NEWS 12:48 PM by Melinda Cheevers Fort Erie Post
The Greater Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce hosted its 13th annual International Women’s Day Luncheon at Cherry Hill Club on March 2. Ruth Unrau (right) interviewed guest speaker Leanne Standryk. – Melinda Cheevers/Metroland
Women of all backgrounds came together on Friday for the Greater Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce’s annual networking luncheon hosted in honour of International Women’s Day.
Held at the Cherry Hill Club in Ridgeway, the event was an opportunity for women to gather for a few hours of shopping, networking and inspiration.
Niagara Falls native Leanne Standryk was the guest speaker for the event. A lawyer who specializes in labour and sports law, she offered up insight into her path to success. Rather than deliver a prepared speech, Standryk was interviewed by Ruth Unrau in a fireside chat format.
As the youngest of 10 siblings, Standryk described her childhood as loud and chaotic. Each child, she said, was involved in something — be it a sport or after-school program — to help keep them out of trouble and by the age of 12, each of the kids were expected to have a job.
On a routine trip to a hair salon, the six-foot-two 12-year-old was asked to become a hair model.
“Next, I found myself in Milan, New York City and Chicago,” she said, noting that while participating in a hair show in New York City, she was discovered by an agent for Ford Modeling Agency. “The next thing I know I was walking (in fashion shows) for Oscar de la Renta, Versace, Calvin Kline, Diane von Furstenberg, living in New York City.”
But Standryk said modelling was always just a means to an end, her goal — dating back to Grade 1 — was to become a lawyer. Schooling, she admitted, never came easy to her; she had to work twice as hard as her siblings and friends to get her homework and school assignments done.
Standryk shared the story of a high school teacher who was blatant in his comments regarding his thoughts on her future prospects, telling her older sister that their parents should not bother spending money on university applications.
“Because you will never go anywhere or make anything of yourself,” she recalled him saying. Through difficult times in school, his voice was always in the back of her head, she said.
Instead, she continued to work hard, graduating from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Arts in law, sociology, and anthropology, and getting accepted into law school in Western University. Hard work and determination helped her through.
“It’s about believing in yourself, that you had the right to be there. I go back to self-doubt. I think everyone in this room feels it,” she said. “Law school for me, was surrounding yourself in people who believe in you.”
When faced with difficult situations, through her schooling or her career, she looked to the skills she had in her tool belt instead of being discouraged. Breaking into a male-dominated field and workplace? She went back to the sports she spent playing as a child, tennis and golf, to network outside the boardroom. Articling as a junior lawyer? She channeled the hard work and determination that got her through school.
Standryk said once she did make it to the next level in her career, a partner at Lancaster, Brooks & Welch, she used her position to bring more women to the table — both at the partner level and to the law firm in general.
She said the next generation of workers, those who are doing inspiring new things shouldn’t be seen as competition, but rather as an opportunity to make the workplace better and a way for you to collaborate with the best people on new projects.
Standryk also spoke about her father’s experience as a residential school survivor and the effect that had on him and his family. In lieu of a speaker fee, a donation was made in her name to the Indigenous Homeward Bound program through the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre. The 50/50 winner also donated their winnings to the organization in Standryk’s honour.
Leanne Standryk is a senior partner at Lancaster Brooks & Welch LLP and may be contacted at the St Catharines Office at 905-641-1551