In 2019, YouInc listened to a range of perspectives with female leaders about how they’ve been disempowered in their careers for simply being women. “You’re too ambitious,” was an opinion ET Canada’s on-air host Sangita Patel received from a fellow female colleague, as Patel pursued opportunities to grow her personal brand.
Vancouver-based CEO of Forum for Women Entrepreneurs Paulina Cameron decided to take the reins and dedicate her work to helping women get into leadership roles, when she’d attend events and couldn’t see herself in the positions of the people speaking, because as she said, “I’m not a middle-aged white man.”
In recent months, Arlene Dickinson, an advocate of women in business, went to Twitter to voice her frustration for how women are being treated, “Women aren’t 'difficult' when they fight for their rights in contracts or defend their views. I’m exhausted by men who feel it’s somehow bad to be good at business if you’re a woman, or by those who feel the need to bully or scold you for having the guts to be your own advocate."
These instances intrigued our team to explore how women have become their own advocates around the boardroom table. If an advocate is a person who can be defined as a supporter, champion, or promoter of a cause, then what steps could we take to ensure our voices are heard and taken seriously? Three women open up about their experiences, what they did to overcome these situations, and their hope for female leaders in the future:
Rachel Cook, founder, Seeds
Seeds exists mostly because of the misogyny I experienced when working as a stock trader in Chicago and New York, when fundraising from tech investors. I was being paid a lower base salary than the dude [sic] stock traders who started when I did, despite a better educational background and a track record of profitability that they didn’t have. I'd been sold the idea that because I had achieved things that were supposed to make me more valuable in the workplace, I would be treated as such. But because the operating system of late capitalism is patriarchy, that wasn't the case.
If someone is misogynistic, what I now do is simply point it out and set the boundary. I try to communicate simply by saying, “when you did or said X, I saw a demonstration of misogynistic beliefs that negatively impacted me or others. Now that you’re aware of this, I ask that you make changes, so that it stops happening.” Then I trust that in doing so I'm sending a message to the universe that I will only accept excellent treatment from folks around me. I run into less and less misogynists these days as a result.
My biggest advice to women - and to all humans - is trying Vipassana meditation. Vipassana helps you to see things more clearly, so that you know what to do and say in any situation. It has been the key to becoming a more effective caretaker and advocate of myself, and the feminine at large.
I hope that Seeds and tools like it can usher in new economic models that are grounded in a healthy balance of masculine and feminine energies. All humans, of all genders, have both, but patriarchy has taught us to overvalue unhealthy forms of the masculine, and undervalue the feminine in ourselves, in others, and in everything we create.
SheEO has an interesting model, grounded in feminine energy; it’s the only other model I've come across in which they're essentially rethinking everything. We don't need to cram more women into the current, bogus system, or fight to get them in there. We need to give them the resources they need to design whatever they're destined to design themselves. My dream is that Seeds will go a long way in grounding this.
Adrienne Ng, partner, lawyer and trademark agent, Open LLP
I went into law and I ended up helping a lot of women entrepreneurs. What I can offer as a female lawyer (whatever it is that draws my clients to me), is unique and valuable.
It’s possible to find success by being yourself. How that happened, I can't say. What I know is that my clients, women and men, younger and older than me, with children and without children, and of all ethnicities, have been drawn to me. Perhaps it's the fact that I’ve had experience myself as a woman entrepreneur in the tech space, or perhaps they like my unique approach to legal issues. Or perhaps it's because I'm young and Asian and a female lawyer in a space that historically had been (and to an extent still is) dominated by white men.
I believe that each legal issue is 50% legal, 25% business and 25% psychology. I'm proud every time I can help clients (both men and women) understand this, help them navigate tricky legal issues and get what they want by using a more diplomatic, subtle, and gentle approach. This is efficient from a financial, emotional and mental point of view, and I think my clients appreciate this.
Women standing up for themselves is a long game starting from the moment one decides to stand up for not only themselves, but also for all women as a whole, whether that moment starts in high school, university, or later in life. It starts from making your views and perspectives known, on a continuous and sustained basis, first among friends and family, then acquaintances, colleagues, mentors, advisors, bosses, and stakeholders, etc. By doing that, your impact is deep, meaningful and effective, and you’re changing the world one person at a time; by the time you come face-to-face with a bully, they're the ones who will face the scrutiny of everyone else in the room.
My hope is that one day, the unique qualities that a woman brings to the table - empathy, humility, gentleness, and the ability to truly listen- will be seen as the new standard of what is desirable.
Sarah Cox, partner and president, Joeyband by Sleepbelt
I remember coming into work to find the meeting rooms and boardroom had been named after brilliant scientists. My heart broke, as the names and photos were all middle-aged white men. I remember feeling disappointed – what message was being sent, in the office, to those who didn’t look this way?
So, I started a list of women and people of colour--all scientists--and shared it with my senior executives. I also openly discussed my sincere disappointment and why representation and inclusiveness was important when it came to naming our meeting rooms.
After two to three weeks of not seeing any updates, I sent one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speeches on feminism to a few executives and recommended they took 30 minutes to educate themselves. I was pulled into human resources. At the time, we had different visions of what an inclusive business culture looked like. The room names were eventually changed.
My passion to support women-led businesses came from my experiences as a young professional. I saw the inequalities and barriers I encountered, but I couldn’t label them at the time. Once I began excelling professionally, I realized I was making unnecessary sacrifices like over-extending at work, out of survival mode – it wasn’t sustainable. I began looking for organizations that were doing things differently to advance the issues I cared about.
That’s when I met Vicki Saunders of SheEO at a networking event in Halifax, and I developed a network of women executives for support. Through conversations with Vicki and my own research, I learned about the state of women’s entrepreneurship and how much women-identifying entrepreneurs are drastically underfunded and underutilized. It was clear to me that I was going to be a part of a solution that helped redesign a more inclusive world. Some of these experiences were painful, even as a young woman who was bold, reminded herself to take up space, and used her voice.
Whichever asset you have at any given time, share it. We’re all connected, and the more we practice compassion with ourselves and others, the more unconditional love and inclusiveness we’ll see in the world. When I was first building my career, the most valuable possession I had was my network. I made it my mission to nurture and call on my professional relationships, to help others find work. Being a connector, to help others, had become an ingrained moral code for me.