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Jennifer Breakspear, Executive Director, Options for Sexual Health BC

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Jun 16, 2014 | Blog

Leader: Jennifer Breakspear

Organization: Options for Sexual Health  

Tenure: Two years

Leadership or life motto: Make a difference

Upcoming projects/challenges:  Acquiring her Certified Association Executive designation

Anyone who spends time with Jennifer can see she is incredibly smart, is not afraid to speak her mind, and is a champion for justice and equity. Jennifer has a fascinating and diverse background, but look behind the curtains and a common theme emerges –a dedication to the dignity of humans and a passion for fighting for our rights – political, health, sexual, gender. 

Like many leaders, Jennifer tried out a handful of careers: for a few years she was a cook, then she spent 10 years as a paramedic, 2 years as a CUPE union rep, and finally she fell in love with school and learning. She went back to university to earn her undergraduate degree, then Masters, and (almost) a PhD in Political Science, specializing in human rights. 

When universities eliminated mandatory retirement for professors, Jennifer realized that an academic career was likely not possible. She faced a wrenching choice: continue with her PhD and hope for the best or quit the path she thought she would take, which had been her focus for 10 years. The choice to move in a new direction took both courage and humility, which are both characteristics of a great leader.  

As a leader, Jennifer willingly accepts responsibility, driven by a desire to serve and make a difference. The most valuable lesson from her family was the importance of being actively involved in the community and giving back. Jennifer lives by this. Despite a busy job, she is active in developing the not-for-profit community. She co-organizes a monthly breakfast for women executive directors, providing a supportive forum where female leaders can share their questions and challenges. She is also a knowledge philanthropist with Vantage Point, facilitating a number of our board governance workshops. These are just a few examples of her commitment.

How would you describe your leadership approach/brand/philosophy?

Lead as you want to be led.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was six I wanted to be a mad scientist. Not just a scientist, it had to be a mad scientist. That lasted for a while. And then I wanted to be the first woman Prime Minister. Darn Kim Campbell!

What is the best advice you’ve received?

Conflict is not something to be afraid of. Conflict provides opportunities for deepening connection and greater understanding. 

Who was your best boss and why?

My current boss, our Board President. She has amazing clarity, she is supportive but not intrusive, and she identifies a goal as well as the steps needed to get there. 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Sometimes I would like to be taller. Other times I just imagine that I am. 

How would we know when you are stressed?

I don’t laugh easily when I’m stressed. But when I’m stressed laughter is often what I most need to get me to lighten up, not to take myself and whatever is stressing me so seriously.

What do you do for fun?

Cycling, I love riding my bike. It’s been one of my favourite things since I was a kid. Getting out on my bike has always made me feel free and alive. And dragon boating, I love being on the water with a group of people, working together, pulling together. There’s incredible power in a dragon boat when everyone pulls together. 

What still surprises you?

When people will not take a risk, when they won’t try something scary or hard. 

When do you get your best ideas?

When I engage in conversation with others.

What are you currently obsessed with – personally or professionally?

Change.

Denise Baker headshot

Author

Denise Baker

Denise Baker was the Executive Director of Vantage Point and is passionate about change management and growth, cultivating collaborative environments and developing leadership in others. She has held leadership positions in many industries, including Director of Worldwide Education at Business Objects and Assistant Dean at the Sauder School of Business. Denise has an Honours English Degree and a Master of Library and Information Science from UBC.

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