KITCHENER -- The key leaders guiding Waterloo Region through the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year are all women.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said she's worked especially hard in her leadership role because she's a woman and a visible minority.

"When I was growing up, I just internalized that I had to be better to be the same," Dr. Wang said.

"We're not a perfect community, but we've always had strong women," Regional Chair Karen Redman said.

Redman said she believes the region's longstanding family business mindset allows women to flourish as leaders.

"Sometimes the son got the corner office, but if the strategic thinker was the daughter, she got the role and she got the authority," Redman said. "I think we've built on that over the years."

Dept. Chief Shirley Hilton, who is heading up the region's COVID-19 vaccine task force, agrees with Redman. She said a number of her female team members are playing pivotal roles in the pandemic.

"We are leading our logistics and leading operations and planning," she said.

Lee Fairclough, the hospital lead for Waterloo-Wellingotn, said she's thankful for the women who have paved the way.

"We're able to stand up, step in, lean in and come together," Fairclough said.

The leadership team is helping Waterloo Region feel stronger together while celebrating International Women's Day.

"It reminds us of this tremendous talent in the women in leadership positions we have across the region," Waterloo regional police Chief Bryan Larkin said.

"When you have that diversity, it really strengthens the outcomes," Dr. Wang said.