Good morning everyone and thank you for coming.
I want to thank “Women in Business” organisers for inviting me to speak at this wonderful event. I’m honoured to be here today with all the great women and entrepreneurs. This conference always leaves me so inspired and recharged and I really hope you leave this room feeling empowered too.
I don’t know if all of you are familiar with my story so let me introduce myself. I’m Celena Caesar-Chavannes and I have done a lot of different things in my life but the last few years I’ve been a member of Parliament for the Liberal Party. But, as some of you might know or have seen in the news, I recently quit the Liberal caucus to become independent. As you can imagine, the resignation has made the past few months very eventful and I want to share with you what I’ve learnt from that and my experiences in general.
As women, we often face discrimination and feel marginalised in the business world but it should never stop us from moving forward and chasing our dreams. So today, I want to talk to you about leadership, strength and integrity and how to not stop believing in yourself.
So first of all, I want to start with the concept of leadership that is often attributed to mainly “men qualities”. So-called “male qualities” are often highlighted as prerequisites for the CEO roles and current statistics suggest that men are “better” at leading with only 26 women being in the CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies in 2018. In politics, there is a similar trend as in 2017, women accounted for only 26% of the seats in the House of Commons.
Of course, it doesn’t mean women cannot be great leaders, but we often feel more pressure in senior roles or a pressure to lead like a “man”. In Parliament, women were always in a minority, especially women of colour. I wanted to change that. I chose to go into politics and represent my riding because I wanted to be the voice of the people. I didn’t want to become someone else, any other candidate who ruthlessly fights for victory, sometimes playing dirty. My leadership was rooted in people trusting me to be their leader and me believing that I could defend their views.
My main advice, be it in politics or business, is to become the kind of leader you want to be, not what the society expects you to be. Choose your own style and never let anyone undermine that.
Secondly, there is a strength that we need to show in the business world as women. All of us experience a moment in their lives when something goes off the tracks and not according to plan. As I switched between different roles, stopped running my business and went into politics, I didn’t know what to expect.
In 2016, I also suffered from depression and thought I might have made a mistake changing careers. But I didn’t let these small failures break me down and I chose to be vocal about these problems to show women that it’s okay to feel down sometimes. What is not okay is to doubt yourself and give up.
Sometimes there’ strength in quitting too. If you realise that your job doesn’t make you happy anymore, you have to find the strength to quit and start over again. It takes courage to resign and become independent. I know it because I’m not running for the next October’s federal election and will not be a part of the Liberal Party anymore. I’m moving on to a new stage in my life.
As entrepreneurs, women have to be strong to stay resilient and persevere. Mistakes will happen and some will lead to drastic changes but we have to stay strong to believe that we can always do better and improve.
Thirdly, I want to discuss integrity. Since my first days in business and politics, I chose to represent people and knew that integrity is the foundation on which we build relationships and trust. I was honest about my experiences and not afraid of speaking up, even if it went against the head of the government. But I chose to go with it as I believed that I wasn’t treated fairly and honestly, and had to voice my concerns.
Integrity also means doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. In my time in Parliament, I’ve often been criticised for focusing too much on racial policies and the rights of black Canadians. But I never paid attention to it, ignored the negativity and only worked harder on the policies that I believed matter. I stayed true to myself and it made me successful.
Stand by your values and what you believe in. People will judge, gossip and try to break you but only with integrity, you can push through all of it. Integrity builds relationships and great relationships make you a successful leader. So stay true to yourself and your principles to lead the people that believe in you.
To wrap up, I hope my experiences show that we shouldn’t stop working for our goals, no matter what obstacles we face. We are all strong and independent women who should keep pushing forward to set an example for younger girls. The world needs more women in business and in leadership positions to make it a better place where gender inequality doesn’t exist. As Emily Douglas said: “If women understood and exercised their power, they could remake the world”.
Don’t let anyone let you down and keep marching forward because you deserve it. You should believe it.
Thank you for your attention.