It’s often said that our understanding of things is limited by the experiences we’ve had in life. WMN was definitely a byproduct of having such an eye-opening experience. Over these past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working in many environments that were largely represented by women. Whether it was a youth organization I led out of high school comprised of mostly women or working alongside the phenomenal Telfer Career Centre team also largely female-led and run, I’ve never once considered the question, “well, what if women can’t do it?”. In 2017, I began a marketing role at American Express and had joined their Women’s Initiative Network (WIN).
Furthermore, working for one of Canada’s top diversity employers ignited that spark that became WMN. In 2017, I began a marketing role at American Express and had joined their Women’s Initiative Network (WIN). At their monthly roundtables, I had the privilege of interacting with women of all seniority levels, departments, and backgrounds. Being in a space that pushes for greater conversations around diversity makes you more aware of the lack of it in other spaces. And for me, returning to my university community in Ottawa was the realization of such a space existing.
I discovered that significant gender diversity gaps were existing in the Telfer community, including the lack of female representation in the finance field, and the lack of formal and informal mentorships happening during and post-university for students. These two issues set the foundation for the WMN vision, as it was largely aligned to the strategic initiatives of the school and business community, and thus, would bring about the greatest impact on the most underrepresented female student population at the university.
Backed by the Career Centre and the Telfer staff, our organization started from an intimate team of 3 of us in the fall of 2017, before flourishing to 14 motivated individuals within a matter of weeks. By the January 2018 launch date, we had expanded to 35 incredible people, working to hyper-accelerate our network’s initiatives.
What I’ve found the most interesting since I started WMN has been the sheer amount of people, current students and alumni alike, that have commented on why something like WMN didn’t exist sooner. The demand had clearly been there for countless years, and though Telfer focused heavily on improving its separate business streams and implementing new career-building programs, there was no overarching dialogue around the intersectional layers that affected students, such as gender equality. More intriguing though, is that when we ran a wide-scale survey, we discovered that there was a huge lack of student awareness around the realities of gender inequality once they left university. Some stated never having experienced any overt gender inequalities during their university career. And whilst that serves to be our ideal endgame, there existed an ever-present safety bubble during our time in university that sought to work against us after we’ve been handed that final diploma.
All of this boils down to the limitations of our experiences. If we don’t begin dialogues around these realities, we accept the status quo and complacently go about our everyday lives. Invisible barriers and glass ceilings are conveniently placed to limit us before we even start having these discussions. Ultimately, we realize this once we’re caught in the midst of it, when we’re losing out on $50,000 a year because we didn’t understand the need to negotiate our salaries, to fight for our worth, or to have a sponsor become that door for us in the real world.
Where to now?
With WMN entering its fourth calendar year, there are so many things to reflect upon in the growth of this network, such as the improvement of mentorship opportunities and gender balance in programs within Telfer. My vision for the events at WMN revolved around quality conversations in small-scale events. Too often, we see formal wine and cheese events, panels that attribute to one-way conversations, and watered down connections. Our network worked to turn this on its head, by creating smaller professional-to-student ratios and setting up venues that drove authentic conversation. We wanted students that wouldn’t necessarily reach out to people on a daily basis to have the opportunity to strike up a conversation with a business professional, and hopefully cultivate it into a mentorship down the road.
Now that I’ve handed this network off to incredibly motivated individuals, I’m excited to see how the network transforms over the next few years and beyond. One of the things I sought to create within the network is the power of autonomy, and the ability to change things up as needs change within the community. The network is comprised of people who understand the need for more gender equality and initiatives targeting women. They are passionate about asking why and challenging the status quo. And more so than ever, these are the type of people we need in the world of business. People who are unrelenting and able to see the change that needs to happen, and go out to do it.
If I were to give one message to the future WMN generations, it would be simply: don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone from the past, present, and future WMN community. We pride ourselves on being egoless, passionate growth-mindset individuals. I want to invite you into our community to become a more aware, hungry, and passionate version of you.