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10th annual Women in Leadership Spotlight Dinner

Photo courtesy of Nick Pearce
Photo courtesy of Nick Pearce

by Kirk Jessome

Finding role models that lead with compassion and empathy was the theme of the evening at Thursday night's 10th annual Dalhousie Tigers Women in Leadership Spotlight Dinner. 

Each year, the event highlights the success of student-athletes and alumnae both in sport, and in the community. The event is run by, and is in support of the Tigers women’s basketball and volleyball teams. 

Student-athlete emcees began the night with opening remarks and the introduction of Dalhousie's executive director of Athletics and Recreation, Tim Maloney as the first speaker. 

Maloney spoke to what a great experience the event is for all involved, at his table and in the room, to see the success of women as people, student-athletes and leaders who draw inspiration to shape their futures. 

Following Maloney, two members of the audience were introduced for their milestone accomplishments in the world of academia. 

The first was Candace Thomas, who is Dalhousie University’s first female board chair. The second was Dr. Teri Balser, Dalhousie's Provost and Vice-President, Academic. Dr. Balser, who is currently Dalhousie's Interim President and Vice-Chancellor, is the first woman to serve as the University's president. She spoke of the success of Dalhousie's student-athletes both in the classroom and on the field of play, and gave some very simple advice to the future leaders in the crowd.

"Just be yourself," she stated. "Don’t try to lead the ways that others are already leading; be the leader that you are, and fight for the things that matter to you.” 

Victoria Harwood, representing BMO Private Wealth and The Harwood Group, a perennial partner in the event, spoke candidly about why they continue to support the Tigers. 

“Women coaches are a minority, so be like Anna (Stammberger) and lead by example. Girls in most communities need places to play, so be like Rick (Scott) and create more opportunities for girls to play.” 

Stammberger and Scott, Dalhousie's women's basketball and volleyball coaches, introduced their teams and highlighted their academic success and commitment to leadership activities in the community both at Dalhousie and in their hometowns before introducing the evening's guest speaker, Cathy Burton.

Burton spent three years as a member of the Dalhousie women’s volleyball team from 1986 to 1990 while pursuing her combined degree in education and physical education. She is currently the principal of the Halifax Regional Education Centre’s Alternative High School. Burton has also spent many years coaching provincial level ringette, and was recently Team Nova Scotia's Chef de Mission at the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

She began her talk by speaking about growing up in a small town and how she had to become 'one of the boys'.

"We played hockey and softball, with no adults or refs, so the kids ran the show," she reminisced. "I always wondered what my life would be like if I grew up as a boy. Maybe then I wouldn’t be picked last, or people would actually pass me the ball and I wouldn’t have to work so much harder than the boys to get the same thing." 

Burton went on to talk about finding, and then becoming a positive role model - one that leads with compassion and empathy. 

"Teams that thrive all have one thing in common - they trust that their leader cares about them. Being a leader isn’t about salary or being right all the time. Being a leader is about the people you work with and the relationships you form with them."

Finally, Burton spoke about her time as a volleyball player at Dalhousie, and working with her professor and women's volleyball head coach Lois McGregor, who was Burton’s role model. Burton said that McGregor made her feel valuable and important, but also challenged her to be better in some way, every day. Burton mentioned that during her time as a volleyball player, she may not have been very good, but she knew her role, she was supportive, and she made the best of it. She ended the night with once sentence that summarized the night perfectly. 

"I may not have been very good as a volleyball player, but working with Lois showed me that you don’t have to crack the starting lineup in order to be a leader."