More than 200 guests met in Ottawa on March 19 and Toronto on March 21 for an evening of inspiration and great conversations at the annual Captain Nichola Goddard Women in Leadership series. Now in its sixth year, the series features panel discussions with current servicewomen and women Veterans – wide-ranging conversations about military and civilian life and the leadership skills needed to thrive in both.  

The Women in Leadership event is named in honour of Captain Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian female soldier to die in combat while on duty in Afghanistan in 2006. The series is held in support of the Fund that also bears her name.  

A sister’s memories 

To begin the evening, guests watched a moving commemorative video about Captain Goddard that was produced by the Canadian War Museum. [Watch the video about Captain Goddard.] 

Kate Goddard, Nichola’s sister, spoke at both the Toronto and Ottawa events. She set the stage by reading an excerpt from one of Nichola’s letters home from Afghanistan: “I don’t want you to think I’m depressed – far from it. … the more that we actually interact with the Afghan people, the more I feel that we are serving a purpose here. I think that these people… are trying to achieve something that we in Canada have long since taken for granted. They lay down their lives daily to try to seize something that is so idealistic it is almost impossible to define.” 

Goddard concluded, “Some of the strongest and bravest women I have ever met are servicewomen. I can’t wait to hear from the women here tonight and celebrate their accomplishments.” 

A powerful lineup of panelists 

The depth of experience, accomplishments, and leadership savvy was on full display at the events in Ottawa and Toronto, and we were honoured to have the Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, serve as moderator in Ottawa. 

Panelists at the Ottawa event included: 

  • Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Cybèle Wilson, MMM, CD, VP Partnerships, ADIT North America 
  • Major-General J.R. Speiser-Blanchet, CMM, CD, Deputy Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force 
  • Chief Warrant Officer Sandra Bouchard, CD, Canadian Armed Forces 

Toronto’s event featured: 

  • Sonya Lockyer, President & Chief Executive Officer, Lifemark Health Group 
  • Chief Warrant Officer Lori Flowers, MMM, CD, Canadian Armed Forces 
  • Colonel Vanessa Hanrahan, OMM, CD 
  • Master Sailor Julie Briffa, Canadian Armed Forces 
  • Moderator: Sloane Muldoon, SVP, Global HR Services, Scotiabank 

Read the Women in Leadership panelists’ bios. 

Highlights and insights from Ottawa and Toronto 

Each discussion was packed with insights, hard-won wisdom and a healthy amount of laughter. Here are a few of the many great moments from both evenings. 

The panelists shared motivations for joining the Forces that ranged from rebel daughters looking to shock their parents, to young adults looking for more adventure, employment and opportunity than their hometowns could offer – and at least one self-described “recovering ballerina”. 

Women currently comprise about 16% of Armed Forces members, and their experiences and challenges are unique, as are their reasons for pursuing a military career. When expectations met the real-life experience of serving, the discussion revealed some steep learning curves. 

Some panelists described challenges that were deeply personal, like the pull between the needs of family and the all-encompassing focus that life in the Forces requires. A common thread, as one panelist described it, is “the feeling of not doing enough at work or at home.” Frequent moves, though part of military life, had an impact on panelists’ families, particularly when both parents serve.  

Being a leader and a mentor 

After leaving the Forces, Sonya Lockyer had an eye-opening lesson in the differences between the military and the civilian workplace. “I was meeting with a nervous young employee who said, ‘You intimidate me.’ I asked for details, and she just laid it all out and then told me that my nickname among staff was Ice Princess. I told this story to my business partner and they said, ‘This is a surprise to you?’ I decided to lighten up and literally let my hair down.” 

A change in leadership within the Forces was also noted. 

“Compassion is a bigger part of our leadership now,” Master Sailor Briffa said. “You can always make someone better – you can’t fire them like in the civilian world. You have to develop your people.” 

An audience question about how to be an effective mentor prompted a response from CWO Bouchard that led to applause. 

“Just being yourself and leading the way is being a mentor – it doesn’t have to be one-to-one. Don’t impose your mentorship on people who are not requesting it. And always say the truth: if someone doesn’t have the capacity to progress, be honest with them. This is how you establish your integrity.” 

“Canada is my number-one priority” 

The panelists may have had pragmatic reasons for joining the Forces when they were younger but what made them stay was an overarching sense of duty and a drive to public service. 

“When I found the military, I found purpose,” said Lockyer. 

“My military perspective is my normality: values of honour, duty, sacrifice and courage, and discipline are the baseline,” said CWO Bouchard. “Canada is my number-one priority.” 

Col. Hanrahan summed it up for the audience in Toronto: “I get to represent you. I will always be proud to do that.” 

Coming soon to Calgary 

The Captain Nichola Goddard Women in Leadership event is coming to Calgary on April 30! 

Click for event details and to purchase tickets. We look forward to seeing you there. 

Funding applications are now open 

The Captain Nichola Goddard Fund is now accepting applications from Canadian registered charities that provide mental health, leadership and military to civilian transition programs and services that demonstrate long-term impact for servicewomen and women Veterans. Learn how to apply for funding 

Thanks to our sponsors 

True Patriot Love Foundation would like to thank our sponsors for their generous support of the Captain Nichola Goddard Women in Leadership series: 

Presenting Sponsor – Toronto


National Platinum Sponsor


Platinum Sponsors

Canso Investment Counsel


PSP Investments

TD Securities

Gold Sponsors



Silver Sponsors



The Jhooty Family



Bronze Sponsor


Special thanks to the Captain Nichola Goddard Women in Leadership Committee for their year-round support: Joanna Davies, Karen Forward, Kate Goddard, Christine Merminod, Jacqui Szeto, Adrienne Zaya.