“A new way of thinking about leadership.”

As a graduate of the Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute, Sylvia Wootten strives to empower the women who she works with and serves at the Newcomer Centre of Peel. By Sylvia Wootten.

Since time immemorial, women’s strength has been our ability to share knowledge and empower one another. As we work toward gender equality, we need women to believe in their ability to take on leadership roles and excel at them. And the sharing of that leadership knowledge is exactly the work being done by the Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute.

When I began the leadership program in May 2014, I wanted a better understanding of leadership—not as a title or a measurement of power, but as a way of sparking change and community development.

These skills were relevant to me as the Manager of Settlement Services at the Newcomer Centre of Peel. I work with many women colleagues, and I work to empower immigrant women who are adapting to life in Canada. Professional development opportunities are few and far between in this sector.

The Institute gave me the opportunity to connect with experts and mentors, explore new leadership methods, and understand the mentality behind women’s leadership tendencies and behaviours. But this was only the beginning. The program taught me a new way of thinking, to better understand the reason ‘why’, as opposed to simply knowing the ‘how’.

We covered topics including social enterprise management, marketing strategy, critical and strategic thinking, and democratic leadership styles. We looked at leadership through a gender lens and identified the leadership qualities we have, and those we need to develop.

Another unique aspect of this program was that it gathered 25 women from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. We were all bound by a common vision: to help make women’s lives in Canada better. We remain connected and continue to advocate on behalf of the women and communities we serve, opening up spaces that were previously closed to us, and ensuring that even the quietest of voices are heard.

The impact of the Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute goes well beyond each participant. It extends into each woman’s organization and community, resulting in very real outcomes.

The Newcomer Centre of Peel and the newcomer community have benefited from new ideas feeding into the expansion of our work. The Institute gave us the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 grant to build capacity for leadership within our organizations. Through the grant, I was able to secure training for all of our management staff to learn about organizational critical thinking and to develop a new strategy to focus on more immigrant women-focused programming.

I’m also using specific skills I learned at the Institute to develop a new initiative in the Peel region. I’m working on forging a partnership that will bridge the gap between mental health service providers and offer more culturally sensitive services to new immigrants and Syrian refugees as they make Canada their home.

As I move forward in my career, I strive to be a part of the age-old tradition of learning, where knowledge is passed from one woman to another. Not at the head, but in the middle. I strive to use my knowledge to empower the staff under my direction, so that they can empower the women that they serve. It is my hope that these immigrant women and colleagues take their place in the chain of learning, and inspire the women who follow them.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute is a three-year pilot project launched in 2012, in partnership with the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The Leadership Institute builds the capacity of emerging and mid-career women in the non-profit sector across the country.