In March 2017, Aileen Virola, Managing Director, GMR Marketing; Carolyn Ray, Managing Director, Interbrand Canada; and Anika Latif, Principal, Daggerwing Group (left to right, above) joined forces with Omnicom Group to create a new Omniwomen Canada chapter. We spoke with the Omniwomen Canada Steering Committee about their plans to provide access and inspiration to their colleagues at Canada’s Omnicom agencies, and be a catalyst for leadership development.
What inspired you to bring Omniwomen to Canada, and when did you launch the new chapter?
We met at Omnicom University’s Advanced Management Program (AMP) last year. At the program, we were inspired by Omnicom Group Executive Vice President Janet Riccio, who is Dean of Omnicom University and Chair of Omniwomen globally, and the tremendous work that she was spearheading to create strong women leaders across the Omnicom network.
We asked ourselves: “How can we organize an effort for women to feel as empowered and inspired as we have been?” When we met Carolyn a few months later and learned of her passion and interest in helping women develop their careers, things just clicked and we became immersed in driving this intiative forward.
We launched the Canadian chapter at International Women’s Day in support of the theme of “Be Bold for Change.” We were thrilled that over 120 women (and men) from across all our 30-plus Omnicom agencies in Canada attended the panel discussion and reception. It was very exciting for us!
What’s the mission of Omniwomen Canada, and how does it differ from other chapters around the world?
We had a common purpose that brought us together. We want to effect positive change for women at our agencies. We want to see more women in leadership roles, more talented women in the pipeline for leadership and more women staying within the Omnicom network.
These core ideas went in to developing our mission—to serve as the catalyst to increase the influence and number of women leaders throughout the Omnicom network in Canada by bringing them together in an open and supportive environment for networking and learning. Through this robust and connected network, we want to inspire, empower and support one another to reach our full leadership potential and drive improved business impact.
We’re very inspired by what we’ve seen in the UK and US chapters, which have been around since 2015, creating events and forums where future female leaders find inspiration and mentorship. These chapters have been tremendously successful in fostering an environment where women feel they do not need to conform to “traditional” leadership stereotypes to be successful, but instead can be themselves, bringing their own leadership skills and attributes to our companies.
Is the focus of this group solely on women or can anyone participate?
Ultimately, we want to help advance the careers of both women and men. This is not solely a women’s issue, but rather a strategic business imperative. Companies that have diverse, inclusive management teams and boards financially outperform those who don’t. The best investment we can make is in our own human capital.
Here in Canada, because Canadians are naturally inclined to embrace diversity, we look forward to developing innovative programming that will partner our Canadian colleagues with mentors and role models who will help them become confident, supportive and inclusive leaders. We’re very fortunate to have Dianne Wilkins, CEO of Calgary-based digital firm Critical Mass, as the local sponsor and mentor for our group.
So what’s next for the Canadian chapter?
We’ve spent the summer engaging with the leaders of our Omnicom businesses, ensuring we have leadership support and learning about best practices from our other chapters. We’ve also been actively recruiting our board members and committee members, and are so honoured by the group of passionate, committed women who have volunteered to lead our marketing, communications, sponsorship and programming efforts.
Our first priority, based on the survey feedback we’ve had so far, is to focus on mentoring and coaching. We’ll be starting with a speed mentoring event on September 18, where our members can meet with strong women leaders in an informal setting. Luckily, both Aileen and Carolyn are leadership coaches, and we have many strong women across our network that will participate. Participants have the opportunity to exchange ideas, insights, information and experience with senior leaders in the communications industry.
How will you measure success?
We feel strongly that this is an opportunity to collaborate across our firms on one of the most important issues we’re facing today—recruiting, developing and retaining great leadership talent.
We have big dreams for the Canada chapter. We’re planning four major events across Canada, starting with Toronto and growing to other cities by the end of 2018. We aspire to have engaged base of 250-plus active members and subscribers to the Omniwomen Canada group—and perhaps most exciting—have an all-Canada summit with incredible, inspirational speakers in 2018. Of course, all of this is being done with volunteers, so we will be seeking sponsorship from our participating agencies as we grow.
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