Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

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The glass ceiling is a term used to describe the invisible boundaries in careers and personal lives that keep women from pushing through restrictions to embrace their full potential. Perspective Magazine is taking a look at a few of the women of Kingston who are leading the charge, earning the city the title of Canada’s Top City for Women.

Debra Rantz
Director of Education, Limestone District School Board


What do you love about working in Kingston?
There is a collaborative climate in Kingston, acknowledging that we need to come together to grow our next generation of citizens. I also value the kind individuals across all industries that provide me with the professional mentorship and friendship.

Kingston as Canada’s top city for women?
Kingston is a wonderful place to live and work. There is always a moment of pride when the city in which you live is highlighted positively. As far as it being a top city for women, it is a safe place with great health care, leisure, and cultural opportunities. However, the report does point out that there is still room for improvement.

Karen Cross
Executive Director, Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce

Kingston as Canada’s top city for women?
As someone who has just recently become the first female leader of the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce since 1841, shouldn’t she be surprised? It’s a great city with a variety of opportunities for women whether it be for work, volunteering or simply enjoying life.

Tell us about your mentors.
Sue Menzies was Vice-President operations when I worked for Tabi International and she put me on my road to success. She demonstrated a leadership style I had never seen before. She gave me the confidence to grow and pushed me to work outside my comfort zone. With her guidance and tutelage my career took off.

Favourite places to spend time in Kingston?
Don’t ask me to pick a favourite, there are so many great places in Kingston!

Lanie Hurdle
Interim Chief Administrative Officer, City of Kingston

Tell us about your work style.
I like to work in collaboration. I can’t see how I can do my job daily without working with several different agencies, organizations, and businesses in the city. It’s about working together to make the city better.

Why do you love working in Kingston?
I’ve worked in municipal governments in two other communities. Kingston has people who are very engaged in the community and that’s something I didn’t see as much of in those other communities. The size of Kingston makes it quite interesting and unique for me.

Advice to women who are looking to lead?
Make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. You’re going to have to work hard, and you will have to deal with a lot of difficult situations.

Lynn Carlotto
General Manager, Leon’s Centre

What are you doing to help develop female leaders?
I never had a working female leader to look up to. Instead, it was my father. In turn I learned all about working from a guy that was focused on ability, not gender. I suppose I internalized that sort of judgment early on and subsequently never saw myself as a female in a man’s world. The natural evolution for me was in establishing a work culture that is neither female nor male. If I can lead a purely merit based organization I trust that both the women and men I work with will take gender neutral expectations forward with them.

Advice to women looking to lead?
Go out there and do it. You know yourself, and you have your own inner compass. If you have outside support, great – but don’t expect it. You don’t really need it. Don Henley’s song “I Will Not Go Quietly” has always been my work theme song. We have the intelligence, the ambition, and purity of intention to follow our dreams. People will try to knock you off that path for reasons that have everything to do with them and nothing to do with you.

Antje McNeely
Chief of Police, Kingston Police

Who are your mentors?
My parents have been strong role models for me. They instilled in me the importance of striving to be the best that you can be, having a positive outlook, and the value of ongoing education over a lifetime. When I was hired in 1985 with the Kingston Police, I had the good fortune of Sgt. Linda Paul taking me under her wing. Her grit and determination was apparent as she was part of the first class of female officers to attend the Ontario Police College for recruit training, and was the first woman to be promoted to sergeant.

What is your leadership philosophy?
It’s very important to ensure that who you are and the decisions you make are not guided by emotions and ego but rather what’s best for the situation at hand. This includes surrounding yourself with people who have diverse and unique perspectives, working in collaboration with others, and holding true to your core value.

Bhavana Varma
President and CEO, United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington

What do you love about working in Kingston?
When I moved here 20 years ago to help the local United Way organization, it was struggling. I thought I would be here a few months, help to fix things up, and then fly away like Mary Poppins. I ended up staying. It’s home now. I love our community. It’s the perfect size, and it’s full of connected, caring people. Through our partnership with so many amazing agencies, companies, and governments, we have all come to understand we’re in it together. When we help each other, we’re helping our family, friends, and neighbours.

Favourite quote on life or leadership?
I often share this quote with our volunteers, from the Bhagavad Gita: “Do your duty and don’t worry about the results”. I can only do so much, but I don’t control the end result.

Advice to women seeking to lead?
Be confident. In India it was, in some ways, easier. I didn’t experience microaggressions, minimizing, or different expectations because I was a female leader. When I came to Canada I had to learn the art of observing, and communicating a bit differently.

Megan Knott
Executive Director, Tourism Kingston

What’s a favourite quote on life and leadership?
Babe Ruth said, “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.” In order to survive, you roll with the punches, you take your knocks, but you keep showing up. Each day presents new opportunities, new tasks, new priorities, and a new perspective, but you have to hold onto your strategy.

What do you love about working in Kingston?
In order to be a passionate and engaged leader, you must believe in the product. This comes easily for me as Kingston is my community. I wouldn’t want to do what I am doing anywhere else. We created the tagline “Fresh Made Daily” because you won’t have the same experience twice in Kingston. Everything is constantly evolving. We pride ourselves on that.

If you’re heading out for a coffee or a night out in Kingston, where are you heading?
Kingston offers an amazing assortment of coffee shops and I probably visit three of them a day. They are an important part of the local vibe. I don’t have a favourite – I just love to support local. With so many great restaurants, it’s impossible to name just one. Since I have young kids, you might find me at 4 o’clock at Harpers Burger Bar.

Donna Gillespie
CEO, Kingston Economic Development Corp.

Favourite quote?
“Just deal with that calmly, with style and grace”. You never know what obstacles or opportunities lie ahead, but you need a level head and to always take the high road. It also reminds me we have to play nice, have patience and a plan. Which is important because I’m one of the most impatient people I know.

Who are some mentors that have played a formative role in your journey?
My first job out of Queen’s was working at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre with Jeri Harmsen, the education officer. She taught me the importance of communicating clearly and recognizing people’s different learning styles. That has served me well in my current roles as I consider how different groups or investors respond to how information is presented. I am also still haunted by her green editing pen! She instilled in me the importance of attention to details.

Advice for women seeking to lead in the future?
Surround yourself with smart, awesome people. Ask for advice. Listen.

Favourite stops in the Kingston area?
I love the independent restaurants that source local food and the vibrant downtown core. Being near the water offers stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming. Frontenac Provincial Park is also an absolute gem for hiking just 30 minutes north of the city

Cathy Szabo
President and CEO, Providence Care Hospital

What have you done to support women as leaders?
One of the most important things in your career as a female leader is to help those behind you seeking to progress. A lot of that comes through education and networking. Yet what I found, coming to Kingston from Toronto, is that people here participated strongly at a local level but didn’t branch out to the provincial or federal levels, so I have tried to promote those opportunities within our organization.

Advice to future women leaders?
Showing up, participating, and taking a risk is critical. Don’t just be present – you have to contribute. When you do that, you’ll find your opinion is valued. Work to the greater good for the whole of Kingston, your clients, or whoever you are representing.

Quote or favourite book?
A favourite quote is on my iPhone and I refer to it every once in a while. “Never explain, never retract, never apologize. Just get the thing done and let them howl.”—Nellie McClung.