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Calgary honours stellar women in business

You hear it often in business culture: take advantage of the opportunities presented to you.
Andrea Robertson, recipient of the social enterprise award at Calgary's Influential Women in Business event. Photo supplied.

You often hear it in business; take advantage of the opportunities presented to you.

Andrea Robertson is proof it can lead to a successful career. The president and CEO of STARS was among this year's award recipients at the Calgary Influential Women in Business event by Axis Connects. Robertson’s life has been about serving her community, starting as a nurse and later taking on leadership roles at Alberta Health Services, Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children’s Hospital.

“I was fortunate to have a senior female leader reach out early in my career saying, ‘I think you’re pretty special’ and just started connecting me with people,” said Robertson, who received the social enterprise award. “Extraordinary leaders--male and female--went out of their way to give me a helping hand, many a time. We've got this entrepreneurial, can-do culture and, through the boom and bust, coming together for solutions and highlighting individuals makes us stronger. We need to do more of it.”

Like Robertson, STARS provides an integral service to the community. In the early 1980s, studies showed around half of deaths due to trauma could have been prevented had victims received critical care sooner. Alberta, and much of western Canada, had much of its population living outside of big cities and ground air ambulance wasn’t an efficient or fast mode of transportation to get people the care they needed. Dr. Greg Powell, who had lost a young patient who was being transported from a rural area to Calgary, decided to do something and founded STARS, the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service.

Robertson oversees STARS’ overall direction of operations and is key to building upon external relationships with donors, governments and key partners. Robertson is the most senior executive at STARS and doesn’t mince words when asked about her leadership style of such an important organization.

“I often say you have to be amazing to work here and then the role of leadership is ‘get out of the way’. I mean it,” she said. “These are unbelievably-trained pilots and engineers and you need to let them do their work. The key here is you’re working with a ton of professionals; give them the autonomy to do their job.”

Axis Connects established the Calgary Influential Women in Business (CIWB) awards four years ago to recognize men and women in the city who have achieved professional excellence while also championing diverse leadership in the community.

Other 2023 recipients are:

- Sue Riddell Rose, president and CEO of Perpetual Energy and Rubellite Energy (lifetime achievement award)

- Manjit Minhas, co-founder and co-owner of Minhas Breweries, Distilleries and Wineries (small and medium enterprise)

- Kelly Schmitt, CEO of Benevity Inc. (large enterprise)

- Sippy Chhina, partner, director and vice-chair of Deloitte Canada LLP (professional services)

- Mark Brown, vice president and general manager of Fluor (male champion)

Nuvyn Peters, Executive Director of Axis Connects, says there is work to be done to promote female leaders, be it as entrepreneurs or senior managers in organizations.

"Despite evolutions in the workplace, just four per cent of Canada's largest publicly-traded companies have a woman CEO," said Peters. "The pandemic impacted women disproportionately, and some workplaces are actually suffering an attrition of female leadership—for every woman promoted from director level, two director level women are choosing to leave their company (according to a report by Lean In and McKinsey)."

Peters says a lot is on the radar now, from flex work arrangements to paid leave for caregiving, supportive policies for home care and compensation.

"As a community, as a society, throughout our industries: we are on a collective journey of growth, one in which we can build strong and supportive leadership teams. This year’s CIWB Award winners are changemakers, each a leader in their respective fields who are an inspiration to us all."