They came without capes, masks or shields, but that didn’t make any of the 2022 Businesswoman of the Year Award (BYA) finalists less of a superhero in the eyes of the nearly 300 attendees of this year’s 39th anniversary gala.
The evening, held Thursday at the Infinity Convention Centre, recognized the laudable achievements of dozens of businesswomen in our community, culminating with the announcement of this year’s eight BYA recipients. The gala is organized by volunteers with the Women’s Business Network (WBN) of Ottawa. Jennifer McAndrew, co-founder of Mastermind Events, was the gala chair, joined by her co-chair, Tracey Parslow, retirement living adviser with Tea and Toast. Representing the WBN was board president Victoria Stewart, account executive and project lead at the Ottawa Business Journal.
The ballroom was filled with hues of red and blue, along with gold decor accents. It was all in keeping with the colour scheme of the most iconic female superhero of all time, Wonder Woman.
Personality-plus Sandra Plagakis from KiSS 105.3 FM was back to host the superhero-themed dinner. “Are you ready to hand out some hardware?” she bellowed as the awards ceremony prepared to get under way.
The ceremony saw the names of the award winners announced for the first time. Recipients took to the stage as walk-up music of their choosing filled the room. While making brief acceptance speeches, the recipients acknowledged their friends, family, colleagues and fellow finalists. Mentioned most often were moms.
Shannon Ferguson, recipient of the Entrepreneur Award (Emerging Category), dedicated her award to her mother, a single-parent entrepreneur who passed away several years ago.
“Everything I am is because of her,” said Ferguson, co-founder and CEO of tech startup FanSaves, a digital platform that connects sports fans with deals and offers from sponsors of their favourite teams. “I hope I can show that, when you have a strong woman in your life, you can actually grow up to be one as well.”
The subject of amazing moms also worked its way into Louise Summers‘s acceptance speech for her Enterprise Award (Accomplished Leader). As regional vice-president at RBC, she’s responsible for a team of 200 leaders and advisers across 19 branches. Her volunteer work includes Christie Lake Kids and past co-chair of RBC Race for the Kids in support of CHEO youth mental health programs.
“My mom taught me three things: get involved; it’s boring sitting on the sidelines,” Summers told the room full of women and men. “If you have a chance to get involved, get involved.
“She also taught me the importance of commitment. When you commit to something, deliver on it; show up. People count on you.
“And, finally, have fun. Life is short. Take advantage of everything that comes your way, because if she can do the Icy Strait Point zipline at the age of 75 in Alaska, you all can, too.”
2022 Businesswoman of the Year recipients
Community Impact Award
Heidi Hauver, HR leader
Entrepreneur – Start-Up Category
Lisa Flanders, registered physiotherapist and co-founder of Bloom Integrative Health & Movement Centre
Entrepreneur – Emerging Category
Shannon Ferguson, co-founder and CEO of FanSaves
Entrepreneur – Established Category
Roxanne Whiting, co-owner of SLIAO (Sign Language Interpreting Associates Ottawa)
Lifetime Achievement Award
Lorraine McKay, co-founder and Chief of Talent Solutions at Human Resource Systems Group
Enterprise – Accomplished Leader Category
Louise Summers, regional vice president at RBC
Enterprise – Innovation Champion Category
Solange Tuyishime, founder, president and CEO of Elevate International
Enterprise – Rising-Star Category
Piriya Yoganathan, head of Research & Development (R&D) at the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre’s Virus Manufacturing Facility, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Roxanne Whiting, who’s a partner at SLIAO (Sign Language Interpreting Associates Ottawa) was the recipient of the Entrepreneur Award (Established Category). SLIAO is a women-owned and led company that leverages technology to provide interpreting and translation services. It has over 150 interpreters and translators working across Canada.
The room heard how Whiting was raised by deaf parents, that her first languages were American Sign Language and English, and how, at a young age, she began interpreting interactions for her parents. Her mom passed away from breast cancer, but her father was in the audience that night (SLIAO sponsored the participation of sign language interpreters at the gala).
“Manoeuvering between the deaf world and the hearing world is exhausting and confusing, but I wouldn’t change it for anything because it’s taught me how to communicate and to understand what it feels like when someone doesn’t understand,” said Whiting.
Solange Tuyishime, founder, president and CEO of Elevate International, had the room on its feet with applause after she delivered her rousing acceptance speech for her Enterprise Award (Innovation Champion Category).
Tuyishime touched briefly on some of the challenges she previously faced, from living in refugee camps to losing a baby after birthing triplets.
“I didn’t want my life to be a sum of many horrible moments, so I thought I would turn that life around,” said Tuyishime, who created a charitable organization dedicated to inspiring, empowering and elevating women and girls in leadership and economic power, locally and globally.
“If we genuinely want to change the world, women have to have a seat at the senior leadership table,” she said, eliciting cheers from the audience.
Tuyishime dedicated her award to everybody who ever believed in her, making special mention of RBC and its regional president, Marjolaine Hudon.
“When I started this organization and I wanted people to understand that I wanted to change gender diversity and senior leadership, they said, ‘That’s inspiring. Best of luck to you’. RBC showed up…”
She encouraged women to continue supporting and celebrating one another.
“Tonight, ladies, this is for you, this is for us, and this is for every girl around the world who’s sitting in the middle of a refugee camp thinking, ‘I have big dreams.’”
The Community Impact Award went to HR leader Heidi Hauver, who was recognized for the time, expertise and mentorship she gives to support such organizations as Algonquin College, Hire Immigrants Ottawa, Women in Communications & Technology, Human Resources Professionals Association and CHEO.
She shared her favourite quote: Be the change you wish to see in the world.
“The thing I love most, other than the joy and happiness that volunteering has brought to my life, is the invisible ripple effect that you can create, that we can all create,” said Hauver.
Organizers recognized their sponsors, including Rideau Carleton Casino, the future home of Hard Rock Ottawa, BMO, GGFL, Baker Tilly, MNP, SKS LLP, Comfort Installation, Auger Hollingsworth Personal Injury Law Firm, SLIAO, Rogers TV, Mastermind Events, Picture Plus and True Bijoux.
The gala wasn’t the first time the finalists were brought together. They all met when their names were announced at a cocktail reception held in August.