VANCOUVER - It doesn't matter if a woman is the president of a Fortune 500 company, a mother, an Olympian or a teacher, Laureen Harper says women should seek out opportunities to serve their communities.

The prime minister's wife shared her inspirational message with a ballroom of women in Vancouver Thursday, saying women from Olympians to teachers, authors and business owners become strong leaders in part by demonstrating commitment to the world around them.

"Wherever you are placed, you can and should look for opportunities to help others," she said in her seven-minute speech, which was also peppered with jokes that had the crowd chuckling.

She noted service looks different for everyone, because each woman has different gifts.

"While I love to care for animals in need, you might be allergic," she said. "Except for my chinchilla — he's hypoallergenic."

"The point here is that we shouldn't let our gifts go to waste."

Harper attended the event to commend the British Columbia-based winners of Canada's Most Powerful Women awards, saying they all have shared similar experiences to earn their titles.

"Throughout their lives and their careers these women have had to make sacrifices and tough choices. They have faced hardship and they have overcome adversity," she said. "And through it all, they have persevered."

She went on to add such women are not only role models for other women and girls, but for all Canadians.

She then kidded that her own daughter, Rachel, recently learned about the stock market at school and then proclaimed an interest in accounting — a career her husband the prime minister had shunned in favour of becoming an economist.

In introductory remarks about the mother of two teenagers, the audience heard that Harper studied photography and graphic arts before travelling through 13 countries in Africa on graduation.

She ran a successful graphic arts business in Calgary before moving to Ottawa.

Her interest in politics was sparked early in her career while listening to a speech by Canada's first elected senator, Stan Waters. She also heard Tory Calgary MP Diane Ablonczy encourage young women to get involved in public life.

Winners of the 2012 award were honoured by the Women's Executive Network at a gala in Toronto in early December.

Check out 17 powerful female leaders from British Columbia. See all 100 here:

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  • Yael Cohen

    Founder & President, F*** Cancer

  • Karen Flavelle

    Owner & CEO, Purdy's Chocolates

  • Cybele Negris

    President & Co-Founder, Webnames.ca Inc.

  • Fiona Macfarlane

    Chief Inclusiveness Officer & Vancouver Office Managing Partner, Ernst & Young LLP

  • Dr. Aimee Chan

    President & CEO, Norsat International Inc.

  • Elizabeth Watson

    President & Founder, WATSON

  • Launi Skinner

    CEO, First West Credit Union

  • Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia

    CEO, Century Plaza Hotel and Absolute Spa Group

  • Shelley Brown

    Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP

  • Monique Mercier

    SVP. Chief Legal Officer & Corporate Secretary, TELUS

  • Connie Fair

    President & CEO, BC Assessment

  • Kim Henderson

    Deputy Minister, Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government, Province of British Columbia

  • Dr. Barbara Paterson

    Dean, School of Nursing, Thompson Rivers University

  • Geri Prior

    CFO, Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

  • Susan Yurkovich

    EVP, Site C Clean Energy Project, BC Hydro

  • Sue Paish

    CEO, Pharmasave Drugs (National) Ltd.

  • Debra Hewson

    President & CEO, Oldum Brown Ltd.

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