sue matheson photo

In celebration of Minerva’s 25th Anniversary, we are shining a spotlight on individuals and organizations who have worked alongside us over the years to help advance women and girls in leadership.

Sue Matheson has a long and indelible connection to Minerva having served over the years as a speaker, program creator, facilitator and Board member.  

Passionate about equality, Sue has been working in the space of women’s only leadership development for over 25 years.  She is a partner and co-founder of High Impact Lab, a company which offers leadership and executive team development, including coaching and CEO, Executive and Senior Leader peer groups.

In recognition of Minerva’s recent anniversary and 25 years of impact, Sue, along with her husband and sons, recently made a donation to Minerva to support the initiation of our new program called Rise and Shine.

We spoke to Sue about her history with Minerva, what motivated her to make the gift, and where she still sees challenges to achieving gender equality in the workplace.

Q. How did you first get involved with Minerva?

I was asked to be a speaker at a Minerva Learning to Lead conference in 2002. I was almost eight months pregnant with my second son. My entire career at that point had been at BC Hydro which, back then, was a very male-dominated environment. When I walked into the room at St. John’s College with 100+ women in it, I could feel the inspiration and sense of community. After my presentation, I walked up to Nancy McKinstry and said, “I would love to have more of this in my life – how do I get involved”. Nancy followed up with me while I was on maternity leave and together, we created the Follow A Leader program which I ran for seven years. I also helped to design and lead the Learning to Lead program and served as a Minerva Board member beginning in 2003.

Q.  Can you speak a bit about your connection to Minerva founder Nancy McKinstry?

I am privileged to have had Nancy as a mentor. She is such a strong, brilliant, compassionate, driven, creative and inspiring leader.  When I saw her at the 25-year anniversary, I just started crying. Her impact on me has been profound. She saw something in me when I didn’t. She created the space for me to grow and learn and push myself beyond my comfort zone. That’s what amazing  leaders do. 

Q. You recently made a generous donation to Minerva. What inspired you to make this gift? 

Minerva has given me so much. Through my engagement and work with Minerva I built relationships and lifelong friendships that are still active today. I learned that leadership exists everywhere – in those inspiring grade 11 girls that attended our programs, through to our seasoned and tenured women that volunteered their time to mentor the next generation of women leaders. 

Minerva gave me the confidence to step out on my own and start my consulting company in 2004 – how lucky was I to have a community of amazing woman leaders standing beside me, cheering me on, and opening doors for me to step through. Minerva taught me to believe in the importance of leadership qualities that feminine energy brings – compassion, empathy, creativity, connection. The 25-year anniversary brought all of this back to me, and our family wanted to make a difference and support young women who are embarking upon their own leadership journey.  

Q Your donation will be used to pilot a mental and emotional wellness program for youth. The workshops will focus on topics such as self-awareness and thinking traps, boundary-setting, failing up, and self-compassion. How do you see this programming benefiting youth? 

I can’t think of a single family in my circle that has not been impacted by mental health. It’s an epidemic and it’s become stigmatized. It’s often invisible and that scares us, so we don’t talk about it enough. I’m grateful to see Minerva moving into this space where leadership and mental wellness intersect. I think this program will have a huge impact on our youth.  I also think it would have a huge influence on leaders of all ages!

Q. What changes have you seen since you first entered the workforce? 

I graduated from university in 1989 and began my career at BC Hydro. As a woman working in a male dominated environment, I became very passionate early on about equity, equality and creating space where everyone can be free from judgment and bias. I had hoped that 25 years later we would have made more progress than we have. Don’t get me wrong, I do see positive changes in many organizations, but we still have a long way to go.   

Q. Minerva recently released a research report which found that women continue to face barriers in the workplace, but they tend to be invisible and therefore harder to identify and address. Has this been your experience?

Absolutely. One of the programs we run at High Impact LAB is called LIFT.  It’s a women’s only conversation intended to build agency and confidence in women leaders. I continue to be surprised by the self-limiting beliefs that women hold about themselves, and the unconscious barriers that organizations have that get in the way of them realizing their full potential. 

Women still lack the senior level role models that their male counterparts have. Women still lack the opportunities to network and build relationships across the organization. Working career moms continue to face judgment about their role at work and at home. Negative bias exists. I don’t believe any of this is intentional. I don’t believe anyone is “out to get” women leaders. It’s become a habit and it’s unconscious.  So while we’ve made some progress in the 25 years that I’ve worked in this space – there’s still so much to do. And I remain optimistic that we’ll get there! 

We are grateful to Sue, for all the support she has given to Minerva over the years and for her continued commitment to develop leaders and break down barriers to gender equality in the workplace.

In August, Minerva will be launching the Rise and Shine mental wellness program for girls and gender diverse youth in Grades 8-12.

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