Patricia Mills remembers the moment she knew women in the region needed more recognition.
The publisher of Northern Ontario Business was at a dinner honouring young entrepreneurs of a small town when the mayor singled out a young man who had just started a business. The gesture was nice except for the fact that it was the man’s wife who started the business.
“He never even mentioned her and I felt a strong sense of injustice and I saw it everywhere I went,” Mills said.
And so for the past 16 years, her publication has been honouring women in Northwestern and Northeastern Ontario with the Influential Women of Ontario Awards, the western portion of which was held Monday afternoon at the Valhalla Inn.
“We all knew and we still know who all the influential men are in Northern Ontario, the big business leaders and the politicians but we don’t know who the influential women are,” Mills said.
And that’s a shame because there are a lot of influential women. Around 52 per cent of small business owners are women. Then there are women like St. Joseph’s Care Group president and CEO Tracy Buckler, who oversees a $130 million budget in the non-profit sector.
She won the executive of the year award this year, an honour that made her proud and humble at the same time.
“It really is an honour to be acknowledged and recognized this way,” Buckler said. ““I certainly work with many influential women in the course of my work that I do.”
While raising the profile of women in Northern Ontario, the awards are also a chance to show the next generation of women that they’re capable of anything.
“The sky’s the limit,” Buckler said.
Mills said she’s seen a lot of improvement since the awards began, an annual event that now sees around 1,000 people attend between the two luncheons in Thunder Bay and Sudbury.
But there are still many women out there who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Mills said. ““But at least we’re moving forward and that is a positive sign.”
Entrepreneur of the Year went to A Spa For You owner Erika Maki while Young Entrepreneur of the Year went to Bight Restaurant and Grill’s Bianca Garofalo. The Northeastern awards will be handed out Thursday in Sudbury.
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