ULI Toronto News

WLI’s second “Women on Boards” event zeros in on importance of public boards

By: Eunice Wong, EY Transaction Real Estate







On the evening of May 8th, 2017, the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) and ULI Toronto assembled a panel of representatives from the three orders of government (municipal, provincial, and federal) to consider how professional women in the multi-sector real estate industry can put themselves forward for service on public boards.

It was the second “Women on Boards” event that WLI has held with the objective of increasing gender diversity and the presence of women on boards and related committees. Sponsored by Cassels Brock LLP, the event sought to establish that the importance of female representation is not limited to private sector corporate boardrooms; progress also must be made in public leadership positions. The question is no longer about why more women should be on boards, but how. This means giving women mentorship and learning opportunities that will empower and enhance their experience on the boards after they get appointed.

Karen Stintz, president and CEO of Variety Village and a former Toronto city councillor, was the evening’s keynote speaker. Referring to her previous position as chair of the Toronto Transit Commission during 2010 to 2014, Stintz noted her time as chair was one of the most challenging but rewarding roles she has ever held. Recognizing that there is no shortage of support for changing the gender imbalance, Stintz suggested that women need more practical tips. She believes there are two things that currently hold women back:

  1. Absolute confidence in their abilities: “Women think they need all the skillsets for the opportunity,” Stintz said. She reminded the audience that high performance boards are not made up of “know-it-alls.” Instead, they consist of different skillsets brought together to provide governance.
  2. A robust network that links them: Recognizing the importance of participation in sports (i.e. golf clubs and tournaments, hockey leagues), clubs, and current boards and how they influence a dynamic network, she reiterates that people recruit from who they know. With that being said, there needs to be strategies for women to develop and grow their current skills by providing opportunities to support women on boards. For those women currently on boards, Stintz recommends creating mentorship programs that will not only help support other women to participate, but also provide a platform to be empowered and further develop those technical and soft skills to enhance the board experience.

The panel discussion then built upon the above themes, addressing the need for women to apply and build their network. The panel included Anne Sado, President at George Brown College, as the moderator and included the following panelists:

  • Aretha Phillip, Manager of Public Appointments at the City of Toronto
  • Shelley Potter, Deputy Chief of Staff, Planning & Administration at the Office of the Premier of Ontario
  • Danica Shimbashi, Privy Council Office at the Government of Canada

Each panelist provided an overview of the board appointment process, how vacancies are identified, how candidates are screened, and key challenges that must be addressed.

Recommendations that resonated with the audience included:

  • Specialize, be selective. Know the “so what” and the “why” as to why you are applying. Don’t be a “serial applier”.
  • Truly understand what “public interest” means to you.
  • Don’t be scared to talk about yourself.
  • Don’t put your name forward if you can’t commit.
  • Play a role in championing other women.
  • Don’t do it for the money.
  • Sometimes it is not always about the merit, but more about the collective experience.

The event sponsor, Cassels Brock LLP, provided a welcoming environment to facilitate this discussion.  Each audience member left that evening with more knowledge and encouragement to apply to public boards along with a few more women to add to their network.


Thank you to our Event Sponsor:


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