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Celebrating Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Trailblazing Women

The Toronto Region Board of Trade is proud to celebrate International Women's Day by shining a light on the trailblazing leaders who have not only helped influence our organization, but the trajectory of our region as well.

Over the past five decades, we have transformed as an organization, championing equity, diversity and inclusion through our work and, last year, we were recognized with Gender Parity Certification from La Gouvernance au Féminin - Women in Governance. This achievement was a result of the focused efforts of our Board of Directors and Executive Leadership team, who have made parity and diversity a priority.

Our journey is ongoing, but it has been shaped by the many bold and inspiring women who dared to lead.

Sadie Moranis

In 1972 the Board of Trade admitted its first woman member, Sadie Moranis, who was also the first woman to found a real estate brokerage in Toronto in 1971. In subsequent years she would also become the first woman president of the Toronto Real Estate Board.

Sadie tirelessly championed women’s equality and deeply believed that given equal opportunities, women could succeed in business. “It wasn’t easy, especially when you have no support from the women before you. Never having had a woman (as president) no one knew quite knew what to expect,” she told the Toronto Star in an interview in 1987.

Kerrie MacPherson

In 2000, Kerrie MacPherson became the first woman to Chair our organization. Kerrie, a trailblazer in her own right, had an illustrious career at Ernst & Young where she was a partner. She paved the way for countless women entrepreneurs as executive sponsor for the EY North American Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program, and championed LGBT initiatives as executive sponsor of EY’s bEYond program. 

Since Kerrie’s term as Chair, the Board has been chaired by other women leaders: Rebecca McKinnon, Betty Carr, Beth Wilson and Anne Sado. Today, our Board is comprised of 56 per cent women leaders as well as 31 per cent visible minorities. As a workplace that reflects our diverse business community, this is an important milestone. 

Elyse Allan

Beginning in 1995, the Board appointed its first female President & CEO, Elyse Allan, who led the Board until 2004. Under Elyse’s bold leadership, she initiated the “Enough is not Enough” campaign which succeeded in getting an annual contribution for municipalities from the federal gas tax. This was the first time the Board ran a public advocacy campaign, and the beginning of the recognition that Toronto needed expanded revenue tools other than property taxes. The state of Toronto’s finances and the need for other levels of government to support the city have been a going concern since.   

Following her time at the Board, Elyse returned to General Electric as President and CEO of GE Canada and Vice President of GE, where she developed the "GE Women's Network" to support female employees making GE a leader of diversity and inclusion. Elyse was recognized as a Top 100 Business Women of Influence by the Women’s Executive Network and one of 25 Most Powerful People in Canada by Canadian Business Magazine. Today, she is the Chair of Invest Ontario.

Carol Wilding

From 2007-2014 the Board was led by Carol Wilding who shifted the Board’s focus to the economic opportunities and barriers of the entire Toronto region instead of just the City of Toronto. The Board was ahead of the curve, driving the conversation around regionalism and cementing the idea that a cohesive regional effort was essential to competing globally.

With this regional mindset in place, Carol focused on the business imperatives of regional transit to connect our workforce and enhance livability, including through the ‘Let’s Break the Gridlock’ campaign, which sought to get the public involved to make Metrolinx’s ‘Big Move’ a reality. During her tenure the Board also focused on economic development through the release of the ‘Scorecard on Prosperity’ report series, the Greater Toronto Region Economic Summit, and by taking an industry cluster focus to our economy. Carol currently serves as the President and CEO of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario, which is the sponsor of our Toronto Region Builder Award which is presented at our Annual Dinner.

Jan De Silva

Most recently, from 2014 to 2023, Jan De Silva led the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Over her eight and a half years, Jan reactivated the World Trade Centre Toronto which developed and nationally operates the award-winning Trade Accelerator Program (TAP), helping more than 2,500 export-ready SMEs develop and activate export strategies.

She also led the Reimagining Recovery Framework during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was the greatest advocacy and response effort in the Board’s 179-year history. The Board convened more than 25 sector tables; tracked international best practices; built awareness of the uneven impact of the pandemic across our region’s six business districts; activated pilot recovery programs in the Downtown Financial District and the GTA West Economic Gateway; and, launched a Recovery Activation Program across the Province to help businesses digitize. The Board became a sought-after partner to all orders of government - all done while the region, and our team, remained in lockdown. Jan’s impact and advocacy has helped grow the Toronto region into the economic powerhouse it is today. She is currently Canada Co-Chair, Canada-ASEAN Business Council and was appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau to represent Canada on the APEC Business Advisory Council.