The Captain Nichola Goddard Women in Leadership roundtable concluded its three-city series, bringing 75 people together in Calgary on April 30 for an evening of insight, inspiration and frank conversation about military leadership from a female perspective. 

Now in its sixth year, 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.   

The evening’s MC was journalist Valerie Fortney who wrote Sunray: The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard. Nichola’s sister Kate Goddard spoke about her big sister’s impact, and read from one of her letters home while on duty in Afghanistan. Guests also watched a commemorative video produced by the Canadian War Museum about Captain Goddard. 

Calgary’s event featured as its guest panelists: 

  • Lieutenant-Commander Anna Kocot, Naval Reserve  
  • Master Corporal (Retired) Natalie Forcier, Canadian Armed Forces 
  • Major Rachel Hilbig, Canadian Armed Forces 
  • Master Sailor Gillian Embree, Naval Reserve 
  • Moderator: Kelsey Armstrong, Partner, Corporate, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt 

Learn more: read the Women in Leadership panelists’ bios. 

Highlights and insights from Calgary 

Goddard events are a unique opportunity for civilians, Veterans and serving members of the military to meet, network and learn from each other.  

Work-life balance 

In each city where the Goddard Leadership event took place, the issue of work-life balance was a common theme. LCdr Kocot is a reservist and is second in command of her unit, as well as a fulltime high school teacher and a mother of two. “Being on call all the time, with two young girls at home who would cry when I left the house was very difficult,” she says. “If I didn’t have the support network and people in my life, it wouldn’t be possible.” 

When women in uniform are not the norm 

Panelists recounted experiences in places where female leadership – or even a female presence – is not the norm. While deployed in the Ukraine Major Hilbig caused a commotion with a group of male Ukrainian soldiers simply by unloading a late-night shipment from a truck. “They were rolling on the floor laughing,” she recalled, “because they had never seen a woman operate a forklift.” 

In some situations, lack of consultation and planning for the presence of female soldiers created challenges. One panelist recalled how, on one deployment, the men’s shower facilities were in the adjacent arena while the women’s showers were several blocks away, in an unlocked barn open to the public. While no incidents occurred, the lack of planning certainly caused additional stress and safety concerns among the few deployed women.  

Major Hilbig went on to discuss how the CAF is addressing these types of planning gaps, through the deliberate inclusion of Gender Focal Points, trained staff members tasked to integrate gender perspectives into the planning process for every operation, including domestic response operations such as fires and floods. Their job is to identify potential deficiencies and work towards gender parity, so that deployed personnel can focus on the mission at hand.     

As one panelist noted, the situation is improving, but there’s still a way to go.

MS Embree’s biggest challenge was not being considered for a leadership role despite already providing guidance and support to her entire unit. She received more than a half-dozen denials before she secured the needed recommendation to pursue leadership training – “I became undeniable,” she says. As a Certified Professional in Human Resources Associate, she also notes that HR can have a role to play in helping redress imbalances.

“In your role in HR, do you have the opportunity to push for women in leadership roles? It is becoming more and more balanced but it starts with leadership.” 

Gaining a global perspective 

According to Forcier, her time in the military shaped – and broadened – her perspective. “I developed a sense of leadership, family and a real sense of the world,” said Forcier. “If you gave a child a pencil in Afghanistan, that was the greatest gift ever – a simple pencil can make their day. We take a lot for granted, and the military enabled my growth beyond that mindset.” 

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:  

National Platinum Sponsor 


Presenting Sponsor (Toronto) 


Platinum Sponsors 

Canso Investment Counsel 


PSP Investments 

TD Securities 

Gold Sponsors 



Silver Sponsors 



The Jhooty Family 



Bronze Sponsors 


Sam Ousher Switzer Charitable Foundation 

Special thanks to the Calgary committee: Laureen Harper. Patti O’Connor, Darlene Switzer-Foster.  

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.