A champion for inclusion
Marni Panas received the Distinguished Alumni Award for her outstanding professional achievements, diversity and inclusion advocacy, and unwavering dedication to creating positive change.
Marni Panas (Computer Systems Technology ’02 and Business Administration - Management '91) didn’t know 16 years ago that her life’s greatest heartbreak would ignite a light in her that would one day shine around the world.
"There was something about holding your child as he takes his last breath in your arms that teaches you something about living life without regret," Marni says, speaking of her infant son Andrew who was born 3 months premature. He is survived by his twin brother, Alex.
The experience led Marni to leave a 20-year career in human resources, payroll and software development to work at the Stollery Children's Hospital and pursue a degree in health administration at Athabasca University.
"I went into a place where my intrinsic rewards were truly being met, where I knew I was having a direct impact on vulnerable people's lives, particularly sick children," she says.
Creating inclusive spaces
During that time, Marni says the environment she worked in made her feel safe to be her true, authentic self, which included a gender transition. Today, Marni is a world renowned diversity and inclusion leader with Alberta Health Services, dedicated to creating safe, welcoming and inclusive environments, especially for the 2SLGBTQIA+ patients and staff.
“As a trans woman and somebody who is really looking at ways to exist in a society that would, in some cases, wish we not exist at all, it has taught me empathy and compassion,” Marni says. “That allows me to be a better parent, to be a better colleague, to be a better friend, to do my job as best as I possibly can, and to be empathetic to the needs of the people around me.”
She says she feels honoured to be able to do the work that she does, knowing her and her team’s impact on the lives of millions of people.
“Working in a place where my role is really about removing as many barriers as possible so people can bring their whole selves, whatever that whole self is, to their work environment and for patients and families to be able to bring their whole self into their health care experience — it is a privilege to be able to do the work that I do.”
Advocating for herself and others, Marni contributed to the work that led Gender Expression and Gender Identity to be added as protected grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act in 2015.
She was also a member of the committee that drafted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology, delivered in the House of Commons, to 2SLGBTQIA+ people in Canada for injustices experienced because of federal policies and practices.
“Being in the House of Commons, listening to Prime Minister Trudeau deliver that apology and seeing the people who were in the gallery waiting a lifetime to hear the words that were said – that we had a hand in drafting – was probably one of the most profound moments of my life,” she says.
Marni also provided testimony to the Senate as Gender Identity and Gender Expression were added as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code of Canada.
She’s been recognized as a Global Woman of Vision and received the Human Rights Award from the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.
“I don’t believe anyone goes through their life thinking one day I will be an advocate with a goal to have the impact I’ve had,” Marni says. “However, there are many times where I found myself in a position where I had privilege and a voice where others might not have. When a parent asks for help for their child who simply wants to exist in a world that is safe for them to be who they are, saying no isn’t an option.”
Distinguished Alumni Award
The Distinguished Alumni Award is a lifetime achievement award recognizing individuals renowned for their leadership roles, industry expertise and merit.
Story photos supplied by Marni Panas.
“It’s with great pride that I congratulate Marni, whose leadership and influence have reached across the breadth of our organization as we embrace diversity and inclusion. One of our priorities is building a healthcare system where all people feel safe and included and know they’ll always be treated with dignity and respect. Marni personifies the values we cherish.” - Mauro Chies, interim CEO, Alberta Health Services
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