In 2024, I’m focusing on advocating for myself and others to make positive change.

When I joined my first board in 1999, I had every reason to be nervous. I was relatively young for a board member, I had no previous governance experience, and—as was common at the time—I was the only woman around the table.

But I wasn’t nervous. At least, not much. Why? Because, in many ways, I had been preparing for this moment for my entire career.

As a young Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), I learned early on to advocate for myself, speaking up to access opportunities and advance my professional career. Not only did I act as my champion, but others advocated for me, too. Throughout those pivotal years, colleagues, business leaders and mentors spoke up on my behalf and offered support to help me grow in my career.

On reflection, it’s become clear to me that advocacy—that is, advocating for myself and others advocating on my behalf—has been essential to my success. It has built my confidence, developed my voice, and opened doors for me professionally. That’s why I chose advocate as one of #my3words for 2024.

Inspired by writer Chris Brogan, I choose three words each year to guide my decisions over the next twelve months. In selecting the word advocate this year, I’m committing to advocating for myself and others. Advocacy can be a powerful tool for positive change, promoting justice and supporting equality by ensuring every voice is heard.

Advocating for oneself involves standing up for yourself first while advocating for others, which entails supporting and championing the rights, concerns, and voices of those who may be unable to do so themselves. Whether advocating for oneself or others, it’s essential to approach each situation with empathy, understanding and a commitment to making meaningful progress. Effective advocacy can promote empowerment, awareness and positive change; it’s one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal.

Advocating for myself

Focusing on well-being

Twice a week, my personal trainer, Laura, comes to my condo gym. She coaches me through a series of workout regimes focusing on my legs, upper body and overall body while I try my best to keep up. She pushes me outside my comfort zone, but I know staying strong and healthy is important. Thank you, Laura, for your encouragement and support over the last few years; you inspire me!

I stay committed to walking, practicing yoga and weight training regularly because I see honouring my health as one way of the ways on how I advocate for myself, along with sleeping and eating well. When I recognize and assert my well-being, rights and aspirations, I advocate for meaningful improvements in my life.

Learning and staying curious plays a role here, too. I carve out at least an hour each day to either listen to LumiQ podcasts or read up on the latest trends in governance, ESG and leadership. I’m advocating for my self-improvement and growth by committing to continuous learning.

Embracing your self-worth and speaking up for justice

In November, just before I ascended the stage to accept the 2023 Ruth Unrau Legacy Award from The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, someone asked me if I was nervous. As part of the award celebration, I was asked to deliver a 10-minute speech in front of 550 guests.

“No,” I told them simply. Once again—as in my first boardroom experience—I felt prepared. This time, it was because I knew my civic duty was to elevate the next generation of women by advocating for their economic empowerment and financial freedom.

Although the speech was longer than I’m accustomed to giving, I felt confident. Why? My convictions fueled me. I understood that I was on that stage not only to accept an award, but to share my passion for governance and board diversity, a passion rooted in my experiences as a woman serving on corporate boards. I know firsthand what it’s like to be the only woman in the boardroom, and I understand the significance of getting more women on boards, knowing what it will mean for advancing equality, justice and good governance.

I was humbled to be celebrated as a trailblazer who broke barriers and created a legacy of transformation and empowerment. But I was also grateful to speak to a large audience about elevating women in leadership roles.

Advocating for others

Committing to making meaningful progress

In 2015, I founded Women Get On Board Inc. (WGOB), a social-purpose company committed to elevating the next generation of women corporate directors. Our mission is to connect, promote and empower women to serve on corporate boards with confidence and courage.

When WGOB was selected this year as the CWE 2023 Gala award winner in the Gender Equality in the Workplace category in recognition of the company’s work to elevate women in senior leadership roles and get more women on corporate boards, it marked a special moment in that journey. It was recognition of years of advocacy—of striving to uplift women and equip them with everything they need to get on a board and succeed as a director.

 With more than 850 members across Canada, we are proud to build the next generation of women in the boardroom, one woman at a time. We believe in the power of three: one woman in the boardroom is a token, two is a presence, and three is a voice.

Beginning with empathy and understanding

I spend much of my time meeting with women leaders to understand their challenges and identify opportunities to make an impact. To begin the conversation, I always ask what motivates them and where they are in their board journey. The leaders I meet are extremely accomplished, many with decades of experience on boards and in C-suites, so they have countless stories and lessons to share. Every time I connect with one of these women, they inspire me.

During a meeting last year, a WGOB member told me about her challenges as a board chair. Her description of her struggles and her search for peers with whom she could share ideas and ask questions sparked an idea for me. What if we created a peer-to-peer forum for women leaders who chair or vice-chair boards?

Our team sprang into action, launching our first WGOB Chairs Forum in February 2023. The cohort filled up rapidly, with 11 women chairs and vice-chairs signing up to join the interactive discussions over 10 months (the first three sessions were virtual, and the most recent was an in-person dinner get-together).

“The WGOB Chairs Forum is an excellent opportunity to exchange experiences and learnings about being a board chair with other women from across the country. The perspective and wisdom of these leaders are truly inspiring. The WGOB Chairs Forum provides a platform for discussion on the unique role and duties of the board chair but also builds a network of like-minded colleagues for support and encouragement for many years to come,” Patricia McLeod, Board Chair & Corporate Director, Lawyer and Compliance Officer, told us.

Fostering mentorship

Mentorship is a powerful form of advocacy. At WGOB, we’ve witnessed how it can be a tremendous force for good, equipping women with key tools, advice and relationships for their board journeys. That’s why we launched our WGOB Mentorship Program in 2021 to promote women leaders and accelerate their board careers.

We match aspiring women corporate directors (mentees) with accomplished leading and serving women corporate directors (mentors) to elevate their board effectiveness and advance their journey to a corporate board seat. As part of the WGOB Mentorship Program, participants receive resources, guided mentoring, and lessons from experienced women corporate directors.

“I am privileged to be a part of Women Get on Board and their [Women Get On Board] Mentorship Program, which helped lead me to my new [board] role. The coaching from such fabulous inspirational women has been instrumental in accelerating my board readiness and confidence,” Barbara Boyd, CFO and Corporate Director told us after participating in the program as a mentee.

After witnessing the initial success of our program, it occurred to me that mentorship can have just as great an effect—maybe greater—on younger women. That led me to approach my alma mater, Brock University, in 2022 with a proposal for a new mentorship program for women leaders.

Since then, the Deborah Rosati Women in Leadership Mentorship Program has supported two cohorts of women by matching them with quality mentors from the university community. The program is designed to create and sustain an inclusive mentoring community that fosters diversified knowledge, offers opportunities to learn from colleagues and creates meaningful connections across the campus and beyond. Through my gift, the university was able to launch a program that serves not only to enable and motivate women leaders at Brock but also to encourage established women leaders to invest in the next generation. It’s an act of advocacy in which I take great pride. After all, I can see its ripple effect, inspiring women of various ages and backgrounds to advocate for each other.

Promoting empowerment, awareness and positive change for a better tomorrow

I have always been a proponent of women entrepreneurs. But without access to the same level of funding, women founders lose their ambition to go big. Many do not need more mentoring or coaching; they need access to funders who will invest in their vision, conviction and bold ideas.

That inspired me to collaborate with my colleagues Lara Zink and Sherry Shannon-Vanstone to launch Women Funding Women Inc. (WFW).

Together with a powerful steering committee of women leaders and great corporate partners, we are building the WFW Collective, a collaboration to address the funding gap women founders face in North America.

The WFW Collective is not a fund but a platform, a community, and a mission. It’s a new, powerful channel through which I am committing to advocating for women leaders—this year and beyond.

My call to action

As part of my commitment this year, I’m issuing a call to action to others in my network. I encourage you to join me in committing to advocacy wholeheartedly in 2024. Your dedication to advocacy can bring about positive change and serve as a beacon of hope, lighting the path toward a future in which equity and empowerment are the cornerstones of society. Keep advocating, as your efforts are crucial for creating a world where every voice has the power to affect meaningful change.