We recognize and celebrate brave female leaders. The women featured in our Brave Women Leaders blog demonstrate resiliency, bravery, and the ability to radiate their light brightly. They have gifts, experience, and strengths to share with the world and they do so bravely.
I first met Laurie Sterritt years ago and was instantly taken with what a warm, dynamic, engaging and values-based leader she is. Laurie is a member of the Kispiox Band of the Gitxsan Nation. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of British Columbia and a Certificate in Professional Fund Raising from the University of Indiana. Laurie has been recognized for her commitment to creating respectful and inclusive workplaces and, most notably, was a nominee for the 2013 YWCA Women of Distinction Awards. She currently works as a Partner with Leaders International.
What does bravery mean to you?
It depends. I see everyday acts of bravery that we sometimes take for granted. It doesn’t have to mean that you’re doing something extraordinary.
For instance, my team spent some time volunteering last year at a food bank—the woman who runs the warehouse trained us to load boxes correctly. She carefully explained how and why we should do things a certain way, all while being funny, energetic, and compassionate. She obviously kept a close eye on the needs of every family who would receive a food box from her warehouse. She was so clearly acting ‘on purpose’ that she inspired us all to follow her lead. This is not glamorous—the manager works in a cold, industrial environment overseeing a team of mostly men operating lift trucks and heavy equipment. She does her job well and she does it with love. That woman is brave.
In my work life, I see Indigenous professionals stepping into bravery all the time. Whether it’s taking on a big portfolio in a corporate environment and challenging companies to think deeply about their role in Inclusion and Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples or if it is joining a not-for-profit that stands up for social justice. The common thread across our 50+ projects every year is that Indigenous peoples are shifting mindsets, influencing decisions, and affecting positive change like we never have before. Indigenous peoples and nations are rising above centuries of oppression, colonialism, and harm to take their place in the Canadian economy—doing it with patience and respect. This is brave.
In my personal life, my mother is the bravest person I know. Somehow, with no education, no financial resources, and almost no mentorship on how to be a good parent, she raised three children on her own. How she instilled in her daughters a sense of confidence and a belief that ‘anything is possible’ is a wonder to me. Not only is she loving and kind—she is brave.
I could go on, but it comes down to one basic thing to me. That is love. Being able to abandon your inhibitions to do something for society at large, for your profession or for your family—to stand up for something you believe in and do it with love—that is brave.
What is one of the bravest things you have ever done?
This is difficult to answer although I can trace a pattern of bravery in my own life from a young age. One of our regular babysitters, Carol, had horses and she encouraged me to learn how to ride. The privilege of being able to ride Carol’s horses came with conditions though. I spent a lot of time doing chores around her family’s farm to maintain the open invitation to ride the horses. At the age of six, Carol took me to my first mini-rodeo and entered me into three races on a horse name Chalice. At the start of the first race, Carol helped me up to the saddle and said, “Sit tall, and don’t be afraid!” I won a few ribbons that day and was very proud of myself. I fell in love with that horse and I’ve never forgotten the advice. While I gained physical strength and confidence through the family connection, that one important message and lesson set me on a unique path.
At times, while traveling on my own, doing a business degree at an elite University, or sitting at a boardroom table, I’ve remembered those words of advice. As a young First Nations woman, none of these things came without barriers and I am grateful for the spark of bravery that was ignited in me way back when.
What benefits have come from leaning into bravery?
While ‘representation’ has been a theme for me in my professional career, being the one First Nations person in classrooms, industry events and boardrooms, has caused me a lot of discomfort. On one hand, there has been tension and risk involved when others have seen me as ‘representing’ First Nations people, while on the other hand, there is equal tension and risk in not being there to ‘represent.’
As I took the lead on issues related to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in the 1990s, there wasn’t necessarily a strong pathway to follow. I took the lead anyway and found my way by being very well informed and very prepared for every meeting—perhaps, over-prepared. I was so worried about being out of my depth—about being caught as an imposter—that I likely began a pattern of over-functioning in order to prove my value.
I was always questioning whether I was really qualified to be ‘leading’, but I did it anyway. I kept focussed on the subject matter around Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity as the rest of corporate Canada evolved in that space. The result was that I became experienced enough to draft policies on the subject and then confident enough to implement and enforce the policies. This meant that I was often involved in difficult conversations in the workplace. Creating a respectful workplace became a passion of mine and it translates into everything I do today. Bravery set me on a 20+ year path that led to me working with companies and organizations large and small across Canada and beyond.