Women's Infrastructure Network
WIN Awards Program

Leslie Woo's Acceptance Speech

Leslie Woo is the recipient of WIN's 2015 (inaugural) Outstanding Leader award.


WOW — Thank you Women’s Infrastructure Network Canada.

Thank you for showcasing all these outstanding leaders and emerging leaders. It is an honour to be amongst this esteemed group. And to my fellow finalists – Jodie, Sarah, Marnie and Cathy – what a powerhouse! Let us all now sing your praises!

I did not set out to be a leader, I set out to make a difference. I have always wanted to make an impact! As a young girl growing up on the small island of Trinidad, I saw a lot of poverty and injustice. I thought if I became an architect I could design homes that would give others comfort. Today here I am, able to influence where and when we invest billions of dollars in infrastructure.

It’s not about the steel and concrete — what we all do in this industry impacts people’s everyday lives. We should never forget that.

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. I am grateful today for all those shortcuts that I avoided, because that is how I learned and that is how I continue to grow. After all, leadership is a team sport. It takes a team of all levels of ability, so now I think it’s time to thank all those people who along my career were my detractors; the naysayers who said I couldn’t do it and least of all do it my way.

To the boss who said I was crazy to leave his esteemed architectural practice to work at City Hall, and who pooh-poohed the virtue of public service and public servants. Guess what? It was there that I was able to be part of bringing into this city so many new urban parks (the Village of Yorkville, Harbour Square Park and Courthouse Square, to name a few). Good thing I didn’t listen to you.

I’d also like to thank the bureaucrat who called me crazy, because big ideas are not practical. Well, guess what? I got to shape one of Canada’s fastest growing regions through the first ever Growth Plan, and now with the regional transportation plan, The Big Move. Millions of dollars are being wisely invested in public transit! I say go big or go home! Thank you for confronting me and pushing me to do better things.

This one will be a bit weird but here goes – thank you to my exhusband, whom I don’t speak to anymore. Thank you for forcing me to embrace financial independence! It was also because of you I was able to spend more time as a single parent with my kids than if you had been around. As tough as that was, my kids are closer to me than many.

Thank you to those people who have worked for me, and who pushed me to be a better boss. Sometimes it was annoying, but it was because of those prods that I have become deliberate about being a better leader. You were my leadership team members who made my life difficult and uncomfortable. Thank you all.

Of course, I also want to thank the other members of my leadership team: the good, positive supporting people who urged me on, who never doubted me. It obvious that these good people, my family, the International Women’s Forum Fellows (class of 2012 – 35 women from 14 countries), my personal advisory board, my mentees, and naturally the folks at Metrolinx, especially those women who have joined in our Women in Management Network - you all inspire me.

So thank you all. Again, thank you to the Women’s Infrastructure Network Canada. Ladies, through your collective leadership we are moving an industry into the future! Although that industry might be entering the 21st century kicking and screaming at times, we have to keep up or get left behind!

And gentlemen, we need you. Because when we all work together we WIN (get my pun). My son said to be sure to thank him (well, maybe not so much); and my daughter said be sure to thank the organizers and those people you work with.

So again, thank you all for this honour.

— Leslie Woo, 2015 Outstanding Leader winner