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A journey of empowerment and equality: Celebrating 10 years of Global Affairs Canada’s Women’s Network!

Last October at Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the Women’s Network marked a decade of empowerment and collaboration at its 10th anniversary celebration event. From its inception, the Network has achieved remarkable milestones in promoting women’s leadership, fostering mentorship, building allyship and addressing structural barriers to gender equality. Discover the Network’s journey, successes and challenges as we reflect on its impactful legacy.

How it all started

In 2010, Angela Bogdon, former Consul General to Sydney and first GAC Champion for Women, and Lillian Thompson, former Head of Mission and Dean of the Canadian Foreign Service Institute, began working on a platform to address the challenges faced by women at GAC. By 2013, the Women’s Network was launched in response to the pressing needs for gender equity and better representation of women in leadership roles within the department.

“There was a confidence gap where women were afraid to put their hand up and look for advice,” Angela emphasizes. “The biggest challenge was getting more women promoted to the executive level. The organization had to be employee-driven and employee-led.”

Grace Lee, Sarah Taylor, Sandra McCardell, Marta Morgan, Tara Denham and Angela Bogdan, speakers at the 10th anniversary event in October 2023

The Network’s inception marked a transformative milestone, catalyzing initiatives for women that flourished over the subsequent years.

History in the making

Over the past decade, the Women’s Network has achieved remarkable successes. With over 800 members, it has fostered a culture of support and gender equity. Most notably, it has been instrumental in achieving gender parity in the appointment of heads of mission since 2018. As Marta Morgan, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and first woman to hold this office, pointed out in her keynote address, “We have a responsibility to walk the talk and ensure that capable women in our organization are given opportunities to lead. We’re still marking new milestones. For instance, we named our first woman ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Nadia Theodore, and our first woman ambassador to China, Jennifer May. In 2020, Kristin Hillman became the first woman to represent Canada in our most important bilateral relationship as our ambassador to the United States.”

By 2023, the representation of women among heads of mission had risen to 49%, as compared to 32% in 2015.

Marta Morgan, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaking at the October 2023 event

Sandra McCardell, previous Assistant Deputy Minister of Europe, Arctic, Middle East and Maghreb branch and Champion for Women, highlighted that the Network has also been championing intersectionality by ensuring women from diverse backgrounds have access to equal opportunity. Notably, the Network has organized special events to facilitate networking and the pursuit of professional growth, including an annual speed mentoring event, the Be Her Ambassador initiative, the Courageous Conversation series and the International Women’s Day panel discussions.

Participants at a 2023 speed mentoring event

Progress made, but challenges remain

As Network members consider the future of the organization, the path ahead seems both promising and challenging. There is still work to be done, such as addressing remaining gender imbalances in certain roles, acknowledging disparities in various occupational groups and ensuring the inclusion of locally engaged staff (LES).

“We still have quite a number of senior positions at mission and headquarters which have never had a woman in them,” remarks Tara Denham, Director General of the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion at Global Affairs Canada and current GAC Champion for Women.

The Network also plans to continue harnessing the power of data, with future strategic initiatives set to use data-driven insights to identify gaps and monitor progress.

Brighter days ahead

After over a decade of dedicated action, the Women’s Network, an employee-led group currently under the leadership of Co-Chair Grace Lee, has remained unwavering in its commitment to gender parity and to empowering women from various backgrounds. With achievements in leadership appointments and other mentorship initiatives, members are still aiming for a more inclusive future for women at mission and headquarters. Challenges persist, but the legacy of the past 10 years is driving us to achieve the milestones still ahead.

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