This past weekend, Vancity Buzz was a proud sponsor of the Young Women in Business’ Beyond Pink Conference. The event brought together young women from across British Columbia around the theme of “Share your story, define your path”. Being a “young woman in business” myself, I learned a lot about what it takes to succeed in today’s business environment, personally and professionally.
With a university degree and a couple years of work experience under my belt, I figured I had a pretty good understanding of the topic. If there’s anything that will make you feel humble though, it’s being surrounded by some of the most inspiring and successful women in the city for two days.
During the conference, I attended three workshops, two keynote speeches, and an evening of speed-mentoring. Both an exhausting and extremely insightful experience, the event inspired me to share what it’s like to be a young woman in business in 2014.
Conversation around young women today often cites us as entitled, lazy, naïve, selfish and tech-obsessed. This, combined with society and media’s common treatment of women in general – look up Miss Representation if you need some insight – has created an environment where young women seek empowerment, confidence, and a change in discourse.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, over 50 per cent of girls wish they could be someone else, and as girls age, their self-confidence rapidly declines. Popular culture teaches girls not how to be leaders or mavens, but how to live a secondary role in life and under-represent their intelligence and self-worth. Instead, young women are sexualized and devalued, treated like commodities or possessions.
Though I was somewhat educated on this issue before attending the conference, I left the event with a much greater understanding of how this has affected my own peer group of age 20-something women, including myself. Instead of focusing on the depressing statistics I just shared above, the conference aimed to give young women the training, tools and inspiration to overcome such deeply ingrained fallacies. I would like to share some of what I learned with the rest of Vancouver.
My first workshop was on confidence. Led by Adrienne Danielson, Director of Training and Development at H.Y. Louie and independent life coach, the workshop began with Danielson’s own definition of confidence: “Knowing who we are and from that place of clarity, taking action we are inspired to take, regardless of others’ reactions or opinions or guaranteed success.”
While we come into this world with the innate ability to know exactly what we want and what we need to do to get to where we want, the aging process erodes our confidence. Things like upbringing, family dynamics, religion, culture, education and the media all contribute to this personal decay.
According to a study conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management, over half of women feel self-doubt about their career potential and level of performance, whereas less than a third of men feel this way. Women also beat themselves up much more than men for not being “perfect” and over-analyze situations and decisions more.
The workshop encouraged us to identify the areas in life where we lack confidence, and then rewrite our worries into positive counter statements we can learn to believe. Danielson reminded us that it only takes 30 days of practice to create a new thought pattern – literally create new neurotransmitters – to reroute our brains into a more confident place. Her overarching message was to let go of being perfect and have fun with life, mistakes and all.
I left the workshop teaming with inspiration. Though I had already learned these tools through my own self-discovery, it was powerful to know this message was reaching many more young women who struggle with some of the same confidence issues as me.
Friday’s key note speech was given by Maili Wong, Vice President and Portfolio Manager at CIBC Wood Gundy. Speaking on her own experiences with financial market volatility, she stressed that the challenges we consistently face are in fact our opportunities. What I related to most were her statements about experience versus learning. She asked us to ponder which was more important in a job candidate, experience or the ability to learn.
I’ve recently been frustrated with this highly valued notion of experience. For young people lacking experience, it’s tough to get that dream job or even something close to it, even if we feel like we have the knowledge and tact to quickly learn on the spot. Like I have been led to believe, most senior managers are caught in the experience trap, according to Wong. Hiring managers look for people who have the most years of experience as they believe that will enable them to jump on the job and excel right away.
But Wong pointed out that only fifteen per cent of what we know today, i.e. our experiences, will be relevant in five years, making people with the ability to learn more valuable than people who have the experience. I left feeling pretty excited about that fact, and started wondering how I could make hiring managers see that perspective.
My first workshop on Saturday was called “Discovering your Passion and Dominating your Dream Career” with Reece Sims, a local entrepreneur and branding and strategy consultant. Though I’ve worked pretty hard on establishing my own “personal brand” over the last few months, I still learned a lot about what it takes to get noticed in the job market these days.
Since more than 90 per cent of employers use social media to find employees, it’s now more important than ever to have a consistent personal brand across all channels, online and in-person. Sims handed out some tips on branding, including setting up Google alerts for your name, optimizing your LinkedIn and designing a stand-out resume and cover letter.
My last workshop caused me to conquer my fears and learn about money, budgeting and banking. I’ve been avoiding the topic for years, but it’s always refreshing to learn something you’re totally ignorant about. Besides learning how depressing taxes are and how I’ll likely never be able to afford a house (not exactly a news flash), I found out that the average Canadian with a credit card owes $8600 a month and that Canadians spend a total of $7 billion a year in interest payments.
The most shocking thing I learned about finances in this workshop is that 41 per cent of British Columbians plan to fund their retirement by winning the lottery.
But I left the conference feeling like my chances at success were a lot higher than winning the lottery. Sometimes, when I take a hard, realistic view at the world, it can feel really intimidating to be a young woman in business. With more and more research on the subject of today’s young women, and the limits inherently and unknowingly placed on us, we are better equipped than ever to change the conversation.
When organizations and the media begin highlighting women more for their intellectual contributions to the world than their physical appearance, more women will succeed. Young Women in Business did an amazing job at leading this curve with the Beyond Pink Conference. Like I said, I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend, and I urge every young woman to learn how they can become involved.
Featured Image: Beyond Pink via Facebook