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Empowering Female Leadership

An Interview with Sherri Stevens, Owner and CEO of Women's Executive Network (WXN)
Grace Mahas
March 11th, 2024

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In the vibrant landscape of Canadian entrepreneurship and women's leadership, Sherri Stevens stands as a beacon of innovation, empowerment, and excellence. As the Owner and CEO of Women's Executive Network (WXN), Stevens has meticulously sculpted WXN into Canada’s premier organization dedicated to the advancement of professional women across all sectors and stages of their careers.

This International Women's Day, let's champion the power and potential of women everywhere, celebrating leaders like Stevens who are at the forefront of creating spaces for women's achievements and contributions to be recognized and honored. Under her stewardship for over 25 years, WXN has blossomed into an unparalleled community that fosters the growth of leadership across North America, boasting a membership of thousands of trailblazing women, allies, and corporate partners.

1. What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation means challenging the status quo, which is crucial for driving organizations forward. This is at the core of WXN as we embody this ethos by unlocking the potential of professional women with extensive resources and award programs. WXN is a one-of-a-kind community where bold women multiply their influence and impact in a rich and diverse ecosystem where professional development, networking, thought leadership, belonging, and celebration take center stage.

This year holds particular significance for WXN in the innovation space as we've joined forces with SkipTheDishes to introduce a new award category, the SkipTheDishesFood Industry Award, honouring women in the food industry throughout Canada. This award will recognize standout women from a diverse range of career paths, including chefs, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs. From now until May 14th, 2024, individuals and organizations can nominate themselves or other women in the industry by heading over to the WXN's Awards portal and sharing their achievements and impact within the Canadian food landscape.


2. How does your team generate new ideas?

In our quest for fresh ideas, we prioritize understanding the experiences and obstacles women face in the workplace -- of which there are many. We continually seek and receive input from the thousands of women, allies and corporate members we support, including SkipTheDishes. Their insights allow us to identify gaps for women as they rise and lead, spark ongoing conversations that fuel discussion both onstage at our Canadian Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Summit and Awards and on the page through focused research.

Our awards and recognition programming is an essential component of our innovation -- after all, if you can see it, you can be it. Our team is driven by a collective passion for advancing women and fostering opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments. We focus on highlighting women who are breaking barriers in a variety of sectors such as finance, engineering, technology, and as of 2024, the food industry. In our quest for fresh ideas, we prioritize understanding the experiences and obstacles women face. This year, we're especially excited about our collaboration with Skip to introduce the SkipTheDishes Food Industry Award, recognizing and supporting women in the Canadian food sector. This initiative not only acknowledges excellence but also stimulates dialogue and innovation for further empowering women in their careers.

3. Do you have any specific rituals for resetting your team to be creative?

At WXN, our team may be small, but it's mighty. We lead by example, giving our team members opportunities to grow professionally and personally, participating in the very same programming we offer to women across North America, as well as team-building experiences and retreats. We know each other's strengths and use them as a team to drive collective success. Our flat organizational structure ensures that every voice is heard, whether it's during one-on-one discussions or organization-wide strategy retreats. Accessibility is key, as team members have direct access to me, allowing for open dialogue and the free flow of ideas. When those ideas flow, we value all suggestions and explore them without judgment, fostering a true culture of creativity and innovation.


4. How do you identify trends? What resources does your team use to spot trends and consumer insights?

At WXN, our approach to identifying trends is comprehensive. We look into the experiences and challenges faced by women across various industries, identifying areas that require additional attention and emphasis. Moreover, we actively engage our network of professionals and thought leaders to gain firsthand insights and perspectives.

This informs the research we conduct and publish through our internal research team and the collaborators with whom we work. Today, women represent just 34 percent of board positions, with gender parity an estimated 10 years away. Women hold fewer than one-quarter of all executive leadership positions, and a little over 10 percent of President and CEO roles, as highlighted in WXN’s 2023 FP500 report, Moving Beyond Progress to Create Bold Change.

We want to create a bold future where the boards and executive leadership teams in our society truly embrace belonging, reflecting the vibrant tapestry of women that make up our world.

While working with Skip, we were able to identify a new area, the food industry, where only 7 percent of restaurants and enterprises were women-owned in 2020, and it became evident that recognition and support were crucial. In response, Skip and WXN collaborated to launch an initiative aimed at challenging this statistic and supporting women in the food industry.

5. What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?

Change takes time, especially on a global scale. The continued slow growth of women in leadership positions is evidence of that. In response, we remain committed and advocate for our values, in service and on behalf of the women, allies, and corporate members who drive us and inspire us. Though the impact we strive to achieve is big and bold, we find the positives in every win. We don't give up; we are up to the challenge.

We challenge ourselves to continue ensuring our innovation efforts are inclusive and responsive to the diverse needs of women across various industries and backgrounds - and partners like Skip help us innovate. Upholding inclusivity as a guiding principle demands a thoughtful approach to effectively support women from all sectors. As we seek to expand WXN's influence, we actively explore new industries, and working with partners like Skip has helped us continue to expand our knowledge of the Canadian food industry and the innovative award opportunities we provide women to excel and gain recognition for their achievements.


6. Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced an innovation at WXN?

Absolutely! At WXN, our commitment to enhancing women's representation in leadership roles across industries often involves collaborating with partners like Skip to establish initiatives such as the SkipTheDishes Food Award as part of our Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards. This partnership is a fantastic step for the food industry and a framework we hope to see rolled out more widely to help overcome traditional barriers resulting from intersectionalities.

By teaming up with Skip, we gained valuable insights into industry dynamics and successful strategies for gender parity. This collaborative approach allows us to tailor our initiatives to better support and WXN works to amplify this momentum through the recognition of women leaders, supporting and inspiring them to navigate and excel in their careers.

7. What makes an innovative culture? How do you create a culture of innovation?

WXN is at the epicenter of professional women from all ages, representing all levels of leadership, across every sector and industry. We actively survey our membership, track women's progress throughout the leadership pipeline, and create programming to address pain points and gaps in the current landscape. Informed by our members' perspectives and experiences, along with those of our allies and corporate members, we deliver high calibre programming that evolves in time with the needs of professional women. This includes our collaboration with SkipTheDishes, which helps us collectively draw attention to the phenomenal accomplishments women are currently achieving in the food industry.

An innovative culture is fostered by an organizational environment that encourages creativity, experimentation, and forward-thinking among like-minded individuals with shared goals. At WXN, our team is united by a passion for women's success, actively seeking ways to provide platforms and recognition for their achievements. This commitment to innovation ensures that we stay dynamic and responsive to the evolving needs of professional women.


8. Looking to the future, how will WXN continue to be a leader in innovation?

At WXN, we know companies win when women lead. Yet, not enough women hold leadership roles within their companies. We continue to forge new pathways within and between industries with new awards such as the SkipTheDishes Food Award, dedicated to celebrating and supporting women in the Canadian food industry and addressing gender disparity in the workplace.

At the same time, for women to rise and lead, they need opportunities for mentorship, sponsorship, professional and personal development and networking, in ways that create the most impact. They also need inclusive workplaces in the food industry and beyond where they feel like they belong, where they are respected, and where their voices are heard. Looking forward, WXN will maintain its leadership in innovation by proactively responding to evolving trends and changing needs of professional women across all sectors.
References: wxnetwork