The Big Idea: Elevating careers and connecting Whistler to the business world

The WNORTH Conference, which is gearing up for its third year, is a global gathering of women on the rise.
Heather Odendaal, the brains behind it, is on a mission to grow a global community of women by helping them shape their careers as they evolve into executive leadership roles. She does this by hosting a conference in Whistler as well as Connect Dinners all around North America.

“I am building the WNORTH brand to support these driven, high-potential women across Canada, the U.S. and beyond,” said Odendaal. “In Canada, we have 57 per cent of women in middle management positions, yet only 14 per cent at the executive level. We have to focus on the women mid-career in order to change these statistics.”

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If it doesn’t exist, create it

Odendaal created the WNORTH brand because she couldn’t find anything else like it. She was looking for a way to elevate her career, but her research revealed a gap in the market.

“I created the WNORTH Conference after my pursuit of finding a globally-minded conference that prepared women for senior executive leadership, fell short,” she said. “We are now planning our third conference which will take place at Nita Lake Lodge April 19-21. The conference has featured global leaders from IBM, Lyft, Cisco and TELUS as well as leading entrepreneurs that deliver TED-style talks and hands-on workshops that develop essential senior executive leadership skills.”   

Connecting Whistler to the world

Because the conference is held in Whistler, Odendaal wanted to come up with a way to help connect the community to the rest of the world. To that end, she launched the WNORTH Connect Series, which are intimate dinner networking events held in curated cities across North America. The dinners provide access to speakers who are all carefully chosen women in senior leadership positions.

“Our most recent WNORTH Connect Dinner that was hosted in New York City took place on Nov. 14, just six days after the U.S. Presidential Election. The theme for the evening was ‘Resilience in the Face of Change.’ A perfectly timed topic, especially given that the election results had stirred emotions and created a strong movement among NYC women to rise together,” said Odendaal.

“Our two guest speakers, Jane Francisco, editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping magazine, and Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, founder of The Gaia Project for Women’s Leadership, each gave a brief, inspiring talk on how they have embraced resilience in their own careers,” shared Odendaal.

Develop strong partnerships

Odendaal believes that developing strong partnerships with established organizations is a good way to help a business grow while reaching a larger audience. WNORTH’s recent partnership with Business Events Canada has helped Odendaal bring high-profile speakers to Whistler.

“Last year, I established a partnership between the WNORTH Conference and Business Events Canada, a division of Destination Canada, to bring a cohort of U.S.-based Speakers to Canada to present at WNORTH,” said Odendaal. “We have renewed the partnership for 2017 and are bringing in to speak Donna Carpenter, CEO and co-founder of Burton Snowboards, Amy Stanton, CEO of a leading L.A.-based sports marketing agency focused on female athletes and Esther Ayorinde, the leader of a group responsible for the business relationship between Facebook and Cisco.”

The future of women in business  

“As I sat next to a female executive on the gondola recently who was finishing up a conference call before hitting the hill, I couldn’t help but smile. The future of business is changing, it is mobile, it is non-stop, but it is more flexible now than ever. Women have the most to gain from this increased flexibility and mobility and my hope is that it will allow more women to stay (and play) in the big leagues of business."


Make business easy — tune in to The Big Idea, a bi-weekly column from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce showcasing a Whistler business innovating in their sector.
 

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