Fiona Kirkpatrick-Parsons inspires attendees with, ‘The moment anyone stands in their power, others can’t help but notice.’
By Erin Elaine Casey
“Wake up. Daylight is coming. The birds are already singing. Our earth is beautiful.”
These words from the Cree Morning Song were the perfect opening to the Halifax Chamber’s fifth Wonder Women Conference, held via Zoom on Feb. 19. For a morning that both celebrated the diversity of women in business and tackled challenging conversations about equity and inclusion, this metaphor of waking up to a new day with new possibilities for change was a powerful one.
Fiona Kirkpatrick-Parsons, national advisor/ká-nákanít for Deloitte Indigenous, shared the song as part of her land acknowledgement and welcome offered in both nîhithawîwin, or Woodland Cree, and English.
Perhaps without realizing she was even doing it, Kirkpatrick-Parsons set the tone for the day simply by showing up as her full self: A Woodland Cree woman and member of Lac La Ronge First Nation, Treaty 6, as well as a respected pillar of the Halifax business community. Kirkpatrick-Parsons beamed as she shared her personal experience learning her mother’s language.
“Today marks the first time I’ve said that many words in my nîhithawak language in public,” she said.
As the conference moved through the morning under the warm guidance of host and moderator Ann Divine, CEO of Ashanti Leadership Services and a longstanding voice for equity in Nova Scotia, it became clear the small matter of Zoom wasn’t going to get in the way of networking. All morning, the chat feed was alive with introductions, compliments, questions and connections.
Of the 390 women in attendance, 150 received complementary tickets through the Chamber’s partnerships with African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent (DPAD), Unlooweg, BBI, ISANS, CEED, Reachability, Junior Achievement, Women Unlimited, the Youth Project, HFX Pride, My East Coast Experience, and Edunova. A number of tickets also went to university students.
“We know it’s been a long, hard year on Zoom,” Divine acknowledged, noting the tremendous impact COVID has had on women, particularly women from equity-entitled groups. “Women today are still primary caregivers for children and the elderly, we still do most of the housework… and we manage the unpaid work. We lack access to capital and the pandemic has amplified these structural barriers.”
She ended her introduction with a call to action: “We are done talking about inequalities. It’s time for us to get to work.”
The keynote was delivered by Dr. Ingrid Waldron, associate professor in the Faculty of Health at Dalhousie University, director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health Project (The ENRICH Project), and Flagship Project Co-Lead of Improving the Health of People of African Descent at Dalhousie’s Healthy Populations Institute. Waldron is known for her ground-breaking book about environmental racism in Nova Scotia, There’s Something in the Water, and the documentary by the same name produced by Elliott Page.
When you embrace self-acceptance and authenticity over perfection, you are already a wonder woman.”
“Always stay open and say yes to new ideas, opportunities to meet new people…, opportunities to learn new skills even if you fear getting it wrong,” Waldron said. “While it is true that it may take you longer to get where you want to go because of your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, immigrant status, and other social factors, don’t allow those issues to stop you in your tracks.
“Create your own blueprint,” she said. “Get out of your own box and push past the limitations others have put on you and you have put on yourself. And for all the wonder women listening today, tap into your superpower… the reason you were put on this earth, the things you do better than anyone else, your specific genius, your thumbprint, your brand, your secret sauce.”
With that, we were off to Workshop 1: Goals Gone Wild, with Lisa Weatherhead, Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation; Liz LeClair, QEII Foundation; Sarah Lyon, Alzheimer’s Society; and Marni Tuttle, Nova Scotia SPCA. As part of a collective of women leaders in the not-for-profit sector, they’re on a mission to help women overcome the biases and barriers holding them back.
The workshop focused on creating a network based on shared success, with such messages as:
- One of the most powerful ways women can help themselves and each other, effective networking means surrounding yourself with close connections who will “amplify you, challenge you, and give you the inside scoop.”
- When you find that group of women to sponsor and advocate for you? Get comfortable with praise. Reiterate, repeat, and give credit. Acknowledge successes. Be generous. Be accountable to friends and peers.
“Shift your thinking to the bigger issues, like Black Lives Matter,” LeClair said. “We may not all have experienced systemic racism personally, but we all have a role to play in changing the way the system works… A rising tide lifts all boats. We know the system is based on biases, and that hard work will only get you so far.”
In Workshop 2: Perfect Imperfection, Champion Foundational Change Agency founder Ann-Marie Flinn got us thinking about how hard we can be on ourselves. Flinn describes herself as a “recovering perfectionist.” This is something a lot of us can relate to, but when women focus on being perfect, they can get trapped in a vicious cycle of anxiety, depression and self-doubt.
“What would you do if fear, self-judgement and perfectionism were not in your life?” she asked. “How do you thrive in a perfectly imperfect world? It’s not about giving up on your goals, but giving yourself a little bit of slack. The only thing I can control is my own mindset and outlook. Follow your values… When you embrace self-acceptance and authenticity over perfection, you are already a wonder woman.”
Armed with a stronger resilience muscle (“Resilience is a process, not an end state,” Flinn said), attendees were ready for The Whole Truth Panel, starring Fiona Kirkpatrick-Parsons; Tova Sherman, CEO of ReachAbility; Nicole Johnson-Morrison, then president and CEO of EduNova; Martha Casey, CEO of Volta; and moderator Ann Divine.
The talk turned immediately to the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on women, how women are showing up for themselves and each other, and what we need more of.
“Across the world, many times I’m on Zoom calls… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a male counterpart balancing childcare,” Johnson-Morrison said. “Women are talking to me, balancing babies on their legs. This is affecting diverse women so much more because their support systems are impacted.”
When she witnessed a woman CEO leading a Zoom meeting while caring for her three-year-old, Kirkpatrick-Parsons decided to name what she saw, saying during the meeting, “Can I just call this out? This is a superwoman you’re talking to… We are watching something phenomenal: a woman at work right now! No one really understands how hard this is. Don’t make apologies, we’re showing our power by being who we are.”
Johnson-Morrison wants to see organizations move beyond policy to operationalization when it comes to issues around women and diversity.
“It’s the values; what are the things we’re embedding in our children, our organizations, in youth? What are we saying to them when they look to us for leadership? Understanding who you are and what your voice is and what your platform can be is critically important. It’s not enough to have leaders with top-down policies.”
As a woman of colour, she said, “Some colleagues don’t see me in a leadership role… but that is learned and we can change that. What is the place of a woman? A person with a disability? A person who is LGBTQ? Indigenous? We have an opportunity to have a voice and speak out. The impact you can have on the lives of people you will never meet is fantastic.”
Tova Sherman wants every woman to find her resilience.
“I live with ADHD, depression, anxiety disorder. We’ve been beat up, we’ve got stigma, not just from others. We experience self-stigma: we hear it, we believe it, we buy into it. We must look in that mirror and say: I am resilient, I care, I am important… I want every woman here today to ask herself: What are my values, what matters most to me, and how are we going to find those in this world? Tough is a beautiful word. I have to be tough… there are many things I cannot do, but there’s plenty I can do.”
“Every single person… has a responsibility to use whatever platform they have to stand up and say what’s right and what’s wrong,” Casey said. “Take action, consult with community, understand what people need, and partner. Until there is a new [boardroom] table, we have to be very deliberate about bringing people along, lifting people up, be conscious of who we’re inviting, give other people profile. That’s how we can support women of all generations.”
In her last, resonant remarks, Kirkpatrick-Parsons said something pretty radical.
“What our workplaces really need is for all of us to be exactly who we are… The moment anyone stands in their power, others can’t help but notice. Speak the truth; others cannot turn away from it.”
Wake up. Daylight is coming.