ELEVATE: Women in Business moderator Ashraf Amlani (left) with panelists Swail Pirzada, Heather Deris, Carol Robinson, and keynote speaker Anne Bethune.

North Vancouver Chamber members spent the morning of International Women’s Day 2024 being inspired by female business leaders making an impact in our community.

Setting an uplifting tone for ELEVATE: Women in Business, held at Holiday Inn & Suites, was event keynote speaker Anne Bethune, a leader in the health industry and president of Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports (VASS).

Bethune revealed to the audience her most valuable piece of business advice: Lead with love and compassion.

“So, who do we need to show compassion for first? Ourselves, right?” said Bethune.

“In business, compassion is not a luxury—it’s a necessity. It’s what drives meaningful connections with customers, employees, and stakeholders.”

“People will never forget how you made them feel. So, what are you doing to create a compassionate culture for your life and business?”

Bethune, whose life has been enriched by people of differing abilities, also spoke about the importance of embracing diversity and inclusion in business, “where everyone feels empowered to contribute their unique strengths and ideas.”

ELEVATE: Women in Business moderator Ashraf Amlani, principal & co-founder, Bunyaad Public Affairs, was joined on the stage by panelists Swail Pirzada, optometrist & owner, ClearLight Eyecare; Carol Robinson, founder, Harbour West Consulting; and Heather Deris, manager & co-owner, Ava Music & Art Centre.

Each panelist described obstacles they faced while either starting or running their business.

“The biggest challenge was figuring out where to start,” said Pirzada, whose focus of study was optometry.

“How do I secure funding for my business? Find a place? So, there were just so many unknowns.”

Deris and her husband, Fred, were newcomers to Canada and learned to be resourceful when they opened Ava Music & Art Centre in 1995.

“There wasn’t the internet or social media that could help us understand what services were out there,” said Deris, who went on to study business administration. “I found out about the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, and I became a member.”

In finding the right niche for Harbour West Consulting, Robinson honed in on the nonprofit and public service sectors, “which was not perhaps what people thought would be in my best financial interest,” she said. “But I decided to ground my business in my core values of providing services to groups typically underserved by professional services.”

How has your workplace culture affected your success, whether intentional or accidental, Amlani asked the panelists.

Deris credits her daughter, Ava Maria, for teaching her the value of diversity and inclusion in business.

“She started becoming my teacher and my role model,” said Deris. “For us, inclusivity and diversity is very, very important.”

Supporting female caregivers with a flexible work environment enhances your candidate pool exponentially, said Robinson.

“We have tapped into incredible leadership in our firm, and all they needed was some flexibility to go visit a parent who requires some extra caregiving, to drop a child at school, to make it to a hockey practice,” explained Robinson.

The panelists also gave advice to the ELEVATE audience on how to develop their business network.

Deris said it’s important to be courteous to everyone around you because you never know when you will meet that person again.

“You have to think, someday this person is going to be my client, or I’m going to be their client,” said Deris.

A special thanks to:

North Vancouver Chamber board member Bruce Peters, owner, Zazou Salon and Academy, for providing beautiful gifts to our guest speakers.

Faye Bednarczy, director of sales and corporate partnerships, The Polygon Gallery, for donating the raffle prize: tickets to an upcoming exhibition. 

Media coverage:

North Shore News: Panel event celebrates business acumen of North Shore Women

North Shore News Feature: Connecting with Women in Business