Hanging with Jan Frolic is a pretty awesome experience.
Full of so much energy and focus that you’d swear that she has her own theme song & cape, she instantly puts you at ease, and looks straight at you in a way that lets you know that you have her full – and I mean FULL – attention.
Jan’s made it her mission in life to help people, particularly women, who are trying to make the world around them a better place. And now she’s embarked on a new venture to bring that way of thinking to young children so that they learn to embrace their inner superpowers early.
And if that didn’t already make her the one of the coolest people I know, she’s also been a rally car navigator. [seriously, I’m not kidding… check it out here.].
I recently had the chance to catch up with Jan over lunch and talk all things advancement, equality, and how to get at ’em while they’re young.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
I am proudly a born and bred ‘Shwa [that’s Oshawa, for the non-Ontario folks] girl. I have strong family roots there still and so many lifetime friendships from those years. Even though I haven’t lived there for more than half my life now, I still call it home. I left home at 19 and went to Bishop’s University in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and it was the best decision I ever made. It truly provided all of the foundations of who I am today. Well….my parents and Bishop’s.
What got you started down the path of focusing on women’s advancement?
I always had a passion for advocacy. I always felt I could have a voice and eventually felt I could be heard. I dove into Gender Studies in undergrad and wrote my first papers on Gender Equality about 28 years ago. My real focus at the time was on advocating for LGBT rights and I wrote very specifically on gender, sexuality and the church. After undergrad, it frankly seemed too hard – I felt that I couldn’t make change alone and I had not built my community of like-minded people. So, I stopped. I instead focused on building my own business and building my family until the time was right again to pick up where I left off.
Where do you see us as being in Canada with respect to women’s advancement? Are we on the right path?
I am proud of how corporate Canada is starting to come on board for the right reasons. Diversity & Inclusion is becoming the imperative for executive teams to pay attention to, rather than just a pro-forma box to check. And, the fact that we have more engaged men at the executive level means that it’s not being treated as a ‘women’s issue’, but rather as a business health issue. That’s huge!
More than anything, though, I’m proud of the fact that women’s organizations have begun working together for the greater cause over the last few years. We have a lot of talent in the women’s advocacy space and that we are talking to each other, working together, sharing and lifting one another is incredibly encouraging and exciting. But the work can’t stop there – we need to keep expanding the circle to bring in more people, more backgrounds, more points of view. We always, always need to consciously diversify our networks in order to get a bigger voice that can speak for a wider range of people in Canada.
What gets you excited? What gets you going in the morning?
Those who know me know that I am just generally overly excited, but….
The idea of growth – the build and the change – excites me. I love to introduce people that I know could do amazing things together. I sometimes feel like I am building a secret network of female superheroes that are saving the world. That’s a pretty exciting thing to wake up for.
What is the message that you’re trying to get out there – to girls, to women, to anyone in general?
Talk to everyone. Everyone has a story. If you are fortunate enough to be given a chance to listen you will hear some incredible things, and may even be given an opportunity to help.
You may be given an opportunity to shine a spotlight on another woman.
You may be given a chance to lift someone, to push someone forward in their life, their career.
There is no better feeling than helping to advance someone else. Always be inclusive. Be kind. It will change your world.
Where or who do you get inspiration from?
In recent years the biggest influencers on my life have been the young women I’ve had the chance to work with at Women of Influence. They are so brilliant and so motivated. I am inspired by them and their confidence in themselves. They are driven to make change, and they don’t ask for permission. They just do it like there isn’t any question that it should and will be done.
Last year you hit a pretty significant milestone by being invited to attend the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council & Panel meeting. How did that come about? What did you take away from that, and how has that influenced the work you’re doing now?
There is no question that that was an exciting day for me. Together with the Women of Influence leadership team I’ve worked hard to bring our female Federal Ministers to the Women of Influence podium and so it was a pretty natural (albeit completely mind blowing!) extension.
That G7 day was powerful. Not only because of the women on the panel like Melinda Gates and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee [can we just say, wow!!] but because of all the amazing people who were sitting in the audience with me. The room was full of warriors and advocates for all gender rights, each of them wearing their hearts on their sleeve and visibly deserving of their seat in that room.
The takeaway for me was the power, the life-long dedication and the passion these people have. I learned that there is still so much to do. That night I went back to my hotel room and cried my eyes out, just from the sheer enormity of what I had learned that day.
And then I decided that I need to keep moving the equality cause forward, and that I want and need to be a part of creating real change.
[talk about an a-ha moment!!]
So that brings us to Boypro-ject. What’s the significance of the name? Can you tell us more about the work you’re embarking on?
Boypro-ject is exactly that. I am working to develop in-school and corporate programming, focusing on boys in a ‘pro-boy’ way, projecting new ideas around masculinity.
We’re currently developing an archetype-based curriculum called “Captains & Poets”, and it’s built to help remove and reframe some of the limitations we (as in, society as a whole) have created around masculinity. It’s intended for school aged children starting in Grade 3 and going through into high school. That’s the first phase of Boypro-ject, and our goal is to help children and teens own the fact that they all have both Captains and Poets inside them. And that they don’t have to choose one at the expense of another.
Our hope is to bring a new perspective to the gender conversation and provide fun lessons that question traditional views and expectations. We hope to encourage personal growth, self-awareness, empathy and accountability.
Boypro-ject will also be building corporate programming to help companies develop self-aware and empathetic leaders and to give employees permission to tap into all of their innate, but perhaps underdeveloped, talents.
Although the focus will be on the masculine, Boypro-ject really has an important human agenda that we hope will create generational change in the equality and inclusion space.
I believe that if we start earlier on breaking down the social constructs around gender expectations we may see a quicker uptake in the move towards true equality. We need our boys and our girls to have a better understanding of each other so they can work together better and faster than we have up until now. I want to build those minds so they don’t need to be changed later. I want our children to have an early understanding of themselves and others.
Where can people find out more about Boypro-ject?
We will be rolling out our website soon, and then asking for pilot organizations and schools to test run our learning. In the mean time, you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s your call to action for all those out there who still feel like the needle hasn’t moved (or isn’t going fast enough) when it comes to gender diversity in the workplace?
Call it out. Demand change. Make sure leadership understands the difference between equity and equality. Individuals can create change. Grassroot advocacy is really, really important. Engage.
[OK… and now for some less serious questions…]
Finish this sentence – people who know me best would describe me as …?
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I went to University for music. I have a vintage purse collection. AND I have been a competitive rally car navigator and driven 5000 miles in a 1961 TR4 from Seattle to Alaska and loved almost every second of it.
You’re on a desert island – what five things would you want with you?
Brie, blue cheese, old cheddar, La Sauvagine cheese and a large baguette.
Five people dead or alive you would want at your dinner party?
I try to avoid dead people at my dinner parties. I find them a bit of a bummer.
What advice would you give your 18 year old self?
Calm the F down! I was a big worrier until I hit 40. Everything works out. It really does.
Is there one thing you’ve done in your life that you’re most proud of?
So far, my proudest accomplishment is that all three of my kids talk to me. A lot. AND I think they even like me. I’ve done that.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years? How has that shaped your approach since?
Oh man. I’ve learned a lot of big lessons the hard way. The biggest was: be kind at all costs. No. Matter. What.
The other one…UNHITCH the baggage. Let things go. Life is long and it is such a burden to carry around resentment, anger and sadness.
My life entirely expanded with happiness when I practiced both of those things.
If you could do-over one thing, what would it be?
I would love my body consistently and at an earlier age.
What’s the thing that you most hope you’ll teach your daughter?
The ability for her to laugh at herself.
What’s the thing that you most hope you’ll teach your sons?