Cynthia Johnston

Women in economics panel
Cynthia Johnston, Brenda Eaton, Ocean Lu and Rachel Lynch (L-R) were panelists at the affinity group’s first event.

The Women in Economics Affinity Group

After graduating with a Masters degree in economics from the University of Victoria, Cynthia Johnston went on to have a successful career in the energy sector, holding executive positions at TransAlta and Fortis. Although impressed with the education she’d received at UVic, she had little engagement with her alma mater through her career. All that was about to change when she retired in January, 2017.

Cynthia was approached by Brenda Eaton, a founding member of the newly established Women in Economics Affinity Group, a collection of female UVic economics alumni. The request came at a perfect time for Cynthia, who was considering how to optimize her retirement and make a difference in areas she was passionate about.

The gender gap

“In the energy sector, I’ve had the great fortune of working with a lot of women with degrees in economics. Women with superior analysis and critical thinking skills, who’ve risen to significant leadership positions,” Cynthia says. Despite the demand for women in these roles, there is a clear gender gap in the field of economics, especially seen at the graduate school level. “I was excited to do what I could to encourage women to pursue further education.” 

The group’s goal is to see more women graduate from UVic’s masters and PhD programs and establish careers in the field. Its members plan events and facilitate mentoring and networking opportunities. Cynthia’s first involvement was as a panelist at the group’s inaugural event, on the subject of the challenges faced by women in economics. However, it was the group’s ambitious fundraising goal that piqued her interest the most.

“The executive decided to establish a scholarship to support women graduate students, and I thought that’s where I could lend my expertise and skills.”

Campaign quickly gathers momentum

Cynthia helped launch the scholarship campaign in the fall of 2017. Members of the executive made generous foundational donations, and an anonymous donor agreed to match donations from alumni. The campaign quickly picked up momentum, and by January, 2018, raised over $26,000, enough to endow the scholarship. The inaugural Women in Economics Graduate Scholarship will be $1,000, awarded this fall to an academically outstanding graduate student.

After managing $500 million budgets, it’s not surprising that Cynthia is setting high targets for the scholarship. “We always wanted the award to be a meaningful amount for a graduate student,” she says. The group’s ultimate goal is to raise $150,000, creating an award of $6,000 a year. Cynthia hopes the recipients will also become leaders within the program, and continue the affinity group’s commitment to supporting women in the field.

As Madeline Albright, US former Secretary of State, once said, ‘there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,’” Cynthia jokes. “The whole idea is that people continue to pay it forward as they get these great opportunities."

If you would like to contribute to the Women in Economics Graduate Scholarship, you can make a gift online or contact the Social Sciences Annual Giving Officer,, 250-853-3941.