Each year, we honour Metro Vancouver’s most extraordinary women and businesses with the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards.
Our alumnae include some of Metro Vancouver's most fascinating and influential women whose outstanding achievements have made a lasting impact on the well-being and future of our community.
Introducing the 2014 Award recipients:
Arts, Culture & Design
Shaira SD Holman
Shaira is an artist who has been instrumental in celebrating and showcasing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender writers, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists, dancers and performers to the community. Her latest show, “Butch: Not like the other girls,” which challenges traditional standards of beauty, was the most successful gallery project the Vancouver East Cultural Centre has ever had. As Artistic Director of the Queer Arts Festival (QAF), Shaira’s vision has transformed the festival from a tiny volunteer-run organization to one of the fastest growing cultural festivals in Canada. Knowing that queer youth are seven times as likely to commit suicide as their heterosexual counterparts, Shaira instituted a youth mentorship program within QAF, to provide space for queer youth to develop and display their art.
Business & The Professions
Lisa is a nationally-recognized lawyer in property development and leasing. She has held a series of leadership roles at McCarthy Tétrault, consistently promoting diversity and inclusiveness for women. She is presently the Chief Diversity and Engagement Officer, the first position of its kind at a Canadian law firm. Lisa’s thoughtful articulation of the importance of gender diversity was instrumental in the 2010 decision of senior leadership to declare diversity as one of the firm’s four strategic priorities. She is deeply committed to empowering women to succeed and has fostered a professional environment that sustains women in their career development. As a successful lawyer with five children, she is a recognised role model and she volunteers extensively with organizations working to strengthen and support women.
A refugee herself, Shashi has dedicated the last 40 years to empowering immigrant and visible minority women so they can thrive in Canadian society. Her vision and initiative led to the development of a unique model of services for immigrant and refugee women dealing with family violence. As a social worker, a counselor, an educator and a passionate advocate, Shashi has touched the lives of thousands of immigrant women and children. She has generously shared her expertise and vision with government agencies and NGOs, helping make Canada more inclusive and multicultural. Shashi’s bold vision, boundless energy and unwavering dedication have earned her immeasurable respect in her community as well as provincially, nationally and internationally.
Education, Training & Development
Janis is a UBC law professor who is an internationally recognized expert in corporate finance, banking and securities regulation. She is an innovative educator, adept at fostering life-long professional development. As Director of the Peter Wall Institute at UBC, she created new programs of research and education, connecting early-career female scholars to world-leading researchers, supporting innovative interdisciplinary research. As founding Director of the UBC National Centre for Business Law, she helped educate and place women in business and finance, developing innovative new courses to ensure all law students, but particularly women, are well prepared to assume leadership roles.
“Cloud Pioneer”, Shannon left her solid law position at a major law firm to join a technology start-up when the cloud was unheard of. Without any funding or real market but with growing debts, Shannon used her expertise in business law and securities compliance to break Global Relay into one of the most demanding and difficult sectors in the world, the financial sector. Today, Global Relay is a 325-employee powerhouse with $35+ million in annual revenues. In two industries dominated by men - technology and finance - Shannon has achieved astounding success and received numerous awards and accolades.
Lyda has single-handedly inspired and mobilized a group of more than 1,800 eco-volunteers to conserve and protect local parks. In February 2011, Lyda noticed that among volunteers engaged in environmental stewardship activities, the demographic aged 12-45 was missing. By harnessing the influence of social media, she founded the Lower Mainland Green Team (LMGT) to reconnect people to nature, provide meaningful civic contributions and to educate about environmental issues – all while making the experience enjoyable. The LMGT engages all ages and especially focuses on youth and at-risk youth. A leader who recognizes the importance of collaboration, Lyda has partnered with diverse stakeholders and has recently created a new national charity, Green Teams of Canada, which will manage the LMGT and future green teams.
Health & Wellness
A visionary cardiologist, Vicki is an educator, scientific leader and clinician. In the 40 years of her career so far, she has become an authority in cardiology and medical innovation in BC and around the world after establishing an internationally-recognized Centre of Excellence at VGH. Vicki has constantly sought ways to innovate to improve patient outcomes. In the early 1980s she was an early adopter of using beta blockers in heart failure, which did not become a mainstream form of treatment until the 1990s. When Vicki joined the staff of VGH in 1974, she was the only female cardiologist at the VGH for more than three decades. She blazed the trail for others to follow in her footsteps and today, Vicki takes pride in mentoring female cardiologists.
Non-Profit & Public Service
Former MLA, Cabinet Minister and Vancouver City Councillor, Darlene worked to make her community more humane and was an advocate for neighborhood development, better child care, more public housing, universal access for persons with disabilities and employment equity. In the 1970s, she helped to organize the Strathcona residents to protect their neighbourhood from destruction for urban renewal and initiated the conversion of an old church into the ‘Cultch’. Her passion to create a fair, peaceful and just society continues today through her volunteer work at the community level, as a role model and a true community builder.
Technology, Science & Research
An inspiring scientist who has made significant contributions to research, communication and mentoring, Jennifer’s scientific work has revolutionized how infectious disease is approached world-wide. Few scientists can be credited with inventing a discipline, but her work established the now-blossoming field of infectious disease genomic epidemiology. She is a truly gifted communicator, award-winning teacher and has been involved in outstanding service involving science communication and outreach activities. She makes science accessible and exciting to the general public by producing and hosting popular science television shows including the Nature of Things and the Daily Planet, and has been called “the new Suzuki” by the Globe and Mail. She has devoted countless hours to mentoring young scientists at all stages of their careers.
Young Woman of Distinction
Isabel ChenIsabel Chen
With a generous heart for society's most vulnerable citizens, Isabel is a social justice activist who finds creative yet simple solutions for long-standing social problems, all while juggling the demands of being a third-year medical student at UBC. In 2011, Isabel founded the Keep Safe Initiative, a grassroots organization that develops GPS-based panic alarms for sex-trade workers in the Downtown Eastside. Isabel's unique approach to combatting violence against sex workers has received notable media coverage and has prompted strong collaborations between Keep Safe Initiative and other organizations in the Downtown Eastside. She is also co-founder of the Reading Bear project, an innovative community outreach program to improve health and literacy outcomes of inner-city children.
Pacific Blue Cross
Pacific Blue Cross has been continually adapting its workplace since the 1970s to better serve and inspire its employees. The organization was one of the first in BC to introduce flex-time, a 35 hour work week and provide an employee and family assistance program. This change enhanced employees work-life balance and empowered employees to better manage their family and work commitments. Since then, Pacific Blue Cross has regularly reviewed its employee initiatives to evaluate how it can better support its workforce. Pacific Blue Cross has a pioneering health and wellness program, leadership training programs, an annual $1,000 education fund for each employee and a focus of promoting from within the organization. Pacific Blue Cross is an equal opportunity employer with a female-dominated leadership team.
Connecting the Community Award
High school administrator and leadership teacher, Kristi is the force behind the powerful, real world social project, H.E.L.L.O. (Helping Everyone Locate Loved Ones) that has reconnected hundreds of people living on the streets of the Downtown Eastside with lost friends and family. Through this 100% volunteer run project, Kristi has removed the barriers between school and real life, educating youth on the issues that surround homelessness. Project H.E.L.L.O. has gone on to inspire students to create their own award-winning social initiatives and has been replicated in cities outside of Canada.
Kristi, on her choice to donate to reducing child poverty:
As founder of Project H.E.L.L.O., I have seen the damaging effects of poverty in the Downtown Eastside. Too many of our homeless citizens still suffer the scars of a traumatic childhood. The YWCA supports children and mothers on the DTES and gives hope for a better future. I support reducing child poverty so we might give light to Vancouver’s darkest neighbourhood. - Kristi Blakewa