June 18, 2015 — Feminists have frequently borrowed an expression from Isaac Newton, who gave credit to his predecessors when he said, “If I have seen further, it’s because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
I’ve been reminded of that expression frequently since the publication of my mother’s first novel earlier this spring—number one of a planned trilogy based on the remarkable lives of my great-grandmother and grandmother.
I’ve known the stories all my life, of course. But reading Matrons and Madams brought home to me just how much our generation owes to those women who not only survived, but succeeded in, the chaos and deprivation of two world wars and their aftermath.
My great-grandmother left England in the wake of World War I, following the loss of her husband and son, to become a hospital superintendent and set up the first STD treatment centre in Canada to treat returning soldiers. Her daughter, my grandmother, left an unhappy marriage in the 1940s and, as a single parent to her five- and seven-year-old girls, returned to school to become a social worker, spending much of her career flying around in bush planes serving her clients in Northern Ontario.
They had no affirmative action programs, no workplace diversity opportunities, and they had to combat the dominant cultural biases against women serving as professional and business leaders in the workplace.
But they built rich and fulfilling professional lives in a world that was incredibly harsh to women by today’s standards. What were the qualities that allowed them to achieve professional success and leadership?
In addition to great resilience in the face of adversity, they demonstrated the courage to act on principles and convictions, regardless of the personal risk. They had the humility to continuously grow and learn and seek the support and contributions of other people to achieve their goals. They believed in empowering others to help them achieve their own potential. And they understood the importance of accountability for themselves and those who worked with them.
Those same qualities can be seen in the inclusive leaders of today who establish diverse, innovative, high performance teams by creating the openness and security that encourages everyone to contribute and take appropriate risks.
On November 10th, 2015, Catalyst Canada will come together with hundreds of our business friends to celebrate three people who are demonstrating those invaluable inclusive leadership qualities. Meet The 2015 Catalyst Canada Honour Champions:
We know we stand on the shoulders of the strong leaders of the past. Our challenge is to ensure that we continue to cultivate and celebrate leaders like our champions who will build an equally strong future for our daughters and sons.