To mark 100 years of International Women’s Day, the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Ryerson University held an event to focus on the theme of “Women in Leadership”. . Jeff Perera was one of the speakers, here is his talk.
Hey Guys…

Hey Ladies…
Now, when I said ‘Hey Guys’,  all of you responded with a ‘Hey’, but when I said Hey ‘Ladies’ …only the women responded?

Now I know what you are going to say, but ‘guys’ is a gender-neutral term. I understand that… when I walk into a room and there are 4 women there and I say ‘hey guys’, they will respond. But if I walk into a room and there are 4 men, and I say ‘hey ladies’, what will be response be?

Why can’t a phrase like ‘hey ladies’ be a gender-neutral? Think of how we value the feminine and women in our society?
I am extremely humbled and honoured to have been asked by the amazing organizers to join you all for this Women In Leadership event on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

Today is a day of celebration around the entire world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Some of you are probably wondering ‘so…. what is a man doing on a panel on women in leadership?’

I am here to send a call to our men, and to our women,  both here at Ryerson and in society, to speak up and speak out and become allies for a change that affects women as well as men.

Women were not even considered persons in Canada, without rights and privileges until 1920’s, in the scheme of things that wasn’t too long ago…so reflect on how society values women today?

In talking about Women in Leadership There are 2 main things I want to mention. The first thing is that clearly there are not enough Women in roles of Leadership.

In a recent talk Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that

Out 190 heads of state worldwide, only 9 are women. 13% of people in parliament across the globe are women. 16% of the top level CEO positions worldwide are women.   The movement for women to enter leadership roles, INCLUDES bursting the stereotypes and fighting the labels. Stereotypes such as the idea that women are not natural born leaders.

When reflecting on this talk, I came across a picture from a campaign rally in New Hampshire for then Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.  The picture was of a man standing in the audience with a huge yellow sign that read. ‘Iron My Shirt’.

I think of political pundits, who during that campaign, rather than focusing on issues and platforms, critiqued Clinton on her style of dress, her face and appearance, the sound of her voice and laugh…in mainstream news media. Political commentator Tucker Carlson had said of Clinton, “There’s just something about her that feels castrating, overbearing, and scary…” We had so-called experts, not comedians, asking if we wanted a women with her finger on the nuclear war button…given ‘moodswings’, being ‘over-emotional’ and ‘irrational behaviour’.

Gendered notions of leadership are embedded in the foundations of our thinking. From families to culture to mainstream culture, we find reinforced ideas that woman are too emotional, aren’t strong willed. And think of how we raise men to be assertive, aggressive and ambitious.

We need to drop the gender roles that limit the humanity of men and the gender constructs that create barriers for women. The reflection off of that glass ceiling gives us a real look at the state of our society.

The 2nd thing I’d like to tell you is that despite all of this…

Quickly, just right off the top of your head think of a female role model that isn’t in your family. At first you might say you need a moment to think of one, but this is based, in part, to what I mentioned before. Think of how we de-value the feminine, how we then de-value women and the work women have done.


Part of breaking the shackles and limitations of gender stereotypes, includes how we value the accomplishments and achievements of Women.

What typically comes to mind when we think about leaders is maybe someone who is dominant and ambitious, embodying qualities that closely match the stereotype of men. What have gender-based labels taught us??

I’d like to talk about some of the things women have taught me…

They have taught me how to be human
to connect to my humanity
to the earth and the world we live in
and how to lead the fight for change.
I think of…

A woman who is a nurse, like the amazing Mary Seacole, how we de-value the work of nurses, a role which is seen as feminine and lesser than a doctor…think of how a nurse can work with a coma patient and tell you were they are experiencing pain…

A woman who works 100 hours a week, between her job and her job raising her son to be a man… is a leader.

A woman like Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Green Belt movement which focuses on battling deforestation in Kenya…. is a leader.

A woman like Black Canadian icon Viola Desmond, who 10 years before Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a bus, refused to leave a ‘Whites Only’ section of a theatre in Nova Scotia and went to jail for tax evasion cause she didn’t pay the ONE CENT difference in ticket cost, She sparked the civil rights movement in Canada… Viola is a leader.

A woman like Vandana Shiva who works to protect nature as well as the rights of people to have access to food, water, dignified jobs and livelihoods ….is a leader.

A woman like Jessica Yee, a Two Spirited multi-racial Indigenous feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter who tirelessly cris-crosses this continent called Turtle Island to fight for change … is a leader.

A woman like Ryerson’s Associate Dean Dr.Wendy Cukier who after the December 6th Montreal Massacre continues to tirelessly fight to preserve women’s right to safety and protect gun control laws.

I think of women students here in the Ted Rogers School of Management.  Women who embrace being a leader.

A woman like Tracy Leparulo is a leader who works tirelessly here in TRSM and across Ryerson…Tracy is a leader. Women like Nasreen Kamal, Rochelle Atizado, Asma Rahman and Christie Oreskovich are leaders. A woman like my White Ribbon co-chair Miranda Hassell is a leader. And women like the organizers for this event, Shannan and Giuliana are leaders.

Gender stereotypes portray women as lacking the very qualities that people commonly associate with effective leadership. Both genders need to be aware of the barriers faced by their female colleagues, which will help to level the playing field.  While women need to show solidarity, be helpful and supportive of another…there is a role men can play too.

What can men do to help expose the myth that “Women are not leaders”?

We all need to encourage and inspire organizations to create gender equitable spaces that maximize the potential of all employees. We all win and benefit from equal opportunities and spaces for leadership.  The first step to engaging men in gender initiatives is to help them recognize that inequality STILL exists in the workplace.  Men often underestimate gender as a barrier for women in the workplace and during conversations with some males, I’ve had to stop and illustrate for them how these issues still exist.

It is also better business: Research tells us that more diverse teams give you better decision making and increased success.  Why is it so difficult to engage men in this change? Some men are reluctant to step up and champion gender initiatives through fear of losing their own status or approval amongst their male peers.

It takes individual acts of courage and leadership to defy injustice and inspire change. So what can we do to help men become engaged in this change? I work to inspire men to become White Ribbon Champions. We can help men understand that by being champions for equality and diversity in the workplace they are gaining more than they are losing.

Start dialogue in your spaces, circles and organizations to seal the gender gaps and go from creating awareness to taking action.

Strong females are called derogative terms, while assertiveness and aggression is rewarded amongst men. It is time to say assertiveness is not masculine, but the trait of a successful person.
Women have and can and will continue to achieve and lead.

Confidence, assert, inspire, influence, encourage, assure, provoke, bond, build, embrace, change

A woman can lead a child
A woman can lead a company
A woman can lead a nation
A woman can lead a movement

seize the moment

change the perception

find your voice

find your inner power

To my brothers, let’s become allies for change and embrace a change that affects us all.

To my sisters,

It is time to


the Leader

in You