Skip to main content
October 23, 2020

Women in Leadership Spotlight Series Part 4: Janice Abbott

Janice Abbott

Statistics show that women account for 40% of the workforce and continue to contribute to world economic development. However, studies reveal that 55% of women do not believe they possess adequate entrepreneurial skills and tend to second guess themselves compared to their male counterparts.

Manning Elliott focuses to improve this statistic and elevate women’s leadership in business. As such, an initiative of the firm’s Women, Wealth, and the Future Committee aims to highlight and demonstrate how women are growing, thriving and succeeding in the economic world through our Women in Leadership spotlight series.

Our spotlight series highlights five inspiring and successful women in leadership. Our fourth spotlight is Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society. Read about her story below.

Janice Abbott and the Risk Factor

Janice Abbott has been the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society in the Lower Mainland for 28 years. Those 28 years have seen significant company growth due largely in part to risky decisions.

“Sticking to something for 28 years. I think that matters. And, in that 28 years, being able to build and develop relationships and build trust by action and delivering results,” Abbott said. 

Atira is a women’s anti-violence organization that includes three non-profit and two for-profit companies. The companies cover a wide-range of needs including development, support to women and children affected by violence, and even, an arts society.

Back when Abbott first joined the organization, Atira was a single transition house in South Surrey with a staff of only seven people. It has significantly grown under Abbott’s leadership.

Risk pays off

Abbott says the first smart risky decision the organization made was in 1993 when they made a decision to stop screening women for drug and alcohol use. 

“We recognized the relationship between women’s experience of violence and trauma and their use of substances. In 1993, we were probably the only women’s anti-violence organization that was welcoming women struggling with substance abuse and mental wellness as well as women who have experienced trauma. We started growing when we made that decision because we were the only ones doing it at that time.”

In 1996, Atira made another mandate change. They broadened their definition of violence against women.

“Historically, women transition houses only accepted women who were fleeing violence in their intimate relationships. We decided that that policy was racist and excluded women who, because of colonization, experienced more significant and more frequent violence,” said Abbott. 

The organization’s new definition included anyone who has experienced violence at any point in their life from anyone who was in a position of power over them, and needed support at this particular point in their life. 

Atira started working with women who had experienced childhood sexual abuse and had been abused by people other than an intimate partner.  

“That was something that was pretty unusual at that time. We started to receive a lot of referrals from organizations that weren’t doing that.”

In the late 1990s, Atira made another decision that was deemed risky at the time. They decided that transgender women were women, and would accept anyone who identified as a woman. 

“I think those three risky decisions, given the climate at the time, meant that there started to be far more demand for our services and that the government started to recognize that they needed to support the services we were providing,” Abbott said. 

Overcoming Challenges

Like many women in business and leadership roles, Abbott had to fight to be taken seriously, fight for space at the table, and had to fight to stand up and make her voice heard. 

“I was being seen to be too intense…too angry. Those are things people have often felt quite comfortable to share with me for some reason.”

Abbott says women seeking roles in leadership today should not be afraid to stand up and be heard.

“Don’t invest your time and energy in worrying whether people like you.”

“Be fair and always keep equity in mind. If you are a white woman, make sure you are not only fighting for space at tables of men, but you’re also giving up your space for women who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color.”

To read our other Women in Leadership spotlights, visit our blog