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Gender no deterrent for Kelowna businesswoman, MLA

“He looked at me, and he said, ‘You’ll never be as good of a developer as I am.’” — Renee Merrifield
Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield. (Contributed)

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.

Renee Merrifield was in the development industry for two years before she learned it was “male-dominated.”

After working as a consultant for development companies in the Okanagan in the late 1990s, Merrifield decided to go out on her own, starting Troika Management Corporation. She excitedly broke the news to one of her former clients, who gave her a less than enthusiastic reaction.

The CEO-turned-MLA explained, “He looked at me, and he said, ‘You’ll never be as good of a developer as I am.’”

Not due to a lack of knowledge or initiative; she had both in droves. Rather, it was “because you’re a woman,” the man told her.

Merrifield conjured up the only response she could.

“I’ll be a better developer than you could ever be because I actually use the kitchens that I’m about to design.”

Over the next two decades, Troika grew into one of Kelowna’s largest development firms, and the Women’s Executive Network named Merrifield among Canada’s top 100 most powerful women three times.

“I never let gender be a deterrent.”

It’s a mantra Merrifield sticks to. If a financial institution demands a male cosigner on a loan application, she finds a different bank. If men control a business circle, she finds a way in.

And, it’s something she’s taking into her new role in politics — another historically male-dominated scene.

Elected as MLA for Kelowna-Mission in October 2020, Merrifield has been on the job for just more than four months. She’s taken a half-step back from Troika, still serving as the company’s CEO, but appointing a new president to handle day-to-day operations.

A fresh-face in politics, she sees similar barriers to those she vaulted in the development industry. Taking over from long-time politician Steve Thompson, who served the office for 11 years before his retirement, Merrifield has noticed differences in how she’s treated compared to her predecessor and even her long-tenured local counterparts in Norm Letnick and Ben Stewart.

“The first call … is to a male who has been there for the last 10, 15 years rather than the female who’s brand new,” she said, citing similar circles present during her time as a developer.

“Regardless of where you go, as much as we want diversity to be normal … things are moved forward through the relationship. Oftentimes, gender-based relationships are difficult to interrupt.”

But Merrifield is no slouch. Again doing everything she can to break norms, she’s taken on one of the BC Liberal Party’s most prominent positions as health critic, and there are early musings about her vying for party leadership when the time comes.

“I try to be a part of conversations; I try to make sure I have a significant impact, but also that I’m championing other women and championing what it should look like in the future regardless of what diversity is necessary.

“I believe that’s all of our roles — men or women — to be that voice and to be those champions for the next generation.”

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