“A lot of work went into hosting that summit, so we were proud of that event and the collaborations we had with the other PINs associations,” says Diane Williams-Tyrell from the Black Female Accountants’ Network (BFAN) of the inaugural Women in Leadership Summit held in 2018. The successful event was led by BFAN with the help of peer professional networks including ACEI Canada, EXATEC Ontario, Manyatta Network, UnstoppableMe, “we are so proud that everyone involved with the event got the recognition they deserve,” Williams-Tyrell says of the five associations who were jointly awarded TRIEC’s PINs Leadership in Collaboration award at the TRIEC Immigrant Inclusion Summit.

PINs, which stands for Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs), is a program TRIEC launched in 2011 with the objective of connecting professional associations within the Greater Toronto Area with each other to foster collaboration and build their capacity to help their members.

BFAN Founder, Jenny Okonkwo, who accepted the award on behalf of the association, says that receiving the honour was particularly meaningful at an event that focused not only on employment for immigrants but specifically on their career advancement, “These themes resonate and are in total alignment with BFAN’s core pillars – we founded this organization for women to support other women in our community to develop their leadership and professional skills and advance their careers.”

Formed in 2016 to empower women of Black African and Caribbean heritage in the finance, accounting and related professions, BFAN has seen its Women in Leadership Summit, as well as its membership grow substantially to over 1300 today.

Forming friendships through a common initiative

BFAN joined the PINs network in January 2017, becoming connected to other associations such as EXATEC Ontario and UnstoppableMe. Liliana Nakamura, President of UnstoppableMe says as soon as they joined in 2016 they had the chance to find common ground around goals and objectives, “we started building relationships with other associations.” It was these types of connections that led five PINs associations to collaborating on the BFAN Women in Leadership Summit in November 2018.

“We were all women leading our respective organizations, and we formed a bond through that,” says Marcela Chein, former President, EXATEC Ontario. “It wasn’t only about working within our own respective networks, we became good friends.”

Nakamura and Chein along with Alice Fomen, President, ACEI Canada and Angela Khakali of the Manyatta Network all participated as speakers on the summit’s Community Networks Leadership Panel. “We were very happy to have the support of the other leaders,” says Williams-Tyrell adding that it was “very beneficial to have them come out and talk to our members.”

The 2018 inaugural summit, for which the TRIEC award was bestowed, was a sold-out event that paved the way for a second event in the fall of 2019.

The latest TRIEC research report shows women immigrant professionals, especially women of colour, are still some way behind male immigrants and their counterparts born in Canada in terms of earnings and career advancement, making initiatives like these all the more vital, says Dr. Yilmaz Dinc, Manager of Research and Evaluation at TRIEC. “Our research found that initiatives like mentoring, sponsorship and leadership development all play a key role in advancing immigrant talent in the workplace,” Dinc says, whose research for 2020 and 2021 focusses on promising practices for women immigrants specifically.

He says TRIEC’s 2019 inclusion summit created the opportunity for those in attendance, and following online, to discuss the glass ceiling and its effect on career advancement outcomes, as well as what’s being done, and still needs to be done, to help immigrants, women and people of colour make it to the C-suite. Ultimately, says Dinc, “it’s about removing barriers that prevent people from unlocking their full potential.”

Okonkwo knows firsthand the incredible talent of women in the finance and accounting sectors and says she and BFAN are encouraged by the association’s “explosive growth in recent years.” She says that the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges that the association is choosing to see as opportunities, “to explore how we can increase member engagement across our network.”

Pivoting from in-person to online meeting and event formats, Okonkwo says, will mean BFAN will be able to achieve “greater outreach and collaboration across our various initiatives and programs.”

WATCH: Video about how these five TRIEC PINs associations got together to plan and execute the Women in Leadership Summit, and the impact it had on their members.