The Influential Women of Northern Ontario Awards (IW Awards) is an initiative that was never meant to see a 20th anniversary.
It started as a way to seek out, profile and honour women in Northern Ontario who had made a difference in their communities in terms of economic wealth, job creation and growth. We wanted to know who these women were and to thank them for their contributions. We wanted to demonstrate to younger women that entrepreneurship was not closed to them and that many enterprising women were building wealth in our region under the shadow of our natural resource-based industries.
At the time, we thought the initiative would be replaced by other initiatives that celebrated how business and society had moved toward a more inclusive environment for female entrepreneurship and leadership.
It was a dream. It was a hope. It was a wish. But it was not reality.
Reality is lurking in the background of our baby steps toward true equality. It shows itself when we least expect it to remind women we still have a long way to go.
Witness the rise of female business owners over the past 20 years, yet the molasses rate of women as CEOs in major corporations or as heads of influential boards across our region and our country.
Women still struggle to get equitable financing, equal pay in high-profile jobs, and encouragement and credibility in many resource sectors. There are exceptions, of course, but in the vast majority of circumstances, women are still undervalued for their work and business savvy.
To working women everywhere, equality should start with a pay cheque and a compensation package equal to their male counter parts. Equality will never amount to a row of beans without financial parity.
The good news in this reality review is younger women are stepping up to the plate a bit more assertively and expecting to be treated equally, without the hassle and haggle over different pay for equal work.
Those women who are making their mark in non-traditional roles and sharing that experience – both positive and negative –with other women need to know their contributions are important and that they are vital to keeping the slow slog going forward.
Women who are pushing the envelope in technology, innovation, mining, forestry, and manufacturing need to be encouraged, applauded and celebrated, and compensated at a rate that is consistent with their jobs, not their gender.
One could argue women entrepreneurs set their own compensation packages. While that would appear to be true, women entrepreneurs typically do not have equal access to financial resources for start-up and expansion costs and this is reflected in their compensation.
It’s certainly not a black and white argument, but it’s also not where we expected to be 20 years after launching the IW program.
Is the work/business environment for women better today than 20 years ago? Yes.
Have women made progress toward more equitable compensation and recognition? Yes.
Do we still need programs to profile and honour female entrepreneurs and community leaders? Yes.
Will we achieve financial parity in the next 20 years? No.
But, we could be wrong on this final point. After all, we were 20 years ago.
Founder, Influential Women of Northern Ontario Awards