Community Circle Profile: Sarah Kwan - Lean in Canada

This week, we had the chance to sit down with Lean In Canada Co-Founder, Sarah Kwan and ask her about what—and who— motivates her in her professional life.  (Psst! If you’d like to be featured here, or know someone who does, drop us a line on Twitter or Facebook, or send us an email!)

Lean In Canada: What do you do?

Sarah Kwan: I’m a co-founder of Lean In Canada, and my primary focuses are business strategy, marketing, and programming. By background, I am a retail professional specializing in business strategy and merchandise planning, with a strong penchant for continuous process improvement. In other words, I like finding ways to make my colleagues’ and teams’ work lives easier and better while managing a P&L and shaping the direction of a business!

LIC: Why did you get involved?

SK: As with so many other women, I was extremely inspired by the book Lean In, and Sheryl’s words about intentionally building a network that would support your career and life ambitions resonated with me. I wanted to find a group of like-minded women who love having careers to share experiences and ideas with, and never expected at the time that what we started would grow into the organization it has become. The more conversations I have with women and the more I hear about their dreams, successes, and struggles – the more I am motivated to keep building Lean In Canada.

LIC: What issues facing women in Canada are most important to you?

SK: There are so many important issues to choose from, but unconscious mindsets that reinforce traditional gender roles is a huge one that affects both women and men, and can prevent people from making the life and career choices they might otherwise make. The state of single mothers (21% of single mothers in Canada) living in poverty is also extremely serious, and has long-term effects on society. And I often think about how we can get good men to realize that sexual harassment, something that women encounter on a regular basis, is a serious thing that they can play a role in recognizing, preventing and stopping.

LIC: What’s your favourite book?

SK: I don’t have just one favourite, but Lean In comes pretty close!

LIC: What websites or blogs do you make sure to visit daily?

SK: I’m a news and research junkie and frequently find myself on the CBC, Globe & Mail, and Harvard Business Review sites, to name just a few. On social media, I make sure not to miss any posts by Humans of New York on Facebook, and Mensweardog (yes, a dog wearing menswear) on Instagram.

LIC: Name a woman you find inspiring, and why she motivates you.

SK: I’ve had the pleasure of working with some wonderful women who really made a difference in my career by recognizing my potential, advocating for me at work and encouraging my intrapreneurial spirit, and they inspire me to be the kind of leader that seeks to serve and help others to realize their own potential. They include Sabrina Hally, Lynn Foster, and Renita Smid. There are many others who inspire me, but these are three women who have actively pushed my career forward, for which I am forever grateful.

LIC: Name a woman you wish more people knew about.

SK: I found out about Margaret Heffernan through last year’s TEDxWomen conference, and absolutely loved her talk on social cohesion and productivity in organizations. I believe that people are yearning for the kind of company culture she describes, and that organizations are yearning for the improvement in their performance that happens when people can bring out the best in each other collaboratively.

LIC: What’s the most empowering thing you’ve done in your career?

SK: One hugely empowering thing is being able to hold out for the right opportunity. Sometimes it can be tempting to say yes to the first offer that comes along, but nothing is more valuable to career satisfaction than a great personal fit with the people you’ll be working with every day, and the opportunity to do meaningful, challenging work!

LIC: What are some topics you’d like to see addressed at a Lean In Canada event?

SK: There are so many topics that interest me, and we’re planning to cover quite a few of them this year – including the touchy subject of workplace harassment, the career journeys of women who have attained C-suite level roles, and negotiation.

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