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July 02, 2018

Cheese, Chocolate & Women in Planning

Cheese, Chocolate & Women in Planning
On a cold winter day in Simcoe County, at an OPPI event in 2016, a curious young planner asked a more (ah-hem) seasoned planner, “Why aren’t there any women planners on this panel?” The response was, “Good question.” And from there, the Lakeland District International Women’s Day event was born.
For the past two years, this has been a sell-out, must attend, event in Lakeland District. Held in beautiful downtown Barrie at J’adore Fromagerie & Chocolate, an intimate cheese and chocolate restaurant, run by two sisters, attendees nibbled on spectacular cheese plates as well as cheese and chocolate fondues while listening to invited guests speak about their experiences.  The women of the Lakeland District Leadership Team (DLT) made the bold move to have a women’s only event with the support from the men of our DLT. They encouraged us to run with the event.
A map of Lakeland District
A map of Lakeland District
To build on the enthusiasm generated in 2017, our 2018 panel featured three fantastic women to explore the topic of: The Development Industry from a Woman’s Perspective. The panel included: Karen Hansen, Owner, Pratt Homes, Nina Bifolchi, Deputy Mayor, Town of Wasaga Beach and Andrea Bourrie, RPP, former President of OPPI and Director of Planning & Building Services, City of Barrie.  
I have been fortunate to moderate both events and I get the pleasure of introducing the panel. This year I told the story about how I was rehearsing the night before as my lovely husband listened and I asked if the bios were too long and if I should try to shorten the introductions. He replied honestly, “These bios are great. What would you cut?” What indeed?
Karen and Nina joked that they were at first nervous about “getting in a room with a bunch of planners.” The words “sacrificial lambs” may have been spoken with a smile and a chuckle. Both women were quickly assured the perspective they offered as leaders in their respective fields and organizations provided an incredible lens for the planners in the room.
The experiences each panelist shared about the times they were the only woman in the room highlighted their own personal journeys as they each became more comfortable bringing their knowledge and experience to every meeting they took in. They discussed shattering stereotypes and the responsibilities we all have to be aware of as we interact with people of all genders and levels of experience.
Moderator of the event and author of this post, Michelle Banfield, RPP
Moderator of the event and author of this post, Michelle Banfield, RPP
At this event, we say “what happens at J’adore stays at J’adore” but I’ll offer a bit of insight. All professional planners play a role in how we interact with each other and the people in our field, regardless of gender. The value of mentoring and supporting young staff and the need for continuous learning and development throughout one’s career cannot be understated. Finally, I’ll add that every interaction has the ability to raise up an individual or alternatively to create doubts and insecurities – consider what you want your own interactions to achieve. Again, that advice from the panel is relevant to anyone.
We asked the panelists, as non-planners, what advice would you give professional planners? The panelists shared the importance of consistency and fairness in the information we share, and maybe use less planning jargon!
Throughout the evening I like to interject interesting tidbits about International Women’s Day and Lakeland District membership, such as:
  • This year’s theme of #PressforProgress
  • It will take approximately 100 years before gender parity is reached
  • The  2017 Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum ranked Iceland 1st in gender parity as it relates to four key themes: Economy, Education, Health and Politics; Canada ranked 16th in this report
  • Lakeland District OPPI membership is approximately 40% women and there are more men members in each age category compared to women with the exception of the 20-29 category making us all curiously wanting to see if that is a trend or an anomaly 
Participants at the Lakeland District International Women’s Day event. Photo credit: Andrea Bourrie, RPP
Participants at the Lakeland District International Women’s Day event. Photo credit: Andrea Bourrie, RPP
We also tie in the night’s agenda to OPPI’s core competencies. The ones we find to be particularly relevant for this event include: Leadership, Communication and Interpersonal. The importance of mentorship at all stages of your career and supporting each other throughout our careers are common themes.

This is the type of event that has people talking about next year’s event as they are leaving this event. It is that popular. It is that relevant. And the cheese and chocolate doesn’t hurt.

If you’re in the Lakeland District and want to help organize next year’s event – please reach out and let me know. If you’d like to come to our event in 2019 - reserve your space early. If you’d like to host an International Women’s Day event in your district - please reach out, I’d be happy to discuss with you further. Members can reach out to Michelle with questions and their interest at

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Michelle Banfield, RPP

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