These are just some of the words that come to mind when describing the 2019 Women & Girls Leadership and Sport Conference hosted over two days by York University. The brainchild of Jennifer Neilson, Head Coach of York University's Women's Volleyball Team, it was clear that the power of many was on display. Almost 150 attendees took in two days of keynote speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions that focused on and around this year's three primary themes: resiliency, leadership and breaking barriers.
For the presenters, panel participants and session facilitators, their focus on bringing their own lived experiences was a key feature of many of the Conference's conversations throughout the 2-day event. A focus on the personal also enabled many of the young athletes, students, and sport leaders in attendance to experience first-hand the stories behind the journeys taken by exceptionally talented and successful women as athletes, sport administrators and business leaders. The Conference keynote speakers included:
Kaillie Humphries - a three-time Olympic bobsleigh medal winner, World Cup bobsleigh champion, Canada's top athlete for 2014 and leading the way in creating new competitive opportunities for women at the World Cup level for the sport of bobsleigh; (@Bobsledkaillie & @kailliehumphries)
Kristine Drakich - the current University of Toronto Varsity Blues Women's Volleyball Head Coach (a position she's held for 30 years), her involvement in the sport of volleyball in various provincial, national and international capacities and success as a national level volleyball athlete;
Sandra Levy - a two-time Olympic and Pan American Games field hockey athlete and current her role as Vice President, Human Resouces at RioCan, Canada's largest real estate investment trust.
Friday's afternoon agenda began with a very insightful question and answer panel discussion moderated by York University Athletics and Recreation Executive Director Jennifer Myers and featured three women who have a depth of experience leading and breaking barriers as both athletes and professionals. The panel participants included:
Sarah Nurse - Women's National Hockey Team Member, Olympic Medal Winner and former CWHL Professional Hockey Player
Leslie Dal Cin - Chair, Queen's University Athletics & Recreation
Melanie Witzell - Founder and Agency Director, Mad Hatter Technology
Their discussion addressed key issues that need to be addressed by all parties invested in sport if a significant impact is to be made on the future growth of female sport leaders. The panelists recognized that sport is an effective environment in which to nurture leaders and is a key place where women can come together to lift each other up. Together, women in sport can help each other build the confidence, connectedness and commitment required to move the notion of sport leadership well past its tradional gendered notions of what makes a good leader.
The panelists also recognized the challenges still faced by women in the sports world. These challenges included the strength and entrenchment of these gendered beliefs and attitudes that make it difficult for women to be considered for leadership roles. Indeed, they acknowledged that it's vital that women have a strong sense of self if they are to feel confident and competent to take on key roles of responsibility and to see themselves as leaders.
Conference attendees were given the opportunity to drill down on some of the bigger issues and ideas around leadership that were addressed in the keynote presentation and panel discussion. Facilitators of each session provided participants with hands-on exercises designed to apply real-life, everyday experiences to help build a better understanding of resiliency, self awareness, self expression, inclusion, community and leadership.
Lots of opportunity was given to Conference participants to have the chance to meet and greet with each other as well as network with some key organizations that place a high priority on creating supportive and sustainable initiatives designed to celebrate female role models and increase the number of female leaders in sport. Organizations including the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), Fast and Female, and the Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO) were on hand to introduce and discuss many of these initiatives focused on increasing the number of females in sport leadership.
The 2nd Annual Women's & Girls Leadership and Sport Conference hosted by York University's Athletics and Recreation Department is an important part of the efforts required to ensure that women are well represented in the world of sport leadership. The visionary efforts of Jennifer Neilson and the tireless support of many people around Jennifer, including her volleyball team players, with this year's Conference means that the female athletes of today can have a front row seat to what it means to be a leader in sport and make real progress in ensuring their ability to be successful sport leaders of tomorrow.
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Blog and photos by Caroline Wiley. Gallery photos #10 - #15 were generously provided by York University Athletics and Recreation.
Caroline is the Founder of SeeWhatSheCanDo. Her world has always revolved around sport. Caroline's passion is moving, doing and photographing the active moments all around her. When she’s not making plays on the ice or actively exploring the world with her family, she can be found researching her genealogical history and immersing herself in all things Cornish.
If you are interested in receiving additional information regarding the Women and Girls Leadership and Sport Conference, please contact Jen Neilson, Head Coach, Women’s Volleyball directly. Her contact information is as follows:
YORK UNIVERSITY • 4700 Keele Street, Toronto ON • Canada M3J 1P3 • T 416.736.2100, ext 77202 C 416.709.3239
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