Françoise Lyon serves as President of the Leadership Foundation Board of Directors, the charitable and educational arm of the International Women’s Forum (IWF). Francoise joined Pembroke Private Wealth Management Ltd. in 2011 as Senior Vice-President. Prior to joining Pembroke Private, she was Vice-President and Head of Private Client Structures-Eastern Canada for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Over the past 20 years, Francoise has held several senior executive positions within the investment industry, including Chief Marketing Officer for the Wealth Management division of National Bank Financial Group and Director and founding member of the Structured Products Solutions Group at National Bank Financial. In addition to the Leadership Foundation, she serves (or has served) on the boards of National Bank Securities, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival and Le Réseau HEC.
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” – Gloria Steinem
Close your eyes and think about your parents, your grandparents and the extended generations of your family. You might be envisioning the details of their lives and legacies but more likely, you instantly experienced an emotion connected to their imprint on your life. Neuroscience has shown that when our experiences become memories, they create pathways in our brain. This means that moments of love, fear, joy and so on begin to follow similar routes inside our minds. Cutting-edge research is being undertaken to prove that the experiences of our ancestors can carry forward into our very own DNA. These “ancestor genes” would mean that the past can become encoded into our genes and quite possibly influence future behavior.
If you are questioning how ancestor genes and memory imprints relate to the celebration and recognition of International Women’s Day, there is a wonderful Hopi Indian Proverb that encapsulates the importance of knowing whose shoulders we stand upon:
“To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.”
International Women’s Day provides a powerful opportunity for reflection and understanding of our roots and the source of the women’s movement. We should know the struggles, the triumphs, the icons and the advocates who have paved the way for the freedoms and protections that exist around the world. My challenge to all of us is this: today and together, we should celebrate and reflect on what has been, what is now and what is yet to be…and then we should take action to be part of the change that is needed.
In the 1940’s in the Province of Quebec, Canada, my beloved French Canadian grandmother, Imelda Jean Gauthier, the second oldest daughter of a family of 18, against all odds, with no formal education and four preschool children in tow, started to spread her entrepreurial wings – she opened a sewing shop in her home, bought land and even owned and managed a summer camp canteen for several years. By the mid 1950’s she had saved enough money to have her own duplex built, as she wanted the income of the other tenant to help pay off her mortgage! My grandfather was very encouraging of my grandmother’s drive, which was unconventional for the times, but he was also very ill most of his life and passed away at a relatively young age.
In my early days in finance, my grandmother would ring me up to find out how such and such a stock was doing. It took her passing many years later to figure out what all this interest in the stock market was! I genuinely thought it was because she was showing an interest in my budding finance career, but it turns out that my grandmother was the first woman to open a brokerage account in her community in the 1940’s, buying small blocks of stock over the years. When she passed away at 91, she had outlived her first broker, his son and was actually working with the grandson of her original broker. I am privileged to come from a family of amazing and headstrong women, and although my British grandmother was not a business woman in any sense, she survived the Second World War, uprooted her family to start over in Canada in the late 1940’s, traveled the world later in life and lived to 96, old enough to meet and interact with her three great-grandchildren. Grand-ma Lyon was one of the most self-educated, progressive and inspiring women I have ever known.
In 2016, I have had over 20 years of executive experience in wealth management and a young daughter of my own. As the stories of the women in my family have undeniably shaped me, I now wish to share these stories with her. Through the lessons and experiences of these amazing women so close to me, I have seen the progression of change. Yes, there is so much more to accomplish, but I believe that as women we are connected as branches on the same tree, with a common story. And, I am very proud of my family tree. Much can and will be accomplished with greater unity and stronger support.
Today, I urge you to make the effort to read the timeline of the global suffrage movement and of IWD. Get to know Alice Paul, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Benazir Bhutto, Billie Jean King, Wilma Mankiller, Sophia Williams de-Bruyn, Betty Friedan, Malala Yousafza and the names that are too countless to list. As you read these stories and understand the journeys, think about where and how the lives of your grandmother, your mother, you and your children fit within these timelines. We are all connected to something much bigger than our own stories.
We bear a responsibility for our own empowerment and choices, but we also have an important opportunity to unite as a gender, to use a collective voice, and to help lift other women leaders.
This is one of the many reasons I serve as President the IWF Leadership Foundation. The Leadership Foundation’s Fellows Program, a unique women’s leadership training program, has changed the lives of more than 400 women since its inception in 1994. The program has embraced participants from 44 nations with the ultimate goal of changing the face of global leadership. For more than 20 years, we have been part of the leadership journey of women who now lead corporations, governments, universities, NGOs and advocacy movements. Programs as important and timely as the Fellows Program require commitment, resources and resolve today for a sustainable future and growth.
I have challenged each of us to be better informed, but I also challenge us to take actions large and small to advance better global leadership opportunities for women. At IWF and the Leadership Foundation, we believe that better global leadership will require increasing both the number of women in key roles and the power and freedoms they are able to exercise within those roles — regardless of sector, boundary or border.
One small but critical action you can take today is to be part of supporting these rising women leaders. In recognition of International Women’s Day 2016, we are asking you to make a donation to the Leadership Foundation in the amount $20.16, which will go directly to training and supporting the next generation of women leaders.
Reflect. Inform. Act
To make a pledge for parity on International Women’s Day: http://www.internationalwomensday.com/Pledge