There was a robust turnout of women – and men – for the International Women’s Day #BeBoldForChange ‘Women in Business’ Breakfast at the Water Tower Inn, March 8th, 2017. Brandi Williamson-Meletiou, SSM Chamber of Commerce Marketing and Events champion, welcomed the large group and encouraged everyone to #BeBoldForChange, which is the 2017 International Women’s Day theme.

The annual breakfast event included a Panel discussion followed by a presentation of the prestigious International ATHENA® Leadership Award. ‘The ATHENA Leadership Award was inspired by the goddess of Greek mythology known for her strength courage wisdom and enlightenment – qualities embodied in the ATHENA Award. The ATHENA Award was established in 1982, and is given out in over 500 communities across the globe. It is presented to a woman – or man – who is honoured for professional excellence community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.’ (http://www.ssmcoc.com/)

Presented annually by Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce, the 2016  ATHENA Award recipient is Linda Ryan, Director, Employment Solutions at Sault College of Applied Arts & Technology.

Janice Beatty, VP Corporate and Student Services at Sault College, and sponsor of The ATHENA Leadership Award, made the presentation to Linda Ryan. “This year’s recipient is a significant motivator and example to women.” shared Beatty. “She is a great believer in people’s potential, and always encourages new ideas, continuous improvement, personal and professional growth, career advancement and leadership.  She is committed to the community of Sault Ste. Marie and has been an active voice for Northern Ontario at the provincial level.” “She has a tremendous ability to be not only an outstanding leader, but a friend, mentor and excellent example to the women surrounding her.  It was these qualities and more that made her a very worthy recipient of the 2016 ATHENA Leadership Award.” said Beatty.

“There were many women who paved the way for me, and I am honoured to be receiving this award.” said Linda Ryan. “The nomination was totally unexpected and the best retirement send-off ever.”

The local women who comprised the mornings’ discussion panel, moderated by Jasmyn Rowley are from diverse backgrounds.

Brenda Stenta – Communications and Public Relations specialist – Manager of Corporate Communication, Essar Steel Algoma; Donna Hilsinger – current Volunteer Executive Director, Algoma Fall Festival – and former General Manager The Water Tower Inn (2000 – 2016). Recipient of numerous awards and distinctions; Liisa Woolley – Vice President Operations and Wealth Solutions for Community First Credit Union with over 20 years experience in the credit union system; Sandra Hollingsworth – current City of Sault Ste. Marie Municipal Councilor and Business Strategy professional, including with The Research and Education Foundation of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

The four dynamic women shared reflections on life lessons – both personal and professional – offering insight into building a successful vision for oneself. They spoke about the importance of women championing each other, as well as themselves.

“We need to advocate for women – to inspire women to become successful – to challenge bias and advocate for gender equality.” stated Brenda Stenta. Stenta also wanted to impress upon the attendees to encourage young women to consider the skilled trades as a professional path.

“Organizations that are most successful have a diverse leadership team comprised of both men and women.” she said. “It’s important that we are paving the way for women in our organizations and businesses. To be constantly looking for ways to champion women and encourage them.”

“It’s really important to know who you are.” shared Donna Hilsinger. “I learned to apply self-knowledge with passion and understanding. Getting to know yourself is one of the most important things I can share with you. Never admit weakness – never settle – and always be not afraid. Get on that ledge and jump. It will change your life.”

“Put down your pencil and listen.” shared Sandra Hollingsworth. “Understand who you are talking with, and learn to listen. Everyone has a story – Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to socialize and have fun with your colleagues.”

Hollingsworth further spoke about financial literacy for women and girls as important tools for a successful life.

“I learned that I didn’t need to be controlling everything all the time. I also learned over time, that it is okay to not be perfect.” shared Liisa Woolley.  “I’ve learned that the non-traditional path can lead to great things in our professional life. Be brave enough to fail because risks can, and do, lead to meaningful learning experiences.”

A presentation was made by retired teacher, Emily Noble who spoke about the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (or BPW International).

“Founded in 1930 and in 90 countries across the world, BPW is a non- sectarian, non-profit and non-partisan feminist organization that promotes the interests of women.” she said.

“BPW advocates and lobbies government for fair and equitable public policy, promoting the interest of working women in all sectors, and industries across Canada. BPW works toward equality of opportunities and economic security of all women.”

Sandra Hollingsworth also made a presentation about ‘100 Women Who Care’, Sault Chapter. She stated that 100 women x $100.00 = $10,000, and the intent of the local chapter is to support, “Grassroots, local charities that operate on a shoe-string budget.”

Hollingsworth mentioned Camp McDougall, Pauline’s Place, and Algoma Therapeutic Ride Assoc. as recipients of monies raised at recent events organized through ‘100 Women who Care’, which has grown beyond 100 women. Started officially in May (2016), the women raised $11,300.00 for Algoma Autism, $13,125.00 for The Soup Kitchen, and $15,500.00 for Breaking Away.

International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that both celebrates women’s achievements and calls for gender equality.

The day has been observed since the early 1900s and aims to bring together governments, women’s organizations and charities. The day can be traced back to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City rallying for voting rights, shorter working hours and better pay.

On March 8 1914, there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage. Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst was notoriously arrested in front of Charing Cross station, on her way to speak in the central London square. In the following years, a form of women’s day was held on varying dates in different countries, but by 1913 it was decided that March 8 would officially be International Women’s Day – and it has been that way ever since. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange. To learn more, : GO HERE