Simon Fraser University president on being a female leader while staying true to yourself

March 8, 2023
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Headshot of Joy Johnson

To mark International Women’s Day, we spoke with president and vice-chancellor of Simon Fraser University, Joy Johnson.

This year’s theme for Women’s Day is “embrace equity.” What does that mean to you?

To me, embracing equity means acknowledging the structural systems in our world, including patriarchy, that give advantages to some groups over others. And it means actively combating those systems by taking women’s concerns seriously and providing extra supports and resources where they are needed.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

I would say: you can be a leader and still be yourself. When I was younger, I used to think that leadership meant being in control all the time, knowing all the answers, giving orders, that kind of thing. But as I’ve progressed throughout my career, I’ve learned that leaders can show up in different ways. As a leader, you do have to take on certain responsibilities, think strategically and use your authority to make tough decisions, but you can do all that while also being yourself. Recognizing that I didn’t have to “act” like a leader—that I could lead and still have fun and be compassionate and care about people—was very liberating for me.

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Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, advancing higher education, research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians.

Media contact:

Lisa Wallace
Assistant Director, Communications
Universities Canada
[email protected]

Tagged:  Equity, diversity and inclusion

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