Better ways and better days ahead — This is the guiding mantra of Cathy Wills’ mediation and group facilitation business where she helps families, organizations, and communities assess their options and come to strategic, compassionate, and inclusive solutions to the problems at hand. Throughout Cathy’s career, which continues to evolve after 35 years, her expertise has been shaped by diverse professional engagements, including work with non-profit organizations, private businesses, governments, unions, and more. The greatest reward, she said, is helping “… voices be heard and perspectives and needs understood.”
Background and Training
Reflecting on her career, Cathy took note of its nonlinear trajectory. “This line of work is really curly; don’t ever try to straighten it out,” she said. It is evident, however, that her inspiration to become a conflict transformation practitioner may be traced back to childhood. Having grown up in a part of Toronto, Canada that was known for pervasive violence, Cathy experienced the extremes of conflict in daily life. Ultimately, this fueled her desire to help individuals establish a greater sense of peace in their homes, workplaces, and communities.
After spending years fulfilling roles in human resources, corporate training coordination, and strategic planning, Cathy developed many questions about workplace conflict. “I was seeing conflict come up all the time, and I wanted to get better training,” she commented. Among her credentials, Cathy earned a masters degree in conflict studies from the University of Ottawa and Saint Paul University in 2004 and, subsequently, became a chartered mediator from the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Canada, an accredited family mediator with the Ontario Association of Family Mediators, and a certified third party neutral from the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution.
Among her subsequent professional engagements, Cathy worked as a trainer, facilitator, and mediator for UNIFOR, the Canadian Department of National Defence, the Upper Canada District School Board, Carleton University’s Academic Staff Association, and the Ministry of the Attorney General. She was also a longstanding coach and trainer at the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre.
Cathy noted, “Perhaps some of the most interesting work I have done was as a mediator in the energy sector.” In this role, she served at the nexus of environmental rights, property owner rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, mining company rights, government rights, and business development rights, which created a strong propensity for conflict. “Whenever these interests intersect, chaos reigns. It was a tremendous challenge.” Developing a ‘conflict map’ and a corresponding ‘interests map’ was one strategy Cathy referenced as being effective for “… understanding each party’s position and true interests to move forward in a productive way.”
Although mostly retired, Cathy regularly takes on new cases through her business where she serves individuals and groups in navigating diverse conflicts and establishing durable solutions for the future. She also hosts the “Next 150 Challenge,” which aims to reestablish and reconfigure Indigenous-state relations in Canada by promoting a mutually respectful relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. Inspired by the MBBI community, Cathy continues to progress her career. She plans to apply for her PhD and is interested in developing a framework by which to evolve traditional methods of workplace conflict investigations, folding in restorative processes from the beginning in order to get better results. Cathy believes that there are no bystanders in conflict and that the simple act of saying or doing something positive, “… can change the universe.”
Article by Juliana Heffern, MBBI Writer