Commentary News

Supporting Her: 5 Action Items from N.B.’s Elevate Conference

The Economic Growth Panel: Susan Holt, Cathy Simpson and Solange Tuyishime. Image: Sara Taaffe.

Sara Taaffe works in Fredericton as an Analyst for T4G.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Elevate New Brunswick Conference in Fredericton. It was organized by Elevate International and the Women For Atlantic Foundation with fiercely optimistic leaders and teams.

The day featured inspiring women from the political, economic and social sectors in the province who had many powerful messages to share.

As the first few speakers and panellists took to the podium, they began sharing stories and information about the gap that exists for women today.

As I heard this, I began asking myself a few questions. Have I ever missed out on any opportunities because I am a woman? Have I received comments that are belittling or sexist? Am I getting paid less than my male counterparts because I’m a woman?

To have asked myself these very questions demonstrates the extreme privilege I have been afforded and also unveils my lack of awareness of inequality in gender.

The day continued with powerful stories, startling statistics and a deep hunger for change among presenters and attendees alike. In my own call to action, I reflected on how I can help to level the playing field and be more informed to better support her. Her being myself, all women and all individuals who identify as women to move the needle, close the gap and rise to opportunities deserved.

Here are five key action items last week’s gathering presented that I will use on my quest to supporting her.

1) The Power of Numbers

Norma Dube, co-chair of Women for 50%, explained to the crowd that for the female voice to be heard, you need at a minimum, 30 per cent representation. If I’m in a place where I need to help put a committee together / am a member of a committee / am working for an organization run by a board or committee, posing the question — what is the gender breakdown? Do we have at a minimum 30 per cent female representation?

I acknowledge that it’s not going to make a huge impact immediately, but if I can touch five committees around me with asking this question, it will at least heighten awareness which is key on the path to action and change.

2) When you hear it, call it out — Change the Language

Phrasing, words and tone are incredibly powerful and can be so degrading when used in a negative context. Kate Rogers, City Councilor, City of Fredericton and Executive Director, Fredericton Community Foundation, reminded me that when the words and tone are sexist or degrading, staying complacent and not saying anything isn’t going to help create change.

It doesn’t have to be aggressive or defensive retaliation, it’s calling it out in a very matter of fact way. Yes, it will be uncomfortable the first few times, but the more you call it out, the more you help shift the language and culture, making it less uncomfortable.

Phrases like “they wear the pants,” “grow some balls,” “do it for mankind” or “put some hair on your chest” have become common to our society’s vocabulary. However, they are only perpetuating biases further. Exchanging those for “do it for individuals or humanity,” “holds the dominance,” or “thanks for your support.”

3) Be aware of your own biases

Vanessa Paesani, CEO of Amplify East, discussed how powerful biases can be.

“It’s hard to explain things that are visible to you and invisible to others, which is how systematic bias works” — Dr. Dolly Chugh.

I know I unconsciously hold biases as a product of the society I’ve been brought up in. It’s hard to help create change when you’re not aware of the problem — it’s hard to help if you don’t know what the problem is.

There are quite a few implicit bias tests available online that can help you understand if there are biases you unconsciously hold related to gender or other demographics. As mentioned previously, the first step to action is awareness, and this test is a great starting place.

Here are a couple of good ones:

Blindspot’sImplicit Association Test
Teaching Tolerance: Test Yourself For Hidden Bias

4) Boost those around you

Heather MacLean, Head of Cybersecurity Skills & Workforce Development Strategy for CyberNB, drove home an important message — there is room at the table for more than one woman.

Supporting each other to rise up to the challenge, whatever that challenge may be, is so important. We move the needle as a whole when we support each other to get there. It’s not a competition or a game, it’s a movement of empowerment. Cheer your fellow females on as they make strides in their own lives.

5) Feel the fear, and do it anyways

Diving into things is never easy — even as you continue throughout your career journey. Two accomplished women, Roxanne Fairweather Co-CEO of Innovatia, and Cathy Simpson, CEO of TechImpact and Founder of Up+Go, shared their own career stories and advice. They both faced barriers that were hard and scary, but the persevered. And they shared that if they can do it, you can do it too.

“Give girls the space to fail more often, we don’t need perfection, we need to get UP and GO for it,” said Cathy Simpson
Apply for the job, even if you don’t have all the qualifications.

Take the seat at the table, show them that your voice matters.

Ask for the raise and promotion, know that you provide incredible value.

It can be scary and it can be fearful, but you’re better off to do it than to look back and regret not trying harder.

Huddle publishes commentaries from groups and individuals on important business issues facing the Maritimes. These commentaries do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Huddle. To submit a commentary for consideration, contact editor Mark Leger: [email protected]