Trailblazers & Pathmakers: Women’s Leadership with the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario

Me? A trailblazer?

Apparently so, because I had the privilege of being invited to the Trailblazers & Pathmakers event at Queen’s Park hosted by The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

On an early April morning, I joined 99 amazing women to discuss issues surrounding women’s leadership.

May I get real for a moment? As a freelance writer and advocate (mostly online), my uniform is jeans and other types of comfy clothes. After all, it’s just me and the cat. Finding something that approximately business attire took a while, but I ended up dressing in blue to represent arthritis and accessibility for people with disabilities.

We were welcomed by Her Honour, the wonderful Elizabeth Dowsdeswell, who calls herself Ontario’s Storyteller-in-Chief. Committed to showcasing the lives of Ontarians, she hosted this event for women to connect and inspire each other. Other Trailblazers & Pathmakers events will follow in several areas of Ontario.

Betsy McGregor, an energetic change agent, moderated the event. She introduced two incredible panels presenting on issues of women and leadership in sports, faith systems, policing, and business, as well as indigenous women, women of colour, and youth. Each woman spoke about obstacles in her field, solutions, mentorship, and inspiration for the future.

Throughout the presentations, we were asked to record words and phrases that especially resonated on index cards, which were collected at the end of each session and read aloud to the group. Some of my favourites were:

Marg McGregor describing leadership in sports as “male, pale, and stale.” From a disability and chronic illness perspective, why don’t we add the word hale to that list?

Lisa Gore Duplessis talking about LGBTQ2SS issues: “Failure is merely a bruise, not a scar.”

Jeanne Lamois, the first female conductor of a Baroque orchestra (Toronto’s Tafelmusik): “The more it looks normal, the more it becomes the norm.”

Marisha Roman, indigenous adjudicator talking about the invisibility of women in research: “What gets measured gets done.”

Rebecca Benson talked about indigenous issue from a youth point of view: “You can’t do anything if you don’t feel loved.”

Wendy Cukier spoke about the issues facing women in business and her words about mentorship resonated deeply: “Lift as we climb.”

As I listened to these wonderful women speak and talked to others during the breaks, I felt empowered and inspired by everyone around me. And I realized something really powerful. Although we are women advocating for change in different fields, we have far more commonalities than differences.

As someone who is passionate about creating a more inclusive world for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, I know that I can’t do anything without the support and love of my family and my community. I fight for increasing diversity and representation, because without these, any change affecting these populations is meaningless.

And I know that we are going to fail at times. When that happens, the only way forward is to take a look at the mess in front of us, learn from it, and try again. And that as we move towards awareness, acceptance, and inclusivity, we must remember to mentor others on the way.

My deepest gratitude to Her Honour Elizabeth Dowdeswell for hosting this event. And to all the wonderful women there who will continue to inspire my work.


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