Speaking to the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs on Monday morning, Premier Kathy Dunderdale got choked up as she talked about the strides women have made in the provincial workplace.
“I’m always reminded of a piece of work that I was involved in in the ’90s that took a look at what happened during the development of Hibernia,” she said over a breakfast meeting in a ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel. “Women only constituted four per cent of the labour force during that whole project. The (number of) women involved in trades and technology were so small that we couldn’t measure. It was less than one per cent. And I expect that business opportunities associated with that project wouldn’t measure any higher.”
Dunderdale formed a group that secured almost $2 million in federal funds for a labour market development agreement, which led to the creation of a provincial Women in Trades and Technology organization. The premier said that development had unforeseen political consequences for her.
“I was on the interview board that hired (provincial NDP Leader) Lorraine Michael and facilitated her return from Ontario to Newfoundland. Only in Newfoundland does that kind of stuff happen,” she said to laughter and applause.
The point of the group was to ensure women wouldn’t be left out of the “economic engine that was driving this province,” said Dunderdale.
“The work that began there carries on today, and never did I imagine that while I was learning all that stuff and becoming so passionate about making changes, that I’d hold this position and be able to bring all of that knowledge and commitment to it,” she said, her voice breaking slightly as she thanked the organization for their support.
“Women’s work hasn’t always been acknowledged or honoured or fully recompensed in the past. That’s starting to change, and change in a significant way. That’s something that’s good news for everyone in this province.”
Alison Coffin, economist and owner of People Are Staring — a holding company that encompasses investment advice, a catering company and a company that promotes sexual awareness and advice — said the speech was a good overview of Newfoundland’s economic evolution, with an emphasis on women’s increasing prominence.
“It showed a good progression of women’s growing role in the Newfoundland economy, especially coming from where we were when the cod fishery closed and we first started developing Hibernia and a lot of the trades,” she said, “to now where Newfoundland is leading the country in women entrepreneurs.”
Professional motivator Lisa Quinton said the speech, which was capped by a standing ovation from the audience, was uplifting.
“She’s such an inspiration to women of this province and throughout the country. What I found particularly touching was how she talked about her mother and how her mother was an entrepreneur, and how she managed not only to run her own business but raise a family of 11 children, which is so incredible, and to know that that’s what gave her her drive and spirit,” she said.