People of SFU

Lessons in leadership with three women university presidents

October 12, 2021

Summoning the nerve to lead is just one of the real hurdles for women working in higher education, according to former leaders of some of Canada’s largest post-secondary institutions.

Martha Piper and Indira Samarasekera, former presidents of the University of B.C. and the University of Alberta, respectively, tackle the issues facing women in leadership roles in their new book, Nerve: Lessons on leadership from two women who went first.

They will discuss the book’s themes and share their career experiences in an upcoming SFU Public Square event with SFU President Joy Johnson.

“Women are often reluctant to assume leadership positions, for whatever reason, they do not believe they are adequately prepared or ready to be leaders,” says Piper, who served as the 11th president and vice-chancellor of UBC. “Women need to have confidence in their abilities and to listen to others who think they are ready to lead.”   

An Officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Order of British Columbia, Piper also returned to UBC in 2015 as interim president. She’s also been a director of the Bank of Montreal, Shoppers Drug Mart and TransAlta Corporation.

Samarasekera, who served as president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta from 2005 to 2015, says society, in general, has begun addressing many of the barriers that women historically faced in the workplace, but there is work yet to be done.

“One challenge still facing young women is educating and socializing them to have both the confidence and desire to lead, whether it be in their communities or workplaces,” says Samarasekera, who is also an Officer of the Order of Canada, a director of Magna International, TC Energy and Stelco as well as a past director of the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Lessons on Leadership, a conversation and Q&A with Samarasekera, Piper and Johnson, will be held on Oct. 15th at 6 p.m. at SFU Harbour Centre. The in-person event includes an optional pre-event reception and post-event book signing. Due to the pandemic, tickets for the in-person event are limited. The event will also be livestreamed.

  • To learn more about the event and to register, click here.

“Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed and experienced structural inequities in the workplace and needed a boost of courage—or nerve—to push through,” says Johnson, who became SFU’s 10th president last fall, the second woman to hold the position.

“This is an important conversation and I’m excited to hear from two exceptional women leaders about their challenges and lessons learned.”

Learn more about how we can inspire the next generation of women leaders and register for Lessons on Leadership, with Martha Piper, Indira Samarasekera and Joy Johnson.

Did you know?

In 1974, Pauline Jewett became president of SFU and the first woman to lead a university in Canada. Read more about her here.