Women in business at the District of West Vancouver

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When Chrystal Boy first began her career with the District of West Vancouver nine years ago, she wasn’t expecting to join a workplace that was so empowering and uplifting for women.

As a woman working in the finance sector, Boy, now deputy director of financial services, had been more familiar with the societal bias that tends to come with working in such typically male dominated industries.

Yet Boy says the district is one of the few places she has worked where it feels as though there is consistent support and mentorship, her contributions are making a difference, and her voice is heard. Better still, she is in the good company of a larger group of women who are touting the very same.

“I’m surrounded by women at all levels and service areas, from bylaw officers to parks attendants, engineers, police officers and firefighters, and that says something about the organization,” says Boy.

As we approach International Women’s Day this March 8, Boy and her contemporaries are reflecting on being part of a workforce that is changing the landscape of leadership locally.

At the district, seven out of 11 major departments are led by women. There are numerous programs in place, training opportunities aplenty, and a sturdy community that ensures support and inspiration is easy to come by.

“There is excellent mentorship provided by women in leadership here at the district, and many examples of females entering a department at a junior or entry level position and finding their passion,” says Eva Glickman, director, human resources & payroll.

Glickman says there are many supports in place to foster learning and development. A tuition reimbursement program, for example, provides contributions towards everything from MBA programs to courses in municipal public works plan reading. Comprehensive training programs are offered to staff across the district in all positions and levels on the likes of reconciliation, conflict resolution, time and project management and leadership.

When municipal Coun. Nora Gambioli began her first term in 2011, working under the mayor of the time, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, she was surprised at the level of family friendly policies in place that would ensure her home life wouldn’t be hindered by her work. She remembers letting on to Goldsmith-Jones that she and her partner were thinking of having a second child, only to be assured by the then mayor that it wouldn’t affect her ability to run for office or sit on council.

“She said ‘Oh, yeah, that’s amazing. You can bring your baby to council meetings, no problem’,” reflects Gambioli with a laugh.

She credits some of her career success to having such a “great and experienced” mentor like Goldsmith-Jones, touching on how having females in such high ranking roles sets an example for the younger women hoping to navigate the same career path. Currently, four out of seven members of council are women – higher than it has ever been. 

“I think the DWV is setting a powerful example to the youth in our community that the future is limitless, and they can aspire to be in leadership roles like ours in the future,” says Insp. Erin Findlay, the officer in charge of operations for the West Vancouver Police Department.

Findlay, as one of the first to be break the gender boundary in the district’s police department, said it can be “very lonely” being the only women in the room, but having so many women across other areas certainly helps.

“I was very fortunate early on in my leadership journey to have others reach out to me to offer guidance and advice,” she says. “This was instrumental in building confidence in my own abilities to lead. I think it is important to support one another and embrace mentorship opportunities when we can.”

Departments typically dominated by males – like policing, fire, finance, construction and building – are certainly seeing a rise in female employees, but those who are in those fields, like Findlay, stress there is still a long way to go.

West Vancouver Fire & Rescue Capt. Athena Calogeros points out that it isn’t through lack of want or desire – most women simply still aren’t aware that such jobs are even an option to them. Calogeros, who has given 20 years of service to West Vancouver Fire & Rescue, has only seen a handful of other women come and go in her time there. 

“Most women don’t consider being a firefighter as a career option, even though it is a great job for someone who wants a physically demanding career where teamwork is paramount,” she says, adding how it is an achievable career choice for “any qualified individual, including women.”

Findlay’s advice for women looking to embark on work in a typically male dominated industry? Seek out a mentor that you trust, and, more than anything, believe in your own abilities.

“It isn’t uncommon for women to wait until they are overqualified for a position before going for it. I think women tend to self-doubt a lot more than men do, and often unnecessarily,” she says.

“Believe in yourself. You can do hard things. Go for it.”

This article was published March 6 as part of a special North Shore Nes print feature called Connecting With Women In Business. You see the entire feature as a digital edition here.  

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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twitter.com/MinaKerrLazenby


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