Rachel Lewis, the Richmond-raised chief operating officer (COO) of the Vancouver Whitecaps, will speak at the Women in Leadership panel hosted by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce this Thursday.
Having been part of Whitecaps FC for 14 years, Lewis was named COO in 2007 and is the only female core executive member on a Vancouver pro sports team.
“I think in Metro Vancouver we are quite lucky to be in a community that’s pretty open and reflected to women in leadership,” said Lewis.
“But the number still isn’t where it should be, and (women in leadership) is a conversation we need to continue to have so that it remains an important issue.”
Lewis admits that she is a minority in the sports executive boardroom, but she always speaks up for the opportunities she believes in and gets her voice heard.
“First of all, we need to be our own biggest advocate,” said Lewis.
“Women need to believe in the equal rights we have and step forward to ask for them…and we need to take ownership of our goals as leaders.”
She said it’s important for women to support each other in the professional world, and that being a female leader means taking the responsibility to create a positive work environment for female employees.
“I was the first employee to take maternity leave in my company,” recalled Lewis, who joined the Whitecaps when the company was still young.
“Now I’m in a senior position, I think about the support the company can give to employees who also need to take maternity leave,” said Lewis.
With a bachelor’s degree in sociology and an MBA from UBC, Lewis worked in a variety of fields before stepping into sports, where she found her real passion.
Now, she never hesitates to advocate the importance of passion in achieving success and realizing potential.
“Skills are crucial, but I always look for passion, because I can’t cheat passion or steal passion from others.
“If you are doing what you are passionate about, then you have greater desire to reach a higher level, and fighting for your position in a leadership role becomes more natural.”
She advised young people to try as much as they can to find the career path they love.
“The great thing today is that there are a lot of opportunities to try things, like a co-op in universities, which is fantastic, and you can talk to people from different industries to better understand the workplace.
Or we can look at ourselves and think what we like to do. When I was a teenager, I enjoyed planning events, so I thought, ‘could I make that into a career, with things I already enjoy?’”
The Richmond Chamber of Commerce hosts the Women in Leadership 2.0: Luncheon and Panel Oct. 5, 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. Lifelabs CEO Sue Paish and 23-year-old SmartSweets founder Tara Bosch will also join the conversation.