Carmen Rempel. (Phil McLachlan, Capital News)

Kelowna Gospel Mission’s executive director is uniquely feminine, and unapologetic for it

Carmen Rempel started her role last year

In this edition of Women in Business, women were interviewed who are employed in typically male-dominated industries or in a position that was historically filled by a man.

These women share their stories of being underrepresented in their field and leadership roles – in the hope that their perseverance and success become the guiding light for the next generation of women in business, so they continue to break glass ceilings and meet their goals.

Women in Business shows who the movers and the shakers are in Kelowna and that there is always a space to share stories of successful women.

Carmen Rempel leads her team in a uniquely feminine way.

When she walked in the door at her new job, most thought she was the new secretary. When she started to unpack her things in the vacant executive directors’ office, some did a double-take.

The new executive director of the Gospel Mission shelter in downtown Kelowna stepped into her role in June 2020, taking over for Randy Benson, who’d held the position since 2001.

She took over a position that has, in the past, always been served by men. Now almost a year into her new position, Rempel reflected on her experiences as a woman in the role.

“I was first welcomed with a bit of surprise because I think everybody was expecting a 45-year-0ld man, and instead this very young woman arrived on the scene. Having said that, I was welcomed immediately, enthusiastically.”

Rempel’s presence has since resulted in a culture change in the office, located on Leon Avenue, close to Kelowna’s waterfront. This change has been welcomed by many. That said, she credited those before her for paving the road she now travels on.

“My predecessor did an absolutely incredible job building this place up. But this role has been held traditionally by men. Not only because it’s a leadership role, but also because it is a faith-based non-profit, and the church seems to be a couple of decades behind the rest of the world when it comes to embracing women in leadership.”

Being a woman in leadership will always come with challenges. In her experience, some people have a hard time taking direction or correction from a woman.

One of the immense challenges she faces as a woman in her role is that people — especially men — rarely apologize to her. Also, the public sometimes makes inaccurate assumptions.

“If I take one of my direct reports out for lunch or out for a coffee, people will assume it’s a date and will offer the bill to the man. And so that’s always quite awkward when we have to explain to the server that this isn’t a date, and that actually, I’m his boss,” said Rempel.

However, in other ways, she said being a woman is a fantastic asset.

“We work with a population that has extreme amounts of trauma, especially from early childhood. What I bring to this role isn’t just my leadership skills; it isn’t just my education in non-profit management; what I bring to this role is actually my whole person.

“I am a mother. And I’m a mother of traumatized teenagers. So because of that, the way I lead is actually in a very feminine way.”

When she started to make changes in the office, some questioned what she was doing.

“I had to tell them simply; you have to understand that if I’m going to be here, I’m going to lead. I’m going to lead as a woman. I’m not going to do my best job to simply impersonate male leadership.

“I am uniquely feminine, and unapologetic for it.”

One of her first changes was to give away her parking spot. With a lack of space, she gave it up to someone who needed it more. Now, she parks down the street in the parkade. Her next move; give away her office and embracing a more collaborative workspace.

What used to be her large corner office is now a meeting room — filled with tables, chairs, and whiteboards for brainstorming.

Although much has already changed at the Gospel Mission, Rempel has more plans yet.

“Right now, it’s all about building a healthy staff culture, and building a healthy team where everybody actually works together for the greater good, putting others above themselves so that all of us can rise together. That’s what we’re trying to build here, and I’m trying to lead by example in that way.”

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