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3 Lessons Aspiring Black Female Leaders Need to Successfully Navigate Race and Gender in Canada

Written by: Denise Ledi, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


This year, the Government of Canada’s Black History Month theme is “February and Forever: Celebrating Black history today and every day.” It invites us to pay tribute to, and learn more about, the important roles that Black Canadians have played in building and shaping a more prosperous, diverse, and inclusive Canada.

Black History Month reminds us of our collective responsibility to create space for, give thanks to and uplift the voices and stories of Black women and men—now and every month of the year.

ALL experiences, all stories enrich and inform ALL of us collectively. Our stories can ignite and inspire change for better days ahead. So what better way to celebrate Black History Month by doing just that?

I am a Black woman and a leader —I value both personally and professionally. In honor of that, I share with you 3 things I did to successfully navigate race and gender as a Black Canadian female leader. In turn, I hope doing so helps start a conversation about our complex Black Diaspora within and beyond Canada, female leadership, and ultimately, change.

1 Know the Score

When I was a little girl, my father would tell me “give it your all no matter what. Or you’ll never make it. It’s just how it is. People won’t see you, much less recognize your abilities if you don’t.” To a little kid, these words seemed harsh, and a bit puzzling.

As I grew older, I came to realize this was meant to prepare us for the realities of the world we would face: being the only one in the room that looks like me, fundamentally understanding what that isolation and pressure feels like. What it’s like being on the receiving end of conscious and unconscious gender, racial and systemic biases, microaggressions such as “oh it’s so good to meet you! I had no idea you were Black! Where are you from? Or, attending a conference hosted by your organization only to be mistaken for hotel staff. “Excuse me miss, can you refill my water?” Imagine this individual’s look shocked and embarrassed when I was introduced as a speaker at the event.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it's reality. It’s the system in which we live. It operates whether you acknowledge it or not, knows it or not. No matter the degree of success or accomplishment achieved, because you, Black person, a Black woman, Black leader, are “other.”

To the up and coming Black female born here, to the new immigrant who thought by coming to Canada you would escape these challenges and everyone in between, know the score.

2 Decide What You Want, and Go for It!

Behind the message “know the score” I also gave the message “decide what you want and go for it!” What do you want to do? Be? Achieve? What is your overarching grand goal and vision?

I can still picture little Denise hearing, listening, and watching the hustle and grind of my parents, an engineer and nurse; new immigrants to Canada from Ghana & Jamaica respectively by way of the UK laying the groundwork for better days ahead for my brother, sister and I, forming the beliefs: “this is what it takes to be self-reliant and resilient? Success is the result of "hard work and working hard(er). Could I do the same? What if I can’t?”

I did. It’s the only thing I knew. This ethic was instilled deep with me and it infused everything I did. Later on, I knew that I wanted to help and lead others therefore made the decision to do just that. What that looked like, I didn’t know. No matter, decide what you want, and go for it. Start walking towards your dreams. Making the decision and taking action is the first step in moving forward. Don’t let anyone tell you who and what you can be or do.

3 Overcome Fear & Embrace Your Worth

When you step out, it’s understandable if you play it safe vs take expansive steps. Limiting beliefs such as self-doubt; fear of failure and judgment due to preconceptions & societal expectations, the expectations we place upon ourselves, coupled with battling a system stacked against you tend to do that. All of these things can limit your desires, natural gifts, and talents from their full expression if you let it.

But know this: our ambitions, our dreams inspirational are powerful. Embracing and living them is the self-leadership the world needs to see, and in turn, be impacted by. The individual and the collective “we” all lose when we discourage ambition and discourage dreams. The sooner we realize this, the better off we’ll all be. Overcome Fear & Embrace Your Worth.

Share; don’t hide authentic self-expression and determination. Diversity of perspectives is a catalyst for change and growth. Change and growth come from learning and understanding differences if we dare; seeing the potential and the possibility of what could be.

Easier said than done, I know! Leadership is hard. Being a woman in leadership is hard, much less being a Black woman in leadership. However, embracing these 3 lessons can help position and start you moving boldly towards realizing your ambitions, leading yourself, and others; informing, inspiring and shaping change. The factors outside yourself that contribute to your success, such as having a mentor, access to and forming strategic networks, and having opportunities for advancement come along the way.

If you’d like to develop and master your leadership skills, let’s chat! Reach out to me here or message me on LinkedIn,

To your success!

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Denise Ledi, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Denise Ledi is an Empowerment & Executive Leadership Coach based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada serving clients across North America. She has spent more than 20 years as a leader in addiction & mental health, forensics, and correctional healthcare and knows firsthand how complex and challenging it can be to lead in ever-changing environments. Denise integrates real-world leadership experience, experiences as a coaching client with expertise as a certified executive trained coach and Master’s trained Criminologist to provide a unique, innovative, integrative perspective to her clients to help them gain clarity and achieve the measurable results they're looking for. Denise has been a mentor to 100+ professionals and family, including her younger brother & sister after their mother died and as their father built his Engineering firm into a successful business as a new immigrate to Canada. Budding podcast host, speaker, and writer Denise believes that our highest potential is reached by helping others reach theirs. Her primary mission is to empower others to become their best selves, access their whole potential, and make an extraordinary impact on the world!



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