Heather Phillips-Whitehead: Empowering diverse women across Canada

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BY: KRISTINA RAMCHARRAN 

She left the comfort of her homeland of Jamaica to study in Canada in her tender teenage years. From sunny warm skies in the islands to the harsh winters of Manitoba, Heather Phillips-Whitehead knew this was just the beginning for her. Coming from humble beginnings in Jamaica, Heather soon found herself surrounded by an entirely new culture.

“I came to Canada in the early 90s on a scholarship, from Jamaica to Morton, Manitoba,” says Heather on her first trip abroad. While staying in Manitoba, she lived in a trailer park with her host family and was immersed in a new world by learning about hockey, snow and even attending her first rock concert.

Heather wasn’t finished making big moves. After completing high school in Canada, she moved to the U.S. to complete University and Law school. And after that continued to make big moves up the ladder to success.

Today Heather runs a national PR firm and is the founder and director of the Empower Canada Network, a network that links professional women of color together.

On the original purpose of the network, Heather says “Empower Canada Network, to be quite frank with you, was created out of the need for curated networking among women of color.” “I noticed the lack of diversity in corporate networking wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” she adds.

The idea first came to Heather while she was curating a list of women in business for an award pertaining to the top businesswomen in Canada, as a part of her public relations job. After putting together a list of about 150 women, she noticed something strange.

“Something is kind of wrong here,” she remembers thinking to herself. Out of almost 150 nominees, Heather notes, “there was not one minority woman on the list.”

Instead of letting this get her down, she took this as an opportunity to build. “As a leader in my field in public relations, I felt I had to contribute to Canada changing its narrative on diversity.” And that is how the Empower Canada Network was born.

At first, the network was an exclusive member only group, but Heather felt the need to reach out to more women. “What’s the purpose of this if we’re not reaching the people that need to be engaged?” she recalls thinking before deciding to make the network more open.

Today, the Empower Canada Network connects thousands of women of color across Canada and provides them with resources to grow their careers. They offer mentoring and counseling services as well as tailored workshops and networking events.

“We empower minority women to embrace each other and work together to emerge successfully with possibilities and results that come from a robust network of strong powerful women helping each other,” says Heather on the Empower Canada mission statement. “We look for ways to continuously help and nurture women.”

On her work with Empower Canada Network, Heather says, “I feel that I am fulfilling my purpose.” She sees her work amongst diverse professional women in Canada as a form of giving back.

And in terms of giving back, Heather notes the best advice she can give to any woman looking to achieve her dreams is to, “write down your goals. Every morning, pick up that piece of paper, go through your goals.”

She adds that it acts as a reminder as to why you are still standing. “Put it in front of you to remind you of why you need to keep going. Writing it down is not going to change your circumstances, what it will do is change how your mind thinks, or what’s in your mind, what’s in your heart.”

Reflecting on her own achievements and her attitude towards achieving her goals, Heather says it all comes down to having a clear mind. “There can be chaos around you, if your mind is settled you’ll find a way out.”

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