It’s been about two years since Genesa Greening visited Main Street’s Liberty Bakery, and boy has a lot changed.
Last time, she was having a coffee with the president and CEO of the BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre Foundation, trying to suss out whether or not she wanted to take over the position; this time, she chats confidently about the strides she has made since she decided to accept the job in October 2016. Sipping on a latte, Greening rattles off an impressive list of accomplishments: “In the last just shy of two years, we’ve taken the organization from 11 staff to 28; we’ve gone from an operating deficit to a surplus; last fiscal, we gave the most money in our history to the hospital and research institute; we tripled our revenue last year.”
All this in a relatively short amount of time, led by the passionate and charismatic Greening—who grew up in small-town Newfoundland with Evangelical pastor parents, and never received a formal education higher than a high school degree. “As a woman who didn’t have a university education, who came from Newfoundland—I still come from an incredible place of privilege, but at the same time I always felt like I had to prove something,” she says, reflecting on her two decades working in social justice, fundraising, and advocacy. “So being able to facilitate philanthropic investment meant that at every angle, I was able to, at the bare minimum, bring money to the table so somebody was at least curious to hear what I had to say. And I would use those opportunities wherever possible to push the envelope and to initiate real change—and innovative change.”
With a resume that includes time at the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver, along with organizations in Africa and the United States (notably with CNN host Van Jones at Dream Corps), Greening has incredible depth of experience and know-how. Coupled with an innate intelligence and infectious energy, she could probably convince a dog to meow if she put her mind to it. But what she puts her mind to these days is the health of British Columbian women, and how better to serve and empower all females who live here.
“There’s this misperception that universal healthcare means universal access. It’s not actually the case. The system responds the same way as any other system that we have, which has its biases, it has its prejudices, it has its inequities. And the realty is, women do not have equitable access to quality healthcare,” she affirms. “And then you start to layer on social determinants, you start to layer on if you’re an Indigenous woman, or you’re a new immigrant woman, or you’re an aging woman, and you start to see all of the normal prejudices in society reflected in the healthcare system.”
Greening believes that investing in research is a big way that the hospital foundation can change the course of female healthcare for the better. Until 1998, women were not even included in medical trials in Canada. “The majority of pharmaceuticals have been prescribed based on a 155-pound man,” she says. “I have a smaller liver, I have smaller kidneys than a man does. I metabolize medications incredibly differently.” On top of that, she argues, even when women walk into a doctor’s office they are not treated the same.
“There’s this misperception that universal healthcare means universal access. It’s not actually the case. The system responds the same way as any other system that we have, which has its biases, it has its prejudices, it has its inequities.”
Greening’s mother, for instance, was institutionalized in a mental hospital when Greening and her two sisters were all under the age of 10. The Greening matriarch went to the doctor complaining of incredible fatigue and was diagnosed with clinical depression; it wasn’t until four years later that it was discovered she actually had thyroid disease. “She couldn’t even get proper blood work done because the dismissiveness towards her was, ‘Well, yeah, you’re tired, of course you’re tired—you’re a fragile woman with three small children,’” Greening recalls. It took another six years to diagnose her mother with chronic fatigue syndrome.
“I know how impactful that was on me and my family, and you start to think about the fact that my mother was an incredibly articulate person who was trying hard to advocate for herself, and then I think about the women in this country who don’t have that ability,” Greening acknowledges. Because even within sexism towards an entire gender, there are those who are seen and those who are not.
As 2018’s LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations kick off around North America, citizens are reminded that there are people who do not define themselves within mainstream gender constructs. When posed with questions surrounding female-identifying and non-binary inclusivity, Greening points to the BC Women’s Hospital Access Clinic, which is specially designed to provide gynecology for patients who are transgender, or disabled, or have experienced sexual trauma in the past. It is a start, certainly, though Greening admits there is far more that can and should be done. “The folks that don’t identify with gender or are transgender, we need to make as much space as possible for those folks,” she says. “I’m a big believer that when we take those who are either in the margins or are underrepresented or are a minority, anytime you find a way to actually ensure that they have equitable representation, equitable access, and equitable voice—there’s nobody that actually finds themselves at a disadvantage because of that exercise.” She paraphrases a well-known adage: a rising tide lifts all boats.
When putting together any article about a woman, the writer is forced to confront his or her own inherent biases: the temptation to describe a female’s flowing hair or silk shirt when a man’s appearance would go unmentioned, or the fact that a powerful working woman has a child or two at home when the reality is that many career-driven men do, too. Greening acknowledges this double standard, especially as it pertains to parenthood, with a laugh and a flippant, “It’s bullshit.” She is a single mother of an adorable two-year-old, which is indeed an impressive feat—but not because she’s a woman, or because she’s doing it on top of having a successful career.
“Will I show off a picture of my son at any given opportunity? Of course I will, he’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. But my ability to go and literally turn the healthcare system on its head to be responsive to half the population is not predicated on my ability to make sure he eats his peas and carrots tonight,” Greening says candidly. “My ability to go to work and raise a child should also not be something that people are just blown away by.” What she is more amazed with is that she had the ability to choose whether or not she had her son at all. “I had access to reproductive choice,” she says. “So he’s impressive because I actually chose to have him, it’s not that I had to have him. Those are differences that matter.”
Addressing differences that matter: it could be Greening’s personal mission statement. Her unwavering pursuit of what she knows in her heart is right has yet to lead her astray, and it seems unlikely it ever will.