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4 Top Female Executives in Traditionally Male-Dominated Industries

The non-parity between Canadian business women and men when it comes to the nation’s boardrooms remains a topic of focus.

The statistics speak for themselves:

  • Only 3.5% of TSX-listed Canadian companies employed a female CEO (July 2019).
  • The proportion of women in senior positions was globally stalled in 2020 at the same percentage (29%) as the year before.
  • Only 72 women are promoted and hired into managerial roles for every 100 men (October 2020).

Arguably, the challenges are even tougher within traditionally male dominated industries. To that end, The Edge casts its spotlight on six Top Canadian female executives. 

Tanya X. Short, CEO Kitfox Games

The presence of female players and developers in the video game space has been a contentious one, at least for sexists. The Gamergate controversy along with the Ubisoft Toronto allegations of sexual harassment. 

Tanya X. Short, CEO of Montreal indie game developer Kitfox Games (Boyfriend Dungeon), has fought back against industry toxicity by advocating for unionization and workplace respect, as well as pushing back against “crunch” (the industry practice of working long hours in the lead-up to a game’s launch). She is also co-director of Pixelles, a non-profit initiative committed to, according to their website, “helping women make and change games.”

Short says the video game industry’s sexism “crept up” on her. 

“I joined a rather gender-equitable team back in 2008, for example, but after five years or so I looked around and saw somehow I was the only woman present at a design meeting of twenty,” she says. “It can still be the case, when I’m attending a meeting of CEOs. Even though I have many years more experience than many of my colleagues in business development or game design, I sometimes struggle to be taken as seriously.”

Carinne Chambers-Saini, CEO DivaCup 

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the menstrual care market (formerly known as “feminine hygiene”) has traditionally been male-dominated. Carinne Chambers-Saini and her mother Francine Chambers changed that by creating the DivaCup, a reusable silicone menstrual cup. They found themselves laughed out of boardrooms, business meetings, and tradeshows in their early years. Now the DivaCup is sold in 35 countries and over 65,000 North American retail outlets. 

“The people running the industry weren’t interested in meeting our needs as people who menstruate, but were interested in maintaining the status quo for period care,” says CEO, Chambers-Saini.

Kitchener-based Chambers-Saini has fought to achieve what she calls “menstrual equity” via the social impact program DivaCares, as well as producing the documentary Pandora’s Box, which explores period stigma globally. In 2019, she received the RBC Women of Influence Trailblazer Award.

“I’ve learned to be unstoppable,” Chambers-Saini says of the opposition she and her mother faced trying to bring the DivaCup to market. “You have to be committed to your idea, so committed that you will stop at nothing to see it manifest into reality. Now, the DivaCup is a globally recognized brand, and the concept of the menstrual cup is a booming industry.”

Mandy Rennehan, CEO & Founder Freshco.ca

Nova Scotia native Mandy “Bear” Rennehan started her trailblazing in the male-dominated blue-collar trades at age 19 when she founded Freshco.ca. According to her personal website, Freshco.ca became Canada’s first “full service, 24/7, on-call retail maintenance provider,” with a reach across Canada and into the eastern U.S. 

Today, Rennehan is an outspoken advocate for the importance of blue-collar jobs in Canada and women’s place within them. “One woman in the trades is an army,” she says. “She comes with a skill set that men don’t possess, and I would know because I am a pilot project that went really right.” 

To that end, Freshco.ca provides annual scholarships for students in Conestoga College’s Women in Skilled Trades (W.I.S.T.) program. 

“We wanted to see more women have the courage to try a trade and we thought the scholarship was the way to go,” she says. 

Katie Smith, Executive Director, Young Women in Energy

No industry in Canada is arguably more stereotypically male dominated than the energy sector. That said, women currently occupy 48% of all positions, according to a 2018 report by PetroLMI. 

One of them is Katie Smith, a Business Development Spartan Controls employee. The young MBA candidate is also the executive director of Calgary-based Young Women in Energy (YWE), a group founded in 2013 by women in the Canadian energy sector supporting other women within the sector. 

“Feeling isolated in this industry is real,” Smith told SheInnovatesAlbert.com. “Many of the women in Young Women in Energy don’t work directly with any other women in their day-to-day roles, it’s still very male dominated.”

“We are developing a community where women support other women and want to increase access to opportunities where decisions are being made, so you’re not the lone wolf walking into the lion’s den.”

YWE hosts leadership development and acumen sessions, a book club, its own golf league, and a two-day summit for its 4,500 members. Smith also mentors other young women interested in entering the energy sector.

Sean Plummer | Contributing Writer

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