A Look at the Women Against Multiple Sclerosis 2020

Since 2005, Women Against Multiple Sclerosis (WAMS) has brought together a powerful collective of professionals nationwide who fundraise and network in support of Canadians living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

On November 20, the virtual WAMS Gala presented by the LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart™ program will recognize honourees from across the country who are making a difference in business and the community. We sat down with two of our honourees, Diane Kazarian and Linda McGowan, to get to know them and learn about their thoughts on finding work/life balance, mentoring and the importance of achieving a world free of MS.

Diane Kazarian, GTA Managing Partner, PwC Canada, first started her involvement in supporting people living with MS in 1985.

“My very first volunteer board work was with an organization that started MS After Dark. It was an opportunity for young adults to come together for evening activities where people could network. I worked with them for many years, helping the MS community in Rhode Island and that’s how my work with MS began.”

This concept of supporting the MS community through these types of networking and cross-collaboration opportunities comes full circle as Diane is the 2020 WAMS honouree for Toronto, Ontario.

Q: Why do you think events like WAMS are important?

A: “Events like WAMS are so critical, particularly now with the lockdown, because we do not want to lose the connectivity and awareness within our communities. In fact, we need to come together, now more than ever, and figure out how we can help beat MS.

WAMS is an excellent example of how we can do that. They did a wonderful job at this year’s Gala by using the virtual platform to be creative and agile. Otherwise, we could have missed out on the ability to connect as a community.”

Q: In your opinion what makes a great leader?

A: “There are so many attributes I believe that make people great leaders. These include being inspiring, empowering and having empathy. It’s about a person bringing their true authentic self to the table.

Empathy for me is the piece that stands out most. We need to empathize with one another and understand that everyone is different and is coming from a different place.

For me, leadership is not about just one person telling others what to do. In fact, it’s about coming together and being successful as a team.”

Q: How do you find work/life balance?

A: “Work/life balance is a very personal thing in terms of what it means for each person. It depends a lot on the individual.    

There needs to be a constant sort of ebb and flow – some days are going to be better than others. You have to be realistic. Because everything changes from day-to-day and I think if we can accept that, we can better define what balance looks like for each of us. One week might be busier than the next and so maybe you can take more time during that less busy week for yourself. I think speaking with your mentors, so they are aware of your situation, is so important. Creating balance is really about the person’s individual situation and what they expect out of it.”

Q: Who was someone who has been a mentor in your life?

A: “From a personal perspective, my mother was always a mentor in my life–giving me this incredible strength and courage to do anything I put my mind to. I’m an only child and she would completely focus on me and that was all she did. That kind of mentorship is what made me believe a lot in myself.

Professionally, I’ve had some wonderful mentors at PwC who I’ve worked with. One that comes to mind, who recently passed away, is Tom O’Neill, our former CEO. I worked with him for years and he taught me a lot about how to behave in a boardroom – how to present myself, poised, in a man’s world. He would often say that I needed to have some – he called it “scars on my back” – to fail, so that I’m able to learn, persevere and grow.

Our current CEO, Nicolas Marcoux, has also been a wonderful mentor. He has supported me, making me feel that I can make a big difference as a Managing Partner of the GTA region. He believes in me and gives me great ideas, but he doesn’t tell me what to do. In fact, he trusts me, and I trust him – and that to me is great mentorship. He was in the same role as the Managing Partner for Montreal before becoming our CEO—so he knows exactly what it’s like to run a large region and I’ve gotten some great coaching from him in that regard.

All this to say, that men in senior positions also have a huge role to play in workplace gender-diversity. They need to lean in more and provide that mentorship and coaching to women. I’m at a very senior position as well and I do this for many others but that doesn’t mean I don’t need mentorship anymore. It’s an ongoing learning process.”

Q: You are hosting a dinner party. What three people, dead or alive, would you want there?

A: “I would want Nelson Mandela – I read his book The Long Road to Freedom and it captivated me. I would love to speak with him about his experiences.  I would also like to have Steve Jobs there. He was raised by Armenian parents as well. I would like to explore his mind through his creative journey. Finally, I would love to have Cher there because I love Cher – she’s also half Armenian and I think she’s such a musical icon. She’s been through so much and I often spin to her music. I think the combination of those three would be quite interesting.”

Linda McGowan, Community Outreach Liaison for HandyDART in Vancouver, B.C., has been a strong advocate for people with disabilities since she was diagnosed with MS in 1983.

She has committed to promoting accessibility at home and around the world through her memoir Travelling the World with MS…IN A Wheelchair. Linda is also a volunteer with the MS Society as a member and contributing writer of the Shared Voices newsletter committee since 1995. Her articles aim to educate readers on information about activities in the community and encourage people with MS to be out and about.

As a dedicated advocate who is making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities, the MS Society is pleased to recognize Linda as the 2020 WAMS honouree for B.C.  

Q: Why do you think events like WAMS are important?

A: “Living with MS involves ongoing uncertainty. One never knows what tomorrow will bring. Events such as WAMS, usually take place in large cities, which bring people together. It also helps raise more funds and awareness for MS research so that we can live in a world without MS.”

Q: What role has the MS Society played in your life?

A: “The MS Society has consistently provided me with education and support on this rocky road. The Society has established beneficial programs for people living with MS and their families. Examples of these programs include: self-help groups, assistance for equipment loans/purchase and even assistance to negotiate the bureaucracy of the health care system.”

Q: How do you find work/life balance?

A: “My work and life balance have significantly changed due to the pandemic. As Community Outreach Liaison for HandyDART in Metro Vancouver, I was meeting with individuals, families, groups (up to 300) two to five days a week. However, no matter how busy I was I made sure that I took time to manage my MS through exercise and diet. I’ve been swimming three times a week for 35 years as a form of exercise. But due to COVID-19, community centres were closed, my work with HandyDART is now online and has been greatly reduced.

Although this is the case, I have changed my exercise routine to online wheelchair boxing, wheeling outside on warm days in my manual wheelchair and participating in virtual classes offered by NeuroSask in partnership with the MS Society.”

Q: What is your advice to others living with MS who might be facing feelings of uncertainty or isolation?

A: “Continue to live every day to the fullest. Maintain connections with those you love and those who love you. Fear impacts the immune system so make sure to make mindfulness and connection with yourself a priority. Try engaging in activities or hobbies that you’ve always wanted to do but perhaps did not pursue. For example: learn a second language, crafts or write a book! This too shall pass, and tomorrow may bring something magnificent.”

Q: If you were a superhero, what power would you possess and why?

A: “The strongest force in the world is love, and so I would blanket the world with the force of love.”

For more information on all the honourees and to purchase your tickets to this year’s WAMS Gala, visit www.wamsgala.ca.


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