Six women from the University of Waterloo were named among the top 100 most powerful women in Canada in the annual rankings released by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN). This year’s list includes Clarice Ward, Jacqueline Beckford-Henriques, Suzanne Kearns, Anita Layton, Carolyn Ren and Pearl Sullivan (in memoriam). 

WXN rankings are widely seen as a measure of exceptional impact for leadership in business, research, the arts, public administration and community advocacy. Past winners include the novelist Margaret Atwood, Canada’s first woman astronaut Roberta Bondar and former governor general Michaëlle Jean, who is now chancellor of St. Paul’s University College. 

Although the WXN rankings designate the most powerful women in Canada, the organization takes a somewhat unconventional approach to defining power. Whereas other rankings may understand power as a measure of wealth, status or physical strength, WXN sees power as grounded in compassion, humility and the promotion of collective wellbeing. 

As part of its mandate, WXN sets out to support equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in senior leadership throughout professional and public life in Canada. The organization also hosts professional development workshops and produces research on EDI, women in the workforce and women in leadership in Canadian companies. 

Pearl Sullivan

Profile photo of Pearl Sullivan in a blue blazer

Pearl Sullivan, who died in November 2020, was the former dean of engineering at the University of Waterloo, the first woman to hold the position. Just the fifth woman across Canada to head a school of engineering, she was a dynamic force for Waterloo engineering and the entire university. Under her leadership from July 2012 to December 2019, the faculty reimagined engineering education and research with revolutionary spaces and transformative programs that will ensure Waterloo remains a leader in engineering well into the future. 


A champion of the faculty’s work in disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, nanotechnology, robotics and wireless communications, she expanded the potential for industry collaboration and government support in key research areas. Passionate about supporting students, she was dedicated to ensuring they had a complete understanding of engineering principles and the tools and facilities they needed to succeed. 

In 2015, Sullivan launched the faculty’s Educating the Engineer of the Future campaign. She worked tirelessly to achieve its ambitious goals of building Engineering 7 and providing students with enhanced experiences to help them achieve their aspirations. Sullivan was a powerful voice for women and a strong advocate of full diversity and inclusion in engineering. 

Jacqueline Beckford-Henriques 

Jacqueline Beckford-Henriques has been the head coach of the Waterloo Warriors swim program since 2017. Before joining the Warriors, Beckford-Henriques was the head coach of the Jamaican National swim program, coaching at three different Olympic Games (2000, 2004, 2008). In 2019, Beckford-Henriques was named the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Coach of the Year for the men’s team. 

Beckford-Henriques co-founded The Alliance, an anti-racism group at the University of Waterloo working towards educating members of the Waterloo community and the larger community on equity, diversity and inclusion.

Portrait photo of Jacqueline Beckford-Henriques in a Warriors polo.


She is also a member of the OUA Black, Biracial and Indigenous committee, working to create inclusion and eliminate racism across university sport in Ontario.  

In the world of swimming, Beckford-Henriques is currently working on a template for a Learn to Swim program for the BIPOC community in Waterloo that would be free to participants. The hope is for that template to be transferable to other universities and other sports where barriers for BIPOC communities exist.  

Suzanne Kearns

Headshot of Suzanne Kearns in a blue shirt and black blazer.

Suzanne Kearns is a professor in Waterloo’s aviation program and director of the newly launched Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA). With the air transport sector being an out-sized contributor to climate change, Kearns’s vision is to create a sustainable future in aerospace and aviation. 

Through WISA, Kearns approaches sustainability as three pillars of equal importance: social, environmental and economic.


By fostering interdisciplinary inquiry, cross-sector partnerships and experiential learning, Kearns is harnessing Waterloo’s excellence in technology and environmental research to address all three pillars — and the interconnections between them — to create meaningful, long-term solutions. 

Kearns is credited with writing the book on how to start a career in aviation. Her text Fundamentals of International Aviation has been translated into multiple languages. Working with the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Kearns developed a “fundamentals of aviation” (AviFun) course designed to support professional development, providing fundamental knowledge to inspire people to consider the different fields of aviation as they explore their professional goals and career path. 

Anita Layton

Anita Layton is the Canada 150 Research Chair in mathematical biology and medicine, associate dean of research and international in the Faculty of Mathematics, professor of applied mathematics, computer science, pharmacy and biology and the chair of the university’s research equity, diversity and inclusion council. She has produced a sustained body of work that has impacts in scientific computing, renal physiology and medicine, with over 170 publications in top-tier journals and over 4,400 citations. 

Layton serves on the NSERC Leaders Network to shape the development of research policies and programs across Canada and is an editor with journals including  SIAM Journal on Applied Dynamical Systems  and  SIAM Review Book Section.

Profile photo of Anita Layton in a pink shirt with a silver necklace.


She is a member of the women in mathematics committee and the women in computer science committee, which work to promote opportunities for women and girls in STEM fields. 

Alongside her research and service, Layton is a dedicated teacher and mentor of undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, with many promising young researchers working in her various labs and supporting her research programs. 

Carolyn Ren

Headshot of Carolyn Ren in a black blazer

Carolyn Ren, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering, is the director of the Waterloo Microfluidics Laboratory. The lab is dedicated to gaining a fundamental understanding of microfluidics and nanofluidics and developing chip-based technology for biological, chemical and biomedical diagnosis, analysis and treatment. 


Ren is a member of the Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology, the Waterloo Centre for Microbial Research, the University’s Water Institute and Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology. She is also a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada and a fellow of the Canadian Society of Mechanical Engineers. From 2009 to 2019, she held a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Microfluidics and Lab-on-a-Chip technology.  

An entrepreneur, Ren has co-founded four companies with different specializations: Advanced Electrophoresis Solutions Inc, which works in protein separation; Quantwave Technology Inc., which focuses on microwave sensing for water and food quality control; Air Microfluidic Systems Inc., which is involved in soft robotic wearable systems; and Alphaxon, which works in protein fractionation.  

Clarice Ward

Clarice Ward is a fourth-year legal studies student in the Faculty of Arts, and also a two-time Conestoga College graduate in Women in Skilled Trades and Carpentry Apprenticeship. Ward is a Project Manager, Specialty Contracts at Melloul-Blamey Construction, one of Ontario’s largest open shop general contractors.

An advocate for the extensive opportunities within the construction industry, and a powerful voice for equity, diversity, and inclusion, she currently serves on the Board of Directors for Skills Ontario and WinSETT (Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology). She has influenced thousands of women to consider skilled trade opportunities.

Clarice Ward


Ward was the first woman to receive the prestigious Premier’s Award in 2019 for the Apprenticeship category — Colleges Ontario’s highest honour. She was awarded a 60th Anniversary Gender Equity Fellowship by the University of Waterloo in 2019.