Aubrey for International Women's Day


Inspiring the next generation of female professionals

To commemorate International Women’s Day, check out this new video featuring Aubrey Iwaniw’s story.

Mar 7, 2024

For some people, inspiration can come from something as small as a symbol.

In Aubrey Iwaniw’s case, it’s a token from a cherished family member. Something she wears everyday as she helps mentor the next generation of female professionals.

She’s paying it forward, after role models like her grandmother and university professors helped inspire her as a young person.

By day, Iwaniw is a senior manager of stations planning for Metrolinx.

Working her way up from a staff position to where she is today, 12 years later.

Her team helps plan new GO and rapid transit stations and renovations for customers today and in the future. And Iwaniw says the diversity of the customers is part of that planning.

“We want to build diversity into stations so that our stations are attractive to all genders and all ages,” she says.

At home, she’s the mother of two young girls and was once an extreme sports athlete.

Her daughters know their mom loves trains as well as riding and repairing her bikes, but truly inspiring kids at any age is no easy feat.  

“I tell them they can do whatever they want, but if they pursue higher education, they will have more choice,” adds Iwaniw.

The decision to wear her grandmother’s ring each day is an important reminder not to lose sight of values bestowed on her; to fill up life with explored opportunities.  

Check out Aubrey’s full story here:

International Women’s Day

Metrolinx is commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8, 2024.

We’re working with organizations dedicated to uplifting women and girls, providing opportunities for their personal and professional development.

This year, Metrolinx is participating in the Girls Belong Here Program, an initiative for young women aged 14-24, aimed at connecting them with leaders across corporate, academic, and government sectors.

Read the full interview below with Aubrey Iwaniw, Metrolinx senior manager for stations planning.

MX - You grew up in Woodstock and then moved to Toronto as a young person - what were the differences living in a smaller community and a bigger city?

AI – I just enjoyed living in a small town to the max that I could. I knew the parks, the ravines, but I didn’t see myself in Woodstock long term. I was exposed to larger cities through TV and movies and on trips with my dad and knew my options in a smaller city might have been reduced, as a woman with solid ambitions I wanted to do something bigger than I could in my small town. That meant training and finding opportunities elsewhere.

I remember speaking to the head of the water department in Woodstock, and the way they provided this service for so many people spoke to me. I got through high school with good enough grades and wanted to go to Toronto. It’s the biggest city in Canada with the most fascinating urban framework. So, I went to U of T and dove into clubs and councils.

I left for opportunity, so I jumped at all these opportunities high education provided.

MX - You were really into skateboarding, cycling, BMX biking, did participating in those sports prepare you for your career or change your outlook?

AI – I started getting into those sports when I finished my undergrad. It was the community of it that drew me in rather than the sports themselves.

I met a small but mighty group of women in downhill mountain biking and skateboarding and noticed it was a very different demographic between the women and men. The women were all accomplished, had degrees and were professionals in their fields. Accomplished people doing adrenaline sports. I’m still friends with many of those people today.

I stopped doing these sports because of all the injuries. Lots of broken bones. One bad one in particular, I was riding the Red Bull course in Whistler, and I overshot a jump significantly and came down 15 feet – I broke my arm in two places and dislocated my elbow.

That’s where my time in the sport ended, but definitely riding with lawyers and engineers helped me gain an appreciation for pursuing a professional career.

MX- Going to post secondary school did you see a lot of women in your program?

AI – I had great professors and mentors in university, and they guided me to ask the right questions. I’m the product of talking with incredible women. My program at U of T was pretty balanced in terms of gender, but I’m lucky to have had amazing female mentors in academics and in my professional career.

I want to be a mentor too. I want to pay that forward with my junior staff but sometimes, you have to remind yourself you’re in this position.

Aubrey for International Women's Day

A look at Aubrey Iwaniw and her family. (Aubrey Iwaniw photo)

MX - Did you have any role models growing up that got you into transit planning?

AI – My environmental science professor, Dr. Barb Murck, at U of T, she taught first year. We created a relationship and kept in touch after I graduated. She has since passed away, but she guided many people. Even encouraging people to pursue social sciences too if chemistry or biology wasn’t their thing. Reminding everyone, they can make positive change, using different skills.

She was a neat person, she was a scientist, wrote textbooks, played the fiddle. She filler her life and leveraged her opportunities. The type of person I want to model.

My grandmother was also an incredible person, she died when I was 11. She was an immigrant, came to Canada from Holland after the war. She was an athlete too and could walk on her hands. As an older adult, she even did competitive ballroom dancing! I was the only granddaughter, so we had a really strong relationship. She lived her life, even dating late into her life. I wear her ring on my hand every day, to remind myself to try my best to be something she’d be proud of.

MX – As someone that helps plan transit for future generations, how important is it to have diverse perspectives at the table in that process?

AI – Stations planning is grounded in who is using our transit, considering the population around the station. Absolutely the diversity of the customers is part of the planning. We want to build that into stations so that our stations are attractive to all genders, all ages.

Everything from making sure we get the path of travel right, finding your way easier, and seamless connections to nearby modes of transportation.

I don’t necessarily plan for women - I plan for people. That we plan for women is just a given.  

Aubrey for International Women's Day

Iwaniw is still friends with a small but mighty group of women she met through adrenaline sports. (Aubrey Iwaniw photo)

MX - Gender balance is a priority at Metrolinx especially in leadership, as a senior manager what does gender balance look like on your team?

AI – My boss is a woman, and her boss is a woman, that’s a great thing to see and a great thing to experience. It gives me and other women assurance that those leadership positions are a possibility for us too. I think Metrolinx is doing well in gender parity in terms of hiring, but I do think there’s always room to do better.

Our team is 50/50 male and female. When we are hiring, we make a conscious effort to make gender balance a priority. It’s always worked out for our team. It’s challenging when the people with the most experience always get the best jobs, sometimes we look past the candidate with the most experience and give someone with less experience a shot. How else will women and other groups gain that experience? It’s something that we can tackle in hiring and on my team, we do.

MX – Whether it’s at work, on the bike path/at the BMX park or at home…how does it feel to be a role model for the next generation of women?

AI - It’s daunting to think I’m a role model.

I know my children look at me and see what a woman can do. I talk to them about the choices I made and how they are the result of the discipline I had as a younger person. I tell them they can do whatever they want, but if they pursue higher education, they will likely have more choice. I’m lucky that I chose to pursue my profession. I didn’t stumble into a job. I intentionally chose this due to an interest and a passion.

If my children were to explain what their mother does, they’d say “mommy loves bikes, trains and builds stations and cleans the house”. And part of that’s a result of pursuing my interests.

I do remind myself that people are watching and to present my best self and to always explain where I’m coming from. I do that for my staff, and I do that for my daughters. I think it helps to demystify people and allows young people to see themselves in certain positions and making calls. I don’t have some magic around me, they can do this too and start to see themselves as a professional if they choose to.

by Scott Money Metrolinx editorial content manager, Kareen Awadalla Metrolinx community relations specialist