As International Women's Day takes place on March 8th, we reached out to a well-known, true leader in our community, Debra Button. 

Button served as a City Councillor for six years before becoming a Trustee for the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division, and then she served as Mayor of Weyburn for 10 years, also taking on the role of President of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA). She is now currently working at the Saskatchewan Health Authority.  

She said this year's theme for IWD, "Inspiring Inclusion" reminds her of when she was in Ukraine as part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"I was asked to be the Canadian representative for gender over in Ukraine, and when I went the first time, I was thinking, 'oh, I know quite a bit about gender, coming from Canada' and thought we were pretty well-versed on things. As it turned out, the Ukrainians actually taught me a lot."

"There was one turning point moment that I had, sitting in one of our seminars," she shared. "This gentleman stood up, and you could feel his frustration when he said, 'what do you women want?', feeling that they had been very progressive and done all these things. I sat there and kind of was chuckling under my breath, but I then thought to myself, 'this must be how my mother and my grandmothers felt'."

Button said this encouraged her to start leaning in and getting more involved, and understand that she was standing on someone's shoulders.

"That mindset never left me, and has never left me, and it has become a part of me."

She said she often tells herself, 'you get what you give'.

"It reminds me that I need to keep growing, keep learning, and keep supporting those around me - women and men," she noted. 

Mentoring, Button said, is an important role for anyone who leads. 

"I had some great mentors in my time. I wasn't the first female Mayor. It was Isabelle Butters, and she was an awesome mentor for me. I'm so grateful that I was able to lean on her when I truly needed her the most. That lesson has also carried me through into my leadership roles with Saskatchewan Health Authority, that I need to be a mentor to people around me and to bring those impactful moments to people."

She said those moments aren't always big moments, but small ones, too.

With her work in Ukraine, which mainly focused on economic development with a gender-based theme, encouraging more women to run for office and assume leadership roles, Button mentored both women and men, and she went back twice after losing the Mayor's seat in 2016.

"I did do two trips back just to work with them a little bit further and to do some presentations," she noted. "Then, two years ago, the world changed in Ukraine, so I am still in touch via social media with a few of my better friends. Some of them are scattered, some of them are still there, and I'm hoping one day work will continue. But there were seeds planted, and I have been forever changed by my experience and my time learning and working with them. It's something that I cherish, and there are parts of it that I've carried into my everyday work now with Saskatchewan Health Authority and I hope that there's someone that's blossoming and blooming because of the skill set that I bring to them." 

Several representatives from Ukraine, both men and women, came to Canada, "to tour our communities and to see how we managed our democracy here and how we encourage women to get involved."

Button said the visits to Ukraine also informed her role on City Council.

"I honestly never thought about the fact that I was a woman when I was in those roles, other than when it would come time for things like playground equipment, then I'd think, 'ohh, what would my kids like?' The only time I really started to think like, 'okay, what's different for me?' is once I took on the role in Ukraine and then I started to think, 'how is this different for me than it is for a fellow councillors that are male?' and I just brought a different perspective."

"There was respect back and forth. The work ethic that I felt I brought to the table, I know the men I worked with saw that I was engaged, and I was prepared, and I was ready to tackle. So that respect was something that always encouraged me to keep going. Diversity is such a big part of it. Everyone brings a different mindset, a different background, and a different perspective, and that's where you get the best outcomes." 

Button shared three traits for anyone - male or female - to be a good leader. First, to lead with kindness, compassion, and humour.

"It's important to keep that in as a mindset as we encourage other people to grow into their leadership positions, I truly believe girls, should know that they don't have to make any compromises. Probably as my mom was coming into her career and she had those standardized teacher nurse roles as a mother, but we can do anything." 

She celebrated the fact that the City of Weyburn's current Engineering department is made up entirely of women - something that would not have been seen back in her mother's or grandmother's day.

"We always need to be mindful of whose shoulders we're standing on and who we've grown from, and how we're leaning in and how we're expanding," Button implored. "That is just marvelous that we have these choices and that we continue to expand on them and it just be so everyday life for us and it's so encouraging for me to see these women finding their voice and expressing it, because that was something that I was encouraged often to do by my mentors."

Button concluded that, as we celebrate International Women's Day, it's important for us to remember that although we've come so far, we still have a lot of work to do.

"There are places that some girls are not educated because they're girls, and we still have those struggles, so we'll continue on and we'll celebrate our successes on this day and look forward to the future when the next generation comes up and are standing on our shoulders."