on artificial intelligence and the future of work. She spoke about how the speed of technological advancement is changing the way we work in unprecedented ways—from enhancing performance to creating better products and services and improving the quality of our lives. But she cautioned that extreme care has to go into the data that powers these machines to ensure that the massive potential of AI can be realized, while offsetting the unintended consequences of human bias. While I’m oversimplifying Jodie’s ideas, the key is ensuring that these technologies are powered by representative data combined with diverse perspectives. If ever there was a time in history to get this right, it’s now.

Our closing keynote speaker and Catalyst Canada International Trailblazer, Stacey Allaster, Chief Executive, Professional Tennis, United States Tennis Association, spoke passionately about pay equity in professional sports, particularly tennis. She shared the concerning statistics that 99% of sport-related sponsorship goes to men, and 93% of sports broadcast media airtime goes to men.

Stacey also spoke about how Billie Jean King stood up for equal pay for women in the 1970s and persevered in the face of adversity in her sport. After decades of incremental movements and sometimes resistance, equal prize money was finally realized for women and men in all of the Grand Slam international tennis tournaments in 2007. As an aside, you may want to check out the 2017 movie Battle of the Sexes for a historical account of Billie Jean King’s challenge.

In a fireside chat exploring actions that organizations can take post-#MeToo, Bill Morris, Senior Managing Director and Canada President, Accenture spoke about living the value of his organization, particularly “respect for the individual.” He engaged us with several stories and lessons learned as a senior leader. His key recommendations to help stamp out misconduct from organizations were modeling organizational values, building an inclusive culture, integrating systems with built-in accountability and transparency, encouraging people to speak up—whether they are victims or bystanders, and making inclusivity coaching available to leaders.


While many of our speakers and panelists inspired me, my favorite moment of revelation came during the gala dinner. Seeing the champions and their families celebrate the recognition of their tireless efforts was moving; hearing the passion in their voices as they articulated what inclusive workplaces meant to them and the actions they have taken to make change was simply inspiring. Most notable was the sense of optimism in the room among the audience of senior leaders, who were left with indelible examples of the personal commitment it takes to promote workplaces that work for everyone.

Congratulations to the 2018 Catalyst Canada Honours Champions: Bill McFarland, Former CEO, Senior Partner, and Chief Inclusion Officer, PwC Canada; Aneela Zaib, Founder & CEO, emergiTEL; Simon Fish, General Counsel, BMO Financial Group; Claudia Thompson, Managing Director, Health & Public Service, and Managing Director, Inclusion & Diversity, Accenture; Erin Davis, Director, Global Talent Engagement, Stantec Consulting; Kona Goulet, Director, Inclusion, BMO Financial Group; and Catalyst Canada International Trailblazer Stacey Allaster, Chief Executive, Professional Tennis United States Tennis Association.

Nominations are now open for the 2019 Catalyst Canada Honours. I hope you’ll join us for an upcoming webinar on how to nominate an inclusive leader, and then nominate a Company Leader and/or an Emerging Leader. Inquiries about the nomination and sponsorship opportunities can be sent to [email protected]. And save the date for the 2019 celebrations on November 4, 2019!


The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.