Vera N. Held, B.A. Eng., Cert. PR., Tesl Cert., M.Ed.
Coach, facilitator, speaker, writer and PR consultant.
Author of international best-seller "How Not to Take it Personally".
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Women are unlocking the secrets to success
Tenacity, determination and the personal touch.

by Vera N. Held

Special to the Star

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."
- Sir Winston Churchill

They still have some distance to go, but the fact is that women are succeeding in droves across Canada, combining valuable skills and abilities with the drive to get things done.

According to Dr. Pat Bradshaw, associate professor of organizational behavior at York University, women who succeed in the workplace are those who they are and what they value. “These women have a deep sense of self and they act authentically,” says Bradshaw.

But it takes more than self-awareness to succeed in today’s world — women who have professionally proven themselves are able to compete because of their skills and knowledge.

York University president Dr. Lorna Marston— one of only nine female university presidents out of a current 90 in Canada—is committed to learning and sees education as crucial to furthering nd a women’s career.

“Hone your critical and objective thinking skills by working with facts and data. These skills will help you interpret the world to discover your place in it,” she advises.

Driven by a love of specialty beverages and capitalizing on Canadians’ insatiable demand for them (63 percent of Canadians 18 and over drink coffee daily, making Canada the world’s 12 th largest coffee consumer), Becky McKinnon has reached a pinnacle still few women in Canada can claim — company president. The 56-year-old president of Timothy’s World Coffees, and a Cup of Excellence international juror, says success comes by learning the balance between using intuition and reason and being able to focus on the long-term as well as the short-term.

“Business isn’t always pleasant—but you have to keep it whole and balanced and bail when something’s not working,” says McKinnon, whose husband and daughter have joined her in the business. “You need your whole team to click to accomplish your goals.”

Madeline Ziniak, vice-president and station manager of Toronto’s OMNI television, says tenacity and being able to learn from one’s mistakes are the keys to success.

“For every one time you attain your goal, there have been five tries, so you must continue to push that envelope and doggedly pursue your dream,” she says.

Without determination, Fran Starr wouldn’t have become Toronto’s first female Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in 1975— an era in which a women wanting a career in law and order found a difficult and lonely environment.

“The men weren’t thrilled to have me and neither were their wives. But I loved to dig and connect all the puzzle pieces,” says Starr who once worked as a bodyguard for former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and now works on contract screening RCMP applicants.

Almost 30 years later, as of May 31, 2003, there were 2570 female RCMP members—16.6 percent of the total force. Starr’s advice to women wanting to make it to the top of their chosen careers is to find support for their aspirations.

“Training in troops gave me incredible fortitude. Strength comes from your support team,” she says.

Sometimes, success is not about overcoming gender barriers and competing with men, but competing with women as well. For instance, Celia Lottridge, children’s author of the 2002 Christie Award-winning The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button and author of 18 children’s books , has found success in a field dominated by women: The majority of Canadian children’s book writers are female.

‘Soft skills’ traditionally associated with women, such as an ability to relate to and empathize with people, are also assets to women’s success. Carole Ogus, who has operated Carole’s Cheesecake Company Ltd. for the past 31 years, and produces 100,000 cheesecakes annually, makes a point of talking to everyone who calls or visits her cafe and plant.

“Entrepreneurs like Ogus, regularly access their traditional sources of female power—their time management, networking and interpersonal skills—to accomplish their goals,” says Bradshaw.

“I listen to my customers to find out what’s important to them,” says Ogus, who is launching a low-carbohydrate cheesecake for her diabetic clientele.

Many women whose efforts have managed to take them to the top of their fields are eager to empower others to dare to follow their ambitions. Lottridge’s advice to women: “Don’t look too narrowly ahead. Look to the sides. A lot of success comes with seeing an opportunity and then acting on it.”