Women and the Olympicsâ€”Gender Equality Finally!
Inspiration & Wisdom
By Pamela JefferyAugust 10, 2012
Amazing effort. To me that is what the Olympics is all about and that is exactly what I saw as I watched Rosie MacLennan of Richmond Hill, Ontario win Canada's first gold medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games in individual trampoline. Way to go Rosie! And it is most certainly what I saw when I watched the Canadian women's soccer team put it all on the field in what can only be called a heart breaking loss to the U.S. Ladies, you were and are awesome! I am overcome with a sense of patriotic pride, exhilaration and awe. Win or lose, these young women have shown the world why they are among the very best in their sports.
While these moments are the culmination of personal commitment, determination and courage, they also serve to highlight the long journey of women to make their mark in perhaps the most male-dominated field: sport. It took 120 years but the modern Olympic Games have crossed a significant threshold. Finally, in this the 30th Olympiad, with the introduction of women's boxing, there are no remaining sports that do not include events for women. It is a complete reversal from the first modern Olympics in 1896, when no women competed because Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, felt including women would be "Impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect."
That is the kind of mindset women athletes have worked hard to change ever since and in some countries continue to fight against. Even as recently as 1996 in Atlanta, 26 countries had no women participants. Prior to these London Games, Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia had never sent a female athlete to the Olympics. But they are here now symbolizing the power of women. IOC president Jacques Rogge acknowledged that power to the world in the opening ceremony, declaring: "For the first time in Olympic history, all the participating teams will have female athletes. This is a major boost for gender equality."
A major boost but we still have a long way to go. In Saudi Arabia, for example, girls continue to be denied physical education in schools and women are not allowed to attend sporting events even as spectators. That is why the efforts of 16-year-old judo Saudi competitor Wojdan Shaherkani are so important. She was greeted by cheers when she entered the arena for her bout and even though she was quickly defeated, her presence alone was a huge victory.
I think the same is true of every woman competing in each of the 26 categories of events. Perhaps Marnie McBean, three-time Canadian Olympic champion and a mentor to Canadian Olympians since 2006, put it best. In her book The Power of More, McBean makes the case that to accomplish goals, whether they be in sport, in business, in life, you have to believe in the importance of doing a little bit more all the time. Break down the task into manageable bits of more, she says. And that's exactly what women have done to achieve gender equality at the Olympic games. Well done women. You are all golden!
Title: Founder, Women's Executive Network
Organization: Founder, Canadian Board Diversity Council
Pamela Jeffery began her career as a government relations and communications strategist.
Prior to launching a successful public affairs consulting firm in Toronto in 1994, Pamela enjoyed a career as one of Canada's too few female lobbyists after serving as a Political Advisor in the Ontario government. Recognized by the National Post as a communications wizard, she also served as a Communications Advisor to Prime Minister Martin.
During a consulting assignment, Pamela was inspired to create a network for female leaders because one did not exist after determining she was not the only woman in Canada who wanted to be part of a network of like-minded women. Drawing on her experience in business, government and politics, she designed WXN for women in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. This reflected her concern that all too often, leaders in the private sector were unknown to leaders in other sectors, therefore denying them the opportunity to collaborate and learn from one another as women who were often the first to assume leadership roles in their organizations.
Since its founding in 1997, WXN has grown to 16,000 select women across Canada. In 2003, she founded Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards, now Canada's most prestigious Awards for female leaders. In 2008, WXN launched in Ireland- the first step towards creating an international community of female leaders. In 2012, Pamela was named as a charter member of Fast Company's League of Extraordinary Women in the leadership category, which recognizes 60 women from around the world for their dedication to changing the lives of women and girls.
In 2009, she founded the Canadian Board Diversity Council with a mandate from the federal government and private sector diversity leaders to increase the board representation of women, members of visible minority groups, Aboriginal peoples including First Nations, Inuit and Metis, persons with disabilities and members of the LGBT community over the next five years.
Pamela's commitment to community service is extensive. She is well-versed in corporate governance in the broader public and not-for-profit sectors having served on 12 boards and three governance committees. She currently serves as a Director of The Canadian Opera Company, the Ivey School of Business Entrepreneurship Council, and is a Governor of Trent University.
Pamela holds an MBA and an HBA from the Ivey School of Business. She taught government relations strategy in the MBA and Executive MBA Programs at the Rotman School of Management from 1992-2001.
She lives in Toronto with her husband Norman Inkster and is the mother of two sons Stephen and Samuel.