Gender parity is not a women’s issue – it is an economic issue that impacts Canada’s competitiveness and prosperity, businesswoman Stacey Allaster, BA’85, MBA’00, told graduates at the Monday, June 16, afternoon session of Western’s 303rd Convocation.
“Our country is in trouble. For years, there has been a dearth of women in leadership positions across Canada. In the past few years, progress has been made, but it has stalled. Given we have more than enough qualified women to fill half these positions, the numbers do not make sense,” Allaster said.
“This must be solved by you – the men and women sitting in Alumni Hall working together. We can teach ourselves, we can teach our kids that it is acceptable for girls to be strong and confident, because they are equal.”
Allaster spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Health Sciences, Brescia University College and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Monday, June 16, afternoon session of Western’s 303rd Convocation. Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Civil Law, honoris causa (D.C.L.), upon Allaster for her talents in ensuring the continued success of tennis in Canada, gender equality and enhancing the health and well-being of the athletes.
For all graduates, Allaster served up lessons learned during her journey from her own convocation to landing her dream job: Own your destiny. Define your independence. Dream big. Be comfortable with who you are. Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Break the mould. Be a trailblazer.
“And keep it simple. It is a very complex world, and those who can keep it simple and not sweat the small stuff, you will not have as many gray hairs as I do. There is so much drama out there,” she said. “Just let it go. We are all driven and want to do the best, so just let the small stuff go.”
A consummate tennis professional, named by Forbes magazine as one of the ‘Most Powerful Women in Sports,’ Allaster has held virtually every position imaginable in the world of tennis – from a junior to a collegiate player; from a tournament director in Toronto to VP of Tennis Canada; and from president of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to chairman and CEO of the world’s leading professional sport for women.
Allaster’s tenure chairman and CEO began in July 2009 and has been marked by her focus on global growth, with Asia Pacific being the strategic priority, maximizing the fan experience through product innovations and securing a record number of new sponsors.
With a focus on the fan experience and athlete health, Allaster played an integral role in the development and adoption of the Roadmap, the WTA’s long-term strategic plan aimed at streamlining the calendar in order to enhance the overall health and well-being of the athletes and deliver top players on a more consistent basis to tournaments and fans.
She also spearheaded such innovative programs as on-court coaching, electronic line calling, and a revised doubles scoring format – all aimed at enhancing the fan experience. Since the introduction of the Roadmap, prize money has reached the $118 million mark.
An advocate for women, Allaster was instrumental in securing equal prize money for women tennis players at all four Grand Slams, which was finally completed in 2007 when Wimbledon and Roland Garros committed to offering equal pay to male and female athletes.
In her citation, Kinesiology professor Karen Danylchuk said Allaster is rare combination of a “passionate sportswoman, with the business acumen to drive her sport to new heights.”
As a standout on the Western women’s championship tennis team during the mid-1980s, Allaster represents the best of Western’s liberal arts education, business training and athletics programs, Danylchuk added.
“Stacey’s career reflects some important changes in women’s sport at Western and beyond,” she said. “Just as women tennis players once competed for prizes much smaller than their male counterparts, women’s teams at Western were once limited, under-funded and under-celebrated.
“In elevating the women’s game in professional tennis, Stacey is a pioneer and an inspiration to Western’s women athletes and coaches. She reminds us that the experience of varsity athletics can have a powerful impact on young women at the beginning of their careers and demonstrates how far women’s sport has come.”
For graduates, she encouraged all to keep their eye on equality.
“As uncomfortable as it may feel, action needs to be taken, our voices need to be heard,” she said. “All of you have the opportunity to empower women, to empower men to shape our society to treat everyone equally. As you move forward, I challenge you to think, speak and act in a manner that will work to achieve these goals. My generation is counting on you.”
Also during the ceremony, the Brescia University College Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to Psychology professor Christine Tenk. The status of professor emerita was conferred upon Brescia Anthropology professor Theresa Topic, Western Occupational Therapy professor Sandra Hobson and Western Communication Sciences and Disorders professor Marilyn Kertoy; the status of professor emeritus was conferred upon Brescia Sociology professor Patrick Berman.