On October 23, 2015, I had the good fortune to attend the Vancouver Board of Trade's B.C. Economic Forum: Women as a Catalyst for Growth, presented by Deloitte.
Jill Earthy and Lois Nahirney, those dedicated trailblazers and unpretentious co-chairs, led this solution-focused event for increasing the economic growth and impact of women in British Columbia and Canada.
The report Women as a Catalyst for Economic Growth: A BC Action Plan provided recommendations in 3 areas - Women in Senior Leadership, Women Entrepreneurs, and Women in Non-Traditional Jobs and Emerging Sectors - and included the following common themes:
- Promote and advocate diversity
- Champion women
- Foster positive and self-affirming mindsets
- Incorporate a diversity focus in early education
- Activate men
Approximately 350 women, including a substantial group of men, gathered to move that agenda forward.
This was no ordinary business function.
Exceptional content, speakers, panels, facilitation of activities were all thoughtfully orchestrated and left us ample room for spontaneity, exuberance, and optimistic discussions.
At our tables, we shared ideas, experiences and collective wisdom in a palpable spirit of collaboration, respect and ease.
And those stellar speakers and panellists kept delivering endless nuggets of insight, too many to summarize.
Here are 5 calls to action inspired by the day.
1. Shed Self-Doubt
It is a stunning and not uncommon reality that competent and experienced professional women are plagued by self-doubt.
Even some of the leaders on stage that day, with their substantive credentials, were by their own admission, in that category.
With welcome candour, The Honourable Shirley Bond told us that when she was asked to become the first female Attorney General of British Columbia, she said to herself, "I can't do this."
Similarly, when Renée Wasylyk, Troika Group's CEO, was asked to be on the Premier's Women's Economic Council, she thought someone was playing a joke on her.
When we women hear stories like this from those generous enough to show their humanity and vulnerability, it gives all of us courage.
Then we can say, "It's not just me. It's okay if I have my moments, too."
This is our truth. We doubt when we don't need to.
Together, we can make a big dent in that habit.
2. Ask Not Why, But How
This forum called us forth to ignore our doubts, move on and make a difference.
Don't bother asking why we doubt ourselves.
At best you will pull out several thousand tomes, throw theories about like a juggler tossing balls, adding more and more to the swirl.
Imagine how much learning and action you might have moved forward instead of contemplating why.
Eventually, the juggler tires and the balls fall.
Ask instead, how can I serve? How can I move this agenda forward in spite of myself?
3. Find Mentors and Sponsors
"We have an extraordinary ability to lead," said Michelle Osry, panel member and Deloitte Partner. "Let's not go back to fixing women. We don't need to fix women."
What's needed for economic growth? Opportunity not competence, and support for each other and ourselves.
Mentors see what we don't see, encourage our visibility and help shift conditions that keep us stuck.
Why not learn how the game is played from those who have gone before? It might turn out better, faster and cause less injury.
We also require sponsors, decision-makers who will talk about us, promote us and help us move on.
In a world where competition screams at us from every direction, women who liberally support other women are probably those who know from experience that there is enough to go around.
Desperation and meanness are unattractive qualities and ultimately backfire.
In spite of hardship, life also has inspiration, generosity and heart.
Elders can pass on optimism, possibility, grace and goodness.
Kindness is a soothing salve.
4. Embrace Imperfection
We women think we have to be 120% ready before applying for a promotion, speaking up, being visible, and this is simply unnecessary.
Learning comes from attempting, prototyping, making mistakes, getting hands dirty and readjusting.
Not trying. Playing.
If the page stays blank, unwritten, there's nothing perfect in that.
Writer and leader Marion Woodman wrote:
To move toward perfection is to move out of life or never to enter.
5. Be Authentic. Advocate For Yourself. Ask For Help.
In truth, because there is not one person on the entire planet like another, it is fairly natural to be unique.
The more we twinkle in our own way, the more compelling we are and likely to be invited to do the work that only we can do.
As we get to know the qualities and strengths that make us who we are, the stronger and more confident we become.
The leader who knows her core values, her dreams, her talents, navigates from within.
This gives her the courage she needs to be her own advocate, be visible, have her own back and make a singular contribution.
When we begin to compare, we lose our centre, our internal compass and that never bodes well.
Today, we get to step up - for the generations of girls and boys who will learn to help each other flourish in mutual support.
And also for ourselves, so we can avoid the great and deep regret of having hidden from our soul's work.
If you wonder how, know that there's a fiercely invested team of leaders ready to help you play big - wherever you live in the world.
In the meantime, we can look forward to the day when we gather for an economic conversation that is not a gender conversation.
Until then, let's make our immediate worlds better now.
And in the spirit of this great movement, let's contemplate this from Seth Godin:
How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?
Now go shine.
Miriam Linderman is a leadership coach who helps professional women find deep confidence, gentle power and wise courage in their work and lives. To learn about The Gentleness Formula: A Soulful Step-by-Step System For Women to Lead Powerfully click here.
For more information about the WEB Alliance of Women's Business Networks and their great work, click here.
Vancouver photo credit: kennymatic / Foter.com / CC BY
Juggler photo credit: Double--M / Foter.com / CC BY
Compass photo credit: Calsidyrose / Foter.com / CC BY