Happy International Women's Day: 10 Women to Watch in 2016

Since 1975, many countries around the world recognize March 8th as International Women’s Day, an opportunity for the accomplishments and contributions of women to be acknowledged and celebrated. It’s also a rallying cry for women and their supporters to drive the need for women’s rights and gender parity around the world, especially in countries where women’s rights and parity are not even a blip on the radar. With Canada finishing 30th in a field of 145 countries as reported by 2015’s World Economic Forum, we may have come a long way, baby, but we still have a long way to go. 

It’s especially scary when reporting agencies like the Guardian claim that not only has progress to close the gender pay gap around the world all but stopped since the 2008 economic crash, but according to latest global figures, “it will be more than 100 years before women can expect equal pay with men.”[1]

This kind of information is alarming but all is not lost. The theme of International Women’s Day 2016 is Pledge for Parity, which recognizes the need to renew our commitment to leveling the gender playing field in preparation for the heavy lifting that shifting paradigms and changing views, cultures and societies calls for.

In Canada, we have reason for hope based on our young, social media-savvy Prime Minister’s approach to inducing a more gender-balanced cabinet. When questioned on his choices, he explained simply, “Because it’s 2015”, to which Canadian women and a chorus of their international sisters expressed a hearty amen.

What’s even more inspiring are the paths women are carving for themselves in business, the arts and sciences, technology, medicine – in every field this smart, creative, talented half of the working population situates itself.

In March 2016, WXN: Women’s Executive Network will announce its annual Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100 Award Winners. WXN assembles this list of achievers - women from all walks of life who make significant contributions to their organizations, fields and communities - annually.

In anticipation of 2016’s award winners, and with apologies to last year’s list and a warm welcome to International Women’s Day 2016, we’re identifying 10 women who shine in their chosen fields and are changing the dynamics, behaviour and vocabulary of women in all workplaces. Through their efforts, they’re redefining what success looks like in the personal and professional realms, which doesn’t just impact their own lives, but improves quality of life for everyone. It wasn’t easy to pick just 10 but we tried to reflect a cross-section of sectors, industries and careers.

These are some of the women who caught our attention. We think they’ll grab yours, too.


Victoria Kaspi, Director, McGill Space Institute

This award-winning scientist is the first woman to win Canada’s top science prize, the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, in the 25-year history of the award, for her work on neutron stars.


The Honorable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage

A lawyer, writer, PR expert and former MP, Joly is Justin Trudeau’s Minister of Canadian Heritage, a role her philanthropic and public policy work prepared her for. Her responsibilities in cabinet coves several areas, all of which relate to our Canadian identity and values, culture and heritage.


Christine Sinclair, Soccer Player

Olympic bronze medalist and twelve-time recipient of the Canada Soccer Player of the Year, Sinclair is Canada’s all-time leading scorer. As of February 2016, she ranks second worldwide in all-time international goals scored. She’s a 6-time FIFA World Player of the Year, a Lou Marsh Trophy winner and a Canada’s Walk of Fame inductee.  How will she perform at the Olympics in Rio this summer? We’ll watch for sure!


Jessica Pelland, Executive Chef

At 28 years of age, Pelland runs Calgary’s Charbar restaurant, where she’s an active proponent of the head-to-tail culinary movement. Balancing a family with the 24/7 demands of running a successful restaurant, Pelland’s creativity, combined with her butchering and charcuterie skills, have brought her national attention.


Ashley Callingbull, Miss Universe 2015

The first Canadian and First Nations women to win the title of Mrs. Universe, the stunning Enoch Cree Nation model and actress uses her notoriety to bring attention to the plight of First Nations in Canada., as well as climate and environmental issues. 


Mallorie Brodie et Lauren Lake, Co-Founders, Bridgit

This dynamic duo of business school graduate/entrepreneur and civil structural engineer founded Bridgit, a cloud-based smartphone application that provides tools for construction sites to be more efficiently organized. Brodie and Lake mentor other young women, particularly in previously male-dominated entrepreneurship and construction industries.


Bernadette Wightman, President, Cisco Canada

Wightman was appointed president in 2014, after serving as the company’s general manager in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the other Commonwealth of Independent State countries, all challenging geopolitical landscapes.  


Patricia Gagic, Artist

With only a high school education, Gagic joined her male counterparts in senior level management in the Canadian banking industry at age 25, after which she ran her own successful property management company. An accomplished artist since 1976, Gagic is known and her work represented internationally.  She is equally committed to philanthropic work around the world.


Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta

When Notley was elected Premier of Alberta, this daughter of former Alberta NDP leader Grant Notley formed the first NDP government in the province’s history. As a labour lawyer specializing in workers’ compensation advocacy and workplace health and safety issues, Notley has the skills to deal with the economic and environmental challenges facing the province. 


Wende Cartwright, President & CEO, Savira Cultural + Capital Projects

Considered one of North America’s foremost cultural entrepreneurs, Cartwright works with national and international clients to realize landmark capital projects and signature cultural events. Toronto’s Union Station revitalization and the new Globe and Mail Centre, slated to open in 2016, are among the many initiatives to benefit from her creative concept development and management. Cartwright studied Political Science and Film before graduating from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management.

 What qualities do these women share that make them exceptional?

  • They’re determined, driven, energetic and resolved to succeed.
  • They’re focused, not in a tunnel-vision way, but in a way that allows them to prioritize based on what’s most important to them.
  • They’re ready and open for anything. They don’t wait for opportunities to come knocking - they create it.
  • They’re self-aware – they know who they are and what they want. They use that knowledge to fuel the fire. Their self-awareness gives them clarity and insight to situations and how others function.
  • They have vision. They’re creative thinkers. They think outside the box.
  • They mentor and support young women at every opportunity

We’re inspired by our ’Ten to Watch’ and women like them, not just because of their impressive accomplishments and contributions, but because of the many qualities and traits they bring to the table, to boardrooms, playing fields, computer screens, lecture halls - wherever bright, creative minds and indomitable spirits take wing. 

[1] The Guardian November 18, 2015:  Women will getequal pay … in 118 years; http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/nov/18/women-will-get-equal-pay-in-118-years-wef-gender-parity

about the author

Marie-Noelle Morency - Communications Manager

As long as I can remember, I have always written stories. No matter what I wrote, from little tacky poems to silly mystery fiction, words and images always felt magical and powerful. And today, storytelling is as important as ever, as people crave for authentic emotions and interactions with the world around them. As a content marketer and communications expert, that is my job and my passion to craft stories that matter to job seekers and employers.


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