Top 100 winners share: 6 ways we can all be powerful

Power. Is it your physical strength, the amount of money you have or your title within your organization? Or is it the way you give unselfishly, meet adversity with bravery and stand up for others?

“Our mission and challenge to you today is redefining what power means to you,” said Sherri Stevens, Owner and CEO of WXN and CBDC. It’s a call-to-action she shared with all of us during this year’s Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards Summit and Gala at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Nov. 21, 2019.

And to help us all on that mission (should you choose to accept it): our Top 100 Winners, who shared their stories and knowledge with a crowd of over 1,200 women and allies.

So what can we do in our daily lives to be powerful and make that mission a reality? Here are six lessons from our speakers and winners.

  1. Learn it, earn it and return it

Success doesn’t happen in a silo. When one person succeeds, we all succeed, said Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Canada and 2019 Top 100 award winner. Hence her philosophy of “Learn it, earn it and return it” – no matter where you are in your career, if you’ve been blessed with an opportunity, use it to support and uplift those around (and those who follow in your footsteps).

  1. Quit that stinkin’ thinkin’

People fear what they don’t understand, said Victoria LaBillois, a Mi’gmaq entrepreneur, president of Wejuseg Construction, owner of Wejipeg Excavation, mentor for Indigenous women and 2019 Top 100 award winner. That’s why we have to do everything we can to create opportunities for other people, be bold and step into our power.

  1. Know who you’re fighting for

It’s a basic truth of life, said Melissa Grelo, co-host of CTV’s The Social and 2019 Top 100 award winner: we can’t know what we’re fighting for if we don’t know who we’re fighting for. Those of us who have privilege must understand that many of our sisters start their fight from a different level. How do we fix that? Stand next to them, but never in front of them. Help make their voices heard. 

  1. Leave the armour behind

“Can you think of a situation where you’ve seen a leader step out with courage and vulnerability?” asked Jenn Lofgren, founder and executive coach at Incito Executive and Leadership Development and 2019 Top 100 award winner. It starts with understanding what it really means to be vulnerable and accepting (even embracing) that things are going to be uncomfortable sometimes. Now that’s courage.

  1. Break the silence

Samra Zafar, author of A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose and 2019 Top 100 award winner, knows what it’s like to be silent. Married as a teenager to a much older man, abused throughout her marriage and denied access to the education she desperately wanted, Zafar was not alone – there are millions living the life she used to know. That’s why it’s up to us to break the silence for those silences that are yet to be broken.

  1. Think seven generations ahead

Mohawk wisdom teaches us that, in the decisions we make today, we must not focus on the impact to our own grandchildren but rather on our great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren – the seventh generation to come. That philosophy fuels WXN Hall of Fame alumni Roberta Jamieson’s goal of making sure every Indigenous youth graduates school through her organization, Indspire.

Congratulations again to all of our winners, past, present and future – and thank you for sharing your wisdom!

“Powerfully Empowered” isn’t just our theme; it’s our mission

Every year, we pick a theme for our Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards.

It’s a challenging process because the theme represents many aspects of what we do. It reflects who we are as an organization, the accomplishments of our winners, the diversity and inclusion environment as it stands today, the challenges professional women face and the amazing work we’re all doing together to break down barriers for each other.

Picking this year’s theme, “Powerfully Empowered,” was no different. It’s about women who show their power not through their standing, but rather through the way they inspire and champion others, share their knowledge, create change and help others achieve their best. In short, it’s about celebrating women who don’t stand up just for themselves – they stand up for all of us.

As owner and CEO of the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) and the Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC), I often travel across Canada to speak with leaders across roles and industries. Through those conversations, I hear one thing over and over: “I don’t feel comfortable with the word power. I don’t feel powerful.

In fact, for many of us, we’re just plain uncomfortable identifying with the word “power” – we may even feel ashamed of it. We equate it to the car we drive, the office we hold, our physical strength, the money we have or the influence we exert. Some of us even attach negative connotations, especially when it refers to a woman.

Should we stop using the word? Quite the opposite – we should use it more, though in a different way. We need to toss out our old relationship to the word and start celebrating real power.

What is real power? It’s not how we lift ourselves up; it’s how we lift up everyone else around us. It’s quiet in its confidence. It’s unselfish and giving. It’s authentic, humble and honest. It’s kind and joyful. It’s shared, not hidden. It’s brave in moments of adversity and difficulty. It’s pushing forward when you feel like giving up. It’s the way we help other people feel powerful.

When I think of some of our most powerful leaders – leaders like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Michele Obama – I realized they all have these traits.

And so does every one of the 110 winners of this year’s Top 100 Awards. They personify this kind of power, across our country and across arts, business, sports, science, entertainment, entrepreneurship, technology, the skilled trades and the public sector. They’re making an impact in their industry while inspiring and empowering others to follow in their footsteps.

Thank you to KPMG in Canada, an empowering organization, for their support and leadership as the Presenting Partner for the Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards. As with everything they do, KPMG gives 100 per cent of their support to the recognition and advancement of women. They also give 100 per cent in their partnerships and we are grateful.

This year, “Powerfully Empowered” isn’t just a theme. It’s a call to action for all of us to redefine the word “power” itself, to change the way we think about power in our lives and help others feel powerful in theirs.


To learn more about our 2019 Top 100 Awards, presented by KPMG, visit our Top 100 page.

Presenting Partner:

KPMG Top 100 Presenting Partner