Ottawa businesswoman Shirley Westeinde is Chair of the Westeinde Group of Companies. She received the WBN Businesswoman of the Year Award in 1997 and is the Honourary Chair for this year’s awards.

What has changed for women in business from the 1980’s to now?

The biggest change is the number of women who are in business. When I started in 1978 the bank manager was male, the bonding agent was male, and the insurance agent was male – all three key to our business. Today these same positions are a majority female. It is definitely quite a change.

What does success look like to you?

Success, to me, is the ability to accomplish goals that I have set for myself and to feel satisfied that I did the best I could under the circumstances. It was ensuring that our company was profitable, but also that our employees were feeling a sense of fulfillment with their work and enjoyed the “family” environment they worked in.

I also feel that having family and friends around is a major part of the feeling of success.

What is your most memorable business achievement?

I guess my most memorable business achievement was becoming the first female Chair of the Canadian Construction Association, and Chairing a board of 72 male representatives from across the country.

What are some of the obstacles you faced along the way?

Being a minority in the construction industry was a continual struggle to gain credibility, particularly in my case where my husband was well recognized in the industry. However I just took one step at a time, and was greatly assisted by the amount of publicity around my unique participation in both the Construction and Builders and Managers Association. I was the first and unfortunately still the only female President of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Ottawa. This was 20 years ago, and there has not been another female President.

How did you overcome these?

For me it was ensuring that whatever I did was done with enthusiasm and hard work.

I worked hard at gaining respect for my participation and knowledge about the industry, and all aspects of the industry. This included taking numerous courses over the years and participating on numerous committees, both in the industry and also in the community.

How important is networking to your success?

I think that networking played a major role in my success. It was initially very difficult to participate in networking in all-male associations, but over the years it became much easier as I became accepted as an equal.

What vaue did networking bring to you personally and professionally?

It brought great value to me, as the more I got to know people in the community and industry the more they thought of us for potential construction projects, and I also developed many friendships that have been and continue to be long lasting, even though I am no longer professionally involved.

What words of wisdom can you offer to women in business?

I guess for me it’s important to feel that whether you are male or female you are good at what you do, and always assume that you will be treated equally. It’s hard work, but well worth the effort.

What is the motto you live by?

Enjoy each day, as if it may be your last, and always make friends and family a priority.

Did you have a mentor? What did they provide you with?

I belonged to a PAG group, which was a group of Founders of Businesses, and they provided me with a lot of mentorship.

You were a Businesswoman of the Year recipient in 1997 – what did this mean to you?

I was very honored to receive the award. It was obviously a remarkable event, and I feel so fortunate that I knew ahead of time that I was the recipient, and was able to ensure that friends and family were in attendance, and to prepare a speech. It is definitely much more difficult today.