In this day and age, it is startling to hear that women still face inequality in the workplace, and yet plenty of statistical and anecdotal evidence tells us this is so. And when it comes to navigating the tricky waters of gender in the workplace, those of us who have never, ever had to think about the issue (read: men) probably aren’t the ones to offer the most cogent analysis. Now entering its seventh installment, September’s Inspiring Women event seeks to “celebrate women in business, entrepreneurship and corporate leadership” through a variety of workshops and guest speakers with female professionals.
So: what, exactly, are some of the challenges that are specific to women?
“Kids!” said Teri Hetherington, events coordinator with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, startlingly quickly. As anyone who has had kids knows, this extends far beyond a mere nine months of pregnancy.
“I know in my household, I’m the picker-upper, the dropper-off when it comes to sports. … It’s a mental strain on you: are your kids being educated? Are your kids being watched? All those different things that encompass caring for a dependent,” she said.
Of course, there are other challenges. Events manager Julie Tedesco added, “Sometimes just finding a mentor that’s a woman that has gone through the same path and can relate, it sometimes seems like it’s easier for men to do that relationship-building. … I think it’s still fairly new for women, building those business relationships, going from having-coffee-and-chatting-about-your-family to, ‘How can we help each other be successful in our businesses?’”
These are the concerns that will dominate the Inspiring Women event, which will bring a veritable who’s-who of accomplished women to offer their experience and advice. Guest speakers will be fashion journalist Jeanne Beker, Sleep Country Canada president Christine Magee, Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz, Paralympian medalist Summer Mortimer, and entrepreneur Jessica Jensen.
“We tried to get a good cross-section of industries and leaders,” said Tedesco. “A lot of different stories, hopefully for women to relate with.”
Regarding Magee, Hetherington noted, “Everyone knows her jingle, she’s a radio celebrity, but she also has a very interesting story, working her way up and founding the company. I mean, everyone knows Sleep Country Canada.”
Three professional development workshops will explore the ins-and-outs of personal branding, mentoring, and networking.
“It’s real networking for strategic growth – how are we networking so it’s not just us going out as friends,” said Tedesco. She added that the workshops will explore “how to meet the community players, and connecting with the community.”
In a new addition to the event, a “Dress for Success Drive” will accept donations for business clothing, shoes, and accessories for the Green Door working centre, to be given to local women entering the workforce.
“The main idea is hearing stories from these successful women who have made their way to the top of their industry, and hearing how they got there and made it through,” said Tedesco.
This marks the first year the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre has partnered with the Chamber of Commerce, and the first year Tedesco and Hetherington have organized the event, the lineup for which was announced this week as tickets went on sale. They have high hopes that the event will be impactful.
“It’s also about breaking down barriers,” said Tedesco. And, to illustrate the point, she cites an example close to home: “The chamber comes, and sometimes people think it’s an old boys’ network. It’s not an old boys’ network at all.”
But is that a perception that becomes reality? Chalk it up to some David Mamet fantasy if you must, but the image of a bunch of bro-ish businessmen kicking back martinis after a long day at the office is intimidating, whether or not it’s founded in reality.
“I would say so, yes,” laughed Hetherington. “When you go to the chamber basement, the first picture you see is a bunch of men in suits, because that’s originally how the board of trade started. Now, across the board, I see as many women involved as men, but it took a long time to get there.”
Inspiring Women will be held on September 19 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bingemans Conference Centre in Kitchener. More information can be found at inspiringwomenevent.com.