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Cohort a study in balance

New Whistler Forum group hopes to bring women to corridor prominence

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Balance is a concept enshrined over and over in cultures and subcultures around the world, from the yin and yang of the Middle Kingdom to the altar of objectivity worshipped before by some media circles. For women, it’s often an elusive state of being, a fact that hinders them in ascending to leadership realms.

“Pretty much in any survey done of women,” says Patricia Heintzman, “Whether it’s entrepreneurial fields or not for profit, or anything like that, women find that balance is one of the trickiest things to achieve with all the other things they tend to multitask with.”

Those other things are varied, but typically involve traditional responsibilities like homesteading and childcare. Heintzman, a town councillor in Squamish, is leading a recently announced cohort under the auspices of the Whistler Forum on Leadership and Dialogue. Called “Women in Leadership – Wisdom for the Balancing Act”, notions of existential equilibrium factor high in the curriculum. It’s what Heintzman calls a “core theme.”

But there are other focal points. Planned for the coming months are an inaugural breakfast with a keynote speaker, then a weekend retreat, and then meetings every second Friday until June 2009. During all this, authenticity, networking and mentoring will all appear on the program.

“For women, there’s a real need to be genuine, to feel like what they’re doing is grounded, to be self-aware and clear on what the values are,” said Heintzman. “Feeling like what they’re doing has some sort of real authentic voice to it is really important for women. I’m not saying it’s not for men, but it’s important to women in how they see their roles in organizations. And you do that through clarifying what your values are and heightening your skills and self awareness and what your strengths are and your shortcoming are.”

If achieved, those clarifications compensate for the dearth of mentors in leadership circles. According to Heintzman, it can be hard for a woman to imagine herself in a management position when there are so few women doing the same. And, while there are women like Hillary Clinton or Kim Campbell, there aren’t many women in more accessible power positions, like department heads with local municipalities.

“I think mentoring is something that is often overlooked but is so important in giving people the ability to take on challenges they might not be used to,” said Heintzman. “And also for women, it’s hard to find mentors just because there aren’t as many out there.”

As with all of Whistler Forum’s leadership cohorts, the group will have to produce one regional project. They will also have to study the Forum’s four pillars, which are know thy self, know thy corridor, engage with others and take action.

This particular cohort was born from a statistical look at the Sea to Sky corridor’s female leadership contingent, which is grossly disproportionate to male dominance.

“We saw a need to try to improve those statistics,” said Heintzman. “And it just kind of fit really well with some of the things the Forum’s trying to do in terms of diversifying the leadership program. In the coming years, there might be a variety of different focuses to dig a little deeper in terms of how and where we deliver and encourage leadership.”

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