At first glance, Shirley Westeinde appears to be an eloquent, fashionable and unassuming. After a little digging, it becomes apparent that not only is she all of those things – but she’s also a passionate philanthropist, savvy entrepreneur, an industry trailblazer, and a Best Ottawa Business Awards (BOBs) Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.’

Ms. Westeinde’s impressive career started as a homecare nurse before she co-founded Westeinde Construction with her husband in 1978. She went on to become the first and only female chair of the Building Owners’ and Managers’ Association’s (BOMA) Ottawa chapter. Her achievements don’t end there – she was also the first woman president of the Canadian Construction Association, the first female chair of the Ottawa Economic Development Corp. (a pre-cursor to Invest Ottawa) and is still an active philanthropist with, among others, the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Group.

Her career would have been impressive (to say the least!) for any person, and especially noteworthy because Ms. Westeinde, now 75 years old, was making her name for herself as an entrepreneur and association head at a time when female leadership in business was rare in many industries, let alone the construction industry.

We sat down with Ms. Westeinde to discuss her achievements and learn from her insights on dealing with gender in the workplace. Here’s a summary of what we learned:

  • She got her start as a homecare nurse, working alone to operate a clinic in St. Thomas, Ontario. There, Ms. Westeinde developed the entrepreneurial skills necessary to keep a small organization running and a commitment to volunteerism before she ever entered the construction industry.
  • She can roll with the punches. After her husband came home one day having quit his job working for a large construction company, she dug in and managed the administration of their fledgling company, Westeinde Construction.
  • She’s a problem solver. When she joined BOMA, her objective wasn’t to shatter the glass ceiling or to make a stand for women in the industry – she just saw some issues, and set out to solve them. This attitude gained her support amongst the people involved in the organization.
  • Her advice to young women in business? Be yourself. Ms. Westeinde urged women not to think of themselves in gendered terms in the workplace, but instead focus on an objective, stick with it and approach problems with hard work and enthusiasm.


Thank you to this week’s guests for joining us on the

  • Angella Goran, Team Captain SokJok Inc. @SokJok

  • Debbie Bellinger, Partner Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP @Nelligan

  • Natalie Cody, Co-Founder at The Better Software Company @BetterSoftware

  • Sharon Lloyd, Recruiter at Stevenson & White @Stevenson&White