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Women Who LEAD

Concordia rebrands Women in Leadership
November 21, 2023
By Ian Harrison, BComm 11

Illustration of a diverse group of stylized people with various skin tones and hairstyles, portrayed in profile. The figures are set against a background of warm pastel colors, conveying a sense of community and inclusivity.

A program recently relaunched by Concordia’s Alumni Engagement team aims to engage, elevate and foster affinity among women graduates of the university.

Named Women Who LEAD — LEAD stands for Learn, Empower, Aspire, Dare — the initiative marks the next chapter of what was previously known as Women and Leadership, a program established in 2016 to encourage alumnae to connect, share professional experiences and expertise.

“I’m very proud of how we were able — particularly through the COVID-19 pandemic — to unite members of the wider Concordia community to advance women’s leadership through conferences, lectures, webinars and other special events,” says Leisha LeCouvie, senior director of Alumni Engagement.

“The efforts of our enthusiastic volunteers and participants helped Concordia earn recognition as a place that encourages and promotes equity, diversity and inclusion, and provided our talented alumnae with a truly phenomenal array of ambassadors, role models, mentors and sponsors.”

The relaunched program will be led by an advisory council whose chair, Christine Lengvari, BSc 72, helped shape the vision of what Women Who LEAD has become.

A major donor to the university, Lengvari, the president and CEO of Lengvari Financial, Inc., was named one of 50 women of influence in Canada’s life-insurance industry in 2014.

Four women stand around a cocktail table, speaking to one another Women Who Lead ambassador Christine Lengvari BSc 72, far right, at a Women in Politics event at Concordia in 2017

In 2017, Lengvari had made a planned gift of $1 million to support scholarships for female students in the Kenneth Woods Portfolio Management Program and to promote research at the PERFORM Centre at Concordia. She has since been honoured for her commitment to her alma mater with the Humberto Santos Award of Merit and the Benoît Pelland Distinguished Service Award.

“I think it’s necessary to promote women and to encourage women to be involved,” Lengvari remarked when her gift was announced. “To be able to give back to the university now — and into the future — is energizing.”

A global community of 116,000

“This is much more than a rebrand,” LeCouvie notes. “This is an opportunity for us to reset and re-evaluate how best to serve and engage with a huge cohort of diverse graduates who are extremely motivated and driven to effect change.

“Wherever we look — across professions and society as a whole — there are women graduates of Concordia at the forefront. And I think our entire community should take pride in that fact.”

Supporting the leaders of tomorrow is at the heart of the program and its outreach initiatives, explains Sylvia Otvos, an Alumni Engagement officer with University Advancement.

“That mission is also being fuelled by our Women Who LEAD Student Bursary fund, which has been generously supported by a group of dedicated volunteers and staff members,” she says. “The idea for the fund was inspired by the stories and experiences of our incredible alumnae and women students, and was created to honour these trailblazers, past, present and future.

“Our donors have given close to $43,000 in total so far, and our Women Who LEAD Shuffle team raises funds for the bursary every year. The award offers financial assistance to deserving students whose performance inside and outside of the classroom shows the kind of promise embodied by the program’s ambassadors and mentors."

No shortage of firsts to champion

A series of webinars served as a de facto launch for Women Who LEAD earlier this year.

On March 23, stories of women in leadership from around the world featured panellists Maria Abi-Habib, BA 06, an investigative correspondent based in Mexico City, tech entrepreneur Fay Arjomandi, BEng 98, design director Ginette Caron, BFA 74, government delegate Isabelle Dessureault, MBA 99, and news anchor Maya Johnson, BA 06.

“We need to make room for different types of leadership,” says Lisa White BA 12, Executive Director of Concordia's Equity Office.

“More than 350 people registered to attend the webinar, making it one of our most successful to date,” says Otvos. “We’ve since hosted others on everything from how to harness the power of storytelling to cultivating better negotiating skills.

More such Women Who LEAD events are planned for the imminent future, adds Otvos. The goal is to strengthen networks in places like Toronto, New York and London, United Kingdom, among others, and complement in-person events — whether in Montreal or elsewhere — with a regular slate of on-campus and online initiatives.

A well-attended panel event held on October 24 on Sir George Williams Campus served as a good example of the program’s reach and potential.

Women Who LEAD: Creating winning teams on and off the playing field” featured Julie Chu, former Winter Olympian and head coach of Concordia Stingers women’s hockey, Tenicha Gittens, head coach of Concordia Stingers women’s basketball, Katrina Monton, BA 17, organizational psychologist and a former member of Canada’s women’s water polo team, and Emmy Fecteau, undergraduate student and member of the Stingers women's hockey team.

Moderated by Jessica Rusnak, BA 10, a sports journalist for CBC Montreal, the panel illustrated that success is about a lot more than gold medals and national championships.

Gittens, one of the first Black women to hold a leadership position in U Sports in Canada, has personified the values of Women Who LEAD ever since she assumed her coaching duties at Concordia in 2015.

“Representation absolutely matters,” Gittens told the CBC in 2020. “I was put in a position where I could hire who I want to. And so I’m going to do my best to give Black people an opportunity. Because they don’t get those opportunities.”

Concordia head coach Tenicha Gittens (seated centre right) led the Stingers to their first appearance at the U Sports national championship in 20 years. Gittens was named the RSEQ Coach of the Year in 2021-22 and served as Assistant Coach for Team Canada is 2023.

A culture of giving back

“What we want to do with Women Who LEAD is offer a combination of professional development via webinars and in-person events that foster connection, mentoring via the university’s successful CU Connect program, and opportunities to engage in philanthropy and build a culture of giving back,” says LeCouvie.

The timing for the platform’s rebranding is auspicious, she adds.

“As we start to execute on plans to celebrate Concordia’s 50th anniversary next year, it’s inevitable that the many milestones realized by our women builders will be proudly underscored.

“There is no shortage of achievements — and firsts — to single out and champion,” LeCouvie remarks. “From faculty deans to Board of Governors chairs and administrators, women have led Concordia since its inception.”

There are currently 17 women on Concordia’s executive team of 29, and three of the university’s four faculty deans are women, she points out.

“From our provost, Anne Whitelaw [BFA 87, GrDip 92, PhD 96], to Dominique Bérubé, our vice-president of Research and Graduate Studies, these leaders are paving the way to a brighter future for Concordia. 

“Importantly, that future is also being shaped by the efforts of women like Manon Tremblay [BA 03], our senior director of Indigenous Directions, and Angélique Willkie, chair of our President’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism.”

As a platform to encourage connection, civic engagement and philanthropy, Women Who LEAD can also count on a long-established track record at Concordia of accomplished women researchers as well as major donors.

The former includes Dajana Vuckovic, Concordia Research Chair in Clinical Metabolomics and Biomarkers, who was recently granted $500,000 by the Government of Canada to improve how certain compounds are measured in the body.

Doctoral candidate Qi Feng recently won a major Quebec prize for her research on microplastic pollution.

What’s more, three faculty members were named to the Royal Society of Canada this year: Nadia Myre, MFA 02, Department of Studio Arts; Angélique Willkie, Department of Contemporary Dance; and Mireille Paquet, Department of Political Science.

A tremendous legacy

Women donors who have recently bolstered the Campaign for Concordia include Miriam Roland, LLD 18, whose $1-million gift, announced this past January, will fund sustainability pilot projects led jointly by Concordia’s Next-Generation Cities Institute and Ben-Gurion University’s Goldman Sonnenfeldt School for Sustainability and Climate Change.

Announced in May 2022, a $1-million gift made by Sandra Chartrand, BA 85, LLD 23, and her husband Alain Bouchard, LLD 23, advanced projects led by the Concordia Arts in Health Centre and Concordia’s Centre for the Arts in Human Development.

These stories — and the stories of alumnae like Samira Nasr, BA 93, the first Black editor to lead Harper’s BAZAAR, and Mandy Gull-Masty, BA 06, BA 08, Grand Chief of Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee — will greatly contribute to the development and success of Women Who LEAD.

“We have a tremendous legacy to draw from, and a new generation of dynamic, progressive alumnae who are breaking down barriers,” says LeCouvie.

“We’re really excited to show what Women Who LEAD can accomplish for the Concordia community.” 

Meet six women who lead

As part of the promotional launch for Women Who LEAD, testimonials and words of wisdom from six standout alumnae leaders were recorded for Concordia’s social-media platforms (see @ConcordiaAlumni).

  • Farah Ahmad, MBA 07, president, Life Sciences
    “We always hear about confidence, but I think an even more important quality [for leadership] is empathy.”
  • Ruma Ahmed, BEng 22, analyst, CHUM (Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal)
    “Be open-minded and be curious. Trust in your own abilities and embrace risks and challenges, no matter what.”
  • Rana Ghorayeb, BA 97, MEng 01, president and chief executive officer, Otera Capital
    “I think it’s important to listen to the people around you. It’s extremely important to be curious and to always want to learn.”
  • Stacey Masson, BA 00, vice-president, Marketing and Communications, The YMCAs of Quebec
    “The qualities of a great leader are pretty simple. You need to have vision, optimism and strong communication skills.”
  • Salomé Villeneuve, BFA 20, filmmaker
    “Trust your instincts and follow your intuition, even if it doesn’t seem rational. Be passionate and willing to fail.”
  • Lisa White, BA 12, executive director, Equity Office, Concordia
    “We need to reflect on what we think leadership is, how gendered those notions are, and then make room for different types of leadership. Developing a skill set that’s robust and multifaceted is of benefit to everyone.” 
Learn more about Concordia's Women Who LEAD program

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