With Canada’s Persons Day just behind us (October 18) and Bring a Girl to CRE Day on November 6, it’s a great time to consider the fantastic women who forged a path ahead for those of you here and now. The women are an interesting mix of writers, artists, journalists, radio host/political leader, activists, labor and women’s advocates, an educational reformer and a poet—to name a few.
These women took a message to those in power to make change in women's status. Isn’t it strange to think that Canadian women were not recognized as “persons” according to their constitution? The Famous Five were the women who led the effort to ensure women did indeed become recognized as “persons.” Their grit and determination changed the political landscape. Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Nellie McClung left a legacy that every Canadian woman benefits from today. And it is important to note that McClung’s earlier efforts led to Manitoba becoming Canada’s first province to grant women the right to vote in 1916. This was 13 years before the ruling on the Persons Case and four years before women in the United States were granted the right to vote!
The June 11, 1938 unveiling of a plaque honoring the Famous Five. (Front row, l-r: Muir Edwards, daughter-in-law of Henrietta Muir Edwards; J.C. Kenwood, daughter of Emily Murphy; Mackenzie King, 10th Prime Minister of Canada; Nellie McClung. Back row: Senators Iva Campbell Fallis and Cairine Wilson) Photo Credit: Eugene M. Finn
Viola Desmond stood up for racial integration as the first black woman to refuse a seat in the segregated area of a movie theater. Desmond, a businesswoman and hairdresser, was dragged from the theater and jailed. Her action was the catalyst for Nova Scotia’s black population to fight for change. Segregation in the province was ended in 1954. It was 10 years later that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in the U.S.
And I really like Julia Verlyn LaMarsh, who was, among other things, a Canadian politician, and became the second female cabinet minister in the House of Commons. During her time as minister of health and welfare and amateur sport from 1963-1965, the Canadian Pension Plan was implemented, and the Canadian Medicare System was designed. She is credited with establishing the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada as well.
Earlier in Canada’s history was a woman named Thanadelthur. A member of the Chipewyan (Dene) nation, she was captured and enslaved by the Cree in 1713. She escaped a year later and arrived at the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) factory post governed by James Knight. He hired her and she became a translator for HBC and eventually was able to negotiate peace between the Cree and Chipewyan for trading purposes.
These are just a few of the many influential women who changed the course of history in Canada. Their legacy lives on in all that women live and experience today in the Great White North. I am in awe of their courage and fortitude in an age where they were not even recognized as “persons!”
While commercial real estate is nowhere near that level of impact, it can be life-changing for young women in all the provinces. It seems a simple ask to bring a girl to work and let her experience your career, learn your impact in the workforce and understand the opportunities for her future. Whether it is your daughter, niece or a friend’s daughter, make it a point to share the influence of commercial real estate in communities and the real placemaking that happens through our industry. The beauty of our business is that there is a need for every skill and passion. Help a girl find hers through a day with you.
At the end of your career, what will your legacy be? Will you have inspired more young women to aspire to careers in commercial real estate? Be the change in the industry that we want to see—more women in the C-Suite. To get them there, you’ll need to start them young and help them grow.
Just take a look at your role models and you’ll be inspired, too.
Wendy Mann is the chief executive officer of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network and president of the CREW Network Foundation.
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