Two Black women in Saskatoon say being recognized at a national event was an energizing experience that has motivated them to push forward in their own careers and connected them with other Black women on the rise.
On Oct. 15, Black women from across the country gathered at the Oasis Convention Centre in Mississauga, Ont., for the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in 2022 awards ceremony, put on by Canada International Black Women Excellence (CIBWE).
Two Saskatoon entrepreneurs, Betty Mutwiri and Oyindamola Ajibola, were among the recipients.
Mutwiri runs BM Leadership, Coaching and Consulting Incorporated, which offers inclusive leadership programs and coaching.
"It's gratifying to know that the work that I have done in my career in the community matters to people and it has a positive impact," said Mutwiri. "It definitely has given me fresh wind in my sails to keep doing that."
The gala was about more than just recognizing the achievements of the recipients. It also raised money for The Esther Handy Children's Fund, an initiative that supports young girls' education in Canada and Cameroon.
Being there was so energizing. - Betty Mutwiri
Mutwiri said the gathering also challenged the idea that there is only room for one Black woman in any organization, an attitude colloquially known as the "one seat at the table" phenomenon. She said she has often been the only Black woman at gatherings for senior leadership and that it compounds the feeling of being a minority.
"I definitely have experienced it firsthand," Mutwiri said.
She said seeing so many Black women who excel in their fields in one room had an impact on her.
"That definitely created a very different dynamic from what I've been used to," said Mutwiri. "Being there was so energizing."
Inclusion comes from actions
Saskatoon's Oyindamola Ajibola was recognized at the event for her work empowering immigrants to thrive in Canada.
She is the creator of the magazine Immigrant Muse, the Immigrant Connect conference, and an app that connects immigrants to programs and services.
Ajibola said she also understands what it's like to be the only Black women in a room. She said it can make promoting inclusion difficult.
"If you don't feel fully aligned with the organization because there is some agenda you want to push, and you feel like you're the only one, you can't push it alone," said Ajibola.
She said celebrating diversity but not prioritizing inclusion is a common pitfall for organizations.
"Diversity is what we see, but inclusion is what we do. So if we are the diverse audience but we don't feel like there is inclusion in the company, then it reduces satisfaction."
Ajibola said having more than one Black women in the workplace makes a difference.
"You can share nonverbal cues," she said. "When you blink, the other Black woman knows what you're talking about and they completely get you."
Ajibola said her network grew exponentially at the award ceremony, even though it was only one evening.
"It just opened opportunities for me to collaborate with other amazing women that are doing great things in their field," said Ajibola.
Changing the narrative
On top of both being recognized at the ceremony, Ajibola and Mutwiri are collaborating on a book.
"I was very disturbed after George Floyd's murder and I just felt as a mom and as a Black woman, I need to energize other Black women leaders," said Mutwiri.
"I decided to facilitate a leadership program just for Black women, and after that I invited them to co-author a book."
The book will launch in February 2023 to coincide with Black History Month.
"We just want to change the narrative of the Black woman leader," said Mutwiri. "We want it to be normalized."
A third Saskatchewan woman also made the Top 100 list. Bernice Richard is the COO of Custom Agriculture Intelligence, a board member of the Friends of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and a children's book author.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.